A New Place to Stay: Deidre Mathis has opened the nation’s first African-American-owned hostel
There’s a note in the lobby of the new Wanderstay Hotel in Houston from the city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner: “Congrats in making rooms available for all.”
Just a few weeks earlier, Wanderstay owner Deidre Mathis (above), stood in the doorway of the hotel for the ribbon-cutting to celebrate the opening of the nation’s first Black-owned hostel.
The 32-year-old Mathis is making history with the two-story hostel that sleeps 27 and is complete with an entertainment room, a kitchen, multiple bathrooms and themed rooms that pay homage to Houston institutions, such as NASA and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. There are also bicycles available to rent, museum tours and more.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Mathis says. “I'm proud of myself to see this come into fruition.” Hostels, which are popular in Europe, are typically inexpensive lodging that offers shared rooms and facilities. They are frequented by students and professionals on a budget. According to Hostelling International USA, there are more than 4,000 hostels worldwide, but less than 400 in the U.S.
A world traveler, Mathis has been to 38 countries and all seven continents. Her first trip outside of the United States was to the Dominican Republic while a student at Florida A&M University.
“I didn't think that the travel bug was for somebody like me — a young Black girl in college,” she says. “I thought it was for some wealthy White person. But I got bitten by the travel bug. Meeting different people with different cultures, different languages, different food, different music. It was literally a culture shock, but in the best way.”
Mathis found a way to pursue her passion. She taught English in South Korea for seven months, participated in a four-month program in India during her graduate studies and saved enough working in corporate communications to move to Australia for a year. While there, Mathis traveled to 12 countries and stayed in hostels, averaging about $20-$50 a night, at every stop. She even wrote a book about her experience: Wanderlust: For the Young, Broke Professional.
“I fell in love with hostels. I love being able to come to this place by myself and meet so many other travelers and not spend a ton of money. I said I’m going to do this when I get home," she says.
Two years after moving to Houston in 2014, Mathis began pursuing her dream of opening a hostel. She developed a business plan, purchased and renovated a building. She hopes to open three additional Wanderstay hostels in the U.S. and one internationally.
“There are many Black people who own bed and breakfasts, but when I go to hostel conferences, I’m usually the only person of color,” says Mathis. “It’s pretty amazing that no one else has done it, but I’m glad to be the first.”
— Joy Sewing