Travel Writer Barbara Weibel Shares Her Best Bag Organization Ideas

Travel Writer Barbara Weibel
in Machu Picchu, Peru

My name is Barbara Weibel. I am a travel writer and photographer, and the Owner/Editor of the blog, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel. In addition to travel, writing, and photography, my interests include hiking, Yoga, meditation, geology, archaeology, and reading.

How and why did you get into traveling?

My passion for travel began at the age of 11 when my uncle gave me an old Leica rangefinder camera. From the moment I held that camera, I wanted to be a professional photographer. Around the same time, someone gifted my father with a subscription to National Geographic magazine. Dad refused to throw away any of the monthly issues, so they piled up in our front hall. I’d come home from school and sit cross-legged on the hall floor, flipping through them and dreaming of traveling to the exotic places portrayed in the photos. In high school I discovered that I had a talent for writing and eventually became co-editor of the school newspaper. My dream was to become a journalist and travel the world covering events with my pen and camera.

Unfortunately, life interceded and the need to earn a living pushed me in the direction of the corporate world. I spent 36 years in corporate life, hating almost every moment. It took a severe illness for me to reassess my life. Lying in my sickbed, I realized that money had never made me happy. I was terrified that I would die before I could do the things I’d always dreamed of, so I promised myself that, if I could get well, I would walk away from my career to pursue my true passions of travel, writing, and photography. A year later, once again healthy, I closed up my house, threw a backpack over my shoulder, and headed out on a six-month round-the-world journey.

Travel Writer Barbara Weibel
Eating Shakshuka in Jerusalem, Israel

How do you prepare for your adventures and travels?

Your question implies that some special regimen is necessary to prepare for travel. Frankly, for me travel is just a way of life like any other. It doesn’t take any special physical preparation. I get a ton of exercise during my travels; I love to walk and it’s not uncommon for me to walk for eight or nine hours a day when I arrive in a new destination. Plus, I do Yoga whenever possible. However, this life does require mental preparation.

When I first hit the road I still had a home, so I could come back any time I liked. However, travel resonated so strongly with me that I eventually sold the house and moved into an apartment. Two and a half years later, I was traveling so much that I wasn’t even home 50 percent of the time, so I finally gave up my apartment as well and became a full-time nomad. The life of a nomad is not for everyone. I rarely have an itinerary, preferring instead to stay in a place until I feel it’s time to move on. At that point I decide where I’m going next and book my accommodations and transportation online. Sometimes in Europe I’ve just shown up at the train station and chosse a destination according to what trains are departing soon. I basically fly by the seat of my pants, choosing my destinations either on a whim or according to things I’ve heard or read. It’s not a life for everyone, but it suits me just fine.

Travel Writer Barbara Weibel
Beatles Sculpture, Liverpool, England

How do you finance your travels?

I’ve been doing this for 11 years now and the model for earning money is an ever-moving target. In the beginning, I earned income through the sale of text links on my blog. That income stream disappeared when Google clamped down on the practice. These days, many travel bloggers earn money from sponsored posts, however this holds no interest for me. Many of my readers follow me because of my personal story. If I start to publish articles by other people, with whom I have no connection, it would destroy the theme of my blog. Today, I earn money through freelance writing, the sale of my photos, and affiliate sales. Additionally, I will soon begin working on my first e-book about undiscovered destinations in Europe.

As for how much travel costs me, I don’t yet have a definitive answer. I’ve been tracking every penny of my expenses this year and will be writing an article about that after the first of the year. If I had to guess, I’d say it costs me between $18,000 and $30,000 per year to travel full time. The range is entirely dependent on the level of luxury I choose; at $18K I’m staying in hostel dorms, while $30K allows me to stay in Air B&B’s, mid-range hotels, and local guest houses. Finally, my biggest expense is always airfare, accommodations, and the electronic equipment I need to do my job (laptop and cameras). Travel gear is barely a blip on my budget. In fact, I think we focus WAY too much on gear, the bulk of which is entirely unnecessary.

Travel Writer Barbara Weibel
in Lavender Field, Provence, France

Why is traveling important for you?

Thee are so many reasons, but perhaps two are most important. First, I believe that many of the problems of this world are due to fear of “others” who we see as somehow different. Traveling has taught me that people the world over are more similar than they are different. We all want a home to live in, food to eat, clothes to wear, safety, freedom, and a better future for our children. I believe fervently that the better we get to know each other, the less likely we will want to kill one another, and this is what I am trying to accomplish with every story I publish on my blog. Second, traveling helps me to live with mindfulness. Because I am always seeing new sights, hearing new sounds, tasting new flavors, etc., I live in the present moment rather than obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.

How do you bring your things with you?

I travel with a 22″ four-wheel spinner suitcase, a small backpack that holds all my camera equipment, and a combination purse/laptop bag. The backpack is an all leather Tumi model, which has proven to be very durable. The laptop bag is by Longchamp, a French company. It’s a messenger style that I wear bandolier style across the front of my body, which affords great protection from pickpockets. For years my preferred suitcase brand was Eagle Creek, but my suitcase was destroyed recently by Aegean Airlines and I was forced to buy an inexpensive replacement recently. When it wears out, I’m not sure what brand I’ll choose.

