The People Who Shaped My Life

hanging out with other travelersIt’s the people you meet that make travel the rich, vibrant experience that it is. They shape our memories more than the locations themselves. They can make a bad place good, or a great place bad. They teach us about what we like or don’t like in others. They shine lights on our ignorance and teach us about ourselves.

And as I approach 5 years of travel, I want to take some time to mention the five “people” who have had the most impact on my journey:

Greg – Back in 2006, I spent a few months in Amsterdam playing poker. (Yes, you could have called me a professional.) There was always this local there who kept inviting me out. Looking down at a large stack of his money in front of me, I was always suspect about it – was he just going to rob me? However, after being reassured he was a good guy by the other players and seeing him around a lot, I realized he was just a nice guy and agreed. He and some other players took me out for drinks, to their weekly home poker games, and, overall, just showed me the “local” Amsterdam. Greg taught me that strangers are not always out to get you. As someone who has been on the road for a while, this is obvious to me now. But when you are fresh-faced and new to traveling, it isn’t so easy to let your guard down and let strangers in. Sadly, though, I can never tell Greg thank you. A few months after I left Amsterdam, he was killed during a robbery in his home. But wherever he is now, he is missed.

The Unknown Backpackers in Chiang Mai – There are small moments in life that shape the whole rest of your life afterwards. Little events that ripple out to form huge waves. I never thought my two-week trip to Thailand would be anything more than a respite from the cold Boston winter. Yet on that fateful trip in 2005, I met 5 backpackers on the way up to a temple in Chiang Mai. Over conversation about how absurd the two-weeks-per-year vacation system in America is, I realized there was more to life than a 401k and 50-hour work weeks. That small event became one of the most pivotal moments in my life. A week later on the beach in Ko Samui, I turned to my friend and said I was going to backpack the world. The rest is history – all thanks to strangers on a bus.

The Ko Lipe Crew – Shortly after Amsterdam, on a whim I decided to go to Ko Lipe, Thailand. Someone told me it was good, cheap, and mostly tourist free – it sounded like paradise. It was; I ended up staying a month. While I was there, I met Paul and Jane, a couple from New Zealand. We hit it off right away and became fast friends. That was the first time on my trip that I had really bonded with people so quickly. I had thought of travel as a way to make friends, but never as a way to find “best friends.” But Ko Lipe proved me wrong, and years later they picked me up from the New Zealand airport and we picked up right where we left off. This experience opened me up to the idea that, even in a blink of an eye, you can make lifelong friends.

Anna the Ex – I don’t often talk about my dating life, other than to mention that it is sometimes hard to date on the road. But I would say I had a relationship. I met Anna a few days after I moved to Taiwan. She was studying Chinese for the semester. I saw her in a bar and simply went up to talk to her. (Lesson here men of the world: Just go up and say hi. It works.) We dated while I was in Taipei, which, knowing I was leaving in a few months, made things very… complex. After I left, we stayed “together” in a loose sense of the word. Months later, I went to Europe and spent two weeks with her in Vienna. It was difficult, and when I left we both knew that I wasn’t coming back. Anna didn’t want to leave Vienna, and I wasn’t ready to stop traveling. We just sort of left it, though we do sometimes stay in touch. However, my relationship with her taught me that there was no way I was ready for a relationship that required me to give up traveling, and that I was OK with that.

The La Tomatina Gang – Like the folks in Ko Lipe, this was a group of people that just clicked. There were six of us in a dorm room. Strangers from around the world, but we hit it off right away. For the next week, we were all inseparable. When we moved on to Barcelona, people commented on how close we were, which, given that we were all from different parts of the world, was odd. “How many years have you known each other for?” they would ask. “About a week,” we replied. But sometimes people just connect, and the gang from La Tomatina was a reminder that this is possible not just once when you travel, but often. And in a perfect example of how things never change, over a year later I celebrated Thanksgiving with the twin brothers from this group and their family, and it was like we had been friends since childhood. Of course I would be there for Thanksgiving.

Life is filled with strangers who shape our lives, both good and bad. All the people you meet leave a piece of themselves with you. And often you don’t realize it until much later on. You don’t really think about it until some melancholy, reflective night in the future when you sit down to write a blog post like this.

Though I’ve seen many amazing places in my travels, they are largely irrelevant. It’s the people I’ve encountered who have made my life better. They are what I think the most about. And without meeting people like these on the road, I probably wouldn’t have lasted so long.

