Saturday Session 05: Nomadic Matt
Welcome to this month’s Saturday Session. If you’ve traveled in the past...10 years or so, and have set out to do some research on your destination, or find new places you want to travel to, you’ve probably come across Nomadic Matt’s travel website and used it as a planning resource.
In fact, Matt is kinda a pioneer of travel blogging and travel websites being used as a legitimate source for people planning trips all over the world. So, needless to say, I’m pretty excited to have Matt from Nomadic Matt on the podcast!
I’m going to let him jump in here and introduce himself!
Q: Why did you start Nomadic Matt, upcoming travel plans, etc
Matt: I’m just a regular person who quit his job to take a career break, or to travel the world for a year, before I started, what I thought would be my corporate existence. And here I am, close to 13 years later, still traveling and now I write about it. I started the blog as just a fun thing to do; never really intending to make a career out of it. But then again, I never intended to be a permanent traveler so I guess it’s just one of those happy accidents of life. And I’m just fortunate to be able to do this and share my tips and tricks around the world and not repulse people with my terrible writing!
On Entrepreneurship & Business
Obviously being an entrepreneur in today’s world of the internet is a little more accessible to people. Even still, it’s certainly not an easy process and other entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to, or worked with, can kind of commiserate about all the times we’ve thought about giving up, or doing whatever people expect us to do instead!
Q: In the early years of Nomadic Matt (& maybe even currently!) how often did you want to just throw in the towel? And how did you work through those feelings for several years, or however long?
Matt: I feel like giving up every second of every day! The path of entrepreneurship is a rocky road; it’s always ups and downs. One second you feel like you’re King of the world and the next, you’re like, ‘how am I going to pay the bills this month…is it even worth it?’ or ‘why is nothing going right?’ But I think that’s true — not with just online stuff — but restaurants, stores, and anyone who has started their own business is going to feel that way. I don’t think it’s particularly unique to what we do. But given that there’s so little barrier to entry for working online…you need like a hundred bucks…or if you’re just trying to get famous on Instagram, its $0, because you just have to download the free app!
When there’s no barrier to entry, it becomes a lot [more] crowded, a lot quicker. You know, when I started a billion years ago in 2008, I knew every travel blogger — literally every travel blogger. A lot of people started around the 2006 - 2008 timeframe, but there were only about 50 of us. We could have filled a big restaurant, and so you knew everybody! And now, there’s thousands upon thousands of people that I’ve never heard of who are successful in their own right.
But, what’s important to remember is that there’s always room for quality content.
Keep listening to the podcast episode for more on creating quality travel content
I think most people who end up as entrepreneurs have some memory of an experience where they were creatively trying to make money, or coming up with new business ideas.
Q: What is your earliest entrepreneurial experience? Lemonade stand? Selling baseball cards?
Matt: This is it! I lived a corporate life and then I started the blog; the blog wasn’t even meant to be an entrepreneurship thing, I just wanted it to be an online resume. So this way, when I pitched writers, tried to get guide book gigs and editorial stuff, and just tried to make my way into this space, editors and publishers could go somewhere to contact me and see where I’d been published.
The blog was just a way to showcase my writing. Then I just kept blogging, and that took off more than the freelance writing.
I don’t know how supportive your family and friends were when you started Nomadic Matt, but that’s something a lot of travel bloggers, writers, vloggers, and photographers struggle with.
Q: Were there people in your life who questioned what you were doing and why? And how did you deal with those who thought you should get a “real job” in the beginning years?
Matt: My parents are still confused about what I do. Up until I wrote my first book, and got it published…my parents kept asking me when I would get a real job. Having a business online is still relatively new, especially when you consider how big it’s become in the past few years and considering how long the Internet has been around.
It was less my friends, and more my parents who said, ‘how do you make money?’ and ‘are you saving money?’ and ‘you have to think about your retirement and plan for the future!’ So I think it’s just a lack of understanding about a new industry. I’m sure when people were talking about computers, people [asked], ‘you’re doing what, now?!’ I think what you just have to tell people is that you’re building a business, and that’s it. Because everyone understands that, you know? You have to speak their language.
How do you explain to someone who doesn’t work in this space what you do for a living? [If I said] I sell online courses… [they would ask] well what is that? Or, if I said, ‘I sell virtual books’ they would say…’Kindle books?’ …’do you have a publisher?’ and [I would say] no, I publish them myself.
Q: Did you ever imagine you would be such a prominent person in the travel industry? Or did you simply plug along, day to day with an overall goal in mind?
Matt: No! Everything was just, sort of, an accident. I mean, I worked hard to make the website successful…focusing on design and content and all the things you need to do to become — on paper — a success. I networked with people, and wrote SEO content, I created products, I had an email list, but I never sought out..making this a business.
