An Interview with Nomadic Matt

You’re probably visiting Free Two Roam because, like us, you love travel. As a keen traveller you’ve no doubt come across Nomadic Matt. Nomadic Matt is one of the most popular and successful travel blogs out there and one that we constantly head to for inspiration and advice.

So we were thrilled when Nomadic Matt’s founder, Matt Kepnes, agreed to an interview with us. Read on to learn more about Matt’s success and for some excellent travel tips from the master!

What made you decide to start blogging about your travels? 

The main reason I started a blog way back in 2008 was because I wanted to find a way to keep traveling and being a travel writer seemed like the best way to do that. I was tired of working in a cubicle so I thought I could use my travel blog (which was a fairly new concept back then) as a way to get into the travel writing scene. I had dreams of traveling the world and writing for Lonely Planet.

The website was really only going to be something like an online resume for me!

That didn’t quite happen because I was still able to turn my blog into a business and become a writer on my own terms. I built my website up, starting making a small income with it, and just kept at it. One day just lead to another and, ten years later, I’m still here. While I didn’t end up writing guides for Lonely Planet, I did end up creating my own guides so it all worked out in the end!

How do you handle keeping your original brand intact now that you have become so successful?

I think one of the many strengths of having a personal brand is that you are the brand. I’m not tied to a specific age group or location in the world: I’m just tied to being myself and traveling on a budget. While there are bound to be changes here and there, consistency is manageable because you just have to genuinely be yourself.

I remember when a blogger who wrote about travel in your twenties had to rebrand because after they turned thirty. It was a painful process. When you have a brand based around your own personality, you can avoid those complications. Of course, you are going to change over time – no one remains static forever – but as you change so will your audience!

What do you think the biggest challenges are for new travel bloggers? 

I think social media makes blogging look easy and glamorous (neither of which is true) so people dive into the blogging world and are met with a swift dose of reality. Blogging is a grind. It’s a lot of hard work and requires a lot of discipline and dedication. It can take years to build up a full time income, and with so many other blogs out there now, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out. So unless you approach blogging with a business mindset, you’re likely going to get left in the dust because you aren’t going to have the fortitude and the vision to keep going when you don’t become rich and famous right away.

Did you ever feel uncomfortable with marketing yourself as a travel blogger and if so how did you overcome that feeling?

It definitely took some getting used to. When I started out I was much more introverted than I am now, and even to this day you can probably look at my social media and realize that I’m not a hugely extroverted person. So while it was always easy to write and promote my blog from behind the keyboard, it took me longer to get out there and start networking in person (which is hugely important when it comes to building relationships). But the more I did it, the more comfortable it felt. These days, I go to a handful of conferences a year and am perfectly at home promoting my blog. It just took time.

We’re currently planning a year or more of traveling around the world. What countries should we absolutely visit?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Every country has something to offer, it all just depends on your interests. For nature and outdoor activities you can visit New Zealand or Iceland; for night life you can hit Budapest, Bangkok, or Ios; for history you could visit Rome or London or North Africa; there’s awesome diving in the Pacific so anywhere from Australia to Polynesia will have great dive sites; and for food…well, Thailand and Japan would be high on my list, as would Italy and France…but that’s all personal preference.

Long story short, there are far too many amazing places to list. So just jump in and see where the map takes you!

Could you share some of your favourite travel hacks?

There are a lot of good ways to save money on the road. I don’t think it’s as hard as people think but some tips I would recommend would be:

  1. Get a credit card and/or a bank card that won’t charge foreign transaction fees. In the long run, this will save you tons of money as you travel the world.
  2. Always pack a towel. You can use it as a pillow, a picnic blanket, beach towel, and curtain for your dorm bed if there isn’t one provided. They can do anything!
  3. Start travel hacking. The sooner you can start collecting points and miles, the sooner you can earn yourself a free flight!
  4. Visit local tourism offices. They are an underused resource that will have tons of information on local attractions, events, and discounts.
  5. Use the sharing economy. There are tons of awesome sites and apps that can connect you with locals and help you save money.

What are your travel plans for the next 12 months? 

No idea! I’m in the midst of planning a travel conference which will take place next month. So that’s taking up all my attention now. Once that’s done I’ll likely be ready for a trip…but where? I have no idea yet!

What 3 things (apart from the essentials) do you always travel with?

  1. A towel (see above).
  2. A note book so I can take notes and write down ideas.
  3. My phone for maps and translation.

What size do you ultimately want to grow the Nomadic Matt business to?

Between the blog, my hostel, my online courses, and TravelCon (my upcoming conference), “Nomadic Matt” is definitely bigger than I ever thought it would be. I do set yearly goals for growth, but that’s more because I like to have targets in mind to keep me sharp and always on the lookout for ways to improve. But as long as I can keep creating helpful content that encourages more people to get out there and travel I’ll be happy.

What things would do you differently if you were setting up a travel blog today?

I would have started an email list earlier. Having a newsletter and email list is the best way to connect with your audience and, when the time is right, monetize. I waited a long time before I built one, so in hindsight I wish I started that from the get go. Sure, I would have only had like 12 subscribers but you have to start somewhere!

How far in advance do you plan your next leg of travelling?

These days, I don’t plan much. I’ll research important highlights and learn about the country by reading books, but when it comes to travel I just go with the flow. Of course, if it’s a trip for work then I’ll need to do more research and make sure I dig up everything I want so that I can share it with my readers. But when it’s just me, I’ll go with the flow. No matter how much research I do I always end up finding out new things and changing my plans, so I try to stay flexible.

How do you stay connected when you travel? Do you have a data SIM card in each country or do you just use available Wifi?

Since I need my phone for work, I have a data plan with my phone company, T-Mobile. It’s not the cheapest, but they provide solid service and I get to keep my own number. But if I didn’t need a number for work I would just buy local SIM cards. That’s almost always cheaper and you get more consistent service.

What is your favourite travel blog? 

I don’t have a single favorite, since every blog has something unique to offer. But I do have a handful that I read often, which you can check out here!

An Interview with Nomadic Matt

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