The Accidental Traveler

By Nomadic Matt | Published May 28th, 2013

Nomadic Matt sitting on a rock in AustraliaI can count on one hand all the places I visited before I was 23. Travel wasn’t part of my upbringing. It wasn’t something my family did outside of the occasional road trip to visit my grandmother in Florida.

In college, I skipped studying abroad because I was afraid I might miss something. I went to Montreal twice because when you’re under 21 and can’t afford Spring Break in Cancun, Montreal is the closest place to go when you live in Boston. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I left North America to visit Costa Rica, and I only did that because that’s what I thought you were supposed to do when you work. With two weeks of vacation a year, you’re supposed to go somewhere and have fun, right? It wasn’t that I had a burning desire to travel; it was just something I thought I had to do.

But that trip to Costa Rica changed my whole life. After that, I was hooked. I was in love. I was addicted. I needed travel in my life.

A couple of months ago, I told this story during a radio interview and the host called me an accidental traveler.

I liked that phrase. The accidental traveler.

I’d never thought about it that way before, but it’s fitting.

In the beginning, I had no burning desire to travel; it was just something that happened. Travel became part of my life only as an afterthought. I never woke up wanting to be nomadic.

Being called an accidental traveler made me think about the journeys we take as people.

Are they deliberate, or do they just happen? How many times do we discover our journey only while we’re in the middle of it?

I think about the journey I’ve taken. It began first as a simple desire to travel more, then changed to a stronger desire to take a gap year, and then became wanting to travel forever. I fell into travel writing as a way to make that happen.

Now I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

Nomadic Matt bending down to take a photo in ThailandEach step, each twist and turn, happened without any prior planning or thinking. In the words of Robert Frost, “way leads on to way.”

I found my path only while I was on it.

My mind sometimes goes back to when I was 23 and in Costa Rica. What made Costa Rica so special was that it showed me I could live life on my own terms. Travel allowed me to do what I wanted, when I wanted. It made every day Saturday and filled it with endless possibility.

I think of my friend Chris Guillebeau, who recently finished his journey to visit all the countries in the world before his 35th birthday, and how he described his journey as one that evolved over time.

You want to see a couple of countries.

Then a couple more.

One day you wake up, and you’re on a quest to see every country in the world.

Just like one day you wake up, and you realize you’ve become a world traveler.

You don’t know how it happened. You can’t really pinpoint the exact moment you or your life changed.

But it did.

Your one-year plan turns into 18 months, then 36 months, and then, suddenly, you’re celebrating five years on the road.

You’re a traveler. It’s in your blood. It’s who you are.

And you sit and write this in your favorite coffee shop in NYC, reflect on how you got here and think about all the other big moments in your life, and realize that the best ones all happened as accidents.

And as you get ready to travel again, you realize that sometimes just falling into something can be the best thing to happen to you.

One day, you set out on a path, and the road twists and turns and you think you’re still on that same path until you stop and rest. Then you look around and realize you’re not where you intended to be, but someplace even better.

Then there, in this new world, as you get ready to celebrate another year older, you come to the conclusion that no plan might be the best plan, and you’re happy letting life’s accidents lead the way.

comments 80 Comments

Good on you Matt! – You’re a true inspiration to folks like me, I’ve been following your journey for a while now and completely agree that the best things in life (and travel) happen by accident!

I’ve been travelling for 2 years now and live off the earnings from my travel site just like you, 5 years is a long time in some people’s eyes to travel for but not me! I quit my job in the UK and sold everything I had to dedicate to travelling the world and hope to look back in 20 years and say I’ve travelled to every country on the planet.

Every day gets more exciting when you’re on the road and you happy to ‘go with the flow’, I hope you continue to travel for many years, good luck to you and stay safe!

Paul :-)

that’s awesome you’ve been traveling for 5 years, I’m jealous.

But I’m curious how things will work out though when you return home. Can you live off the money from your travelblog forever?

NomadicMatt

If it’s a good travel blog you can! But who knows, nothing lasts forever!

