Iceland. It’s a land of sheep, the northern lights, volcanoes with unpronounceable names (try saying Eyjafjallajökull), majestic waterfalls, craggy mountains, and otherworldly landscapes. To me, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. How can such a tiny island have such a diverse and beautiful terrain? It changes every few feet — from verdant fields, snowy mountains, and brilliant glaciers to looking like Mars. It never ceases to amaze me. I had high expectations when I first visited. I’d seen movies and pictures in magazines of a land with jagged mountain peaks, volcanoes with desolate lava fields, rolling hills with grazing sheep, and glaciers that stretched for miles.
Iceland lived up to all those expectations. Now, a year doesn’t go by when I don’t visit (see ya again in September!). Sure, the country has seen an explosion in tourism in recent years and it’s gotten a lot more expensive but most of the tourists concentrate in the south near Reykjavik. Once you head out of the capital region, it’s mostly you and nature (I only saw three other tourists in my week in the Westfjords…during peak season)!
So, in honor of the Iceland guide I just published today, here are my favorite things to see and do in Iceland that will convince you to book your ticket (because, thanks to WOW air, flights are dirt cheap):
This hip capital is awash...
The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is located in the north of the country. Crowded (pop. 6,000,000+), a little polluted, and slightly run-down, it nonetheless is very quaint.
Though I did not like Vietnam, I liked Hanoi.
Time and poor rebuilding may have worn down the city. All over Hanoi, old French colonial homes lay crumbling as modern buildings spring up around them, slowly bringing the city into the modern age. The city’s old quarter, located right by Hoan Kiem Lake, is a fine example of French Colonial architecture. I imagine this is what New Orleans would look like if it was left to decay.
But Hanoi is a fascinating city where you’ll find amazing street side pho places, little beer bars, and a fast pace where you need to follow the grandmothers as you cross the street or you’ll get run over.
Navigate tiny streets and outdoor markets as people crush you from all sides. Hanoi is very busy, and this quarter is one of the busiest – flooded with bikes, buses, markets, and tourists. Buses cram down streets I didn’t think even motorbikes could get through. A bus of mine went down one the wrong way and I was sure we were done for. Crossing the street here is a fine art, as motorbikes and cars don’t stop for you. But, despite the crowds, these densely-packed streets have a lot of charm as the...
Around England, I’d explain my route through the country and people would universally go, “Bristol? There’s not much there.”
Needless to say, I had low expectations.
But I’m not sure what Bristol people were referring too because I found a hip college town with amazing eateries, great ethnic food, wonderful things to see, and great parks to relax in.
Bristol is like the English version of Seattle. Most travelers seem to use it as a base for trips to Bath, and never fully explore this city, giving it only a brief glance before heading back to London. This is a mistake.
With a population of around 400,000, Bristol is the largest city in southern England after London and the largest shipping port in England. It received a royal charter in 1155 and, until the rise of Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester during the Industrial Revolution, was one of England’s largest cities. Bristol suffered extensive bombing during World War II and a subsequent steep decline in its manufacturing industry.
The port of Bristol grew up in medieval times because of its location near the rivers Avon and Frome. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, this area was turned into the enclosed Floating Harbour...
A stunning hour-and-a-half train ride through the English countryside from London takes you to Salisbury, home of the famous Stonehenge as well as the Magna Carta. It’s an easy day trip, but I found that Salisbury has a lot to offer and, in fact, Stonehenge is the least impressive part of the town, making it worth at least a night’s stay.
Salisbury has been an important site throughout human history. Over 5,000 years ago, Neolithic man was dragging huge stones, weighing up to 55 tons from Wales to Salisbury to build Stonehenge. The area was a huge settlement and is now surrounded by ancient burial mounds and historical artifacts.
While Stonehenge is impressive and still one of the most important historical sites in human history, Salisbury itself is even more impressive. Beautifully preserved, this picturesque English country town offers a lot to do and will leave a far more lasting impression on me than Stonehenge.
Originally, “Old Sarum” (as the old town was called) was constructed and used by the Romans and early Saxons as a fortification. With the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, the fort and cathedral were moved to the present-day location. The new city never had any defensive walls, as it’s surrounded by rivers on three sides and located on a hill.
