I first discovered top travel blogger Matt Kepnes and his blog, Nomadic Matt, when I was planning my first solo trip to Ireland. Through his blog I learned about hostels as a money-saving accommodation option and got my first credit card dedicated to scoring points for flights. Once I decided to leave my health care career to pursue long-term travel, I returned to Nomadic Matt to learn how I could start my own travel blog that would sustain my travel dreams.
Nomadic Matt is like a one-stop shop for travel budgeting, planning, and blogging!
Recently, an opportunity arose to interview Matt and I jumped at the chance. I sent him questions with you in mind. I wanted to get his perspective as someone who left the traditional 9-5 in pursuit of his dream, made it a reality, and created a successful business.
I hope this interview leaves you feeling inspired and confident that you too can pursue your travel dream.
Meet Matt Kepnes author of the top travel blog – Nomadic Matt!
Like you, my initial solo trip inspired me to see more of the world and that is when I discovered your blog. When you decided to move to Thailand to pursue a life different than the one we are taught to have, did you face any pushback from family and friends? How did you overcome any fears you may have faced when making this decision?
I was lucky that my friends and family were relatively supportive. That’s not to say that everyone agreed with me, but since I had worked for a long time to save money for traveling I was able to convince most people that, if worst came to worst, I would be able to get by on my savings. Since I was working a 9-5 at a job I hated, it wasn’t like I was necessarily giving up my dream career or anything, so I think a lot people could actually relate to my desire to give up the grind and build a more enjoyable lifestyle.
On top of that, teaching overseas is still something you can put on your resume, so that was another bonus point I could use to win people over. I wasn’t just going to be lounging on the beach — I was going to be working (while still making time to lounge on the beach!).
Not everyone has a supportive community when it comes to working abroad or long-term travel, which is why I’ve worked hard to help make those paths more accessible and to build a community that encourages people to take those risks. Who knows? if I had never taken the leap myself I might still be in that same cubicle right now!
I’ve read online that your initial intent with Nomadic Matt was to create a writing profile to write guidebooks, when did you realize that blogging was a viable option for a career choice?
When I first decided to start a travel blog, blogging wasn’t really a thing. At least not in any real ‘professional’ sense. But as more and more people turned to the internet, travel blogs were growing in popularity as travel guides people could use to find tips and advice that were much more up to date than traditional printed guides.
Eventually, my website was starting to get a lot of traffic; it was becoming more than just a resume I would use to apply for travel writing jobs. When I started to see that the traffic was growing I realized that I might just be able to make some money with my blog itself.
That’s when I started working on it more diligently. I wanted to show people how they could find cheap flights and cheap accommodation to make travel more accessible. It was a bit of a grind, since I really didn’t know what I was doing (my first website designs were terrible!) but I learned the right skills as I went and, after a few years, was able to actually make a living from my blog.
Congrats on creating guidebooks now, by the way! Along your journey, were there times when you thought about throwing in the towel and going back to a “real job”? How did you move past those times?
While I definitely had doubts, I worked hard to remain dedicated to making my travel dreams a reality. Working part time on my blog while teaching English overseas was exhausting, but I could see the progress I was making: my website was looking better, my traffic was growing. When I took the plunge and started blogging full-time it was much more stressful since everything was riding on my success.
But I made sure I had a plan and goals to work toward, and that I also had some savings from teaching English overseas I could rely on to keep me afloat. But it was a struggle, and I often doubted myself.
And to be honest, I sometimes still do! I’ll write posts even today and think they suck or that nobody will like them. But you just have to push past it, keep making changes and improvements, and go on. If we let our doubts get in the way we’d never get anything done. So these days, I just aim for progress over perfection.
Do your best, learn what you can, and keep going.
I’ve met many people while traveling and at home who comment about my life change with “I wish I could do something like that!” or, “Aren’t you scared?” What is your best piece of advice for people who want to travel, but have something holding them back?
The great thing about this lifestyle is that anyone can do it. Long-term budget travel is possible for pretty much anyone as long as they are willing to work hard, budget, and plan!
I think most people would choose a life of travel over the standard 9-5 grind if given the choice.
But most people are also afraid of taking the risk. Worry gets the best of us. It’s something I’ve seen time and time again. Travel dreams get put on the backburner, waiting until retirement. But the thing is, that day may never come. I’d much rather take the risk and fail than to leave my dreams on the sidelines.
And honestly, it’s not as scary as you think. You just need to have a plan. Make a budget. Start saving money. Write down your goals (Where do you want to travel? When? For how long?) and then start working towards them.
Travel has never been more accessible than it is today. There are tons of ways to help make long-term travel feasible if you’re on a budget, such as WWOOFing and house sitting, reading travel planning guides, and reading books about travel.
Incorporating more travel into your life won’t happen overnight, but if you really want to live a life with more travel then you might as well get started today. Because today is all we have!
If you could keep returning to one place, where would it be? Where will we likely not find you again?
There are a few cities in the world that I absolutely love and constantly go back to. Paris, Bangkok, London, Hong Kong, and Amsterdam being a few of my favorite cities. To me, those are the best cities in the world; they have it all: great food, fun nightlife, tons of activities and things to do. Each is so unique and they all always keep me coming back for more!
