Following her recovery from a devastating illness, Barbara Weibel left her successful but unsatisfying corporate career to pursue her dream of traveling the world. Initially setting out on a six-month solo backpacking trip, she has now been traveling full time since 2009.
What pushed you to leave your career and start traveling? How did your illness impact your decision?
Barbara: I spent nearly 35 years working in corporate jobs that made me miserable, but I kept slogging along because it’s what was “expected” of me. When I got extremely sick with chronic Lyme disease, I reassessed my life and realized I could die without ever doing all the things I had dreamed about. I promised myself that if I recovered, I would quit my job and hit the road, with a goal of recreating myself as a travel writer and photographer, the only things I had every really wanted to do.
Did the people around you support your decision? How did you handle their response?
Barbara: A few of my friends supported me, but in general, the reception to my decision was less than enthusiastic. I was told that I was “throwing my life away” and that at 54, with no portfolio or experience, it would be impossible to break into the travel writing industry. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and when you tell me something can’t be done, I’ll do it just to spite you. Family members kept telling me I had to be realistic; that few people “make it” as writers. Whenever this happened, I said aloud, “Cancel, cancel, cancel.” I refused to allow the negativity of others to seep into my psyche. Having dealt with a serious illness that could have been fatal gave me a certain freedom to walk away from everything I’d built and run toward my dream.
What would you encourage others to do if they want to make a change, but receive little support from those around them?
Barbara: Be your own person and trust your gut; you are the only person who knows what is best for you. Fifty years from now, you don’t want to look back and wonder, “what if?” As for others, there’s a saying that is perfect for this situation: “What other people think of me is none of my business.”
How did you prepare for traveling? What did you need to think about before you left?
Barbara: For my initial trip, I purchased a round-the-world airfare ticket that required me to plan each leg of my six month journey. Thus, I knew my exact route, how long I would be staying in each place, and had even pre-booked most of my hotels. In retrospect, that was probably wise; though I had traveled all my life, the bulk of my travels had been domestic, and I was a bit intimidated by six-months of overseas travel to places like Vietnam and Cambodia. As a result, I took extra precautions, such as getting backup debit cards; setting up two separate checking accounts – one for business and the other personal, with the ability to transfer funds between them; arranging for medical evacuation insurance; and thoroughly researching each destination. These days, my mode of travel is much different. I buy one-way tickets to a continent and plan nothing, staying in a destination until I am ready to move on. Often, I even arrive in a country with no hotel reservations and just figure things out when I get there. Having a few years of perpetual travel under my belt has taught me that there is nothing to fear.
If you could do this over again, is there anything you would do differently? Or, is there anything you wish you had known before you left?
Barbara: I’m tempted to say that I wish I’d done it years before I did, but there were no blogs back then, and blogging is how I make enough money to stay on the road perpetually. Plus, everything I’ve been through in my life made me the person I am today, so I think everything has happened just as it was meant to.
How do you balance your writing and work while traveling?
Barbara: Ach! This is the very biggest issue in my life. As a perpetual traveler, time is a precious commodity. I spend my days touring, interviewing people, looking for feature stories, etc. In the evening I have to download, organize and backup the 200+ photos I take each day; answer the 100+ emails I get each day; take care of my social media obligations; manage the advertising on my blog; manage the blog technology and design; produce videos; research articles; and plan for my upcoming travels—all before I write the first word. Many a night I exist on four hours of sleep per night. Frankly, I work as many, if not more hours than I ever did in corporate life. The difference is, I now love what I do.
What has been your most memorable and rewarding experience to date, if you could only pick one?
Barbara: I have to say being adopted by my Nepali family was the most rewarding experience of all my travels. My mode of travel had been gradually changing, slowing down prior to this, but they really taught me the value of connecting at a very deep level with people in the countries I visit. As a result, these days I rarely spend less than a month in a county, and I almost always try to immerse in the culture of the places I visit.
Do you have any advice for others contemplating leaving their career to pursue their dreams?
Barbara: The question I am most often asked is, “Aren’t you afraid?” I tell people there is nothing to be afraid of. Educate yourself about the scams and ways in which travelers are sometimes targeted and be aware of what is happening around you at all times. But in the end, just do it.
Read more about Barbara’s adventures on her travel blog: Hole in the Donut.