Matt Kepnes, aka Nomadic Matt. is a budget travel blogger who helps people travel cheaper, better, and longer on his website nomadicmatt.com. Be sure to also check him out on Instagram @Nomadicmatt to follow along with all his travels!
GAFFL connects solo travelers with similar itineraries to explore destinations together. Whether you are backpacking in Asia, road tripping in Australia, or exploring national parks in the US, simply type the destination you are traveling to, find travelers who are going there at the same time as you, connect with them, plan trips, meet, and travel together.
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After a couple of short trips to Costa Rica and Thailand in my early twenties, I caught the travel bug. Up until then, "travel" to me just meant taking a short holiday. It was a break before going back to the grind. I didn't know travel could actually be a lifestyle.
When I got home from Thailand, I decided I wanted to travel long-term. I had met some backpackers in Chiang Mai who were doing that and they opened my eyes to the possibility. So, I saved up as much as I could over the next year and planned an epic round-the-world trip that would last one year.
I ended up going solo on that trip because nobody else was willing (or able) to come on such a long trip. While things have improved in the US and more and more people travel long-term, back then, it was very rare to take a gap year so people just weren't open to it like they are in other countries.
In the end, I'm glad I went alone. Travel is the best personal development tool and I learned a lot about myself and met all kinds of amazing people along the way.
While I'm happy to travel with friends these days, I love traveling solo because you have absolute freedom. You decide where to go, how long to stay, what to see and do. It's the ultimate freedom.
After over a decade of almost non-stop travel, I've started to slow down my travels. Or, at least, I keep telling myself that. I never seem to stay put for more than a month or two without jetting off somewhere.
For me, I visit destinations to see friends, to see museums, and to eat. I'm a history buff and a foodie at heart, so any destination with great food, plentiful wine, and world-class museums is high on my list!
Unless I'm traveling for a specific reason (to see a friend, to attend a conference, etc.), I mostly pick my destinations based on flight deals.
I'm always looking for cheap flights so if I find a great deal I'll just book it. I'm not picky about where I go!
If it's a new destination, I usually buy a guidebook as well as some books about the destination's history and culture. I'll plan out my itinerary in detail, but once I get on the ground I usually throw most of it out the window and just go with the flow. Flexibility is the most important element of my itineraries.
I usually fly carry-on only so I try to pack light. The only must-haves for me (beyond my laptop and phone) are books — physical books, not e-books — and a journal. I love to read and having a journal around helps me take notes for work and gives me a place to collect my thoughts so that I have something to look back on.
Even if you're not a blogger, I encourage every traveler to journal during their trip. You always think you'll remember more than you do and all kinds of little details get forgotten. Journaling lets you capture all the details so that, years later, you can immerse yourself back in the destination and remember all the little things. It's the best souvenir.
Since I usually stay in hostels, it's never hard to meet other travelers. I've also hitchhiked a handful of times over the years, each of which are great ways to connect with locals.
I think my favorite memory is when I met some people traveling in Southeast Asia and ended up hanging out with them for a month on Ko Lipe. It was a serendipitous adventure that acts as a constant reminder to take risks and always say yes when opportunities pop up when traveling — especially opportunities to meet new people.
Even if you're a bit introverted like me, never pass up the opportunity to meet new people. You never know when you'll hit it off with someone or stumble into a life-changing adventure you would have otherwise missed.
I don't know exactly how many countries I've been to but it's probably around 100 by now. I think the quality is much more important than quantity, so I don't bother counting. At the end of the day, how many countries you visit is irrelevant. What matters is the lessons you learn and the connections you make.
While I've been to a lot of places, there are still a bunch of destinations high on my list that I haven't yet traveled to, including Bhutan, India, and some of the 'stans in Central Asia. Hopefully, once COVID has settled down, I'll be able to get out and explore them!
Not well! On the road, it's hard to create a work-life balance. In the past, I would usually end up either working too much or not enough. Fortunately, I've found a system that works for me so I can better enjoy my travels while still getting my work done.
These days, when I'm on the road, I'll set aside a couple of full workdays each week. On those days, I'll hunker down in a cafe and work all day. That gives me time to write, catch up on projects, and clear out my inbox before taking a few days off to travel and explore.
This keeps my work days and my travel days separate so I'm not trying to juggle both at the same time, which can be a nightmare.
Back when I first started blogging, there were no brand deals or sponsored content. There were no social media either. Blogs were brand new and were simply a way to share your stories and travels. They were super basic.
I didn't start my blog with the intention of being a "blogger" — that wasn't really a thing back then. My goal was to use my blog to showcase my travel experience and writing so I could get a job writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet. I wanted to be a travel writer, and blogging was just a step on the path toward that goal.
However, once my blog started to grow and get traffic, I realized that I could just use my blog as a way to write and share advice with people directly. So that's what I did!
When it came to monetization, my main focus wasn't working with brands but rather building my own products. I created ebooks, ran tours, created courses, and wrote books. While there is definitely money in working with brands, I've found creating products provides more freedom and independence while still allowing me to get the bills paid.
Ten Years a Nomad is my opus on travel. It's the story I wanted to tell after spending over a decade traveling. While I can share a lot on my website, it focuses more on the 'how-to' of travel. Ten Years A Nomad is more about the lessons, stories, and reflections I've had about travel.
My goal with the book was to show the way of travel. Why do we feel the need to go places? What happens when we actually take the plunge and travel long term? What happens when things don't go according to plan?
My hope is that the book can show new travelers what to expect from a life of travel while giving veteran travelers something they can relate to. The life of a long-term traveler isn't something a lot of people understand. I wanted this book to illuminate my thoughts and philosophies on travel so people could see what long-term travel is actually like.
I have far too many travel tips to share here so I'll just say this: don't be afraid to take the leap and break out of your comfort zone. The more you can push yourself, the more impactful your travel experiences will be.
That doesn't mean you have to go skydiving or go backpacking in some remote country off the grid. It just means that you'll grow the most and learn the most in new, unfamiliar situations. So always be willing to push yourself.
Also, never leave home without travel insurance. As I've learned the hard way, it's always better to be safe than sorry!
Contrary to popular belief, digital nomads don't just start a blog or business and then lounge on the beach as the money piles up. Working remotely is a job that requires a lot of work and effort.
That said, it's never been easier to get started as a remote worker or digital nomad. You just need to figure out what skills you have that you can monetize.
Are you a competent writer? Do you know how to do graphic design or manage social media? Do you have teaching experience or do you know a language you can teach to others?
There are tons of opportunities out there, but the first thing you need to do is develop the skills you need to succeed. Once you have the skills, start your business while you're still at home. Don't quit your main job until your business is making money and you have some savings to fall back on. I started my blog while I was still teaching English full time and didn't quit my job until my blog was doing well. That way, I had a small financial cushion to fall back on if it didn't work out.
I wish I had known to start sooner! I've had so many amazing experiences, met tons of incredible people, and built a business for myself that has lasted over a decade. My only regret is not starting sooner.
If you're thinking about traveling — either solo or with people — don't wait. It's never been easier to travel on a budget, thanks to the deluge of cheap flights, travel hacking, and the sharing economy. Don't keep your travel dreams on the backburner. Get out there and see the world!
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