IamA travel writer who has been traveling the world full time since 2006 on $50/day. AMA!
Hey reddit, my name is Matt Kepnes and I run the travel website “Nomadic Matt”.
I’ve been traveling pretty much full time since 2006, after quitting my cubicle job. Since then, I’ve traveled to close to 75 countries, met countless other travelers, and built my website into my full time job.
Today, over 600,000 people visit my site per month and Penguin published my travel book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day”, which was re-released today.
I hate the fact that people think travel has to be expensive so most my writing is dedicated to budget travel and showing readers how to travel the world for less than they spend at home. The more you save, the longer you can travel for.
I'm about to embark on a 22 state road trip across the US, traveling on just $50 a day. I’d love to chat about travel, writing, entrepreneurship, or anything else reddit has in mind.
AMA! I'm an open book!
Update 3:45pm EST: I'll be continuing to answer questions throughout the day so just keep them coming!
Update 12:44 EST: I'm going to finish answering questions right now.
1920s NYC or Paris. I'm all about the Jazz Age. Hands down that is where I would time travel back to. The music, the fashion, the care free attitude. I love it all.
Hands back up, JAZZ HANDS
What is hands-down, the most important piece of travel gear that you have had with you over the years?
Good shoes. You're going to be walking a lot and a good, sturdy pair will keep your feed comfy and last a long time.
Hey! What you did seems really nice, and I hope one day I'll be able to do the same! (I'm still a 17 yo in high school in France)
What is your best memory from your trips? Thanks!
I spent an entire month living on an island in Thailand with friends. It was really off the beaten path and few people came so it was mostly my group on the island. We got to know the locals, learn Thai, and spent our days diving and reading. I didn't wear shoes for the entire month I was there. Even after so many years on the road, it's probably my favorite memory.
What country is the "hardest" to travel in from your experience?
There are many countries where the "hostel trail" or "gringo trail" is very well established.
Which country was most difficult and why?
Far eastern Europe and "the stans" are pretty difficult. There isn't that much of a tourist trail, few speak English, and most information isn't online at all. It makes for a challenging but very fun travel experience.
Western China and most of Africa is like that too.
Hey Matt! Fun to hang out with you for New Year's in Edinburgh ;) Where's the best party you've been to?
New Year's in Edinburgh with you!
Can we meet in the chatroom? Let me sign in to AOL right now!
How much diarrhea do you have weekly?
No more than my doctor says is normal.
Hey matt, i'm leaving in 5 days on my first long solo backpacking trip for 2 months to central america. I've been to several other countries but always short trips. I read your website constantly for tips. Anyways i noticed your map of destinations is devoid of the middle east and russia, what gives? I did istanbul last december it was incredible! and i plan on doing the trans siberian this summer. Any thoughts on those?
I just haven't made it to either regions. I've been to about 75 countries so there are plenty of places I haven't been yet. I'd like to get to those countries sooner rather than later, especially since Russia has become so cheap due to the fall in the ruble.
I'm not sure when I'll get there though.
What's the biggest mistake you see rookie travelers make? What advice do you have for someone about to leave for their first real trip (six months in Asia)?
Most travelers don't plan well. They save up X dollars and find themselves out of cash because they drink it away or didn't realize things cost as much as they do. There's so much information online that if you are blindsided by costs, you didn't research well. If you're overspending, you weren't honest with yourself and spending habits.
I budget a lot of for food and drink because I know I'm going to eat and drink a lot.
Depends on where you want to go. If you go around the world visiting Europe, Australia, South America, Asia, etc, then about $15-18,000. If you're just bouncing around Southeast Asia, you could do it on half that.
What is an unconventional must have travel gadget or gear?
Ya know, I don't use a lot of gear on the road. I just have my iPhone, which is mostly used as a camera. I try to go without that much gear and gadgets. You don't need much on the road and I like to disconnect as much as possible.
I know you're all about budget travel, but sometimes you need to splurge on things like fun activities, etc. What are some of the things worth splurging on, and maybe busting the $50 a day mantra once and a while?
I like to splurge on food and adventure activities like scuba diving.
Any suggestions on the cheapest flights to get to asia or europe from the US?