So as I turn 30 this weekend, I raise a glass to them and all the other people I’ve met over the last 5 years. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  1. I’m with you, Matt. “If life isn’t about the destination, but the journey, then the journey isn’t just about the road, but the people along that road.” When I trekked the Annapurna Circuit, for three weeks I created a bond with about a dozen solo travelers like me. It was one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever done, and through it we relied on each other, contributed to each other’s growth, connected in a profound way – and for better or worse, had a hell of a time. We stayed in contact for a while, but one by one we’ve fallen out of touch… and that’s OK. Some fellow travelers cross paths for only a moment. But their influence on me, and my gratitude and love for them will last the rest of my life.

  2. Good read.
    29 years older then you, but can relate to most of what you wrote. Brought back some memories of travel in the 70’s through Europe and Africa.
    Enjoyable blog, great life that you have chosen, I believe.
    John D. Wilson

  3. Aye

    This post reminded me of the book ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’. Have you read it? You should!

    • Achi

      Thank you very much for sharing this, Matt! God bless you even more! Hope to see you in my travels around the world, just as the same with you. Good people bring out the good in people. Cheers to them! xoxo

    • Achi

      Yeah, you right, Aye! just like the book ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’ by Mitch Albom. 😀 *please ignore the previous comment* :p

  4. Lily

    Great post. When talking about traveling with other people they ask me where I have been and what I have seen. None of that really matters when you think about who you have met and the experiences you had with them. My travels would be nothing without the people I met along the way, or the people I traveled with.

  5. happy birthday, Matt. Next year I’ll have my birthday somewhere awesome too, I promise to myself.
    hm, this post reminds me of the fortune teller monk that read my fortune in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. His telling sure was a ‘wake up call’ for me, I’m thankful for it.

  6. This is my favorite post of yours I’ve ever read. As much as you don’t think people will be bored hearing about your life, they are always my favorite posts. While I really like your travel guides and money saving tips, it’s the personal stuff that keeps me subscribed and reading.

    It may seem boring to you, but it’s much like what you were saying in this post. While I like websites that give me good information you don’t interact with websites. You interact with people and they are what make it memorable.

    So, what I’m really trying to say Matt, is do MORE of this. I don’t even care if it’s all about past experiences. Just make me smile, laugh, or cry. I’m sure that there are plenty of other people here who agree.

  7. Kevin

    Thanks for the great read! Im younger than most of you im sure but i find this article hits home for me. I first realized the strong bond that travel can create between complete strangers on one of my high school trips to Europe a few years back. We were all from the same school but were all strangers to each other. Being the very quiet and reserved person that i was, i had trouble coming out of my shell at first. By the end of the trip, we were all inseparable. We shared this remarkable experience with each other that would be remembered for years to come. Many of the people i met on the trip were going away to college and i still had a few years of high left. Sadly, most of us lost contact with each other. A few months ago, one of the girls i became close with over the duration of the trip passed away. Despite having had no contact with her over the past 3 years (with the exception of a text every now and again) i was devastated. She had been this vital part of this experience that taught me so much about myself and interactions with others.

    • That is the most hilarious thing I’ve seen. It looks like you missed the ‘s’ in blogspot when you put it in the first time and that leads to the Bible site.

  8. I like these posts! I want more reflective posts like this Matt! I think people can really relate to them. Was just what I needed to chirp up my day! :)

  9. Matt, what a sweet post about the five people you’ve met in your heaven! :)

    Happy 3-0 and five-year-aversary. See you in New York soon, I hope!

  10. Wendy

    I did not take my first overseas trip until I was 31, although I had driven the United States several times and had lived in 5 cities and at least that many states. I am almost at retirement age (I work to support my travel habit)and have managed to visit 24 countries. My “gypsy” is coming back and your story makes me hungry to be on the road again. Thank you! Thank you!

    Best Wishes For Your 30th Birthday and God Speed For Your Travels. Peace and Blessings.

  11. Nancy

    Just came back from a solo backpack trip in SE Asia and was reminiscing through your site. I identify with so many of your thoughts on traveling. It’s definitely helping me with the reverse culture shock I’m feeling back in the States. Happy Belated Birthday!!


  12. Hey Matt!
    It’s been awhile, but I just dropped in on your site…and this is my favorite post I’ve ever read by you. It gave me goosebumps, because it’s THE reason I travel and still blows me away every time I meet and click with someone new. Sorry to hear about Greg.
    It’s SO true and something all of us travelers have felt time and time again. I couldn’t believe how many GOOD friends I made and kept during my travels…people I would easily see again as we all know the world is small. Very cool. Happy B-day.

