I've always documented my travels and love looking back to see what I thought and experienced. Believe it or not, I have travel journals from 10 year-old Sam! However, blogging never crossed my mind as a way to share these adventures until I stumbled upon Nomadic Matt. In the travel community, Nomadic Matt is arguably one of the best-known travel resources in the world and is easily a household name. It's no wonder that Matt Kepnes, founder of Nomadic Matt, is one of three bloggers that made us decide to start our own blog!

Nomadic Matt has countless articles that teach people just like you and me to travel better, cheaper, and smarter. Matt truly wants to help everyone see the world! But he doesn't stop there. He's also the author of the New York Times best-selling book How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, has wonderful online travel blogging and media courses (I highly recommend these, I'm actually a student of three of them!), started a travel conference (which I'd love to attend!), owns a hostel, started a non-profit organization called FLYTE that empowers youth in underserved communities to experience travel, and still finds time to travel himself.

We had the wonderful opportunity to pick his brain about Canadian and American travel. We're beyond excited to share our interview with Matt Kepnes with you! 

Interview with Nomadic Matt

As a trusted source in the travel industry and an experienced world traveller, you’ve had the opportunity to experience many cultures. What do you find unique about Canada’s culture?

I’ve always looked at Canada as our friendly neighbor to the north. It’s such a huge, diverse landscape that is not widely populated and where the weather can be harsh for as much as half the year. Because of that, I think the people there learned to get along, learned to help each other out. For that reason, Canada has this unabashed friendliness that I just find so inviting and charming. Every time I visit I always get caught up on conversations with complete strangers. And while it might just be small talk, it’s a great way to connect with the country and learn a few new things. In a sense, Canada has almost a more European flair, their politics and culture more reminiscent of Scandinavia than of the USA.

And when you add in their beautiful landscapes and abundant natural resources, you end up with an amazing destination to visit that is right outside our door as Americans (plus, our dollar is usually stronger so it’s a beautiful and affordable destination!).

Canada has this unabashed friendliness that I just find so inviting and charming.

Canadians like to joke that the rest of the world sees us as dog-sled-riding, igloo-building, friendly hockey players who love maple syrup — or something along those lines.

In your experience, do people actually believe cultural stereotypes? If yes, why do you think that is and what can we do about it? If no, what do you think has helped remove the stereotypes?

For the most part, I don’t think people believe stereotypes so much — neither for Canadians or anyone else. They are just placeholders, something we look to because we have no experience of our own to draw on. So we use these stereotypes to create a caricatures to fill in the blanks. And it applies to everyone. Just as Canadians don’t all live in igloos and wrestle polar bears, not all Americans own guns and play baseball, and not all English are grim and only drink tea. But if you’ve never been somewhere, you only have these stereotypes to go off of, which is why they hang around.

This is why travel is such a powerful and transformational tool: it breaks down barriers and assumptions, giving us unique, first-hand experience of new places and new cultures. If you visit Canada yourself you’ll see that the stereotypes aren’t accurate (though who doesn’t love maple syrup!).

The more we travel, the more cultural gaps we bridge and the more connections we make. Travel is not just a great personal development tool; it’s a tool that changes the world.

Travel is such a powerful and transformational tool: it breaks down barriers and assumptions.

In recent years, I often hear how dangerous it is to travel to the US and, as a Canadian, I know of many people who are actively avoiding trips to America. As both an American and a well-known world traveller, what do you have to say to these fears?

Unfortunately, we always only hear about the bad when it comes to a destination and not the good. I wouldn’t be any more worried about visiting the USA than you would about visiting Toronto.

Unless you’re roaming the city late at night all by yourself while intoxicated you don’t really have anything to worry about here in the US. While gun violence is an unfortunate cultural after effect, it’s not something tourists need to worry about. The US is a BIG BIG country and there’s a lot going on here. You’re not going to get randomly shot up while you visit. It’s highly unlikely. I don’t go around worrying about anymore than I do worrying about being pickpocketed in Paris or caught in a tsunami in Asia.  The US is a safe place to visit.

