Many know him, some might not. Perhaps some of you follow his blog or have at least seen it.
I remember when I heard about this Nomadic Matt guy back when I was starting out and I kept hearing about him for years without really ever interacting with him. Last summer I finally met him in person and since then, we’ve hung out a couple of times, most recently at the end of May while at the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference in Spain.
Here’s the deal. Matt has been blogging and has been involved with travel for a long time. He’s worked on numerous projects, written books and is even working on creating a charity organization called FLYTE that will help underprivileged youth experience the benefits of travel. Travel is his life.
His book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day” had its second edition released this year, and for $8 bucks on Amazon, it’s a solid investment for anyone looking to really cut costs while traveling.
So, back in May at that conference, while eating some sandwiches at a food truck in Lloret de Mar, Spain (yes, they were so good that we each had to eat more than one), Matt and I got to talking and because we both focus on budget travel for the most part, we agreed to put up a little interview with him on my site.
It’s just a quick, light and hopefully useful chat…
Interview with Nomadic Matt
Who are you, sir?
My name is Matt Kepnes and I’m known as Nomadic Matt. I’ve been traveling the world since 2006. I grew up in Boston and worked in health care after college. Fun fact: I’m also a certified high school history teacher! After a trip to Costa Rica in 2004, I fell in love with travel. I never traveled a lot growing up so I didn’t know how great it was until this trip. I loved the freedom travel enabled me to have. Every day was Saturday. The following year I took a trip to Thailand and after meeting five backpackers one day during that trip, I became very jealous of their lifestyle. But meeting them showed me that I didn’t have to be tied down to my job and that I didn’t need to be rich to travel.
After that trip, I went home again, finished my MBA, quit my cubicle job, and, in July 2006, set out on an adventure around the world.
My round-the-world trip was supposed to last a year but I didn’t come home until eighteen months later. Realizing I absolutely loved travel, I decided to head overseas again and that’s when I started my website, Nomadic Matt. I’ve been traveling and writing ever since.
So budget travel expert…what regions of the world offer the best value?
I think the best overall budget region in the world is Southeast Asia. You get amazing value for your money there. Everything is relatively inexpensive. Some other good places for budget travel: India, South Korea, Eastern Europe, and Central America. If you are budget traveler and low on funds, those would be the best places to go.
Earl: Southeast Asia is great and of course, I’m a huge Eastern Europe fan too!
Name a mistake that you think new travelers tend to make…
Most new travelers over plan and mis-budget their money. When you are new to the road, you tend to plan out your route in great detail and pre-book hostels, hotels, and flights. And that makes sense. When you’re home thinking about your trip, planning it out makes it seem more real but in travel, less is more and it is far better to just go with the flow. Pick a general route but leave the details to work themselves out along the way. You’re going to change your plans when you hit the ground, I can guarantee it, and learn what you like and don’t like as you go.
In addition, I’m always amazed at how often travelers run out of money. There’s so much price information online now that you can find out how much everything costs. Do a little research beforehand and get an idea of the costs you’ll face and then create your budget. Don’t go in blind.
Earl: It’s definitely difficult to avoid planning when you first start out. But if you talk to as many long-term travelers as you can, I think you’ll find that almost all of them will advise against planning too much. It’s something you learn very quickly once you begin.
What’s your biggest budgeting mistake that others can learn from?
I make mistakes all the time but I would say my biggest mistake, one I never made twice, was not factoring in currency changes into my budget. Currencies move up and down all the time and I should have been smarter about this when I first started out with my around the world trip in 2006. I made Australia my last country on that trip and when I was doing my pre-trip budgeting, one US dollar got you 1.30 Australian dollars and I calculated my budget based on that. By the time I actually got to Australia, their dollar was on par with the US dollar. I had 30% less money because of this and, with no wiggle room in my budget, had to cut a lot of activities out of my trip.
Earl: Good lesson. I now set up alerts on my phone for any countries I plan to visit in the near future in order to keep track of the exchange rates to avoid such a situation.
Any memorable experience that puts a smile on your face every time you think about it?
After ten years of travel, I’ve had a lot of great adventures. My days are often filled with so many activities and experiences that are definitely memorable. I would say my favorite was when I spent a month on an island in Thailand back in 2006. A small group of travelers and I spent a month on Ko Lipe, which back then was very off the beaten path. I lost my flip flops the first day I was there so just went barefoot for an entire month. I loved every day I was there and it is by far my favorite travel experience. I know it’s not a crazy story. I’ve kept my travels pretty tame but this was such a memorable time.
