How I Became Nomadic Matt

By Nomadic Matt | Published July 19th, 2011

Nomadic Matt taking a photo while overseasI cut my trip in Australia and New Zealand short.

It was 2008, and I’d been traveling for 18 months. I was simply sick of traveling. I was tired of meeting people, tired of moving around, tired of having the same conversations over and over. So I decided one day in Brisbane that it was time to head home. I chucked my flight to New Zealand and was homeward bound the next week.

Two weeks later, I wanted to be back in New Zealand.

The warm glow of being home had worn off. I was listless. It was winter. I had no job, no idea what to do. And life back home was the same as I had left it.

I thought about going back to teaching or doing something with renewable energy. But for the immediate future, I needed a job. Luckily, my cousin had a temp agency and got me a job covering for a woman while she was on maternity leave.

My job was simple. It was nothing a monkey couldn’t do. Not wanting to hand off important tasks to a temp, they had me answering and routing calls. It was incredibly boring. I spent every day on Facebook.

That down time allowed me to realize two things:

First, life hadn’t changed at all. Friends, family, Boston—all of it had stayed in stasis while I was gone. I had changed, but the world around me hadn’t. It was disheartening. And there was no one I knew who could relate to what I was feeling.

Secondly, I now knew I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t want to work in business. I certainly never wanted to see a cubicle ever again. And all that down time on Facebook let me ponder my future. What would I do? What was I passionate about?

Well, I knew I wanted to get out of the cubicle, and I knew I loved travel. I wanted a job that got me out of the cubicle and exploring the world. “Maybe I should become a travel writer,” I thought. “I bet writing guidebooks would be pretty cool and that would get me out of the house!” It sounded perfect.

But how would I get started? I had no idea. I had no established writing resume or any experience. Being the Gen Y-er that I am, I thought—the Internet can solve this problem. I’ll create a website, write for some other websites, and then I can submit to Lonely Planet when I have some experience. It was a foolproof plan. Everyone has a website these days anyways.

So I started this website. I was torn between two names: nomadicmatt.com or mattdoestheworld.com. Polling my friends, they said to go with nomadicmatt, as the other one sounded too sexual. They made a good choice. (Back then, I didn’t give any thought to a brand name.)

In the beginning, it was a simple site. I had some friends teach me basic HTML, and my site looked like this:

Early homepage of Nomadic Matt's travel site

Pretty awful, huh? It’s like a bad Windows desktop. And it was a real pain to hand code everything, but it did help me learn HTML, a skill that has come in very handy over the years. Moreover, my original posts were short, poorly written, and sort of all over the place. They were just awful. I’ve actually gone back and edited them a bit to make them better and more detailed.

I guess it’s easy to look back and think, “What the hell was I thinking?!” But when you’re just starting off, you think everything you write is genius. You’re simply finding your way. What works? What doesn’t? What’s your voice? What’s your message?

Over the next few months, I wrote for Matador, Vagabondish, and Hotel Club and guest posted on a few other sites. I was building traffic and getting new readers. I was figuring it all out. Soon, I thought, I would be writing guidebooks. My name would be in Lonely Planet, and all would be right with the universe.

headshot of Matt KepnesExcept that never happened. I logged long, long, long hours in front of my computer (I think I still do) trying to gain exposure and readers. I kept at it, but I often felt I wasn’t getting anywhere. After eight months, I was no closer to success than when I started.

Then one day someone offered me $100 USD to put a text link ad up. I took it. I needed the money. Then a few months later, I got more offers. Then more offers. By the end of 2008, I was making a steady $1,000 per month from my site via text links and Adsense.

Around this same time, I started getting more exposure in traditional media and online circles. I had a few big guest posts. My search traffic was going up. I was getting more readers. It was as though the snowball I was trying to push down the hill suddenly sped up and began going on its own. The stars were aligning and things were happening.

But they weren’t aligning for me to become a guidebook writer. No, Matt Kepnes, Lonely Planet author, was slowly morphing into Nomadic Matt, budget travel blogger.

I harbored dreams of guidebooks for a long time, though, even after the success of my first ebook. But when I went to my first travel conference and everyone called me “Nomadic Matt,” I realized that was who I was and what I was meant to do. I started out on one journey, but ended up somewhere completely different. I couldn’t be happier.

