At Leah von Ahlburg, we celebrate living life on your own terms and we want to share the stories of people that inspire us. One such person is Barbara Weibel, a photographer and travel blogger we met in Chiang Mai, Thailand (which is also where she met our long-nosed friend pictured above).
LVA: So Barbara, tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background, and what set you on your path?
B: I spent 36 years working for a variety of corporations, generally in sales, marketing, or management positions. Every so often I would burn out, leave, and promise myself that I would never return to the corporate rat race.
During these sabbaticals, I pursued entrepreneurial opportunities that included owning a public relations firm, working with owners of independent businesses to help turn around their failing operations, and at one point I even owned a snow cone kiosk in the largest water park in Puerto Rico. But in the end, I always returned to the corporate world because I was fearful over finances.
Eventually, someone would make me an offer I thought I couldn’t refuse and I was once again on the corporate treadmill of ridiculous work hours, extreme stress, and always, politics, politics, politics.
LVA: I think a lot of people can understand the fear and worry that drives that cycle. So what made you decide you needed to start doing things differently?
B: Deep inside, I think I’d always known I wasn’t being true to myself, but I was caught in a trap. From the moment my uncle gave me an old Leica camera with ground glass lenses at age 11, I wanted to be a photographer. My father also had a National Geographic subscription, and I would rush home from school, sit cross-legged on the floor, and bury my nose in those magazines.
“From the moment my uncle gave me an old Leica camera with ground glass lenses at age 11, I wanted to be a photographer.”
– Barbara Weibel
My parents, however, expected me to graduate college and become a professional. Turns out I hated college and I left before the end of the first semester. I quickly got a job though, and took on financial responsibilities like rent, utilities, transportation and the dream faded into the background. I spent the next 36 years becoming a successful businesswoman, but I was miserable and I had no direction besides work.
Around 2001, my health began to decline. Unable to determine what was wrong with me, doctors said I had too much stress in my life. By the time I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, my health had seriously deteriorated. As I lay in my sickbed, I took a hard look at my life and asked some tough questions. Memories of what I had wanted as a child came roaring back. I promised myself that if I could recover, I would pursue my true passions of travel, photography, and writing. A year later I did just that.
LVA: That’s an incredible leap to go from battling for your health to braving the world. Not everyone would have the fortitude to do that. Do you have any advice for others who are scared to make the leap?
B: I believe that we create our own reality, and I’m living proof of that concept. Time and again I have recreated myself by visualizing what I wanted my life to be. I always tell people that if they can visualize the life they want down to the tiniest detail, they will create that life.
“I always tell people that if they can visualize the life they want down to the tiniest detail, they will create that life.”
– Barbara Weibel
LVA: And what is it that motivates you to travel and explore the world?
B: I am eternally curious about cultures and customs around the world. Also, after 12-years of traveling to 97 countries, I am acutely aware that the educational system in the United States is abysmal. Travel has gifted me with knowledge about history, geography, geology, architecture, archeology, and so many other subjects that I never learned in school. I’m a huge proponent of the idea that travel provides the world’s best educational opportunities, especially for children.
LVA: What are three places still on your travel bucket list?
B: Oh my, there are so many. But if forced to pick my top three, it would have to be Tibet, Easter Island, and Antarctica.
LVA: Have any packing advice for our readers? How do still express your style when limited to just a suitcase?
B: I use packing cubes, which not only maximize the space in my carry-on, they also keep everything in place and protect clothing from getting wrinkled. Most of the time I’m traveling with just a 22” carry-on suitcase, which has to include items for hot weather, cold weather, hiking, swimming, dressy, casual, etc. It’s always a challenge, but I find that sticking to one or two base colors makes it easier. Black is my number one choice. Not only is it fashionable, but it can be dressed up or down with jewelry and/or accessories, which take up little room in the suitcase.
LVA: In style or in life, would you consider yourself a rule-breaker or a rule-follower?
B: Interesting question. I guess I’m a little of both. I’ve always been a law-abiding citizen, but I refuse to bow to other’s expectations of me, or to live my life in a way that others find “acceptable.” I also refuse to buy into the financial narrative that I need a million (or two) dollars in order to live comfortably when I retire.
During my corporate years, I earned a good income, but I was miserable. When I walked away to become a travel writer and photographer, not only did I give up my home and most material possessions, my income dropped below poverty level. However, for the first time in my life, I was truly happy because I was doing what I loved.
This drove home the truth of the proverb that money can’t buy happiness. I now know that true happiness comes from within and that we don’t need even a fraction of the “stuff” we acquire. I’ve rejected the culture of capitalism that traps us in the never-ending cycle of work-earn-buy that is so prevalent in America today.
“Money can’t buy happiness. I now know that true happiness comes from within and that we don’t need even a fraction of the “stuff” we acquire.”
– Barbara Weibel
LVA: Any other parting words of wisdom? What’s your personal philosophy?
B: I strive to remain entirely present and mindful in every moment of my life. I believe that most people are good, and that there is way too much fear of those who are seen as “others.” I believe that the better we get to know one another, the less likely we’ll to want to kill one another. I try to live without judgment and accept every person unconditionally. I don’t always entirely succeed, but that’s because I’m human. The point is that I try - always.
“I try to live without judgment and accept every person unconditionally. I don’t always entirely succeed, but that’s because I’m human. The point is that I try - always.”
– Barbara Weibel
LVA: Thanks for your time and your candor Barbara! It’s great to hear about the highs and lows and get such an honest answer about what it takes to take build the life of your dreams.
You can read more about Barbara’s story and check out her travel photography at holeinthedonut.com.