Katherine Donnelly | 06.12.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how 'badass' they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, 'instafamous,' or anywhere in between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to everyone

Through in-depth and often times thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more in hopes of giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Laura Hughes.

You may know her voice from the Women On The Road podcast, but there's more to this Woman In The Wild than just broadcasts and road trips. Get the full scoop below, and stay tuned as we roll out more interviews and features all summer long!

Photo by Shane Eubank.

OP: Give us the quick and skinny on who Laura Hughes is.

Laura Hughes: I’m a full-time camper traveler, outdoor enthusiast, and the voice behind the Women On The Road podcast. I’m also a travel and event photographer, freelance writer, and matcha drinker. (If you’re wondering: yes, I make matcha lattes in my campervan, and yes-- they’re amazing.)

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Laura Hughes: I have to admit that this happened pretty late in my life. I’ve always gone on camping trips with family growing up, but as the youngest in my family by nearly a decade, it was hard not to feel like my legs were always too short and the trails were always too long or too scary. As I entered college in Bellingham, WA, I started planning more trips to go outdoors with my female friends, many of whom had never camped before. So even with my limited knowledge, I became a leader figure in our outdoor adventures. It was empowering to gather other women together and allow us all to learn and overcome our individual fears in the outdoors, together. I think that’s where it truly all began.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Laura Hughes: In short, it means continually being a voice, a bridge, and a model of what I wish I’d seen as a young girl. It means recognizing how far the outdoor industry has come when it comes to representation while also pushing us all to do even better. It means passing the mic to other women and people who are still underrepresented. And it means finding genuine ways to validate other young girls and women: that they are competent, they are strong, and the outdoors is a space for them, too.

OP: What has the outdoors done for you and how do you pay it back?

Laura Hughes: The outdoors is a constant source of inspiration for me. I love my work, and anyone close to me would be able to tell you that sometimes I forget to play. Being outside really changes that. It grounds me. And as someone who battles anxiety regularly, being outside reminds me not to get too caught up in the little things.

I do my best to pay the outdoors back in a lot of little ways. One of my favorite ways to honor the outdoors is by introducing people I know and love to spaces that hold significance to me, because creating personal memories and connections with land is the best way to ensure it will continue to be protected. On the flip side, I have become very conscientious about sharing locations on broad platforms like social media and avoid geo-tagging specific places. As we travel on the road, I also do my best to pick up garbage off public lands, of which there is an unfortunate and staggering amount.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time on outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think “van-lifers” - and outdoor enthusiasts, in general - should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Laura Hughes: So much! People who travel in campers have access to a wider variety of experiences on public lands than most people because of our ability to travel. I see van travelers as some of the best advocates out there for public lands because many folks live on or next to public lands the majority of the time that they’re on the road, so they find that feeling of “home” in public lands more often and in more places than the average adventurer. Road travelers also see more garbage in remote places, which is disheartening, and how that impacts the environment in a very tangible way. I would love to see more folks traveling be stronger voices for public lands protection as well as find ways to engage with local Native tribes to learn about the land we’re staying on or near. Most people traveling are doing so because they want to learn something new about the outdoors, and when it comes to public lands, one of the next steps in evolving the conversation continues to be incorporating Native voices early, asking questions, and taking their lead.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Laura Hughes: A lot of women in the outdoors inspire me, but if I had to make a list right now it would include every single woman I’ve interviewed on the Women On The Road podcast. Every single women who has graced the show is full of passion, bravery, and commitment to adventure. It motivates me daily to keep doing what I do.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Laura Hughes: Stepping outside your comfort zone. Getting a little lost. Saying “yes” before you know exactly “how.”

OP: What does the term ‘badass’ mean to you?

Laura Hughes: My friend Jules Davies once said that “failure is kind of badass” because it means you went for something. So to me, being badass means going for something with your whole self.

(By the way, that quote is from episode 58 of She Explores and is 100% worth a listen if you’re looking to hear more about women going after their dreams in badass ways.)

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Laura Hughes: Honestly, I had to just go for it. Kind of in the badass style I defined above. Kind of before I felt ready. I have always loved creating content, but I never made it my full time job because I was afraid of failing at it. It felt like too big of a risk. But once I started living on the road, I knew I had the space and time and financial savings to see if I could make it happen. All the content creating I did for free for years (for fun, for friends, and for volunteer work) paid off. I had the skills and the relationships to slowly start making it happen. It always feels like a work in progress, but even if it’s slow going to build up the career I want, at least I know I’m on the path that makes me happiest.

With all that said, my biggest piece of advice is to be bold. You can build skills and relationships. You deserve to be paid. Your passion means something. You are unlike anyone else. Be bold. You can do this.

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (LGBTQ+), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Laura Hughes: Being a woman to me only means femininity when I get to define what femininity means. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the outdoors with men-- boyfriends, my brother, my dad. I never wore jewelry or tried to feel pretty because in those micro cultures, that simply wasn’t a conversation. Not to mention that at that time most brands didn’t make much-- if any-- technical gear for women. So in so many ways, I felt like I was just trying to be one of the guys, and not doing very well at it.

