Matt Kepnes is one of the top travel experts and the founder of one one the most successful travel blogs in the world, Nomadic Matt. In this interview Matt shares some incredible insights about how to travel on a budget, the issues with over-tourism, how to make the most of your vacation time, actions to support ethical tourism and much more. Check out this interview and get inspired by the experts!
9 Insights and inspiration from a Travel Expert: Nomadic Matt
When I got the opportunity to interview Matt Kepnes, the founder of one of the top travel blogs, Nomadic Matt, I was thrilled to get some great insights and inspirations to share with you!
If you are like me, and love to travel, search for tips and info on your next destination, seek out the most authentic experience and, most importantly, travel on a budget you have most likely stopped by Nomadic Matt's blog or read the New York Times Bestseller How to travel the world on $50 a Day.
Matt is not only a professional blogger, writer and recognized world travel expert, he also helps bloggers through his course Superstar Blogging. When I decided to start blogging, I had no idea how to take the first step. I attribute a big part of my blog development to his course.
Now, enjoy this interview, learn from an expert and get inspired!
GET INSPIRED: How I Went from Enjoying a Successful Corporate Career to Blogging
1. Over-tourism, pollution and animal abuse to entertain tourists are problems you have written about. How can a travel expert like you help create a positive impact on our planet? Is ethical tourism something that only a very few follow today?
Over the years, responsible and ethical travel has moved from the fringes of the travel sphere into the mainstream. And I suspect it will keep doing so.
As we face more and more issues stemming from over-tourism and environmental degradation, we travelers will have to evolve and change our habits in order to keep up.
Responsible travel will, sooner rather than later, become the standard. We’re already seeing it happen. Travelers are choosing where they spend their money wisely, willing to visit less-popular destinations for a more authentic experience.
And the same goes for animal encounters, as well. Elephant riding, swimming with captive dolphins, petting drugged tigers while backpacking Southeast Asia — a decade ago these were all commonplace activities.
Now, they’re activities in decline thanks to a more informed and engaged travel community. I’m optimistic that we’ll keep seeing positive change in the community. But we all have to do our part.
2. Besides staying in an Airbnb apartment, what should people do that might not be obvious to get a true sense of the people and culture?
Airbnb is a great way to connect with locals, assuming you’re sharing a space with them and not just renting out their empty apartment (as that has a tendency to impact rents and negatively affect local residents).
A similar platform I like to use to accomplish the same thing is Couchsurfing. Not only can you stay with locals, giving you a much more nuanced sense of your destination, but you can also use the app to meet locals for coffee or a meal.
You don’t need to stay with locals if that’s not something you’re comfortable with, but using the app to meet locals and travelers for a conversation or a drink is a great way to get a deeper look into the place your visiting. I can’t recommend that enough.
Another option is to stay in hostels. I’ve stayed at some of the best hostels in the world, and hostel staff are usually incredibly well-informed and always have great insights when it comes to local restaurants and activities, including information on discounts too!
So not only will you get to meet and mingle with other travelers but you can get tips and suggestions directly from people who live in the community. Even if you’re not staying at a hostel, don’t hesitate to pop in and ask the hostel staff for tips and suggestions. They’re always happy to help.
Lastly, use a platform like meetup.com to find locals who share the same interests as you. If you like ballroom dancing, see if there is a local ballroom dancing group. If you love bowling, see if there is a local group you can meet-up with to go bowling.
Not only will you get to do something you love but you’ll get to do it in a new environment with locals who share your same passion. It’s a great resource that is highly underrated!
3. Americans took an average of 17.2 days of vacation in 2017, and 52% of American employees reported having unused vacation days by year end. Considering that people need some vacation time for family or personal business, what would you recommend for someone with 2 weeks (10 days) and how to make the most of it?
With so little vacation time, we Americans really need to make the most of it while we can. For starters, I would suggest everyone start travel hacking.
America has the best travel credit cards in the world, and travel hacking is a great way to get free flights and free hotels. So, while we may not have a lot of time for travel we do have the ability to get some or all of that travel for free.
In case you can’t save up enough travel hacking points before your next trip, I would also recommend everyone learn how to find cheap flights. It’s never been easier to find budget flights from the USA to Europe and South America, two places you can easily travel to with limited vacation time. I’ve seen flights from the east coast to Europe for as little as $100, so it’s definitely affordable if you can be flexible.
Lastly, try to do some planning and research. When you have a 3-month trip you can take it easy and just go wherever the wind takes you.
With a trip that’s 10-14 days, you need to be more diligent with your time. Plan ahead and research your itinerary so you don’t waste time.
That doesn’t mean you need to cram something into every hour of each day but rather that you know how your trip is going to flow. You don’t want to spend your vacation humming and hawing over your itinerary — you want to spend it enjoying your itinerary. So plan ahead.
Get tips from a travel community. Buy a travel guidebook. Make a list of what you want to see and do. The more you prepare, the more you’ll be able to relax when you get to your destination.
We’re living in the golden age of cheap travel, so take advantage of it while you can!
4. My husband is American and had a traditional view of traveling, which is to wait until retirement. As a Brazilian, I never considered waiting until retirement to see the world and I started to travel at age of 12 and never stopped. Do you see a shift in the American culture of waiting until retirement?
