An Interview With Nomadic Matt • Expert Vagabond
If you’ve ever researched a travel destination online, you’ve probably come across Matt Kepnes. He’s been blogging & writing about travel for many years.
Today, I wanted to chat with Matt about his newest book, saving money on travel, plus some of his most memorable misadventures. Here’s Matt:
Tell Us About Yourself!
My name is Matt Kepnes, but these days most people know me as Nomadic Matt. The short version of my story is that I grew up in the Boston area and went to school to be a high school history teacher. I ended up taking a job at a hospital doing administrative work while I tried to find a teaching job and ended up there for three years. I hated the job and found it really mundane and boring. I mean my co-workers were nice but the job itself was awful.
In 2006, after meeting some backpackers and falling in love with the idea of long-term travel, I quit my job to travel the world. My plan was to travel for about a year.
I came home eighteen months later, decided the “real world” was right for me, and left again. I ended up spending a decade on the road.
And here we are now.
In addition to my blog, I also I co-own a hostel in Austin, Texas called HK Austin, I teach a few online courses, I organize an annual travel conference for bloggers, writers, photographers, and other creators in the travel industry called TravelCon, and I run a charity called FLYTE that helps students in underserved communities around the US experience transformative trips abroad.
What Have Been Some Highlights Over The Years?
After a decade on the road, there’s been a lot of great moments. But some highlights includes the month I spent on Ko Lipe in Thailand (barefoot mind you). We had a great group of people there and I would have stayed longer if my visa hadn’t expired.
Something similar happened in Greece on the island of Ios. I ended up meeting some amazing people and staying for a couple of months just hanging out and working on my tan (and blog).
Then there was learning to scuba dive in Fiji, living in Bangkok for a couple of years, playing poker in Amsterdam for a few months, hiking Patagonia, visiting Madagascar, and having a job that lets me travel.
What Do Most Budget Travelers Do Wrong On Their First Trip?
As a backpacker or budget traveler, money management is key to your success — especially when you’re traveling long term. You have an infinite amount of time but not an infinite amount of money so backpackers who fail to keep track of their spending are going to find themselves going home early.
When you aren’t working, it’s easy to spend money — you have a lot of free time after all! Meals, tours, and night’s out — they all add up pretty quickly. So, if you’re not keeping track of where that money is going, you aren’t going to know how to pace your spending. I still keep a budget journal so I know what I’m spending. It allows me to go, “Ok, I’ve been spending too much on X (alcohol/Starbucks/tours/taxis/whatever) so it’s time to cut down so I can get back to what my daily spending needs to be.”
If you’re on a budget or need to keep an eye on your spending, keep a journal to track your expenses. There are apps you can use too, like Trail Wallet or Mint. Whatever method you prefer, track your expenses. It’s the only way to make sure you don’t go home early broke!
How Can Travelers Save Money On Their Next Trip?
Travel has never been more accessible or affordable thanks to a large number of deal websites online, the sharing economy (which lets you avoid traditional travel gatekeepers), and just all the information out there that lets you find out cheap and affordable things to do in a place. Here are a few money-saving tips worth considering for your next trip:
- Visit the tourism offices. Every city has one, and they are a great way to learn about discounts, coupons, free activities, events, and money-saving tourism passes. In short, they’re a great resource that is often overlooked. Don’t make that mistake!
- Start travel hacking. Collecting points and miles is a great way to earn free flights and free hotel stays. I’ve saved thousands and thousands of dollars over the years — and you can too!
- Go on free walking tours. Most major cities have them, and they are a great way to learn about the history and culture of a new destination. You’ll get access to a local guide too, which means you can get any and all of your questions answered as well. Just be sure to tip your guides!
You Usually Travel Solo. Why?
Well, I learned a long time ago that if I wanted for people, I’d never go anywhere. If I wanted to travel, I just had to be willing to go alone. But, what’s kept me traveling solo, is the freedom. As a solo traveler, you’re free to do whatever you want! Want to change your travel plans on a whim? You can. Want to stay in and watch Netflix all day? You can. Hate museums? Skip them!
