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Budget Travel Tips: An Interview with Nomadic Matt

Nomadic Matt is a New York Times best-selling author and founder of the award-winning budget travel blog nomadicmatt.com. In this discussion we learn about his top tips & strategies to make travel more affordable!

nomadic matt interview

onomy.co x Nomadic Matt

Matthew Kepnes, is an American travel blogger and author. At 23, he had never left the United States but in 2005 he took a trip to Thailand. The trip convinced Kepnes to quit his job, finish his MBA, and begin traveling the world and blogging about his experiences.

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Onomy: Welcome Matt! Let’s do a quick intro so people know who they’re learning from today?


Nomadic Matt:Yeah, sure. My name is Matthew Kepnes, I run the website nomadicmatt.com. I’ve been a travel writer for 13 and a half years, I help people travel on a budget. And yeah, that’s my aim is helping people travel more, and doing it for less. And I’m currently in Austria, Croatia. 


Onomy: What are some common travel budgeting mistakes or misconceptions that end up costing people a lot of money?


Nomadic Matt: I think one of the problems is not being flexible. You really want to be flexible with where you go when you go, because there’s always travel deals happening. But if you’re like, I have to go to Paris on this date, well, you have to pay what you’re going to pay.


I think another common mistake is, people don’t do enough research on prices. You know, you could say, you know, 15 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of information online. Nowadays, you can find the price of a slice of pizza, you know, in Croatia. So, where a lot of people go wrong, is they end up miss budgeting? Because they haven’t really done that research. They don’t really know how much they need. And then they get sticker shock when they you know, go somewhere, like my friend just went to Slovenia. He’s like, I didn’t realize it was going to be so expensive. I was like, Google man, Google. So if you’re a big foodie, don’t- don’t pretend you’re going to cook food half your trip to save money. Like, if you’re a foodie, you’re going to want to go eat, so adjust your budget accordingly.


And I definitely think people should keep track of their budget. Every day I write my expenses down. And when you know what you’re spending on where you can save. Or if you need to say like, am I going over budget or under budget? What’s no less than a thing if you’re going somewhere for two weeks. If you’re going someplace for a month or maybe longer. Your money management is really important.


Onomy: And so when you’re thinking about that money management, especially if you’re going away for longer, any tips specifically for budgeting around that?


Nomadic Matt: Well, just knowing yourself and keep track of things, but another thing is this: always use an ATM or your credit card when possible. Charles Schwab has no fee ATM cards, barely any credit card will charge you an overseas transaction fee. So just trying to reduce the amount of fees you spend, if your pay is really good.


Keeping a budget and keeping track of your expenses will really go a long way. And like making sure you have enough money for things and doing research ahead of time. You know, if you’re going to New Zealand, where you can dig and do a bunch of activities, right? But if you don’t know how much those costs when you get there, you’re like, I had no idea that a bungee jump is $400. 


Onomy: Is saving money on flights with stopovers a good suggestion? Any tips and tricks around that?


Nomadic Matt: Yeah, I mean, that can be like the way airline prices now is very dynamic, right. You know, before when there is literally a human being was like, I have to look this week’s flights. Yeah, there was, you know, on Tuesday, when they loaded them, you tend to see cheaper flights as everybody matched them. When things were less automated, that was a problem. Now, flights or prices are really done through AI. And a flight might have 20 or 30 different price points. And so whether or not is cheaper to stop on a layover, or go direct, maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it is the case. It depends on what kind of hub you’re flying.


For example, we had a topper Scott’s cheap flights, a big company in the US flying cheap flights. And we were talking about, you know, you can actually get really cheap flights when you connect from a smaller airport, because one airline doesn’t dominate as much. Right. So, you know, why there are very few deals from Atlanta, or Houston, you know, because United Delta own those airports, they don’t have to offer deals. They fly anywhere else.


Onomy: Are gift cards a good way to help stay within a budget?


