Spoiler alert: Matthew Kepnes, author of Ten Years a Nomad, doesn’t give up traveling. But he does burn out. And he does come to realize the price that being a constant wayfarer is high. Then again, so is the cost of staying home.
Kepnes is better known by his blogger name, Nomadic Matt. His Nomadic Matt website is considered to be the #1 travel blog in the world. He started it about 12 years ago, after a short “American-style” vacation (two weeks, once a year) in Thailand. The day before he and a friend were to return back to Boston–and he to his dull corporate job at a hospital–he sat on a beach and made the decision to backpack in Southeast Asia for a year. He was 23 years old. Poor, but determined.
It’s not as if Matt had grown up in a family that enjoyed exploring the world. “In my family, we didn’t travel…Like most modern American middle-class families, if we went anywhere it was because we were on vacation–leisure time with a fixed start and end, tied to the calendar of the working year…Predictably. Safely. And never for too long.” No wonder his parents couldn’t understand his feelings of being trapped in an endless routine, let alone his developing wanderlust.
What can we learn from a young backpacker?
I already know what you’re thinking: Matthew Kepnes was just a kid out of college when he launched his adventure. No tenure, no spouse, no mortgage. Why shouldn’t he go? Backpacking and living in hostels is the stuff of youth. What can he possibly teach the rest of us?
You might be surprised.
His year of travel did turn into 18 months. He returned home to finish an MBA, then he set out again, this time with no plans. Matt started his blog to encourage others who wanted to explore…offering sensible advice. He refuses to accept the excuse, “But I can’t afford to travel.” After a few years of non-stop travel, he polished up his blog posts and put them in the best-selling book, Travel the World on $50 a Day.
Before you roll your eyes and say sure, it’s easy for him to travel on the cheap, read the book for yourself. This is no hare-brained hippie. Matt isn’t telling us that we must wear a backpack and hitch-hike across Asia. Good thing–I can tell you with 100% certainty that I’m never doing that.
He tells us to look at our lives and decide what’s important. If travel is a priority, then make it happen:
- Cook and eat at home. Ditch that fancy triple espresso Starbucks drink. Take your lunch. Think twice about Happy Hours.
- Use Netflix instead of paying for a movie ticket. (Make your own popcorn, and pour your own beverage of choice, while you’re at it.)
- Start a dedicated savings account. Get a dedicated credit card for travel. Learn about ATM fees and international exchange rates.
- Join airline and hotel loyalty programs to earn miles and points toward free or reduced prices.
- Budget, budget, budget for your trip. You must keep track of how much you have, or you’ll run out of money.
True, none of these tips are new or earthshaking. But they work…and they contribute to building a travel fund, whether you’re going for ten days or ten years.
Tell me more about Ten Years a Nomad
Ten Years a Nomad was published July 2019. It’s 218 pages, a fairly quick read. Budget-minded Matt Kepnes would tell you to get it from the library. (Or, you can order it here.)
Matt tells his story in a totally honest way: his ups and downs, successes and failures. He freely shares his lessons…and heartbreaks. Yes, one of his lessons is the difficulty of finding and keeping love on the road. Even when it seems perfect.
His decision to give up a “good job” and travel was made without much, if any, support from family and friends. (His parents still send him warnings about the dangers of going abroad!)
Now let me share some of his wisdom:
- On thinking you’re a travel pro: “The world has a funny way of always keeping you in your place.”
- On planning: “Here’s one thing that’s certain about travel: All your plans will go out the window…but planning is still essential…for priorities–about what you value, what you want to do, where you want to go.”
- On starting: “As an introvert, talking to strangers makes me nervous. I’d think of all the ways they might judge me…It turns out that everyone else in the hostel is just someone trying to see some of he world and make friends…They hold the same fears and seek the same joys as you.”
- On living abroad: “As a tourist, I held my limited views of the city as gospel…If it was a bad tourist city, it must be a bad city. This is something tourists do often. We pass through places, superficially making observations and generalizations as though we are experts and learned scholars.”
- On travel burn-out: ” You get sick of constantly trying to find your bus…in countries whose language you don’t speak…You have to learn a brand-new set of social norms at each stop. You have to restart you life again and again, in a new place…”
- On the effects of travel when returning home: “The people close to me couldn’t understand the person I’d become. They still thought I’d gone through a phase, a bit of rebellion, an extended vacation before settling down into the Matt I was supposed to be. They couldn’t see that I was a new person.”
- On home: “When I started out on my travels, home was a dirty word. It was a boring place where you commuted to work and sat in traffic…It was where life grew stale. A place of death…But home isn’t a place. It’s not a destination. It’s not where your heart is…home is where you are at peace with yourself.”
As much as I enjoyed Ten Years a Nomad, and recommend it for your limited and valuable reading time, I must tell you the thing that I don’t agree with: Matt recommends what I consider a wacky system of procuring an unlimited supply of credit cards to use for points and miles. Then discard them. Successful as it seems to be for him, the thought makes me nauseous.
I’ll close by saying we should all consider new ideas and ways of seeing the world, whether we travel or not. I find Matthew Kepnes to be refreshing; if he were my son, I’d be cheering him on. I hope you will, too!
More books for your consideration: