In 2006, Matt Kepnes worked at a hospital in Boston, and he felt miserable. He dreaded fighting traffic, spending his days under his offices’ fluorescent lighting, drinking stale coffee.
He decided to take one year off — a “gap year” — thinking that after his sabbatical, he’d resume another 40 years of punching the clock.
He worked 60-hour weeks in order to save money for his sabbatical year. He saved $30,000, then handed his boss a resignation letter.
Matt traveled for 18 months, returned to Boston, and realized he had lost his willingness to punch the clock. He couldn’t sit still in an office any longer.
He re-packed his bags, bought a one-way flight to who-knows-where, and reinvented himself as a travel writer known as Nomadic Matt. He lives on a budget of $18,250 per year, or $50 per day.
In the last decade, his travel information website, NomadicMatt.com, has become one of the most popular travel blogs in the world, drawing millions of visitors. His writing has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, National Geographic Travel, and the BBC. He’s a New York Times bestselling author, and he’s traveled to more than 100 countries.
In today’s episode, Matt and I discuss the art of slow travel.
Here are six takeaways from our conversation.
#1: Flexibility is affordability.
If you want to travel on the cheap, stay flexible about where you travel and what dates you choose. Often, the difference of a few days can equal a discount of hundreds of dollars off your flight. Likewise, choosing to travel long-term in South America or Southeast Asia can help you save thousands, as compared to planning a trip to Western Europe.
#2: Beware of the “big three.”
Travel is like life: your three biggest expenses are housing, transportation and food. How do you manage these?
You can reduce or eliminate transit costs through accumulating points and miles. (Check out affordanything.com/travel for a frequently-updated list of my favorite rewards offers.)
You can reduce housing costs by staying in hostels, guesthouses, using Couchsurfing.com, staying in private rooms (shared with host family houses) through Airbnb, or renting an apartment in a new city if you’re going to be there for a few months.
That leaves food, which leads to the next takeaway …
#3: Go to the damn grocery store!
Go to the night market in South Korea. Visit outdoor vegetable and fruit markets in Thailand. Go to Tesco in the U.K.
This is not a chore; this one of the most fun parts of travel. You get to experience life like a local.
#4: There’s a distinction between travel and vacation.
Imagine that you stay in your hometown. Forget the traveling for a second. Imagine that you continue living in Kansas City or Wichita or Cincinnati.
But you decide to move out of your house. Instead, you’re going to live in a nice hotel, a 3-star hotel, and you’ll dine at restaurants for every meal.
That would be ridiculous. Your cost of living would skyrocket. You would never live that way at home.
Why would you assume that just because you’re in a new city, you’re supposed to live that way? Why be inefficient, just because you’re not in your hometown anymore?
If you’re on vacation for a few days, sure, you can be inefficient because it’s only for a few days. But if you’re traveling long-term, you’re living in a new location. Live efficiently, just as you would at home.
#5: Slow travel is cheap travel.
Don’t rush through cities or countries. Go to fewer places and spend longer amounts of time in each location.
My rule when I’m traveling overseas is that I must spend a minimum of one week in any country that I visit.
I’ve traveled to more than 40 countries, and I don’t “count” the visit to that country if I haven’t spent at least a week there.
That’s the minimum. There are many countries in which I’ve stayed for three weeks to one month or longer.
I spent three weeks in Cambodia, three weeks in Laos, two weeks in Vietnam, six weeks in Spain. I spent two months in Indonesia and 10 months in Australia.
This means I’m efficient at knowing where to buy groceries. I know how to use public transportation instead of taxis. I reduce transit costs because I’m not hopping on a train or airplane every few days (or even every few weeks). I simply live my ordinary life in a new setting, with all the economic efficiencies of a daily routine.
Slow travel is cheap travel.
#6: Frame your spending in terms of time.
Those $36 pair of sunglasses at REI? That costs one day of your life in Medellin. It’s one day of everything: your accommodation, food, coffee, transit, everything.
Can you forgo those sunglasses and spend an extra day in Medellin?
This also works for side hustles and extra income. If you start a side hustle in which you earn an extra $150 per week, you’ll make $7,800 per year. Do this for three years, and you’ll have made nearly $24,000. After taxes, you’ll retain roughly $18,000, which is enough to cover your cost-of-living for a full year in Thailand or Ecuador or many other places around the globe.
Learn more about slow travel in this podcast interview with Nomadic Matt Kepnes, who has been traveling full-time for more than a decade.
- Scott’s Cheap Flights
- The Flight Deal
- Mommy Points
- Nomadic Matt
- Ten Years a Nomad, Matt’s new book, out on July 15
- Bluehost – start a blog in 5 minutes or less
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