Before I started this travel blog in January 2018, I was like many Americans who save up for a single annual vacation splurge. But then I started reading travel blogs which challenged that notion for me. I started socking away tricks and tips on how to creatively extend a work trip, make my travel dollars work harder for me overseas, and connect with local culture differently so I could travel more often.
And then I stumbled upon Nomadic Matt, one of the top travel bloggers worldwide who was, for many years, a “digital nomad” or full-time traveler. His journey, experiences, and travel blog inspired me to start my own blog. So when I had a chance to interview him recently, I thought of you…If you’re still making excuses about why you can’t travel more…looking for creative ideas on where to go next…or simply love a good travel story, read on!
1. As one of the best-known travel bloggers in the world—who’s launched an epic career on sharing advice on how to travel “better, smarter, cheaper”—can you share a bit about yourself and your journey?
My journey started back in 2008, after I finished an 18-month round-the-world adventure. I came back to the USA ready to dive back into life. But it wasn’t long until I was wishing I was back out on the road. The 9-5 grind, working in a cubicle, and trying to adjust to a “normal” life after spending almost 2 years traveling the world…It was a challenge.
Before long, I was ready to get back out there and travel. But I had no money. I needed a way to fund my travels that wasn’t some boring cubicle job. Like many people were doing, I turned to the Internet to try to become a travel writer. The idea was to create a travel blog that would be like an online resume, submit stories to editors, and eventually pen my own Lonely Planet guidebooks. Sure, I didn’t know anything about building a website (or even about travel writing) but I figured if I could get a website up that could act like a resume it would eventually work itself out.
While I never ended up writing Lonely Planet guidebooks, I did end up making some money from my website. So I focused on that instead, eventually building my site up to where it is today. It was an uphill battle, and I made a million mistakes along the way, but it was also an amazing learning experience. The skills I learned over the years have helped me grow and succeed more than I ever thought possible.
2. Before I started my own travel blog, I used to rely more on guide books than blogs for trip planning. What do travel blogs have to offer that guidebooks just can’t deliver?
The best thing about blogs is that they are current. They have recent information. Lonely Planet can’t update a guide book every time a restaurant closes or when an attraction changes its hours. But blogs can. Blogs can be updated in seconds, which gives them a huge edge over traditional media when it comes to keeping up to date. I’ve actually found Lonely Planet to be steadily declining over the years, giving blogs yet another advantage.
Another great thing is that, with blogs, you get to see who is writing the article. You can learn about them and get a sense of whether or not they have the same perspective as you. If a blogger says an attraction is awesome and you have a lot in common with them, chances are you’ll like it, too. With traditional guidebooks, you might not get that as they have a more general, anonymous feel.
3. What’s your top tip for people who want to get more from their travel experience?
I think it all comes down to being open and flexible with your plans. Rigid planning is helpful for short trips when time is of the essence, but for longer trips you want flexibility. That will let you wander off course if you hear of something cool or if you meet other travelers and want to join up with them.
In my experience, the best opportunities are the ones you don’t plan. Having a rigid itinerary means you won’t be able to enjoy the serendipitous experiences. So, if you want to get more from your travels, my advice is to be flexible.
You’ll be surprised just what opportunities come your way. Plus, having flexible plans is the best way to score the cheap flights, which will save you hundreds and thousands of dollars in the long run!
4. There’s a lot in the news recently about destinations like Venice and Cancun being “loved to death” by tourists. What’s an underrated or under visited spot big on charm that you’d highly recommend people add to their bucket list pronto?
That’s the downside of travel and social media: tourism changes places, and too much of that is harmful in the long run — for everyone. Local economies become crowded and over-reliant on tourism while tourists become unoriginal in their travel plans, flocking from one over-visited destination to the next. Barcelona, Iceland, Boracay in the Philippines — there are plenty of destinations struggling with this issue.
