In this episode of Young Entrepreneurs Talk, we’re talking with Matthew Kepnes. Also known as Nomadic Matt, he’s among the most popular travel figures globally. A blogger, a traveler, and an online course creator, Matt is an expert in what he does, and today, he’s sharing his experience and invaluable tips for aspiring travel bloggers.
1. Welcome to Young Entrepreneurs Talk, Nomadic Matt! Can you share with us how you started your entrepreneurial journey?
My journey started over 10 years ago. After a trip to Thailand where I met a group of backpackers for the first time, I decided I also wanted to try long-term travel. Eventually, after traveling the world for over a year, I ended up living in Thailand teaching English.
In order to fund my life and my travels, I started working online. I built niche websites rich with keywords, which I would then use to sell ads on. It was a bit spammy, but that time was the wild west of SEO and bending the rules like this was pretty common.
Around this time, I also started my own travel website. Back then, travel blogs weren’t very common and they certainly weren’t designed to make money. My blog was mostly just a travel journal; it was a fun side project to help me improve my writing and keep my family up-to-date.
When my travel blog started to pick up traffic, I realized that, instead of making spammy niche sites, I could be making money from my travel site — a website that I actually cared about.
I started to focus solely on my travel blog, cranking out as many articles as I could. I improved my writing. I connected with other travelers and bloggers. Slowly but surely, my audience continued to grow, and I was able to make some money from my travel blog. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
2. If you had to start all over, what would you do differently now?
I think the three main things I would do differently are:
- I would have focused on my own blog sooner (instead of making niche websites).
- I would have started my email list sooner.
- I would have focused on affiliates more.
If I focused on growing my blog earlier instead of building more niche sites I likely could have gotten off to a more solid start and had even more time to improve my site and grow my traffic.
But I think the bigger error was not starting my mailing list sooner. Having an email list keeps you in direct contact with your top fans. Social media is great, but the algorithms can change and people don’t always engage. But everyone checks their email. I would have had a much bigger mailing list now if I had started earlier.
Finally, I would have spent more time on affiliate income. Over the years, I’ve been really focused on creating my own products and services. Tours, courses, books, and guides have been the backbone of my income for many years. But these require a lot of work to update and maintain, whereas affiliate marketing is much easier to manage.
Of course, I’ve been working with affiliates for years, but I didn’t spend as much time on them as I could have. For example, 2018 was the first year I made a best gifts for travelers post to boost my affiliate sales. I could have been doing that for years!
While making your own products is a great idea, make sure you don’t neglect your passive income streams. When it comes to revenue, diversity is vital.
3. How do you market your brand? Any marketing tips you can share with my audience?
My blog has had a clear and concise message since it began: I teach people how to travel the world better, cheaper, and longer.
Having that consistency and clarity has helped me communicate with my readers and market my blog to new audiences.
I don’t do sponsored Instagram posts. I’m not taking fancy luxury trips. I keep my blog and social media clear and to the point. That way, there are no mixed messages and readers know what to expect. A decade of consistent marketing has helped solidify my brand in the industry, and that consistency has been key.
Make sure you can sum up your brand in a single sentence. If you can do that, you’ll have a much easier time growing your audience.
4. I’m sure you have a busy life. How do you deal with all your daily tasks? Do you automate / outsource?
Time management is one of the most important skills for bloggers and entrepreneurs. It’s especially challenging for those of us who work online since there is a never-ending stream of distraction only a mouse click away.
To help me stay on task, I’ve read a lot of great books on productivity and efficiency. Arming yourself with the skills and tactics you need to succeed is the first step.
Some books worth reading on the topic are:
- The Checklist Manifesto
- Deep Work
- Atomic Habits
Automation is vital for many of my products, such as my eBooks and online courses. It takes a lot of the manual effort out of the equation, freeing me up to do more important things. While I have to pay for these services, the money saves me a lot of time. And that is invaluable.
I’m more than happy to outsource whenever it makes sense as well. For example, we recently hired someone to make new images for our online courses. Sure, I could have made them, or a member of my team could have made them. But we all have other things to focus on. Spending the money for a professional just made sense. I’m more than happy to do that when it will save me time and/or money.
I’ll also use apps when I really need to focus, like Self Control. It’s an app that will block out certain websites so you don’t wind up wasting time on Facebook when you should be working. I used it often when I was working on my latest book Ten Years a Nomad when I really needed to concentrate.