While you don’t need to worry about visiting America, I would still encourage everyone to buy travel insurance when they travel. Since America has a very expensive health care system, you don’t want to get stuck footing the bill so I always encourage anyone who visits (and who travels anywhere). I never go on a trip without travel insurance, having myself been injured abroad a couple of times. Chances are you won’t need it but it’s better to be safe than sorry!

I wouldn’t be any more worried about visiting the USA than you would about visiting Toronto.

Both Canadians and Americans have huge, wonderful countries to explore yet we often jet off to foreign lands for our travels. Why do you think this is?

I think we all just want to see and experience something new. While Vancouver and Toronto or New York City and Los Angeles are very different cities, at the end of the day they have more in common than they have differences. So I think people just have this natural curiosity to see how other people in the world live and work and eat and talk. We want to try new things and to break out of our comfort zone. The easiest way to do that is to go somewhere where you don’t speak the language and where everything is foreign. Few experiences are as eye opening as budget travel, and I think that’s one of the reasons why people like to explore other countries before they explore their home country.

I do think that, after people have traveled abroad, they are more likely to explore their home country because they gain a new perspective about it. You learn to appreciate what you have when you travel, and since Canada and the US have some of the most incredible and diverse landscapes in the world, people eventually realize how lucky they are to have access to that. I think it usually just takes us a while to realize that.

After people have traveled abroad, they are more likely to explore their home country because they gain a new perspective about it.

How would you rate Canada on a list of budget-friendly destinations around the world? It’s clearly more expensive than places like South-East Asia, but how does it compare to Europe, Australia, or even the US?

I think this all depends on where you go and how you travel. Vancouver and Toronto will be expensive city breaks, but outside of the cities you’ll find things more affordable. Gas is more expensive in Canada than in the USA, but with a weaker currency, Canada can be done on a budget.

The best way is to have a car and split the costs with friends. While cheap buses like Megabus will take you between some of the larger cities, such as Toronto and Montreal, having a car is really the best way to explore Canada. Having the freedom to go where you choose is really the ultimate way to experience the North, and if you’re able to camp or Couchsurf you’ll be able to see the country in a budget-friendly way. And for long-term travel, be sure to check out WWOOF or housesitting as options, as there are plenty available in Canada!

Vancouver and Toronto will be expensive city breaks, but outside of the cities you’ll find things more affordable.

I love your book How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and have referenced it numerous times while planning our upcoming trip to Europe. However, in the destination specific sections, it doesn’t include information on North America. Why is that?

I think the main reason I left that out is because my book was for North Americans planning a longer trip abroad. When someone from Canada or the US says they are going to go on a long-term trip, 9 times out of 10 that means leaving North America. As I mentioned earlier, most people tend to travel the world before they explore their own backyard. I wanted to provide them with a resource to help them do just that.

But who knows, maybe in a future update I’ll add a larger section on North America. I’ve had the opportunity to drive around most of the US and Canada, so I’ve got plenty of travel tips!

But the audience for the book – and where it was available (it wasn’t printed overseas) meant that I wanted to focus on the other parts of the world and less on our own continent!

When someone from Canada or the US says they are going to go on a long-term trip, 9 times out of 10 that means leaving North America.

In your experience, are certain countries better suited for road trips than others? Are there traits to look out for in a country when you’re planning a road trip?

I think some countries are definitely suited for road trips. Iceland, USA and Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Australia — these are just a few of the places that come to mind. Usually, it’s the places with huge gaps in between cities, as well as beautiful scenery to keep you company. But you also want to drive on fun roads to keep you entertained, like the Transfăgărășan in Romania for example.

I always look for a combination of scenic drives and fun roads, and then compare that to the ease and price of taking trains or buses. If driving is not only the most affordable way to get around but also the most fun, then I’ll definitely consider a road trip.