When you travel solo, the world is your oyster. You’re free to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
But more than that, solo travel teaches you a lot about yourself. Without anyone around you, you have to solve problems. You have to figure out how to get from point A to B, deal with people who speak a different language, get comfortable eating alone, find things to do, and work out problems that arise. It’s you and your wits. That teaches you a lot about yourself and forces you to grow in ways you won’t in the comfort of your home or with a group.
I encourage everyone to try solo travel at least once. Even if you don’t love it, you’ll still learn a ton about yourself in the process. Travel is an amazing personal development tool after all, and solo travel is one of the best ways to learn and grow and challenge yourself.
What Tips Do You Have For Planning A First Solo Trip?
Planning a trip can seem daunting — especially if it’s a longer trip. Buying the right bag, researching cheap flights, comparing travel insurance plans – there seems to be never-ending list when you are planning a trip. Three things I would recommend that would make the planning process easier are:
- Try to always break your trip planning down into steps so you have a roadmap to follow. This checklist will ensure you cover all your bases, which will also give you some added confidence and eliminate any anxiety about missing things.
- Book your first few days of accommodation before you arrive. This will give you time to settle in and adjust to a new environment without worrying about where to go and where to stay. From here, you can plan your next steps if you haven’t done so already.
- Be flexible. On shorter trips, this is challenging because you want to maximize your experiences. But for longer trips, don’t plan out every minute of every day. Give yourself time to relax, to stumble into something unplanned. No matter how much research you do, you’ll always discover new things to see and do. And you’ll meet people, as well. Give yourself time to accommodate these things. A little serendipity goes a long way!
Any Travel Misadventures You Want To Share?
I’ve had some minor hiccups, like when I fell in the water when I was in Italy and ruined my brand-new camera. I popped an eardrum scuba diving, got food poisoning in Costa Rica, and I’ve had some less than stellar hostel experiences, like when I woke up and someone had shit themselves in the dorm and got shit everywhere.
And I’ve had some terrifying experiences, like when I was stabbed in Colombia.
Fortunately, I was able to learn something from each experience. As a traveler, things will go wrong. It’s inevitable. From minor hiccups to major incidents, you always need to be willing to roll with the punches. Just like life at home, life on the road will take some unexpected turns. But with the right mindset, you can always find a silver lining and learn from your experiences.
You’ve Just Written A New Book. What’s It About?
My new book is called Ten Years a Nomad. Unlike my previous book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, this book is a memoir and not a “how to” kind of book. It’s about my ten years traveling around the world, the lessons I learned from the experience, my advice on being a better traveler, and how people can apply it to their own travels.
It features stories I’ve never told on the blog and goes deeper and into more detail with some I have shared.
In short, this book follows the emotional journey of a trip around the world: getting the bug, the planning, setting off, the highs, the lows, the friends, what happens when you come back — and the lessons and advice that come hand in hand with all that.
I spent years writing it (literally) and I’m really proud of how it turned out so I’m looking forward to hearing what people think!
Why Write A Memoir, Instead Of Another “How To” Book?
While “how to” content is certainly helpful, travel is about more than just how to get from A to B. Travel is about learning. It’s about growing and connecting with people. It’s about opening yourself up to the world and seeing things with your own eyes.
I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences and stories in a way that could do them justice. A simple blog post can never really capture every little detail. How do you condense 10 years of experiences into a few thousand-word blog post? You just can’t do it.
So that’s why I wanted to write this book. I want to share my story, my philosophy, and my reflections on the art of travel in the most honest way possible.
I’m really proud of how it turned out and I’m looking forward to traveling around the US and Canada (and eventually Europe) to see what people think! ★
Matt Kepnes is a budget travel expert and the creator of Nomadic Matt. He’s the author of the New York Times bestselling How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and his latest book, 10 Years A Nomad. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!