5. Here’s a tough question. What’s your favourite destination?
If I had to choose, I think Thailand would be my favorite. It really has everything I need as a budget traveler: delicious food, a fun nightlife, beautiful beaches, lush jungles, it’s safe, and it’s super affordable. Whether you’re a new backpacker or a veteran traveler, backpacking Thailand is never a bad idea.
That being said, I never get tired of visiting cities like New York, Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Stockholm. And backpacking New Zealand is something I’ve done a few times and will likely do again too. It’s just such a beautiful country with some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Sure, it’s expensive, but it’s worth every penny if you ask me!
6. Besides your travel website, do you work on something else that’s completely non-travel-related?
Working on the blog and traveling usually take up most of my time and energy, but there are still a few things I like to enjoy in my free time. Now that I have an apartment, I’ve been really enjoying cooking. Of course, I’ve also been catching up on some long overdue reading too (what can I say, I’m an introvert).
I also like to take online courses to help me round out my skills. I’ve really enjoyed Masterclass for this. Not only are there great courses that have helped me improve my business, but there are lots of courses that have just been fun and interesting and are a far cry from the usual content I enjoy (they have a great course on magic by Penn and Teller which was really eye-opening).
7. How do you unwind from a busy week/month?
Great food and good wine are my usual go-to choices. Living in Austin, we have an amazing food scene here, so it’s easy to indulge and treat yourself whenever you need to de-stress. As an introvert, I’ll also get away from the computer (and from people) with a good book or a good movie.
While some busyness is inevitable, I think having strong organizational habits can spare you from the worst of it.
Time management and a good workflow are your first defense against stress and getting too busy.
I try to make sure I stay on task during the week so that, when the weekend rolls around, I’ll be able to enjoy it without worrying about work.
8. What do you think about regrets? Do you have any until this moment?
I’ve been lucky in that that most of my regrets are minor (“I should have visited X on that trip!” or “I shouldn’t have traveled so fast when I was in Europe!”). As a blogger, I’ve heard from so many people over the years who struggle with regret.
They wish they took that dream trip and didn’t wait until retirement. They wish they didn’t work so much so they had more time to travel with their friends. They wish they quit their job when they had the chance.
I get emails and messages like that all the time. For me, they serve as reminders to always live your life to the fullest. I’m lucky in that I get to travel and be my own boss. That is an absolute privilege. So, I try to keep that perspective when the going gets tough.
Life isn’t perfect, but every mistake is also a new opportunity. Every obstacle helps me develop my skills and improve myself and my business.
After all, without the mistakes of the past, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So, I treat them more as lessons than regrets. That helps me stay positive and learn from my mistakes.
9. What would be your particular advice for aspiring travel bloggers?
There’s a lot I would tell new bloggers — so much that I’ve made an entire course out of it! But if I had to distill that into a few bite-sized tips I would say:
- Go niche. The era of the general “budget travel” or “female travel” blogs is over. To succeed today, you want to go narrow and go deep. That’s the best way to carve out a space for yourself and position yourself as an expert in the industry.
- Read! One thing that has given me an advantage over the competition is that I read. Business books, marketing books, biographies, productivity books — you name it. There is always something new to learn. New bloggers should make sure they arm themselves with as much knowledge as they can.
- Invest in yourself. When you first start a travel blog, chances are you’re going to be doing a lot of things yourself. You have to learn how to write, how to build a website, how to create newsletter funnels, how to market your brand, etc. There’s a lot to do — just like with any business. For that reason, you want to make sure you invest in yourself to ensure you get started on the right foot. Go to conferences and attend events, spend money on a premium website theme, take a course to help you learn something new. Businesses need investment to grow. Be sure to invest in your blog if you want to get ahead
You can easily see that Matt is a true expert when it comes to everything related to travel blogging. Besides a blogger, Matt is also a New York Times bestselling author. In other words, if you want to learn more about the travel industry, there’s no better person than Nomadic Matt.
Reach out to Matt via his website, sign up for his email list, or follow him on social media via the links below:
Matt, it was a real pleasure conversing with you, and I wish you well in your future travels around the globe!
If you’re looking for more inspiring young entprepreneurs, take a look at the other interviews I’ve had.