Katie Dawes studied Psychology at Sussex, before taking some time out after graduation to learn to surf in a hostel in Portugal. That two week time out turned into four years of traveling across Europe, living and working in hostels and documenting them on her blog, TheHostelGirl.com.
Katie now works directly with the hostel industry to improve the public image of hostelling, both through her own blog and freelance writing for online travel platforms. Her writing has been printed in Elle UK magazine, and featured regularly on Forbes, Elite Daily, and Glamour.
In what way is traveling solo different for women?
I think there are generally more perceived threats for women than men. You see this in everyday life, at university, at work, in your local pub. Women are more aware of the dangers that men pose to them, whereas I don’t think men really feel physically threatened by women. So when a woman chooses to travel solo, she’s putting herself in a position where she’ll be similarly threatened, but this time she’ll be away from friends and family. And I think that’s what makes solo travel different for women. Some people call it brave, or fearless. But the fear is still there, it’s just knowing that you are equally threatened at home, so why not be sat on a sunny beach in Spain rather than a rainy pub garden in England?
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve encountered on your travels?
The most surprising thing about travelling is how quickly you form bonds with people. Some of my best friends today are people I met only for a few days or even hours for the first time. But something clicked enough that we kept in touch, and now meet up as often as we can.
Is it possible to make a sustainable living from freelance writing?
This is still something I’m trying to work out. To make a living from freelance writing is one of my goals for 2017, as currently I make most of my income from working with hostels featured on the blog and through other blog partnerships, rather than writing for other publications. However, I know people who do it, so it is possible!
What can't you live without?
Headphones. I’m either listening to music, audiobooks, or podcasts. And it also makes it a lot easier to make phone calls when I’ve got a backpack on and I’m trying not to get lost!
Tell us about a turning point in your life.
My first solo trip to a hostel. Before that trip I was set to get a proper graduate job and my dream was to become a business psychologist/coach for top-tier managers. I had a great internship in my final two years at university and graduated with a 2:1 from Sussex. But then I began working in hostels and everything changed.
What attracted you to studying at Sussex?
Before I switched to Psychology in my second year, I studied American Literature and Sussex had one of the best programmes in the UK for American Studies. I also had a boyfriend at the time who was studying in Southampton, and I didn’t want to be too far away. Funnily enough neither the boyfriend or my American Literature degree worked out!
Being part of the Park Village community in first year is definitely one of my favourite memories...I loved just being able to pop over to a friend's for dinner or coffee, and we even had street parties!” Katie Dawes
What are your favourite memories of Sussex?
Being part of the Park Village community in first year is definitely one of my favourite memories. The majority of my new friends, and roommates in later years, lived between Park Village houses 1 and 16 and we basically had our own street to ourselves. I loved just being able to pop over to a friend's for dinner or coffee, and we even had street parties!
You haven’t followed a conventional career path since leaving Sussex...
Taking the path I did wasn’t a conscious decision, but it also wasn’t my dream (at least not to begin with). I just sort of fell into a situation where I was offered a hostel job and thought, why not take it? And why not write about it? After that first year, during which I started my travel blog, I began to realise that there was a whole community of travel bloggers out there, many of whom managed to make a living on the road. And then I made a conscious decision to do everything I could to achieve the same lifestyle. I also hate wearing suits and heels to work…now I can work in my pyjamas from bed!
How do you think Britain’s exit from the European Union will affect hostelling?
Luckily, I don’t think the European hostelling industry will be too badly affected by Brexit, just because a lot of incoming guests are from Australia, the US and other European cities. However, it will affect the ease with which UK residents have so far been able to pop over to Europe and work in hostels. This annoys me, as without that ability to freely live and work in hostels in Europe I might not be where I am now, and it could really limit the opportunities of the next generation. The inauguration of President Trump has been more detrimental to the hostel industry. US Hostels, especially in New York, have already seen a decrease in bookings from overseas, and they also experienced a lot of group cancellations after the travel bans were announced.
What single piece of advice would you give to someone considering giving up their day job to travel?
In the words of Nike, just do it. If you have a day job, or a career, you know that you can make a living here in the UK. So if you take time off to travel, or try and create a role that will enable you to work on the road, you have the safety net of knowing you can return to the UK and still make a living if it doesn’t work out. And if it does work out, then you’re living the dream.
What's the best piece of advice you’ve had?
“Don’t get married; don’t get a job; don’t have kids.” And I know what you’re thinking — that sounds awful!! But rather than taking it literally, it’s helped me forge my own path rather than think that there’s only one socially accepted norm in life. There’s nothing wrong with getting married, working hard at a job and having a family. But that advice made me realise that it’s okay to pursue other goals as well, like working for myself and being independent before settling down.
What's the skill you'd most like to have?
I’d love to be able to sing. I love playing guitar (badly, I might add), but I can’t really sing along because it would drive everyone mad. Although that never really stopped me trying from my bedroom, so shout out to my Sussex roommates who had to listen to it over the years!
What are you passionate about?
International discussion between people from different cultures. This is what most made me fall in love with hostel life. There is still so much misunderstanding and fear between different cultures, many of whom now live in far more multicultural societies than we’ve ever seen. My passion lies in showing that everyone — no matter where they’re from, what their religious beliefs are, or what they look like — is equal. Hostels are such a perfect way of showing how cohabitation and discussion can work.
What's your favourite pastime/relaxation activity?
I’ve always loved reading books, novels mostly, and especially ones that involve a lot of travel! It’s another way of seeing the world through the eyes of other people.
What qualities do you most admire in other people?
Kindness. I know some great people who will go out of their way for their friends, but are quite happy to judge others and be rude about strangers, and it instantly puts me off them. It doesn’t take much to be kind to people. I also admire ambition. That’s the business psychologist in me…
I’m obsessed with Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It’s the ultimate travelogue with a lot of emotions wrapped up in it.
Describe your perfect day…
Waking up early with a good coffee, writing for a few hours, taking lunch with friends and then an after lunch coffee and reading session curled up with a dog (I’m going to be a dog lady one day). Ideally this day would be spent in Paris, so I can spend a summer evening with friends, a bottle of wine and a picnic on the banks of the river as the sun sets.