Barbara Weibel went through most of her working life with only one concern: making money to support a reliable lifestyle into retirement. The security of an income was enough for her to drag herself to work day after day, but it was not enough to sustain a life without purpose.
One day, Barbara became so ill that she could no longer get out of bed. As she struggled with a bedridden condition, eventually diagnosed as chronic lyme disease, Barbara confronted the emptiness inside herself.
She described this hollow feeling as “the hole in the donut”, and once her health was restored, she committed to filling her life with experiences of cultural immersion and her passions for travel, writing, and photography.
She quit her job and started travelling the world solo, building a freelancing income to sustain a location-independent lifestyle.
We all have a hole to fill at some point in our lives. Dig deeper in my interview with Barbara!
1. Why do you think that you were able to ignore or dismiss your unhappiness for so long?
One word - fear! The security of a steady income was reason enough to dismiss my own dreams for many years. Add to that the fears that my family, friends, and society in general would not approve of a non-traditional nomadic lifestyle. And finally, fear of actually doing it; could I make my way around the world, traveling solo and without a home base.
2. How did you gain the perspective you needed to make your life change? Would you say that enduring illness prepared you to make this transition?
There is no doubt that becoming so sick was the impetus for me to change my life. I was terrified that I might die without doing the things I had always dreamed of. Flat on my back in bed, I examined my life and asked myself what would make me happy. I knew I had to leave corporate life behind to pursue my dreams of travel, writing, and photography. Without that “brick wall” I might never have made those changes.
3. What did it take to let go of the security of a reliable income? How did you shift your values, beliefs, and expectations to embrace the uncertainty?
Letting go of reliable income was the scariest part. It meant selling my home and disposing of or giving away most of my material possessions. Though it was scary, intellectually I knew that ‘things’ had never made me happy. Also, I’ve always been blessed with the quality of adaptability, so I never felt particularly attached to a house; home for me has always been wherever I am. In the end, being happy became more important than having a lot of money in the bank. These days, I live out of a 25” suitcase and am perfectly happy not to be burdened with a lot of stuff. I don’t feel any uncertainty; rather, I feel completely free.
4. At what point did you realize that your solo travels would become a sustainable lifestyle?
I’m not sure that there was a specific point at which I realized things would truly work out. There were several times when I was ready to give up, but something always happened when I was most discouraged that kept me going. Simply, failure was not an option for me. I went at it with a vision of what my life would look like and set about making it a reality.
5. When you started to share your writing and photography on your blog, did you envision the audience you have today? How did you connect with your followers, and how have you continued to develop your web presence?
I laughed when I read this question. Like so many others, I started my blog simply to keep my friends and family abreast of where I was and what I was doing. By the end of my first round-the-world trip, I had more than a thousand readers, which I thought was impressive. That figured strongly in my decision to continue blogging. Little did I know that my audience would grow thirty-fold over the years, however building it to this level has been a lot of hard work. I’ve gone through four site redesigns, doing the first two myself. I have accounts with all the top social media platforms, and substantial numbers of followers in all of them, so I promote each of my articles via social media, as well as following guidelines for good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - you can have the best content in the world but it makes no difference if Google can’t find it. Though the majority of my traffic comes from organic search, I also work hard to build my subscriber list and I believe that the quality of my writing has been instrumental to my success in this area.
6. After living so long on a steady source of income, is it challenging for you to work as a freelancer? How do you manage your income and expenses as you travel?
It is certainly challenging, but it is also doable. When I first started traveling at the beginning of 2007, I still had an apartment in the States. Over time, I traveled more and was home less. It made no sense to keep paying rent and utilities for a place that I rarely used, so I finally gave up my apartment in late 2009 and became a full-time traveler. This was the best decision I ever made, as it also freed me up financially. I even sold my car last year, so my only expenses aside from travel are health insurance and cell phone. Any bills are paid online or auto-drafted from my checking account, and I receive income via PayPal, which is then transferred to my checking account. I use my debit card to get local currency from ATM’s when I arrive in each new country, which is safer and cheaper than carrying dollars and doing currency exchanges. Keeping my expenses down to a bare minimum is key to successful nomadic living.
7. What have you discovered about yourself by seeking and sharing experiences of cultural immersion?
I’ve discovered that I’m not the kind of person who can stay in just one place. I am insanely curious about people and places, and am passionate about spreading the message that travel is not dangerous. I also realize that I am fearless and that there are few situations that I find daunting, which is a good trait to have as a full-time traveler.
8. How much planning goes into your adventures? Do you have any criteria for picking your next destination or activity?
I do little to no planning before arriving in a particular destination, as I believe that having no expectations is better for my writing. Additionally, it allows me the flexibility to go wherever my nose leads me. I don’t really have a criteria for choosing my next destination or activity. I generally go back to the U.S. for Christmas to spend about a month with my family. When I leave, I have a general idea of the countries I might want to visit over the next few months, so I buy a one-way ticket to the appropriate continent and just make my way around by bus, boat, or train. If I am bound for a new destination, I generally have reservations at a hostel or guest house for the first two or three days. If I choose to stay longer, I either extend once I’m there or find an alternative for a long-term stay. I stay as long as I want and then move on to my next destination, which might be chosen based on the comment of another traveler, something I read, or just some memory buried in my brain.
9. What do you think sets your website apart from others in the travel blog genre? Has your relationship with your readers changed your own journey in any ways?
My blog is 100% first-person narrative stories of the places I visit and the people I meet along the way. I have never published a “sponsored” post that is paid content, so my readers can be assured that whatever they read is my honest opinion. Secondly, I am fascinated by the differences between cultures, so I try to stay longer in the places I visit in order to immerse in the local culture. This allows me to write intriguing, thoughtful, in-depth articles about those destinations. Finally, my writing is literate, with a great deal of attention paid to grammar and punctuation. As for the relationship with my readers, that hasn’t changed my journey, however the comments and emails I receive from them are a constant validation that I have made the right choice.
10. Have you filled the donut, and what does that feel like?
Yes, I often jokingly remark that my donut is now stuffed with delicious jelly filling. It feels wonderful! My only regret is that I didn’t do it much sooner.