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Helen Fanthorpe
10/30/2020

Matthew Kepnes is Nomadic Matt: a travel blogger who focuses on helping his followers travel better for less. He’s travelled to more than one hundred countries and territories, where he’s covered thousands of miles, made lifelong friends, learned multiple languages and even tried fried maggots. On his blog he not only shares his own experiences, but also provides invaluable tips for travellers on a budget, with detailed cost breakdowns and in-depth reporting to help you take advantage of the deals that really will pay off.

Meditations with Matt

Nomadic Matt © private archive

Q: You didn’t take your first overseas trip until you were in your early twenties. What was it like to catch the travel bug as a young adult?

A: It was like a whole new world of opportunities opened up. When you’re stuck in the hotel/resort/expensive vacation mindset, travel can only offer a limited escape (unless you’re super wealthy of course). However, once you realize that travel can be done on a budget – a budget that’s often cheaper than life at home – you realize that you can go anywhere. You can do anything. The entire map opens up to you, offering untold adventures, friendships and opportunities.

It can be intimidating, because it’s all so unfamiliar and you end up with lots of questions. How do I plan a long-term trip? Can I work abroad? How do I meet people when travelling for more than just a week or two? But if you’re willing to do some research and take the leap, you’ll discover that there is a whole community of amazing people out there who live to travel and make travel a priority in their life.

Q: Your blog helps other people travel better for less. What does travelling “better” mean to you?

A: It means making the most of your limited vacation time so you can maximize your experiences. It means avoiding many of the silly mistakes I stumbled into, like getting scammed or ripped off. It means learning how to save money on the road and how to find cheap flights and how to travel hack so you can earn free flights and hotel stays.

At the end of the day, being a better traveller means learning what it takes to maximize each and every experience you have on the road while avoiding many of the common pitfalls rookie travellers make. You won’t avoid them all of course (even I still make dumb mistakes on the road) but you’ll be able to learn from your mistakes and roll with the punches.

Volunteering is an easy way to lower your travel expenses while helping local communities © Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Q: What would be your top three golden tips for travellers on a budget?

A: 1. Travel hack. By collecting points and miles you can earn free flights and hotel stays. It requires no extra spending either. You just need to get a travel credit card and concentrate your spending. Do that, and you can be earning all kinds of free travel perks like lounge access, free baggage checks, free upgrades, and more!

2. Don’t be penny wise by pound foolish. A lot of budget travellers will skip a $3 taxi and spend an hour walking somewhere to save money. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your time is just as valuable as your money – if not more so! Be frugal, not cheap. Don’t pinch pennies. Instead, look for value.

A $5 dorm room with 20 beds is a bargain. But it might be worth paying for an $8 dorm if there are just 6 beds. Why? Because you’ll get a better sleep and have more privacy! To me, that’s worth an extra few bucks.

Always look at the value, not just the cost.

3. Look for work/volunteer opportunities. If you want to travel long-term but don’t quite have the money, look for volunteer opportunities. WWOOFing, Helpx.net and Workaway.info all have tons of opportunities where you can get free room and board in exchange for work. It’s an easy way to lower your costs so you can stay on the road longer.

Many hostels will also let you volunteer in exchange for a free bed. Usually, you just need to spend a few hours a week cleaning and then you’re free to go out and explore. It’s a simple way to keep your budget intact, slow your travels down and spend some time getting to know a destination in-depth – all while saving money.

Young female tourists staying in youth hostel © pikselstock/Shutterstock

Q: Solo travel is on the rise. You describe yourself as an introvert: how important do you think being comfortable in your own company is for long-term travel? Do you think solo travellers are more open to new experiences than those travelling as part of a group?

A: I think being comfortable on your own is a huge benefit if you’re a long-term traveller. However, if you’re not quite there yet you’ll likely learn how to manage on your own while abroad – because sometimes you won’t have a choice. Solo travel forces you to adapt and overcome obstacles. Obstacles you might not encounter on a group trip or tour.

That said, with the sharing economy and all the apps that are out there today, it’s super easy for both introverts and extroverts to travel however they want. It’s never been easier to meet people thanks to apps like Couchsurfing, Facebook groups and sites like Meetup.com. However, there are also tonnes of blogs and guidebooks out there so that you can also do everything on your own if you want.

Personally, I like to mix it up. Sometimes I’ll spend my days solo and sometimes I’ll look for companions to spend a few days with.

Whatever your travel style, you can make it work on the road. But it’s never a bad idea to be able to entertain yourself. That’s a skill that will pay dividends both at home and abroad.

Fresh Maine Lobster © Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

Q: What’s your experience of the coronavirus pandemic been like?

A: As a traveller, it’s been okay. I spent a few months on the road exploring the US. I got to visit some awesome destinations (like Maine) and explore some beautiful national parks. I didn’t get to see and do as much as I’d like, thanks to Covid, but it was nice to get on the road – even if it was a little lonely since I had to social distance the whole time.

As a business owner in the travel industry, let’s just say it’s been far from ideal. I had to postpone TravelCon, our massive travel conference, and I had to get a loan to keep the business afloat. So, as a business owner, it’s been incredibly stressful. But, I still have a job so it could have been a lot worse. I’ve got my fingers crossed for 2021!

Q: Do you think there could be some positive side effects for the travel industry when we eventually emerge from the global pandemic?

A: I think the silver lining will be a greater focus on sustainable and ethical travel. Overtourism was a huge issue pre-Covid. I think the pandemic has given us a chance to reset and address many of the more unsustainable aspects of travel.

Cruises, for example, are super unsustainable – from both an environmental angle as well as from the angle of overtourism. I doubt they will recover anytime soon, if at all.

So, I’m hopeful that travellers and travel companies pivot to embrace more sustainable changes. We were already seeing that happen before Covid. I think the pandemic just sped that transition up. That’s my hope, anyway!

Farmer surveying his agave field in Jalisco, Mexico © Jesus Cervantes/Shutterstock

Q: You’ve travelled to more than one hundred countries, but where’s next on your bucket list?

A: I’ve got my eyes on Mexico next. The US has really bungled its pandemic response and with the travel industry on hold, I want to go somewhere cheaper to keep my bank account intact while I weather the storm.

That said, plans have a funny way of going out the window in 2020 so who knows what will actually happen!

Top image: Breathing in a solo adventure © everst/Shutterstock

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