Norwegian Airlines! Super cheap flights from the United States. Also check out the website theflightdeal.com as they have lots of good last minute and hidden fares. I use them to find most of my cheap flights.
What's the worst airport experience you've encountered?
New York's JFK and Pari's CDG are two of the worst airports in the world and I try very, very hard to avoid them. Old terminals, bad food, sprawling layout, and poor connections into the city.
Out of the places you've been, which had the best tap water? The worst?
Best: Iceland. Worst: Any place you can't drink it.
Do you speak languages other than English? If no, do you find it hinders your experience? I backpacked through Hungary for ten days without a word of Hungarian and very few people we met spoke English but we still had a great time and people were very nice to us
I speak Spanish, Thai, and a bit of Swedish. English is commonly spoken throughout most of the world that most of the basic phrases travelers use like "bathroom" are understood by most people. When they aren't, I pantomine. I was got to a train station in Ukraine by telling the taxi driver "choochoo."
What's your go to place to sleep/stay? Hostels? Friends? AirBnB?
Also, what was the point that you decided to say "screw it" an give up everything and go? It's hard for me to justify this lifestyle but I do desire it.
I'm new to travelling and have been dwelling on these situations when planning.
I love hostels because of the community vibe and cheap beds. But it's a variety. Friends, hostels, Airbnb. It depends on where I am.
I decided to say screw it when I was in Thailand and met a bunch of backpackers. They were living this awesome life while I had to go back to work in a week. I realized they were living my dream and I wasn't OK with that. I came home, quit my job, and the rest is history.
A lot of people are asking about your experiences. I want to know why you do it? and do you ever have bad times? do you ever get lonely on these travels?
Moving is living. I can't stay still and I'm just drawn to exploring places around the world. If I'm not traveling, I'm thinking of traveling. That's what drives me: an unexplainable desire to see the world.
Who in your family most inspired you to travel? And how so?
I wound up with the travel bug early in life (we had boats we made as well as a plane), but not everyone who travels comes from a family of travelers.
We didn't really travel much as a family. We would visit relatives or my grandmother in Florida but never big international adventures. I went to Bermuda once. That was about as exciting as it got. If anything it was my maternal grandmother. She got me into other cultures, reading, and science and that gave me the knowledge bug so I got intrigued by history and world culture early on.
My most hated travel destination is Vegas. What's yours?
Liam? Is that you? You left me in the Bellagio all to myself!
What things are worth spending the extra money for when traveling?
A bus to avoid walking an hour, a comfy bed once in awhile to catch up on sleep, and food. Always eat the food. It's going to be the most unique thing about where you are visiting. Don't skip it.
What's the scariest thing you've seen in Europe?
A fat Italian guy in a speedo. Eeeek!
What's the scariest experience you've had while traveling? Have you ever feared for your life?
I almost died when I was scuba diving in Fiji. I told the story in a previous answer. Just scroll down!
Where were you getting the 50$ from when you started? I understand that by now it comes from your book and website trafic
I saved up for 3 years at my old job before I went away in 2006.
I have $1,500 and live in San Diego.
What should my trip be?
I have no preferences beyond that.
Nicaragua. Cheap flights from San Diego and the country itself is in expensive. You could spend about 3-4 weeks there on $1,500 if you got a good deal on flights.
Guatemala is another good option too!
What was your motivation for writing the book?
I wanted to put all my experience and knowledge into one place to help others travel more and spend less money. I was tired of hearing people say "I want to travel more but it's so expensive." It's not and I wanted people to know that!
Do you get to $50 a day by skimping on tips like Rachel Ray did for her $30 a day show? I swear the worst part of that show was seeing her tip less than 10% (sometimes far less) to keep under the budget.
Always tip your server. In many countries, 10% is standard and worked into the bill and tipping over that is considered abnormal. In most other countries, people get paid a real wage and don't rely on tips. Tipping is a uniquely American thing. Even the 10% thing is new for many places.
Do you usually travel with company, or solo? How does one deal with solitude when traveling solo?
I backpacked alone a few years back. When ever I saw a beautiful place, a part of me always thought, "I wish I could have shared this moment with one of the special people in my life." So now I always travel with company, but I may be forced to travel solo again soon. Any advice?
