Have you ever dreamed of following your passion and setting off to travel the world? If so, you’re going to enjoy meeting our next featured travel blogger who did just that. Meet Barbara Weibel, the creator of the popular blog, Hole in the Donut World Travel. Her blog is dedicated to, as she puts it, “stories about destinations I visit, interesting people I meet, the crazy (and often humorous) things that happen to me along the way, and the never-ending spiritual lessons that come from travel.” We think you’ll enjoy hearing her inspirational story in our blogger Q&A:
Tell us why you started your travel blog.
I had spent more than 35 years in the corporate world, working at jobs that paid the bills but brought me no joy. After recovering from a serious illness that made me realize I might die before doing all the things I had always wanted to do, I walked away from my career, sold or gave away most of my possessions, and set out to pursue the my true passions of travel, writing and photography. As you might imagine, my friends and family thought I had lost touch with reality and were concerned about me traveling around the world solo, so I started my blog to provide them with a way to stay informed of where I was and what I was doing.
What’s your favorite hotel (and why)?
Hands down, my favorite hotel is The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach in Manalapan, Florida. The oceanfront property has incomparable amenities, including the fabulous 42,000 square foot on-site Eau Spa, two pools, a fitness center, and several restaurants/lounges, but what really sets it apart from the competition is the personalized service provided by the staff, all of whom greeted me by name during my stay. The Ritz-Carlton chain has made an art of learning about the tastes of their guests and recording them for future reference. Having learned that I was a vegetarian the previous evening, the chef came to my table to on the second night of my stay to inform me about vegetarian options he had prepared. Now I can stay at any Ritz-Carlton anywhere in the world and they will know that I am a vegetarian before I ever check in. It’s an upscale hotel, but worth every penny.
What’s your favorite restaurant (and why)?
As a perpetual traveler, I’m never in one place long enough to develop a favorite restaurant, but recently I spent two weeks in Washington, DC and loved a corner cafe named Busboys and Poets. Their excellent food included several vegetarian options and everything I tried was delicious.
Please tell us about a “hidden gem”– a non-touristy, neighborhood restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall bar, or a great little shop – you’ve discovered on your travels.
I spend 4-5 months each year in Pokhara, Nepal. Since it is the second most popular tourist destination in the country, the streets of Lakeside (the tourist district) are lined with pricey restaurants serving bland, uninspired food. On the north end of Lakeside is a restaurant named Zinnia Fans. Tiny and dark-looking from the outside, it is easy to miss, but that would be a mistake. Not only does it serve the best food in town, the prices are very affordable, and I have never seen the owner, Minraj, without a broad smile. Try the eggplant mousaka; you won’t be disappointed.
What’s the best travel advice you could give a friend?
When traveling, it is very important to trust your gut. You will be in unfamiliar surroundings, dealing with strangers, and you may even be in a country where you don’t speak the language. While I always insist that travel is safe, I also am always aware of what is happening around me and when I get an uneasy feeling I pay attention and leave.
What’s the best travel advice you’ve found on TripAdvisor?
I check customer reviews on TripAdvisor for every accommodation I am considering. I find the uncensored comments to be invaluable when choosing between properties.
Please tell us about your best and worst travel experiences.
My great travel experiences are many, so it is difficult to narrow them down, but if forced to pick one I would have to say that walking the cliffside trails between the five villages of Cinque Terre, Italy ranks very highly. Without a doubt, my worst travel experience to date was in Shanghai, China, where the people were rude and refused to help, to the point of telling me that independent travel in China was not possible unless I spoke Mandarin.
If someone was visiting your hometown, what would you recommend they do/see?
I was born and raised in Chicago, and though I haven’t lived there for more than 40 years I return regularly and still think it is one of the best cities in the world. The museum campus on the shores of Lake Michigan offers the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Planetarium and is a great stepping off point for exploring downtown Chicago. Not to be missed are Millennium Park, with its (in)famous Cloud Gate sculpture that Chicagoans call “The Bean” and Pritzker Pavilion, where free concerts are offered every night of the summer; architectural tours offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation; a boat ride down the Chicago River; the Art Institute; a ride to the top of Willis Tower (previously the Sears Tower), which is the tallest building in the United States; and a walk along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile on north Michigan Avenue, where you can shop till you drop.
If you could go anywhere in the world on your next vacation, where would you go?
As a travel writer I don’t have vacations; I travel for a living. However I do have a “bucket list” of places that I hope to visit before I die. At the top of that list is seeing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). I don’t know where that will happen, as the lights are visible in different places at different times, but I’m hoping to visit Iceland at some point and if I’m lucky, my trip will coincide with a display of the lights.