Living the Dream and Filling the 'Hole in the Donut'

PHOTO: Barbara Weibel photographed her 2007 trip to Pura Ulun Danau Bratan Temple at Lake Bratan in Bedugul, Bali.Playhttp://www.holeinthedonut.com
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Barbara Weibel chucked it all to travel the world. "There are so many beautiful places in the world," she says. "Bali was gorgeous. Cinque Terre in Italy is gorgeous. Parts of Thailand are gorgeous."

For the past five years, she has been living her dream. A successful businesswoman in her 50s, Weibel became sick -- literally -- and tired. Her success in business wasn't enough to make her happy.

"I had been working 30 to 40 years doing what I thought everyone else wanted me to do, what my family wanted, what society thought was right, and never pursuing the passions that I had," Weibel says. "I hated getting up every day and going to work. And I just kept selling my soul for the wrong reasons."

The turning point came when she became ill and was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Weibel was afraid she would die. "I said when they finally diagnosed it, if I get better I'm going to walk away from this life," she recalls.

And she did walk away. "I was 54 when I finally made the change. I'm 59 now," she says. "I've been doing it almost five years. I love every day of my life. I can't wait to get up in the morning."

Carrying little more than a backpack, Weibel travels the world taking photographs and writing about the places she visits for her popular blog called Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel.

"Hole in the doughnut simply referred to how I felt when I was in corporate life, solid on the outside, empty on the inside," she says.

"All I ever wanted to do was be a journalist, a photo journalist, and work for National Geographic, and travel," she says.

From the moment Weibel decided to kiss her business life goodbye, she knew she'd made the right choice. "It was as if a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders. It was freeing," she says.

Weibel spends most of the year traveling around the world taking pictures and writing about people. "My goal is to teach people that we're not so different. People around the world are all the same," she believes. "I've learned that most people are good."

On a recent stop in Washington, D.C., Weibel had to spend several nights sleeping on a couch at a hostel because all the beds were booked. "I can't live in luxury. I don't go to the top hotels," she says. "Most of the time I'm in hostels in the dorms."

Weibel has noticed that most of her fellow U.S. citizens are not adventurous foreign travelers. "In the United States, we have a lot of fear of travel. I don't meet too many people from the U.S. when I'm on the road," she says. "There seems to be this prevailing belief that if we step offshore that we'll be kidnapped by a terrorist."

Of all the countries Weibel has visited, she has one favorite. "Last year I went to Nepal with the plan to stay for three weeks. And three months later I was still there," she says. "I really fell in love with Nepal like I've never fallen in love with another place."

Weibel also noticed a big difference between people in the U.S. and people in other countries. "One of the things that strikes me all the time is that people outside the United States are happier than people inside the United States," she says. "The poorer people are, the happier they are. And I wonder if there's an inverse relationship between money and happiness."

When Weibel began her world travels five years ago, most of the pictures she took were of pretty places: temples, mountains, rivers. Now she has a more personal perspective. "I want to see the people. I want to see how they live, what they do, what they look like, what they eat, what they wear, because I think the faces say so much," she says.

Weibel's travel blog, with more than 20,000 followers, is one of the most popular on the web. After putting her own savings into it for three years, the blog now makes a little money, at least enough to support her travels.

She does accept some promotional trips and hotel visits that are given to many travel writers in return for writing about the places. But Weibel says she will only give her true opinion of a destination.

After five years on the road, Weibel is now fond of saying that she's filling her doughnut hole with jelly. She has no regrets about leaving the corporate world. "I don't need to be famous. I just need to do what I love," she says.

With a lot of hard work and determination, Barbara Weibel's dream of a lifetime is coming true. "I just kept plodding away. I never gave up hope," she says. "I had a vision in my head of what I wanted my life to be, what I loved doing, and I went toward it."