Earl: It’s always amazing to me how being isolated on a tropical island, with very little in terms of possessions or signs of the modern world or even money, is such an enjoyable experience. Some of my own favorite experiences also involve being on remote islands. It’s proof that a simple life can certainly bring about real happiness.
What’s the most frightening incident you’ve experienced while traveling?
I almost drowned in Fiji. I was learning to scuba dive and on my second dive, my dive partner kicked the regulator out of my mouth. We were far under and I panicked a bit but I was able to put the regulator back in and breathe. I sat there for a while breathing in and out and calming down before I surfaced. To the credit of my instructor, he was on top of the situation very quickly and made sure I was safe.
Earl: While that doesn’t sound enjoyable at all, I do like to point out that rarely does someone’s ‘worst experience’ involve something that couldn’t happen anywhere. I always stand by my belief that the world is actually much safer than we tend to believe!
Any countries you don’t have a desire to visit again?
Vietnam. I just didn’t like it there. I know lots of people who love it but I had a horrible time. I thought the people were abrasive, rude, and always tried to scam me and my friends. I have no desire or plan to ever go back.
But that’s just my experience. I know people who hate Paris (I think they are crazy. Paris is amazing.) so I would never say don’t go somewhere. Always check it out for yourself first because we all have different experiences of course.
Earl: Good thing you added that last paragraph. I wouldn’t have put this interview up if you didn’t mention that!
In your book, you talk about traveling for $50 per day. That number – $50 – seems high. Why do you focus on that amount?
A lot of people get stuck on that number. Depending on your point of view, it’s either too much or too little. But the first thing to remember is that it is a daily average over a year long trip and it includes pre-trip expenses such as gear and insurance as well as flights. I think when you look at it that way, the number is not so high at all. You aren’t going to spend $50 a day every day – some days will be more, most will be less and it will depend on where you are going. If you are going to Norway, $50 is a good number. If you are going to India, that’s way more than you’ll need!
But more than being just a number, it’s a philosophy. The book is designed to be a guide to budget travel but it is full of real tips and tricks that are actually useful for travel on any budget.
Earl: Like you said, advice on how to budget your travels can always apply to anyone. We are always looking to save money, no matter how much we can afford or want to spend. If I can travel to a country and spend $800 for a month, I’d of course also be interested in learning how to have the same experience for $600 if possible.
What is the simplest method you know for travelers to save money?
I think the best thing people can do to save money when they travel is to be flexible. The difference of a day can mean the difference of hundreds of dollars. When you are flexible with time and place, you can capture the best deals that come up. For most people, they can’t be flexible on both so be flexible on at least one because if you have to go to Paris on a certain day, you are paying whatever the listed price is. There’s no magic bullet in travel and there are only so many ways to lower expenses. Sometimes the price is the price.
So I recommend people be flexible when they can. If you’re dead set on Paris, go when it is cheapest. If you can only travel during two weeks in June, go to where it is cheapest. This approach can really save a ton of money in the end.
Earl: This is exactly what I would have said too and I think many long-term travelers agree with this. The more you plan, the more you’re stuck in those plans, and when a different experience or better deal pops up, you’re not able to take advantage of it. It’s okay to plan a little but as you travel, I think most people realize just how important being flexible truly can be.
When it comes to saving money on travel, what’s the biggest difference between when you started and today?
It’s a lot easier to find good deals today. When I started, information was scarce. Now, there are so many blogs, deal-finding websites and travel apps, that travel has never been easier or more accessible. When I started researching my first trip back in 2006, I remember finding one website on backpacking Europe that helped me plan my trip. Now, there are hundreds of websites about every country in Europe that can help plan your trip. Before, if you wanted to find a good flight deal, you would have to spend hours searching routes and carriers. Now, there are websites like holidaypirates.com, theflightdeal.com and airfarewatchdog.com that alert you about deals. They have teams of people doing all the work so you don’t have to do anything but see what deals exist every day. It’s really never been a better time to travel because of all these deals and all of the information that you can find so easily, all of which will help you save money in ways that travelers couldn’t before.
Earl: Ever since I signed up for theflightdeal.com, I’ve wanted to book flights almost every week. For those living in the US, there are some unbelievable deals out there that you probably won’t hear about without an alert from this website. A good example from the alert email I received today: $555 USD roundtrip from Chicago to St. Petersburg, Russia. Who’s coming with me?
Any other money-saving tips you’ve picked up on your own travels? Any questions for Matt or about saving money while wandering the world?