When I began spending time in the outdoors with other women, I got to see how we all brought a piece of ourselves to the table. Some of us wear jewelry that’s important to us. Some of us don’t. Some of us like to paint our nails. Some of us don’t. Nothing is “feminine” or “not feminine” in the eyes of someone else, and I am really empowered by that. So now when I go outdoors, no matter who it’s with, I show up as my full self-- rings, painted toenails, and a solid pair of hiking legs-- and feel confident in my own version of femininity.

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Laura Hughes: Many. But “courage, dear heart”, a C.S. Lewis quote, is probably the most permanent as it is tattooed on my right collar bone.

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Laura Hughes: More listening to diverse voices and inclusion of what’s considered “outdoorsy.” I’m not a professional athlete in any one sport, but I belong here. Some people have different physical ability levels, and they belong here. People of all different colors and genders belong here. People who can’t afford the best gear belong here. Showcasing a wider variety of representation on larger platforms can help to drive home that message.

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Laura Hughes: My camera or my field recorder. It’s photo or audio, all day every day.

OP: Let’s talk gear - What are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Laura Hughes: This is such a complex question! I feel like I might not be contributing much to the conversation here, but women-specific gear, for me, has only been helpful when it’s truly about height and average body proportion differences. That said, I tend to fall within a height and proportion range that most outdoor gear companies consider “typical” for a female. In general, I would be just as satisfied if these gear companies determined sizing by height and weight, as opposed to gender.

When it comes to style and color based on gender, my boyfriend could probably recount numerous stories of me holding in (or quietly grumbling) frustrations while shopping for gear and seeing that my only options are some shade of pink, or covered in butterflies. It’s shocking to me that some companies still think that most female shoppers in 2018 are looking for that.

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Laura Hughes: I actually have a short Instagram post about this very question, so I’ll just leave this here...


I once received a piece of advice from a colleague as I was getting ready to hit the road. • I had just put in my notice at work and, drunk on honesty and adrenaline, wondered out loud if now was the right time to really be making this all happen. He looked at me, years of wisdom ahead of my current state, and simply said • "The best time to go is when you're ready." • Not when every little thing is in order. Not when the timing is perfect. • But when your heart paces faster at the thought. When you get restless down to your bones and you can barely keep the words from spilling from your throat. • When you feel like if you don't go now you might never go at all. • You'll know the feeling when it comes: like a wave surging through your veins, like a humming in your chest when you fall asleep, like energy you didn't know you had seeping from every pore. • You'll wonder if others can see it on your face, if you look different because you're about to transform, • but mostly you'll wonder who you'll be once you say yes to the call. • Because while you'll never claim to feel ready, every cell inside will be shouting out loud, • You're ready. You're ready. You're ready. ____________________ photo: @shaneeubank #traveler #sheexplores #hike #outdoors #writersofinstagram

A post shared by Laura Hughes (@howsheviewsit) on

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with Women On The Road, what would it be?

Laura Hughes: I’m fortunate that Gale Straub was there to support the beginning of the Women On The Road podcast, so I turned to her for advice on a regular basis-- from worries about static and awkward “mouth sounds” the mic can pick up, to how to make sure I’m coming across as genuine as possible over audio. That said, the biggest piece of advice I would have given myself is to not be afraid of revealing too much. People listening to the show want to hear real stories-- the struggle, the humor, the joy-- and how I show up can help to either facilitate that in conversations or shut it down. I used to be concerned about coming off sounding goofy or uncool, but I’ve learned to reframe that as more “endearing” than anything. :)

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Laura Hughes: I love taking photos, so when it comes to social media, the platform most aligned with what I do on a regular basis is Instagram. That said, photos don’t often tell the whole story! A lot of my images are from the outdoors, and while I do spend a good deal of time outside, I also work plenty and am not always out on trails. I do my best to write from the heart and put honesty and thought into my captions, which is really more of what I’ve been using the platform for as I hit the road. If you view social media as it was originally intended-- a connection-builder-- and not a place for embodied ego, it gets easier to know how you want to show up. For me, that’s sharing the joys and struggles of traveling, asking questions, and hopefully inspiring other women out there to go after their next adventure.

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Laura Hughes: If you started reading this because you want to travel, you can! There’s no wrong way to do it. And if you’re looking for a community to support you, make sure to check out @womenontheroad on Instagram and listen to our weekly podcast.

Follow along on the adventures of Laura and Women On the Road, and make sure to listen to Women On The Road on Apple PodcastsSpotify, on She-Explores.com, or anywhere you stream stories.

Featured photo by Jules Davies. Slideshow photos provided by Laura, Jules Davies, and Janette Casolary.


If you'd like to interview a woman who has been "in the wild" for 45 years and has had a career in conservation biology, let me know.
Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.