To quote Robert Frost:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

comments 103 Comments

Sio

Matt, thanks for the article. I think you’re my mindreader.

LG

I love you NomadicMatt, you make my mornings great! Keep up the Good work! Keep trucking through the world like it ain’t no thing, you inspire many.

NomadicMatt

I love you for reading!

Liz N

Matt,

I think his story is wondrous. I’m very interested in running some ideas I have by you, if you’d care to listen. I’d love to hear what someone who has been in the game would think about what I plan on doing.

This is one of my favorite posts you’ve written. As a new travel blogger it’s kind of intimidating getting started. You can have a lot of travel experience or have a decent eye for taking a photo but if you’re trying to make your first website it’s not that easy. It’s amazing how you started off with that simple site and turned it into your location independent career. It’s obvious that you put in a lot of hours and hard work to get the ball rolling but you’re clearly good at what you do. I wish more people would consider something like this instead of settling for a mundane career. In my opinion, If you’re passionate about something, have a bit of talent in that area and are willing to work hard it’s achievable if you don’t give up. I remember in your book you mentioned you felt a lot of other sites had potential but they gave up too soon – just at the finish line. I think that’s really the key – keep going even when things seem quite dark & gloomy.

Samuel-
Execution is everything. “If you are willing to work” is the trick. Frankly, many people are just lazy and want everything handed to them on a platter. That would be great, but that’s not the way the world works.

Matt’s right – many, many people give up before the finish line. Why? Because succeeding is damn hard, no doubt about it.

coffeecream

well said. i totally agree.

NomadicMatt

I feel like you always say that! :)

And I’ll continue saying it :)

In reality, I think the “blogging is easy and will lead to instant success” camp is even bigger in the real estate vertical than it is in the travel industry.

I have found your post really inspiring. I have started travel blogging very recently and I Know I still have lots to learn. Hope to be able to look back in a few years just as you have done and being proud of having kept on writing despite any difficulties, lack of support, etc, that I guess I will have to face.
Valentina

NomadicMatt

Great! You might want to get your own domain name too :)

I really do love how fitting that quote is for your experience. My question is, now knowing that the stars were still aligning in your favor, doesn’t it feel better to be Nomadic Matt than a Lonely Planet guidebook writer?

NomadicMatt

Yes, it’s way way way better. I think I have more options now.

Love hearing how you got started, so interesting! Makes me want to do the same.

NomadicMatt

Do it. What’s stopping you?

Awesome story Matt! There’s a great lesson there. Following your passion allowed you to discover your own path.

What looks ideal to do today, may not be so once you try it. But you’ll never know until you try!

You’ll aways regret what you didn’t do more than what you did.

-Rich

Excellent post. Really down to earth. I have your ebook, and it’s really well written, and it’s a really good reference. Many (most?) times, exploring the road less traveled is the far better option, even if one day you end up at the place for which you were heading, but by a more circuitous route. Lots of luck with wherever it takes you next!

NomadicMatt

Glad you are enjoying my blog and books! Thank you for the kind words!

Great recap. I love the throwback screengrab to the original site…

Annamarie Rhyne

That was exactly what I needed to read right now.
Thank you.

Another great post! I know that so many people are looking for things to work ASAP! Do what you love and in all cases nothing is guaranteed, you may have a site that never makes you a lot of money or one that starts making cash within a few months. I friend of mine once told me look at your blogs/sites like a business or learning. The average person goes to a university for 4+ years put that same effort into your desires and see where you go. Hard work and consistency is key!

It’s nice to read YOUR story Matt and how you became to be ‘you in the Internet Universe’. It’s been a pleasure to say that I’ve been coming here and reading your adventures for over 2 years…you’re part of the reason that I left my life behind and went travelling last year; it opened my eyes to the world and what was on offer and because of that I’m almost ready to head to Africa next month. Thanks for the inspiration =)

NomadicMatt

You have been reading me for 2 years? Wow! That’s amazing. Thank you so much. Drinks on me if I ever run into you!

I’m impressed you have a screenshot of your original site. Were you planning ahead for this post all those years ago? :)

NomadicMatt

It was a vast, evil conspiracy.