It’s slowly starting to change, now that people are realizing they might not have their health or enough money to travel when they’re older.
Gone are the days of a long career and a reliable pension. Without that security, people don’t want to risk their travel dreams for a retirement that might never come. Which is something I agree with!
I’ve seen too many people put their travel dreams on the back-burner, only to have those dreams never materialize.
It’s better to take the risk while you’re young and able to really get the most out of your travels. Besides, you says you can’t travel while you’re young and when you retire!
5. When you started traveling, what kind of research and planning did you do? How did your trip planning process evolve to where it is today?
When I first started traveling I did a lot of research. I would buy travel guidebooks and search for information in online forums.
That was about all you could do back then!
There were no blogs and no social media posts you could track down for info. You had to look everything up in a book or know someone who has been where you’re going so you can ask them for advice. And there was no WiFi or smartphones so you had to figure things out as you went, which forced you to be creative and plan ahead.
These days, the travel sphere has changed drastically. Information has never been easier to find, which has made travel all the more accessible — which is great! I still love to plan my trips and to read about every place I visit, but I’m also much more comfortable figuring things out as I go.
There’s a freedom to that style of travel which I enjoy, and which I think everyone can learn from.
6. If you could live anywhere in the world outside of the US, where would that be and why?
There are a few cities in the world that I absolutely love and could see myself living in (or living in again). Bangkok, London, Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Paris (which I’ll be moving to shortly for a few months) would all be high on that list.
I’ve spent a lot of time in all of those cities and have even lived in some of them already.
They have everything I need: great food, lots to see and do, and a fun nightlife. They are amazing cities for both travelers and locals, and as long as you’re a city person you’ll have a great time in any of those places.
If I had to pick one, it would be Bangkok. It’s such a chaotic, fun city. Plus, living there gives you access to all of Thailand and Southeast Asia, making your opportunities for budget travel virtually endless.
The food is incredible and cheap, and since I’ve stayed at the all of the best hostels in Bangkok I know that accommodation is affordable (whether you’re doing hostels or renting an apartment, it’s a cheap city to live in!). For both travel newbies and veteran nomads, Bangkok is a city not to be missed!
7. If you were to recommend the top 3 “cannot miss” destinations for a beginner, what would they be and why?
If I had to pick just 3 places they would be:
Each of these places are easy to get around and they each have something incredible to offer the novice traveler.
Thailand is cheap and culturally it’s much different from the US, so it offers a bit of culture shock without being overwhelming. There’s lots to see and do and it has a well-worn backpacker trail so it’s easy to get around. It’s a great place for both solo travelers and groups too!
Iceland is the perfect destination for any new travelers who are looking to embrace the outdoors. The landscapes there are majestic and out of this world and there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and camping. And since it’s the safest country in the world, it’s a good place to test the waters.
Japan is incredibly easy to get around and offers a nice mix of east and west. The cities all look familiar enough to the Western eye, but culturally it’s something very different. With great food, easy transportation, and a solid safety record, Japan is definitely a place a newbie traveler can cut their teeth and have an amazing experience.
8. Not everything goes as planned when we travel. Is there one story that sticks out in your mind of something that went very wrong? How do you deal with adversity when you travel and what advice do you have for people when the inevitable happens?
I’ve had tons of things go wrong during my travels! I’ve missed flights, bought flights for the wrong day, been injured scuba diving, and had a brand-new camera ruined because I slipped and fell into the ocean. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Travel mistakes and mishaps are par for the course — especially if you travel often. Just like life at home, things go wrong. You just have to learn to roll with the punches and be prepared.
My first step at handling adversity when you’re on the road is to make sure you have reliable and comprehensive travel insurance.
I know, it’s a boring topic but I can’t stress it enough. I’ve saved thousands of dollars thanks to travel insurance, and I have heard all sorts of horror stories that confirm my opinion that it’s better to be safe than sorry!
I’ve used World Nomads for the past decade and have found them to be the best company for budget travel insurance. They have comprehensive plans and their customer service is top notch. I never go anywhere without coverage from them.
9. Much has been written about millennials and the how the newest generation is changing the world. In my travels I tend to see a wide range of age groups exploring the world. Do you see the demographics of travelers changing?
I do see the demographics changing, but not in the way people expect.
While it’s true that a lot of millennials are traveling instead of embracing more traditional milestones like buying a house or a car, I’m also seeing a lot of older travelers on the road.
These are usually 50+ folks who are retired or semi-retired. More often than not, I’m seeing them traveling the world beyond the regular budget holiday. Instead of the stereotypical expensive resort vacation, I’m seeing older travelers embrace budget travel so they can travel cheaper and longer.
They might not all be staying in hostels, but there is a definitely surge in the number of older travelers I’m seeing on the road.
And that’s a good thing!
Travel is such a powerful personal development tool, but it’s also an important tool for building cultural bridges. And these days, I think we need as many bridges as we can get.
Budget travel isn’t just for cheap young backpackers. Learning travel skills and becoming a savvy traveler is something anyone can do — no matter their age.