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Last updated on June 17, 2023
Fellow adventurers, today I am excited to share with you the remarkable journey of Will Hatton, the man behind The Broke Backpacker travel blog.
You may already be familiar with Will’s captivating tales of exploring the world on $10 a day, but what you may not know is how he was able to transform his passion into a sustainable force of long-term travel.
Ever since he first hit the road over fifteen years ago, things have been quite the wild ride. From exploring the depths of Venezuela, hitchhiking all the way through Iran, and towering the highest of Pakistani peaks, he’s always longed for real, raw, and meaningful adventures.
This week, I sat down with Will to find out a bit more about the man behind one of the world’s biggest travel blogs and just how his journey unfurled over the years.
In this interview, we find out a bit more about the transformative experiences that shaped Will’s path from OG broke backpacker to finding a way to turn his passion into a business so that he could truly be free to live life on his terms and travel the world forever.
There will be crazy stories, there will be failures and victories, but most importantly, there will be A LOT of valuable lessons to be learned along the way.
Let’s jump into it. 😉
How did you first fall in love w/ traveling?
I was a shy and awkward kid. It was hard for me to feel safe or comfortable in my own skin. Originally, my plan to deal with this was to join the Royal Marines. Unfortunately, I had a serious injury at the age of nineteen and that threw me in a very different direction. I found myself depressed, overweight, anxious and suicidal. I had a plan – join the fucking army and blow shit up – to level myself up into a more capable and confident person. And now this plan was gone.
Not really sure what to do with myself, I flew to India. I scored a two year visa which meant I didn’t have to leave the country… I had almost no money, about $3000 to last me the entire two years, and I spent $600 on the flight to get there.
India was an absolute whirlwind, an assault on all of the senses. The colours, the sounds, the people, the cultures (changing with every town, every train station, every state of which there are many), crumbling fortresses and ancient ruins, holy relics in sparkling temples, throngs of people crowding the road and vast emptiness stretching as far as the eye could see.
To a young man whose sole purpose was to find a purpose… India offered incredible opportunities for introspection, finding one’s values and personal development. I challenged myself to get far, far out of my comfort zone. I hitchhiked, I slept in caves, I slept in train stations, I camped, I hiked, I walked for miles to save 50 cents on a tuk tuk ride, I worked in an organic garden project, I sold weed to backpackers in Goa, I Couchsurfed (over fifty times in two years, it was amazing).
I was utterly blown away by how challenging India was and how much opportunity it offered me personally to get out of my head and into the world. I travelled truly off the beaten path within India, making notes all the time on how to visit far flung corners on a budget of $10 a day. I started sharing these notes with other backpackers I met, and slowly but surely I realised I loved to write. Being on the road with a purpose – figuring out and recording HOW to travel in an adventurous style on the cheap – this galvanised me and I realised that backpacking was my calling… this was what I wanted to do with my life.
When was The Broke Backpacker blog born?
For a while, I had a small email list of perhaps forty people. I wrote dispatches from India and they were well received by my tiny audience. Some folks encouraged me to ‘go pro’. I entered a writing contest and won $100. I used that $100 to register my domain name and on January 30th, 2013, The Broke Backpacker was officially born. I have this date tattooed on my arm as I consider it to be one of the most important moments of my life.
The Broke Backpacker slowly grew from my dispatch style blogs and ramblings on the meaning of life to a more focused platform where I could serve the aspiring backpacker community with practical info on how to travel on a budget and have meaningful adventures.
Over time, The Broke Backpacker evolved as I blogged about my own experiments into making money online through different ventures; my goal was to be super transparent so I could share wins, losses and lessons with my readers to arm them with information so they could weigh up the pros and cons of investing time and energy into building their own online incomes making it easier to travel the world long-term.
My original mission was to empower adventurers to chase their travel dreams on a budget – I wanted to show that almost anybody can travel if they are willing to be uncomfortable. At the time, it seemed like all the travel blogs out there were advocating travel at a budget which was way out of my reach so I wanted to show folks that it IS possible to travel on a super low budget, if you are willing to be brave and step out of your comfort zone.
What were some key moments that helped your blog succeed?
Joan, let me take you and your dear readers on a journey through some of those defining moments that shaped my blogging career…
First, there was Venezuela. I “stumbled” upon this hidden gem, a place that captured the hearts of travelers all around the world, but wasn’t getting much genuine coverage anywhere else on the web as it is a pretty dangerous country to visit. Some of the photos I took in Venezuela went viral and helped me build up my first base of 10,000 or so monthly visitors.
Then, there was Iran. How to even start here… hitchhiking through this wonderful country, armed with nothing but my trusty backpack and an insatiable curiosity, I found myself inadvertently becoming a Snapchat sensation. People were captivated by my raw and unfiltered snapshots of this country, challenging misconceptions and showcasing the incredible warmth and hospitality of its people. I also smoked a lot of weed on camera, made jokes of questionable merit and didn’t do any editing of any kind whatsoever – everything was raw and unfiltered.