As for places I wouldn’t visit again, well, I think I’d give most places a second shot even if I didn’t have a great first trip. Vietnam, for example, would be one of those places. I didn’t enjoy my trip when I went and I never really planned to go back (I actually said I would never go back!). But a lot of other people really loved their time there, so I think even I would give it a second chance. Travel is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, so I think giving places a second chance — even if we didn’t love them — is the least we can do.
Where haven’t you been yet, that you’d like to go?
There are still so many places I’d love to go, but if I had to choose one it would probably be Bhutan. All of the photos I’ve seen look absolutely stunning, and their history and culture are something that I’ve been intrigued by for years. It’s not a great budget travel destination, as all tourists need to have a mandatory guide for the duration of their trip, but that has also kept the country relatively pristine and untouched. So I’d love to get there sooner rather than later and see just how wonderful it is with my own eyes.
How do you decide your destinations? Is it based on budget, activities you’d like to pursue, wherever the wind takes you, or something else?
Honestly, I don’t have a specific formula. Sometimes it’s just to meet up with friends, while other times it’s because I found cheap flights. Other times, it’s because I want to either update existing travel guides on my website or go somewhere new so I can write new content. So I just tend to go with the flow and see what opportunities arise.
Also, I keep my eye on websites like Scott’s Cheap Flights to make sure I don’t miss any deals. And with a few travel hacks up my sleeve, I can usually get some of my flights for free by cashing in my points and miles (which means I’m able to travel whenever I want!). These days, I usually tend to head off somewhere every few months, even though I keep saying I’m going to settle down. The travel bug is hard to cure!
The travel blogger lifestyle looks quite glamorous, but a ton of work goes on behind the scenes. A big challenge I encountered while trying to blog while traveling was guilt. I felt guilty for being inside writing a blog while in Paris for the first time. And I felt guilty for trying to drink all of the Pilsen in Prague instead of writing. I’m sure this has looked different for you at different stages in your career, but how do you balance working while traveling today compared to when you first started?
I was the exact same when I first started and was backpacking Southeast Asia. I’d either spend too many days inside working and then feel guilty, or not enough days and then get nothing done! Finding a balance while you’re working at home is one thing, but finding balance on the road is something else!
For a while, I just made sure I traveled slower. That way I could travel for a few days and then catch up on work. It wasn’t perfect, but that was a much better way to do it.
These days, I don’t work and travel. I’ll keep up on my emails and social media, but when I travel I just focus on the traveling. I’ll take copious amounts of notes so that when I get home I can create new content, but I won’t do that while I’m traveling. That way, I can focus 100% on the destination and have a much more in-depth travel experience. Not only does this mean I get to enjoy my travels more but it also helps create better content. So it’s a win-win!
You run a great blogging course for beginning bloggers which, as someone with a science background, made me feel confident taking on this challenge. What are the key first steps a new blogger can take to set themselves up for long-term success?
I think the first thing anyone on this journey needs to realize is that blogging is a job. If you want to start a travel blog you must treat it like starting a business. Contrary to all those ‘laptop on the beach’ photos, blogging is a lot of hard work. Recognizing that from the start will position you ahead of most people who start out.
On a more practical level, you need to make a plan. You won’t be making money overnight with your blog, so make sure you have enough savings to last you as you build your website and your audience. Blogging is a long, slow process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Be prepared to be here for the duration. Outlasting the competition is half the battle!
Traveling is becoming much more accessible (thanks to blogs like yours) and to your charity, FLYTE. What is one of your favorite stories from a student who traveled with FLYTE?
We sent our first group of students to Mexico back in 2016, and it’s been amazing to see how those students have grown and developed since that trip. Some of them have gone on to university and have even been able to incorporate more travel into their life. Kaleb, for example, was a student on that first trip and is now in university studying Political Science and African Studies. Earlier this year he was able to go to South Africa, which I think is amazing. It’s really inspiring to see how these students rise to the occasion and use these experiences to propel themselves forward.
What is your scariest travel mishap?
I’ve had a few unfortunate incidents, like when I blew my eardrum scuba diving or had to go to the hospital when I was abroad for a panic attack, but the one that takes the cake is when my plane dropped 20,000 feet.
I was flying to the Caribbean, and woke up from a nap to some turbulence. All of a sudden we dropped, and the masks came down from the ceiling. I hate flying, and am always anxious when I’m in the air. This situation definitely didn’t help. I figured we we’re done for, but after a few moments we leveled out and everything was fine. That definitely didn’t help my fear of flying though!
I’m sure you have a few, but what’s one of your favorite travel memories?
I think it’s difficult to share travel memories because they are always so personal. The best memories usually aren’t seeing the big sites like the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, but rather those late-night conversations in the dorm, of the random adventures you have that don’t really lead you anywhere yet somehow still feel special. For me, it’s the little things. It’s the friendships you make, the conversations you have, the lessons you learn. They usually aren’t glamorous, yet they seem to have an impact that lasts. I think that’s why I keep traveling because those moments can be found anywhere, anytime. All you need to do is step out your door!
Over the past several years of his travel blogging career, Matt Kepnes has inspired millions of people to travel cheaper, longer, smarter. Through his blog, his book How to Travel the World on $50 a day, his charity, his blogging courses, and now his Travel Conference, Matt continuously inspires readers to pursue their travel dreams and make them a reality. Thank you, Matt, for sharing your passion for travel with us! I hope to see you on the road sometime!
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