After reviewing Matt Kepnes’ recent book — Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home — Matt sat down with TWE to let us dig deeper into the details on his life and hugely successful travel blog.
Tell us how you got started! How did you become Nomadic Matt?
I became “Nomadic Matt” by accident. After getting bit by the travel bug after traveling around Thailand, I decided to quit my job and travel the world for about eighteen months. When I came home, I sat back down in a cubicle and hated it. It was boring and made me feel like the previous eighteen months hadn’t happened.
So I decided to travel again.
Initially, I decided to start a travel blog just as a way to keep track of my travels and to have something of a portfolio to show to editors when I was writing articles. I pictured myself becoming a travel writer, pitching articles and writing guides for Lonely Planet as a way to make money to keep traveling. I wanted to be something of a mix between Bill Bryson and Anthony Bourdain, traveling the world in search of stories and adventures. However, my blog slowly began to grow and become popular. After a while, I realized I could just focus on my own blog and try to turn that into a business.
All those years later, here I am!
You’ve been blogging for over a decade now. How has blogging changed since you first started?
Pretty much everything about blogging has changed since I started back in 2008. Back then, you didn’t need to know much about SEO. There was no social media to worry about, and you could pretty much just write whatever you wanted to. There was only a handful of people back then so it was really easy to find other blogs and writers. And, chances are, if someone found someone else, they also found you.
Blogging today is much more focused and professional. There are a lot of skills to learn and it takes a lot more time and effort to be heard above the crowd. You really need to approach the whole endeavor like you would any business.
There are also a lot more blogs today. And while that may mean there is more competition, the fact is, most bloggers don’t last. They get impatient and quit when they realize that working online is not as fun or glamorous as social media makes it out to be. There are a ton of blogs out there with terrible writing too, so you’ll definitely want to make sure you learn how to improve your writing skills if you want to break through the noise and grow your audience.
At the end of the day, blogging is a marathon, not a sprint, so you really need to be ready to play the long game and take it slow. No one gets rich as a blogger or travel writer overnight. It’s all about the little wins and progressing step by step.
Do you think there are too many blogs these days?
I don’t think there are too many quality blogs, no. Sure, there are a ton of blogs out there but that doesn’t mean there are a ton of good blogs out there. And it’s not even just blogs anymore. You have YouTubers and Instagrammers too. There are a lot of content creators out there. But most of them aren’t good. There is always room for new, unique, fresh content and perspectives. Think of it like the restaurant industry. There’s always lots of restaurants out there – but there’s always room for another great one!
What are some common mistakes new bloggers and writers make?
A lot of new bloggers focus too much time on social media. While social media is important for your brand, you’re not going to get a lot of traffic from it. Aside from Pinterest, the traffic you get from social media pales in comparison to what you’ll get from search engines. For that reason, focusing more on SEO is a much better investment in the long run than focusing on social media.
I also see a lot of new bloggers not spending enough time on their writing. Poor writing really stands out, and bloggers need to up their game if they want to last. Using apps like Grammarly or the Hemingway are great tools to keep your writing on track, but you’ll always want to make sure you’re constantly reading too. Spend some time reading the best travel books and articles every week. The vocabulary and style will slowly seep into your own writing, giving you an edge and making your writing more engaging and captivating.
What advice do you give to bloggers who are just starting out?
Gone are the days where you can just write about anything travel related. People want experts. So go niche. What are you an expert in? Or, what will you become an expert in? There are billons of people online these days. SOMEONE is going to want to read about the topic you’re writing about. Go narrow, go deep. Don’t just do yet another backpacking blog. Be something really specific.
Also, invest in yourself. Spend time learning the skills you’ll need to succeed. Join Facebook groups, take an online course, network with people in the industry. Treat this like you would any business. The more you invest in yourself, the smoother your journey will become.
Lastly, read! Self-improvement books, travel writing books, business books, marketing books. There is a TON of knowledge out there that you can benefit from. Spend some time reading every day so you can make the most from it. One of the reasons I’ve been able to last so long in this industry is because I’m always reading, always trying to learn something new. It’s how to get ahead and how you stay relevant. Read often!
What’s one thing you wish you did differently when you first started blogging?
I wish I started an email list sooner. I kept putting it off to focus on writing new content (and traveling) because it just didn’t seem necessary. However, when one of my posts went viral and my site started to really get a lot of traffic I missed out on collecting emails. That was thousands of potential emails lost because I kept putting the task off.
Emails are the best way to stay connected with your readers. It’s the best way to go about marketing new content as well as new products. If you’re going to be making money from your blog in the future, you’re going to need an email list.
Speaking of books, you’ve got a book coming out this month. Tell us about it!
My next book is called Ten Years a Nomad. It chronicles all of my travels and adventures since I started this whole crazy journey over a decade ago. I share lots of stories I have never shared before, and go into much more detail about stories and experiences I have shared. It’s part memoir, part reflection on the whole art of travel itself. It was a massive undertaking but I’m really proud of how it turned out and I’m excited to share it with everyone.
Why did you want to write this book?
I wanted to write a travel memoir that not only shares my stories and misadventures, but explores why we even travel in the first place. While you can do that on a blog, it’s much easier to do that in a book where you have more space and freedom to untangle your thoughts, feelings, and reflections. Most of my writing is service based. It’s the nuts and bolts of how to travel the world and do it on a budget. Do this, see that, stay here kind of stuff. I wanted my next book to be something more story-focused. I wanted something more inspirational. I wanted to describe what life is like on the road and show people that it’s not as hard as you think to travel.
What advice do you have for writers looking to one day write their own travel book?
I’ve spent the past 2 years working on Ten Years a Nomad. Writing a book is a long, slow process. The sooner you can start, the sooner you can start piecing everything together. You need to time not only to edit and write but to think over the flow of your book and how you want to arrange it. So, the more time you can spend on that the better.
It also helps to have tons of notes to reference, whether that be blog posts I’ve written in the past or things I’ve written in my travel journals. If you think you want to maybe write a book one day, make sure you take tons of notes while you travel. That way, you’ll be able to lean on those notes in your writing, making the process much easier when you finally get down to it.
I have a terrible memory so I’m glad I had the blog as well as my original journals to help me really get the details, characters, and emotions down accurately. I don’t think I could have written this book without them. It really helped jog my memory and the conversations I had with people.
Finally, any parting words of wisdom?
Practice, practice, practice! The key to becoming a better writer is to work on your craft as often as possible. Nobody is born an amazing writer. It’s a skill. The more time you spend sharpening it, the better you’ll get. Invest in yourself. Read regularly. And read books about writing, too. Yes, pitching and marketing and SEO are all important, but at the end of the day it all comes down to your writing. That’s what will get you ahead and differentiate you from the crowd.
Great interview Trisha, and excellent answers and advice, Matt. To stand out these days, bloggers & writers need to write well, keep learning & improving, and carve out a distinctive niche, instead of the standard backpacking blogs we are inundated with. Right on!