The exposure from this unexpected bout of social media fame further fueled the growth of my blog and solidified its position as a go-to resource for authentic travel experiences. My content started going viral, and I started finding my way into major news publications like BBC and The Daily Mail, scoring the first powerful backlinks that helped ramp up The Broke Backpacker’s value in Google’s eyes and helped me build some more monthly traffic.
And then came the moment that changed everything: the launch of my very first tour to Pakistan. In 2015, I visited Pakistan for the first time. I was broke AF and covering everything on my snapchat channel.
I asked my audience if anybody would be keen to travel with me to this amazing country with me, and put up a Paypal link. I sold the first tours for just $1600 a person and I sold 11 spots within 24 hours. This was a game changer for me. In 2017, I led the first Epic Backpacker Tour to Pakistan, proud to found this company on my own with no outside support, taking a lot of financial risk to make it happen.
Ultimately, the money I made from the first tour enabled me to grow The Broke Backpacker further and hire my first couple of employees – writers to help me craft new backpacking guides.
In 2018, I took on an employee, a guide, to help me grow the tour company further… This did not go well, I foolishly gave them half the company and I am no longer involved in the tour company I built from scratch as I ended up rage-quitting in the middle of a divorce. I’ve covered it in further detail in this post here where I recommend my top Pakistan tour company choices for other reputable tour operators who really know the country, of which Joan – you are one. Honestly, not to get too fangirly on you but I think what you have done in the expedition space is fucking amazing! You’ve really put something very special together with the way you blend culturally immersive experiences and adrenaline pumping adventures in far flung lands… I’m keen to come along to Yemen with you sometime.
Pakistan! Truly it’s an incredible place, tell me more about your journey there…
Pakistan is truly a place I have a great love for. I visited every year since 2015, up until recently. I invested heavily with my heart, soul and wallet into Pakistan, helping to fund a small family guesthouse in the mountains and employing locals for my tour company, keeping them employed and paid throughout Covid at a significant loss.
Didn’t you get married in Iran?
Aha, yes, I did. That was a crazy time. I met Nina, my Persian bride, whilst hitchhiking and we fell madly in love. I converted to Islam a couple of days later, so we could get married meaning we could travel around together. We spent a memorable four years travelling around together, working on The Broke Backpacker. Nina is a very special lady and I am grateful to have had her in my life.
Marrying a girl I met on the road, whilst I had no money and was basically dirt-bagging my way around, was a really crazy experience. I truly love Iran, it’s one of the most wonderfully hospitable, actually scrap that; it IS the most hospitable and friendly place I’ve been and it’s home to my favourite place of all… The multicoloured island of Hormuz.
What else have you done as part of your entrepreneurship journey?
From the early days of working odd jobs on the road to sustain my travels, selling stuff on the beaches of Goa, buying exotic goods on the cheap to sell back at festivals in the UK, I’ve experimented on a lot of fronts to make a buck whilst on the road.
After starting the blogging journey, I understood I had the vision to succeed with online businesses, so I focused my efforts there.
I dabbled in buying old websites or expired domains, reviving them with fresh content. While this strategy had its ups and downs, only a few sites managed to thrive, generating around $3,000 per month on autopilot during a good month. It took fucking years to get there though.
For a while, I really felt like I had a knack for trading crypto, too. I maxed out every credit card possible to get $9,000, and I managed to turn that into $350,000. I doubled down, thinking I would become a professional trader and that would be my ticket… I then turned that same original $9000 investment into approximately $3,000,000, which I then managed to lose spectacularly in one of Bitcoin’s heavy crashes. I no longer trade crypto, it’s too tough on my mental health but it was an interesting part of my journey.
I ran an SEO agency for a while, and I ventured into the world of dropshipping selling backpacker essentials like hammocks and quick-dry towels. That was rather successful for a while, until Covid came into play.
How was your experience running online businesses during Covid?
Oh, man, Covid really fucked me over.
Many of the small sites I had been building in the background were smashed during the pandemic, as Google traffic for travel search terms abruptly halved, then halved again.
I abandoned many of these side hustles as I was enduring a five figure monthly loss just keeping The Broke Backpacker going, draining the savings I had only had for a short period of time. It seemed I had gone from broke, to really quite wealthy, to facing imminent bankruptcy within the blink of an eye. All of this was going on whilst also trying to build my first hostel in Bali…
My dropshipping venture took a deadly hit as well, as shipping prices rose by an astonishing 400% and I had to abandon that business.
It was rough, but I poured every little bit of myself into keeping The Broke Backpacker alive, pushing harder than ever to keep content updated & bulletproof, as well as overcoming every little hiccup the pandemic threw at us while getting Tribal Bali off the ground.
How have you juggled transitioning from adventure backpacking to being a professional with responsibilities?
Honestly, it was a big adjustment. I’m lucky as I love what I do and connect strongly with the goal of what we are trying to achieve at The Broke Backpacker; encouraging folks to get off their phones, go on adventures and to grow by getting out of their comfort zones.
