As someone who has kept the vow I made years ago to travel to at least one new location on a plane every year, I must say one of my favorite parts of traveling is planning my trips. In addition to planning an agenda of activities, I enjoy shopping for boutique hotels that are a departure from what can sometimes be the overwhelming atmosphere of well-known chains like Hilton or Marriott that all seem to resemble each other no matter what city you’re in. While they can be comforting to those who need some sense of familiarity while traveling, I prefer the personality and intimacy that boutique and pod hotels have to offer. And while I’ve never stayed at a hostel, Wanderstay Hotels has me considering taking a chance during my next adventure.
Deidre Mathis is the entrepreneur behind Wanderstay Hotels, the first black-owned hostel of its kind in Houston, Texas. ESSENCE reports the hostel officially opened it’s doors in Beyoncé’s hometown on August 13th. After traveling through Asia after completing her studies at FAMU, Mathis wanted to create the idea of community and friendship she found staying in hostels while traveling abroad. She officially relocated to the city in 2014 and after publishing her budget travel book, “Wanderlust: For the Young, Broke Professional,” she came up with a business plan to start the first black-owned hostel in the United States.
Mathis says her love for travel was sparked by a Spanish class professor who offered to pay for her to go on a spring break alternative trip to the Dominican Republic. Mathis remarks that although there were plenty of beaches and palm trees to be found in Florida, the trip gave her a chance to experience a different culture and environment, even if the scenery was similar:
“If it wasn’t for her I don’t know if the travel bug would have ever presented itself in my life. I didn’t think that this little Black 19-year-old girl could get it, but it absolutely changed my life just being in a country where people looked differently and spoke differently and ate different foods. It was all so amazing to me. Ever since then, I’ve said, ‘I need this all the time.’”
When asked about why she chose to open a hostel in Houston, Mathis shared that she learned hostels had something different to offer than traditional hotel stays while traveling the globe on a budget:
“I started off in Australia, and I went to about nine different countries all alone. During that year I stayed in hostels. I stayed in them for several reasons: Number one, I was traveling on a budget and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on hotels. And number two, I was by myself. I stayed in hostels everywhere from Australia to Bali to Thailand to Fiji and I just fell in love with the fact that instant connections were readily available. Even though I was a solo woman traveling by myself, when I got to these places I met people and we just created these instant friendships.”
“It wasn’t until after I got home, I got offered a job working as a student abroad advisor. My boss literally said to me when she hired me, ‘we don’t care where you go, but we want you in Texas.’ So I said, ‘I think I’ll go to Houston.’ After living here for about a year, I realized it’s the fourth largest city, the most diverse city in America, there’s already a hostel here that I studied for about a year. I thought it was a great place for me to open a hostel, and that’s exactly what I did.”
So what can folks expect to get with their experience at Wanderstay? Mathis says accessibility is key, and as someone whose GPS left her lost with no signal in a maze of Chicago’s grand architecture this summer, I must say it pays to stay close to the attractions you know you want to visit. Mathis shares Wanderstay is close to much of what Houston has to offer:
“I definitely wanted to create a space that was in a area where it was super easy to connect to different places. We’re about a mile and a half away from the museums, we’re about a mile from downtown, we’re walking distance to bars and parks and we’re super bikeable. We’re also near two of the biggest universities. So it was important for me to choose a central location, as my number one factor.”
In an effort to provide a space for visitors to meet new people and build friendships, Mathis also designed Wanderstay with eight rooms that can accommodate 30 people total on the property. If staying at a hostel and sharing a bathroom with strangers (my major fear) still intimidates you, Mathis reassures visitors that Wanderstay was designed to be welcoming:
“I’ve created a space that is super welcoming. We have bright colors and a bright atmosphere, and we arrange tours for our guests to get around the city. So when our guests walk in, the immediately feel at home. But they also feel like they don’t have to stay in the building all day — they can go on arranged tours, or to bars, to museums.”
Maybe a future visit to Houston might include my first stay at a hostel. You can read all about the challenges Mathis faced starting her business and her plans for more locations in the full interview here.