The first time Deidre Mathis traveled abroad, she was hooked. A trip to the Dominican Republic when she was nineteen left her with a strong case of wanderlust. As a young black woman, she often felt out of place when traveling, but she kept going, racking up 42 stamps on her passport and eventually parlaying her global adventures into a business: Wanderstay Houston, the first black-owned hostel in the state. Since she opened Wanderstay, in December, Mathis has welcomed over six hundred guests, from as far away as England, Australia, and Spain, and she isn’t done yet. She plans to open two more hostels over the next few years.
At Wanderstay, Mathis greets each guest by name and has a recommendation ready in seconds when they ask her where to go. She’s hoping her guests will get to know and love the city without breaking the bank. “This is a place for people who want to save money but want a community of people they could never meet staying anywhere else,” she says.
Although hostels aren’t as common in this country as they are in other parts of the world, about a dozen have opened across Texas in the past decade, including Wanderstay. Apart from their reasonable cost—an average nightly rate is $30—hostels are an attractive alternative to hotels and Airbnbs because they offer a sense of community, making them ideal for solo travelers and small groups. Many offer a few private rooms, but the norm is dorm room–style lodging—i.e., bunk beds and communal bathrooms—which brings together strangers from around the world. But not all hostels are the same. Some offer more of a boutique-hotel experience, while others focus on great food and drink and live music. Here’s a look at Wanderstay and two other hostels worth checking into.
Named for the trendy downtown Dallas district it calls home, this hostel opened last summer in a century-old building that, in past lives, was a saloon and an auto-repair shop. It’s the second hostel for Collin Ballard and Kent Roth, who founded Austin’s Firehouse Hostel, in a historic former fire station, six years ago. The duo have a flair for leaning into a structure’s historic charm, and at Deep Ellum that meant preserving exposed brick walls and high ceilings, adding industrial touches, and embellishing the main wooden staircase with Spanish tile to create a boutique feel.
The hostel offers nine dorm rooms, starting at $33 a bed, for guests eighteen and older; options include single-sex rooms as well as mixed. For more of a hotel experience, rent one of the six private suites, which come with their own bathrooms, for $109 and up (children are allowed with a parent). A continental breakfast is included for all guests, and there is also a laundry room and lounge.
It’s a good thing the rooms are cheap, because you’ll want to spend some money at the hostel’s tapas bar, Izkina, which has become a scene for locals as well as guests. Head chef Joel Orsini’s farm-to-table menu includes inventive takes on classics such as patatas bravas and albóndigas (Spanish meatballs). 2801 Elm, 214-712-8118.
Austin’s carefully curated Native is not your average hostel, offering a full-service bar, event space, and coffeehouse, all of which inject some of the city’s vibrant nightlife, including live music, into the nineteenth-century limestone building and an adjoining brick warehouse. Opened in 2017 on the hipsterfied East Side, the hostel features well-designed rooms with custom-made steel accents, brass fixtures, red-velvet privacy curtains, and espresso-stained stairs.
Native is meant for someone looking for a higher-end experience; overnight guests must be at least 21. The dorm rooms, which include four- and six-bed options, start at $59 a night—a lot pricier than those at other hostels in the state. Two private suites are available for $249. Then there’s the Romper Room, a large space complete with two full bathrooms and eight bunk beds, which can be booked for private parties as well as overnight stays.
The on-site bar has become an East Side mainstay. Native also offers Pueblo Viejo breakfast tacos in the morning; for lunch and dinner, the Ranch Hand food truck serves grain bowls and dishes that center on Texas meats. 807 E. Fourth, 512-551-9947.
Just a few blocks away from the heart of Houston’s Museum District, Wanderstay has everything you need to check out the city: bikes available for rent, a map of museums, a rotating calendar of local events and nearby happy hours, and a knowledgeable staff who make sure that guests (ages eighteen and up) take full advantage of their time in the Bayou City.
Opened in late 2018, the hostel is a renovated two-story house. The no-frills rooms offer little beyond the basics, but they are bright, fun, and locally themed, with names like the Rodeo Room and Space City Room; the latter is a private room with a single twin bed (no bathroom). The other private option, the Galveston Island Room, features two full beds and a bathroom, for $60. Shared spaces, including a female-only dorm, start at $33 a bed. 4018 Chartres, 281-501-9601.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “It’s a Hostel World Out There.” Subscribe today.