Hey Matt–
I really am intrigued by what you are doing. I have been stuck in a post-college graduation rut as I try to decide if a 9-5 job is what I want, but after reading something like your blog I think I resonate too much with the freedom a life of travelling allows. I can’t wait to read more. :)

Very inspiring and introspective. Well put my friend.

Did you ever read “Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?”. You’ll never want to write or work for Lonely Planet after that book.

Doing it yourself is way better:-).

NomadicMatt

I have read it. It’s a great, great book but it was finding out how rushed and underpaid guidebook writing was that turned me off.

Carmen

Thanks so much for sharing this Matt. I have just been able to reconcile with that feeling that everyone has stood still and I’ve changed since my travels. Unlike you, I haven’t done anything about it yet… I guess this post for me is a wake up call.

Thanks :)

NomadicMatt

It’s never too late!

“First, life had not changed at all.”

I think this is the key line for me, I have been away travelling on and off for five years. And one of the things that I hate and love is that nothing has changed.

Your friends get into their rountines and thats fine, it just reinforces the nomadic life that many of us stive for. Will we always want this life? Perhaps not.

NomadicMatt

Well, my nomadic life comes to an end next April when I become semi-nomadic. I’m looking forward to have some roots. Not like my friends but a little home base.

Hi Matt, I remember meeting you in Brisbane in 2008. Didn’t realise that you were travel weary then, but being travel weary is so much better than being trapped in a fluorescent prison (ie. the office!). I’ve also found that running a travel blog myself that it opens one to so many great opportunities I never thought were possible, maybe even better ones that are available in the traditional media! Keep at it, because travel is always a discovery!

Ha, I love the screenshot of version 1.0. Very cool reminder that we all start small as bloggers.

NomadicMatt

Actually, that’s version 2.0. Version 1.0 lasted a day lol.

This post comes at the right time, Matt. I too am headed back stateside, but I think it’s worth the effort for me to tough out the boredom in exchange for a little stability (well, hope I last longer than two weeks, anyway).

One thing I don’t like about your tone here is how you seem to “sell” travel blogging as a viable alternative. Few people are able or will ever be able to do what you do. A combination of factors worked to your advantage, and I commend you for it. But reaching for that financial goal is beyond some people. At the very least, as you say, you have to dedicate long, long hours in front of your computer.

Making a living from travel blogging IS do-able. But, it’s a boatload of work. And I mean a boatload. It’s a competitive space since everyone and their mother wants to make a living from travel blogging. I know what it takes to succeed blogging since I’ve been at it since 2006 in a different industry (real estate). And the “easy money and success” that everyone covets simply doesn’t exist..

NomadicMatt

It was my alternative. It was what I wanted. And I made it work. Can others do the same thing? Maybe, maybe not.

Thanks for the inspiration! I’ll bookmark this and read it when I don’t feel like writing that post I know I should….

NomadicMatt

Excellent!

Thanks for this post, Matt. It’s nice to get a bit of inspiration sometimes. Spending long long hours working and seeming to be going nowhere can get a bit disheartening at times. It’s good to know that the hard work isn’t wasted if you just keep at it. Cheers

Actually, that first website design may not be as terrible as you believe. You used a great photo and the navigation, unlike on so many sites, could not have been clearer.

I’d mark as “Shows considerable potential.”

Moreover, I wouldn’t worry too much about never getting a guidebook gig. I love well-written guides, use them frequently, and will probably carry a Lonely Planet or some such to the grave, but the future lies in just what you have done.

NomadicMatt

After interviewing so many guidebook writers, I am glad I am not one. I don’t think I would ever want to do it. It’s too rushed for me.

Colleen Setchell

Great article Matt. You truly provide inspiration for me… I’m just starting and trying to do the same so it’s great to have someone to look up to. Happy travelling.
Colleen

NomadicMatt

I think you for such a great comment but i’m not special! If I can do it, you can do it too.

Wow, I needed that. Thanks so much for the story. I think one of my biggest struggles is staying motivated when I feel like I have hit a dry spell. Any advice? What kept you going before the snowball effect seemed to really start?

NomadicMatt

Failure was not an option as I wasn’t going back to an office so I just had to keep at it. Knowing that it takes people a long time before they become successful helped.