The city has been immaculately preserved. During the German Blitz, Salisbury wasn’t bombed, as the Germans used its famous church as...
I first visited Chicago at the end of my U.S. road trip in 2006. I spent three days there before leaving to explore the rest of the world. I’d always heard a lot about Chicago and was excited to finally see the Windy City (named because of the politicians who blow hot air, not for the climate).
Incorporated in 1833, Chicago has played an important role in the country’s history ever since. In 1840, Chicago was the 92nd most populous city in the United States, but it grew so rapidly that, 20 years later, it was the ninth-largest city in the country. By 1900, Chicago had 1.7 million residents.
Chicago was the rail link between the west and the east, and its meatpacking industry was the biggest in the country. Beef from the plains and Texas came in and was then cut, packed, and shipped to the rest of the world from Chicago. (However, the notoriously unsanitary conditions of the industry led to the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and the founding of the Food and Drug Administration.)
In 1871, most of the city burned down in the Great Chicago Fire. Over 300 people died, 18,000 buildings were destroyed, and a third of the city’s residents were left homeless. One of the factors contributing to the fire’s spread was the abundance of wooden buildings and narrow streets. The fire led to strict...
Set off the coast of Belize, Caye Caulker is paradise. It’s small, it’s beautiful, it’s youthful. Everyone here is friendly, and no one moves quickly. There are no cars, only little golf carts, and the island’s motto is “Go Slow.” The tempo will have you running on island time before you know it.
Years ago, the island was a lot bigger, but after Hurricane Hattie ripped through here in 1961 villagers dredged a waterway by hand after the hurricane opened a passage a few inches deep so dugout canoes could go past. Over time, the increased flow of tidal water enlarged the opening through erosion to its present 20 feet deep. This creates a rapid channel through the north and south part of the island that makes for great swimming and snorkeling as fish move through the water.
There’s not much to do on the island itself. This is a place where you 100% want to come here just to relax. There’s plenty of beaches, guesthouses, and even a club that opens at night for locals and tourists but, beyond that, everything involves the water!
Here are some things to do on Caye Caulker:
Hang Out with some Manatees
Manatees are huge, docile (but highly endangered) animals. There are many tours on the island that take you to nearby Swallow Caye where you can see them in a responsible way. It’s really stunning. Entrance into Swallow Caye is 10...
Travel gives us perspective, challenges our expectations, and opens the door to new possibilities. It forces us to see the world and ourselves in a more profound way. I believe that it makes us better people. It gives us experience and understanding that you don’t get when you simply stay in your little corner of the world. It’s like that scene in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams say to Will:
So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling.
Reading about something is one thing. Experiencing it is in real life is completely different. I know travel is no panacea. It’s not going to end hunger or bring about world peace. But it does give us perspective and experience. It gives us understanding and makes us more open. It teaches us possibility.
At a time when the world seems to be splitting apart, travel can at least give us a sense of understanding and community.
And that is why I created FLYTE, our community charity designed to give the gift of travel and...
My visit to New Zealand a few months ago marked my second time in the country. Much had changed in the half decade since I had been there. The country was more crowded and expensive with the sleepy towns I remember now bursting with tourists. Yet, in so many ways, New Zealand was still the beautiful pearl I remembered from years ago. Christchurch was recovering from its earthquakes and now a hip place to be; Wanaka was still an incredible place to go hiking; the glaciers were just as mind-blowing as ever; the forests still home to wonderful walks; and Kiwis just as fun and friendly as ever.
This second visit allowed me to hit up many new places – as well as visit some of my old favorites. So, for when you go (I say “when” not “if,” because this country is so incredible that is should 100% be on your list and, if it’s not, I’m gonna come find you and drag you there!), here are my favorite places to visit and things to do in New Zealand that you shouldn’t miss:Explore Abel Tasman National Park
Stepping into Abel Tasman is in some ways like stepping into Thailand. The beautiful beaches and azure water feel like they belong in the tropics, not New Zealand. The hiking is beautiful, with giant ferns, huge, lush...
“Let’s go hiking,” I said one early morning at breakfast.
“OK, we’ll go after lunch,” said Gloria and Lena. Gloria was a thirty-something olive skinned Spanish woman and her friend Lena, a short Latino with jet black hair from Chicago. Both were the only native Spanish speakers on the tour and helped me greatly improve my Spanish.
