Last updated on August 4th, 2022
Featured image: Barbara Weibel at an elephant nature park in Thailand, where she has decided to settle down | Photo provided by Barbara Weibel
A JourneyWoman Solo Travel Rockstar Settles Down in Thailand
By Barbara Weibel, Guest writer, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
Editor’s note: Barbara is one of our solo travel rockstar women over 60, profiled several years ago in an article by Evelyn Hannon that I recently updated. At the time, Barbara said: “I’ve been traveling the world for nine years, the last six years with no home base. Home is wherever I am on any given day, and the only “base” I have is my suitcase.” When we updated this article, she offered to update us on the changes in her life.
My first encounter with Journeywoman.com was as a fledgling travel blogger in 2007. At age 54, I’d fled the drudgery of a corporate life and was determined to pursue my true passions: travel, writing, and photography. Evelyn Hannon, always one to help fellow solo female travelers, allowed me to run a classified ad in her famous newsletter. I was lucky that Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel was one of the first ever travel blogs. With few competitors, my readership grew quickly. But without Evelyn’s help, this story may not have happened.
In those early days, pioneer travel bloggers were feeling our way. For the first couple of years, when I told people I had a travel blog I was met with vacant stares. Few people knew what a blog was and advertisers had not yet accepted us as viable publishers. None of us had ads running on our sites. The travel industry had not yet embraced us, thus press trips were not an option. No one was paying for our trips or our stories.
Like everyone else, I struggled along, paying my way around the world by selling the occasional photo for a magazine or book cover, and by writing stories for other publications – four a week at $25 a crack. I didn’t make a penny from my blog until it was 2.5 years old. When I look back on those days I still shake my head in wonderment. I don’t know how I did it.
Barbara stands in front of Machu Picchu, Peru / Photo provided by Barbara Weibel
I stayed in the cheapest hostel dormitories I could find, availing myself of the free breakfasts and surreptitiously shoving rolls and butter into my pockets for lunch. Dinner, especially in Europe, was something cheap from a bakery or supermarket. There were days when I didn’t know if I would have enough money to eat or pay for a room but somehow, it always worked out. Gradually, my efforts paid off and I began receiving offers for paid press trips.
15 years later…
Those were hard but joyous days. Now, nearly 15 years later, I have traveled solo to all eight continents, 100 countries, and 10 non-sovereign territories. I have slept atop the Great Wall of China, camped overnight at Mount Everest Base Camp in Tibet, survived a brutal sandstorm while riding a camel in the Sahara Desert, and been cured of heart pains by a healer in Bernal de la Peña in Mexico.
I’ve stood at the foot of the pyramids in Egypt, walked among millions of penguins in Antarctica, dog-sledded across the frozen tundra in Norway, and marveled at the antics of Orangutans on the island of Borneo. On safari in Africa, I witnessed a battle between male giraffes fighting over a female and barely escaped a rogue bull elephant who charged my jeep.
Barbara in front of a camel caravan at the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia / Photo provided by Barbara Weibel
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It’s all about the people
Yet for all the astounding sights I have seen, it’s the people I met who truly defined my journey. A number of my fellow bunkmates in those hostel dormitories became lifelong friends. I’ve stayed in their homes in England, Scotland, France, Peru, Hungary, Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the Channel Islands, and Australia. In Nepal, I was adopted by the family of a Yogi with whom I studied and I still visit them as often as possible. And back in he USA, while covering the Kalachakra Initiation in Washington, D.C., the Dalai Lama held my hand for an electrifying 30-seconds.
Of all these destinations, it was Thailand that kept drawing me back. My first visit to the Land of Smiles was in 2003. From the moment my feet touched the ground, I was transfixed. Perhaps it was because I have long been a practicing Buddhist and Thailand is a majority Buddhist country. Of course, the food may have had a lot to do with it; Thai cuisine is the most scrumptious food on the face of this earth. But more than anything, the kind and friendly Thai people were responsible for my addiction.
Looking for more on Asia? Check out our guide here!
Barbara explores the Great Wall of Chine / Photo provided by Barbara Weibel
Eventually, I grew tired of schlepping all my stuff around with me. I needed to settle down again. Fortunately, by the time I wanted to put down roots, I qualified for my retirement income. I no longer had to worry about having enough money for my next meal and, unsurprisingly, I chose Chiang Mai, Thailand, as my new home. I’ve lived here nearly five years now and still have to pinch myself to believe it’s true.
Barbara at a Lavender field in Provence, France / Photo provided by Barbara Weibel
Covid has put a crimp in my international travels for the past 2.5 years, and after so many months of sedentary existence, I can feel things changing. I turned 70 this year and I no longer have any desire to spend years on the road. I’m nowhere near done traveling, but the way I travel has to change.
From now on, I plan to limit my travels to two months at a time and no more than two countries on any trip. My first overseas venture will be to Spain this September. Scotland, Sardinia, Crete, Switzerland, Kenya, and Namibia are also on my radar for future trips. The one thing that will be different this time is that I have a home in Thailand to return to at the end of each trip. I’m a lucky woman.
Barbara is the owner/publisher of Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel, named after her need to find purpose. “I was like a donut – a wonderful outer shell with an empty, hollow inside. I could no longer ignore the need to feel that I was living a purposeful life.” You can read more on her website here.
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You are always inspiring and love reading your articles.