Podcast #174 – Replay of Marc’s Interview with Barbara Weibel, owner of HoleInTheDonut.com travel blog with an Update
Barbara Weibel is the owner of the HoleInTheDonut.com travel blog. Barbara is a travel blogger with an incredibly inspiring reinvention story. This is one of Marc’s favorite interviews in the last couple of years.
The original episode was recorded in March of 2018.
Barbara now lives full-time in Chiang Mai Thailand.
Marc interviewed Barbara again in the middle of April of 2020 to discuss her experience of living in Thailand during the COVID-19 pandemic. That interview is appended at the end.
Now on to the podcast…
Barbara owns and publishes Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel, generally ranked among the top 100 travel blogs in the world. Barbara worked in corporate jobs for 36 years and can honestly say that she hated that life. She was never comfortable with politics and stress. She put her nose to the grindstone preparing for retirement.
Barbara has about a 10-year attention span. She needs a new challenge all the time. She was a great problem-solver. She would take a company that was not doing very well and restructure it to be successful. About five years in, she was stressed out but stayed because of the money. Eventually, she would leave – until the next job.
Barbara shares her career path, from starting in sales to moving into management, owning a PR firm, marketing major malls, and marketing a chemical recycling company. When the chemical company went bankrupt, Barbara moved to the Caribbean and opened a couple of small businesses there. She did many different things.
Yet nothing she had done had brought her happiness. Then she got Lyme Disease. It took five years before a definitive diagnosis of chronic Lyme Disease. She developed neurological deficits. She took antibiotics for six weeks and was very ill. She examined her life and found it lacking. She wished for something to do with passion.
In this six-week period, she recalled childhood joys of photography, reading National Geographic, and writing and editing for her school newspaper. She has taken adventurous travels from the time she was old enough to go on her own. She realized photography, writing, and travel are her true passions.
She promised herself that if she could get better, she would walk away from everything. At the time, she was managing broker for a group of real estate offices. She told her boss if she could get well in a year, she would give up her job and go traveling. She found a naturopath for her Lyme Disease and in a year, she was well.
With multiple properties she owned, she had about $14K in mortgage payments every month. She was tempted to go back to work but realized she would not be happy.
Barbara closed up her house and bought a six-month around-the-world ticket. She made a list of the 17 countries she had always wanted to visit. People discouraged her. This was in 2006, before blogs were known. She actually did the blog primarily so her father and family could keep up with her adventures. He was scared for her.
After the six-month trip, Barbara came back for her niece’s wedding. At that time only about 1,200 people were reading the blog. She spent the next two-and-a-half years building up the traffic on the blog. She was supporting herself by freelance writing. She also managed to sell her home, so there was some money from that.
By November 2009, Barbara was traveling so much that having a permanent base no longer made sense. She went on the road full-time, up until December 2017.
Blogging was emerging as an important vehicle. People start their travel investigation on the internet. Barbara had started early, positioning herself to become one of the top travel bloggers in the world. She was selling text-link ads, making enough to stay in dorms and hostels around the world. Google, by the way, put an end to that.
Now Barbara needed a new income stream. She had 25-to-30 thousand people a month reading her blog. 85% of them are new every month. That was not a big-enough audience to attract advertisers to the site. The next big thing was sponsored content or native advertising. Barbara didn’t want that. Her writing is engaging storytelling.
Barbara made the decision to stay true to herself to and stick with the literate first-person narrative writing. Over the years, Google has come to like her style. In the eyes of Google, her blog has gained great authority, which means it is highly ranked.
Marc points out that this was not an overnight success. Barbara recognizes her writing has improved over the years. It’s continually evolving.
The new model of sponsored blogging is to accept brokered ads on their sites. Barbara refuses to accept ads and popups. She will not lessen the quality and integrity of her blog. She is free to pick and choose what she does, as she took Social Security at age 62. She is 66, now.
Barbara has been spending months in Thailand each year. She fell in love with the country on her first visit. She has visited 94 countries and she can’t find anything better than Thailand. She no longer feels physically fit to travel full-time.
Barbara says she is doing more at 66 than a lot of people she knows who are in their 40s. But she needed to have a base again. She rents a one-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of a condo in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She has a mountain view with beautiful sunsets. She’ll travel for five months and stay in the apartment for seven months.
Barbara talks about living on Social Security and what the cost of living is in Thailand. She can afford it.
Because Barbara doesn’t sell ads, her income stream is minimal. She gets offers for press trips, sponsored by cities and countries. Most travel writers and publications accept these, with the notable exception of Condé Nast.
Barbara is taking a two-week land-and-sea trip in Greece with Collette Tours later in May. In the first part of May she will work with Ethio Travel and Tours on a two-week tour around Ethiopia. She doesn’t do a lot of press tours, unless it’s to a place she really wants to visit, from a reputable company. She’ll do two or three a year.
Barbara has done this all throughout her 11 years of blogging. This is one of the tricks to maximize money coming in. The blogger is paid to travel. Barbara puts it in writing that the travel agency does not have any right to review or change her writing. They don’t get to see it before it’s published. She will write the truth about the trip.
Barbara will not accept money per diem because it is a conflict of interest to write something negative after she has been paid to write. When something falls apart, she will write about it. Most of the time, things go very well.
Barbara talks about other content bloggers provide.
Barbara talks about how things turned out, compared to what she planned. It’s about the same, except for how much work it is! Tweets, Instagram come after culling a day’s worth of photos. Then there is the email to answer, blog updates, and finally, research and writing. On average, Barbara sleeps four-to-five hours a night touring.
Barbara tells people it’s never too late. If you can visualize, down to the smallest detail, what you want your life to be, then you can create that life. She is proof of that. She reinvents herself as many times as needed.
Barbara talks about her mission, discovered during her year of recovery. We are one human family.
Now for an update from Barbara
Links from the updated interview.
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