How this Adventure Blogger and Photographer Became a CEO of a Digital Marketing Agency

Xpat Matt

My name is Matt Gibson. I’m an adventure blogger and a digital marketing agency CEO. I’m originally from Cranbrook, British Columbia, but I’ve lived in Asia for more than a decade.

First, I moved to Taiwan after graduating from university to teach English. There, I gradually transitioned to freelance writing, photography, and blogging. Later, after I founded my digital marketing agency, I started spending more of my time in a small beachside village a few hours away from Bangkok, Thailand, because it was much more convenient for conferences, networking, and travel.

Fortunately, it’s a great place for surfing and mountain bike riding, which are two of may favorite hobbies.

Xpat Matt

How and why did you become a nomad?

I studied writing in university and had always wanted to become a writer. While teaching English in Taiwan, I even started a magazine so I’d have a place to publish my stories. After selling the magazine (around 2008), I began freelance writing and started my blog. I’ve gone on to win a few awards for my photography and blogging. Although, I still travel blog fairly regularly, most of my time is devoted to running UpThink.

Why is having a nomadic life important for you?

I really enjoy location independence, but not the in the same way as many others do. I’ve never been completely nomadic in the sense that I traveled perpetually. I’ve always maintained a home base. I’ve always just enjoyed traveling regularly and having the freedom to live abroad (which I love) but also spend lots of time at home with my family.

Xpat Matt

What have been the best and most difficult parts of being a nomad?

The best part of being location independent is that I’m able to drop everything and go home when it’s necessary. I was in Thailand the day that my father was admitted to the hospital with life-threatening heart problems. Within an hour of getting the call, I was in a taxi to the airport booking a flight on my phone.

Travel is great and freedom is nice. But there is nothing more important than being able to pick up and rush home when your family needs you there.

Being on the road can get quite lonely, which is why I’ve always preferred to have a home base. It’s important to have a place where you’re comfortable and grounded. Not only is long-term travel a bit lonely, it makes it easy to lose perspective. You spend a lot of time in your head. Everyone you meet is polite because they’re strangers. You need to have regular contact with your family and good friends — the people who aren’t afraid to tell you when you’re acting like an idiot. You need those people to keep you grounded.

Xpat Matt

Where do you live as a nomad?

A lot of my trips are for work, doing things like speaking at conferences or promoting destinations. In those cases, the accommodations are usually provided in nice hotels. I’m really not that picky though. When I’m booking my own accommodations, I’ll usually end up in an Air BnB.

Where do you usually work?

I’ll normally get up around 7 or 8 and start working by 8 or 9. Most days, I’ll work around 6-8 hours and try to fit in a run or workout as well. Finding a good workplace can be a real waste of time, so I usually try to make sure that the place I’m staying has decent WiFi. That way I don’t spend my time looking for a cafe.

However, if I do have to go out looking, I’ll usually gravitate to the most reliable option, like a McDonalds or Starbucks. There’s nothing more frustrating than searching out a cafe, buying breakfast, and sitting down only to find out that it has no — or super slow — WiFi.

How do you finance your nomadic life?

I earn most of my money running my agency. It’s only a couple of years old but it’s growing pretty quickly. I also do the occasional blog campaign for clients. By the nature of my work, others pay for my travels most of the time. So, my personal expenses are fairly low. I probably spend more money on coffee and beer than any other personal expense.

Xpat Matt

What kind of photos do you prefer to shoot?

I’m big on adventure, so I’m basically always in nature. Mountains, rivers, and oceans. I also love street photography and portraiture. I’ve been getting more and more into shooting portraits of the people I encounter, which I think is a great way to tell the story of a place.

What is your best advice for new photographers?

Spend less time shooting and more time learning what people want to buy, and how to sell your photos to them. The easiest way to earn money through photography is to approach it as a service to clients rather than an art form. Most people have a tough time swallowing that fact, and it ends up preventing them from making money. Many of the most successful photographers — even the artistic ones — owe their success at least partly to learning how to balance creative and commercial concerns.

Xpat Matt

What kind of bags do you bring when you travel?

I always travel with rolling luggage. Carrying a backpack (in the backpacker sense) is not useful at all. There are very few instances where a backpack is actually necessary and, in those instances, a duffel strap that you can clip to your luggage so you can sling it over your shoulder will almost always suffice.

I almost always travel with one small checked bag for clothes, one backpack with all my camera gear, and a laptop bag as my personal item. For the past several years, I’ve carried my laptop and work supplies in an STM laptop bag (it’s indestructible, I highly recommend them) and my camera gear in a LowePro Flipside Sport. The Flipside is also a great bag, but I’d like a bit more room than it offers, so I’m looking to upgrade now and have my eye on something along the lines of the new Flipside Trek (but I haven’t settled on anything yet).

What kind of photography related-gear do you bring with you?

I carry a Nikon D600 with 70-300mm, 50mm, 35mm, and 20mm lenses. I find myself using it less and less, though, as my more portable Canon GX9 is always in my pocket and easier to pull out to snap a quick photo. I also use the camera on my OnePlus 3 phone a lot.

What has been your best gear purchase below $100?

There are a few things I definitely wouldn’t leave home without. My headlamp is always with me. I always have an extra nylon backpack that stuffs away into a little sack the size of a plum. And I’ll often travel with small-packing travel robe when I visit places like Hong Kong where shared bathrooms are common because of space concerns.

Xpat Matt

What will the future bring?

I just finished a 6-day trek in Kygyzstan. It was one of the hardest treks I’d ever done. I don’t have any specific destinations in mind, but I do want to seek out new and more-challenging projects in lesser-known areas. Also, I hope to keep building up my agency so that I can one day sell it.

Follow Matt Gibson on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram


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One Comment

  1. Great article. Matt’s been something an inspiration to me for years, and I’ve definitely sought his advice on more than one of my own projects.

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