Twipper of the Week: Matthew Kepnes from Nomadic Matt

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Current city: I’m writing this in Washington DC, but I’ll be moving to Austin.

Age: 35

Total countries visited: Travel is not about quantity, it’s about quality. In my 10 years backpacking the world, I’ve only been to about 80 or so countries. There are many people who have been to a lot more in a shorter amount of a time. Traveling slowly is a much better way to learn about the places you visit. I’ve lived in a few countries since I have been gone. I’ve spent extended time in different regions of the world. Anyone can visit a lot of countries but not everyone can actually see and learn about a lot of countries.

What makes you interesting: I think being a nomad is pretty cool. I have created a life that is location-independent and inspires, and teaches, others to achieve their travel dreams!

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to travel cheaper, turn your dream trip into a reality, save money or travel the world, that’s what my site does! Every month, over 1 million people visit this website to get inspiration and advice on planning their trip. Nomadic Matt will give you tested tips, advice, and suggestions so you can see more for less and make your dream trip a reality. It’s time to stop dreaming of travel, take that once in a lifetime trip, and start traveling cheaper, better and smarter.

What brands do you love:

  • Travel insurance – I still am a loyal user of World Nomads. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2006, and I’ll continue to use them until I stop traveling.
  • Tour company – My favorite company is Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use expert guides and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with Interpid Travel. They are my favorite multiday tour operator.
  • Backpacks – When I went to Africa, South African Airlines lost my REI Mars backpack. It was my baby. After six years on the road with me, it functioned as good as the day I took it home from the store. I still miss that bag.
  • Guidebooks — Everyone has their own guidebook preference; Lonely Planet is mine.
  • Computer — I use a Macbook Pro. I find it easy to use, and it never breaks down. I love my Mac. Once you go Mac, you never go back.
  • Travel apps — I don’t use many travel apps. I’ve never been a huge fan of them. Why would you be checking apps while on the road? But a few do come in handy: Google Maps (the handiest app of all), Skype and Currency cover my basic needs.
  • Hotel booking sites — I like to use HotwireHotels.comExpedia, and Booking.com.
  • Hostel booking sites — The best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface and availability is Hostelworld. I use them for all of my bookings!
  • Airline booking sites — But when I am looking beyond AAI use the following sitesMomondoSkyscannerVayama, and ITA Matrix.
  • Airline alliance – While I travel hack the world and use points to fly just about anywhere I can, when I am paying for my flights or have the miles, I am a Oneworld loyalist. While the Star Alliance has more airlines to choose from, American Airlines (the U.S. partner) is far better than United. I’m also a huge fan of Cathay Pacific and British Airways.

Where did you go for your first travel experience and at what age: Growing up in Boston, I was never a big traveler. I didn’t take my first trip overseas until I was 23. Outside a cruise and college trip to Montreal, I had no travel experience. After college, I got a job and the standard American two weeks a year vacation. I wanted to use that time to travel. After all, it was vacation time, right?

So for my first trip overseas, I went on a tour to Costa Rica. That trip changed my life. Costa Rica opened me up to the possibilities of the world. I was just a sheltered middle-class suburban kid before that trip. In Costa Rica, I experienced other cultures, got lost in a jungle, saw real poverty, conservation projects in action, and met people from around the world. From that moment on, I was hooked on travel.

What’s your favorite passport stamp: I don’t have just one. I love them all!  I have filled up 2 passports fully since I started traveling!

What has been the most useful thing you have brought on a trip: Hand sanitizer. I hate germs!

Where and when were you the most culture shocked: Wandering around the Fez medina, I could feel the stares. “Where are you going? Want to go to the tanneries? I’ll take you. No money. Don’t worry!” the medina’s faux guides said as they chased me down the street.

“No, I’m fine,” I’d reply, trying to dodge them at every turn. Turning down side streets, stopping to look at a map, or admiring a view caused them and any nearby vendor to pounce and badger me, inviting me into stores, restaurants and attractions.

There were moments when I would turn down streets only to have my spidey sense tell me to turn back. A few guys tried to corner me before I managed to slip into a store. Heck, even a little kid tried to pick my pocket. While other cities were not as intense as Fez, my visit to Morocco required a thick skin and a watchful eye.

After two weeks traversing the country, which is amazing (see this post, where I fawn all over it!), I could see why people say Morocco demands extra diligence. Touts, scammers and harassers abound and, while it wasn’t bad when I was with my group, it was intense when I was alone.

What does “Travel” mean to you: That’s easy: it means freedom! I remember growing up and always desiring to be “the captain of my ship.” You know, working because you like what you do, not because you need a paycheck, being able to jet off to some place you want when you want, having ultimate flexibility, time and freedom for anything. But then you graduate college with debt, you start working, the responsibilities pile on, you start planning out life, there are societal expectations put on you, and before you know it, you’re stuck. You’re part of that vicious rat race, and it seems like time is never your own.

Then one day you just think to yourself, “How did things get this way? I want out of this box.”

 So I quit my job and went traveling. Though the leap was the hardest part, you realize everything else is easy, and it’s not traveling that draws you in, it’s the freedom and flexibility. It’s about waking up today and saying, “I’m going to Ukraine tomorrow.” Or you’re going to play golf. Or maybe take guitar lessons. Or start that bakery you always wanted to. Or move to Thailand to teach yoga.

I think that feeling is what causes so many people to turn to travel. Yes, it’s great to see the world, but most travelers I talk to are really drawn to the sense of freedom and adventure, and the endless possibility. While you’re traveling, the days seem to hold endless potential and opportunity. It’s also why I think long term travelers have a hard time adjusting back into “the real world.” After you’ve been out of the box, it’s hard to go back in.

As much as I travel to explore new places and learn about people, I live my life because when I wake up every day I know I can open the door to do anything I want. For now, that’s travel. Exploring my world. Maybe a few years from now it’ll be different.

If you were given a free trip tomorrow, where would you go: Antarctica in a heartbeat!

Next travel destination: I’ll be settling into Austin for the time being.  This summer I’ll spend a while in Europe (I can’t wait to get back to Sweden!) and I don’t plan far enough in advance to think past that.  But then again, who knows!  I may just hop on a flight to Argentina next week.