Nomadic Matt is the New York Times best-selling author of How to Travel the World for $50 a day, as well as countless travel guides and the top travel blog nomadicmatt.com.
I was lucky enough to meet Matt in London last year at one of his get-together’s and his blogging course has been instrumental in building a new website for thetripgoeson.com.
So, without further ado, let’s get on to the interview with Nomadic Matt, which I have split into two parts. Part 1 about travel, and part 2 about blogging. As we like to explore the darker side of tourism here at thetrigoeson.com, we’ll start off with some questions about unusual places:
Interview – Part 1 Travel
What is the strangest place you have visited (could be a country, city, attraction or anything really)?
I don’t think I’d call any places that I’ve been strange, but I’ve definitely been to some unique and unusual places!
For an out-of-this-world feeling, I found traveling Iceland to be completely unique. When I was hiking around, parts of the country literally looked like I was on a different planet. No trees to be seen for miles, and not really much greenery or wildlife either, just volcanic rock. It’s definitely one of the most memorable landscapes I’ve ever seen.
As for more specific places, the Bone Church (Sedlec Ossuary) in Czech certainly comes to mind. It’s an old Roman Catholic chapel completely filled with bones. There are bones covering the walls, bones on a chandelier…they are literally everywhere. It’s incredibly unsettling, but also so inescapable; you just can’t take your eyes away when you see it. So that might take the cake for one of more unusual places I’ve been!
Have you ever been in a situation you didn’t like while travelling and do you think “going with your gut feeling” is a helpful way of avoiding trouble on the road (could be anything from sharing a ride with strangers to getting tangled up with corrupt officials)?
I think following your gut is an important tool when it comes to traveling. Your intuition has been honed over your entire life, so if you get a bad feeling about something it’s always good to pay attention to it.
While I always buy travel insurance for emergencies, I also make sure that I take precautions when I’m on the road. I don’t flaunt my electronics, I work to blend in so I look like a local, and I learn a few words in the local language just in case. I also keep some back-up cash and cards in my bag, in case I end up getting robbed or losing my wallet while I’m out. Basic common sense will go a long way when it comes to staying safe on the road.
But for all those other times, you just need to trust your gut. After all, it’s much better to be safe than sorry!
I’m not going to ask if you have a favourite place you have visited, but could you share with us a special moment while travelling – something that really made your hairs stand up and appreciate how lucky we are to travel?
Visiting Madagascar was a special trip for me. Not only was it a place I had wanted to go for years, but it was also an eye-opening trip. Those of us who get to travel are extremely lucky and privileged. During my trip to Madagascar I saw immense poverty and hardship, serving as a stark reminder that travel is such a rare, unique opportunity. While I have encounter poverty in my travels before, this was something else. It was a hard reminder, but an important one.
Yet even though the country suffers through extreme poverty, people were still incredibly helpful, kind, and generous. I felt grateful for my experience there, and for the privilege I have as a traveler.
Are there any places you would not visit (I know the answer to this from our conversation in London, but can you share with our readers a little about what would put you off travelling somewhere)?
To be honest, there aren’t really any places I wouldn’t go (aside from warzones or conflict areas of course). Naturally, some areas will have priority over others just based on my own personal interests and travel goals…but I’d happily go anywhere.
The main factor that would put me off from somewhere would be the main factor that puts anyone else off, I think: safety. I don’t expect to be coddled, but I don’t want to be worried 24/7 when I’m on the road. I think it’s important to visit places that push you out of your comfort zone, but you also need to make responsible decisions. While I always buy travel insurance when I travel, I don’t want to push my luck. I don’t mind going to places with tons of travel scams or aggressive locals hawking trinkets, but I do take my safety seriously when it comes to picking where I travel.
You are an expert in your field of budget travel so you must have stayed in more than your fair share of hostels. Do you ever get fed up of ‘roughing it’ and decide to splurge on a nice hotel room on your trips?
Totally! And I think that’s pretty common. Every now and then we all need a bit of space and peace and quiet — especially after weeks (or months) in cheap accommodation. I love budget travel and hostels can be great fun. They are awesome for meeting people but they can be hard to get a good night’s sleep in. That’s where travel hacking comes in!
I will sometimes use my travel points so I can stay at a hotel instead of a hostel. That way I can enjoy a fancier accommodation without breaking the bank.
What I’ll also do on occasion is book a private room in a hostel. That way I can still get a good night’s sleep without missing out on the hostel scene and meeting new people. I find that’s the best balance when it comes to budget accommodation.
When travelling long-term do you think there should be a balance between saving money and trying not to miss out on experiences? Any tips for our readers?
