I’ve recently had a chance to interview an expert budget traveler and one of the most popular travel bloggers – Matt Kepnes, aka Nomadic Matt. I’m excited to share with you his insights on popular travel destinations, his best travel tips, future plans, and what long term travel has taught him.
- Which trip/experience taught you an important travel lesson and how have you used it on your next trip?
Every trip I’ve ever been on has taught me an important lesson. Sometimes I learned the hard way, but I still learned! More than any single experience, I think the most important lesson from all my travels is this: people are generally decent and want to help. Sure, there are some bad apples out there but the overwhelming majority of people — locals and travelers alike— are good people and will be willing to help you if you need it. It doesn’t matter if you’re backpacking Australia, hitchhiking in Iceland, or getting off the grid in Argentina. People want to help. And I think knowing that makes travel all the more possible because it removes some of the fear and worry you might have about traveling solo or traveling long-term. Now, that doesn’t mean you can ditch your common sense but it does mean that you can head out into the world knowing that you’re not alone.
- As an expert budget traveler, what are your 3 best tips for people traveling on a budget?
When it comes to budget travel there are tons of things you’ll want to keep in mind in order to be a savvy traveler. Some of the most important are:
- Be flexible with your dates and/or destinations when it comes to looking for cheap flights.
- Start travel hacking to earn free flights and hotels.
- Get travel insurance. (I know this seems like an expense, but it’s actually an investment. I was recently mugged in Colombia and had to go to the hospital and then fly home early. That would have cost me thousands of dollars if I didn’t have World Nomads insurance. Now, something bad like this will likely not happen when you travel but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!)
- What do you think about the trend of “instagrammable” places? Is it forcing governments & organizations to protect the place or mostly they are being by over-tourism?
Our collective obsession with social media is doing untold damage to the places we visit. In many places, there are now line-ups just to snap a photo — sometimes stretching over an hour long! We seem to be taking all the fun and serendipity out of travel just so we can share the same generic photos over and over again. I think it does a disservice to travel, and I really do hope we see some changes. Many destinations are already cracking down on overtourism, which is great. With the accessibility of cheap flights and cheap accommodation at an all-time high, travel has never been easier. But it comes with a cost. We all need to learn to be better, more considerate travelers. Otherwise, we will end up paying the price in the long run!
- Even budget travelers like to splurge sometimes. What did you spend big (bigger than usual) money on when traveling? Was it worth it? Or are you always following your book and traveling on a budget?
Usually, if I’m traveling and want to splurge I’ll have planned for it. For example, when I was backpacking New Zealand I had a certain budget prepared, but I also planned to splurge from time to time. I wasn’t sure about what I would splurge on exactly, but I made sure I had it. In the end, I used that extra money on a scenic flight over Fiordland, New Zealand — not your typical budget activity! But, because I took more money than I needed, I was able to afford it.
Generally speaking, I always tell budget travelers to bring more money than they need. If you think your trip will cost $2,000 then bring $2,500 or $3,000. Maybe you won’t use it, but at least you’ll have the option if you see an activity you want to visit that you didn’t plan on or if you run into an emergency. Remember, you can also make more money later. Don’t miss out on once in a lifetime experiences just to save a few bucks!
- What are the 3 most important things you carry on every trip (besides computer & phone)?
I always travel with a journal so I can take notes for work, write down language tips, and just have somewhere to compile my thoughts. Keeping a travel diary actually makes for a fun souvenir because you can look back through your journal in a few years and remember new details about your trip and see how much you’ve changed.
Second, I always bring some books to read (physical books, not an e-reader) as they are a great way to pass time when you’re waiting at the airport or have a long bus or train journey. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer physical books to a Kindle.
Lastly, I always bring a towel. It’s a versatile item that’s perfect for the budget traveler. It’s a picnic blanket, beach towel, pillow for bus rides, and curtain for your hostel bunk bed. It’s got a dozen uses and then some, which is why I always bring one when I travel!
- Hypothetical question – what would you do if you won 1 million dollars that would have to be spent on traveling? Any travel dreams you would fulfill?
