A Conversation with Matt Karsten

Matt Karsten calls himself the Expert Vagabond–and for good reason! After leaving his full-time job to pursue adventure travel writing and photography, Matt has certainly made a name for himself. In our interview today, Matt talks about how he’s keeping up his blog, how he is able to pursue his vagabonding lifestyle, and offers some tips for beginning travel writers and photographers. Make sure to check out his blog here!

How did you initially get interested in the travel blogging industry?

It all started when I read the book “Vagabonding” by Rolf Potts, recommended to me by a good friend who was traveling through Southeast Asia. That soon led me to travel blogs like Everything-Everywhere, Notes From the Road, and Bacon Is Magic. These gave me inspiration before I left on my own long-term journey. With a background in web-design and photography, I decided to create a blog to share travel experiences with friends, family, and anyone else who stumbled upon it.

What was your first “big step” in terms of getting your start?

After a year of regularly posting travel stories & photos I began receiving advertising requests and sold a few images. Soon I was invited on my first press trip. It just snowballed from there. While my blog’s mission of inspiring & entertaining others is still a priority, I now take blogging more seriously. Constantly trying to improve my writing, photography, and the quality of my stories to attract sponsors, advertising, clients, and new readers.

Tell us a little bit about Expert Vagabond. How did you get it started and what’s the journey been like?

My journey began in Mexico. I then slowly wandered my way overland through Central America for the first year. Spending an average of 2-3 months in each country as I went. I’ve made heaps of new friends, learned a lot about the world we live in, and experienced some crazy adventures in the process. Some memorable ones include camping on an exploding volcano, building cook-ovens out of poop, exploring the notorious Darien Gap, and making out with an ostrich. I’m currently in Fiji where I went skydiving for the first time, shared Kava with a village Chief, and dove amongst 12-foot sharks without a cage.

Let’s say you’ve just met someone who wants to start an adventure travel blog. What would your advice to them be?

Get rid of all the crap in your life you don’t need, and work your ass off to save money. You’ll need to finance yourself for at least the first year if you want to take this seriously. Teach yourself how to take great photos using online tutorials. Take some writing classes. Learn about SEO, marketing, branding, and simple web design. Invest in your craft. Network with other travel bloggers. Keep pumping out great content. Do interesting things that other people aren’t doing. This isn’t a vacation; it takes serious hard work to make a name for yourself with travel blogging. I spend countless hours sitting in front of my computer on beautiful beach days — in fact I’m doing it right now.  :-)

Are you doing anything differently now than five years ago in terms of bringing in traffic? If so, what are you doing differently and what would you recommend to bloggers just now starting out?

Yes, certainly. I’ve become much more pro-active with getting my content in front of new eyes. I’ve started a guest-posting campaign, creating articles for other popular websites in order to attract new readers as well as build up backlinks to my adventure travel blog. Another recent development is learning what my readers enjoy by asking them directly, and then doing more of it. So in my case, photo-essays have been very popular, so I’m trying to do more of them. I also make sure to notify related websites or organizations about them. So if I publish a photo-essay on Costa Rica, I contact the Costa Rican tourism board in the hopes that they’ll share it with their social media followers. I try to research my posts a bit more than I used to as well — attempting to provide some useful or interesting information along with the entertaining stuff.

What would your first piece of advice to someone be if they contracted the “vagabond virus” and wanted to see the world?

My first piece of advice to anyone wanting to travel like I do is that it isn’t impossible. You will probably have to make some major sacrifices in your current lifestyle, but you can do it. Lots of people are doing it. Families, solo-females, old, young, poor, rich, etc. But you have to make travel a priority in your life. While long-term travel might not be for everyone, you’ll never know unless you go!

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Matthew Karsten is a full-time adventure junkie, travel writer, and photographer who quit his unfulfilling day job in Miami to travel the world indefinitely. He’s exploring unusual & beautiful locations around the planet while learning how to become an Expert Vagabond. Follow along with him as he shares wild travel stories, budget tips, entertaining videos, and captivating photography from the road on his adventure travel blog.

Interview conducted in January, 2012 by Kristin Mock.

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