Nomadic Matt: Um, gift cards aren’t really accepted overseas. So if you’re doing a lot of like, say US domestic travel, yeah, I mean, you can use them in lieu of cash. But you’re not going to find a restaurant in, you know, say, Croatia, that’s going to take a gift card, even a pin enabled debit card, which would be difficult, because it really built for the US financial system. That said, if you are traveling and you are worried about your money management, the fastest thing that’s going to keep you on a strict budget, or whatever keeps you on that budget, do it. That’s all I know, myself. That was for me. But if it works for you, you should do it.


Onomy: What’s one thing everyone can do, regardless of their income, or credit score, or anything to save more money on their next trip?


Nomadic Matt: Think of the one thing you can do today. We view travel as like, how am I ever going to save for a trip to Australia? Or, you know, that safari in South Africa. And then it becomes this daunting task that just become feels so big and overwhelming, that it’s insurmountable. And what’s the point? But if you think about like, alright, well, I know this Safari is going to cost me 5 to $6,000. Right. But what can I do today that gets me closer to that? Well, I’ve heard about this thing called travel hacking. Okay, I can work two or three flights. It will take me a year, but I can get to that.


Can I look at my budget? And do I drink Starbucks three times a day. A lot of people don’t actually know where the spending happens. They just see the statement at the end of the month on their credit card. And they go, oh, shit, I spent a lot of money. So working out, you’re tracking your expenses over two weeks and thinking, Okay, I’ll stop. There’s one thing, and just always thinking about what’s one thing I can do today. Put $1 away, search changed hour. It might take a while to get there but if you just look at the step in front of you, you’re assuming you realize that you walked a mile, right? Don’t think about the mile you have to walk. Just think about the one step you have to take. And eventually you’ll get there.


Onomy: I think that’s a smart I remember being in New York and basically giving up all of my losses and just that saved me so much money every single month. $5 you know, twice a day or once a day for all those coffee meetings you have it starts to really add up. 


Nomadic Matt: When I look at my budget, we write them up online, you know, my biggest sort of, where’s the money go kind of thing is my daily glass of wine or three, you know, but that is my back. I like that. And I work when I travel. So I’m not as strict on the budget, but you know, I know where that money goes, I sort of plan for it.


Onomy: Where do you think most people could cut back in order to allocate more to travel?


Nomadic Matt: I think this all really comes down to writing out your budget, and track your budget for a month, and then see, where do you spend money on that might not be necessary might be a lot day, you might find that you’re still paying for tonnes of subscription services you don’t need? I mean, that’s how they get you. $9 here, $10 there, and then you forget about it. So, once you do that, you can better see where you’re spending it, maybe it’s close, maybe it is dining out, maybe it’s the movies. Who knows?


Onomy: When is it applicable to start using your credit card points?


Nomadic Matt: As soon as you have them! Points are a depreciating asset. The more points you have, and the long you have them, it’s not like growing money, the airlines are always requiring more and more points. So the second you have enough points to afford something you want. You sound like, you know, they’ll do nothing if you just save that, right?


Onomy: Any suggestions about some of the best budget destinations that are open now in the US or international?


Nomadic Matt: The Balkans, in Eastern Europe! I always think they are an underrated area of the world. It’s very affordable, safe, you know. It’s like, kind of off the beaten path. You know, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, pretty much that part of Europe is really inexpensive to visit. Greece can also be pretty inexpensive, too. So long as from you know, avoiding centering and meekness. Portugal is pretty inexpensive. Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, most central America outside of Costa Rica, and Panama is inexpensive. Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia. I believe those are open and pretty inexpensive.


Onomy: What’s been your favorite place to travel to?


Nomadic Matt: I love Southeast Asia. That’s probably my favorite region in the world. Europe. Big fan of Mexico. You know Japan is one of my all-time favorite places in the world. New Zealand. I love Colombia. Botswana is really amazing as is Morocco.


Onomy: And normally when you have like a place that you like so much is it because of the food because the people?


Nomadic Matt: It’s always a combination of weather, vibe, people and food. You know, I mean, that sort of just has that you’re so far about it, you know, that’s just, it all fits together.


Onomy: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Matt. This has been a pleasure. I really appreciate all of your tips today. Again, for all of you who have joined in late. This was Onomy with nomadic Matt talking about budgeting for travel. And so thank you so much, Matt. Have fun in Croatia and you’ll have to let us know how your whole trip goes!

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