Solo Traveler Interview: Nomadic Matt (Matthew Kepnes)

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Today Solo Trips and Tips is kicking off a new interview series with solo travelers around the world. I’ll be talking with a variety of people about traveling solo and getting their best advice and travel tips. I’m happy to introduce Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt travel blog.

Before I started Solo Trips and Tips I spent a lot of time reading travel blogs, especially solo traveler blogs. That’s when I first heard about Nomadic Matt. For anyone not familiar with Matt Kepnes, he started the blog Nomadic Matt in 2008 after falling in love with travel, and as a means to fund his new found passion for traveling. Obviously Matt also has a passion for business too, because he grew the website into the most popular travel blog in the world.

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Then in 2013 he published the book How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Travel Cheaper Longer Smarter and it became a New York Times bestseller.

Solo traveler interview with Nomadic Matt Kepnes

Nomad Matt is one of the early solo travel bloggers that’s still around today and he continues to try new things, like moving to Paris in February 2019 and signing up for French lessons.

And in 2018 Matt Kepnes founded a travel blogger conference called TravelCon that will take place in his hometown of Boston from June 27 – 29 this year. Although he’s from Boston, Matt has lived primarily in Austin TX and New York City for the past several years.

During this interview Nomadic Matt reveals why he prefers solo travel, tips on how to have a great Couchsurfing experience, and advice on how to best handle travel mistakes.

Nomad Matt looking at the view of a castle - solo backpacking in Europe

SM: Do you ever feel apprehensive before a journey? How do you handle anxiety while traveling?

NM: Of course! I think that’s a natural response to doing something out of your comfort zone or making a change to your routine. I think most of us are creatures of habit, so changing things up to travel can be like a shock to the system. To worry about what you packed or what might happen when you arrive (however unlikely) is a normal response to travel. And it’s a good thing. It shows you that you’re challenging yourself, and it’s in those situations where we end up growing the most.

Travel is the ultimate personal development tool.

It’s a great way to break out of your shell and see the world. And with so many cheap flights these days, you have no excuse not to!

As for dealing with anxiety when you travel, what’s important is that you plan ahead. Don’t rush around to a new city every day. Travel slow. Give yourself time and space to adjust. It will also help you establish some temporary routines to get you settled. Budget extra money in case you need to stay in more expensive accommodation to give yourself some space.

Try to connect with locals via the sharing economy (as well as an online travel community) so you have some support while you’re on the road. And go somewhere with a well-worn travel trail. Backpacking Southeast Asia is a good place to start, for example.

Lastly, always make sure you buy travel insurance. If you have a panic attack or need to see a doctor on the road, travel insurance will help. I’ve had panic attacks on the road, and travel insurance was a life saver. I never leave home without my World Nomads insurance, and that alone gives me a bit more peace of mind.

SM – You bring up a great point, it is good to break out of routine, and that is naturally going to make someone a bit nervous, as well as excited for the new experience. Buying travel insurance is good advice that I don’t always follow :/

READ now: Dread dining alone? Advice for solo travelers

SM: Solo female travelers often get comments and questions like, “What does your spouse think of you traveling alone? Why aren’t you married? You’re so brave traveling by yourself”. Do guys get similar questions? What kind of questions do people ask you while traveling alone?

NM: I definitely don’t get those questions as often as solo female travelers do, which speaks to some of the inequality that exists in the world. But in certain countries and cultures people will definitely ask (or obviously want to ask) me those same questions. Since I’m in my 30s, in many cultures (including the USA!) it’s expected of me to be married and settled down by now. Fortunately, people are always supportive and are more curious than concerned. I can’t say it’s the same way for solo female travelers, unfortunately.

To be honest, most questions I get are about my business and how I afford to travel. People assume that I’m a trust fund kid or that my parents pay for me to travel the world — which isn’t the case. And while I definitely am privileged to travel as much as I do, I’ve been able to build a business around my love of travel. Most people are respectful and just want to learn more, so I’m always happy to talk about working online and share my blogging tips to help people who want to learn how to start a travel blog or work online.

SM – It’s definitely different traveling solo as a female. In some countries I get a lot of sad looks when I tell people I have no husband, no boyfriend, no kids, no pets LOL! They genuinely feel sorry for me and I’m thinking are you kidding me?! I have freedom!

READ now: Dubai solo female travel – what to wear – best things to do

Nomadic Matt solo hiking

SM: What are a few of the destinations topping your bucket list now?