This is something I’ve written about a lot: the balance between being frugal and being cheap. When you’re traveling on a budget, you want to maximize your spending. But you don’t want to miss out on awesome experiences either.
I think it comes down to value. Don’t worry about counting pennies, but rather look for value. For example, if a 12-bed hostel dorm in Asia is $7 but a private hotel room is $12, what do you do? Do you save that $5 and go the cheap route, or do you maximize your value and pay the extra?
I pay the extra. Why? Because I’m going to get much more than $5 worth of enjoyment out of having a private hotel room!
When it comes to long-term travel, you need to make your money last. That often means sacrificing things so that you can stay on the road. I get that. I’ve been there. But these days, there are tons of ways you can save money on the road so that you can avoid being cheap while still being frugal. Sharing economy sites like Couchsurfing, housesitting, and BlaBlaCar are great ways to save money so you can balance being frugal without being cheap. Websites like helpx.net and workaway.info, where you can exchange work for room and board, are also great ways to stretch your dollar.
At the end of the day, look for value. I’d rather have an AMAZING time and come home a week early than have an ok time but stay on the road for an extra week. So look for value!
Nomadic Matt Interview Part 2 – About blogging
You’ve been a travel blogger for over ten years and are considered the Number.1 in the industry. Can you tell us a little about this metaphorical road trip and how it came about – what made you to decide to leave the rat-race?
After I finished college I ended up working the 9-5, like so many other Americans. I didn’t enjoy my job, but it paid the bills and I got a few weeks holiday every year so I just figured that was the way it was. It wasn’t until I met a few full-time backpackers in Thailand that I began to realize that it was possible to escape the 9-5. I started planning my own escape, and about a year later I quit my job to travel.
I decided to make a website so I could keep track of my travels, but also so I could hone my travel writing skills. I had this notion that I could become a travel writer as a way to make money. I figured I could travel the world, write stories, and eventually get a job with Lonely Planet. Blogging was just a means to an end for me; I had no plans to be a “travel blogger.”
Obviously, that didn’t exactly work out. My website slowly started to become more popular as more and more people turned to the internet for their travel advice. As blogs became a more common travel resource, my blog’s traffic started to grow. Eventually, I realized that I could try to turn my own blog into a business and forego the path of travel writer, so that’s what I did. It took a few years, but I was able to grow my income and eventually live full-time off of my website. It wasn’t easy by any means, but it has allowed me to be my own boss as I travel the world. So I can’t complain!
In the early days did you ever think you had made the wrong decision and ever feel like giving it up?
Absolutely! When you start a travel blog, it’s grind at first. I had no real clue what I was doing. Heck, my original idea for the website was “Matt Does the World” so clearly I had a lot to learn! I made a ton of mistakes when I started my travel blog and crashed my site on more than one occasion. But I learned, slowly and surely. But there was always some self-doubt that creeped in. I think that’s just part of the process. It’s something that many entrepreneurs have to wrestle with.
Even today, I’ll still write blog posts and doubt whether they are good or if anyone will read them. But you can’t let that stop you. You just have to work hard and give it your best shot and hope for the best. That’s all anyone can do. As long as you learn from your mistakes you’ll keep making progress, and that’s what’s important. You might not get rich overnight but blogging is a marathon, not a sprint. You just have to stick with it, learn the skills as you go, and don’t let doubt interfere with your passion.
When did you know you had really made it in your field? You have worked with many top brands and institutions so I imagine there must have been a few moments of intense gratification along the way.
While I wouldn’t say I felt like I had “made it,” one of the early signals that I was doing something right was when I was featured in The New York Times. Matt Gross, who wrote their Frugal Traveler section, was looking to interview someone who made money as a travel blogger. I replied to his post on social media and we set up a quick call. I was overseas at the time so I had to make the call from an old payphone. The next thing I knew, I was getting so much traffic that my website actually crashed!
I didn’t really expect such a huge response, so that was a really great boost to my confidence. It was an important confirmation that I was doing something right. Of course, I wasn’t happy that my server wasn’t prepared but that was just another important lesson learned.
Finally, thanks for the interview Matt. What one piece of advice do you wish you could go back and give yourself in the early days?
There’s so many things! I made a ton of mistake when I was starting out, but if I had to go back and give myself some advice I would tell myself to start sooner. The sooner you can dive in and start a travel blog, the sooner you’ll be on your way to success. There’s a lot to learn as a blogger, because starting a blog is essentially the same as starting a business. So I would tell myself to not wait so long and to just dive in!
Looking for more interesting travel bloggers to follow? Check out this list of the best 111 Travel Blogs in 2020 from Philip Weiss!