Interview: Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

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I met Barbara online. When I emailed her an interview request, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. She wrote, “Perpetual or even long-term travel changes us irrevocably and many of us cannot return to [the same] lives…after our experiences around the world.” A match! Trying to connect the world through the stories she can share, Barbara left the rat race of the corporate world and threw caution straight into the wind. After jobs that paid the bills for a comfortable existence left her unfulfilled and an illness left her on the sidelines of life for a few years, she had had enough. No more listening to other people’s opinions and no more wasted time. At the age of 62, she has been filling her soul by traveling the world for more than eight years and has no plans to settle down. Here she shares her passion for traveling and what she believes are the gifts of travel.

In the Galapagos (Ecuador) with giant tortoises

In the Galapagos (Ecuador) with giant tortoises

1.When did you get started traveling? I started traveling avidly the moment I was old enough to take off on my own, probably around the age of 18. Over the years, my desire to travel only grew; I found myself traveling for longer periods and to more far-flung places.

2.What made you decide make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? Quite simply, it was an economic decision. Travel writers are not well paid, and with the amount of time I was traveling, it no longer made sense to maintain a permanent location when I was rarely there.

3.What benefits do you feel you get from this lifestyle? How do you handle the nay-sayers in your life? The nay-sayers kept me trapped in a traditional corporate lifestyle for most of my working life. Rather than being true to myself, I worried that others would not approve of me, so I plodded on, living a life that I detested. Now, nearly eight years after walking away from my previous life, I wonder what took me so long. These days, I know that what other people think of me is none of my business. As for the benefits of this lifestyle, connecting with locals and learning about the culture of peoples from around the world is a joy for me, and I feel that my writing and photography contributes to the concept that we are all one human family.

Sailing the Tall Ship Lady Avenel in London

Sailing the Tall Ship Lady Avenel in London

4.How did you save money to be able to afford living ‘on the road’/traveling often? How long did it take you to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based life? I was very fortunate that I had saved some money during my corporate years that allowed me to launch the blog and pay my way until the blog started earning money, abut 2.5 years after I took my first round-the-world trip in March of 2007. I finally made the move to a location independent lifestyle when I gave up my apartment in November of 2009. I have a safety net, of sorts. I return to the U.S. for the Christmas holidays each year and stay with family for a few weeks. I also have very good friends in the Atlanta area who have a “mother-in-law suite” beneath their home, which I am welcome to use whenever I want to take a break from traveling. Having said that, I’m quite certain I’d be fine without the safety net as well.

5.How do you choose your destinations and for how long you’ll stay? What type of accommodations do you typically choose? Are there any specific resources you recommend? Each year, when I visit my family during the holidays, I decide what part of the world I want to visit the following year. I have a list of destinations that I’m eager to visit, so I buy a one-way ticket to a major city on my selected continent, then make my way around by boat, bus, train, van, shuttle, or car to the countries in that region I wish to visit. I try not to fly, unless I am traveling great distances or I decide to go on to a different continent, as I see so much more and meet so many more people when using ground transportation. My preference is to stay in each country a few weeks so that I have enough time to learn about the culture, but, there are times when I’m invited to visit a destination and only stay a few days. In these instances, I look at it as an opportunity to get a taste for a destination to see if I might want to return. My accommodations range from resorts and hotels to hostels and guest houses, though I must admit I’m a particular fan of hostels. You just can’t beat the camaraderie found in hostels, as seasoned travelers share their stories and tips for places not to be missed. I might add that hostels are not what they were years ago. Though guests can book a bed in a dorm, hostels these days often offer private rooms with ensuite bathroom. Without hostels and guest houses, I could not afford to do what I do. As for resources, I’m pretty much a “seat-of-the-pants” traveler. I do very little research before traveling to a destination because I want to have no expectations (it benefits my writing to “be surprised”), but I do recommend that unseasoned travelers avail themselves of the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Travel Forum, where frequent travelers share their expertise about destinations. At the very least, it’s wise to know about the common scams used by touts in the country you intend to visit.

6.How much money do you traditionally need annually to support this lifestyle? Frankly, I’ve never added it up. But my guess would be that I can travel perpetually for between $18-20,000 U.S. per year.

7.How do you make money on the road and save for retirement? I turned 62 this year and took my Social Security retirement pension, so I no longer have a need to make any money from my blog. During the preceding years, I earned income mostly from advertising, affiliate sales, and the occasional sponsorship.

Feeding Alpacas in Peru's Sacred Valley

Feeding Alpacas in Peru’s Sacred Valley

8.How do you handle visas, vaccinations, legal documents/passports, taxes and healthcare while living without a home base or an ever-changing one? It’s not as hard as you might imagine. I have a mail forwarding service in the States that opens, scans and emails me any snail mail I receive (which is generally less than three pieces per month). I have U.S. based health insurance, which I pay out of my own pocket, and many of the places I visit regularly (Thailand, Malaysia) have excellent health care at very affordable prices. As an American citizen, I am fortunate that I am able to enter many countries without a visa, however in the instances where I am required to get a visa prior to entry, I do so at a Consulate of that country somewhere in the world. I can also renew my passport at U.S. Consulates around the world. And vaccinations are rarely necessary but when they are I can get them at a health service in most any country. As for the rest (paying bills, taxes, etc.), everything is electronic. At the end of the year, I email tax figures to my account (who has power of attorney for me) and he submits the completed forms electronically on my behalf.

9.If you decide to settle somewhere – where and when do you think it will be? Ah! I’ve been searching for an answer to this for many years. I’m fairly sure that my winter place will be Thailand at some point. I’ve not yet settled on a summer location, though at the moment I’m leaning toward either Greece or Bulgaria, both of which I like very much. My plan is to spend three or so months in each place and travel in the spring and fall shoulder seasons, which I much prefer to high season travel where I must fight crowds of tourists. As for when I will begin this routine, I don’t know. There are still too many places to see.

10.What advice do you have for others trying to make the jump to a location independent/travel-heavy lifestyle? Develop a skill that allows you to earn income, wherever you are in the world. Find a way to make money from what you love, but don’t expect a blog to provide you with enough money to travel like I do. Most of us who have been successful have used our blogs as platforms from which to launch related income earning efforts, including but not limited to social media consultants, public speakers, tour operators, e-book publishers, web designer, IT security, etc. You just have to get creative.

11.In your experience, what have been the two most significant gifts of travel? Travel forces me to focus on the present moment, rather than obsessing about the past or worrying about the future. It has also taught me that I need to always be true to myself, regardless of what others think of me.

Cooking Class in Southeast Asia

Cooking Class in Southeast Asia

 For more information on Barbara or her travels, check out her website.

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3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Blogs I Love: Hole in the Donut | 100 Days of Sunshine

  2. First of all I would like to say wonderful blog! I had a quick
    question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.

    I was curious to find out how you center yourself and
    clear your mind prior to writing. I’ve had difficulty clearing my mind in getting my ideas out there.
    I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost
    just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips?

    Cheers!

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