Name: Katie Dawes
Current location: England
City you were born in or raised: Born in West London, raised on Hayling Island.
Occupation: Blogger at TheHostelGirl.com
Please tell us more about your website! What is the concept and when did you start it? I began TheHostelGirl.com on January 8th, 2014. That date sticks in my head just like a birthday or anniversary now because so many things have changed since then. But the concept has stayed the same.
I was working in hostels at the time—in Budapest—and friends at home would be asking the same questions about my work. They were trying to understand what I was doing for a living, and what a hostel actually is. People still ask me those same questions, so the concept of the blog is to create a greater understanding of hostel life and budget travel, to encourage more hostel travelers in the future!
Tell us about more the path to creating a platform dedicated to hostels. What was your ah-ha moment? I’m not sure I had one specific ah-ha moment. But I think it all began to click when people who worked in the hostel industry began to pay attention to the blogs I was writing. TheHostelGirl.com is so obviously written from one person’s individual perspective: mine. And yet by the end of 2014, I’d spoken with hostel managers, and attended conferences, where I realised that what I was doing wasn’t just important for the few people reading my blog who didn’t understand hostels. It was also important for the industry as a whole.
What is so special about the hostel concept? Oh, where shall I start?! Ultimately, it is people that make hostels special. Whether that be the owners, the staff, the travellers staying in the hostel, the people running the events, or the cleaning staff. There is less formality in hostels compared to hotels, so I think it makes travellers feel more welcome, and more comfortable to go outside of their comfort zones and experience destinations from a safe space.
What are the goals for the future of your platform? How do you see it evolving? Oh, I have so many goals! Most of them are still based around producing written content, even if we are in the age of video! But I love writing, and so 2017 will see the launch of a lot of new e-books and also (hopefully) the growth of my weekly curated newsletter which is one of my favourite projects. I’m also looking into providing some illustrated physical products, but those projects are a little further in the future still.
Out of all of the traveling you’ve done throughout the world, tell us about your favorite city to visit time and again and why: I’ve really fallen in love with Rome over the last two years. I’m lucky to have two great hostels to hang out at there, and there’s also just so much to do in the city. It’s my favourite recommendation for first time solo travellers (because it’s so hard to get bored!), and one of my favourite cities to photograph. The light there is incredible… almost always! GET KATIE’S ROME TRAVEL GUIDE!
Can you give us 3 must-visits spots in Rome, your favorite city?
- The Pyramid of Caius Cestius in the Non-Catholic Cemetery is a real hidden secret. It’s in a district of Rome called Testaccio, which also offers a fantastic authentic Roman food culture. I also wrote about the history of the Pyramid here.
- Mercato Centrale Roma is a new foodie’s hotspot at Termini Station. Tucked away in what used to be the staff canteen, Mercato Centrale is a huge indoor food market that opened in late 2016. Here you can try all the best cuisine from Rome, including Cacio e Pepe pasta, the Trapizzino pizza cone, and suppli!
- It’s not an original sightseeing spot, but I’m in love with the Pantheon. It was completed by the Romans by 128 AD to be a temple, and the knowledge it must have taken to complete such a perfect dome ceiling amazes me. They believe it would be almost impossible to create such a perfect dome today, even with the advanced mathematics and architectural knowledge that we’ve gained in the last 2000 years. So yeah… it’s mind-blowing! I pop in almost every day when I’m in the city!
Do you have a favorite hostel that you keep coming back to you? Which one is it and why? I always struggle to answer this question. I guess currently, the hostels I enjoy going back to visit and spending time in would be Hostel ROOM Rotterdam and The Beehive Rome. Although when I’m in Rome I also spend a lot of time in the bar of The Yellow Hostel.
When looking to book travel in a hostel, what qualities are you looking for? When I’m choosing hostels, I rely a lot on recommendations from other travellers. I also consider location and price quite heavily. But if a friend has told me that the staff is awesome and the atmosphere is great, then location and price become less important. It’s why I try and write reviews focused around the atmosphere, as it’s the hardest quality to gauge from the reviews on online booking platforms like Hostelworld and Booking.com.
Any red flags we should avoid? My biggest tip is to look at how management responds to bad reviews online. If I see that a member of staff has responded to a negative review by being rude or obnoxious, or by belittling the reviewer, then I instantly cross that hostel off my list. That’s the biggest red flag.
Can you share any tips on hostel travel for those of us who haven’t made the jump yet? How can we get the most out of our experience? Go alone! The hostel experience is fantastic for all types of travellers, but you won’t really appreciate all the benefits until you do it alone. Without friends or a partner around, you may be much more nervous, but you’re also more open to meeting people and to new experiences that hostels can bring your way.
