The end of the backpacking trail for Nomadic Matt?

picture credit: Flickr/niallkennedy

I stumbled upon a list of the most popular travel sites in the world and ended up reading this post from Nomadic Matt, rated as number one: apparently, he is not “nomadic” anymore, as he has settled down in New York City. Crawling back to the other links embedded in the post, I gained a better understanding of Matt’s end as a perennial backpacker: he doesn’t feel like doing it anymore by himself. He feels alone. He says that “Africa made it clear that it’s time to move on to a new chapter of my life. I couldn’t hold onto the past any longer. What I want from my life now doesn’t involve any more late nights on the backpacker trail.”
Well… I have to be honest and I may lose some friends here: I have never been a big fan of Matt. For sure, he may teach to many how to manage a web travel business and life on the road, but I remember having read an interview a few years ago, where he claimed he did not want to visit China and he preferred Thailand, and this somehow stuck with me. I had been living in China for one year at the time, and I kind of felt that statement as truly out of step with MY world. Like, me and Matt were walking completely opposite directions, and not because of my love/hate relationship with China, but for the way we both look at the world. Thus I didn’t bother about following Matt’s ongoing travels up to earlier today, when I randomly bumped into his confession. But for sure, I can support his ultimate decision to leave the backpacker trail behind, in search for something more enlightening.

I had a quick glance through his blog, and I realized that he may still be in his 20s. This may explain quite a few of his choices. Personally, I have never enjoyed any “late nights on the backpacker trail” even when at 15 I went alone to Switzerland to march for world peace. I would get extremely irritated if I found some doped out person blabbering gibberish around me, and I would scream if I realized that people were having sex in the dorm we were sharing: I applied the same philosophy around the punk scenes and squats I dwelled all around the Western – and currently, the Asian – world. And believe me: they may stink more than a hostel’s unwashed toilet, and make the “backpacker life” look like a sorority girl’s weekend – one of the good girls, mind you!!.

Anyhow, I progressively abandoned the hostel scene after a few months on the road as I felt it was extremely pre-packaged and dull to me. I was trying to varying effects to connect with the locals and the lunatics I found along my way, as much as I could. Couchsurfing was helpful. Knocking on doors was random and fun, at times just stupid. But it gave me a way out of the backpacker world, and one way into my own. And do not tell me this is biased and I am bragging: I did spend of course some time along the trail, otherwise I could not choose for myself where I want to stand. I occasionally bump into it again, but I am not very excited. And I am far from drawing lines or chasing stereotypes here: good folks are everywhere… even at the hostels, eheheh…

But when I found a partner in Malaysia, everything changed: things that looked alien, different, incomprehensible to me before, started to open up and make sense. I do not feel any sort of attraction for hostels and backpackers at all anymore. I honestly do not even bother with the taxonomy, in the first place, anymore. The local made me rethink my relations with my own similar people. It really just seemed alien to me, to be interested in never-ending parties: I like to go a bit deeper, make sense of what’s going on behind me, above me, beyond me… If this is the reason why Matt has stopped traveling, well… I guess it’s for his best. I am confident he will find a renewed push to make his travels more rewarding, like everyone else who, after a long sting on the road, is experiencing his same kind of blues. What do you think??

MARCO FERRARESE explored 50 countries and lives in Penang, Malaysia since 2009. He is currently a PhD candidate at Monash University’s Sunway Campus, Kuala Lumpur, researching the anthropology of punk rock and heavy metal in Southeast Asia. Besides his academic endeavors, he blogs about overland Asian travel and extreme music in Asia at

Posted by | Comments (7)  | February 28, 2013
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road, Vagabonding Life

7 Responses to “The end of the backpacking trail for Nomadic Matt?”

  1. Robin Says:

    I came across Matt’s site years ago before I embarked on my backpacking trip, and found it useful when I first started looking into backpacking, but quickly came to a similar conclusion. He has always stayed to the backpacker trails and been more interested in the adventures of “backpacking life” in hostels than actually seeing the world. It reminds me of the mindset of many Aussies we met on the road that spent more time in the hostels and bars then seeing the cities they were in. The fact that he traveled for so long and rarely got to any of the lesser backpacked countries was always strange to me, but I know a lot of people see traveling as an adventure that consists of late nights in hostels, and hooking up with people from other countries, and you know what, I think that’s better than the people who stay at home and don’t travel at all. I think what irks me (and seems to Irk Marco, maybe?) is that fact that Nomadic Matt has developed a certain reputation for “expertise in backpacking” which, many travelers would agree is not a great example to set for novices that want to understand what to expect on the road.

  2. Rolf Potts Says:

    I think it’s good it’s good to take stock of one’s travel situation/feelings as the weeks and months on the road turn into years. After awhile, the backpacker circuit can become as predictable and rote as any other habitual way of living. That’s why it’s good to try something different — to slow down or get way off the beaten path or work as an expat someplace or head back home and rediscover your own community. Vagabonding is a personal thing — it’s certainly not a contest — and knowing when to change your pace is a good thing (even if it means not being on the move quite so much).

  3. Nomadic Matt Says:

    Couple of things:

    1. I’m 31.
    2. I don’t want to go to China at the moment because I like to breathe air. The pollution is too bad for me and I’m not at all interested in seeing China at the moment. Travel is a highly personal experience. Go where you want, see what you want. If you stopped reading my site because I did’t want to visit China, well then that’s pretty “unenlightened” of you. I’m not sure what not wanting to visit China at the moment has to do with my world outlook.

    Robin, et al. – For people who don’t really read my site, you have come to a lot of false conclusions about it. I get off “the backpacker trail” quite a bit and visit a lot of countries people don’t normally visit. This kind of high and mighty attitude though is what really bothers me about most travelers. Who cares where people go? Travel is a personal experience. Too each their own. And if you all spent more than 5 seconds on my site, you would know that I write often about how it bothers me travelers never leave the hostels and see the cities they are in! Here’s one example:

    I’m sorry you all don’t feel the example I set is a good one but tons of people have found my site helpful in helping them get over their fear s and traveling the world. I’m not sure what advice I offer that “is not a great example to set for novices that want to understand what to expect on the road.” Because I’m pretty open about what they should expect – good, bad, ugly.

  4. Nomadic Matt Says:

    Also, here’s an article I write the week before this article came out about how people should get off the beaten path:

  5. jane Says:

    It feels a bit unfair to create a post simply to call out someone else. Do your own thing! Why do you care why/how/what Nomadic Matt does? This seems petty and I’m tempted to drop this whole feed from my RSS reader because you’ve chosen to post it. Write this in your diary next time!

  6. DEK Says:

    It’s a wise person who knows to stop when he gets where he’s going, or when he notices that the bus isn’t going where he wants to.

    I have no idea why Matt is being criticized, other than that he has been successful. I assume he became successful by thinking about what he was doing and his thinking has now led him to this conclusion. I will be interested to see what comes next.

  7. Colleen Bowen Says:

    I have appreciated Matt’s website and learned a lot from it. There is no blogger out there that perfectly represents me, my values, or how exactly I like to travel. I find bits of myself in a wide spectrum of travelers, both those on the road and those journeying through life in more conventional ways. I don’t fault anyone for being on a different journey from mine or learning different lessons than I am at this moment. I have benefited and grown from reading bloggers of many stripes, those quite different from me often have something wonderful to show me.