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Musings Travel

Rebranding Hostels

November 5, 2015

I'm pretty sure the majority of my friends fell over when I told them I was staying in hostels. Not only is it a stark contrast to my previous professional life of flying business class and staying in 5 star hotels around the world, but their perspective of hostels is exactly the view I shared before I set off on this journey.

The first time I ever stayed in anything close to a hostel was just three years ago. My friend Danielle and I went to Portugal for a week to a surf school in Peniche. It was more like a house share, where Dani and I had a bedroom and bathroom on the top floor and we shared the house with two German brothers who had a room and bathroom on the first floor. Given our days were so long at surf school, we didn't spend much time there and therefore it didn't feel much like shared space.

As we settled in, somehow it came up in conversation that I had never stayed in shared accommodations before. Dani was floored! In New Zealand and Australia, it is a rite of passage to do some overseas travel either before university ("gap year") or after ("OE/overseas experience"), and given the limited funds they have at that age, hostels are the primary option. The same is true for many European countries.

Knowing about the gap year, I had always viewed hostels as a place where 18-22 year olds rule. I imagined it to be like the cheap lawn seats at a Dave Matthews concert, where all the kids are falling over drunk, being all loud and obnoxious, making out and throwing up on each other. I outgrew that scene a long time ago and started paying more money for the good seats.

So without any gap year or long-term OE experience, I skipped right to paying more for my accommodations when I traveled, attempting to avoid the drunk kids and the inevitable noise and mess they would bring with them.

But when you are planning a trip around the world, want it to last 6 months, and no longer have a paycheck - you have to evaluate cheaper options. So while I started in an AirBnB in Buenos Aires, I knew that I would be moving onto hostels fairly quickly.

I started looking at reviews online and quickly could pick out the places that fed my perspective of them, and those that looked 'respectable'. TripAdvisor and HostelWorld have user reviews that tell you about the vibe, noise levels, cleanliness, location, etc. And you can decipher what type of crowd stays there by the reviews themselves and what the guests write about. ("Near all the night clubs bro!" "Sweeeeet rec room with beers and a ping pong table!" = NO)

Aside from one unpleasant experience in a stop-over city, my experiences at hostels have been incredibly positive. I've done both shared and private rooms. They have been clean and comfortable, social but tranquil. Some have even been nicer than hotels I've stayed in.

And the people? Well, they are not what I had pictured. They are not loud, obnoxious kids looking to get bombed. They are professionals, students, drifters and teachers of all kinds. They are people who don't want to wait until they are retired to travel. They don't want to wait until their friend is ready to go with them, or until they find a significant other. They took a few months off. They took a year off. They took two years off. They are tired of the rat race. They are looking for a change. They want to step outside their comfort zone. They want a break from their routine. They want to explore. They want to meet new people. They want to gain new perspective. They want to experience other cultures. They want to experience themselves in a new context. They want to savor Mother Nature's creations. They want to be inspired.

They are...just like me.

I have met some amazing people in the hostels I've stayed in that have led me to incredible adventures and great fun. My perspective has completely changed. And while I don't suggest a hostel is the best option for every type of journey - if you choose wisely, it could lead to some unexpected and memorable experiences.

Musings Travel

To Each Her Own Story

October 1, 2015

For centuries, humans have turned to stories as a means of escape, connection and inspiration, to pass on teachings and tradition, to share information and to mobilize social movements. From fables, folklore and fairytales to poems, novels, memoirs, movies and documentaries - we all have certain stories we connect with, stories that touch us, move us or speak to us.

I ultimately chose a profession that allows me to relish in my own love of story. Branding in the corporate world means understanding what a company stands for, what their purpose is, what makes them unique and then telling their story in the most authentic way possible. And as much as I love defining and creating brands as a professional - I equally love getting to know the story of a brand as a consumer.

I feel the same way about people. We each have our own story - where we've been and where we want to go, our history and our purpose. And I'm drawn to people's stories for all the same reasons as above - to be moved or inspired, to learn, gain new perspective and to connect.

Since the beginning of my journey, I have met loads of other travelers and the conversations with them always start the same way:
Where are you from? How long are you traveling for? Where have you been? Where do you go from here? What has been your favorite stop so far? What do you do back home? What are you going to do when you get back?

You might think that the repetitive questions would get old quickly. But while I may tire of my own voice telling my story, I never get tired of having this conversation. Because the fact is, while the questions are all the same - the answers always bring forth a new story. Each person brings a unique reason for traveling, a different background, their perspectives on various locations, their experiences - their ups, their downs - and their dreams of life after their journey.

So I thought I would share the stories of just a few people I've connected with to date. Perhaps I will do this fairly regularly, but for now:

Diego, from Argentina. Diego is from Buenos Aires, and while he was on holiday in Tilcara a few years ago, he fell in love with it. He started talking to the owner of the hostel where he was staying, who happened to be in the market to sell. Very soon after, he left his job in the city and bought the hostel. I don't know what it looked like before he was there, but he turned the hostel into an incredibly creative, art-filled sanctuary. With locally crafted items, vintage toys, murals and funky decor - the hostel is so unique and cozy. He even restored an old VW-Scooby-Doo-type-van that sits on the lawn and is a room option for the traveler who wants more of a camping-like experience. I loved his story because he took a chance, leaving his secure job at a hotel chain to build something he could call his own, that allows him to express his creativity and reflects his personality. (Ladies, he was also very nice to look at and he called me Nee-coley, the witch. At first self conscious of my pointy nose, he clarified that he thought I was enchanting. Hola Diego...)

Marion, from France. Marion flew to southern Argentina without ever speaking Spanish before and hitchhiked her way north to Tilcara, where I met her. My quick Google Maps calculation says that's about 2,500 miles for a direct route, which I'm sure she did not take. She had been traveling for about 5 months and was fluent in Spanish when we met. I connected with her story because she was traveling solo, of course. But even more so because I admired her courage, I shared in her intense love for travel and I was inspired by her success in picking up a new language through total immersion.

Mat, from Australia. Mat leads expeditions all over the world for high school students ("outward bound"- type programs). He had been traveling for 2 years! Throughout his travel stories, he mentioned every continent except Antarctica (though I wouldn't doubt he's been there). More recently, he bought a van in Chile and has been driving all around South America in it. There are some amazing routes in South America that you can certainly see traveling by bus - but being able to take your time, stop where you want and even set up camp in some of the beautiful parks is priceless. I met him in Mendoza along with his friend, Liz from Denver, who flew out to journey with him. We spent the day biking around the wineries and sipping vino. I connected with Liz on many levels personally and was inspired by how Mat turned his work into the lifestyle that he dreamed of.

Random couple, met in Purmamarca. After hiking the Hills of 7 Colors, I sat down to grab a bite to eat. A man and a woman walked into the cafe and I noticed they were selling something. It is not uncommon in Argentina for vendors to walk into a restaurant or cafe trying to sell their goods, though my typical response is "No, gracias". But as they approached me, I saw they had some interesting photos in hand so I decided to listen. Turns out, they are both photographers and they planned to take some time off to bike around South America together for a couple of months. When their holiday time was up, they didn't want to go home. So they started selling their photos in a postcard format with various inspirational quotes* on them, in order to fund 4-5 more months of travel. Another brilliant example of combing work, creativity and personal passion to live the life you dream of.


It's interesting to look at the stories that you most connect with and the people that you really enjoy spending time with. I think you find that they are a reflection of yourself - what you want from life and/or what you aspire to be.

I've clearly got a theme going on here.