At 54 Barbara Left Her Big Home, New Car, And Successful Career To Start One Of The World’s First Travel Blogs
Published by GAFFL
Last updated - 06:06 AM
What is GAFFL?

GAFFL connects solo travelers from with similar itineraries to explore destinations together. Whether you are backpacking in Asia, road tripping in Australia, or exploring national parks in the US, simply type the destination you are traveling to, find travelers who are going there at the same time with you, connect with them, plan trips, meet, and travel together.

Barbara Weibel is the publisher of Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel, one of the world's first travel blogs. Prior to launching her blog in 2006, she held corporate positions for 36 years and worked 70+ hours per week at jobs that paid the bills but brought her no joy until a serious illness forced her to reassess her life. Though Barbara had all the material comforts - big home, new car, jewelry, successful career - she realized that she felt like the proverbial "hole in the donut" - solid on the outside, but empty on the inside. She vowed that if she recovered, she would walk away from everything to pursue her true passions of travel, writing, and photography. A year later, at age 54, Barbara threw a backpack over her shoulder, started her blog, and headed out to recreate herself as a travel writer and photographer.

You can follow Barbara's adventures more closely on her blog and you can also connect with her on GAFFL.

Why I Started Traveling Solo And Why I Still Do It


I have always preferred traveling solo. It allows me to do what I want, when I want, without the need to consider the desires of others. This is particularly important as a travel writer and photographer. I need to be free to pursue potential stories that arise in the moment. Often, capturing the perfect photo requires waiting for the right light and conditions. That's not possible when traveling with others. I also find it serves me well in meeting locals. If I'm traveling solo on a local bus, I will be sitting next to a local person, with whom I will almost always be able to strike up a conversation. Traveling with a companion automatically precludes that.

I’ve Met Some Of My Best Friends Through Travel


With a few exceptions, most of my best friends have come about as a result of travel. I spent eight years traveling the world with no home base, staying in hostel dorms. I've met some of the most fascinating people, and many of them remain friends to this day. 

In Ecuador I met a teacher from Peru. When I was in Lima, she and her mother took me to their country club and treated me to a meal with Peruvian delicacies. 

On a European river cruise I bonded with the activities director, a wonderful young woman from Bulgaria. I've met up with her numerous times and even stayed at her home in Sofia. 


Years ago I was "adopted" by a family in Nepal and I continue to visit them every 18 months or so. I still tear up when I recall the first time I was invited to their home during the Hindu holiday of Tihar. When I thanked them for allowing me to be part of their family for the day, they corrected me. "No, no Didi (elder sister), you don't understand. Now that you have celebrated Tihar with us, you are part of our family forever."

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How I Choose Where To Travel Next & The Usual Length Of My Trips


Almost anything can pique my interest in a new destination. An article in a magazine or another blog, a travel show on TV, a conversation with someone who has been to a destination I haven't yet visited. But I think my destination choices are most often influenced by books I read.

My trips vary in length. As I said above, at one point I spent eight years on the road with no home base. During these vagabond years, I returned to the U.S. on occasion to visit family or spend holidays, but for the most part I wandered around the world full time. I try to spend at least a month in each country I visit. My goal is to immerse in the local culture in order to bring great stories to my readers, and I find it impossible to do this if I'm only spending a few days in a place.



Eventually, I decided I needed a home base again. Throughout my years of travel, I'd always kept an eye out for potential places to settle down. I first visited Thailand in 2004 and fell in love with it, but other countries were also on my radar. Gradually, I checked them all out and none were as good as Thailand, so nearly three years ago I rented an apartment in Chiang Mai. Since then, I've continued to travel, but now I have a home to return to between bouts of travel.

Challenges That Prevent Me From Traveling More

The only downside to traveling solo is that it costs a bit more because there is no opportunity to "share." Other than that, I have experienced no challenges to traveling solo. And since leaving corporate life the only thing that has ever prevented me from traveling more is what's happening right now with COVID-19.


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was traveling about five months a year and home about seven months. Since COVID, my international travel has been suspended, however Thailand has had no locally transmitted cases of the virus for more than two months, so I have been traveling domestically. I can stay in Thailand because I have a retirement visa, however at present Americans are not allowed to enter the country. Thus, if I leave, I cannot return. Since this is my only home in the world, that's a problem for me. It looks like I'll only be traveling in Thailand for the foreseeable future, and those trips tend to be much shorter.

My Advice For New Solo Travelers

Don't buy into the narrative that travel is dangerous. I'm a 68-year old woman who has traveled solo to 100+ countries and I've never had a major problem of any kind. But...educate yourself on how to travel safely. Don't stay in accommodations with sketchy locks, don't wear expensive jewelry, don't flash around a lot of cash, etc. Perhaps most important, pay attention to your gut. If it tells you to get out of a place, leave! Even if it means being rude.

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Comments

  • GAFFL
    Vonnie Kunkel
    September 17, 2020 at 1:29 PM

    Dear Barb, this ... to see you happy and fulfilled ... makes my heart smile! xoxo to you!

  • GAFFL
    Cacinda Maloney
    September 17, 2020 at 4:35 PM

    Great article! So cool to meet you "on the road"!

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