The travel bug is something amazing you can’t (and don’t want to) get rid off.
Yet, so many people don’t travel because they think they can’t afford it. That’s just not true as you can learn in my newsletter.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to interview Nomadic Matt (Matthew Kepnes) who is a Budget Travel expert and runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt. He also wrote the New York Times best-seller, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.
After a trip to Thailand in 2005, Matt decided to quit his job, finish his MBA and head off into the world. His original trip was supposed to last a year. Over ten years later, he is still out roaming around and teaching others how to do the same and travel for cheap.
In this interview we discuss funny and scary travel stories, travel packing, growing and monetizing a blog as well as the digital nomad phenomenon and travel hacking.
Enjoy this interview and please add your own travel tips in the comments! We’ll be answering questions as well.
1. Ambroise: Let’s get started: what are your top two and worst two travel moments?
Nomadic Matt: My top two travel moments:
1. Throwing tomatoes in Spain was exactly as fun as it sounds. Waking up early, riding the train, drinking sangria, and pegging people for an hour with tomatoes was a once-in-a-lifetime experience (as in, after doing it once, I’m OK not doing it again). But I owe everything to the Nest Hostel in Valencia. Their policy during the festival stated that you needed to stay for at least a week, and our little group of hostel guests became like a family. Surrounded by the same people in the hostel, you got to know everyone in a way that usually doesn’t happen. But that family became even tighter as the five others in my dorm room and I bonded throughout the week. We hit it off like we had known each other for years (which many people assumed since we were so close). After the festival, we kept travelling together, and, five years later after that fateful week in 2009, we all remain incredibly close and connected.
2. Seeing the northern lights in Iceland. As we stared up at the sky, patches of neon and dark green changed to light pink and back to green. They came out of nowhere, hung like curtains on invisible hangers, and danced a duet to an unheard symphony. They would appear, vanish, and reappear all over the sky. My companions, Lulu and Germaine (two friends from France spending the week driving around Iceland), and I stared, bewildered, as the northern lights danced above us. It was the first time we had seen them, and even though it was bitterly cold and we were too lightly dressed, we stayed out, shivering — for hours — watching nature’s brilliant ballet. Every night before this, we would run outside and then retreat back in defeat, as it was too cloudy for the lights to be seen. But on this night the sky was clear, the stars shone around us, and nature finally let us see its mythic show.
My two worst travel moments:
1. My dive partner kicked out my regulator. While learning to scuba dive in Fiji, my partner accidentally kicked my regulator out of my mouth 10 meters below water. Luckily, I remembered to breathe out and grab my regulator. Within seconds my instructor was assisting me but it was a scary experience and it took me about 10 minutes and half the oxygen tank to calm down. I never breathed so deep in my life.
2. A few years ago en route to the Bahamas, I woke up on my flight to the sound of my eardrums popping. I couldn’t fall back asleep. They were small, frequent pops, and in my zombie-like state, I couldn’t place why this was happening. All of a sudden, the oxygen masks deployed from above. I looked confusedly at the people next to me. And then in the seats around me. There had been no turbulence. Was this a mistake? Half asleep, I didn’t know what to make of it. Then, a voice boomed over the PA system. “Put on your masks.” Holy crap! This was no mistake.
I put on the mask and fumbled to tighten the strings, taking unnecessarily deep breaths, worried that if I didn’t, I’d suffocate. I looked around. The woman sitting diagonally from me and the couple to my right all looked petrified. In front of me, I could hear a woman telling her kids, “Mommy loves you, Mommy loves you,” over and over again. Then suddenly, we dropped, and we dropped fast. My heart leapt out of my chest. There is nothing scarier than having your plane drop 20,000 feet in seconds. It’s a feeling I never want to experience again in my life. We soon levelled out, and I later learned that when you lose cabin pressure, you have to drop below 10,000 feet to prevent a loss of consciousness. Finally, the captain came on the PA system and explained that, yes, the cabin had lost pressure and, no, there was nothing to worry about, but yes, we would be making an emergency landing.
2. How have your travel packing habits evolved over the years?
Over the years, what I carry in my bag has changed a lot. Most of that change has to do with the fact that I now carry a lot of gear related to blogging, but it also reflects the fact that I’ve learned a lot about packing since I first hit the road in 2006.
The short answer to what you should pack: take as little as possible. I take only the essentials, and if I really need something, I buy it. It’s not that hard to find medicine, clothes, or an umbrella overseas. I also try to stick to the same climate during my trips to avoid carrying lots of different clothes. I don’t want to be lugging sweaters around Thailand! However, plans can change, and if that happens, I buy a light jacket. I keep it until it is a burden and then I leave it behind.
The more I travel, the more I realize I don’t need a lot of stuff. Everything I own fits into one backpack. Packing light is a cliché, yet one that has a lot of truth to it.
[Note from Ambroise: here is what I pack when I travel]
3. What would you do differently if you were starting a travel blog right now?
I’d hire writing tutors from month one. I started because I wanted to share my knowledge about how to travel on a budget. I was an avid reader (always have been), but not a trained writer. It took me years, courses, and writing tutors to start writing work I was proud of. If I had to start again, I would start perfecting my writing craft from the beginning.
