Travel Profile: Matt Gleysteen
My friends call me Glyguy or Matt. I was born in NYC, raised in Boston. I studied at the University in Washington DC. I’m an east coast American boy. I’ve traveled to 45 countries and countless cities, lakes, seas, mountains, villages, and forests within those countries. I won’t name them all here but five are in North America (if you count central America), five are in Southeast Asia, and the other 35 are European.
I’ve lived in US, France, Serbia, and now Belgium. I work as a consultant in the e-commerce and digital retail sector. My current projects are in Romania, Greece, and Belgium. I love hiking, cooking, working out, dancing, animals, listening to deep house, and meeting new people from around this world.
Nick: Why did you start travelling?
Matt:I was curious about the world. I had read about dozens of great empires and cultures in class. Courses like European History, Civilizations of Asia, or Contemporary Africa were portals into a world that I had barely discovered.
I wanted to see those places for myself, to touch, taste, listen, and experience them first hand. More importantly, I wanted to find myself. I thought that travelling would allow me to explore myself as I explored the world around me, and I was right.
Nick: What or who inspired you to travel?
Matt: Growing up in a household of objects and artifacts collected by my grandparents is what inspired me since I was old enough to walk. Wooden chests from Korea, glass lamps from Italy, silk tapestries from China, and little wooden ornaments from Sweden were just a few examples of the treasures I was surrounded with as a boy.
I would hear stories and flip through aging photo albums to see my grandparents in exotic locations like Indonesia, Russia, Sweden, France, China. They didn’t just travel to these places, they lived in them. I imagined the great adventures my grandparents had and what adventures I could discover. For the imagination of a young boy these objects, photos, and stories were the sparks that ignited my passion to travel and experience the world.
Nick: Did you experience fear before embarking on your first (solo) journey?
Matt: No. Iceland was my first destination as a solo traveler. I was 23 at the time and in love with the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros. For me, this was a dream, and I needed to experience it alone. Iceland is beautiful in its solitude. I couldn’t image it any other way.
Nick: What advice would you give someone experiencing fear and uncertainty before they embark on such a journey?
Matt: Although I didn’t experience this first hand, my advice to others is to remember that the kindness of strangers is much more abundant than you might think. If you are open-minded, smart, and polite you should rarely find trouble anywhere in the world.
One of the biggest advantages of travelling alone is that you meet so many people because you are forced into more social encounters than you would when travelling with a significant other or group of friends. In the periods where you find yourself alone in a new place, you can really find yourself when it’s just you, your thoughts, and the new world around you.
Nick: What have you learned through travelling, both about yourself and other people?
Matt: I’ve learned that I was much more narrow-minded than I had thought. Many of the judgments I had were proven wrong when moving about the world and meeting so many new people with different value systems and perspectives. Travelling taught me that most elements of a culture cannot be taught in a textbook or seen through an image. These particular elements can only be felt first hand by our senses.
It has taught me that strangers are inherently kind and will act with generosity when they meet an open, courteous traveller.
Travelling also taught me that 99% of the world’s population does not travel the way I do, or does not even have the opportunity to do so. I found that I am truly an outlier, though I hope more and more people integrate travel into their lives.
Nick: Do you have a travel story to share – one that immediately comes to mind?
Matt: I have countless stories at this point, but I only have room for one. It was at the beginning of my solo journey in the late spring of 2013. I landed in Reykjavik, Iceland and checked into my well-equipped but relatively expensive hostel.
When I asked for hiking destinations the hostel staff offered me a tent and camping gear for free and signed me up to hike Iceland’s tallest Glacier, a behemoth ice cube called Vacknajokull.
I had two days to get out to the campsite to meet my guide and I wanted to attempt to hitch my way there.
Not even an hour after making these spontaneous adventure plans, I met a German musician named Thoka. He was planning to drive in the direction of the glacier to film music videos for his latest album release and offered me a ride. I gladly took him up on the offer, and before I knew it I was heading out of the capital city flying past fields of green to the sound of Thoka’s latest acoustic single.
I could see waterfalls, black mountains (volcanoes), and hundreds of grazing horses with their newborn foals. With no cars in sight, and only the occasional farmhouse, it seemed like something out of a dream.
Only hours later we made it to the southern tip of the Atlantic coast to grab some footage on the sheer cliffs and ash black beaches. By the time Thoka dropped me off and headed back to Reykjavik to edit the footage, it was around midnight and the sun was still hovering far above the horizon.
This was a time of year when endless days consumed the night. With Sigur Ros’s ‘Untitled’ album playing on repeat, newborn horses wildly roaming everywhere, and a strong wind that whipped through the midnight sun carrying a blend of sea salt and ash, I wasn’t sure this was planet earth.
Invigorated by my first 48 hours I hitchhiked my way to the glacier, summited it in a blinding blizzard with a Nordic mountain guide and lived to tell the story to you now. In conclusions, you should visit Iceland.
Nick: What is your favorite travel destination and why?
Matt: Iceland – refer to above.
Nick: Is there any other advice you’d like to give anyone looking to travel for the first time?
Matt: Don’t plan too much. Travel alone. Start off somewhere where you can stay in traveler hostels and get tips from veteran travelers. Travel light. Pack a journal.
Nick: What is Your Favourite Travel Quote?
Matt: “In time away from your home environment, you can step away from all those things that have influenced your whole life and reflect on ‘Who Am I?’” – Anonymous
Nick: What is your favorite travel video?
Matt: Look up ‘The Longest Way 1.0’
Nick: Do you have an upcoming journey planned?
Matt: In the next 3 months alone I have plans to travel to Copenhagen, Athens, Paros (island), London, Paris, Central Germany, Netherlands, Boston, Bucharest, Norway (fjords), Southern Spain, and Morocco. I live/work in Brussels, Belgium and do all of these trips by car, train, or cheap flights!
Are you planning your first travelling adventure?