Seeking escape and inspiration, we sat down with the author of Gestalten’s The Grand Hostels (the ideal book for anyone exploring the world on a shoe string), the wanderlust-driven Kash Bhattacharya of Budget Traveller, to chat about travel, creativity, luxury hostels and turning your passion into your profession. And he naturally found time to muse on some of his favourite Portuguese finds.
Can you tell us a little bit about your writing and travelling background?
I got into publishing in 2002 after I graduated from university with an economics degree. I started up a magazine that focussed on youth issues that would also act a platform for them to gain first hand experience of publishing … [But] dwindling advertising revenue and my lack of business nous led the magazine to crash during the recession of 2005. I was left heavily in debt and working three jobs to pay [it] off. Thankfully, around this period, the low cost revolution was taking off thanks to Ryanair where you could get return flights to Europe for as little as two pence. I didn’t have much money so this made a huge difference. I stayed in hostels because I couldn’t afford anything else. Plus I could cook in the shared kitchen to save money on eating out. I loved the challenge of travelling on a budget. It forced me out of comfort zone, to do my research and speak to people. Which again, helped me connect with people wherever I travelled. Remember, these were in the days when blogs were a rarity and people still depended on word of mouth and Lonely Planet for travel tips. These trips formed the basis of my first blog europebudgetguide.com which I launched in April 2009 and also my book. PS: After eight years of paying my debt off, I’m proud to say I’m debt free.
What inspired you to create The Grand Hostels?
The main aim of my blog Budget Traveller has been to inspire people to travel in style on a budget. I think the emergence of Airbnb, the recession and the rise of the internet and blogs have led to a dramatic shift, [with travellers becoming] more value conscious and [focussing] on more experiential travel. This shift kind of played into the hands of hostels who had always been great at being social and creating experiences for their guests. All they had to do was add to the comfort factor - like have privates along with dorms - and invest more in facilities - from sauna and swimming pools to rooftop restaurants and bars to accommodate travellers who may have traditionally never considered staying at hostels. I saw this shift back in 2012 staying at beautiful design hostels like the Independente Hostel & Suites in Lisbon, Gallery Hostel in Porto and later Cocomama in Amsterdam - these hostels that made me change the way I saw hostels.
Was there an experience that you partially enjoyed while writing/researching the book?
I’ve been visiting these hostels over the last six years and had several memorable experiences but the one that stays with me to this day was my first luxury hostel I visited: Gallery Hostel in Porto back in 2012. I remember on the first night sitting down with fellow hostel guests and the owners for their ‘dinner with locals’ in the hostel kitchen where we were served a three course Portuguese dinner with a glass of wine for just €10. It was a wonderful night of great food, conversation, learning about Portuguese culture and meeting travellers from across the world - that night opened my eyes to a whole new world of travelling and it still inspires me to this day.
What is the one budget travel myth that you hope the book dispels?
That travelling on a budget means scrimping on experiences, comfort and also other factors like great design and hospitality.
What surprised you most about this project?
I’m amazed at the rapid evolution of luxury hostels since I started blogging about them in 2012. In the last two years alone there has been incredible additions to the hostelling scene: Long Story Short in Olomouc, Option Be in Cordoba, Once in Joburg, Hostel Café Koti in Rovaniemi, 36hostel Hiroshima and the Dock Inn Hostel in Warnemunde. It is a very exciting space to be in so stay tuned for the next edition of the book.
What's next for you?
I’ve just completed an e-book about how to enjoy Latvia on a budget which will be free to download. In terms of travel, I haven’t got much planned other than a two week birthday trip to Italy. Last year was pretty intense with the book and other projects so this year I’m keeping things open and seeing what offers roll into my inbox. The older I grow, the more I prefer things to be spontaneous and less planned.
You can order a copy of Kash’s book here.
Our own Portugal magazine can be purchased here.