Nomadic Matt

Reflecting on a life of travel – An interview with Nomadic Matt

Paul Ryken and Sandra Rosenau Last Updated: Thursday 6 February 2020 Explore the world, Work from anywhere Leave a Comment

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One of the most well-known and experienced travel bloggers, Matt Kepnes – better known as Nomadic Matt, was recently in London to launch the local chapter of his Nomadic Network. We happened to be there too, attending the World Travel Market. Having started our respective lives of travel almost exactly 10 years apart (us in October 2016 and Matt in July 2006), we were intrigued what a blogging veteran like Matt had to say about the trials and tribulations most travel bloggers are encountering at one point or another. So, when we had the chance we asked him a few questions about our industry, the pros and cons of full-time travel, the role of travel influencers, and life in general.

If you’re curious what it’s like to live a life of travel or a novice travel blogger who could use some reassurance, today’s post is for you.

You're never too old to start travelling: Blogging veteran Nomadic Matt took his first trip overseas at age 23
You're never too old to start travelling: Blogging veteran Nomadic Matt took his first trip overseas at age 23

What changes have you seen in the travel blogging world over your 10+ years in the industry?

Since I started travel blogging, the industry has changed drastically.

For starters, blogging wasn’t common when I started. There weren’t many travel blogs in existence back then. And nobody was making any money from it either. It was a hobby for most people, and that was it. Flash forward to today, and people can actually make a respectable income from travel blogging, Affiliate marketing, creating products, leading tours, ads, books — there are tons of different ways for bloggers to sustain themselves. It’s not easy, but it is certainly much easier than it used to be.

There are also more diverse voices in the industry today, which is helping to make travel more accessible to people all around the world.

On a practical level, when you travelled as a blogger ten years ago, you had to rely on internet cafes and guidebooks.

As a blogger ten years ago, you had to rely on internet cafes and guidebooks
As a blogger ten years ago, you had to rely on internet cafes and guidebooks
Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler's Journey Home
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Kepnes, Matt (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 225 Pages - 07/16/2019 (Publication Date) - St. Martin's Press (Publisher)

There were no smartphones or social media. You weren’t constantly connected, which gave you more freedom to roam and explore before you sat down to engage with your audience.

Additionally, SEO was mostly irrelevant back then. You could really write about whatever you wanted to — stories, reflections, random thoughts. It was all fair game. Today, everything needs to be SEO optimized. Photos need to be edited to perfection. Social media, while fun, has led to a spammy mess of (often irrelevant) sponsored content.

In short, there have been a lot of changes over the past decade. Many good, some bad. But as a whole, I think it’s a much better industry since it can now support independent creators who want to travel the world and earn an income.

Without smartphones or social media, you weren't constantly connected and had more freedom to roam

With the benefit of hindsight, what professional advice would you give your 25-year-old self who is about to embark on a career in travel blogging?

If I was starting a travel blog today I would do a few things differently.

First, I would make sure that I created an email list right away. Email is still the best way to connect with your top fans and most interested readers. They are slow to grow, so the sooner you can start, the better. That way, you’ll always have direct access to your readers. I started late and likely missed out on a lot of emails, which slowed my growth and prevented me from better connecting with my audience. Social media comes and goes (remember Vine?), and search engine algorithms change often. Don’t lose touch with your readers because someone else is calling the shots. Start an email list and talk to them directly.

In hindsight, I’d also spend more time and money attending conferences and events. Networking online is a good start, but the real connections are made offline. Conferences aren’t cheap, but they can really help you level up your skills and expand your network. And they are also good for morale. You get to connect with other creators and remind yourself that you’re on the right track and that you’re not alone. I attend a lot of conferences now, but I should have started going to them earlier. They’ve been invaluable to my business and personal development.

Attending conferences are a great way to level up your skills and expand your network | Photo by Minimalist Journeys
SaleBestseller No. 1
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Third Edition: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter
  • How to Travel the World on 50 a Day Revised Travel Cheaper Longer Smarter
  • Kepnes, Matt (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 368 Pages - 01/06/2015 (Publication Date) - TarcherPerigee (Publisher)

As an influential travel blogger, how do you ensure that your advice contributes to the good that travel can do and not the bad?

Overtourism is an unfortunate consequence of our recent golden age in budget travel. Cheap flights and amazing travel credit cards have made travel infinitely more affordable, and social media has inspired tons of travellers to visit the same places over and over again. Also, the explosion of affordable cruises has overwhelmed ports like Venice, Dubrovnik, Barcelona or Reykjavik.

Fortunately, many destinations are starting to address the problem. And travel bloggers are addressing it too, suggesting more off-the-beaten-path destinations to provide alternatives to anyone looking for a unique and authentic trip.

There is no quick fix, but I think as long as travellers are curious and willing to prioritize experiences over the same generic photos, things will continue to improve. But bloggers need to make sure they put in the work and encourage people to visit new destinations too.

Encouraging people to visit off-the-beaten-path destinations is a role travel bloggers can and need to play

How do you explain what you do for a living to people who struggle to make ends meet and can only dream about travel?

I usually just tell people I’m a travel writer. I think that’s something people have a better understanding of.

Trying to explain to someone that I write about travelling on a blog and generate income through courses, books, e-books, ads and a conference can get a little unwieldy. People also assume that bloggers are the same thing as influencers and that I just lounge on the beach all day (unfortunately, that’s not the case!).

