From Backpacker to Top Blogger: An Interview with Nomadic Matt

How A Budget Backpacker Became a Hugely Successful Travel Blogger

Ever wonder what it’s like to start a travel blog and use it to fund your travels around the world?

Well, today I have the special honor of hosting someone who has actually done that and much more. If you’ve heard of only one travel blogger, I’d bet money that it’s Matt Kepnes of Nomadic Matt. I met Matt through his Super Star Blogging course, and he’s been an inspiration and teacher for me from the moment I created Travel Lemming.

While Matt started as a simple low-budget backpacker, over the past decade he’s worked his way (and, believe me, blogging as a beginner is much harder than people think) to the top of a travel blogging empire.

So how did Nomadic Matt do it?

Oh, and does he still stay in hostels?

Let’s find out:


Hey Matt – thanks for stopping by Travel Lemming. Let’s start with the question that’s on everyone’s mind: how did you go from budget backpacker to one of the most successful travel bloggers in the world? To what do you attribute your success? 

Matt of Nomadic Matt

Hey Nate, Thanks for having me!

So, from the outside looking in it might seem like there was some sort of linear progression, but from my perspective, it was hardly a simple (or easy) progression from random backpacker to budget travel expert. As of this year, I’ve been blogging for 10 years and so it’s been a pretty slow and steady journey to get where I am now.

In part, I think some of my success just comes down to being determined and sticking with it when so many others just gave up.

But I also did something a lot of bloggers didn’t do at the start: I invested in my blog.

I paid for designers and editors, bought ads, and created products. I treated my blog like a serious business instead of a fun hobby. It was more difficult to do and took longer than just taking press trips or slapping up ads but I think it also made my website longer lasting and more sustainable.

Q: How was your travel style changed as you’ve attained success? Do you still stay in hostels?

I eat out at nicer restaurants more often now. I’m a foodie and since I travel hack and get lots of points and miles for free flights and accommodation, put that savings into nicer food.

However, people are always surprised to find out I still stay in hostels all the time as that’s the best way to meet people and to save money (because I’m still a cheap traveler at heart). I’ll stay in more hostel private rooms now because I’m a light sleeper but I still love hostels!

Q: In the decade plus you’ve been traveling, have you noticed any changes in the travel space? Is there anything different about travel today versus when you started? 

I think the travel space has changed drastically since I started traveling.

Back when I first went to Costa Rica, there were pretty much no smart phones and social media wasn’t a thing. You had to use guidebooks or online forums to get information because blogs weren’t well known. You had to talk to people to get tips and advice, instead of just Googling it.

People hung out in dorms more, and weren’t just on their phones all the time. There were no Google Maps or Translate, so you had to really engage more with the locals.

These days, we have it a lot easier. Travel is accessible and visible, we can Google all our questions and have answers in minutes, and budget flights make travel much more possible for people of all incomes.

But travel is always changing, so it will be interesting to see how things look in another 10-15 years!

Q: Maybe you’ll hate this question (I used to, before I fell in love with Georgia), but do you have a favorite country or place? 

This is definitely the most common question I get!

While it’s hard to pick a favorite, if I had to choose I would likely pick Thailand.

Bangkok feels like home to me now; it’s a city that I just get. And the rest of the country has pretty much everything you’d ever want: beaches and jungles, a non-stop party scene, delicious food, great diving, and lots of historical sites.

Plus, it’s super affordable. What more do you need?

Q: How about least favorite places? 

Every country I visit has something redeeming about it. It may not be somewhere I want to live (or even visit again) but I try to see the good in every destination. But I’ve come to accept the fact that nobody is going to love every place they go, so there are definitely some places out there that aren’t high on my list for a second visit.

Personally, I didn’t have a great time in Vietnam.

I don’t want to bash the place but the country and I just didn’t seem to be on the same page.

But hey, that was a long time ago so maybe it’s time I give the place another chance.

Nomadic Matt with Monkey

Q: Here at Travel Lemming we love to focus on emerging travel destinations. Do you have any picks for places that you think are likely to become hotspots for travel in the coming years? 

I was recently in Azerbaijan, and I think that whole region is getting more and more on people’s radar.

Both Georgia and Kyrgyzstan are seeing a lot more tourism and are spending more money on promoting their countries as up and coming destinations, so I think we will start seeing more and more backpackers head there as they look for new (and cheap) places the visit.

You can already see them starting to appear more and more on social media, so in the next few years I think they will become rather standard backpacker destinations, as opposed to the sort of ‘off the beaten path’ places they are now.

Q: I’m sure you’ve got a library of crazy travel stories – what’s one or two of your favorites?

I don’t know a traveler who doesn’t!

