Matt Kepnes and I met up several years ago, and since then we keep bumping into each other despite living in separate spheres of the travel world. He has found great success writing about traveling to both common and exotic destinations on a backpacker’s budget as the founder of Nomadic Matt. I, on the other hand, am solely focused on earning and redeeming points for flights and hotels. It’s unusual to find a review of the actual destination on Travel Codex.
Even so, Matt’s latest book, Ten Years a Nomad, has some relevant insights for frequent travelers who subscribe to either philosophy. I will probably never adopt a fully nomadic lifestyle. Even if I have the chance to retire early after raising kids, I’ll probably want to have a home base to return to frequently. I am one of those people who stresses over his retirement savings, wants 2.5 kids, and drives a sedan.
I still think that Matt has a lot to teach. The American traveler is definitely too constrained by fears of the outside world. I had no clue what I was doing when I traveled abroad for the first time, backpacking with a couple of friends through Europe. I planned every day of our trip, carried a personal GPS (in the days before iPhones), and made sure we spent as much time as possible in hotels. As Matt puts it, we weren’t traveling, we were just on vacation for four weeks. I don’t think I really loosened up until I started taking mileage runs to the Middle East. Alone by myself in a place foreign to everything I learned growing up, it was a bit of a shock to the system.
Matt seems to recognize this. He writes about how difficult it was to start traveling and how it began with fits and starts. He kept coming home, thinking he was done, only to be lured back by the relationships and experiences he forged on the road. The most important message, I think, is to simply not let fear get in the way of enjoying the experience of travel.
Many of us grow up with a sense of American chauvinism, that somehow, we are the best and there is no reason to leave. Surprisingly few Americans have a passport. If you do go to another country there is talk among friends and family to avoid being ripped off, or even the risk of violence.
But really, it doesn’t factor into my mind anymore. So what if someone charges too much for a taxi, or you end up at a bad restaurant? That happens all the time at home. I’ve been swept up in more than a couple riots in Paris, even been tear gassed, and that doesn’t keep me from wanting to go back.
The best memories from that first European adventure with my college buddies were the chance encounters in which we got to live with a little less structure and engage with the local residents. A future classmate in my PhD program met up with us in London and gave us tips for Vienna, her hometown. We ran around Berlin with another friend who pointed us toward the absinthe bars and the impressive Pergamon Museum. Our journey ended with a short stay at the home of an acquaintance in Lugano, a relatively boring town but one where we could slow down and just experience life outside any routines or scheduled obligations.
That trip was a lesson in what works and what doesn’t. I still have a 9-to-5 job that requires me to block out specific weeks for vacation each year. I enjoy the creature comforts of a luxury hotel, and my wife has become spoiled with first class flights.
I’m not a nomad. If you’re reading my blog, you probably aren’t a nomad either. But I do try to travel with “nomadic intent.” The affordability provided by redeeming miles makes it easier to travel to the same destination more than once and to travel to more destinations in general. I no longer worry about knocking out the Top 10 from TripAdvisor in Barcelona. I do what I want, explore, and make a list for my next visit. I tack on a day trip to Granada because the cost (in miles) is negligible.
Towards the end of his book Matt talks about a more recent change in mindset, wanting to settle down a little. Ten years can be a long time on the road. I don’t know what he has planned next. Hopefully my perspective toward travel shows that it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. You don’t need to be sharing bunks in a backpacker hostel to be a nomad, and you don’t have to be a vacationing millionaire either.
The nomadic lifestyle is more about your approach to travel and what you hope to get out of it. Is it part of who you are, or is it just something to do to escape the routine of office life? I enjoy my job, but it’s just a means to pursue my passions, and one of those happens to be travel. Hopefully you feel the same way about your life.
Whether you’re looking for some advice on changing your perspective, or if you have the itch to be a permanent traveler like Matt, I suggest you check out Ten Years a Nomad. It just reached bookshelves yesterday, and Matt is now on a nationwide book tour. You can read more about it on his blog, including dates and locations to meet Matt in person. I’ll be making an effort to attend the reading at Book People in Austin on August 5.