The first couple years…this was still a part-time thing. I was living in Asia and teaching English and developing marketing sites online…still traveling full-time. I didn’t get my first employee until 5 years into doing this. It wasn’t really deliberate until about 7 years into it, when I said, ‘okay, I’m going to take a shot at this.’
Owning/running a hostel has been something on our radar since we started staying in them a couple of years ago. I know you are co-owner of HK Austin, a popular hostel in Texas - where you’re also based. We always thought it would be fun to still be a part of hostels after we’re too old to stay there, and it seems like a great way to interact and be involved with other fellow travelers.
Q: Why did you decide to start a brick and mortar arm of your business? Are you involved more in the business side of things, with guests, and overall, how are you liking being a part owner of a hostel? Are you looking to expand and own more?
Matt: I started the hostel with a buddy of mine, Brent, mostly because he ran a hostel in New York and when he came to Austin…[he said], I’m going to start a hostel. And I said, ‘not without me, you’re not!’
I’ve always wanted to own one, and it’s more of a labor of love than anything else. We had talked often about having a chain of hostels and expanding, but to do that, you really need someone to be there full-time…and I have Nomadic Matt to run and he has another job in book marketing. Neither one of us can dedicate the full-time to do that, at least right now, but we love doing the hostel.
It is very much a labor of love, especially since we both have other gigs going on. But it is fun, you get to meet a lot of people, it’s a very intensive industry because guests are always around 24/7. But we have lots of awesome experiences, we do lots of events, barbecues, pub-crawls and I host my meet-ups there!
I did this as a way to not start a new empire, but more like, I like hostels and I’ve always wanted to see what it’s like to own one, so let’s do it!
On Travel & Upcoming Plans
There are always the places we immediately love and can’t get enough of. Then there are destination we feel apprehensive about, not sure whether to love it, hate it, or reserve judgement.
Q: Is there a destination you learned to love?
Matt: Yeah! I actually just recently wrote about how much I love Los Angeles, even though my first few visits there, I just thought it was a junk city. I thought, yeah it’s warm, but it’s terrible.
Bangkok, too. I hated Bangkok the first 2-3 times I was there. It was just loud and polluted, there were no real tourist sites besides a couple of temples. It was a pain to get around, everyone ripped you off, but I ended up moving there and I lived there for 2 years. And now I can’t go too long without being there, it’s part of my heart.
Check out the full podcast for more on learning to love a city and examples of people disliking certain things about destinations!
Something we encounter on a fairly regular basis is coordinating travels for people when they don’t necessarily have the same travel style. This can definitely be a pain point for travelers, as everyone wants to do what they want to do, and a compromise sometimes makes neither party 100% happy!
Q: Do you have any tips for people traveling together who may have different travel styles?
Matt: Travel is about compromise. You know, I’ve traveled with people who I will never travel with again. And they’re still my best friend, I just don’t want to go on a trip with them again! They’re night owls, and I’m a morning person…they want to do expensive things and I want to go wander and find the cheap $2 noodle shop. If you go travel with someone, and you find their travel style is different, you can say, ‘you want to go do these things and I want to go do those things, let’s meet back here at nighttime and tell each other about our day.’ It will make your trip miserable if you’re always bickering!
Or you can go do one of their things, and they can do one of your things — you can do it that way. But if it comes to the point where you realize you both travel differently, you just have to go do your own thing.
In addition to be a NYT bestselling author yourself, I’m sure you do your share of reading as well. And we receive your emails for travel book recommendations and have read a few; we’re always looking to add more to our reading list!
Q: Do you have an absolute favorite book about travel?
We’ve all had our fair share of mishaps while traveling...I think we’ve almost done them all! We’ve booked flights on the wrong day, hostel stays for the night we were traveling rather than when we would be there, missed busses and trains, overpaid for stuff, accidentally completely butchered a language or accent and a hundred other little things!
Q: Do you have a travel mishap you want to share? Anything that just went monumentally wrong?
Matt: I’ve showed up at airports on the wrong day! I once showed up at the airport, having forgotten I had already booked a flight, I had booked another…and I had booked a seat twice!
Listen to the full podcast episode for more travel mishaps!
We love to hear other travelers’ stories and always ask our guests if they want to share one of theirs! I’m sure you have many, but just a time when you found yourself in a situation you don’t normally get yourself into, a time a stranger showed you kindness, the best hike of your life, or anything else from on the road!
Q: What is one of your best travel stories?
Don’t miss stories of strangers’ kindness on the road by listening to the episode above!
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