“Gracias,” I replied.
We were in Arenal, a small town up in central Costa Rica famed for its active volcano of the same name, caving, lake, hot springs and gigantic waterfall. It was a stop on everyone’s itinerary. During the day, smoke rose from the volcano as lava oozed out of it casting a dusty appearance to the mountain. At night, flashes of red let you know lava is oozing down its side.
It was our second day there and I wanted to hike some of the (safe) trails around the mountain and catch the sunset over the lake.
We told the cab driver we’d be back at the park entrance at six and started off on our adventure to watch the sunset over the lake. We headed into the jungle, which often quickly thinned out to rocky trails spreading out like spider veins from the side of the mountains. These were remnants of eruptions long past. Dead earth that was slowly coming back to life. We wandered off the train and down these gravel paths, finding where they led. This was an adventure. I...
One of the most common questions I get asked by new travelers is, “Will it be hard to meet people when I’m traveling?” Not everyone is outgoing, extroverted, or comfortable in social situations. When it comes to traveling, introverts will need to work a little harder to interact and connect with their fellow travelers. In this guest post, Vanessa Van Edwards from ScienceofPeople.com shares her expert behavioral tips and tricks on how to be meet people and be more interesting when you travel (or just in general).
They say travel is an itch. For me, it was more like a full-body rash.
Was that metaphor awkward? Yeah, I’m not surprised. That’s me. My name is Vanessa, and I am a recovering awkward person.
Growing up, I was terrified of recess. I couldn’t make a friend for the life of me, and my crushes gave me hives. Literally, full-body hives from social anxiety.
When I got bit by the travel bug, I hoped and prayed I would be able to do it solo and that travel would obliterate the anxiety I had. I wanted to travel to be an escape from my past and a way to be someone new.
These days I research what makes people tick, what drives our actions, and how to hack human behavior for good at my website, The Science of People. As a recovering awkward person, I’m fascinated by what...
“How do you do on boats?”
“I love ’em,” I said gripping the seat of the plane tightly.
“Well, just picture turbulence as waves you can’t see,” the pilot said with a laugh.
“I know turbulence can’t take down a plane, but that doesn’t make this any more comfortable.”
The plane was jolted as we passed some high mountains. None of the other passengers seemed to notice, but I cringed with the look of someone who just got a thousand needles stuck in his arm.
“If something goes wrong here, we just fall and die! That’s just where my mind goes!”
The pilot looked at me, laughed again, and went back to talking to the other passengers.
I was in a tiny, six-seater seaplane three thousand feet above Doubtful Sound. Fiordland is located in the southwesternmost part of New Zealand and home to numerous Lord of the Rings film locations, the region is considered one of the country’s most scenic and remote areas. Filled with gigantic mountains, deep lakes, swelling rivers, untamed forests, and resplendent fjords, most of it has never been set upon by man. Save a few places where boats and planes can go, the government has made the land off-limits, ensuring that that will be the case for a long time to come.
The day before, I had had the bright idea of seeing Doubtful Sound on a...
Back in January 2008, I’d just returned from my trip around the world. I was broke and got a temp job at a hospital. My job was to sit there, answer phones, open the mail, and just generally not break anything while the full-time assistant was on maternity leave. Within a few days, I said to myself “This is not for me.” Being back in a cubicle felt like I was back to the same spot I left. Like the last 18 months on the road hadn’t happened. It was dispiriting. I wanted to be “out there” — that mythical place that was anywhere but home.
Sitting in that cubicle, I wondered, “What could I do to keep me traveling?”
“Travel writer” seemed like a good idea.
So I started a blog to showcase my work, get freelance writing gigs, maybe write some guidebooks, and hopefully make a living from this all. I imagined myself a cross between Bill Bryson and Indiana Jones.
I bugged my design friends for help, learned HTML, wrote blog post after blog post, connected with other bloggers, pitched stories to online publications, and figured out SEO and social media.
Today is the anniversary of my first post. I can’t believe I am still at it ten years later. What started as an online resume has morphed into a business that includes this website, a charity, hostel, conference, blogging course,...
