Vagabond Publisher

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Hake in Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico.

Meet the “professional nomad” who runs an online travel guide with more than 10 million annual readers.


As he approaches his 40th birthday, Nate Hake C’08 is homeless. He can fit all his possessions into two suitcases and a backpack. And he couldn’t be happier. “I feel like I’ve been living the dream,” he says.

Hake has been a “professional nomad” since 2016. That’s when he started Travel Lemming, which has grown from a personal blog into a growing travel guide website that competes with the likes of Lonely Planet and Fodor’s. He lives in hotels and Airbnbs, spending no more than a few months in one place before decamping for the next adventure.

Life as a vagabond publisher was hardly what Hake had in mind back in college, when he was president of Penn Democrats and spent more time working on congressional campaigns than in class. Back then, the only question Hake’s friends had about his future was when he’d run for office himself.

After law school at Yale and a stint at a New York law firm, Hake joined Arnold & Porter’s law office in Denver. Colorado was home to him—as a military brat he moved around a lot as a kid, but that’s where his grandparents lived. He quickly hopped on the partner track, billing 2,500 hours a year as a corporate litigator.

But even though Hake liked his work, the long hours and nights spent sleeping in the office began to wear on him. “I had to miss my own birthday party because I was working so hard,” he says. “My friends had dinner without me.”

His quasi-nomadic childhood instilled a love of travel that Hake could finally afford. But even on those weeklong vacations abroad, Hake had trouble shaking the niggling feeling that he should be working. Then, on one trip, something dawned on him. “I was sitting on the Danube River in Budapest, across from the Hungarian parliament,” he says, when an epiphany struck: “Man, this costs nothing, but this is awesome. Why can’t I just be here?

After a brief but exhausting stint as a campaign manager for Delaware Democrat Sean Barney’s 2016 congressional run, Hake flew back to Denver and told his law firm that he wanted to take a year off to travel. To his surprise, the partners were supportive.

Hake rented out his house, bought a 46-liter backpack, and hopped on a one-way flight to Mexico City without much of a plan beyond seeing a global “bucket list” of sites. “I wanted to see Machu Picchu, I wanted to go to the pyramids, I wanted to go do a road trip in Australia,” he says. “I did a safari in Kenya—all those sorts of things that I had in my mind [for] what it means … to be a traveler, to have that identity.”

During his first year rambling around the world, Hake visited 43 countries on six continents, hitting up all those “must-see” destinations and then some. Halfway through, he realized he didn’t want the trip to end.

Around that time, he came across an ad for an online course on travel writing. Hake had already invested in a solid digital SLR camera and was sharing photos of his travels with short descriptions, so why not give travel blogging a try?

And so, in a hostel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Travel Lemming (travellemming.com) was born. He chose the name as a self-deprecating reference to the kind of tourist he was when he first started out—the guy who blindly follows the crowd to all the famous sites. Now he’s an evangelist for “slow travel,” advocating immersion in a single locale for longer stretches and rejecting the compulsion to constantly keep moving to the next spot.

He was hooked, but still scared to commit to travel writing full time. Even as Travel Lemming grew and started to make a little money, Hake didn’t think of it as more than a side gig. When he returned home to Denver toward the end of 2017, some friends asked him to join their software startup. They offered him an ownership stake—and the ability to work remotely, permitting him to keep Travel Lemming going on the side. He quit the firm, took the tech gig, and started living out of Airbnbs in more affordable countries like Mexico and Thailand.

After about a year at the software company, Hake quit to focus on Travel Lemming full time. Then in Argentina, he set out to expand the website by building a team of writers. By January 2020 he had six freelance contributors.

A month later, traffic on Travel Lemming cratered as word of a mysterious new virus began to spread. A month after that, Argentina, along with the rest of the world, locked down to slow the spread of COVID-19. Figuring “this whole dream I had finally allowed myself to accept as part of my identity” was dead, Hake went into “a tailspin emotionally.”

As that was happening, Hake invited an Argentinian law student he had recently met on Tinder to weather the lockdown with him. “I thought it was gonna be two weeks,” he says. “She didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Spanish hardly at all.” Four years later, they’re still together.

With her emotional support, Hake decided to keep Travel Lemming going. He cut most of his writers, but kept one, Taylor Herperger, on a part-time basis. “It was a tough period for our website and the competition, and yet Nate made all the right moves to steer the ship where it needed to go,” says Herperger, who now is Travel Lemming’s marketing director.

As the pandemic began to ebb in 2021, Hake knew there’d be a huge, pent-up demand to travel again. So he went all in on Travel Lemming. He sold his home in Denver and used the proceeds to commission more writers.

The website evolved into providing on-the-ground, freshly reported travel guides written by locals. Travel Lemming now has a team of around 40 regular freelance contributors who drew in 10 million website visitors in 2022. Hake makes more money now than he did as a lawyer.

But the life of a professional nomad is no walk in the park. Travel Lemming now faces an existential threat from the proliferation of artificial intelligence. AI-powered chatbots and search engines pull images and glean descriptions from Travel Lemming posts, which means would-be visitors see Hake’s content without looking at the site itself (and the ads that fund it).

Hake would like to see lawmakers across the globe take action but he’s not holding his breath. “Young Nate would have thought there’s a political solution to everything,” Hake says. But now, “that’s not even a thought.”

Instead, he is exploring new revenue streams, like Travel Lemming-led tours of emerging tourist destinations. He has no plans to use his legal and political experience to lead a campaign against AI exploitation.

“I have a lot of people reaching out to me being like, ‘You really should do some lobbying.’ But, man, I just really want to make travel guides,” Hake says. “It’s so much fun to work with my team. … I just want to keep doing that.”

Jim Saksa C’08

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