Thanks Matt, I’ll do my best to take the advice… and I’ll be patient:)

“Matt does the world” yea that’s horrible and funny :)

Thanks for showing a side most successful people don’t.

NomadicMatt

It is just laced with innuendo isn’t it?

Great post! I think we’re all glad you went with the NomadicMatt name :)
Thanks for the inspiration. That was the kickstart I needed to get another blog post written.

NomadicMatt

Good! Great to hear.

Great post! I admire how far you’ve come, and that you’ve grown with your site and modified your goals to fit what you were already being successful at. I think your best point is sticking with it even without the traffic and revenue coming in- I know that was a lesson we had to learn starting out as well. Glad you’re still loving it!

Steven

Good read. About “nothing has changed” problem that so many travellers face upon returning home. It recently dawned on me, what do we expect to change when we’re away? If some things didn’t change, then we wouldn’t have a home! I know some of my friends went travelling long before I even started and then made the decision to stay put. Some friends have found jobs that allow them that 2-3 week vacation every year. Sure beats unemployment or a slump in advertising revenues. I’m curious to know what people think could/would change when they return home.

Sabre

Great article read it twice and really like it. I won’t probably start such a life don’t like to go on a journey without a safe place to return to at night so I use many times such sites like these http://www.homeexchange24.com although really liked your story good luck in achieving your dreams.

Mattdoestheworld is a bit sexual. Good thing you picked the right brand :-)

I encountered your website today only and read so many blogs, tips..This story of yours finally inspired me a lot..I have been writing my blogs on travel and wildlife for sometime, but never passionate as yours!..Wish you more success in your life!..Thanks for sharing your story

Thanks for this post! I’ve been following your blog for about a year and a half now, so I missed out on all the start-up stuff (especially the way your blog first looked — “bad Windows desktop” LOL). Really enjoy hearing about your travels and I’ve referred so many of my friends and family to your site for budget travel tips.

Matt,

I think your blog is AWESOME, and this article really speaks to me. Its not that I feel I’m meant to be a travel writer. But, as I sit at this desk, on a temp job, on FB and gchat and reading blogs… your words are what I needed to read. This is the time to distill what it is that I WANT to do, and for that, I am grateful. Options are presenting themselves, and I’m not sure what direction to go, but I know that whatever direction I choose, life will have a way of working itself out!

Thanks and keep writing!

Megan

Nicole Sambor

Thank you! Your story is inspirational. Part of your appeal is the fact that reading your blog feels like talking to a long time friend. Keep up the good work.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” ~Martin Buber

Good on you for flowing with the go, Matt!

Janna

Matt,
Your story is very inspiring. My boyfriend is looking to do the same as you are doing, but doesn’t know where to start. He absolutely enjoys traveling & taking pictures. I will have him check out your website & possibly submit a travel experience to your website. Don’t give up what you doing. We need more writers like you that inspire others to explore the world, no matter how much they make.
Janna

Hahaha. I wish I knew about Mattdoestheworld when we were talking domain names. Fun to see this story!

I’m a world traveler and i have also started my own blog….i visit nomadic daily to see if u can get any updates or news….i love u guys

I hope to one day have the opportunity to travel the world. I am presently trying to get a travel related website up and running – its focus is on the Caribbean. Reading your story of sticking in there and the success that eventually came is motivational. I am hoping my website will also morph into a thing of beauty.

Love your post Matt, I’ve just started a blog a few months ago. My traveling only starts next year, but getting accustomed to having a blog and trying to make it interesting is already a big job. Can’t wait to actually getting on the road and having some better material to write. You are definitely a motivation for me to keep going and keep trying. Have fun in your travels and I promise you the same for when I’ll get on the road to adventures like yours. Keep up the good work, your site is one of the best.

Amber

Gave me chills!!! So awesome.

Great blog post!
You know what I love the most about your blogs, apart from the blogs themselves, its that when people comment on your blog…you actually reply!!
Great work :D

Renata

Hey Matt,

I came across your blog a few weeks ago and I absolutely love it! I was just wondering, how hard is it to make your own website? I have just started my own travel blog but as I am not very computer savvy I am just using a blogging site that some of my friends were already using. Are there any online guides to starting up your own website that you could recommend? Keep up the great work with your site, it is so inspirational :)

Renata

Renata

Hello again! I have found the answer to my question and just downloaded your guide to starting/building your own blog :) Thank you!