Also, I’d probably not name myself Nomadic Matt. Now that I have a home base, it confuses people quite a bit. I’m still travelling, but I’m not nearly as nomadic as I once was.
4. Most of your blog’s 1+ million visits-per-month traffic (70%) comes from SEO. What is the single best SEO advice you would give any blogger?
Learn how to set up your website properly for SEO from day one. You can do complete work on each post by filling in the title, URL, alt tags, links, meta description, tags, categories captions, etc, etc, etc. If I had done that from the beginning, I would have to sift through 2,000 posts to clean them up now. Doing it right from the start saves lots of time!
5. In terms of monetizing your blog and brand, I think you’ve started with affiliate and books and then opened your online classes at Superstar Blogging, is that correct? If you’re willing to share, what part of your earnings do they each account for now? What is your best advice when it comes to monetizing a blog?
Actually, I started with text links, then I jumped into affiliate links. Once my site started gaining it’s footing, I put out an ebook called How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. That book caught the eye of someone at penguin publishing and they offered to make it into a book so I could be a published author. Around that time, I came on as a brand ambassador for a few travel product companies. Then I created a few other ebooks and city guides to help people travel cheaper and longer, and launched international tours. About three years ago, I created Superstar Blogging to help people create quality content for the internet. I’ve also co-own a hostel in Austin, run a for-impact organization called FLYTE (The Foundation of Learning and Youth Travel Education) that sends under-resourced high school classes overseas for the first time. And now, I’m in the middle of setting up TravelCon, the newest conference that’s out to make sure bloggers have everything they need to make their blogs viable businesses putting out quality content.
Right now, the earnings for Nomadic Matt are mainly coming from my ebooks (15%), affiliates (40%), Superstar Blogging (45%).
My best advice is simple: create products. Businesses sell something — and so should you. Whether it’s a course, a book, t-shirts, tours, or just other people’s products via affiliate marketing, give your audience an opportunity to support your website. Offering products for sale allows you to be independent from sponsors and brand deals and not compete with other travel bloggers for spots on press trips. It allows you to scale your website and your revenue. Many products offer value to your readers by going more in-depth and in detail than a blog post usually allows.
There are few travel bloggers that produce products. Most of the time, travel bloggers end up making money by creating sponsored content and getting paid to go on trips. That’s cool if that is something you want to do, but that is time-consuming and requires you to be constantly working (and it’s soul-sucking). You never have time to relax or do something for yourself. It’s not a hamster wheel you want to be tied to.
Products allow you to generate something once and earn revenue while sleeping, sightseeing, or getting a suntan on a beach!
[Note from Ambroise: here are my tips on monetizing a blog]
6. We’ve both experienced that you can be on the road for too long. In your case, what have you found to be the perfect home-base configuration and time spent there per year?
Oh, I don’t know if I’ve found the perfect situation yet. I’m now based in Austin and New York City. I love the fast pace of NY and the fact that you can find anything you want from around the world on the island of Manhattan and Austin is a great place to relax and enjoy nature. Though, I am still travelling about 25-35% of the year.
7. Along with Tim Ferriss, you’re one of the first digital nomads I found online who inspired me to work on the road. Now, digital nomadism has exploded in the last years. What’s your take on this phenomenon? Any guess about where it’s going?
I think the digital nomad phenomenon is just now gaining traction. Aside from people being able to start their own businesses with very little training and money, businesses themselves are learning that remote workers are cheaper and easier to manage (if done well). I don’t think this boom will be slowing down anytime soon.
[Note from Ambroise: you can read my advice on becoming a digital nomad here]
8. As mentioned by Raphaël and in your podcast with Noah Kagan, you’re aiming to be everyone’s “travel guy”. How can everyone leverage them?
Network outside of your niche. I’m into budget travel, so I go to finance conferences, entrepreneur conferences, video conferences, and business masterminds, on top of the travel conferences. It can be done with pretty much any business.
9. Travel hacking seems to be easier to take advantage of in North America (in the US even more than Canada) because of the credit card culture. Any travel hacking advice for our European friends?
British people can join in too. For the best current deals, check out the website headforpoints.com. That site is the best for UK deals. It will list the best current deals out there. In terms of the type of card, if you are new and looking for hotels and short-term flights, I would probably look into the BA card as their mileage chart is great for short haul flights. For hotels, try an Amex card. But, again, Head for Points will list the best current deals.
10. OK, time for some rapid-fire questions:
- Your current top 3 countries in the world? Thailand, Iceland, Sweden
- Solo travel or group travel? Solo travel
- What accessory do you never leave without? Unfortunately, my iPhone
- 10 hours of bumpy road bus with scenic views vs. 2h flight? Quick flight (or a smooth train, I love train travel!)
- Coming to Montreal anytime soon? 🙂 Not that I know of. Is that an invitation?
[Ambroise: you’re welcome anytime to visit and speak at MTL+ECOMMERCE ]