What inspired you to start travelling?
I guess it started when I was a kid. I grew up on a bush property, very rural and about an hour away from school. We lived on a lake near a tiny town where the main street only had sixteen houses (and even then not all of them were occupied). I was always taking little adventures on my own. Like, I’d take a surf ski and paddle across the lake and then walk around for hours in the bushland and national parks.
Then I studied Indonesian in school and we went on a school trip to Bali, which was the first time I went overseas. I was totally blown away by my experiences there, even though we actually only saw a tiny part of the island. The people and the culture were so amazing, so friendly and smiling and life was so different to in Australia, much simpler.
But then when I was at university I was able to get a scholarship to go to Malaysia for six months. In the time I was there I did quite a lot of small trips in the areas around where the university was (because it was basically in the middle of nowhere!). That was probably where I started to meet more backpackers and talk to people about travel and get really motivated to do more travelling.
How did you get into the travel industry?
Well, my dad started working for YHA and then my uncle bought a hostel at the same time that I finished high school so I was able to get a summer job working there. I did a little bit of everything from working in reception, housekeeping, even organising tours and events. While I worked there I met so many other backpackers and travelers and, like being in Malaysia, it really got me interested in doing more travelling and seeing different places around the world.
What was your first big solo travel trip?
I really like travelling solo, and most of my big trips have been solo trips. My first big one was through Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. I spent three months exploring South America staying in hostels, travelling in local transport and basically surfing the entire time. The only things I took with me were my backpack and my surfboard! Oh, and a Lonely Planet book. It was totally useless! I used to joke that it’s a very lonely planet if you read the Lonely Planet, because the information was all out of date or just directing me to the wrong places!
What travel experience most influenced your life?
There’s so many, but I think the one that most influenced where I am now is a surf trip I took to Sri Lanka. When I was there I was chatting to a guy and found out that he lived in Sri Lanka for six months of the year and then worked for six months back home as an electrician or something. He’d been doing it for years. That conversation was a real light bulb moment, I just stared at him and then said: “You’re a genius!” I knew that I wanted to live my life like that. So, I got a job in a hostel in Sydney and lived and worked there for six months of the year, and then travelled for six months. It was fantastic because for six months I hung around backpackers and got lots of ideas and inspiration for travel and then for the rest of the year I had the freedom to travel anywhere in the world.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve ever had managing/working in a hostel?
Again, there’s so many! Backpackers are a crazy bunch. But the one that comes to mind was one morning when we were just opening up reception. I think it was Sunday morning at about 7am. One of our guests walked in fresh off a Saturday night out in Kings Cross still totally plastered. I was honestly surprised he had managed to get the bus back to the hostel. He walked up to me and said, “How awesome are my tattoos?!” pointing to his feet. On one foot he had tattooed FLIP and on the other FLOP. It was hilarious, I just couldn’t get over it.
Do you think you’ll ever get bored of the travel industry? Why or why not?
DEFINITELY NOT! I can’t even think of a situation where I could possible get bored of being in the travel industry. I mean there’s definitely a line that you have to walk but I think the key is to stay true to yourself. That is, make sure that you don’t get too disconnected from your market. I do this by travelling all the time, as much as I can. By remaining a traveller I can think like one, and I am able to see what’s important to the travellers that I deal with every day. Also, the travel industry is full of people who never quite grew up, so I fit in nicely!
How did Hostelzoo come about?
Well it kinda started when I was in Venice around 2006. I went on to Hostelworld and the hostel that I wanted to book in Rome was sold out. So I opened a new window, jumped onto Hostelbookers and there was a bed free with them. That got me thinking about the fact that there wasn’t a website where you could see all the beds that were available from all the booking engines. Instead you had to mess about and waste time checking each site separately. I guess that’s how the idea sprouted, and it bounced around for a little while before it took off. Since then the site has grown and developed into what it is now, the largest hostel comparison website out there, so I’m pretty happy with that.