As I approach my ten-year anniversary of blogging, I want to tell a tale. The tale of an accidental travel writer who simply wanted to afford beer, dorm rooms, plane tickets, and backpacker pub crawls.
I shared part of this story before but, today, I want to go into more depth.
Once upon a time, I started this website with a selfish goal: to make money to keep myself traveling. I wanted my website to be an online résumé where editors could see my writing and go, “Yeah, we want to hire that guy!” — and then pay me to go somewhere and write a story about it. I imagined myself a cross between Bill Bryson and Indiana Jones. My dream was to write guidebooks for Lonely Planet. I imagined no cooler job than a guidebook researcher.
Anything was better than working in the cubicle I was sitting in at the time.
These days, it’s not about how I can keep myself traveling. It’s about how I can help others travel. Every day, the team and I constantly ask ourselves: “How do we help and inspire others to travel cheaper, better, and longer?”
Today, it’s all about you.
But, back then, the only thing I ever said was “How do I help myself?”
So how did I get from a “me centric” to a “reader centric” website?
In those early days, I...
In November 2006, I was 5 months into my (supposed) year long trip around the world. While emailing my parents to let them know I was still OK, I saw a message in my inbox:
“Matt, I’m stuck in this placed called Ko Lipe. I’m not going to meet you as planned, but you should come down here. It’s paradise! I’ve been here a week already. Find me on Sunset Beach. — Olivia”
Olivia, a friend from MySpace, was supposed to meet me in Krabi, a tourist destination famed for its limestone karsts, rock climbing, and kayaking.
I looked up Ko Lipe on a map. There was only a small mention of it in my guidebook. It was really out of the way and would require a solid day of travel to get to.
As I looked around the crowded Internet café and onto the busy street, it was clear that Phi Phi was not the tropical island paradise I had envisioned. The crowds were coming back, the beach was filled with dead coral, boats seemed to ring the island, and the water was polluted with a thin film of…well, I don’t want to know. A quieter, calmer paradise held great appeal.
“I’ll be there in two days,” I replied. “Just let me know where you are staying.”
Two days later, I took the ferry to mainland, a long bus to the port city of...
As you (may) know, I’m hosting a conference in September called TravelCon.
For a long time, I’ve dreamed of organizing a conference in conjunction with our Superstar Blogging program. Something that would take everything we have online and bring it to life. I want to bring our students, other travel bloggers, and industry experts together to learn, network, connect, and, overall, have a ton of fun! I love the web, but in-person events are 10x better for learning and networking. This is where you can make the most lasting connections and relationships.
TravelCon is a three-day conference in Austin, Texas from September 20th to 22nd, 2018. It will feature keynote speakers, workshops, networking events, writing sessions, photography walks, and opportunities to pitch yourself to brands and tourism boards. This is a conference for people who want more than free stuff. This is the conference for people who are looking to get serious about turning their blog into a business.
With beginner and advanced sessions, we have tracks and tips for people at all levels of success. At this conference, you’ll learn what is currently working right now and what you can do over the long term to create the career you desire. I believe the best conferences have people of varying skill levels so everyone can interact and learn from each other. For too long, travel media conferences have been only geared toward newbies. This conference...
What would you do with a free trip around the world? Last year, I gave away a trip around the world. After going through thousands of entries, in the end, Heather was the winner. Her story was powerful. She’s been on the road a little over a month now and it’s time to catch up with her and find out about her trip, how the budgeting is going (is she doing $50 a day?), and the lessons learned.
Nomadic Matt: Heather, congrats on winning! You’ve been on your trip for about a month. First, how did you feel about winning?
Heather: Thanks, Matt! Winning was, in a word, surreal. I’ve never felt so dazed in my life. I’ve never won so much as a raffle prize before, so I didn’t actually believe you for at least a solid week. I kept thinking it was a dream, and I was scared to tell people in case it was. My little sister asked me if I was sure it wasn’t a human-trafficking scheme!
Overall, I feel so loved and supported by my friends and family and extremely, extremely lucky.
I’ve been trying to imagine what my mom would say if she were here to see this. I don’t have much of a frame of reference, since I only really started traveling after she passed. However, I’m sure she would be shaking her damn head at this trip!...
Yeah, I used the F word. That’s how much I hate Ko Phi Phi.