However, going from having pretty much no responsibilities and nothing to worry about other than where I was going to sleep that night, to having a whole team of people partially or fully relying on me for input, guidance, motivation and payment was a big change.
I spent two years living in Chiang Mai really grinding it out, from about 2017 onwards this was where I was… working my ass off, I really poured everything I had into growing the site whilst being broke, scarily broke, most of the time. The site was costing more than it was making and this was super stressful but eventually the needle tipped and I was out of the danger zone. After this, I was free to travel a bit more but I still found my travel style had to change… No longer could I be quite so free and easy, I needed to schedule in calls and dedicated work time and that made it challenging, but it also gave me an idea…
What inspired you to open Bali’s first co-working hostel?
For a long time, I longed for something like Tribal. A place where I could successfully mix the best of the backpacker lifestyle with the need to hustle hard.
I was under a lot of pressure to make things happen – for a good number of years. Every cent I earned went into trying to grow the site, experiment with new ventures and support myself and my wife.
But most hostels weren’t able to offer me what I really needed: strong and reliable internet, quiet zones, unlimited charging stations, comfortable seating… These were the basics I needed to work effectively online and still successfully juggle the backpacker lifestyle in my life.
And of course, besides the basics, my dream was to have a place where I could just stay ALL DAY if I needed to hustle hard. Somewhere with tasty food, social areas, a swimming pool, a pool table to blow off steam and change the vibe… and damn good coffee to keep me sharp between the ears.
Slowly, a dream began to form – the dream of custom-designing the ultimate co-working hostel and opening it in Bali. It took three years to build this project from the ground up, and we nearly ran out of money several times. But hey, we’re open, we’re usually full, and folks seem to like it, so come and say hi 🙂
What advice do you have for newbie backpackers hitting the road?
Be optimistic! Be hopeful! Be humorous! When things go wrong, try to see the funny side and don’t take yourself too seriously. Hope for the best, trust in the universe, but listen to your intuition.
Travelling the world is without a doubt, the greatest learning experience I have ever had.. Cherish every lesson it gives you and be sure to spend time being present, get off your phone, truly experience where you are, take a breath, write down your thoughts, try to aid the process of memory building and re-visiting by really grounding yourself where you are.
Travel far, off the beaten track, and go to places with less visitors. This is where the real magic happens.
Say hello to everyone you cross paths with. Be curious, and never judge – you don’t know the lives that go on behind the faces you meet. Practice compassion and create space for people to feel comfortable around you.
And carry a big smile while you’re at it! Even when things are getting rough. It can go a long way to make someone’s day just a little bit better — and eventually your own, too.
Remember: everyone’s on their own individual journey, and that’s all that matters. Don’t go around comparing yourself to others and pretentiously one upping everybody. Focus on YOU.
In terms of gear, definitely invest in a good backpack and a solid travel tent. Spending those extra bucks might feel painful, but it’ll save you both money and trouble in the future.
Oh, and definitely start a journal up. Get into the habit of writing what happens along the way, and share your best stories, your feelings about what happens, and things you want to remember in the future. Looking back on it will bring you great joy one day and remind you of the lessons you learned.
And use your downtime wisely – if you’re not writing, perhaps reading. Educate yourself on the topics you love. You know that bright spark of an idea you had a long time ago? Give that a try. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and get creative 😉
What about our fellow aspiring online entrepreneurs, any advice for them?
Allow yourself to fail – fast, young and cheap. If you have nothing to lose, you are freaking dangerous… get out there and take risks. The road is one the greatest places you have to learn about yourself and the world.
Push hard, friends. No one else will do it for you. Focus on yourself, on being effective, and having a solid, foundational routine.
Getting good sleep, time off devices, exercising, journaling… these are all key things which will make you feel better, enable you to do more, and should have a place somewhere in your routine.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance requires a bit of a digital-detox effort. Over the years, I’ve developed a two-phone system – my secondary device has only music, podcasts, and audiobooks, and from 8 PM to 8 AM, I switch to it, significantly reducing my screen time.
The internet is a wonderful place, but can also be a vicious little monster – tread with caution.
When it comes to productivity, go the extra mile to find the right tools for you. Static whiteboards have revolutionised my planning, turning walls into visual powerhouses of strategies and goals. Trello was a game-changer to keep me on top of things as well, it’s a free online task management tool you should definitely try. Oh, and Google Calendar? When used right, it can really turn into a personal assistant on steroids.
Now, here’s the real deal—the twin pillars of success: discipline and optimism. Discipline fuels focus, accountability, and unwavering commitment. And optimism? It will reveal opportunities amidst even the greatest of obstacles. Embrace these traits, and you become an unstoppable force, ready to conquer any challenge.
Grab your tools of choice, unleash your inner disciplined monster, and never lose faith in yourself. You’re destined for greatness – go get after it amigo!