I mostly go solo. I find if i wait for people, I'd never get anywhere so I go when I want and if people want to join me they can. You always meet travelers on the road and websites like Couchsurfing can connect you with local travel groups so you can meet people in your destinations.
Other than your site (and your new book!), what are some other great resources for traveling on a budget? Who are some of your favorite fellow travel personalities?
Blogs I like:
Legal Nomads, Johnny Jet, Roads and Kingdoms, Uncornered Market, Sonia Gil, Hey Nadine, Never Ending Footsteps, The Points Guy, Fluent in Three months.
Resources: The Flight Deal, Holiday Pirates, Airfarewatchdog, Skift (news)
As someone is runs his own business, how do you save for your eventual retirement. IRA, SEP-IRA, stocks? I'm sure there are some more travel bloggers and freelancers on here who hope to continue traveling for the rest of their lives, so how do you save for your future. I'm sure you must use your MBA for something!
I have a SEP-IRA with some investments, I put some money into a hostel in Austin, and I have cash. I try to stay pretty liquid so I can reinvest back into the website as much as possible without having to sell stocks or get a loan.
I automate 10% of my income into a savings account and if things are going well, I'll add to it every few months.
Do you think it is possible to travel in countries such as Japan, US, UK, France, etc for $50/day? Is so, how?
Also -- what is the best travel credit card to get free flights the quickest?
Expensive countries can be done on less than $50 a day. Or more. It depends on how you want to travel but I firmly believe any country can be done on a budget and the whole book is how to make that happen. Some countries are easier than others but I had many inexpensive days in Japan, I drove across the country in 2006 for $40 a day, and have done expensive Iceland on $50.
It's doable once you break out of the traditional hotel/tour operator model.
Best travel credit card at the moment: Chase Sapphire
Barclaycard World Arrival mastercard is pretty awesome.
That it is. There are many! I like the Starwood Amex too.
What's it like for Vegetarians who want to travel? Is it really difficult to find Vegetarian food?
It's very easy. I eat meat but not a lot of it and I've never had a problem. I have vegan friends who seem to manage too. Don't let your diet keep you back.
What do you do now to generate income for your trips?
How do you find constant traveling affect your families, friendships at home, and relationships?
Thanks for doing this!
I write books for a living so when people buy those I make money. The website is completely community supported. No ads.
My parents want to see me more and my friends don't bother texting me. They wait for me to get back into town because they know I'll ping them.
How many languages do you speak? how do you get by without speaking the local?
I speak Spanish, Thai, and some Swedish. Most of the world speaks basic English so you can get by.
What brand of luggage do you use?
I use an REI Mars backpack. For shorter trips, I have some generic brand carry on.
What part of Europe is the cheapest to backpack through (Western, Southern, Norther, Eastern)? Thanks! Big fan!
Eastern Europe and the Balkans are the cheapest part of the continent. If you want to visit Europe and save money, travel there!
How do you stay safe in your travels?
Same way you do back home - avoid bad areas, don't wander the streets alone, don't flash money. It's not different.
Big supporter of your site here - your advice has helped me finally make my first voyage outside the US to study abroad in London this year.
I'm back in London now visiting, and once again I'm dreading having to come home - honestly I'm considering moving here if I can swing it, but I'm terrified by the idea. This city feels like a second home to me, and I feel there's so much more offered here than back home, but I'm still terrified of that big of a choice.
What words of wisdom would you have in this situation? What is the best way to step out of your comfort zone and make a decision as big as this?
Thanks for all you do! Keep it up, you inspire many :)
Move to London if that's where you feel the most comfortable!
What was teh most scary moment you've had abroad to date?
When I almost drowned scuba diving in Fiji. My dive partner kicked the regulator out of my mouth on my second dive and I panicked a bit but was able to get the regulator back in my mouth in time. Scary, scary moment.
What are your favorite cuisines/foods? And which ones should we avoid?
I eat everything. Well, mostly everything. Weird animal parts don't do it for me. Some of my favorite food:
Thai, Vietnamese, French, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Brazilian, Italian
Some of the blandest food I've had: Panamanian, Swedish, Nicaraguan, Icelandic
I'm going to China in March and debating to go on a 3 day tour to DPRK. How do you feel about traveling there? From what I heard it's very safe as long as you follow direction
They run a lot of tours there and as long as you follow the rules, you're generally safe. However, given the low point in our relations with them at the moment, I wouldn't go right now.
