Last week, popular travel blogger Matthew Kepnes, better known as Nomadic Matt, branched out into exciting new territories. Heading into the unknown is nothing unfamiliar for Matt. He’s a pro at destination-less travel. This time though, it’s a new business (ad)venture he’s embarking on. And an admirable one at that.
Matt and his team took aim at mobilizing the travel starved youth of the world, launching The Foundation for Leadership and Youth Travel Education – cleverly abbreviated as FLYTE. FLYTE is a nonprofit who’s mission is to provide funding, teacher support, and itinerary and trip planning to high school students in under-served schools. The goal is to allow those students to expand their cultural, academic, and social horizons through travel.
After seeing the FLYTE launch announcement, I had to find out more. Luckily, my friend Erica is on Matt’s team and helped hook up a Q&A with the man himself. Read on to take a deeper dive into Nomadic Matt’s head and learn about the new NGO. Go on, sit back and enjoy the FLYTE.
What was the inspiration for starting FLYTE as a global education provider? Did you study abroad yourself?
Travel is a life changing experience. When you explore the world, you get a better sense of the people who inhabit it. Opening yourself up to new experiences can have a powerful impact on you and help you figure out who you are and what you want to be. I’ve been experiencing that impact for ten years. Travel has shaped my life and given me purpose.
I didn’t get to travel when I was a kid, but as an adult I’ve worked to have the means to do so on my own. Not everyone gets a chance to travel the world or has a family that can take them on a trip, so I want to bring the power of travel to kids who might not otherwise get chance to travel abroad. I want to broaden their horizons and help them see what a big world is out there.
I went to Costa Rica in 2003 and got the travel bug then. I fell in love with travel and the freedom it gave me. The following year I went to Thailand, met five backpackers and realized I wanted to do what they did – travel forever! So I came home, quit my job, and, the following year, left for what was supposed to be a year-long trip around the world. It lasted seven years. I never looked back.
In the eight years since launching the NOMADIC MATT travel blog, how long had you been thinking about or working on starting an NGO?
It was a seed planted long ago during my travels. I’ve seriously been thinking about starting this particular NGO since last year. I started working on it about 7 months ago.
How have you been influenced by students you’ve met traveling abroad or through your blog, and why is it important for you to help facilitate these experiences?
Travel changes people’s lives – no matter the age — but, for kids, they are at a time in their lives where they are still figuring who they are and where they fit into the world. A friend of mine took his daughter on a trip around the world and, after seeing the poverty of the world in comparison to her middle-class upbringing, she returned home deeply affected and now spends her college summers volunteering and doing development work in Central America. I want to expose students to a variety of ideas and cultures to show them the possibilities in the world and maybe inspire them to do or be something they never would have considered before.
My hope is that students will see that there are a number of opportunities in the world. I want them to learn to dream and feel like they can do anything. When you grow up in a small or economically disadvantaged community, you don’t always have the influences that encourage you to aspire to bigger things. You aren’t always exposed to a lot of new ideas or people different than you. I want this program to take kids out of their comfort zone, open their minds, and inspire them to think big.
You’re currently fundraising to launch the first five student trips. Do you have any idea where those trips might go?
It’s not up to me, it’s up to the teachers! (We’re taking applications through the site now!)
There are lots of organizations out there that send students on cultural trips, but those companies work with set tours and partners and are usually located in big cities. They typically go to a limited number of destinations as part of a work-study type of program, but I wanted to do more than that. Instead of being a tour company, our goal is to be a grant organization that will fund trips for people from around the country. I want a teacher in rural North Dakota or inner city Detroit to be able to take her kids on a trip anywhere – not just to a pre-selected set of destinations. I want kids from around the country, not just those in big East Coast cities, to be able to see the world.
Let’s break down a typical high school day, but without geographical limits. 5 subjects, 5 periods, 5 places. If you could take the following classes from anywhere in the world, what countries would inspire what subjects for you?
This is tough because it really depends on what is being taught in the classroom. But here are some general answers.
1) Math – The birthplace of Newton (UK) or Pythagoras (Greece).
2) Science – To study sustainable development and ecosystems in a Costa Rican rainforest, or the Amazon.
3) History – Literally the entire planet.
4) English – The birthplace of Shakespeare (Stratford Upon Avon), or wherever the best book they’re reading takes place.
5) Music/Arts – Vienna, hands down.
If you could give high school students one piece of advice, besides “go see the world,” what would it be?
Live in one country other than your own for at least a few months while you are still young.
On a personal note, my experience studying abroad in New Zealand was 100% a turning point in my life and influenced everything I would pursue afterwards. Whenever I speak at schools about Between The Peaks and kids ask how they can get out there and have similar adventures, my go-to piece of advice is to start by seizing the opportunity to study abroad. I’m always drawn to organizations that facilitate learning experiences through travel and I wish Nomadic Matt and the FLYTE team all the best in their fundraising efforts.
Their kickoff fundraising campaign is currently underway, and every contribution of $25 or more made before August 31st will earn you exclusive travel gear, FLYTE swag, and even domestic trips within the US! Click here to learn more about how you can help bring this program to life.