Story #17: I tried to start a hostel and failed.
In 2004 I backpacked through Europe with one of my best friends. We made the Euro Trip happen. We spent 6 weeks traveling through Germany, over to Paris and Amsterdam, then up to Denmark for a music festival, back through Berlin to see family and then looping around to the Czech Republic and down to Italy before returning to Frankfurt to fly home. We had the time of our lives making all kinds of rookie travel mistakes, staying up way too late/long, seeing beautiful things and meeting great people along the way.
Some of the mistakes (in case you’re dying to know) include getting terribly sick in the middle of the music festival, being covered in mud, getting robbed, booking the wrong train tickets but getting on the right train, arguing with people even though we didn’t speak the same language, showing up in a city with no where to stay, and not having a back up credit card.
Back to the original story: Hostels. When we were in Amsterdam we stayed at The Flying Pig Hostel. This is a famous place and you may have even heard of it before. I LOL at myself thinking about this experience today, but at the time it was perfect. It is the quintessential hostel. We stayed in a cave-like co-ed dorm with over 30 people staying in it. There was shit everywhere. The bunkbeds were double-wide in some cases, which made it cheaper to stay there if you were willing to share a bed with your buddy. Of course we were up for that!
There were people everywhere, too. We quickly made 7 new best friends and spent several days running amok with worldly travelers. Despite an intoxicated girl vomiting in the bunk above us the first night we stayed over, we thought the whole experience was great.
I had already begun entertaining the notion of hospitality as a career path for myself from previous travels. The Flying Pig, at the time, really solidified my interest in hostels as a business. I loved the wildly painted walls, the curated bohemian space, the friendly and knowledgable staff, and the feeling of camaraderie amongst the travelers. To this day, the idea of developing connections with people of all walks of life from all corners of the globe is very attractive to me. Coupled with the idea of designing a space that could house local art and be a venue for cultural exchange gets me very excited.
I held on to this idea from 2003 to 2010. Similarly to my cross-country bicycle dreams, the idea that I would some day open my own hostel was a seed that grew slowly over those 7 years. From my Euro-trip, I would move to Boston and New York while traveling in between. In all of those cities I explored hostels and couchsurfing, cherry-picking my experiences and thinking of ways to start my own business.
When I moved to Bellingham, WA and found that their eight bed hostel had closed a few years prior, I knew my opportunity had arrived. Hostelling International had an ad in the local paper that they were hosting a meeting to gage local interest in starting a hostel. Coincidence?! I think not. I went to the meeting and got on board with the project immediately. The next 6-9 months were spent setting up meetings, looking at real estate, and getting to know other hostel owners.
These activities, particularly the real estate hunt, stretched over two years. During my low points, I considered becoming a real estate agent, as I began to tip my friends off to available houses and talk to other business owners about the commercial real estate on the market. I saw every available building in downtown Bellingham. I considered the most creative solutions for weird old buildings. However, all potential sites at the time were either too expensive to build out or required rules and regulations to be changed – any and all processes would likely take years and years before breaking serious ground and opening doors.
Ultimately, it was a bit much for my 22 year old brain to wrap itself around. After I graduated from college and my boyfriend at the time and I broke up, the hostel lost most of its significance. I was burnt out and depressed.
So I dropped the project, moved home and went on a bike trip to New Mexico to build Earthships for 3 months. Because that’s how you solve all of life’s problems. Isn’t that why you have been reading this blog? To figure out how to live a bigger, better, stronger life? Bicycle trips accomplish 99% of that.
Ultimately, this project is a testimony to my strength and perseverance when I am excited about something. I consider myself fairly ADD and following through on details of a project that I am not excited about often feels impossible. However, the support and possibility of making the hostel a reality put a healthy fire under my ass. I proved to myself that I was able to rally and organize a community, plus do the menial tasks involved in business development.
Though I never actually opened the doors to my own hostel, I did write a detailed business plan, became more familiar with commercial building codes than I ever thought I would, and met a lot of amazing business owners. I am happy to say that I bring the same level of enthusiasm and grit to my current business ventures.
What’s your craziest travel story? If you were starting a business, what would it be? I would love to hear from you!
Adventure abounds! XOXO ❤ Lara