Nomadic Matt: 21 Questions with the TravelCon Founder and NYTimes Best Seller

Leah Fishman

Vermont, USA

Matt Kepnes, AKA, Nomadic Matt. If you aren’t familiar with him already — get on our level. Matt is a serial nomad, OG travel blogger, NYT best-selling author, and founder of TravelCon: a conference designed help up-and-comers learn how to develop profitable and sustainable careers in the travel industry.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Matt about life, lockdown, testing positive for Covid-19, postponing his conference, and a very bizarre travel story involving a dorm room and fecal matter (seriously).

Itching to know more? Here’s 21 Questions with TravelCon Founder, Matt Kepnes:

LF: Hey, Matt. How’s life in lock down?

MK: Life in lockdown is going well. Since I work online, my day-to-day hasn’t changed a ton — though I miss being able to go out anytime, especially for food or drinks. I’ve been reading a lot and trying to stay productive (which is a challenge). I’ve been able to catch up on online courses I’ve purchased, and I’ve also been able to spend more time cooking. Of course, I’ve also wasted a lot of time mindlessly surfing social media too. But, overall, I’m trying to make the most of it.

You tested positive for Coronavirus. Tell us about that.

When I came home from Taiwan, Paris, and New York City in early March, I came down with a fever, cough, and aches. Since it was the early days of testing in Austin, I was able to get tested. Unfortunately, my results came back positive. My fever persisted for a few days, but I had a cough for almost two weeks. I also had some serious lethargy and exhaustion and was just feeling tired the whole time. While it was just a mild case, it was still unpleasant. But I consider myself lucky since there are plenty of young people my age being hospitalized and even dying from the virus.

Feeling better? 

Much better now!

In a recent blog post, you shared some of your post-pandemic predictions. What are some ways that COVID-19 has personally impacted your travel game?

COVID-19 forced the team and I to reschedule our conference, TravelCon. We had hundreds of people attending and dozens of speakers flying in. All of that had to be shuffled to later in the year, which was a monumental feat. I didn’t have any travel plans booked, fortunately, but I’ve had to cancel and reschedule some 60+ flights for the conference. So that’s been keeping me busy! I am planning some trips for later in the year though (assuming we can travel safely by then). Currently, I’m working on a road trip around the US, which has been a fun trip to plan. I’ve been around the country a few times (most recently while on a book tour for Ten Years a Nomad), but it’s such a huge country that there is a lot I still haven’ seen yet.

Any surprising positives come out of this? (other than your test results — too soon?)

From a business perspective, we’ve pivoted to a more community-supported model. We had been moving that direction already, but the pandemic forced us to really accelerate that plan. We’ve been hosting regular Instagram Lives on my Instagram account and we’ve launched a Patreon so readers can support us directly in return for all kinds of exclusive perks such as free books and guides, bonus social media content, exclusive blog posts and photos, Q&As, and much more. It’s been a fun way to connect directly with our readers and forced us to get creative. We’ve also been hosting online meet-ups and webinars as part of our community platform, The Nomadic Network. We’ve had some great Q&As and guest speakers so far and we continue to host events every week. If you’re stuck indoors, it’s a great way to talk travel and say inspired during quarantine.

You work with a lot of small businesses and content creators. Any tips for how we can help support them right now?

Obviously, financial support is huge for many creators and business owners feeling the squeeze right now. But if you don’t have extra money yourself, there are lots of other ways to support: join mailing lists, share social media posts, and read blogs (ad revenue). But, most importantly, reach out and ask how you can help. They will be happy to connect and let you know. And they’ll be happy to know you’re interested in supporting them too.

In 2019, you launched TravelCon: an industry game-changer and full-on partay (I was there. It was bomb.) Did you always know that you wanted to move your online community IRL?

While I love the digital space, the most impactful relationships in my live (both personally and professionally) have come from in-person connections. Meeting fellow creators — even ones you’ve been following and engaging with for years — is the best way to deepen relationships. One of the reasons I’ve been able to do so well with my own blog is because I’ve made attending conferences and events a priority. I’ve invested in networking so I can not only learn new skills but meet new people — people who can help me grow my business. Plus, it’s just a fun way to connect with fellow creatives, make new friends, and support the industry!

Like every other big fest (SXSW, Coachella), TravelCon was forced to postpone. Who made that final decision? Was it tough?

The decision was made between myself and our hosts in New Orleans. While it was an unfortunate necessity, the fact that it was a necessity made it an easy decision. We want to make sure we aren’t endangering attendees (or locals), so it was clear that postponing it was the best decision. Obviously, it created some logistical challenges for us, but we’ve been able to adapt and are optimistic about the new dates in September. I think we will all be ready for a party by then!

As TravelCon’s founder, how is monitoring the worldwide pandemic response affecting your day-to-day?

While I do keep an eye on the day to day news (even though I probably shouldn’t because it’s stressful), everything is still up in the air regarding the pandemic itself so I try not to worry about it. We’ve got out dates in September and are hoping things will be good enough so the event can go on! Of course, things might change for the worse but that’s beyond our control. So, we’re just waiting to see how things play out. Regardless, we’ve got contingency plans ready no matter what happens. But fingers crossed it all works out!

We can’t wait for New Orleans. You’ve teased a few surprises. Since we have to hold tight for a few more months, can you drop us any hints? 

Nope! My lips are sealed!

Okay, hard part’s over. Let’s play a game? Set a timer for 2 minutes, and as quickly as you can, fill in the blanks:

I’ve been to: around 100-ish countries.

The best dessert I’ve ever had was: I don’t really like dessert! It’s all too sweet for me!

On a scale of 1-10, I rate my international driving skills a: 7? I’m not a bad driver but, until recently, I didn’t own a vehicle so it wasn’t something I did often. I still don’t like driving manual, though!

Three travel bloggers that I’m currently following are:  @oneikatraveller, @uncornered_market, and @theblondeabroad

If I was on an episode of My Strange Addiction: Travel Edition, my addiction would be:  Buying travel books!

The biggest splurge I’ve made while traveling was: I once went to a three-star Michelin restaurant in Nice for a friend’s 35th birthday. I never spent so much on mediocre food in my life.

My most embarrassing travel story involves: A dorm room and fecal matter.

My fave travel non-essentials are: Physical books (not a Kindle) and a real towel (not a travel towel).

On a scale of 1-10, my friends would rate my international driving skills a: Less than a 7, that’s for sure.

While stuck in quarantine, I’m binge-watching: Schitt’s Creek. It’s so good!

Wow, we’re def going to ask more about that embarrassing travel story next time we see you. Thanks for hanging! One last thing: Seeker is an identity that resonates with every traveler, but each person is in search of their own pot of gold. What type of Seeker are you?

I’m a laid-back traveler and a foodie. I love visiting cafes and watching the locals go about their lives. And I love eating. I think you can learn a lot about a place by its food, which is why it’s something I’ll happily indulge in — even if it sends me over budget! And as a history buff, I always learn a bit about a destination’s past so I can gain insight into its present. I’ll take a museum or gallery over adrenaline activities any day.