    • NomadicMatt

      Thanks for the million kind words in this post. It’s wonderful to hear! Hope all is well with you too!

  13. Great post Matt! It’s definitely nice to look back and grateful for all the people who touched our lives and made it better. I often think of the stranger I met briefly in Pampolona in 2005, who told me about Couchsurfing – and that changed the entire direction of my life after that!

  14. Amber Chapman

    This post is so touching, actually made me a little emotional reflecting on all the friendships I too have made throughout the world and even in the places I have lived in the US. I actually just said goodbye to some very good friends I made last year here in CA.

    It was so nice of you to honor these people on your site. And I am truely sorry to hear about your friend Greg.

  15. I love this posting of yours best because you totally nailed it…it’s about the people. I am living proof that some of those connections can last past 3 decades, as I am still in touch with those who made the greatest impact on my journeys from the 70s onwards. We survived the distances, snail mail, and having families!!! Nowadays with the internet (and facebook especially) keeping in touch is so easy. People who click while travelling know a core part of each other that the folks back home and coworkers never relate to or understand. On the road we have no baggage but our backpacks and since we never have to see each other again we can be honest and expose out true selves, so a short term meeting can pack more intensity. Love that I can still share laughs and love with these people even now!

  16. Nacho

    Brilliant post. I recently spent a summer as a tour guide/bus driver on a backpacker bus throughout New Zealand. Although most passengers were only on my bus for 1-2 weeks, the crew would bond with each other so quickly that, when an additional passenger did join, they’d ask if these people had known each other for years. I, too, was fortunate to form some amazing friendships with my passengers, and have since visited many of them in their home countries throughout the world.

  17. Dam


    How the heck do you make money while you’re traveling? Do you just have wise investments that draw money, or are you a computer genius who can work anywhere in the world, or does this site generate money for you, or do you teach English, or…? That’s the thing I can’t figure out. I saved up for about a year to take a trip to SE Asia, from which I’ve recently returned, and my money dwindled pretty fast. Just wondering how you finance your travels?

  18. Great post. I agree with others about feeling a real sense of you, a person who travels. I’m only a little envious that you’ve accomplished all this before 30. Although I’ve dreamed of being a paid travel writer since 18 it’s taken 40 years of life to get close to this goal. People have helped me along the way and I look forward to meeting more along this journey. Glad I tripped upon you blog just recently.

  19. Hi Matt,
    I love this post. What you say is so true, sometimes its the people who shape your experiences than the places itself. I have been lucky to find great friends on my first solo travel experience too. It was funny because people would often ask us how long we had been friends, but we knew each other less than a week and were from different parts of the world. Sometimes the connection you have with someone you just met is so much stronger than with people you have known all your life. I have these beautiful memories shaped by the great people I met and I hope that I have more journeys like this.

  20. Truly amazing how certain situations truly change the course of our lives. My life-changing moment had to be the spontaneous summer I met my husband. I worked with a bunchhh of international students/travelers and found some interesting things during those months but this one guy from Jordan kind of stuck out to me and low and behold we were married that summer lol. That was 2 summers ago now and now we’re both living in Jordan together this year. Happy travels to you and I hope you continue meeting great people that change your life for the better.

  21. Kyle

    It really is amazing how quickly you can make friends on the road. I actually think it’s easier than when you’re always in the same place because on the road you don’t have that inherent fear of reaching out and meeting new and possibly amazing people. Fear kills ya

  22. You know what? Kids and playdates can be part of travel, too.

    At least, that’s our hope.

    Planning our RTW adventures now for January-…?

    PS I quit my day job for India in 99. Best. Thing. Ever.

  23. Exactly what Bullu said. I love your posts (especially posts regarding life, reflections, valuable experiences, and lessons). You serve as an example and inspiration to many of us. Keep up the great work!

  24. Chad

    Don’t want to be the town doucher here, but isn’t it sort of funny/ironic/morbid that Greg taught you that strangers aren’t out to get you, but then he was killed by strangers?

  25. Hey, wondering if me and my pals might have been on that bus in 2005. I’ve sat down with many a stranger before and preached the power of travel … I have been on the road for a long long time and we always traveled cheap, but only once in a while enjoyed the comforts of luxury hotels, free flights, etc. We had friends and other ways of getting by for cheap, but this is really the next step in travelling and it’s what brings out all of the people that wouldn’t have ever left their homes otherwise. The tips and gentle encouragement, coupled with the vision of seeing the world in comfort (and getting one over on the man) is really inspiring.

