Will Hatton has been on the road for the best part of 10 years. Passionate about real adventures, freezing peaks and steaming jungles, crashing waves and raging rivers, he’s literally travelled the world. Sabi Phagura caught up with the vagabond to find out more.
Luxurious Magazine: Tell us how did life begin as the ‘Broke Backpacker’?
Will Hatton: To be honest, it started just as a way for me to keep my mum in the loop on my adventures. I first hit the road when I was nineteen and hitchhiked all around India, spending over two years there before moving on. I kept notes of a lot of the more off the beaten path places I went to that simply weren’t covered in any Lonely Planet, or were covered poorly, and started giving these notes out to people I met on the way. These first travel ‘blogs’ laid the way for me to become a full-time blogger five years later.
By then, I had been travelling on $10 a day all over the world for years and had plenty of epic travel stories as well as broke backpacker tips, tricks and hacks to explore the world on a very limited budget.
LM: How easy is it to see the world on a budget?
WH: It depends where you are. Iran, for example, is relatively easy, as it’s cheap and the locals are so welcoming and so hospitable that often you won’t pay for food, transport or a place to sleep. Couchsurfing and hitchhiking help bring costs down – you can cook your own food, camp out… it’s a roaming renegade life, and it’s incredible.
If you’re travelling somewhere like Japan or New Zealand, it is harder to do it on an extreme budget, but you can make it happen – it depends how important the experience is to you. For me, I got so much out of travelling that it didn’t matter how uncomfortable I was…the stars, the sunsets, the people and the experiences made it all worth it.
LM: What made you decide to start helping others to travel on a shoestring budget?
WH: I guess you could say I wanted to help inspire the next generation of Broke Backpackers to travel to less conventional places, and more sustainably. There weren’t any resources for the kind of travel I do, so it seemed like a big gap in the market and a chance to monetise my passion by providing awesome informative guides, for free to my audience, and to earn through affiliate schemes.
LM: Talk us through some of your business ventures.
WH: There’s been a few! I am currently building my first Tribal Hostel in Bali, which is truly the realisation of my biggest dream. We are building it as much as possible out of recycled materials, and it’s going to be a co-working digital nomad hostel that we plan to open in September.
I also run Epic Backpacker Tours, which is an expedition company taking folks into the Pakistani mountains where we spend time with my local contacts, hike across gorgeous glaciers, camp out under the stars, explore ancient forts and follow the silk road to China. This is a venture I’m particularly proud of, as we work with some amazing people and have been able to bring employment and social initiatives to the region.
I have my main website, The Broke Backpacker, as well as half a dozen other sites I’ve been working on, as I’ve learnt more about making money online. Crucially, right now I am working on producing the world’s most awesome digital nomad backpack, made entirely out of recycled materials called Neco, and I hope to launch Kickstarter fundraising later this year.
I’ve had a few fails online with some websites which I’ve had to wrap up, but I’ve learnt a lot, and my current portfolio was going very strong until the recent COVID-19 shenanigans landed a triple-whammy hammer blow to the travel industry. I am now expanding into other niches to diversify my online income. I also run Ditch Your Desk, which is a free site with resources for newbie digital nomads and SEO-interested folks.
LM: You can have been travelling pretty much non-stop since 2008. It must be extremely difficult to have had COVID-19 put a spanner in the works?
WH: Like everybody, I have been affected by COVID-19. My income is currently down 90%, which is unfortunate. I have a team of over 20 people plus local partners in Pakistan and Iran to support, so the financial strain is significant. I remain unperturbed, however, and we shall persevere with the plan. I am based in Bali, which is where I’m building my hostel, and where I have two dogs, so this is pretty much home for me.
I did have some adventures coming up relatively soon, which I won’t get to do, but honestly, I can’t complain. I’m healthy, I have gorgeous views from my balcony, and I have plenty to work on. I think the most important thing to remember right now is to look after our mental and physical health during these trying times. I’ve been focusing on settling into a healthy routine as I find the alternative is just drinking and being stressed about the situation. So yes, it has been hard. But no, I am not letting it put a spanner into my work. I am using it as an opportunity to double down, take a step back, analyse what I can do better in my business and my personal life, and then put in the work to make it happen.
LM: What kind of effect is COVID-19 having on travellers and the travel industry?
WH: The travel industry is right now on its knees. There’s no denying that. Many travel bloggers have lost all their income, airlines are going to go bankrupt, accommodation booking platforms are bleeding money via refunds, and some are not even paying their affiliate partners for confirmed bookings. This will be a shakeup, no doubt, and many companies will not survive. This means more opportunity for those that do.
LM: How are you coping with COVID-19 and turning it into a positive given your job?
WH: I focus on the positives – I’m alive, I’m healthy, I’m happy, I have a great team of people to look after – this is my responsibility. Therefore, I have no choice but to find a way to make this work. As head of a team, I must be optimistic and positive. Luckily that’s just kind of my personality anyway, and I always try and find a silver lining to any situation. Practising gratitude has been a huge influence in my life.
LM: When COVID-19 lockdown is lifted, do you think people will want to venture much far out of UK?
WH: I hope so. I’m sure that some people may feel too timid to do so and I understand that, but ultimately, we can’t hide in our homes forever. The world does need to return to some kind of normality, and then we need to focus on the climate change problem. I believe that there will be a big jump in travel numbers once most of the world is declared safe or once a vaccine comes out. Realistically that could be two years away, but I believe that SOME destinations will start to flourish again soon. If for example, France has no cases and the Maldives has no cases, it would make sense for tourism to exist between those two destinations.
LM: Do you envisage any lasting effects on the travel industry because of COVID-19?
WH: Some companies will crumble; others will increase their market share. I hope that travel itself can go back to normal and we can continue to explore and make wonderful cross-cultural connections. To travel is to step out of your comfort zone, and this is where personal growth and epic lessons occur.
LM: Thank you for your time Will, and it has been fascinating talking to you.
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