After years of working 70-80 hours per week at jobs that paid the bills but brought no joy, a serious illness made Barbara Weibel realize she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside. When she recovered her health, Weibel walked away from her successful but unfulfilling career, sold or gave away most of her material possessions, strapped on a backpack and began traveling around the world in pursuit of her true passions: travel, photography and writing. These days she travels perpetually, bouncing from country to country, writing stories about her adventures on her blog, Hole In The Donut Cultural Travel (http://holeinthedonut.com)
You’ve mentioned quite candidly about your troubles with your health in the past. Your travel urge really kicked into gear as a result of your failing (and subsequently improving) health. Do you think you might have taken the adventures that you have taken if you hadn’t experienced the health challenges that you did?
I’ve often asked myself this same question. I’d like to say I would have eventually done it without the Lyme disease, but the truth is that I spent 36 years in corporate jobs that I hated. Every few years I’d burn out and walk away, promising myself “never again,” but I always caved in when the next job offer came my way. I really believe it took a life-threatening disease to open my eyes and push me through the fear that had always held me back from pursuing my true passions of travel, writing, and photography.
Staying with the topic of health, how do you keep healthy while on the road. Any tips for travelers looking to stay healthy while they move around the world?
While I realize most people come back from a vacation with a weight gain, quite the opposite happens with me. When I return to the States to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays with my family I become more sedentary. By the time I leave in February, I’ve inevitably put on a few pounds. But the weight always peels off once I’m back on the road, because I immediately become more active. Walking is a great way to stay in shape and fortunately, it’s also the best way to become acquainted with a new city, so it’s not unusual for me to spend seven or eight hours walking when I arrive at a new destination. I’m also a vegetarian, so I’m very attentive to my diet, and I try and do Yoga at least twice a week. Plus, lugging 25 pounds of equipment around on my back certainly does something for my strength training. My best advice for staying fit while traveling is to mix in physical activities like a bike or walking tour with R&R activities like sunbathing on a beach.
You’ve been succesfully able to turn your travels into a business – something that many long term travelers aspire but few likely ever accomplish. What advice would you give to other long term travelers hoping to make money while on the road.
That’s easy. Don’t expect to earn a living from blogging alone. Almost every travel blogger I know (and I know a lot of them) is earning income from a source or sources other than their blog. Some offer their services as social media experts, marketing consultants, or become public speakers. A few have launched tour companies, while others make a living as freelance writers providing content for other websites, or technical writers. Still others work on a per project basis, assisting clients with website design, app development, or Internet security. The possibilities are endless but basically we all use our blogs to launch into other income generating opportunities. You just have to be creative and come up with a way to use your talents and passions into a way to make money!
You’ve been traveling for a number of years now. Long term travel can sometimes be exhausting on ones motivation. Any tips on how to recharge while on such a long trip?
This is a subject that I have been struggling with over the past year. 2013 was difficult for me, as my left hip and knee started giving me problems and I suddenly seemed to lose the stamina which with I’ve always been blessed. Partially, that was the result of traveling too fast. I prefer to spend at least a month in each country I visited, but I moved much faster than that last year, visiting 12 different countries in eight months. But I was also mentally exhausted. During the day I tour and interview people, always looking for the next interesting story. I get back to my room at eight or nine p.m. and have to sort through the 200-300 photos I take each day, naming and categorizing them, downloading to my laptop, and uploading to the cloud. I wade through the 100+ emails I receive each day and attend to my social media obligations, as that’s a very important part of having a popular travel blog. On average, that requires three hours, and that’s before I’ve edited the first photo, done the first bit of research for my stories, or written the first word. It’s a constant balancing act to produce content, see the destination, and still sleep more than four hours per night. In 2013 I decided that traveling three to four months, followed by a longer stay of two to three months in one place, is the optimum way to travel. My plan for the future is to travel in the spring and fall, stay in one place during the summer high season to avoid the crowds, and another place in a warm climate during the winter months.
Again, having traveled as extensively as you have now, do you find your taste in destinations changing at all? Any of your former favorite destinations lost their magic over the years?
The more I travel, the longer my travel wish list grows. It seems like for every destination I check off, two more get added. Asia continues to be my favorite destination, and Nepal and Thailand
are countries that I return to repeatedly, though in most cases I prefer to go someplace new rather than return to a country I’ve visited previously. My travel destination choices are very eclectic. I usually prefer undeveloped countries to developed, though there are definitely exceptions to this rule, as I absolutely love Paris!
You’ve written before about how you find people in developed countries less happy than those in much poorer countries. Everyone seems to be looking for happiness but few of us seem to be finding it much these days. What wisdom have you gained on the topic of happiness? Why do you think people in America are so “happiness poor”?
I spent 36 years working in corporate jobs, hating every moment, for all the wrong reasons. I had a nice house, new car…all the material things anyone could want, yet I was miserable. I spent my life trying to win approval from others rather than being true to myself. These days, I have no permanent home, very little in the way of material possessions, and struggle to make ends meet, yet I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Over the past seven years I’ve noticed that people in abjectly poor countries seem somehow happier than those of us in the Western world, who have so much more. The common denominator in these cultures seems to be love of family and gratitude that they have a roof over their heads, clothes to wear, enough food to eat. The rampant consumerism of the Western world seems to me to not only have eroded those values, but to have also made us unhappier. I really don’t have any solutions to offer, but I do know that chasing dollars never made me happy.
Lastly, what does 2014 hold in store for Hold in the Donut? What projects are you working on for the new year?
2014 promises to be a very exciting year! Slowing down and saying in Thailand for two months at the end of last year helped me to recover my stamina, so I feel completely ready to hit the road again in February. The first week in March is my seven-year anniversary of traveling and blogging, and I’ll soon be launching a brand new, updated design for my blog. About the same time, I’ll be announcing a promotion for my readers that will provide an opportunity for them to support a deserving charity, while also having the chance to win a $3,300 travel prize package. And I’ll be publishing my very first ebook, “Nepal for Non-Trekkers,” during the first quarter of the year. On the travel end, I’ll be doing some things that have long been at the top of my wish list, including taking an Arctic cruise around the northern tip of Norway, where I hope to fulfill my lifelong dream of seeing the Northern Lights. Additionally, I’ll be attending Winter Carnival in Dusseldorf, Germany; visiting the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy
; eating my way through Sicily; island-hopping in Greece; watching the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain; driving around Ireland; exploring several more countries in Eastern Europe; and visiting the ancient temples of mystical Myanmar, among other things. I’m looking forward to a great year and to bringing my readers more first-person stories about the places I visit and the fascinating people I meet.