Hannah

hey I’ve been traveling for nearly 3 years now, I started when I was 26. The turning point for me was my first trek America trip down the east coast of America. Before this time I had only been to Europe and Africa. Now I’m traveling around australia and have many years ahead chasing the sun and snow :)

Jay

I really like this post! :)

Makes me reflect on my accidents which always led me in the right places!

Sometimes you don’t find a passion for something until later in life.

For me it’s been motorcycles and that started three years ago. I hate hearing people say “I’m too old for that” You’re never too old to follow a new passion.

NomadicMatt

You’re right! You are never too old for anything you want to do. If I’m 70 and I want to take up paragliding, I’m going to take up paragliding!

Picking up the book “The Walk West” about a man who walked across America was my first spark, little did I know it would start me down a similar path to yours.

Great article, thanks!

Hey Matt, I think that the host had it 100% right.

This seems to be the experience of those who find fulfillment in what they do, rather than trying to make what they do fulfilling. I think what I’ve learned is that when I am actively pursuing what I find fulfilling and interesting, I am always surprised at the great places it takes me.

I was listening to Mitch Joel’s latest book on my way down to South Florida and he seemed to agree that when you are pursuing those things, you’ll be fortunate to find out where you end up.

Often very successful people have the same experience that you had.

A good life is one big unplanned accident. :)

NomadicMatt

Sounds like a lot of things in life!

Love this – I also grew up not really traveling much, until I was 24 and visited Israel, so this struck a chord. Especially loved this line: “One day, you set out on a path and the road twists and turns and you think you’re still on that same path until you stop and rest — then you look around and realize you’re not where you intended to be, but someplace even better.”

Cheers to your next adventure!

Kiera @ EasyTravelMom

Great article on accidents! I love what they coined you as! I grew up traveling but have come late to blogging, but it is something I enjoy immensely. I hope I can be half as successful!

What a great term “the accidental traveler” I guess anyone who travels for whatever reason is lucky but to travel just because you can is really what being ” free” is all about.

Colleen Bowen

I think this might be my favorite Nomadic Matt article of all time! = )

Loved this article Matt! I felt like you were telling my story as I read through it ( but my journey began in Korea). Keep it up. It’s people like you and Chris that inspire me and give me confidence to continue this accidental lifestyle!

I love this post! It reminds me of my own experience. I didn’t grow up with a family that traveled either, and it was never something I imagined myself doing long-term. But after my first trip, I was completely hooked in a way that I never expected to be. Traveling has opened up the world to me in more ways than one: The more I see, the more I want to see; but also, the more and more people I meet that are finding ways to make traveling their life and their business – it’s really inspiring to see so many people living life on their own terms. Sometimes the best things in life happen by accident.

NomadicMatt

Obviously, I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t grow up with travel.

Hey Matt, Nice post! I can relate to what you are saying. I wouldn’t call myself an accidental traveler. I always had a big desire to travel and discover other cultures and countries. I must say that living in Europe made it easier to visit other countries and my parents usually took my to france, belgium or germany.

What I did feel was a restriction by my job and the house I sold. The certainty of having a steady income and a place to live kept me from traveling for years. Finally I decided to to quit my job, sell my house and go traveling. 1,5 years later i’m still on the road. I’ll never forget my first day after ariving in Bangkok, such a great sensation of freedom… I’ll never regret my decision.

What do you or other readers think? Could people be born as travelers or does something “accidental” need to happen to get people in to long term traveling?

Vee

Please allow me to go on my philosophical rant…
… most things that happen to us when we go with the flow, passion, and heart, are not truly accidental. It might seem so at first… but everything works itself out in the end. Look at where you are now! As Rumi said, “what you seek is seeking you.” :)

NomadicMatt

Good rant! :)

Matt, you a true inspiration to me as well as others. I am leaving my job to live in Spain, teach English, and travel – three things I have always wanted to do. I will be going in about 4 months. Your writing and tales provide me with that added boost I need when moments of doubt creep into my mind. Thank you.

NomadicMatt

You’re very welcome. Enjoy your trip.

