In 2006, after meeting some backpackers in Thailand and falling in love with the idea of long-term travel, Matt quit his job to travel the world. His plan was to travel for about a year, though ultimately his trip ended up lasting eighteen months and period is what planted the seed for Matt.
While he was home, he got a job working in a cubicle and hated it. Knowing the 9-15 life just wasn’t for him and that all he wanted to do was travel again, Matt set about putting his blog together in his free time.
To begin with, the site was primarily for Matt to keep track of his travels. It started out mostly as a diary but slowly evolved into a website for more than just friends and family.
Over time, Matt was able to carve out a niche and attract an audience. Creating some ebooks along the way that helped bring in some money, eventually expanding the website out into travel guides, tours, and online courses.
Today, NomadicMatt.com is a seven-figure budget travel website that helps people travel cheaper, better, and longer. With over a million visitors a month and hundreds of thousands of email subscribers, Matt is a big force in the travel blogging world.
It took a few years of hard work before Matt was making any money, and then a couple more years before he started blogging full time and making a full-time income. It was a long, slow process (there’s no overnight success in this industry) but a fun and rewarding one at the same time!
Having had the luxury of being in this industry for over a decade now, Matt has been able to slowly build up the skills needed to succeed where many others have stalled or failed.
In the beginning, Matt relied on friends and online forums to figure out the basics. Much of what he learned was from trial and error, but a lot of it came from reading.
He didn’t just read travel books, like many other bloggers, instead, he read business books and marketing books.
He read books on productivity and psychology. Matt learned not just how to create awesome content but how to market it so that he could increase traffic and revenue.
“Money isn’t everything, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle”
Matt also attended lots of non-travel conferences. Networking with experts outside the travel industry who gave him tons of insight into the business world, which he was then able to use to grow his business.
He also took tonnes of courses and hired people to help him improve (eg. editors to give feedback on writing). In short, he invested in himself. Just like a brick and mortar business, Matt spent money to make sure he had the tools, skills, and staff needed to succeed.
“I think the best travel bloggers are the ones who treat blogging like a business.” Matt says.
That’s not to say they only care about money and traffic, but rather they invest in themselves and work hard to create quality content. They put the reader first and don’t make the website about them. Successful bloggers are about “learn from me, not look at me.”
Beyond that, Matt believes there are no universal qualities, as bloggers need to wear a lot of hats. Bloggers who are amazing writers or photographers might be terrible at time management. Bloggers who are super productive might be lazy with social media. Every blogger has their strengths and weaknesses. But it’s the best bloggers who recognize that,invest in themselves and hire the right people to ensure those weaknesses don’t slow them down.
What advice would you give to a travel blogger starting out?
There are more opportunities out there today than there ever had been, Matt says (at least, before the COVID-19 pandemic.)
From ads to selling products to affiliate marketing to sponsored content — it’s never been easier to make money online. But you need to put in the work. This isn’t a get rich quick industry. Most bloggers don’t make a cent for months and months. New bloggers need to be in this for the long haul. They need to have a vision and be willing to grind to get a foothold in the industry. There is always room for unique, insightful, and inspiring content. So new bloggers need to make sure they are offering something different, something new. If you can do that, you’ll be set.
“Blogging has completely changed my life. It’s provided me with a rewarding career, the ability to see the world, and the opportunity to see and do so many incredible things.”
Matt’s had the ability to meet incredible writers and creators like Cheryl Strayed, Tim Ferriss, Tony Wheeler, and so many others. He’s been able to live in a handful of countries around the world, including Thailand, Taiwan, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden to name a few.
In short, he’s been able to live a rich and varied life as a travel blogger. It’s required a ton of work, of course, but the rewards have absolutely been worth it. There is so much freedom and flexibility in this career — more so than most other traditional jobs. It’s that freedom that has allowed Matt to create the life he wants.
“The key to monetizing your website is knowing what you readers want” Matt says.
Ask them. Do surveys. Take polls. If you don’t know what your readers are willing to buy then you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and money creating things they are not interested in.
Years ago, Matt saw bloggers selling t-shirts so I did the same — and it was a disastrous failure. Why? Because he just assumed that his audience would be interested without getting the data to back it up first.
Sure, everyone can do affiliates or post ads on their site, but when it comes to creating products, make sure you know exactly what your reader wants.
Then, over deliver.
Make sure your product goes above and beyond their expectations. That way, when you launch another product down the road, they will be eager to jump onboard because they know you make quality products and offer trustworthy services.
“The most important thing new bloggers should do is attend in-person events.”
Conferences, meet-ups, mixers — anything that gets you connected with other creators both in and out of your niche and industry. Networking online is great, but it’s those in-person connections that really help you get ahead. (Of course, we will have to see how this pans out with the current COVID19 situation)
You’ll want to be pitching guest posts to larger blogs and publications when you’re just starting out too. Getting backlinks and getting your name out there will help you get established. Do as many guest posts, podcasts, and interviews as you can — especially if you’re coming out with a product.
When you’re more established you can sort of pick and choose who you work with but when you’re starting out, guest post as much as you can for blogs big and small. The more you can get your name out there — and the more connections you can make — the better!
An important thing to remember about starting a blog is that it’s work. There will be days when you’re not inspired or not motivated — just like when you had a “regular” job. That’s ok. That’s normal.
But you still have to work.
If you only work when you’re feeling inspired you’ll get little done. For that reason, you want to make sure you create a regular schedule that forces you to be consistent. Consistency is what will get you ahead. Slow and steady progress is the name of the game.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, just make consistent progress toward your goals. Take your schedule seriously. Batch your work. Set reasonable but firm deadlines for yourself.
It can be hard because you’re both the boss and the worker, and will take some time to get used to. But if you can manage a consistent schedule you’ll see much better results than someone who only works when they feel inspired.
We asked Matt if he had any unconventional advice or thoughts for up and coming bloggers, he said:
“I think, more often than not, unconventional advice is overrated.”
There is always some new “radical” trend when it comes to business but, for the most part, those are just fads. I’m not interested in chasing trends. I’m interested in what works, and what works now is what has always worked: working hard, making connections, creating unique content, and putting your customer first.
When new business books with so-called unconventional advice come out, I’ll still read them. And if there is something useful in it, I’ll implement it. But at the end of the day, the foundations of what makes a business successful have been the same forever.