What’s the best way to meet new people and make new friends in foreign cities? I’ve got this thing with bartenders and bar stools. On my first night in a new city, I almost always find a bar I like the look of, grab a bar stool (that part is essential!), and try my best to get to know the staff and locals. Other than that, Couchsurfing is also a great way to make new friends in foreign cities. You don’t have to use the site for accommodation, you can also meet people for a coffee—while staying in your hostel.
How do you manage across language barriers? Any apps or sites you use? I am so stereotypically English when it comes to my ignorance of other foreign languages, which means I use the Google Translate App a lot. Especially when I’m trying to make new friends in a bar! But this year I’m learning Italian. To kick start the process I’m currently using a combination of Babbel, Duolingo and HelloTalk to practice!
Are you constantly on-the-go? Do you like that kind of lifestyle? How do you manage it? I have pretty much been on the go since 2013. Although in the last year I’ve realised the importance of settling in one place, even if it’s just for a few months. Three months seems to be my favourite time-period for settling: long enough to really get to know a place but short enough that I don’t go stir-crazy. As for whether I like the lifestyle, it can be stressful, and I’m finding that I’m completely drained these days, even after just a couple months of constant travelling and jumping from city to city. I’m managing it at the moment by taking more frequent trips back to my hometown (a.k.a. my parent’s house). But a less hectic lifestyle is definitely something I’m trying to nurture this year…before I burn out!
Any tips for a nomadic lifestyle? I think my biggest tip for a nomadic lifestyle is to travel slowly. Don’t jump from city to city every week because it’s just too tiring and, from my own experience, it makes it a lot harder to get any work done! I’d also highly suggest coming up with ways to stay in touch with friends. Whether it’s via postcards, Facebook, WhatsApp or phone calls, friendships are important and it can be very easy to let them slip when you’re running around the globe.
As a female traveler, how do you prioritize your safety? Any advice for solo or even group female travelers? My highest priority when travelling to a new destination is to make sure that I’m never arriving late at night. For any traveller, the disorientation and nervousness that comes with being in an unfamiliar city after dark is never worth the £30 I may have saved by not buying an earlier flight. My other top pieces of advice for female travellers is to try and dress as the locals do—as well helping you to stand out less, it can also show respect for their culture—and try and look as if you always know where you’re going.
If you ever plan on staying put in one location, which city would it be and why? This might sound ridiculous, but over the last few years, I’ve become really intrigued by a city that neighbours my own. It’s literally a fifteen minute drive away from where I grew up.
The difference is, I still have childhood memories and some sort of connection to the area, but the city just seems to be cultivating so much more creativity, art, music, literature and entrepreneurship than my own hometown. I think the mix of the familiar and future potential have enticed me. Plus my mum would love it and it’s only an hour from Gatwick Airport!
What cities or countries are on your bucket list and why? Literally everywhere. I travel a lot, but almost exclusively in Europe so I still have so much of the world to see. India—Chennai in particular—is extremely high on my bucket list as it’s where my grandparents lived before moving to London. I’d also love to see Istanbul.
What’s your summer travel itinerary looking like? Where will we see you posting from? In May I will be in Portugal, but after that my summer travel itinerary is pretty flexible. I’ve decided to take less organised trips this summer, as I missed out on a lot of events with friends last year and I also really want to focus on writing more e-books and travel guides! I may try house-sitting for the first time… somewhere remote by the beach would be perfect!
Any advice to someone who wants to travel for a living? The same advice I would give anyone pursuing a dream: just don’t stop fighting for it and give zero f*cks what people might think of you for doing so. Especially when it comes to travelling for a living. You set aside a lot of goals that other people consider normal like mortgages, fancy cars and promotions, but if it’s your dream to travel the world, just find a way. Oh, and you don’t have to become a blogger to do it… there are so many skills that can be transferred to travelling careers. It’s just all about finding the right fit.
What about for someone who wants to start their own travel platform. Any tips you’ve learned along the way? Plenty! But I think my biggest tip for those starting out is to try and understand your motivation for doing it. If it’s to make money and travel the world, then you have to treat the platform like any other business and also understand that the money doesn’t come easily or quickly. If your motivation is to showcase your talents (as a photographer or writer for example), or just to share content about a topic you love, then you’ll also have a lot more success sticking with it for the long haul. Take my obsession for hostels for example—if I didn’t still love them, then I would really struggle to produce content.
And my final tip is not to be a perfectionist. Grammar, photography, and video are all such important factors to a travel platform these days, but they’re also skills that will develop over time, so don’t let a lack of experience stop you from getting your work out there!