Ever since my husband & I left on our own long-term travel adventure, I have constantly been amazed at all of the unexpected twists—or accidents—that have sprung up along the way. Like you, some of our best memories & moments have been the ones we never could have planned or anticipated but simply stumbled into. By putting yourself out in the world, you don’t just open up yourself to new experiences but really start to see your life open up in ways you simply couldn’t see before you started this journey. With each step, new doors and opportunities present themselves, but you can’t always see what’s looming just beyond the horizon. That’s part of what makes life wonderful!

I really enjoyed this post — well, that’s typical. But still, I thought it was so good. I think that’s the way it is with calling sometimes… sometimes you look around and realize you’re in it.

I love to travel, but not as much as you. But I do love independence and life on my own terms and determining my own days. And I’m starting to take ownership in crafting a life that allows me to do that. It always helps to read your journey and to know that it’s possible — so thank you for sharing more than just descriptions about places. The way you describe your inner landscape really is what makes the difference and makes me come back time and time again over other travel sites.

I think I’m an accidental traveler in many ways, but I also think I am an accidental writer, too. I’m just now starting to accept how much I love it and how it’s integral to my life. I am not sure I will make my money from being on the road, but I definitely want a lifestyle that allows for more than a measly two weeks abroad, that’s for sure! ;)

“think about all the other big moments in your life and you realize that the best ones all happened as accidents”

It’s so true, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Saunya

Matt,

Thanks for the intimate glimpse into your soul. May we all be so blessed to find our heart’s desire.

Nice article Matt and a good insight into how you became nomadic. I agree that after the first step, you want more, then more and suddenly all you want to do is travel. I left my home country 10 years ago to try living somewhere else and am now on the same quest as you guys to see every country in the world, I’m a third of the way through them now, got to keep travelling! Safe travels, Jonny

Unlike you, I love and dream travel even when I was young. And to be able to do it full time is something that’s super amazesome. Sometimes, I still pinch myself because it’s all so surreal that it’s all happening…like the last 5 years! Cheers to more travels, Matt!

NomadicMatt

To seeing the entire planet!

I love the way you put that one day you just wake up and realize your a world traveller, a person with the quest of visiting every country in the world. It does happen like that doesn’t it? Inspiring piece. Thanks for sharing.

Mel

I love that phrase (accidental traveler). I think that’s how many of us wind up seeing new places and it makes it 100% more worthwhile, because it’s the journey, not the destination.

Not to get all Gibran on ya. ;)

Nice post.

I’m trying to find a way to live on the road Matt and this is a timely post for me. I’ve serendipitously ended up in Colorado this entire past month. The universe laughed in the face of every plan I made leading up to this. I took a leave of absence from a job I hate and drove across country to help a family member through a difficult time. In the midst of it all I realize the seemingly unfortunate chain of events have served as a gateway to this new way of life. I have no idea what’s next but I suspect it does not involve going back to the job I hate and does have something to do with living in the moment and finding the adventure at hand.

NomadicMatt

I’m glad the article helped!

Cat

Great article, Mat and a really good name for those of us who found quite by accident that we loved to travel. I’d always been called a nomad, simply because I love to move, explore new places, meet new people. However my travel had usually been limited to a week or two here and there, rarely out of the country. Until I took myself to Thailand for a thai massage course. While there I met so many people who were traveling for extended periods of time. I returned home, sold all my belongings and travelled for a year. I was 50 years old and people couldn’t believe that a woman “my age” should want to be traveling the world alone. I did it; I loved it; and I might just have to do it again! I’ve continued to do some extended trips, none for a year… YET! I’ll be 60 soon and who knows?
I do have to add that I moved to a place that is paradise 5 years ago and though I still love to travel, coming home is quite satisfying these days.
Thanks for your posts. I’m pretty new to your site and I love that it allows you to follow your heart.

susan greene

hi cat. your story could be me. lived in Scotland for 6 yrs. and worked for a licensed off track betting office. I am also 60. my first of 2 children was born at Aberdeen royal infirmary. went to London a lot, but never really traveled to other European countries. had a trip planned for april 1 to England and scotland and had to cancel due to insufficient funds. but I love to travel alone and on my own schedule. but health is not really good and should probably not go alone. plus would be cheaper to share expenses. I am new to this site also and love it. maybe I can find a travel partner. matt, thank you for sharing all your knowledge. this is great!!!!!!!!!

