Escape Artist Q&A: Matthew Karsten of Expert Vagabond BlogPhotos courtesy of Matthew Karsten Travel Features
This column, “Escape Artist,” is a series about folks who have escaped. More importantly, this biweekly column is for those thinking about trading in their 9-to-5, leg-shackled-to-the-desk existences to forge their own way. The brave outliers featured in this collection of interviews are the digital nomads, the online entrepreneurs, and the lifestyle trendsetters who decided it was time to say to hell with the humdrum and grab life by the roots.
Travel blogger and photographerMatthew Karsten runs Expert Vagabond, an adventure travel blog that focuses on travel tips, high-end photography and a nomadic lifestyle. Karsten has traveled for more than five years and been featured on BBC, National Geographic and The Travel Channel. In 2016, Karsten is excited to travel to a remote part of Central Asia.
Paste Travel The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality is becoming more popular. What are your impressions?
Matthew Karsten Technology is creating all sorts of new opportunities to work for yourself, as well as increasing general awareness of these opportunities via social media. There are many people out there working unsatisfying jobs. I was one of them. So when you read about others doing something different, you get interested and want to learn more.
PT What was the “aha” moment that sparked ongoing travel for you about five years ago?
MK A friend was backpacking around Southeast Asia sharing photos and stories with me. I was jealous. When I asked him how he could afford it, he recommended I read a few books about entrepreneurship and long-term travel, specifically The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss and Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. The lifestyle was fascinating to me, and when a work promotion fell through, I got frustrated and began saving money to take a year off and give it a try. I longed for a sense of freedom.
PT What inspired you to start blogging and taking photos, and how did you first build a following?
MK I was already blogging as a hobby on a photography site dedicated to Miami nightlife. When I decided to take a year off, it was natural to create another blog as a creative outlet to let family and friends know what I was doing. However, I was also thinking about a broader fan base eventually, as I’d been following a few other travel blogs with large audiences. It takes a long time to build up an audience. Years. I started by commenting on other popular blogs, networking with travel bloggers, and writing blog posts that drew attention because they were different or funny.
PT How did you develop the “Expert Vagabond” idea and brand?
MK I focused on adventure travel and photography because that’s what I was interested in. Write about what you love. For example, I could never run a food blog because I could care less about food. I also received many questions about how to live a “vagabond” lifestyle and enjoyed explaining that, too. My first site was actually called YearAroundTheWorld.com. But after three months of travel, I knew I’d be doing this for a lot longer and wanted a brand that reflected that.
PT Let’s talk about platforms. How do you balance the blog, your photography and social media?
MK It’s tough. I have a part-time assistant who helps with editing and social media and am training someone for full-time. I love learning, though, and constantly read about new social media trends and techniques. I work 30-40 hours per week. This isn’t a permanent vacation like some people think. The difference is the freedom to work for yourself.
PT Do you have a favorite travel anecdote you’d like to share with Paste readers?
MK Last year I trekked solo for 10 days on Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail. I camped in the wilderness next to massive glaciers and watched reindeer run by with almost no one else around. It was epic!
PT The “dream job” and “travel blogging” mentality is also becoming more popular. Does the market seem saturated, and how do you stay connected with your followers?
MK Yes, it’s certainly more saturated than when I started. You have to work hard for your reader’s attention. That means spending more time working on articles that will be incredibly useful. Pay attention to trends. Ask readers what they want to read about, and give it to them. Tread carefully when it comes to advertising and other forms of monetization.
PT What’s one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
MK It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy either. There are many websites out there feeding off people’s dreams of making money from blogging. However, that doesn’t mean you can just create a blog and quit your day job. You need an audience to make income, and it takes years to build an audience. You need to train yourself (or get trained) in many other subjects, too — writing, photography, social media, marketing, accounting and search engine optimization. It’s like running a small magazine by yourself. If you don’t enjoy the other aspects that come with running a professional blog, it’s probably going to stay a hobby.
PT What are you most excited to focus on in 2016?
MK I’m traveling to a remote part of Central Asia later this summer for some mountain trekking, which will require buying a donkey and learning how to take care of it. It’s going to be a challenging trip, and I can’t wait to share the experience.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance journalist based in Georgia. She writes about travel, health and business for regional and national publications.