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What Can I Learn From A Travel Blogger Young Enough To Be My Son?

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When Matt Kepnes (of Nomadic Matt fame) asked me to review his latest book, I hesitated.

Matt isn’t even 40 – and it’s no secret that I’m 66 and have been traveling solo since, well, before Matt was born.

I eventually agreed because Matt is a friend and I’ve known him since his early blogging days, but I was uncomfortable. I knew I wouldn’t identify with his book, but how would I convey that in writing diplomatically for the world to see? The best I could hope for is that I’d find enough common ground to deliver a balanced critique.

Well, I was in for a surprise (and I should know better than to make massive assumptions).

Ten Years a Nomad is part travelogue (he is a travel blogger, after all) and part coming of age.

While I could have done without stories of dorm sex and drinking bouts, so foreign to my own travel style, his core messages touched on the utterly familiar:

  • the joys of solo travel
  • the importance of local slow travel
  • the perils of (and solutions to) burnout
  • how to revisit a place without chasing ghosts
  • why being scammed is a “learning experience”
  • how to deal with everyone’s opinion about your trip

From cubicle to the world: how to make the leap

If you’ve ever thought of “leaving home” in the broadest sense – taking off to see the world, for example – there are some inevitable first steps and mental preparations that are common to all of us, which Matt details in his book.

He traces his evolution from cubicle to awakening to travel to homesickness – these are struggles we all face when grappling with long-term travel (even in my forties, when I quit my job and left for Africa, I agonized much as he did).

He worried about his parents, especially their concerns about his job future, and explains how he dealt with the situation, providing us with advice on how to deal with our own families, whether they be parents, children or siblings. There’s no question that doing something as far out of the ordinary as setting out to travel for more than the requisite few weeks will awaken unexpected feelings among our near and dear.

Matt builds his book around his decade of travel, a full ten-year circle that eventually leads him through a revolving door of emotions from yearning to resolution to return. He tackles such issues as being tired and fed up with travel and explains how he found renewed energy to get back out and see the world.

Matt has some wonderful ideas about how travel changes you.

“You can write your own story,” he said, and become someone else through reinvention. It’s true… on the road you have no past, or better yet, you have the past you want to have. His stories about coping with the ‘new Matt’ are both entertaining and revealing.

Another good reason to read Ten Years a Nomad is because it addresses common travel fears – fear of getting lost, of running out of money, of the unknown, and tells us how to deal with them and how to manage expectations when your travels turn out worse – or better – than you expected.

Acceptance is the key

I liked Matt’s natural, honest tone and his down-to-earth acceptance of everything travel brings with it. Honesty in a book is harder than in a blog; when you spill your guts out into a blog post, there’s always a Delete button, but once it’s in print…

I laughed when I read about his one certainty of travel: “All your plans will go out the window.” How true! Yet you must still have plans, and he makes a strong case as to why.

He exhorts us to withhold judgment of a place if we’ve only visited once and uses his personal experience to tell us why we should. I agree – it’s tempting to dismiss a place because it’s boring or the waitress wasn’t nice but… go back if you can.

Matt and I share a love of solo travel (although he travels with others much more than I do) because it allows you “to get to know yourself, what you’re capable of” and it teaches you self-reliance. That it does.

I loved his ageless attitude to travel – ageless because often, I felt like punching the air as I read, with a resounding YESSS! He was telling his stories, but they could just as easily have been about me.

In addition to being a long-term traveler, Matt is a serial expat, having lived for months in cities like Bangkok, Paris and Stockholm. This is a different sort of travel so if you’ve ever thought of becoming an expat, set yourself up for success by following a few simple guidelines.

What generation gap? Another lesson in closed thinking

Ten Years a Nomad is a solid road map for those bitten by the travel bug. Whether you’re 17 or 70 plus, you’ll find wisdom here and kinship with an author who embraces the world.

Long-term travel is about living in the NOW, Matt believes, and sometimes all you need is the desire to go somewhere and see something.

Of the many great lines in the book, perhaps this one strikes me the most: “Travel is all about seizing the opportunity.” He learned the hard way that following your plan doesn’t always lead to the best outcome and that sometimes, the magic only happens when you throw it out the window.

Matt’s book ends with 19 tips that highlight the book’s lessons but I would strongly advise you resist the temptation to skip to the summary. If you don’t, you’ll lose the evolutionary richness of the narrative and you’ll be demonstrating impatience and laziness. And you’ll be doing yourself a disfavor because you’ll miss the experiences (sometimes salacious, at others adventurous) that led to each lesson.

So guess what, Matt? The way you and I travel isn’t that different, generation gap be damned!

Just get on the road… that’s where the magic happens. This book will help you do just that.

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