Like DJ Yabis, I was 6 when I told my Dad I was going to be an airline stewardess so I could be on airplanes. He said, “Oh no you aren’t. That’s a glorified waitress. You are going to college…yada yada yada”. I did go to college, taught school, a profession I was not really suited for. So I knew early on what I wanted. After my first yr of teaching my aunt introduced me to her neighbor, a Mexican girl from Monterrey. Angelica said she was going home that summer (1963), did I want to come? Her family would love to meet me. I went. Boinnggg, Love! 1966 taught for the US Dept of Defense on Okinawa, in Germany: Love! 2010, age 70, single again,footloose, off to Mexico and points south. Live in Uruguay, a PT (perpetual traveler). The good life.

Elisabeth O'loughlin

Thank you for your journey I am an army brat grew up in the military then married into it. Wrote a book and tryi g to get it published but fundi g is hard all I wanted to do is write and travel. Figure if I can get first book goi g it would open up doors any suggestions, thanks Liz oloughlin

I got hooked on travel when I took a (hastily booked) last-minute cruise. Went to places I hadn’t even heard about. I’d only left Canada to go to the USA a few times. Never thought I’d go beyond that.

Ended up working for the cruise line and spending 5 years travelling 22 countries, mostly around the Caribbean.

Then I decided I needed to “see Europe”. A missed train in Prague resulted in me meeting my wife of 4 years now. I’ve been a EU resident for several years and my country list has grown to 51!!!

I now work for a major international company that sends me to random places on a regular basis. Life is a real adventure…

As I read over this point it just occured to me that I never fell into my passion, it found me but I have been trying to deny it for so long. I chose my own happiness a year ago and moved to Seoul and now in 2 months I am backingpacking Central and South America for 6 months. Your are a true inspiration, keep up the great work! Happy Travels!

NomadicMatt

I feel like that’s how it always is….

Great post Matt. I don’t really believe in destiny but things are what you make them.

Even though you may have become what you have by “accident” you still made the choices and reacted to situations to get where you are today. Credit to you.

Like you I had little experience of travel as a child and only took my first flight in my 20’s. Now I am 40 I’ve flown thousands of times and really made up for the delay!

NomadicMatt

Yeah, I’m also making up for lost time! :)

I embarrassingly hadn’t been outside of Europe until my 25th birthday! This holiday was to Egypt and seeing somewhere completely different to my little bubble was the start for me. I can’t wait to see the rest of the world.

Anna

Jolie

I really enjoyed this post because it was honest and genuine. And rare. Usually, you hear tales of people longing to travel from their mother’s womb and exaggerative stories that make you wonder if your travel desires even compare.

What you’ve done is so brave (and different). Just imagine what your life would’ve been like if you hadn’t acted on your goal to travel more and stayed in a budding but boring career. I’m 23 now and it seems the older I get, the more non-conformed I become. I always thought I’d want a superb job for a powerful company but once I got it, I quickly realized it was too restricting for me. Free is my middle name now.

Keep inspiring others by just being yourself and proving that just because it doesn’t fit in the box, it must be flawed.

NomadicMatt

Jolle,

Thanks so much for your comments. Best of luck in seeking your freedom.

Matt

YES!! There is this quote that perfectly fits this post and is actually my screen saver right now, haha.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” – Douglas Adams

After a semester of traveling, this post definitely defines who I have become. Through many trials and hardships I had to give up the “career” that I “wanted.” Now I’m on a path where I feel more fulfilled. I believe that traveling did indeed help speed up that process, giving me more time to think internally without any distractions. Which is another reason why travel is so great!

My birthday is tomorrow and just looking back it’s pretty crazy how I ended up here but it’s where I needed to be.

NomadicMatt

Happy Birthday!

Your last sentence is perfect. “as you get ready to celebrate another year older, you come to the conclusion that no plan might be the best plan and you’re happy letting life’s accidents lead the way.” The best lessons, most exciting experiences, and even the best friends come from life’s accidents. I admire your travels, Matt, and I’m working toward long-term travel as well.

Great term…accidental traveler. I like it.

TheAccidentalTraveler.com is available…Do it!

NomadicMatt

Maybe I just might!

