Tell us about when you first started blogging. What inspired you to start your travel blog, and what did the blogosphere look like back then?
When I first started blogging over 10 years ago, the travel blogging world was virtually nonexistent. Most blogs were just travel diaries; there wasn’t any monetization aside from selling spammy backlinks (a practice that Google eventually outlawed). And without competition, blogs were free to write about whatever they wanted to. You didn’t need to focus on SEO; you could just write and tell stories and share your thoughts.
Which is precisely what I did.
I started my blog as a way to share (and improve) my travel writing, so I could get a job working for Lonely Planet. However, as it began to grow, I realized I could make a living as a blogger instead.
Eventually, after a few years of that, I quit my other job teaching English in Thailand and focused on blogging full-time. It wasn’t easy by any means, but it’s been incredibly rewarding.
You’ve built a travel empire that expands beyond your blog — you produce TravelCon (an annual event for those in the travel industry), you’re a best-selling author, you started a charity (FLYTE), and you run a blogging masterclass. All of your projects are so diverse and have been admirably successful. What is your decision-making process like when you decide to take on a new endeavor?
Like most entrepreneurs, when I start a new project, it has to be something I’m passionate about. Creating a travel conference, starting a charity, and writing my budget travel book How to Travel the World on $50 a Day were easy projects to get underway, because they were projects I couldn’t not do. That doesn’t mean they were easy to execute, but rather they were projects I was completely consumed by. Without a driving passion for something, you’ll likely burn out before the end — so only start projects that you are 100% committed to.
That said, not every project I’ve launched has been successful. I made a budgeting app years ago that didn’t go well, and I also tried to sell Nomadic Matt merch. Both endeavors failed.
So, while you’ll need a lot of personal passion to get the project off the ground, you also need to ensure that there is a demand for what you’re offering.
Superstar Blogging has helped many new bloggers get their blogs off the ground. It’s a rarity — and invaluable — to be able to learn directly from someone who’s seen as much success in the industry as you have. What made you decide to start the course?
Superstar Blogging grew out of questions people kept asking me. After getting dozens and dozens of emails asking for tips and assistance, I realized there was no single resource out there to help people create a successful travel blog.
Originally, I created an e-book that walked people through the process. That eventually evolved into a full-on blogging program.
My goal was to create a course that teaches new bloggers everything I learned through trial and error. It’s the program I wish I had when I was first starting out.
Many of your students have gone on to create successful blogs after taking your course. What qualities do you think one needs to succeed in the industry?
While there are tons of hard skills that can help you get ahead — photography, writing, editing, graphic design, etc. — the most important qualities are soft skills, such as patience and consistency.
Everyone thinks you just start a blog and then success falls in your lap. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Starting a travel blog is just like starting any other business. Like all businesses, it’s an uphill battle to grow and make money. Most businesses fail within the first few years. The same applies to blogs.
That’s why you need to be patient and consistent. Success doesn’t happen overnight — it comes after years of consistent effort. Blogging is all about slow and steady effort. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new travel blogger, what would you tell them?
I’d tell them to treat their blog like a business from day one. If you want to create a valuable travel website that has the potential to make money, you need to treat it like a business.
That means planning, research, and most importantly, consistent work. You have to spend time working on your site even when you’re not in the mood — because it’s a job. The best bloggers got ahead because they did this. You need that mindset to get ahead.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and enjoy yourself, but you need to put in the work first.
What’s the biggest challenge that you face now, as an experienced travel entrepreneur?
The pandemic has been an ongoing challenge for our annual travel conference. I’ve had to reschedule TravelCon three times now, which has been difficult, since it’s a multiday event involving hundreds and hundreds of people.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel, as we have announced our 2022 destination: Memphis! So, after a year of challenges and ups and downs, it’s good to know that there is a finish line out there. We can’t wait to connect with people in person again!
It’s important for bloggers to consistently post new articles and adhere to a schedule when promoting their blog on social media, amongst a slew of other daily tasks. Many struggle with productivity. From an outsider’s perspective, you seem to juggle everything well. What tools do you use to stay on track?
From the outside, it can certainly look like everything runs smoothly, but I’m just like everyone else. Sometimes I’m super productive, and other times I just want to read and watch Netflix. I’m by no means immune to the whims of procrastination.
The backbone of my workflow is just a simple Google calendar. I plan out my days to the hour so I know exactly what needs to be done and when to do it. I schedule when to eat, when to use social media, when to read, and everything else I need to do. That way, I can just follow the schedule every day without getting sidetracked.
Every Sunday, I’ll sit down and plan out my week. That gives me a good overview of what’s ahead, so I can optimize my schedule and make sure I get everything done while still leaving room to relax.
If you’re struggling with time management, be sure to check out these books. They helped me immensely:
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Checklist Manifestoby Atul Gawande
A lot of bloggers have a full-time job and other responsibilities to manage, in addition to their website. What would you say to the blogger who feels like they never have enough time to focus on their blog?
There’s never going to be a perfect time to start, so don’t wait for one. If you keep waiting until you “have more time,” your blog will stay on the back burner forever.
Because it’s not about having the time. It’s about making the time. You only need a few hours a week to get your blog going, and most people can find that time if they cut back on social media and TV.
You’ve settled down in Austin now. Have you hung up your “full-time nomad” hat for good?
Nope, far from it actually, as I’m going to be ditching my apartment soon and going back on the road full-time once borders are open — at least for a while.
Where I go depends on the state of things after COVID. The Balkans, the Middle East, and India are all on the radar, so I’m just biding my time and waiting to see what my options are. But I’ll be a much more “nomadic” Nomadic Matt soon!
A lot of bloggers travel part-time. Do you have any suggestions for how those who aren’t on the road much can develop a decent amount of content?
Part-time bloggers should focus on collabs and guest posts to fill any gaps that arise in their content calendar. That way, you can keep your blog active with content from other bloggers while also getting backlinks and networking as you share your content on other blogs.
Nobody gets to the top alone, so focus on networking and collaborations whenever you don’t have your own content to post on your own blog.
It’s also perfectly OK to share stories from older trips too. Stories are timeless. It doesn’t matter if it happened last year or a decade ago — as long as it has a theme and a narrative arc, it’s something people will be able to enjoy.
Additionally, make sure all your existing content is up to date and optimized for SEO. We update all 300+ of my travel guides every year to ensure they are fresh, practical, and up to date. The more valuable your content is to your audience, the more likely it is they will return to read more!
What do you see for the future of the Nomadic Matt empire?
Before COVID, we were slowly transitioning to a more community-focused platform via our travel meet-up group The Nomadic Network. When COVID hit, we sped up that pivot, hosting hundreds of virtual events online. We also created a Patreon page so that our top fans could connect with us in a deeper way and get access to bonus perks and exclusive content.
We’re going to continue this transition to a more community-based platform in the future. We’re expanding our virtual events, planning more in-person gatherings for after COVID, and making some big changes to our Patreon as well.
Without our awesome community, the team and I wouldn’t have a job. For that reason, we want make our community the central pillar of our platform. Our goal is to continue to provide the best, most helpful travel content there is on the web by connecting directly with our audience.
As we’ve all learned this pandemic, community is everything. We’re taking that to heart as we move forward.
Matt Kepnes runs the award-winning travel site nomadicmatt.com, which helps people travel the world on a budget. He’s the author of the NYT best-seller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and the travel memoir Ten Years a Nomad. His writings and advice have been featured on CNN and the BBC and in the New York Times, The Guardian, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, Time, and countless other publications. You can follow him on Instagram at @nomadicmatt. When he’s not on the road, he lives in Austin.