Where The Hell is Matt: An Interview with Matt Harding

Name: Matt Harding of "Where the Hell is Matt" fame
Job Title: Dancer/World Traveler/Video Game Designer
Where: Seattle, WA
Employer: Self-employed with a recent sponsorship from Stride Gum. Formerly employed as a video game designer with Activision.
Education: High School Diploma

How did Matt Harding begin his journey?

I didn’t go to college, largely because my father took me out to dinner when I was 16 and said “I don’t think you want to go to college. I went to college and wish I hadn’t gone and I don’t think you want to either.” I was very upset by that, but gave it a lot of thought and realized he was right. I didn’t actually want to go to college, I just didn’t know what else there was that I could do.

So I spent the next few years figuring out what else I could do. I finished high school and worked at a video game store for a couple of years. That turned into a job working with a video game magazine where I was traveling a lot and getting to know the game industry. And then at 19, I left that job and switched to designing video games for a company called Activision in Los Angeles.

What is the pay scale for a typical video game designer?

The pay scale for a video game designer in Los Angeles, for someone with 1-4 years experience, is $42,719 to $72,896.

So how did Matt Harding decide to travel around the world?

When I was 19, I was quite sure that all I wanted to do with my life was make and play online video games, but it wasn’t quite as fulfilling at 26 as it was at 19. I didn’t want to spend 12 hours a day staring a computer screen, getting fat and getting pale skin. So I quit my job and decided to take the money that I saved up for a few years and spend it on a trip around the world. So I spent 5 months traveling and went to about 16 or 17 different countries.

How did Matt get the idea to make the “Where the Hell is Matt” videos?

This was not a career plan. I’m not one of those people who dreams of dancing with the stars. I was traveling with a former co-worker of mine and I had always done this really bad dance. It wasn’t hip hop dancing. I used to hover over his desk when it was time to go to lunch, and dance in front of him for a little while. And we were in Hanoi and he said, “Why don’t you go do that stupid dance you used to do and Ill record it.” So I did it front of some motor bikes and he recorded it, and it turned out really funny. So I decided to keep on doing it, everywhere we went on that trip.

In January 2005, I put the video up on my web site, at my sister’s encouragement, because she wanted to show it to somebody. I didn’t send it around, I just put it up on my site and what happened was, someone was emailing me and noticed my e-mail address, wherethehellismatt, went to my web site – wherethehellismatt.com – showed it some of his friends and they put it on their blogs.

So it went from one blog to another blog to another blog and it got on these sites; a whole year and half before YouTube even existed. It was on sites like Boing Boing, Something Awful, Metafilter, which point to weird stuff on the internet, like funny videos. Through that, I got a couple million downloads, and it just started snowballing and people kept e-mailing it around to other people. News shows started calling me. Talk shows started calling me.

How did Matt Harding get to go on a second trip?

A company contacted me, Stride Gum. They had this new gum coming out, June of the following year, and wanted to know if id be interested in taking another trip, making another video for them. And I said, “Are you going to pay for it?” and they said, “Yes.” And I said, “That sounds great.” So I left in December for a six month trip around the world.

This time, money was not an obstacle; so much as time was. I had to get it done by June, but I could really go anywhere on the planet that I wanted to go, in that time period. I went to the map store and got the biggest national geographic map I could buy and some markers and just started drawing lines all over the place.

What is it like traveling all over the world?

Obviously it’s a lot of time in planes, it’s a lot of time in airports, a lot of times going without showers, going without food that you are used to eating; you get sick, there are a hundred things you don’t think of when you travel.

The hardest thing for me was deciding to do it and deciding to take the leap and leave my comfort zone and go and do something that I really didn’t know how to do, and didn’t know what was going to happen. It’s making that decision, once you do it, you find out the world really isn’t as dangerous as its made out to be, its a lot safer and a lot cheaper than you might think.

What were Matt’s most memorable experiences while traveling around the world?

Deodorant is not a very popular thing in Africa. The smell inside the bus was so unbelievably unbearable, I actually paid the woman sitting next to me, who had the window seat, five dollars, to let me switch seats with her so I could stick my head out the window and breathe fresh air. Also, you really see the differences in education around the world.

I went to an island in a country in Micronesia, the island of Chuuk. In World War II, sixty Japanese battle ships were sunk in the harbor around Chuuk Island by US bombers. You can go and you can dive in these ships. You’re swimming underwater through hallways; you’re going into bunks, mess halls and the bathrooms.

They have the fighter planes; you can actually sit in the cockpits of these planes and there are fish and sharks swimming around and coral everywhere. There are human remains of the people who died in these ships, it is extremely haunting.

Antarctica is one I keep going back to in my head because it really is like going to another planet. It took us 3 days to get there and was just such an unbelievably remote, unusual environment that was filled with life; it was not the dead wasteland that you might think. Along the coastline there are penguins everywhere, there are whales, and there are seals. There’s all kinds of amazing things going on.

What is Matt’s favorite “Where the Hell is Matt” clip?

In Mulindi, Rawanda, when I started dancing, almost instantly, the kids who were standing nearby, they just watched me and said, “Looks like fun, I’m going to do that too.” And so pretty soon there 5 or 6 kids standing around dancing.

Then all these other kids saw that happening and they thought, “I want to do that too.” So they started flooding in from all directions. So we did that for only five or ten minutes, and by the end, every kid in town was standing there. It was a really amazing moment, where there was this immediate access to joy.

Any advice to people who want to travel around the world like Matt Harding?

The great thing about international travel, particularly in places like Southeast Asia, a lot of Africa, Eastern Europe, South America is that there are a lot of places that you can go where you’re spending less, day to day, than you might spend at home, paying rent, paying utilities, paying for cable, car insurance, things like that, it adds up. When you’re traveling and you cut all those expense for awhile you can really see a lot of stuff, a lot amazing things for not a lot of money.

What are Matt Harding’s future career goals?

I really don’t like working. I’m not very good at it, generally. It took me a long time to figure out that I wasn’t good at designing video games and that I should try to figure something that I was good at. I’m still not sure what I’m good at.

I do know that I don’t like showing up at an office everyday at 9 in the morning, 10 in the morning, or more realistically noon or one o clock. I’m very good at loafing around, playing video games – video game hints and walkthroughs – surfing the web and watching Netflix.

If I was to give myself a job title I would say inherent deadbeat; or just deadbeat if inherent is too fancy.

What did Matt learn from his travels?

Sometimes other people limit our options for us, sometimes we limit our options and we create the boundaries for our existence and say, “I can only do this, this is the job I’m cut out for, this is what I can do.” I think it’s really important when you realize that you’re the one creating those boundaries and you have control over them, there’s no lock on the cage, and you can open up the door, go outside and do whatever you want.

What does Matt want to do next?

Hopefully it will involve travel and dancing badly.

How many countries has Matt Harding been to?

I’ve been to 55 countries on all 7 continents.

Could you pay for an around-the-world trip on your salary? Find out with our Payscale salary survey.

To learn more about Matt and his travels, visit wherethehellismatt.com.