NM: I don’t really keep a bucket list because if I did, everything would be on it! But for the sake of narrowing it down, if I had to pick one place, I’d like to go it would be Bhutan. The country looks so remote and interesting, with a unique history and stunning landscapes. And tourism is still new there, so it is relatively untouched. I’d like to see it before it changes too much.

SM – No bucket list for me either, I want to see the whole world. But these days there are many places that I wish I visited before they became so popular.

There is just so much freedom in solo travel that, once you start, it’s hard to stop – Nomadic Matt

SM: Do you prefer to travel alone or with others? Why?

NM: I prefer traveling solo usually, but I’ll also make sure I’m meeting people along the way. I try to host meet-ups whenever I travel so I can chat with people and meet other locals and travelers. While I love to spend a few days with other travelers, I find I appreciate my solo time too much — especially since I also have to work.

There is just so much freedom in solo travel that, once you start, it’s hard to stop. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to travel with friends and family but solo travel requires no compromise. You do what you want, when you want. Everything is up to you. And while that is a lot of responsibility at first, once you get used to it, it is incredibly refreshing and rewarding.

SM – Yay for solo travelers! It’s so empowering and truly built up my confidence, especially in my earlier travel days backpacking in southeast Asia. And building community while solo traveling is also important to one’s happiness.

READ now: What are the wilderness survival skills needed to survive on your own?

Solo travel expert Nomadic Matt enjoying the sun and sea in Bermuda

SM: And what about hostels vs hotels? Do you have a preference?

NM: I usually only stay at hotels when I have enough free points from travel hacking, or if I’m staying somewhere really cheap (you can find decent hotels in places like Southeast Asia for under $20 a night!). Hostels are my primary accommodation choice as I find they are a great place to meet travelers and pick up some travel advice. They’re especially helpful if I’m traveling solo and feel like being social.

While there are definitely some sub-par hostels out there, I’ve been able to stay at some of the best hostels in the world over the years. They make you feel at home and really add a whole other dimension to your travels, which is why I can’t recommend hostels enough!

SM – It seems a lot of people who travel alone prefer hostels for the socializing aspect. I’ve also found shared Airbnb stays are a good option for solo travel.

Poutine Quintessential Quebec Cuisine - French fries, cheese curds, topped with gravy

SM: I’m from Calgary, Canada but my favorite big Canadian city is Montreal. What is your favorite city or town in Canada, and why?

NM: I haven’t been to a city in Canada that I don’t like yet! Toronto, Montreal, and even Ottawa were all great cities to visit…but I have to say Vancouver takes the cake. Sure, it’s incredibly expensive so I’d never want to live there but as a traveler, it’s great! You have the ocean and the mountains to either side of you, there is a lot of hiking and nearby nature to enjoy, and the weather is much more pleasant compared to that of the east coast. Though I will say this: Montreal has the best poutine!

SM – I’m going to presume your comment that Vancouver weather is more pleasant than the east coast is referring to winter only. Because the weather was freakin’ gorgeous during my month in Nova Scotia, from mid-August to mid-September!

Related: 10 Day Nova Scotia Road Trip Itinerary (with Maps)

Vancouver BC Canada False Creek boats with mountains and cityscape in background

SM: What is one of your biggest travel mistakes and how did you handle it?

NM: I’ve made more travel mistakes than I can count over the years — and I still make them to this day. Paying more than I should at markets or restaurants, getting ripped off by taxi drivers because I didn’t research the correct price, booking cheap flights but for the wrong day, missing out on attractions because I didn’t plan ahead. The list goes on!

Just like in “normal life,” mistakes happen on the road. It’s inevitable. You just need to roll with the punches and adapt. Things don’t go perfectly on the road, because life on the road is just like life at home. Some days are good, some days are bad. As long as you can keep calm, you’ll be able to learn your lesson for next time. And what is travel if not the ultimate teacher?

SM – Oh man it’s good to know that more seasoned travelers make the same kind of mistakes I do! Your advice is spot on – roll with it, remain calm, and learn from the experience.

And what is travel if not the ultimate teacher? – Nomadic Matt

SM: You’ve used Couchsurfing extensively in the past, do you still Couchsurf? Any tips for people new to Couch Surfing?

NM: I still use Couchsurfing here and there, both to stay with someone as well as to just meet people for a coffee. It’s such a great resource for getting insider tips to a destination that, as a blogger, I find it’s an invaluable platform. Even just using the “Hangouts” feature, you will learn a lot more about a destination than if you just went about your trip and stayed in a hostel or hotel. By chatting with locals you get a ton of extra insight, and that helps make your travels much more memorable and enjoyable.