I’ve been rather lucky for the most part (knock wood!) but a couple stories stand out, like when someone in my dorm shit themselves in the middle of the night and got shit all over our room (including on the door handle…which got on my hand!).

Another time, my plane suddenly dropped in altitude and the oxygen masks dropped down. Everything with fine after a few moments, but I think my heart leapt out of my chest right then. I’ve always hated flying, so that situation definitely didn’t help!

Q: Let’s talk about travel blogging for a minute. The number of travel blogs out there has grown exponentially over the past few years.

Is the market for it saturated at this point? What would you say to someone who is considering starting a travel blog at this point? Are they too late? 

There are a lot of blogs out there but it’s not too late to start a successful travel blog. There’s never enough quality blogs.

No one says “Man, there’s too many good restaurants in the world. I wish the world had more terrible ones!” The same is true for blogging.

Yes, there is zero barrier to entry. That means anyone can start a blog. The downside is that anyone can start a blog so there will always be terrible blogs out there. But people still want good, quality content. If you focus on that, you’ll succeed. There’s 3 billion people online. You only need a small fraction of them to read your blog to create a successful business.

Matt Kepnes Speaking

Q: I got connected with you by taking your Superstar Blogging course, whose membership has exploded just in the year and a half since I joined and started my travel blog. How has that experience managing that course been for you? 

It’s definitely taking up more and more of my time these days, but that’s perfectly fine with me!

I have my tech expert Chris Richardson and my Community Manager Chris Oldfield helping me with the day-to-day stuff so I can focus on reading and editing homework assignments and providing feedback to students.

I get submissions from students every day of the week, so there is always more work to be done. But it’s rewarding work. Just last week I had a student message me to say that he is now making a full-time income from his blog. So, while it may be a lot of work there is definitely reward in seeing your students succeed.

Q: And the course isn’t cheap. What would you say to someone considering signing up but concerned about the price? 

If you view your blog like a business (and you should) then you need to invest in it. You need to be serious about it. And that means you’ll need to spend money.

You’re not just paying for access to the course lessons, you’re paying for a community of bloggers who have mountains of collective wisdom and experience. You’re paying for direct feedback and input from a professional expert in their field. You’re paying for bonus materials like webinars, case studies, and access to a private group of like-minded entrepreneurs.

How much is your time worth? Would you spend $250 to learn everything right away or waste weeks or months trying to do it yourself? Most people need help starting a blog. It’s not as easy as it looks!

Q: You’re also currently preparing for TravelCon (which I plan to attend!). Tell us a bit about what that is and what you have planned for that. 

TravelCon is going to be the premier travel event of the year. It’s a huge conference with over 600 attendees, almost 80 speakers, and dozens of brands and sponsors.

There hasn’t been a travel conference like this — and I should know because I’ve been to them all!

All of the big names in the travel industry are going to be there, making this a must-attend event for anyone looking to level up their skills and network with the best of the best. This is the conference I’ve wanted all the other conferences to be.

It hasn’t been easy putting it all together and we’ve definitely had some hiccups. But it’s been an amazing learning opportunity and the event is going to be a massive success. I’m already planning 2019’s conference!

Q: Any final words of travel wisdom?

Just get out there and travel! Don’t let fear hold you back.

It’s easy to make excuses, but the sooner you get out there and see the world the sooner you’ll realize that all those fears and worries were unfounded. Don’t let your travel dreams sit on the back burner. Do something today to make your travel dreams a reality. You won’t regret it.

Q: Thanks Matt! And see you in Austin in a few weeks! 


What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Oh, and if you’re a digital nomad yourself, be sure to check out our digital nomad packing list!

Or if you want to learn how to stay abroad without paying for it, check out our guide to House Sitting.

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  1. Wow Nate, Superb Interview post with Matt! Matt has always been my inspiration ever since I came across his blog a few years ago, then being a part of his Superstar Blogging course was a dream come true! After Matt, you are my inspiration and it’s amazing how your travel blogging website continues to keep me awestruck. How do you guys do it?
    I wish I could make it to Travelcon and meet both of you.. Maybe next year! Cheers, Maria

    1. Maria,

      Thank you for the kind words! That’s so flattering.

      I’m hardly a fraction as successful by most metrics as Matt, so still figuring a lot of it out myself! I’ve been lucky to have the support of so many awesome bloggers, though, so that definitely helps.

      Bummed you can’t make it to Travel Con but hope to meet you next year, at one of the other conferences, or somewhere else around the world!


  2. Awesome interview, with THE NOMADICMATT! I especially loved how he talks about even though there are many blogs out there you can still be successful and stand out.

    Also, for anyone considering or is hesitant about his blogging course which can seem pricey – it does have a money back guarantee if you don’t feel satisfied with it.

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