To be honest, I would probably give it all to my charity, FLYTE. FLYTE helps students from underserved communities in the USA travel abroad on transformative educational class trips. It’s a project I started back in 2015, and we’ve sent 1 class on a trip each year since. I’d love to be able to help more students — both in the USA and abroad — who might not other have the ability to travel overseas. So that’s where I’d spend the money I think!
If I had to spend some of it on myself I’d probably treat myself to a trip to Bhutan. It looks like such an amazing country, though it can’t really be done on a budget. So having that much money would be a good excuse to indulge (after I’ve helped FLYTE, of course!).
- In business and life, are you applying more lessons from your travels or what you’ve learned in college? Where does your most useful knowledge come from?
I think I absorb knowledge from every experience I have. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about people from traveling, and I’ve learned a lot about business from networking and attending conferences (as well as reading a lot!). I think every experience has something valuable to teach — both success and failures. I think failures teach as much more than our successes. Whether that’s a business failure or a travel mistake, those lessons are hard learned. You remember them. That’s why I think failure is our greatest teacher if we can learn to get past the initial feelings of disappointment.
It’s important to always be willing to learn and always be open to feedback. Do that, and you’ll be able to get ahead and find much more success, both personally and professionally.
- After years of travels, where do you feel most at home? Apart from the US where you’re living right now. Any particular country or a region you like to return to?
I’m fortunate in that I can feel at home pretty much anywhere these days. The more time you spend backpacking, the more you get used to bouncing around and feeling at home anywhere you go.
That being said, there are a handful of cities I do find I connect with more than others. Bangkok, Stockholm, London, Hong Kong, Paris — each of these places are cities I feel at home I and love to visit again and again. In fact, I’m moving to Paris soon for a few months. I’ll be reviewing some of the best hostels in Paris before I settle down and get an apartment!
Beyond that, backpacking Southeast Asia is something I feel at home doing, having been to the region more times than I can count. But for me, it’s usually bigger cities that I find myself feeling the most at home in. They usually have everything I like: lots of activities, great food, fun nightlife, and museums and attractions to explore.
- During your first international trip to Costa Rica, coming from American culture, what shocked you the most? Anything good or bad.
I have a tendency to do a lot of research and planning when I travel so I wasn’t really caught off guard by much. What was more jarring was coming home. Like most people, I planned and was ready for some culture shock when I went to Costa Rica…but I was so caught up in my trip that I didn’t think about coming back home. While my trip was short, I definitely caught the travel bug and felt restless when I came back. Once you experience the freedom of travel, it’s hard to adjust back to regular life. You want to go out there and see more things, to have more adventures. For me, it’s always the culture shock of coming home that is the most challenging — especially after longer trips. The post-travel blues hit a lot of people hard, and it can be really challenging adjusting back to life after you’ve been on the road for a while. So I always tell people to worry less about culture shock when you leave and more about it when you come back.
- Since you’re moving to Paris to write a lot, are you planning to write another book? Or what are your writing plans? Can you reveal any details?
My next book is actually coming out later this year. Unlike my other books, which are guidebooks and share travel tips, this book is a collection of my stories from the past decade of travel. I’ve added a lot of detail to stories I’ve published and of course am sharing a ton of new, never before seen stories too. So I’m excited to share the final product later in the year!
As for Paris, I’ll be focusing on writing all new content for my blog as well as some new content for my course. Whether a new book idea is lurking somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ll have to wait and see!
- Venezuela is one of my favourite countries in the world. Since I know you follow politics, are you aware of the current situation in Venezuela? Would you like to visit in the future?
After travel, politics is my next obsession so I’m familiar with the situation there (and the US response to the situation there. Hopefully, things can get settled because I definitely would visit. South America is a great place to backpack. It’s affordable and there is a lot of incredible things to see in do — both in Venezuela and beyond!
- What book you’ve read over the past year that impacted you or helped you or you enjoyed the most and would recommend others?
Some of my favorite travel books from 2018 are Mark Adams’ Tip of the Iceberg and Rolf Potts’ Souvenir. For non-travel, I finally got around to reading the massive Sci-fi tome Dune which was a great read if you enjoy the genre. Other books worth reading are Atomic Habits by James Clear and Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday.