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Confessions of a Professional Travel Blogger

An Interview with Matt Preston of TravelWithAMate.com

By Dave Fox
Singapore

Matt and Deb -- slurping curry in Penang, Malaysia.

Matt and Deb — slurping curry in Penang, Malaysia.

After yesterday’s article, in which I called Matt and Deborah Preston “deadbeats” and did all I could to slander their good names, I thought it’d be nice to give them a chance to redeem themselves. So I had a little Q&A session with Matt about his not-so-deadbeat, travel blogging career.  :-)

Matt and Deb are a location-independent, travel blogging couple who recently returned to the United Kingdom after 11 months working and traveling around Southeast Asia. They’ve run the Travel With a Mate website for several years. Their new “Places To Go” brand has taken them on an epic 97-day journey around Britain.

(Matt is also the web-design genius behind Globejotting.com, and allowed me to crash at his apartments in Penang, Malaysia , and Chiang Mai, Thailand, though he might not like to admit that.)

Here are my questions and Matt’s answers:

You spent 11 months living and blogging in Asia. What was your original plan, and how did things play out? How were you based while you were here?

Our original plan was to find a base in Asia and hopefully earn enough to settle there, while then having a great hub to fly out from on various adventures. We’ve been working hard on our business solidly for a while in the UK and wanted it to grow in Asia too. Thankfully our business took off quicker than we anticipated and we soon found we could move our base every couple of months to experience a whole lot more of Asia.

I’m not going to ask you what your favorite place in Asia was because I hate that question myself – so many amazing spots in the world, and it’s often unrealistic to compare them to each other. But could you talk about an experience or two – specific events, stories from your time in Asia – that were particularly meaningful or transformative?

A beer break in Burma.

A beer break in Burma.

There’s a couple of very different experiences that spring to mind. First the adventurous one, visiting Myanmar was a real eye opener for me. A country I knew very little of other than its war time history, I was really surprised when I visited, its really nothing like the rest of Asia. You get the sense that the country has flirted with tourism in the past but it’s really only just returning now.

UN sanctions for so long have created a pocket of Asia that’s mostly untouched. The local Buddhist people are so happy to meet you and surprised you’ve visited their country.

Matt Preston in Bagan, Burma

Matt Preston in Bagan, Burma

The highlight had to be Bagan where the thousands of Buddhist monuments scattered across the vast landscape just take your breath away. Couple that with so many friendly meetings with locals and it really was a very special experience. Not an easy country to travel in but that just added to the adventure.

My other experience that was very transformative was settling in Malaysia. We had the pleasure of spending seven weeks of Christmas in a short-term rental apartment. We chose Penang, as we’d visited before and knew it was a place we could both work and enjoy ourselves. We were very fortunate to meet a local family who not only helped us find a place to rent but really let us in to their home and their lives. Being so far from home, you usually expect to make a few friends and generally live your own life, but we were so lucky to meet an entire family who we can now call lifelong friends.

Of all the great experiences you can have while travelling, I loved nothing more than popping round to their house after work to play badminton with the kids. We loved our life in Penang so much we returned a few months later to spend four more weeks there. They really transformed our 11 months in Asia to something very personal and emotional.

What’s the goofiest thing that happened to you while you were in Asia?

Deb Prestion... having a cow.

Deb Preston… having a cow.

That, my dear friend Dave, would involve you. I had the pleasure of your company on a number of occasions and our nights out on whatever town we happened to be in sure were memorable. My usually moderated drinking habit seems to go a little loopy when you’re in town and there’s nothing better than sharing stories of our travels while enjoying a local beer or two… or in our case six. I particularly enjoyed the bar that filled with chili smoke, blinding everyone in a quarter-mile radius!

Dude, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Quick… let’s change the subject! 

Something people always wonder about and are sometimes shy about asking: How did you manage this financially? How realistic is it to make a living as a travel blogger these days, what does it take to get started, and what are some of the challenges people are likely to face?

It’s definitely possible as we have proved. Like any self employment, it’s always a gamble to know that the money will be there next month too, so budgeting is always key. My advice is marry an accountant; budgeting is a lot easier then. For us the issue was always supporting two people rather than one. People talk about making a living as a blogger but they usually refer to one blog supporting one blogger. We’ve always had some clear business plans and the gumption to see them through, I think that makes all the difference. There’s lots of people “giving it a go” but not many that approach it as a business.

So after 11 months, you’ve headed back to the UK. What was it like going home after so many months in Asia?

Surprisingly easy actually and mostly because we felt so at home in Asia. Rather than feel we were travelling the whole time and returning “home,” we felt we already were home and the UK was just another place we were going to. We joked on the way home saying we’re not going home, just “returning to our country of origin.” That feeling has continued since being back and I’m glad, as I now feel like much more of a global citizen, for want of a less corny phrase.

And now you’re in this new chapter of your travels. Can you tell us about the new road trip you’ve been on? What was your plan? Why Britain?

We took on a rather huge project and a very exciting travel adventure: 97 days all around the United Kingdom on our “Great British Road Trip.” We covered as much as we could, from the Orkney Islands in Scotland right down to the south of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland too.

We always wanted another challenge after our time in Asia and talked about a road trip in various countries. It dawned on us that we’d never seen a lot of our own country. I’d never been to Scotland or Northern Ireland. We realised we always leave the UK to “travel” rather than having the attitude that the UK is as valid a place to travel as any other.

It gave us a new perspective on our home country, its wonders, and its awesome landscapes, cultures and history.

Globejotting is a website for travelers and storytellers. With that in mind, do you have any unsolicited advice, words of wisdom, or end-of-interview aimless rambling you would like to share with our incredibly cool audience?

Greetings earthlings! You’re so lucky you live on this awesome blue (and slightly green) ball we call Earth. There’s an insane amount to see and do, and I feel so lucky to have a job that lets me see even more of it.

My advice would be get out there and make the most of it. Share your stories with as many as possible, and inspire others to travel. Of all the people in the world, the ones that travel the most are the most enlightened, liberal, and responsible people I’ve ever met. And its always been the stories people tell me that inspire me to travel more.

You’ll find Matt and Deb’s work at:

Thanks for your time, Matt!

Sorry for calling you a deadbeat.

(But you still owe me a beer.)

Published on Wednesday, September 25, 2013

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