Usually, it’s the places with huge gaps in between cities, as well as beautiful scenery to keep you company.

What are some of your favourite road trip friendly destinations in Canada and the US?

While there are some classic road trip examples like Route 66, some of my other favorite drives include Route 1 down the coast of California, driving the Trans Canada Highway (especially through places like Banff National Park), and driving around New England (especially in the autumn).

But I think what’s more important than the route or the destination when it comes to road trips is how you make the most of your trip. Traveling on a road trip (ideally with friends or family) is a great way to explore and have new experiences. You don’t need to cross the world to have an adventure because adventure really is just is a state of mind. There is plenty of fun to be had in your own back yard, as long as you’re willing to look for it and be open to it when it comes! I’ve done many road trips in America and had a blast. I love a good road trip!

What’s more important than the route or the destination when it comes to road trips is how you make the most of your trip.

Adult road trip games

Of all the outdoor experiences (good or bad!) you’ve had around the world, what’s your most memorable?

I think one of my most memorable outdoor experiences is when I went hiking in Patagonia. I’m not a huge fan of camping and roughing it, but the views there were spectacular. It was a great opportunity for me to relax and disconnect and recharge after a stressful period in my life. So while I doubt I’ll ever spend that much time in a tent again, I’m still grateful for the opportunity.

We all spend a lot of time connected these days, whether it’s for our job or just for fun. And I think that takes a toll on our collective health. Making time to disconnect an get off the grid is a great way to recharge and get away from it all. It’s definitely something I recommend. And if you’re like me and don’t like camping, there are plenty of amazing and affordable cabins on Airbnb all around the world that you can usually rent for cheap. You just need to get creative!

My most memorable outdoor experiences is when I went hiking in Patagonia… It was a great opportunity for me to relax and disconnect and recharge.

How has being a travel blogger influenced the way you travel?

Being a travel blogger has reminded me to get back to basics when it comes to travel. I used to try and work and travel at the same time, which just led to me being exhausted and burnt out. It’s hard to do both at the same time (and do them well) so over the years I have just started to not work and travel at the same time.

These days, whenever I travel I leave my work at home. Sure, I’ll keep up on my emails and I’ll take notes as I travel, but I won’t write new posts or work on new projects until I get home. That way, I can focus on my travels and give them the time and energy they deserve. I can enjoy them more. I can relax and disconnect a bit. And when I get home, I have all my notes and a much deeper travel experience I can rely on when it comes to creating new content. I find this way is the best way for getting the most out of both my work and my travels.

Being a travel blogger has reminded me to get back to basics when it comes to travel.

As a new blogger, I’ve invested countless hours learning how to run a blog. I’ve been a student of three of your Superstar Blogging courses for a while now and love them. Why did you decide to start teaching people like me?

After spending countless hours struggling with my own blog, I realized that there were a lot of people out there who were interested in starting a blog but who didn’t have all of the skills and knowledge they would need to succeed. Since I know from experience how frustrating that can be, I wanted to create a program that could walk them through the steps and show them how to get started. They still need to learn all the skills themselves, but we guide them through the process and help them whenever they get stuck. It’s the resource I wish I had when I started blogging, so I feel like now that I have managed to succeed, the very least I can do is give back and help out the next generation of travel bloggers.

As budget travel becomes more accessible, travel blogs will continue to be in demand. It’s such a fun, challenging, and rewarding industry to work in, so if I can help more people find their travel and financial freedom by showing them how to start a blog then I’ll be more than happy to do so!

It’s the resource I wish I had when I started blogging, so I feel like now that I have managed to succeed, the very least I can do is give back.

Thank you so much Matt for sharing your experiences and insight with both us and our readers!

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Best selling author Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt shares his tips on traveling in Canada and America. We talk about road trips, travel safety, cultural stereotypes, Canadian culture, traveling Canada on a budget, Matt's book