Talk about life goals: 32-year-old Deidre Mathis is a world traveler, an author and the first person to open a Black owned hostel in the United States.
“It’s been exciting to see my vision come to life,” says the entrepreneur, who is the force behind Wanderstay Hotels, a Houston-based hostel concept that she is planning to roll out to other locations.
After hatching the idea a mere two years ago, Mathis set to work creating the first property, which opened in August 2018 with a bright color scheme and coworking spaces for busy travelers. She was inspired by an experience she had at a hostel in Greece. “I’m a big solo traveler,” says Mathis. “I met these fabulous women and we formed this amazing bond and continued to travel together for a year and a half, doing nothing but staying in hostels.”
When she moved to Houston, she said to herself, “There’s a market here for that.”
According to Mathis, there are over 400 hostels in the U.S., and collectively they earned more than $17 million in 2016. “It’s a profitable industry,” she says. “But that’s not why I’m getting into it. I’m getting into it because I have a passion for traveling and for putting people together. So the money’s just a bonus.”
And if there’s anyone who knows something about handling money, it’s Mathis. She is the author of the book, Wanderlust: For the Young, Broke Professional, which she wrote after taking a post-graduation gap year. “I only had about $12,000 and I had to budget that money the best way possible,” she says. “And that money lasted me for about a year and a half.”
When creating Wanderstay, Mathis raised capital in a variety of ways. In addition to getting a small business loan, she ran an Indiegogo campaign that helped get the Houston community excited about the project — and brought in more than $5,000 in just 31 days. “It was good not just to raise the funds, but to have the community stand behind me and support me,” she says.
Mathis says she is excited to have the opportunity to offer international and domestic travelers a place where they can come together and have an instant community. “This is not a backpacker spot,” says Mathis. “This is a place for the young traveler on the go who is looking for somewhere nice to stay but doesn’t want to spend all their money on accommodations or be uncomfortable or unsafe.”
What makes Mathis most proud? “The fact that I had this goal and dream, and the fact that I made it come true two years after I had the vision — that’s almost unheard of. I meet people all the time and they say, ‘It’s taken me six or seven years to get my business off the ground.’ So the fact that I had this imaginable amount of desire and passion and the fact that I got it done in two years makes me incredibly happy.”
When it comes to advising other entrepreneurs who want to take on a similarly ambitious project, Mathis warns that it’s not easy. “Starting a business like this is hard,” she says. “This is not something for the faint of heart. You have to get funded, you have to buy a building, you have to go through contractors, you have to find an interior designer, you have to hire people, you have to come up with an HR plan. It is a lot.”
Here, Mathis shares several pieces of advice for entrepreneurs who want to create a business like this:
- Ask for help. I sought out mentors, even people I had never met in real life. I saw people who worked in the industry and I reached out to them. They were super helpful.
- Get your personal finances in order. Make sure your credit is good. Even if you don’t want a bank loan, you want to make sure that you’re able to properly handle finances before you open a business.
- Practice self care. I am adamant about taking one day off a week to do something for fun. If you’re burnt out, you can’t be the best business owner.
Want to travel and see the world? Mathis, who is an expert on budget travel, also shared her top tips for saving money on travel:
- Get a credit card and use it for all of your bills. Pay everything on that one credit card. You can accumulate points — but pay that bill on time. One year, I was able to accumulate over 24,000 points. On Southwest, that’s the equivalent of about three roundtrip flights.
- Look into budget accommodations. Americans have a little fear of hostels, but there’s no need to have that because hostels can be safe, fun and a great way to save money. So for example, I went to Miami, and I was able to stay in a hostel for $47 a night. There was a hotel right next door for $145. I was literally staying on the same block in the same neighborhood and I spent $100 less. And I was able to make great friends.
- Use websites like CheapOair and CheapTickets.com. They’re great because if you have time coming up and you want to take a vacation, you can get great deals. I was able to fly to Dubai roundtrip for $250 and Iceland for $159. Those sites also alert you when the airlines have flash deals or mistake deals that you can hurry up and jump on.
- Eat like a local. I always eat at local restaurants when I’m traveling. For instance, in Thailand, I found a neighborhood mom and pop shop. I don’t speak Thai, and they didn’t speak English, but they had a menu with pictures, so I pointed to what I wanted and it was the equivalent of $1.75. Had I eaten in the hotel restaurant or the fancy restaurant down the street, I could have easily spent $20 or $30. When you’re traveling, that money will add up. So over a week, I spent about $50 on food, compared to $400 if I had eaten like a tourist.
- Use Hotels.com. Not only is Hotels.com a reputable website with reviews from everyone who has stayed there, they have a great rewards program. Every 10 nights you stay in a hotel, you get one night free. In three years, I was able to accumulate 15 free nights, just by utilizing this service. And there’s a range. You can even book hostels.
- Skip taxis! Years ago, when I first started traveling, I was that person who wanted a taxi everywhere I went. So I would land at the airport and hop in a taxi to my hotel. I was spending so much money, and that’s not the way to go. You definitely want to utilize local transportation. For example, in Israel, I had the opportunity to travel to a different part of the city. I reached out to a taxi driver, who was going to charge me the equivalent of $55. The metro cost me $6. It took a little more time, but I got to see more of the city — and saved a ton.
- Get a work holiday visa. Something really exciting is the work holiday visa, which gives Americans a one-year visa to work and travel abroad to countries like Australia and New Zealand. All the money that you make is yours. You don’t need to pay taxes. Or if you pay taxes, you get everything back.
- Teach English abroad. I had the opportunity to teach English for six months in Korea, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did I get to live in South Korea, I was able to save up so much money because they pay English teachers very well. From China to Japan, there are so many countries that are looking for English speakers to come and teach.