Why I Travel

Barbara at 5,198-meter Geu La Pass, with Mount Everest and Himalayas in background

I have always had an insatiable desire to see distant lands and immerse in other cultures. Perhaps that flame was lit by the articles I read from a young age in National Geographic Magazine. Or, as my astrologer friend insists, my sun is in Aries, which makes me fearless and driven; my moon is in the ninth house in Virgo, which has imbued me with a sense of adventure and freedom, especially with regard to travel and exploration; and my rising sign is in Sagittarius, which means I have a finely honed sense of justice that rails at any hint of racism or inequality.

From the moment I was old enough, I seized every opportunity to travel. For many years I was content to limit my adventures to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, with an occasional diversion to Caribbean islands. Eventually, the rest of the world beckoned. By that time, 36 years in corporate life had beaten me down. I was sick, physically and emotionally. For my entire life, I had suppressed my passionate desire to travel, write and take photographs of far-flung places. It was time for a change.

I didn't know why I travel when I was young, I just knew I loved it. Man walks the reef in Montego Bay, Jamaica
One of my first ever travel photos, circa 1975. Man walks along the reef in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

I listed my house for sale, threw a backpack over my shoulder, and headed out on a six-month around-the-world trip. Creating my blog, Hole in the Donut was an afterthought, a means to reassure my family of where I was and what I was doing every day. They were quite sure I was going to be kidnapped or murdered.

My restlessness, at least initially, was a search for answers to timeless philosophical questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose in life? But I was also acutely aware of a need to understand why people, especially many in the U.S., feared “others” who belonged to a different ethnic group, practiced a different religion, spoke a different language, had different customs, manners of dress, ate different foods, etc.

I believe that people are basically good, that people everywhere are more similar than different. Despite the aforementioned cultural disparities, everyone wants a safe place to live, sufficient food and clothing, the opportunity for an education, and a better life for our children. “Otherness” is a creation of man, and fear of “the other” has been manufactured.

I changed the name of my blog to Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel almost immediately upon departing the U.S. and began writing stories about my experiences with other cultures around the world. To date, I have visited more than 100 countries and my belief that we are all one human family only grew stronger during the ensuing years. I am committed to the idea that the more we get to know one another, the less likely we’ll want to kill each other.

In addition to hoping for a sea-change in the world, I also sought one in me. At 54 years of age, my entire life had been devoted to success and material acquisition. Yet despite all my success, I was miserable. Just before departing the U.S., my friend G.W. made a casual suggestion. “Try to stay in the present moment.” It’s the most valuable bit of advice I have ever received.

The idea of present moment is simultaneously simple and one of the most difficult challenges for humans. Buddhism tells us that everything is illusion and everything is impermanent. You can dip your toe into the same river every day of the year, but it is never the same water as the day before. Nothing stays the same, not even for a nanosecond, thus it is a waste of energy to obsess about the past or worry about the future.

Animals have become another reason why I travel. Here, Barbara Weibel is at Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng, Thailand
Barbara at Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng, Thailand, one of the best elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, as they practice strict ethical treatment of the animals…no riding, no ear hooks, etc.

I struggled mightily with the concept of staying in the present moment…until I started to travel. Once I hit the road, my senses, which are our conduit for experiencing the world, were entirely occupied. I saw new things every day, tasted new foods, smelled new aromas, and heard a cacophony of unfamiliar sounds. It was impossible to think about the past or future when I was constantly experiencing new things in the present.

This new way of life has gradually translated into a feeling of contentment for me. I no longer strive for happiness because great highs must always be balanced by profound lows. I seek the Middle Way. No highs and lows, just pure contentment. Not everyone will appreciate the life I have chosen, but it is perfect for me.

As Robert Frost so succinctly stated:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”