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Before They Were Famous: Matt Gibson

Canadian-born adventure travel writer and photographer, Matt Gibson, explored many a career path before finding his way to his current role.  In this week’s Before They Were Famous, Matt looks back fondly, and not so fondly, at the journey and the jobs that led him to happiness, from washing greasy dishes, to discovering the joys of expat living in Taiwan.

Name: Matt Gibson





News: I’m currently on The Best in the West tour to find the best ski resorts in the Western USA.

As a teenager I struggled with two seemingly opposing parts of my life. My close friends were mostly snowboarders who partied, skipped school, and played in a band.  I loved hanging out with them, but never quite felt like I completely fit in with that crowd. Although I loved snowboarding and partying, I was also an honour roll student with aspirations of becoming a writer.

My earliest memory of being intrigued by travel was…
I think that travel was always on my mind, but I didn’t pursue it until I was sixteen. My first trip was during Christmas vacation that year. My friend and I took the money we’d received as gifts and hit the road to hitchhike to Banff, which was about a four-hour drive across the cold and snow-covered Rocky Mountains.  We slept on the side of the road in a tent on about four feet of snow. It was so cold — we dressed in our snowboarding clothes and were still freezing. But, we made it, and it was awesome. The drinking age in Banff was 18 and at 16 we were able to get into the bar for the first time ever.  Our Christmas money was well spent.

The worst job I ever had was…
I had a ton of awful jobs. My first was washing dishes in a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. I’d have two or three stacks of greasy plates several feet high to wash during busy times. I’ve never seen so much grease. The dishwater would turn brownish orange from all the ginger beef and sweet and sour sauce.  Of course, there was also the time, that I sold ceiling cleaning over the telephone and dug ditches by hand for horse loggers.

What’s the weirdest thing you ever did to pay the bills?
After graduating from high school, I saw an ad in the paper for a job. No experience was necessary and the pay sounded OK, so I called. My friend and I went together to the interview, which was held in a local hotel.  We were hired. The job was selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. We drove from small town to small town making our way across Canada telling people that we were putting up posters for the Canadian Centre for Missing Children (which we did…once) and that we were in a contest for a University scholarship and that we needed to earn points by selling magazine subscriptions.  Of course, a portion of each subscription went to the CCMC.  That portion was $1, but we never mentioned that. Man, that was a sleazy job. I never met my sales quota and was fired in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I took my last pay check, bought a tent, and hitchhiked home.

Was there a significant event that caused you to hit the road?
No,there was never a significant event that made me want to travel. I always knew that I wanted to do that.  There was one random encounter, though, that actually made it possible for me.  I was working as a tree planter on Vancouver Island. It was February and very cold, so we were living in a motel (as opposed to tents, which we lived in most of the time). I shared a room with a guy named Ryan. Ryan was trying to save up money to go to Taiwan where his girlfriend was teaching English. He said that she was making great money — more than us — and that it was an extremely cheap place to live.  After three days he realized he could just borrow the money for his ticket and repay it when he got to Taiwan. Before he left, he wrote his email address on a scrap of paper and told me to drop him a line if I ever wanted to come.  Six months later, after the tree-planting season had ended, I did just that. When I got to Taiwan, Ryan let me crash in his apartment for a couple of months while I got set up.  It was in Taiwan that I got my first taste of life abroad. It was also the first time that I actually earned enough money to save and travel.  Taiwan changed everything.

If I were not a professional roamer, I’d be…
A novelist. Definitely a novelist.  I also really enjoyed tree-planting. Doing grueling, body-crushing work all day in the heat, rain, and mosquitoes, and coming home at night to a tent is strangely attractive to me.

What was the first blog post you ever wrote? On a scale of 1 – 10, how good was it?
My first blog post was Living Under the Volcano, about my overland journey from my home in Cranbrook, British Columbia, to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. It was actually pretty good. I give it an 8.

My travel cohort is…
My lovely and adventurous partner, Emilie Warden.

If I could nab one person and take them along on my adventures it would be…
Kristian Matsson.

The biggest thing I learned on the road is…
No matter what kind of ridiculous situations you may get yourself in to, you can pretty much always get yourself out too.  Like Kurt Vonnegut said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

Courtney Scott

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Dave and Deb

Great interview Matt!

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