Matt 'Dancing Badly' Harding's tips for budget round-the-world travel
He thought that was the end of it. "I got back in 2003, flat broke. No job, no prospects. I worked for a little while," said Harding.
Then things changed for the better. "In the intervening year or two after I did that trip, I put the video on the Internet and it just exploded one day." His compilation of video postcards went viral, and without warning, Matt "Dancing Badly" Harding became one of the first, and biggest, YouTube celebrities.
Harding has since made a nice little career out of his unexpected Internet fame, publishing a book, Where the Hell Is Matt?: Dancing Badly Around the World, and launching his own Web site by the same name. He was paid to travel around the world once again by Stride Gum, which helped him produce even more videos as he went.
When he's home in Seattle, he also picks up speaking engagements and public appearances that, in part, fund his next dream trips.
"Some people tell me that they work as they travel, and that they work in bars and whatnot. If you can do that, great," says Harding. "But I've never done that. I save up and then I go, I save up and go." (Afghanistan is next on the list, if you're wondering).
I caught up with him at another of his dance-for-hire events. The Singapore Tourist Board brought him to Times Square to promote its new choose-your-own-adventure tourism Web site, YourSingapore.com.
Although Harding makes it a personal policy not to discuss how much he spends on each trip, he insists it isn't as much as you might think, especially if you stick to a few simple rules of travel.
The first: "Go to parts of the world that you can afford," he says, which means you should stick to places such as Southeast Asia and Africa, not Western Europe.
The second rule: Adjust your expectations and backpack instead of taking package tours or arranged travel, because the low cost of hostels and guest houses can stretch the time you can spend abroad. "You don't need nearly as much as you think you do. Just spend your money wisely," he says.
The third might be the most cliché, but it's also the most important: The best travel experiences are free.
Matt also has a bold opinion about something that's keeping Americans from traveling in significant numbers, as most other Western people do: debt.
"I think that's very unfortunate. I think [travel] is as important as college."
In his case, a supposedly frivolous trip abroad certainly paid off in career opportunities.