That’s why I say go somewhere else, try something new. I just was recently in Azerbaijan, and that whole region is worth a visit. It’s cheap, there’s lots to see and do, and it’s not as well-worn as other destinations. It’s currently seeing a very small amount of tourism, but I’m sure it will become a backpacker staple soon. But for now, it’s an under-visited region that is definitely worth a visit!
5. Favorite food experience on a trip. Go!
I’m a huge sushi lover, so Japan was heaven for me. I specifically went to Tokyo to focus on food and ended up having so many incredible experiences. Not only did I have some amazing sushi, but I had melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu beef and some incredible ramen. I ate at dozens of restaurants, getting in 5-6 meals every day.
Yet, I still barely scratched the surface…which means I’ll have to go back for another foodie trip soon! If you’re heading to Tokyo, be sure to check out Ginza Sushi-Dokoro Shin, Ichiran Shibuya, and Sushi Yuu. You’ll be blown away!
6. In today’s fractured world, so many of us are seeking more community in our lives. At the same time, more people are traveling solo. How do you reconcile those things?
One of the best things about travel is that you can find community anywhere. It’s easy for travelers to hit it off and connect because there is always a shared love of exploration and culture. More often than not you’ll see travelers dive into deep conversations, giving the impression that they’ve been friends for years instead of just days.
I’ve seen it happen again and again, and it’s happened to me often throughout the years. Greece, Thailand, Spain — I’ve made great friends all around the world and it all just started with a simple conversation. There’s just something about the travel community that is open and inviting. It lends itself to building bridges and creating friendships. You just have to be open to it.
7. If you could design the perfect trip for a busy professional with just a week or two of vacation to get away and rejuvenate, where would you send them and why?
While that would depend on their interests, as a general example, I would say somewhere like Iceland or Thailand. Both countries have a lot to offer no matter what you’re interested in. Iceland has incredible and unique nature, with hidden hot springs and more waterfalls than you can count. It’s the perfect road trip destination, and offers a great opportunity to disconnect.
Thailand on the other hand has relaxing beaches and a great party scene. There are jungles and temples and all the pad thai you can eat. Plus, it’s super cheap.
No matter what, I would only choose one country for that amount of time. Spending your vacation on a train hopping from country to country isn’t relaxing. It doesn’t make you want to travel more. So I’d focus on one country and go deep. Quality over quantity. Really soak in as much as you can.
7. What really keeps people from traveling in your opinion?
More often than not, it comes down to either money or to fear. People think that if they have no money they can’t travel. There is this insidious belief that travel can only be done if you’re rich and if you stay at fancy hotels.
The fact is, long-term travel is often cheaper than living in your home country. Don’t let the “I’m too poor to travel” mindset overtake your travel plans. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. For instance, what about free camping on a road trip? Websites like helpx.net, workaway.info, trustedpetsitters.com, and couchsurfing.com are all great platforms for lowering your travel costs, proving that you don’t need to be rich to travel.
The other major factor is fear. People are afraid of the unknown. Change can be scary, and giving up a secure routine to travel the world isn’t something a lot of people are comfortable with. But that’s a normal feeling.
And while you do need some common sense while you’re on the road (along with some travel insurance) you definitely don’t need to be afraid. Sure, there are a few travel scams you’ll want to be aware of, but once you get out there and start meeting people you’ll see that the world is full of wonderful people and that things aren’t nearly as scary as you imagined. But you’ll never know unless you take the leap and get out there.
8. Any final thoughts to share?
At the end of the day, what’s important is that you actually get out there and make your travel dreams a reality. Whether it’s a 5-day trip to a resort of a 12-month trip around the world, take action now. Life’s too short to wait.
Do something today that will get you closer to that trip. Open a savings account. Create a budget. Apply for a travel credit card. Do something. And then tomorrow, do something else.
Get the momentum going. Make an actionable plan to help you reach your travel goals. Because the sooner you take those first steps, the sooner you’ll be on the road. And that’s where the real fun begins.
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