Jen

Nice one Matt. It’s always brilliant to hear someone genuinely happy. Fair play to you! xx

I do love this post. It gives me hope and inspiration :P I literally just started my blog using the how-too ebooks from this site, so thanks alot for all the great, free info on here!

I’ve only read two articles and I already love your site. Your candid, personable approach is just what I’m going for on my own blog. I too have no idea how I can go back to an office job. Pure stress forced me to leave my last job even though I was making good money. I looked around and thought, “this is my life from now on? This is what worked so hard at school for?”

Right now I live in Tokyo and I blog about life here, but I’ve been blogging for over a year and made all of 14 cents lol. I can’t believe you made $1000 a month after just 8 months that’s incredible! I’ll definitely be reading more to find your secret.

NomadicMatt

I wrote a few books on the subject so you can check those out if you want!

Amanda

Not sure what it is about Bostonians but we sure do love to quote that poem. Only one I’ve ever memorized fully.

jenny methew

Thanks for sharing your personal experience. Very nice post to read.

Elle

Mmm..Now i am motivated to start my blog…Yeah! Thanks for sharing the first blog picture of yours, yeah i was laughing, i feel like in a desert. Thanks for sharing:

“Except that never happened. I logged long, long, long hours in front of my computer (I think I still do) trying to gain exposure and readers. I kept at it, but I often felt I was never getting anywhere”.

Thanks i really appreciate it…compells me to start, i mean i have started the creation haha! but like what u said…”except…anywhere”.

Just wanna share with readers how i felt about travelliing and sharing useful information as i like to be frugal when travelling. The fun of travelling without a tour guide…When you say you get “antsy” for not travelling i use, my passport is in “vibrating mode”…

Elle

Dougie

Hey Matt,

I gotta say man, I have been following you for a while now. I am truly considering dropping everything and hitting the road to start my travel writing career. I am no writer but it is what I have wanted to do for many years and I will never know unless I try. I also am from Boston which is kinda funny.
Anyways just wanna say that you actually inspire some of us who want to make the leap to exploring the world and experience different cultures. I hope to see you on the road soon!!!

NomadicMatt

That’s great man! Have the time of your life!

Hi Matt !

What an absolutely wonderful and amazing travel blog ! I just happened to get the link of your blog thru’ a friend last week only and since then, phew…reading non-stop all days. It’s so very interesting and holding my nerves that I just can’t stop myself from reading it..one blog follows another and so on and on…

Well, I myself, am an avid traveller, but to a different domain (!) I love to trek on the high-alti Himalayas and passionately doing so since 2005. Apart from trekking, I think I share some interest in common with you like, exploring the world, meeting different people and I too hate most, the 10-6 work profile. I think it sucks like hell and doesn’t generate the happiness and full satisfaction from within even after the work is accomplished.

Your blogs and writing have inspired me to gather my confidence once again and start writing for my blog.

We hope to be entertained by all your blogs and hope you have great holidaying in future too and earn well to keep your passion flowing and blogs going…

Best wishes,

Urvashi

I like this story, very intriguing :) I don’t think your original web site looked bad at all judging by the picture you have up there. Have you ever thought about using NomadicMattDoesTheWorld as your name? LOL!! I kid I kid. Keep up the good writing, very inspiring to someone who wishes they could travel the world … but I’ve got a family to look after. Oh well, I’ve been to Mexico, once to scuba dive.. Maybe I’ll get back on day. :o)

Wow – I think I am where you were back then!!! Computer skills are improving, but as a non-computer oriented person, at least I know I can only go up! Have been going through your blog tonight – great range of stories. While I may be missing pieces of the story – I hope your intent to continue this site is high on the list – there is so much information in here! (I agree with Jonathan – your original site doesn’t look bad at all – I would imagine it was where blogs were at then).
Looking forward to surfing some more.

Jay Kane

Your post is an inspiration. I’ve taken many vacations through sites like HereStay and HomeAway and never thought about writing down my experiences, but I think I’m going to start!