    I’m older now, and married with children, so I can’t make the runs I used to (although we have …) so I will take full advantage of your sneaky lil tips to stay on the road and stay solvent. Thanks for the love and on behalf of the road dogs that inspired you, /hat-tip

  26. I’m just wowed! A friend sent me the link to your blog and bravo! I’m very passionate because I’m nearly in tears just imagining how you felt on your first trip. I love that you are in this for the experience and to help others. I too would love to travel, write and advise. If ever there is a moment in your schedule I would love to chat with you about some specific questions that I have. Until then, peace and blessing.


  27. Thank you for sharing this. It truly is the people that make the difference. I’ve found that everywhere I went and hope to experience that as I leave to teach abroad in Spain for a year.

  28. you’re very lucky to have such rich experiences with good people and as you turn another year older (another June is coming, this time two years after you posted the article) may you continue to be blessed with new found friends as you travel the world :)

  29. Chris

    That post hit home for me. I love to travel and see new places in the world but it’s the people you meet there that make a place special to you.
    I spent 3 years studying and working in Shanghai. While it’s a fantastic city, it was the people I met there and who became a vital part in my life that made my stay so amazing and unforgetable. Even though we’ve all left and moved to different parts of the world, and staying in close contact isn’t always easy with busy jobs and ever growing families (we’re all in our mid 30s), as soon as we meet up and start talking, it’s like we never were apart.
    I re-visited Shanghai two years ago and while it’s still an awesome place, it wasn’t the same without my friends around anymore.

    I’m coming to New York in the first week of December – it would be awesome to meet up, make so new friends on the road 😉

  30. This is so funny. I was just reading your bio and it brought me here: I think it’s a consipracy. There’s a mob of backpackers in Chiang Mai that are just out to get all of us. I had a similar experience to yours except in 2013 with some kids from different countries around the world that I met at a cooking class and became friends with. It’s a conspiracy believe me. It is.

  31. Hey Matt. Nice blog. I really liked the fact you met your best friends on Koh Lipe. I’ve been working there as a dive instructor for a season and I loved it. In fact I it was so much like paradise that I don’t want to go back. The signs of upcoming tourism started to show on the horizon. Right now I’m living on the Caribbean island of St Eustatius. I don’t find it back on your blog. If you want some more info on it, just let me know or visit my website. Can’t wait to one day travel the world and make a living out of it like you do.

  32. Wow, Matt!!! I can’t stress enough how reassuring this post was. It’s amazing how life works in a sense that some of the best things to happen to us are unplanned. As I randomly stumbled across your blog, I’ve been doing nothing but researching and reading for the last 3 hours as I prepare to set sail across the Atlantic and live/work in Europe for 8 months. I’ll be backpacking immediately after and it’s so refreshing to relive memories of my last European excursions and remember just what about traveling that made me fall in love. I can’t wait to share this passion with the world on a larger platform and list you as one of my inspirations. Cheers! xx

  33. Hey Matt!

    Great post. Kind of reminds me of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”, was that an inspiration at all? I definitely agree with, and love, this quote: “Life is filled with strangers who shape our lives, both good and bad. All the people you meet leave a piece of themselves with you” (just tweeted it from @CheElizaga!). As an annual traveler myself who studied abroad in Spain, I’ve found that it’s not necessarily the destination, but the company. I can’t tell you which twist or turn I took to the Albaicin or more than 3 facts about the Alhambra, but I do think often about the couple from England who toured Granada and fell in love with it so much, they moved there on a whim and opened up a bar. Meeting people like them is so mind-boggling, and makes me wonder if I’ll ever grow the cajones to do something like this.

    I have a question for you, because I always hear about solo travel from men. What about us women? Safety is certainly a huge concern living in the U.S. and having toured Europe and Asia, I can say that this is still a concern everywhere. I guess the obvious response would be to find a travel buddy or two to traverse with. Any thoughts? :)

    And another question… have you found that Europeans are more adventurous and daring when it comes to country-hopping/relocating, as opposed to Americans? I noticed that many spoke about 3-4 languages and with so many countries just steps away (obviously an understatement), being open and exposed to new cultures was a norm.

    Thanks for your time, glad I stumbled upon your blog!


  34. This blog is inspiring me so much that I like to quite my job and start traveling the world because I already enjoyed traveling. I never regretted any trip in my life as travel makes me feel happy. But I find it hard that how I take it full time. Travel require money for sure whether its less or more doesn’t matter. Hopefully this blog gives me some idea how to curve my plans to become a traveler by profession. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Good Luck with your next trip. Hope hear a lot.

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