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February 3, 2013

Travel writers: Matthew Kepnes

Matthew Kepnes is the author of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter, which debuts in bookstores this week. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt, and his travel advice has been featured in the New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, BBC, Yahoo! Finance and countless other magazines. He is also a regular speaker at travel trade and consumer shows. When not traveling the world, he spends his time in New York City.

How did you get started traveling?

I did a tour around Costa Rica in 2003. From that moment on, I was hooked on travel. I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to travel. That trip profoundly changed my life and realizing what I was missing out on, I vowed to do it more often. After that the rest is history.

How did you get started writing?

I wanted to write guidebooks for Lonely Planet so I created my website to be an online resume where they could see my writing and previous work. However, as the site got bigger, I became a walking guidebook in some ways and now my site is all the writing I do.

What do you consider your first “break” as a writer?

I would say it was in 2009 when I was interviewed by the Frugal Traveler column in the New York Times. It was a big event and completely changed everything.

As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?

As a writer the hardest part is running around gathering all the information you need for an article. I try to be very thorough so much my time is divided between actually enjoying the location and running around getting prices, checking on passes, and finding deals for other travelers. I don’t want to miss anything so my time in new locations is very hectic.

What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?

Managing time. It’s hard to always be traveling and writing at the same time. I can’t be out exploring if I am in my hotel writing but I have nothing to write about if I’m not out exploring.

What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?

Find a way to bring in consistent revenue. While my blog is monetarily successful, it takes a lot of work to maintain my income level and it’s hard to find ways to bring in the money easily and consistently. It’s often a hustle.

Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?

No, I had another job when I started this website so when the website finally started making money, I just left that job to focus on the blog.

What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?

Bill Bryson is a huge influence. His book In a Sunburned Country was big influence on me. Your book, Vagabonding, was important in preparing for my first trip around the world. Other writers I like include Chuck Thompson, Don George, and Pico Iyer.

What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?

Be focused. There are plenty of “experts” out there but really the best of them are ones you focus on one area. Travel is too encompassing of a term. You can’t be a “travel expert” but you can be an expert on a type of travel or a destination. Focus on that and you will see much better success.

What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?

Being able to set my own schedule and being my own boss. I get to do what I love (travel) and get paid to do it all while being able to live life at my own pace and on my own schedule.

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