Wonderful post Matt. I’m currently into my 7th month of blogging and am looking forward to getting where you’re at today. I’m just starting to get my first advertisers…I’m stoked for the near future! I can’t wait to see where I’m at in 6 months from now! Thanks for an inspirational read.

Hi, as a new blogger I needed to read this post – thanks for the inspiration.

Very inspiring for up and coming bloggers. Do you find that your material became more interesting the more that you travelled or the more that you wrote? Also, for some of your early guest posts how did you acquire those (before you’d made a name for yourself). I.E were you more successful in your outreach approach or did you work on creating marketable content first that you could use to pitch to other sites?

Thanks, and great blog!

Lynette Moore

Hi Matt, I am an aspiring travel writer and would LOVE to travel write for a living.

How did you get interest from ad agencies initially? And what type of places??

Did you contact them or if they found you then what’s the best tips you have for how to make your website/yourself stand the most chance of being noticed in cyberspace?

Sam1

Very inspirational story. I have been very fortunate to have parents who’ve supported my need to get away and explore. At 17 I was able to convince them to allow me to graduate school early not so I could go to college but so I could start doing what I wanted to do. Travel. I dropped my modeling agency liftowns moved to the south of a brazil as an exchange student. I returned a year later, worked an office job for 6months and right after my 19 birthday I started a career as a flight attendant. I’m now 23, still flying and I am still the only person in my family who’s not in the military and has left the country. After i started flying I changed from being FLL Based to LGA which started the next adventure, being 19 and living in the city alone, I did for 2 years. Last year I returned to Florida, dropped the boyfriend, and I returned to my traveling roots. First trip was to Costa Rica with a worker for a few days then I did a few “in house” trips to Cali and Nevada. In a couple weeks I will leave to explore Italy, alone and that’s what brings me to your site. :sigh: so thanx dude

Hearing the big guys, such as yourself, talk about times when you were putting in long hours and feeling like you were getting nowhere, but that one day the snowball picked up enough momentum and things started panning out… well it definitely gives me the motivation to keep on blogging =)

Thank you for that!

Pretty damn inspiring i have to say. Especially when I feel like we are at the exact point when the hours are going in but the results are too slow. I’ve read so many success stories now it’s fired me up to keep blogging. Keep it up, maybe we’ll meet in Thailand one day.

Jmayel & Sacha El-haj

Interesting post as the following quote you posted on this page describes my EXACT stage in the process right now: “The warm glow of being home had worn off. I was listless. It was winter. I had no job, no idea what to do. And life back home was the same as I had left it.”.

I have just returned home from Melbourne, Australia since I felt that home was really where I wanted to be. After being back I realize it’s just the same old boring place. I’m saving some coin to get back on the road!

I have just started a website of my travels in Australia, keen to hear your thoughts before I start building up on it with my future travels.

Thanks,
Adam.

Hey Matt, I like your site a lot, you seem like a solid guy with solid insights. I know exactly the feeling you are talking about after returning home from a big adventure and noticing everything is the same and that people just go on living their lives. I realized you’ve got to go on with your life too. It sounds like you have found your calling. (I taught English in China for three years and came back once, then I left again, now I have come back a third time). I am still working on finding my calling.

Keep up the good work.

Nick

NomadicMatt

Thanks for the kind words, Nick! Hopefully, you’ll find yours soon too!

Niki

Matt,
I LOVE your blog. I decided I am going to backpack S.E.A. this coming winter and thankfully found this website. I have been non-stop reading everyday. Your tips are great and I have been laughing at the things you say, you sound like you could be my twin. I’m a sushi slut too, I’ll do anything for a piece! Haha, keep up the great writing. Maybe we’ll run into each other on our travels someday.

Niki

NomadicMatt

You and I both.

As a very new blogger this makes me feel a whole lot better about starting out. Sometimes I forget that everyone has to start somewhere! This post just shows that if you put in the hard work it will pay off in the end.

NomadicMatt

We all start at zero.

Hey Matt,

It’s always great to read about how the big bloggers got started. Great to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel after the initial slogging it out!

Good luck for the future

Thanks for sharing the screenshot of your old website!! Hehe

How it all began. Great story. Thanks!

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