A life of travel is not always glamorous, and a travel blogger does not lounge on the beach all-day
A life of travel is not always glamorous, and a travel blogger does not lounge on the beach all-day
Nomadic Matt's Guide to Teaching English Overseas (2018 Edition): Get a job, earn money, and live overseas!
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Kepnes, Matthew (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 228 Pages - 09/05/2018 (Publication Date) - Nomadic Matt, Inc (Publisher)

When I meet people traveling, what I focus on instead is sharing my tips. Novice travellers, in particular, have a lot of questions, so I focus on sharing the information they need to travel the world better, cheaper and longer. After all, you don’t need to be a blogger or travel writer to travel long-term or full time.

There are lots of other ways to live a life of travel. Some of the most common options are:

  • Working in hostels
  • Teaching English (that’s what I did when I started)
  • Volunteering with Non-Government Organisations
  • House Sitting
  • Doing seasonal work

There are tons of ways to work and travel if you get creative. Websites like Helpx, Worldpackers and Workaway are great resources for that. And sharing economy sites like Couchsurfing help you meet locals, get tips and save money.

There are tons of ways to work and travel if you get creative - Teaching English could be one option | Photo by Neonbrand on Unsplash

It’s really never been easier to travel the world if you’re willing to work hard, get creative and travel on a budget. Of course, not everyone will be able to travel (long term). But many people can do it if they make it a priority. It may not be glamorous, but it’s possible.

What motivates you to keep travelling and writing about your experiences?

I think there are two main reasons I keep travelling.

First, it’s something I love. There are still tons of places I’ve never been (Bhutan is high on my list) and lots of places I love to revisit (I’ll never get tired of visiting cities like Bangkok or drinking wine in Paris or backpacking New Zealand). While the pace of my travels has slowed, I still make sure I get out on the road regularly. It also gives me a break from work and gets me away from my laptop, since I usually don’t work while I’m travelling (it’s just too hard to focus on both at the same time).

The second reason is that I love to help people travel. Travel is a huge privilege and an incredible personal development tool. So if I can use my experience to help other people see the world then that’s something I’ll work hard to continue to do. In fact, that’s why I started FLYTE, a charity that sends high-school students on transformative trips abroad.

FLYTE is a charity that sends high-school students on transformative trips abroad
FLYTE is a charity that sends high-school students on transformative trips abroad
Nomadic Matt's Guide to Backpacking Europe (2019 Edition)
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Kepnes, Matt (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 188 Pages - 08/27/2018 (Publication Date)

Travel has so much power to change people’s perspectives. As long as I can pay it forward, I will.

When we are asked about the downsides of our nomadic lifestyle, missing our loved ones is on top of our (very short) list. What have been the downsides of your 10+ years of travel, and how do you deal with them?

Missing friends and family are my big one too. You miss out on birthdays and weddings, and life generally goes on without you. It’s an unfortunate consequence of long-term travel.

On top of that, you also experience a lot of goodbyes when you travel long term. You’re constantly meeting awesome people only to have to say goodbye a few days later. It’s tough because most of the time, you’re never going to see them again. At least, with social media, it’s easier to keep in touch. Though that’s never quite the same.

But I’m happy with my choice to travel. I’ve had some amazing experiences that have changed my life for the better, and I’ve been able to create a business that offers me freedom and financial independence. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.

A life of travel also means you constantly meet awesome people only to say goodbye again a few days later
A life of travel also means you constantly meet awesome people only to say goodbye again a few days later

What are your signs for long-term travel fatigue, and how do you avoid it?

Travel burnout is real and, I think, unavoidable. Everyone gets it when they travel. Some people get it after a few weeks, some after a few months. But everyone gets tired of long-term travel at some point. You can only see so many temples, eat so many curries or elbow your way through so many crowds before you need to take some time away to recharge. And that’s perfectly okay.

Whenever I find myself feeling burnt out I just take a few days to myself. I’ll curl up with some books or Netflix, eat some of my favourite foods and just relax. No exploring. No trip planning. Just time by myself. As an introvert, I need it.

Most travellers are aware that bad things can happen and spend time researching the best travel insurance for their trip. But much more common than getting hurt or sick while travelling is burning out. It’s not something we really think about until we get out on the road.

For that reason, one thing I always tell novice travellers is to slow down. Backpackers have a tendency to rush around from one city to the next, which is the perfect recipe for travel burnout. As I’ve learned from experience, slow travel is the best way to see the world. Quality over quantity.

Everyone gets tired of long-term travel at some point and needs to take time off to recharge

Looking back at the last 10+ years of your life, what are you grateful for, and how do you practice gratitude?

The fact that I was able to get out of my desk job and figure out a way to get paid to travel the world still amazes me. Having been to countries stricken by terrible poverty, not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for my career and my ability to travel the world. It really is a dream come true.

And the more I travel, the more grateful I get. I’m reminded how lucky I am every time I see a Wonder of the World, lounge on a beautiful beach or eat an incredible meal. These are the reasons why I travel, and they are the things I will forever be grateful for too.

If you are a travel blogger – newbie or seasoned – what have been the ups and downs on your journey, and what have been your learnings? Please leave a comment below to help and inspire others.

Photos by Matt Knepnes (unless stated otherwise)

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We asked Nomadic Matt about the pros and cons of full-time travel, the role of influencers and life in general. Check out what he had to say.
We asked Nomadic Matt about the pros and cons of full-time travel, the role of influencers and life in general. Check out what he had to say.
We asked Nomadic Matt about the pros and cons of full-time travel, the role of influencers and life in general. Check out what he had to say.

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