Photo: Matt Kepnes
In 2005, 31-year old Matt Kepnes took a trip to Thailand that would change the way he viewed his traditional American life. By the time he returned to his cubicle in Boston, Kepnes told his bosses he’d be completing his MBA in six months — and resigning.
“My life was heading down a road that I realised I wasn’t ready for,” he tells us. “Marriage, houses, kids, 401ks, play dates, college funds — everything you think about when you think of the ‘American dream’. While there is nothing wrong with that, it wasn’t what I really wanted.”
Kepnes’ decision turned into the budget travel blog NomadicMatt.com, which receives roughly 200,000 unique views per month, and generates an average $9,000 monthly income for its writer. His blog has become so well-known that he regularly speaks at conferences, such as TBEX, World Travel Mart, and American Society of Travel Agents. His book, “How To Travel The World On $50 A Day” will be released in February 2013.
Kepnes’ blog aims to provide tips for both seasoned and wannabe travellers, from the best hostels to sleep in, the cheapest ways to fly, whether or not travelling via Rail Europe really saves money (it does!), and how to choose the perfect travel credit card.
The blogger has been on many adventures; he got lost in a jungle in Costa Rica, lived off of gambling money as a poker player in Amsterdam, swam with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef, and ate maggots in Thailand. For him, each experience is a story for his readers.
And he’s received a lot of attention from his writing.
One post, titled “Why I’ll Never Return To Vietnam,” caused widespread controversy after appearing in the Huffington Post. The article described how he was scammed, ignored, lied to, and blatantly overcharged several times during his trip to Vietnam.
This particular blog post attracted so much attention — more than 300 comments — that Vietnamese government officials even participated in the debate, defending Vietnam as a prime tourist attraction. One article posted a rebuttal headline titled “Why I’ll Never Return To NomadicMatt.com Again.”
“After the article, I was getting interview requests from the BBC, Vietnamese newspapers, and other travel sites,” Kepnes says. “Ministers in the Vietnamese government were even commenting on it. I didn’t expect that. I felt honored. How many people say they’ve been the target of government propaganda?”
Despite the varying mix of praise and criticism, Kepnes has no regrets about the post. “I left the article up on my site because that’s the way I feel,” he says. “My blog is my opinion — good or bad. No one wants to feel like a walking ATM. There are many people who don’t like Paris, London, or Bali because of their experience there. My thoughts on Vietnam are no different.”
Since his blog started bringing in revenue, Kepnes tells us his nomadic life has changed.
“When I first started, every day was Saturday,” he says. “I had nothing to do and all the time to do it in. Now, there is work to be done, things to research, calls to make, and conferences to attend. I am always checking out prices and asking an insane amount of questions at the tourism office or to the staff at the train station just so I can be sure I know everything to help other travellers.”
But even travel bloggers need to take a vacation now and then, and this year, Kepnes had his first. For him, travel is still work, and his time off consists of breaking away from the internet and travelling for himself.
Some people have accused Kepnes of running away from the real world. He addressed this concern in an inspirational post, saying, “I am running away. I am trying to avoid life — I’m avoiding your life. I’m running away from your idea of the ‘real’ world. Because, really, I am running toward everything — toward the world, exotic places, new people, different cultures, and my own idea of freedom.”
“If this whole thing fails, I’ll move back to Asia and teach English,” he says. “I’m hoping it won’t come to that though and until it does, I’m going to keep riding this train.”
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