Book Review: Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home by Matthew Kepnes

I’m about three-quarters of the way through this book, and I have mixed feelings about it. In its favor, it’s an easy read, and it brings up nostalgic feelings of my own road experiences. I can relate to a lot of what he is saying. I too have traveled for years with no set itinerary, stayed at hostels with diverse types of roommates, seen some of the world’s fabulous and remote places, and had passing friends and lovers. And yet…

I suppose I have to take this author’s experiences for what they are. Although he writes mainly in generalities, in fact every traveler has a different story and a different motivation that propels them out on the road for the first time. This is one person’s story. That he attempts to compartmentalize the realities of budget travel – well, I suppose it works for some people.

It calls to mind the title of his other book, evidently a best seller when it came out: How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. When I first read that title I thought, Wow! If I had had fifty dollars a day to spend when I was traveling, I would have been living in luxury. Kepnes always seems to have had enough money to bale himself out of tight situations. He could grab a flight to somewhere else whenever he wanted. I don’t intend this as criticism. In fact, I don’t recommend that most people attempt to travel the way I did back in the day. That way they won’t go hungry in Delhi, India, or be forced to beg on the streets in Tehran.

Kepnes is concerned with traveling for entertainment and adventure, as are most people. As for me, my motivations were more artistic and metaphysical. I wanted to find my voice as a writer, and also I sought answers to profound questions about life that I couldn’t find wallowing in my misery back at home.

Before I get too far in my criticisms, though, let me reiterate that I enjoyed this book, even though I expected something different. I was hoping for a memoir of Kepnes’s time on the road. Instead, the chapters are broken down, as I said, into general subjects concerning road life. Fair enough. My expectations were errant. Each of the chapters brought back its own memories, especially those concerning finding friends on the road, taking jobs in other countries as an expatriate, and having and then abandoning precious love affairs.

I’m presently at a time in my life during which travel is difficult. I did manage to take a couple of road trips with my sons this past summer, and those were a lot of fun. I’m speaking, though, of extended travel when you don’t know how long you’ll be gone or where you’ll end up. Reading this book brought back those wonderful aimless and carefree feelings and made me realize how much I missed them. It’s true that it’s a lot easier to make friends and leave your cares behind on the road. However, taking off on the road is not always possible. Right now I’m seeing a son through school. Afterwards, who can say? I recently converted my longing for the road into a new novel that will hopefully be available soon. That’s one outlet.

In conclusion, this is an interesting and entertaining book, even though it over-generalizes and is content to skim the surface of the travel experience. It offers insight into a subculture that seems to have survived since my own travel days.

*     *     *

As I mentioned above, I hadn’t quite finished reading the book when I wrote the first part of this review. Now that I’m done, I have a few more things to say.

The rest of the book focuses on Matt’s decision to come in off the road. After spending close to two hundred pages extolling the wonders of the road experience, he finally realizes that he is burned out and wants to quit and settle down. He fantasizes about a house with a garden that he can tend. Part of the reason for this change of heart is a deep love affair with a woman he meets. It turns out, though, that she doesn’t want to stop moving, whereas Matt feels he has to. And so they split up.

The chapter in which he describes his road burn out is among the most poignant in the book. I know how he felt. I came in off the road several times before I settled for decades while my ex-wife and I raised our family. The difference is that in a sense I was still on the road because we set up our home in Greece. Still, there is a profound difference between constantly moving as a road nomad and settling in one spot, however exotic it might be.

So Matt came in off the road, moved to Austin, published books, and now runs his Nomadic Matt blog as a business. The website has a lot of interesting articles about all sorts of subjects related to travel. As for Ten Years a Nomad, the closing chapters in which Matt settles give a fitting conclusion to his road adventures.

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