Excellent story Matt! I’ve just recently started following your blog and have enjoyed it immensely. Like you, travel found me, I didn’t find travel. I took the lone vacation once per year to the same place…FOR 25 YEARS! Now, if it seems like I’m complaining, I assure you I am not. I know deep down that the single vacation every year was much more than many people got and it was some well spent time with the family making memories. Years later I ended up taking a job where I had to travel around the US and I found a comfort zone that I couldn’t quite explain. It was as if I was meant to be doing this all of the time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the job I was talking about, but the travel. I dabbled a bit here and there and tried to see what I could, but life caught up…in a good way. Now married with 2 kids, the bug has bitten us in a big way. We’re a family of four who will travel at the drop of a dime, as long as my vacation days allow. I’ve been blogging for over a year now and try to keep it humurous but only travel based. It’s a thrill to see so many folks out here doing the same thing and being successful at it. Although I can’t get the tremendous deals many of you can, (remember I have to come up with funds for 4) we still make it work. One of these days, I hope to make a living out of it, because , frankly, it’s what I was put on this earth to do. That much I know now. I’m 40 and I guess you could say my life is almost half over. Lucky for me and my family, the best half is just beginning. Happy travels Matt. We’re off to NYC in 4 weeks, maybe we’ll bump into each other. I hear it’s a small town.

Awesome post. I was the same way growing up: my family never really did a lot of traveling, and the first time I left the country was a weekend trip to Windsor, Ontario from MSU. Then I went with a friend to Hong Kong and yeah, it felt like the Universe just opened up. It seems like I know quite a few accidental travelers who came by their wanderlust through chance instead of intent. Funny how they always seem to be the most passionate kind too.

NomadicMatt

It’s like we are the kids who just discovered soda for the first time!

Yes, travel definitely gets under your skin. I waited until I was was 50 years old to start traveling full time. It can be done! I spent last year traveling Mexico and now I am exploring SE Asia. My only regret is that I didn’t start earlier.

Love it! your awesome post just made me realize how long I have been traveling (since 2009) and now I accidental stumbled into this career. Following in your footsteps as your an inspiration to all travel bloggers has never made me happier, cheers and keep living the dream

NomadicMatt

Thanks so much for the wonderful comment! Best to you!

Great post Matt. That is exactly what happened with us at globalhelpswap. I can’t imagine doing anything else now. We are just starting out but as you said, every day feels like a Saturday (great line) and we love what we do.

Take care,
Paul

Brianne

Awesome article! I too am an accidental traveler, my mom and I won a trip to the Bahamas on the Bud Light Port Paradise cruise this past year. Being in Nassau for just 1 day changed my life! I was so drawn to the culture shock. I strayed from the tourist spots and went to the ghetto with some locals I met. It could have been the dumbest decision I ever made, but it turned out to be the best! I got to see so many things I never knew existed and saw the way everyday people live, just like myself. I didn’t take a single picture while “over the hill” and I’m glad I didn’t. I didn’t want to feel like a ridiculous tourist and I’ll forever have those memories. I think about traveling every day of my life now and I can’t wait till I’m nomadic! :-)

NomadicMatt

Great! Hopefully, you will have many more trips in the future.

I’m thankful that my parents loved traveling and took me to Costa Rica at age 5 and Europe several times. But I think most people, Americans especially, don’t get the opportunity to travel until later in life. Thanks for the inspirational post!

NomadicMatt

Thanks!

I’m in that boat too. I never traveled before age 20 (except to Mexico which hardly counts when you live in Southern California). Now, also nomadic, I can’t imagine being stuck in one place ever again. I never liked it to begin with!

NomadicMatt

You are very nomadic now! I love it!

Man, when I read what you just wrote in this style it takes me back.
Back to when I lived in New Zealand for 18 months (had no idea I’d stay that long).
My favorite thing to do was to sit at a coffee shop, or in a grassy field, or have a beer at a cafe in the sun — and just relax, watch people.

Incredible.

While I still have the desire to travel more (I’m doing language school this summer in Guatemala) my nomadic days are over.

But I can read articles like yours and I just instantly go back in my mind.

I’m sure others feel the same.

