The Road to Opening a Hostel: Interview with Anna

Recently I had the pleasure of connecting online with Anna, a young and ambitious traveller that is on the mission to open her own hostel. She has been documenting her exciting journey to entrepreneurship through social media which is where I stumbled upon her. I thought it be cool to chat with her about her journey and everything she’s learned about staying in multiple hostels around the world for research purposes. Keep reading to hear more about her adventures and learnings…

Tell me a bit about yourself and what led you to this point.

I’m Anna (friends call me Bananna, yes with two n’s) and I’m passionate, curious, and intrinsically motivated; I look for meaning and fulfillment in the day-to-day life as well as in the traveling I do. In 2011 I went on my first solo backpacking trip, and have since travelled an accumulative amount of about three years, with a focus on quality over quantity, and depth of time spent over checking off bucket lists.

As any “normal” North American millennial, I’ve worked full-time jobs in corporate and start-up companies since I graduated university, but at the same time I’ve made traveling a priority because I wanted/want it so much. (Over the years friends and strangers ask me how I travel so much in terms of having so many vacation days and how I afford it, the answer is really just asking yourself how much you want it; you’d make it happen if you want it enough.)

To date I’ve stayed in about 200 hostels/hotels/guesthouses/bed and breakfasts, ran three Airbnb of my own, met and hosted hundreds of travellers; I fell in love with the groundingness of hostels, genuinity of its travellers, personality of its staff, magic of (and the speed at which) friendships (and its longevity and depth) formed, and the lifestyle choice of hostel owners.

This was probably when the hostel dream started brewing in my head, as ‘where-to-stay’ became a major decision in my travels/destinations. And often I’d find myself at an amazing or less-amazing hostel, thinking the same thought: I can do this, and do it well.

February 2017 I hit a low point in life, was two months away from turning 30, someone I knew of at the same age was diagnosed with bone cancer, and I decided I needed to do something about this dream. So I left in August on a nine month journey to do market research, I worked and volunteered at hostels, spoke with hostel guests/staff/owners, and did some hostel consultation when I had absorbed so much from living and breathing (literally and figuratively) in hostels.

Now I’m home for a break—as traveling across Portugal, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and changing places every 3-5 days and meeting on average 3-20 new people daily can be mentally and physically exhausting—to sleep on (in my own bed) everything I’ve taken in and to decide on where to open the hostel, when, with whom, and how.

What made you want to start your own hostel?

I love (and am very good at) hosting—having quality people in my space and mix them together. I love being the provider of the space where strangers become friends, I love optimizing a space to bring out the truest version of a person, making it and its people comfortable, relaxing, inspiring, storytelling, empowering, blossoming, calming, energizing… as if they’re at-home or a place where they can just be authentic, open, present, and real (in a responsible adult way and not being an asshole/bothersome toward others).

What sort of research and things are you doing to prepare yourself to get to the point of opening your own hostel?

In the last nine months I’ve visited about 50 of the world’s top hostels and took extensive notes from observations, chats with hostel owners/staff/guest, and entrepreneurs from all sorts.

Since the traveling market research paused at the end of May, I’ve been back home connecting with friends who are in finance, law, furniture design, architecture, marketing, accounting, and gathering information offline and online regarding building hostels in Canada and overseas. I’m also looking for a business partner.

Where will your hostel be once you get there? Any ideas?

Preferably somewhere perpetually warm, European or Taiwanese countryside? Basically somewhere with mountains, water, and sunshine.

What sorts of things have you learned working/visiting hostels around the world through this journey? Anything major that stands out?

Do it with love—it’s really easy for guests to feel that lack of passion, and emphasis on hospitality, and what travellers want/are looking for. I’ve been to many hostels that are beautifully designed and look aesthetically pleasing but it’s missing soul. How you care, and how you make someone (staff) care requires an immense amount of effort and prioritization.

Atmosphere = Design + Staff. Infrastructure, architecture, interior design, physical details set the stage. Top hostel designs allow for multiple conversations and activities happen at the same time in a mutually-exclusive yet connected way.

Liz Lambert/her friend said: “Let people be the colour in the room.” I think guests will be the colour in the room if/when the hosts (staff) are also colourful personalities. Hostel staff make or break a hostel. The energy of the hostel owner/manager transcends to the team, which attracts guests of vibing frequencies.

