I am so excited to share my interview with Matt Kepnes, travel blogger and author of the New York Times best selling book “How to Travel the World on $50 a day”.
On my first solo trip to Thailand I searched the internet for ideas about what to see in Bangkok on my own and stumbled across Matt’s blog: Travel guide to Bangkok. His informative and easy to read guide set me off on my first solo adventure in a city where very little English is spoken. I had an amazing day and my confidence soared as I enjoyed sights and markets used city trains and boats to get around.
I started writing my blog during that trip and found it rewarding and therapeutic to share my journey about my unexpected life as a middle aged widow. Eventually I wanted to learn more about blogging but courses aren’t available at the local Community College so I signed up for Nomadic Matt’s course called “Superstar Blogging – The Business of Travel Blogging”. It’s designed as a 10 week course so you can pace yourself and learn as you blog. Even after the 10 weeks Matt and his team keep in touch with students via Facebook and emails and you may even get an opportunity to meet or interview one of the Travel industry experts!
Here are some questions I had for Matt and I appreciate his advice for all of us, especially my fellow widows interested in traveling.
- What advice do you have for recent widows who would like to travel but are nervous about traveling solo?
Solo travel can seem daunting, there is no two ways about it. But it’s also much easier and much safer than I think most people realize. I think it’s important to ask why you are feeling nervous. Is it relating to safety? Are you not used to planning things by yourself? Are you worried you’ll be lonely? Pinpoint your concerns and that way you can better address them when planning your trip. There are a ton of solo travel resources out there, as well as online communities (like The Nomadic Network) where you can get support and talk to people in your situation. Start small. Plan a solo weekend getaway to somewhere nearby. Treat travel like you would exercise: you don’t just go and run a marathon. You start with 3 miles, then 5 miles, and then eventually you’ll hit your goal. Travel isn’t any different.
- What are some of the best lessons you have learned in your years of traveling and blogging?
I wrote a post back in 2011 about travel lessons and I think still rings true today. Travel has taught me how to be more spontaneous, how to break out of my shell and meet people, and how to accept that sometimes things won’t go as planned. And those are valuable lessons not just for travel, but for life.
When it comes to blogging, over the past 10 years I’ve learned so many important business lessons. If I had to pinpoint one, it would be this: be unique. Blogs are a dime a dozen these days. Don’t be like everyone else. Find a niche, go deep, and create something unique that addresses your audience’s concerns. We don’t need more generic travel blogs or list posts, we need engaging and unique content that fills a gap in the market.
- I refer to your posts before I travel because they are informative and easy to read. How did you fine tune your writing style? How has it changed over the years?
The only way to become a better writer is to write! I’ve had a decade of practice, and I’m still improving. I read books on writing (and I just read a lot of books in general) which really helps me, both consciously and subconsciously, when it comes to developing flow and style and simplicity. I make sure I know when I start a new post what my point is. I ask myself, What is this blog post trying to achieve? I then edit and edit and edit until I’m confident that the post has hit my goal. But I’ll also get input from friends and even pay to get posts edited if I’m not 100% satisfied. It’s an investment, but it pays off in the long run.
When I look back at my old writing, I’m almost embarrassed. It is hardly recognizable as my own, which just goes to show you how much you can improve when you practice regularly! Here are some tips to help you improve your writing!
- What is your favorite travel experience? What is your least favorite travel experience?
I’m not sure I can pin down a favorite travel experience, but I definitely have favorite places that I keep going back to. Amsterdam, Paris, Bangkok, London — they would all be high on my list of favorite places to visit.
And worst? Well, I confess I didn’t have a great time in Vietnam. But that was a long time ago so maybe it’s time to give it a second chance.
- Where would you recommend sending a middle aged solo female traveler who wants to see the world but needs to be mindful of her budget?
Considering budgetary concerns, I would avoid Western Europe and Oceania. Beyond that, you can pretty much go anywhere! I’d aim for parts of Central and Eastern Europe, as you’ll have less culture shock there but also still get a lot of value. There is lots to do, the people are friendly, everything is cheap, and it is relatively safe. Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Romania — bouncing around that part of the world is definitely a great place to travel where your money will go far.
- Tell me about your budget hostel in Austin? Will you be involved in creating more budget friendly hostels in the U.S.A.?
I opened HK Austin a few years ago with a friend, and it was a HUGE undertaking. Just like running a blog, there is a lot to do behind the scenes that you don’t realize until you’re in the midst of it! But it’s been great and I’ve learned a ton! There will likely be more locations in the future…but that’s all I can say for now!
- As a teacher, I love to see students travel overseas in High School. Tell me about your non-profit foundation that sends students in the U.S. on trips overseas.
I started FLYTE (The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education) a few years ago as a way to help high school students living in underserved communities by providing transformative travel experiences. The education system in the US provides very little in the way of a global education, and a lot of schools in struggling areas have virtually no resources available to offer students any sort of travel experience. So that’s why I started FLYTE! We send a class abroad every year to places like Cuba, Mexico, and Guatemala. So far it’s been a resounding success!
- What are the best practices that you used to build your blog traffic?
This is a big question, but if I had to condense an answer down I would say that you need to create engaging niche content on a consistent basis. You’ll need to write often, and you’ll need to learn to write well. On top of all that, you’ll need to invest in your blog. Buy a solid theme, pay to have someone edit your work, pay for things like Facebook ads. Treat your blog like you would a business, and you’ll be on much more solid ground when you start out.
- I have taken your Superstar Blogging course on line and learned a lot from the site. Tell me about the TravelCon conference in Austin and why I should go?
TravelCon is going to be the biggest travel conference out there. We have over 600 attendees, almost 80 speakers, and dozens of brands involved. It’s the premier travel conference, and pretty much all the big names in travel will be there. If you want to connect with the pros, network with like-minded bloggers, and build lasting relationships then this is the place to be!
- How long did you write your blog before you did not need to go back to an office job?
It took a few years before I was making a solid full-time income. But how I made money back in 2008 is very different from how I make money now. Back then I was selling links, doing some sponsored posts, and selling high-priced e-books. Nowadays I have my own products, I’ve run tours, and I work with affiliates. But the moral of the story is that it takes a lot of time to build an income. Just like any other business, you need to be prepared to not make money for a while. But if you stick with it, eventually you’ll get there!
- What 3 things do you feel travel bloggers need to do to stand out in the field?
- Create unique, niche-based content
- Invest in your blog like it’s a business
- Build relationships and network
Obviously there is a LOT more to it, but I think these 3 things are great places to start and will lead to the most long-lasting results.