I was supposed to visit Ko Phi Phi in 2005, but the deadly 2004 tsunami destroyed the island. Thousands were killed and injured on the island. The entire coast was devastated, with Phi Phi one of the hardest it. It was one of the biggest natural disasters to ever hit the country. Determined to get there and wanting to contribute to the rebuilding, I made it my first stop in Thailand when I quit my job to travel the world in 2006.
Construction was all over the place, tourists were returning — some also helping rebuild — and the government was promising to make the island more sustainable. Spirits were high. Naturally, it wasn’t like the postcards. The inner beach was littered with coral swept in by the sea, but just outside town was beautiful Long Beach, an undeveloped stretch of white sand and turquoise water. I didn’t fall in love Ko Phi Phi, but I thought that if they limited development as they said, this place wouldn’t be half bad.
Fast forward two years.
I returned (twice) while living in Bangkok to discover that they hadn’t kept their promise: the island had become overdeveloped (again). Hotels were everywhere. Boats seemed to endlessly ring the island, ferrying an endless queue of tourists. There were bars on the beach; the little street...
It’s easy to get lost. To look around and suddenly find yourself wondering how you got here — and why it seems so far from where you thought you’d be. What wrong turn did you take? Is there still time to go back and start again? To be the person you wanted to be? To do the things you want to do?
One day becomes a year, which quickly turns into a decade. Before you know it, you’re miles from the life you imagined.
“Tomorrow,” you say to yourself. “Tomorrow, I’ll fix things.”
But tomorrow comes and goes and you continue down the same path, caught up in the surging river that is life.
Reading entries for my round-the-world trip contest brought regret to the forefront of my mind. I saw so much of it from the strangers who entered; strangers who poured their heart out to me about loss, pain, suffering, snuffed-out dreams, and second chances.
Yet beneath all the worry, regret, and sadness, there was hope.
The desire for a new beginning. A chance to be the person they wanted to be; to find purpose in their life; to escape a future they didn’t want — but one that felt so inevitable.
As writer and blogger Cory Doctorow said, “You live your own blooper reel and experience everyone else’s highlight reel.”
When you ask people why they want to travel the world,...
Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes our regular column on solo female travel. It’s a topic I can’t cover so I brought her on to cover topics and specific issues important other women travelers! In this month’s column, Kristin reminisces on the lessons learned from traveling solo.
“You’re going across the world by yourself?! Are you sure?”
You’ve heard it before, right? Someone who means well and tries to talk you out of traveling solo, mentioning all kinds of things that could go wrong.
They can be pretty convincing, focusing heavily on the negative — but completely forgetting that there are so many more positives that come from travel. What about all of the things that could go right?
There are things that only solo female travelers get to experience (things that just don’t happen when you’re traveling with someone else). It’s like a club that almost anyone can get into but few know about. But for those of us who have done it, we know that it’s not as scary as we thought, and much more rewarding than we ever imagined possible.
Traveling the world solo has taught me many lessons and made me realized there are some truths you only learn when you travel the world solo:
1. It’s way more exciting to try a new food on the other side of the world – and find that we absolutely love it...
I first met Staci when she came to one of my meet-ups in NYC. She wanted to thank me for helping her travel the world. See, for her, it’s not as simple as just getting on a plane and going somewhere. Staci was born with a rare genetic condition that has left her deaf, with fused fingers, jaws, and a host of other medical issues. Determined to not sit on the sidelines, Staci has worked hard to overcome the obstacles before her so that she can make her travel dreams a reality. So, without further ado, here’s Staci!
Nomadic Matt: Hi Staci! Tell us about yourself!
Staci: My name is Staci and I’m 28 years old. I happen to have Nager syndrome, a super rare genetic condition wherein I was born with fused jaws, fused elbows, four fingers, and deafness, to name some fun facts about it. I’ve had many surgeries to correct a lot of issues and increase my quality of life.
I was born in Seattle and moved to an incredibly rural town in New York when I was ten. I’ve always had an interest in languages and other cultures. Even though I’m deaf, I easily excelled in Spanish past my third-grade hearing classmates because I found it fun and challenging. My other loves are history and art and yes, they got combined into a bachelor’s in art history and museum professions.