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Expat stories: Barbara Weibel

 I’m 67, but the only time I feel that age is when I look in the mirror.

Barbara Weibel is a full-time traveler and expat that – after 36 years of jobs she detested – escaped the corporate world in order to fill the “hole in the donut” and find purpose in life.

This is an unusual post on OddUrbanThings, as we don’t usually share personal stories. But when I read about Barbara’s fascinating life makeover I thought I’d share.

As expats, we leave our country behind in search of love, better work conditions, or adventure. And it often isn’t as easy as we thought it would be.

Barbara reminds us of one big lesson: it is never too late to make drastic changes and follow your dreams.

How did you come up with the name Hole in the donut? What sort of change did the blog bring to your life?

I spent the first 36 years of my life working for a variety of corporations, for the most part doing jobs I detested. I always said I felt like a donut, solid on the outside but empty on the inside.

I always said I felt like a donut, solid on the outside but empty on the inside.

At the end of 2006, I finally walked away from corporate life to pursue my true passions of travel, photography, and writing. Since I was determined to “fill the hole in my donut,” I thought it was an appropriate name for my fledgling blog.

Walking away from a traditional life meant finally being true to myself. It meant that I no longer worried about what others thought of me or whether they approved of my life choices. I work as hard on the blog as I ever did in corporate life. The difference is that now I love what I do. It has given me a purpose in life.

What was one of your most defining moments in life?

I really don’t think in terms of defining moments because I believe everything is a process. For me, life has been an ever-evolving adventure of figuring out what I love and finding a way to pursue it.

If you had a chance for a “do-over” in life, what would you do differently?

Absolutely nothing. I’ve had some very difficult times, emotionally and physically, but those struggles made me the person I am today. If I had the opportunity to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

What do you feel most proud of?

I’m proud of the person I’ve become.

It was a dog-eat-dog world during my 20’s and 30’s, at a time when few women sat in board rooms. In those days, driven by the need to succeed, I wasn’t always the kindest, most caring person. Fortunately, I came to realize that money, success, and material possessions don’t equate to happiness. In my 50’s I lost almost everything – job, home, savings, even my health. But that experience forced me to examine my life and I found it wanting. In the process of changing it into a life I could be proud of, I grew into a person with self-esteem and consideration for others.

What age do you feel right now and why?

Oh gosh. Hard to answer. I’m 67, but the only time I feel that age is when I look in the mirror. When I see my wrinkles I wonder who that old woman looking back at me is. On the other hand, I’m more active than most people I know in their 40’s. It’s nothing for me to walk 7-8 miles a day exploring a new city. So maybe I “feel” like I’m in my mid-40’s.

What is the next country on your list?

There are still so many places I want to go, so it’s difficult to narrow it down to just one. Antarctica is number one on my list, but that’s a continent rather than a country. Easter Island is number two, and it is a possession of Chile, so I’d have to say Chile, along with Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. Also high on my list are Bhutan and Mongolia, as well as seeing more of the South Pacific and Philippines.

What is your advice to people feeling like they are missing purpose in their lives?

Figure out what you love to do and find a way to earn a living while doing it. This might sound easy but it’s not. It takes a lot of soul-searching, becoming brutally honest with yourself, and focusing on faith rather than fear. Once you’ve figured it out, just do it!

It takes a lot of soul-searching, becoming brutally honest with yourself, and focusing on faith rather than fear.

What is your advice to people that can’t afford full-time travel?

First, I have to say that full-time travel is not for everyone. It requires a high tolerance for change and uncertainty. Plus, it’s not necessary to travel full time to experience the world. If money is an issue, consider independent travel rather than tours. Stay in local guest houses or hostels (they have private rooms these days) where you get a free breakfast and can use the shared kitchen to prepare other meals. Sign up for house-sitting gigs. Volunteer to work on organic farms or stay in local homes for free through the organization known as Couchsurfing. There are so many ways to travel, and many of them require very little money.

Why did you decide to settle? Why in Thailand? What does that location allow you to do?

I’ve been traveling now for about 13 years, eight of which were full-time travel with no home base. Frankly, I just got tired of living out of a suitcase and not having anywhere to call home. I first visited Thailand 17 years ago and instantly fell in love with the country. I adore the culture, the food, the weather, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that I am a practicing Buddhist. Plus, the cost of living here is so much more affordable than in the States. I always suspected that I’d end up here, but with each new place I visited I asked myself, “Could I live here?” I found lots of good places, but none of them came anywhere close to what I have here in Chiang Mai.
Our historic walled Old City offers scores of ancient temples, several museums, loads of restaurants and coffee shops. We have five immense shopping malls and several multiplex cinemas. There are numerous universities in Chiang Mai, and they offer a multitude of art and performance events, usually for free. There are two walking street night markets every weekend that feature everything from clothing to traditional Thai handicrafts. Every neighborhood has its own fresh market, and many of them convert to food courts at night – It’s a fabulous way to sample many different Thai dishes. The vibrant expat community here has created clubs for almost any interest, among them sketching, writing, reading, photography, computers, etc. Best of all, despite this tremendous growth and development, this city has retained its culture. Thais have always been, and probably always will be, warm and welcoming.
In 2012 I began spending winters in Chiang Mai. Each year, my stay got longer. Each year, I didn’t want to leave when it was time to hit the road again. Two years ago I finally decided to rent an apartment here full time. It was a fantastic decision. I’m still traveling much of the year (perhaps five months per year), but whenever I get tired of traveling it’s wonderful to be able to put a key into the door of my own place, dump my suitcase, and collapse onto my very own bed.

What is your best memory of your time spent in Poland?

I absolutely loved Warsaw. It’s an amazing city full of parks, gorgeous architecture, and friendly people. The historic Old City, which was leveled by the Nazis during WWII, has been rebuilt with astonishing accuracy and attention to detail. And the music of Chopin, perhaps the city’s most famous historical resident, is ever-present throughout the city.

What is your worst memory of your time spent in Poland?

LOL – I don’t have any bad memories of Poland, and I’ve been to Warsaw, Poznan, and Krakow. My only regret is that I haven’t seen more of Poland (Gdansk is definitely on my wishlist).

 

Find out more about Barbara

Whether this story has inspired you to move elsewhere, go back to your country, or stay exactly where you are, you can read more about Barbara’s story in the channels below:

Barbara Ann Weibel, Travel Writer/Photographer

Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel Blog: https://holeinthedonut.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/holeinthedonut
Twitter: https://twitter.com/holeinthedonut (@holeinthedonut)
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+BarbaraWeibel
Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/holeinthedonut/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/holeinthedonut/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/baweibel

 

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