Amazing hostels have all the basics (cleanliness, location, security, etc.) just like a hotel or Airbnb would have, but why travellers choose a hostel over all other types of accommodation is because of the atmosphere—the potential to meet fascinating like-minded people in a fun environment is the differentiating factor.

Have you thought about what you want your hostel to be like? Any ideas? Things you can share?

My friends all sort of know what my hostel will be like because they’ll send me pictures of places with “I thought of you!” It’s hard to explain, but they’ll say “this is so [Anna].”

It’s impossible to impress everyone so I’ll just be 100% me and let that draw in the people I want to have in my hostel.

Physically I envision it’ll have a lot of plants, flowers, paintings, art, photos, and spiritually it’ll feel homely, authentic, and serene.

What has been your favourite hostel(s) you’ve ever stayed at and why? Feel free to give a few examples.

Oh, too many to list!

My favourite hostels are ones that are so good that you don’t even want to leave the hostel to explore the city/town (but of course it’s even better when the city/place it’s in has endless offerings, but that’s added bonus as bias, lol).

They’re so good that you already told your friends and the internet/world about it, without being paid/that sort of thing.

They’re so good that there is almost nothing wrong with them. (Come to think of it I was somewhat an undercover hostel critic, lol!)

It also depends on how you travel, and what the purpose of that particular trip is based on where you are in life physically and mentally. The location, proximity to food/culture/things to do, helpfulness and resourcefulness of staff, facilities (that’s everything you’d have in your own home, plus more), all contribute to how “good” a hostel is.

But in no particular order:

Home Lisbon Hostel (Lisbon, Portugal)
First of all, this place smells amazing, everywhere. The gorgeous crimson wooden beds, the multiple common rooms, Mama’s dinners, André the Brazilian and Francesco and the entire team makes this place impeccable.

Goodmorning Lisbon Hostel (Lisbon, Portugal)
The (free) all-you-can-eat breakfast FEAST, OMG. Multiple common rooms. Mustache João’s cooking class.
Tatiana who brought me oranges because I was having a cold.

The Passenger Hostel (Porto, Portugal)
It’s an “art gallery loft with a vintage grand piano in a gorgeous train station upscale modern high-tech Harry Potter residence with the friendliest and multi-talented staff”?! You just have to go there. I wrote about them the
most on my Instagram blog because they’re that good. Tell Tomás and José Anna thehosteljourney sent you 😉

Discovery Hostel (Rio, Brazil)
Before my decision of pursuing this dream of mine and the 9 months of research where I actively visited the world’s top-hostels, this hostel was, and still is,
the bar to aim for.. I remember having chatted with Zion and Enrique (two of the three owners) for only minutes and thinking “I wanna be them.” #hostelgoals!

Lub D Phuket Patong (Phuket, Thailand)
I walked in with this 😱face for a good ten minutes. They have an in-hostel pool, restaurant, bar, gym, Muay Thai lessons, co-working space, pharmacy/snacks/drinks store, and daily games/activities. I love the design of their reception area which are high bars/kitchen islands where guests can stand
around it, instead of the traditional me vs. you on opposite sides, which makes it so friendly.

Miaoko Hostel (Hualien, Taiwan)
Someone left a hand-drawn note on their guestbook wall that said something like “Here, you live the quality of life, via subtraction.” Not a minimalism in the sense of decor but rather the pace, attitude and perspective of life. Coolest owners/couple/family.

Lokal Bali Hostel (Kuta, Indonesia)
The “do it with love” wisdom comes from the owner Nyoman. If a person can be cute and sexy at the same time, then a hostel can be fun and classy at the same time; they’ve made it happen here. Some think hostels are filled with drunken 18 year olds, it’s grungy, dark & sketchy like in the Hostel movies (all of which my friends made me watch), really budget and smelly, etc. but that was either years ago or you chose a place with a rating lower than 9.3/10.

The Dream Catcher (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
Stalking them online will make you want to go there, but the pictures only tell 10% of the story; once you enter the premise, you’re in another world. One of the most magical places (although it’s not a hostel), and personally, #goals.

I can’t wait to see what sort of hostel Anna dreams up and hopefully visit there one day. You can follow Anna’s journey on Instagram here and also listen to her Podcast here.

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