It’s incredible.

I can’t say that this story directly applies to me. I grew up traveling, since visiting my mom’s home country (the Philippines) when I was two, to various road trips, family vacations, and a school trip to Greece. But it wasn’t till I went Cambodia and volunteered for a month that I fell in love with traveling. I don’t know if it was the freedom of traveling by myself, not knowing what’s going to happen or the amazing people I met while volunteering. Either way that trip to Cambodia was one I will remember always.

I love reading your articles. Every single one validates my desire to travel and explore every corner of this globe.

I’m heading back to Southeast Asia in August for four months and am already planning my next few trips after.

Thanks for being my travel inspiration.

Nomadic Matt is an awesome site. As President/CEO of http://www.comparetoptravel.com … I really enjoy the blogs on this site, as it gives me ideas for my own site. :)

Another inspiring post, Matt. Cheers!! :)

I can relate Matt. I also became a world traveler by accident, it was the most important accident that has ever happened to me.

Brent Griffith

Matt, this is an amazingly inspirational post. My favorite quote is “…and you reflect on how you got here and think about all the other big moments in your life and you realize that the best ones all happened as accidents.” This this this. I’ve recently begun realizing this but was never able to put it into words. Life is so much more fun when you just hang on and enjoy the ride!

I believe that you should never let an opportunity to travel pass you by. I think i wasted a lot of time waiting to travel with people and wish I’d just gone by myself sooner. I found when I did go it wasn’t as daunting as I feared and enjoyed the opportunity to do just what I wanted.

Melissa

I think I differ to you Matt in the fact that you have been an accidental traveler and actually been places whereas Ive been an accidental traveler… and then woken up haha But reading through your blog has made me feel a little braver and maybe a big ball of excited about my up and coming trip overseas. Its the second time in my life Ive ventured out of here (NZ) and the first time Im doin things by myself. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

Matt this post relates to me so much. I never really had any grand travel ambitions. I didn’t even get my passport until the age of 24. I then moved over to Canada for work and that was my first taste of overseas. I wouldn’t say I was travelling though as I worked long hours and didn’t really see much else. But it planted the seed and then 2 years later I got laid off at my job and decided to backpack Latin America Solo for 5 months.

It was the best thing I have ever done and just like you it taught me that every day can be like a weekend and you can have the freedom to live the life the way you want..

I’m now hooked and after being back In Australia again after my last trip for only 2 months I’m ready to leave again and will be pursuing the nomadic lifestyle in the next couple of months this time more permanently :)

I can completely relate to this Matt. That’s what travel can do to you. It’s an addiction, it works like a drug on you. I love to go on an expedition, travelling is life for me. It just feels so awesome. Way to go Matt.

accidental travelers. i love it. how many accidents the angels have led us to now in our third year of family travel? too many to count. thank you for allowing yourself to change and be what you need to be right now. an accident too, perhaps, but a great one. thank you.

Matej Hargas

It’s always the accidental events that change your life. Like meeting your loved one, moving in together after a month, embarking on a crazy accidental trip to Malaysia and then settling down in California… that’s quite a change from when you grew up in the communist bloc of central Europe. I always felt envy for the people in the movies and the tourists who came to my country, taking a gap year, travelling for life. You don’t do that in central Europe, not even 20 years after communism, not even with the euro, not with what you earn. And you envy those from the West who seem to float through the financial piece of travelling waving their credit cards and smiling. Unless an accident moves you, unless you need to choose between what you grew up to believe to be the only option and the real options. Happened to me and although I don’t make a living by travelling and I know I haven’t found my calling yet, my journey’s not over. Keep doing what you love, Matt!

This is great. I feel the same way about accidentally falling into travelling and realising it was what was right for me all along. Thanks for sharing your story.

Matt! I love this post! I have been following you for almost 3 years now- ever since I retired. My partner and I just completed our dream trip of traveling thru Europe for 6 months- it was AWESOME! For the most part, the entire trip was “accidental” as we had only an outline of a plan for the entire trip, making travel and room plans usually the day before. It was truly an excellent adventure! Thank you so much for making travel so exciting and available. I share you blog with all my friends who tell me they just can’t afford to travel!

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