Travel Writer Barbara Weibel
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

How do you organize things in your bags?

No throwing things in for me. As a nomad with no home, my suitcase IS my home, so it’s crucial that it be organized. Everything is precisely placed in each of my bags. Most important is my suitcase, which I organize with Eagle Creek packing cubes of various sizes. Packing cubes are one of the world’s greatest inventions and they changed my life when I began using them. Not only do they keep me organized, they make much more room in the suitcase. I’ve yet to find the perfect backpack. There are camera backpacks and regular backpacks, but what I need is one that is a hybrid, without being too big. For years I’ve threatened to design and make my own, but that’s hard to do when I’m traveling so much.

My perfect backpack it would be all leather with the exception of the back and straps, which would be a breathable material that wicks away moisture. The straps would be detachable so they could be washed when they get funky from perspiration. The zippers would be industrial strength metal that had pulls on either side, and those zipper pulls would have holes large enough to accommodate padlocks. The interior would consist of three compartments. A front pocket for pens, phones, cords, external backup hard drives, business cards, etc. The large center compartment would be somehow divided between an area with two separate accesses: one large enough for a day’s worth of clothes (in the event my checked luggage was lost), and a second area for cameras and lenses that would inculde a system of cushioned separators with Velcro tabs that could be rearranged at will. A cushioned rear compartment would accommodate a folder for paperwork and a laptop. The bottom would be reinforced so that the bag would always stand upright. That’s my wish list.

Waterproofing is a nice feature but it’s not crucial. My only concern is keeping my equipment dry, and in the event of rain I use the waterproof covers that were included with my backpack and messenger bags.

Travel Writer Barbara Weibel
in Tulum, Mexico

How do your bags and gear hold up?

Weight is everything. Especially now that I’m growing older, it’s getting harder to carry very heavy bags up and down stairways at train and Metro stations. I’d love to use super-durable luggage but it is generally quite heavy, so I usually settle for a bag that combines durability with lighter, space-age materials. The downside is that they don’t always hold up to the beatings they take at the hands of baggage handlers.

As for repair services, there are a lot of luggage companies who tout lifetime warranties, but in reality this feature is useless to someone like me. The average repair takes about six weeks. Not only would I have to be in a place where I can easily ship a case back to the manufacturer (read U.S.), I would have to stay in one place until the bag was returned to me.

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

In the beginning I was a sucker for high-tech stuff. Water bottles with carbon filters. Iodine drops. Space-age silver blankets. Silk sacks. Sleep masks. Yada yada. A travel Yoga mat. Gradually, I eliminated most of it and never looked back.

Travel Writer Barbara Weibel
Lao Cooking Class, Vientiane, Laos

What has been your best travel-related purchase below $100?

There’s an old saying that is so true: After your suitcase is packed, take out half of what you packed and double the money you were going to take. But there are a few things that I consider essential for (my) travel. A small, cheap nail brush is indispensable for scrubbing out spots on clothes and cleaning mud off the soles of shoes, etc. I’d also never be without my miniature, high-power flashlight. And while it might sound trite, my iPhone is my best travel companion because the apps are my watch, alarm track, music, book library, daily journal, expense tracker, GPS map, and so much more, and all of them were either free or less than $5.

What kind of photos do you prefer to shoot?

I have taken more than half a million photos in 94 countries over the past 11 years, so it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite. However, I can say that my favorite genre is human interest; people and culture interest me the most. I never pose or set up photos; everything is candid. I also never wait for people to leave a location before taking a photo, as I believe people add interest to a shot. Each of my photos is captured simultaneously as a large, high-quality JPGs and RAW files. As for style, I tend to favor rich saturation and high contrast.

Travel Writer Barbara Weibel
in Puma, Nepal with Himalayas in the background

What is your best advice for other travelers?

When people learn what I do, their first reaction is, “You’re so brave.” Somehow, the idea that travel is dangerous has become embedded in our psyche. It’s not. I’m a 65-year old woman who’s traveled solo to nearly half the countries in the world over the past 11 years and NOTHING BAD HAS HAPPENED TO ME. Quite the alternative. I find that most people will go out of their way to help and travel has renewed my faith in humanity. But…I also want to qualify that statement by saying that traveling has finely tuned my “radar.” I am always aware of what is going on around me and conscious of where my belongings are. I don’t do things like hanging my purse on the back of my chair in a restaurant, I loop it over my leg. I don’t get drunk or take drugs. I make sure I tell someone exactly where I’m going if I accept a dinner invitation from someone I don’t know well. It’s all just common sense. Unfortunately, people tend to forget common sense when they travel, which is when they need it the most.

Travel Writer Barbara Weibel
in Jinshanling Great Wall, China

What will the future bring?

I’m not interested in gear, but I still have a long list of travel experiences on my wish list. Easter Island, Tibet, and Ethiopia are all high on that list, as are parts of the Caribbean and South Pacific. Some of them I’ll get to in 2018, but I’m in no hurry. I have many more years of travel ahead of me.

Visit Barbara Weibel on her website and visit her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube


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