Hi Matt! Do you have tips or recommendations for solo female travelers?
The world is not full of men lurking in dark corners. The media overhypes the situation. I have a female travel write a monthly column on my site with advice and tips for women. Her advice is way better than mine: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/category/female-travel-2/
Hi Matt, love your blog you've inspired me to backpack to se Asia in 6 weeks! When you started traveling, did you continue to pay your student loans or put them on hold?
I put extra money aside while I was saving for my trip to cover my student loans. That way I could continue to pay them off while I was on the road.
What is the best small beach town you've been to?
Coral Bay, Australia. It's a little one road town right off the Ningaloo reef. Great little beach spot with wonderful snorkeling.
Who is your favorite travel writer?
Bill Bryson. In a Sunburned Country inspired me to visit Australia
Hi, I started reading your blog when I went backpacking a few years ago, it was really helpful!
I was wondering what your thoughts were on the evolution of couchsurfing? Do you think it's still decent and useful outside of the events and meetups?
I think the site is still useful and helpful but it's not as easy to get couches as it used to be and the new layout is really bad. It's confusing. Sometimes keeping the old style is good when it works.
I still use the site though.
Hey! I'm planning to backpack around Southeast Asia for a week or two during my winter break in February - any must go countries? You seem to really love Thailand.
Is language often a problem? I'm going alone, so aside from English and Mandarin Chinese I'd be a bit screwed.
Thanks in advance!
If you only have a week or two, pick one country. Travel in the region is slow and you wouldn't be able to cover much ground in that time period. I'd say Thailand or Cambodia but any of the countries are good. Just go slow and don't try to see it all. That area of the world moves at a slow pace.
English is widely spoken so you won't have any problems communicating.
50 dollars a day? Holy smokes.
I know! Pretty cheap! Much cheaper than living in the US.
Favourite meal? Least favourite?
Edit: Most memorable?
Least favorite: Maggots (yes, I ate those once).
Most memorable: hmmmm I can't remember. I've had too many good ones.
Are you looking for an assistant?
Shhh don't tell my current assistant.
What are you thoughts on the Kurds in the middle East ? :)
Awesome people. I hope beat back ISIS
Hi. I'd like to have your life. How do I go about doing that?
Quit your job. Go traveling. Done.
Matt, thanks for taking the time to do this AMA.
When getting off the plane at a new destination, where's the first place you usually go?
The bathroom! After that, my hostel or accommodation to shower and relax!
I want your job!!
How did you get started? was it just a F-it moment or did is this something you have always wanted to do?
I feel into travel writing. I came back from 18 months on the road in early 2008 and went back to a cubicle. I hated it so I left. I started the website because I thought travel writer would keep me on the road. Luckily it has but while I was building the career up, I was teaching to pay the bills.
How do you feel on the whole about Rachel Ray? I find her so so attractive, but combine that with her voice, the milf next door body, and the fact that her husband cheats on her at swing clubs, I think she'd be down for some pretty hardcore hate fucking. Just wanted to get your thoughts since professionally you're far more refined than her $40 a day show or whatever it was.
Thanks for the AMA!
Rachel Ray is pretty cute. Send her my way. I'm single.
What are your plans for later life? Do you plan on settling somewhere? How are you going to fund (i.e. pensions?) it?
Who knows what life will bring later. It's good to have some savings for the future but you can't predict the future. You can only live your life day by day. As the song says:
Don't worry about the future Or know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind The kind that blindsides you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday
What is your favorite country? Why?
What is your least favorite country? Why?
Favorite: Thailand. Cheap, good food, weather, and amazing people.
Least favorite: Vietnam. Nice country but I found the people to be a bit rude. I didn't like my experience there.
If you were going to retire on a budget, to live in one country permanently, which would you choose and why?
I'd move to Thailand because it is cheap, has delicious food, friendly people, and nice weather.
Because we don't ask stupid questions.
I thought that said time traveller.
So when/where would you go if you had a time machine?
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