SANTIAGO, GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR — Barbara Weibel says she’s no inspiration. If you’ve ever been tempted to spend your entire life seeing the world, you might disagree.
Weibel left her career in commercial real estate five years ago to explore Earth and she has no intention of stopping. With no fixed address, next to no personal belongings other than what she can fit in her backpack, no debt and no ambitions to return to the corporate world despite being down to $17,000 in her savings account, Weibel leads a nomadic life that has won her a sizeable audience for her blog, HoleintheDonut.com.
Illness made the Floridian, by way of Illinois, commit to a dramatic change in her lifestyle. Weibel suffered from the most severe form of lyme disease, which is potentially fatal and kept her bed-ridden for weeks. “During my time in the hospital, I really had time to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. And I remembered when I was a teenager, I wanted to be a journalist, I wanted to be a war correspondent and travel to far-off places. But my father always told me that I needed a job and I needed to save for retirement and so that’s what I did,” said Weibel, who is 59.
She said she has started to bring in enough revenue from advertising on her blog and through freelance sales of her articles and photographs that she can continue pursuing her passion of seeing the world for the foreseeable future. Weibel’s focus is on telling stories of the different cultures she encounters, which are often far, far from the tourist path.
“So many of us wouldn’t do this because we worry about what our families would think of us, what our friends would think of us, what society would think of us,” said Weibel, “but when I was sick, I had to decide what was most important for me, what made me happy and what did I really want to do with my life. And this was it.”
In 2006, she loaded her backpack and left for Vietnam. “I thought it would be cathartic for me, because I am of the generation that went through the war.” She awoke to how another culture can have a distinct perspective on events. “The fact that they call it the American War, not the Vietnam War, that was eyeopening for me.”
I met Weibel on a trip to the Galapagos Islands, where we were travelling on the same 10-cabin yacht from Ecoventura Tours. Her story blended with all the other fascinating ones found on the treasured archipelago. For someone to give up a lucrative career and go off on her own to see the world takes guts, of course, and more than a little adventurous spirit.
“It didn’t surprise me that she would do it, but to the extreme that she did it was a surprise,” said Weibel’s sister, Nancy Judevine, who lives near Chicago and was also on board for the Galapagos tour.
When talking about her sister’s new pursuit, Judevine teared up. At first, I thought she held fears for Weibel’s safety. We were discussing their walk through Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and the metropolis closest to the Galapagos, and Judevine spoke about how Weibel went to lengths to assure her about the precautions she takes as a single woman on the road. But her emotions were much more heartfelt than worry.
“I just miss her,” Judevine said, bringing up another aspect of the perpetual sojourner’s life.
The fulfillment of travel can also mean falling out of touch with those closest to you. That’s one reason Weibel said she may sculpt out a life where she is in the United States for three or four months a year. But she also has found family around the world, in the coterie of other constant travellers who are happy to turn the planet into their own unique commune.
Plus, as Weibel points out, she’s been adopted. A family in Nepal has welcomed her as family, a key to why that Himalayan country is her favourite place. She’s hooked into Buddhism and hopes to spend three months each year near Kathmandu.
Weibel, whose maternal grandparents and mother were from Toronto, carries a wonderfully sunny disposition and is an absolute treasure-trove of information on anything from where to find cheap, but accommodating hostels to how to avoid roaming charges on your cell phone when abroad.
What might surprise you is the places Weibel hasn’t been. “I’ve never been to Paris or to London,” she says. “I travel for about $10 a night or less on accommodations.”
Her treks have taken her to the far east, lightly populated villages in Mexico and remote spots like the Galapagos. She’s done it on her own, she’s done it with a tight budget and she’s done it with the passion and ferocity needed to overcome fear, greed, guilt and the other hooks society pins to us.
“I’m just really doing what I want to do with my life,” she said, “but I’m no inspiration.”
I disagree. Don’t you?
Send an email to discuss your travels, your travel dreams and what you think of Weibel’s story.
To learn more about Weibel and discover her terrific travel blog, visit HoleInTheDonut.com (you’ll read about the origin of the name there too).
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