As for tips, it’s important to keep in mind that Couchsurfing is a community-based platform. If you just want to save money, go stay somewhere else as there is plenty of cheap accommodation to be found these days. Because Couchsurfing is more than just a free place to stay — it’s a platform based on connecting and learning about a new culture.

Also, always make sure to stay with someone who has a lot of references. Stay with people who have similar interests, so you have some common ground to kick start the conversation. Make sure you have their address and contact information in advance so you can plan your trip accordingly. Beyond that, just use common sense and you’ll be sure to have a great experience!

SM – That’s cool that you still Couchsurf occasionally. Although I haven’t tried it yet I should use it for the Hangouts feature.

READ now: Fear traveling alone? Overcoming language barriers

Hiking solo Nomadic Matt backpacking in the mountains

SM: As a digital nomad, I see a lot more co-working spaces and short-term rentals available now, compared to 10 years ago. What do you think will be the biggest trends in travel for the next decade or so?

NM: Remote working has definitely taken off over the past couple of years. And as businesses look to save money, that trend will likely continue. But if I knew what would happen in the future I’d be a rich man! I think we will continue to see more people working online, though hopefully in more sustainable ways and not just hawking shallow products on social media or running spammy webinars. I think we will also see more sharing economy apps take off to make budget travel even more affordable, but we will also see destinations start to combat over tourism.

SM – The over tourism issue is starting to get some attention, it’s a fine balance for destinations that chiefly rely on tourism for their economy. Then there is lack of tourism, I’m hopeful that more counties in Africa will begin to see big growth in the number of visitors within the next decade.

READ now: Digital nomad life – how do you do this nomad thing?

SM: Roadtripping around the USA/Canada for the past four years my introvert ways tend to make me a hermit sometimes. What advice or tips do you have for building community while traveling?

NM: These days, there are plenty of online travel communities that you can join. Some are purely online, while others are online but include in-person events for anyone interested. These are a great way to meet people and get tips and you can be as involved or uninvolved as you like. Our travel community, The Nomadic Network, has over 13,000 members so it’s a great place to ask questions, get support, and learn about meet-up events.

Additionally, you can use the Couchsurfing Hangouts app to meet people for coffee. A one or two-hour chat with a fellow traveler is a simple way to connect with someone new without having to spend too much time around other people so you can still enjoy those hermit habits (don’t worry, I like spending time by myself too!).

SM – I will definitely try out the Couchsurfing Hangouts to meet some new folks when I go to Chattanooga next month. And yes, I’ll continue to enjoy my hermit habits :)

Beyond apps, the #1 thing I always bring with me when I travel is a journal – Nomadic Matt

Matt the nomad solo traveling and visiting Château de Chenonceau in France

SM: What is your current favorite travel gadget or app?

NM: I think my favorite apps are the most boring ones: Google Maps and Google Translate. I think they are two apps every savvy travelers needs to have in their arsenal. But for less common choices, I would suggest everyone start using these 3 apps on their next trip:

  • BlaBlaCar (a budget ride sharing app)
  • Mint (for tracking expenses)
  • Prey (a security app that will track your phone if lost/stolen)

Beyond apps, the #1 thing I always bring with me when I travel is a journal. It’s no fancy travel gadget, but it’s great for taking notes, writing language tips, and recording my thoughts. A travel journal is a great way to remember your trip and makes for a fun souvenir. In 10 or 20 years, you can look back and flip through your journal and everything will start coming back to you as if it were yesterday. To me, that’s a priceless souvenir!

SM – Google Maps is my best friend, especially on my longer road trips, like across Canada in six days. It’s interesting your number one item besides the apps is the travel journal. Hand written notes, sketches, etc are the most memorable travel souvenirs for me.

Many thanks to Nomadic Matt for taking time out to do this interview with Solo Trips and Tips travel blog.

Check out other solo traveler interviews with:

Linda on the Run

Probe Around the Globe


The Wildlife Diaries

If you would like to be featured in this series please complete this form and I’ll get back to you soon!

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Solo traveler interview with Nomadic Matt (Matthew Kepnes)

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling solo around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 5 of a solo road trip around the USA and Canada, living a nomadic life, and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

2 Replies

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  1. Jo Harmon says:

    Fabulous interview. Very interesting man and the places he has been. Very good information

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