When Deidre Mathis decided to open a hostel in Houston, she knew that she was going to make the entire place Houston-themed, and from there it was obvious that one of the rooms would be inspired by that Houston inspiration herself, Beyoncé. But while the hook for Wanderstay Houston is a chance to spend the night in a room decorated in honor of Queen B, the point of the hostel is to give people the chance to travel and connect the way Mathis herself has done ever since she stumbled into her first hostel stay eight years ago.
It all happened by accident. Mathis and her friend had spontaneously flown to Seoul, South Korea in 2010, but when they arrived they found all the hotels completely booked. But hostels had beds available. “At first I was really scared—there are bunk beds, people I don’t know—thinking I was going to get murdered,” Mathis says. “But we spent three days there, and when we left, I was so sad. We built this friendship with the girls in my room, and the people working at the hostel told us of places to go. It was a community that I wouldn’t have got if I stayed in a basic hotel.”
The time she spent there was a transformative experience. Mathis, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, loves traveling and she’s now been to 38 countries and has stayed in 65 hostels, and has become a true believer in the value of the hostel experience. That’s what has led to her to set up her own hostel right here in Houston. She fell in love with the Bayou City when she landed here in 2014, drawn by its size and how diverse it is. She worked at another hostel over in Montrose for a time, before setting out to start her own place, located near the Museum District. Wanderstay Houston, a house that offers both private and shared rooms for up to 29 people, opened earlier this month with Mayor Sylvester Turner appearing for an official ribbon cutting ceremony.
Each of the hostel’s eight different rooms features a Houston-centric theme: There’s the Beyonce-inspired “I Woke Up Like This” room, while the other spaces focus on Houston's sports teams, diversity, space, museums, the rodeo, and Galveston Island, respectively, in addition to a namesake Wanderstay room. Does Beyoncé know anything about all this? We don't have a clue, but the space inspired by her work and her Houston-ness is pink and airy, with gleaming hardwood floors and an overall good vibe about it, much like Bey herself.
The hostel is also set up to guests a taste of what it’s like to be a local with a few theme nights. On Museum Mondays guests can rent bikes and visit our city's museums. There are also Taco Tuesdays where Mathis and her staff of five cook tacos with the guests for lunch and dinner in the 24-hour kitchen, offering guests the opportunity to hang out and talk. Wanderlust Wednesdays are what you’d expect based on the name, with a focus on trading travel stories and kicking around thoughts on the best places to visit, both in Houston and around the world.
There are no plans yet for Bey-glorious Thursdays, but it could happen once things start rolling. “The number-one key thing for me is making sure my guests feel like they’re not alone, and that they have someone while they’re in Houston who is going to show them a good time,” Mathis says.
Traveling through various countries and being exposed to different cultures makes Mathis empathize with people different from herself. And she takes her acceptance to her hostel. “We’re super open here. I don’t care what the situation is, we don’t make our guests or employees feel uncomfortable. People can come as they are, and we just want to make sure they have a good time,” Mathis says.
She’s made sure that all of the hostel's restrooms are gender-neutral for those who identify as genderqueer or transgender. “When you’re traveling, choosing a bathroom shouldn’t be of any concern. If you have to pee, you should just be able to pee,” Mathis says. The same goes for getting around in a wheelchair. She says the place has ramps for people in wheelchairs and accessibility-friendly rooms even though that’s not required for her relatively small space.
Mathis says she is just getting started with this first hostel. The Museum District location has only been open a couple of weeks and she is already looking to open another hostel in EaDo next summer.
It's all about connection, she says. As hostels are often more affordable than hotels, it allows people of different backgrounds and incomes to travel, making it more available to those millennials and those who are not wealthy, and giving people the chance to experience a world they might not have access to otherwise.
“Going to places where you don’t speak the language, where you’re not familiar with the settings, pushes you in a way that you can’t be pushed in your own backyard,” Mathis says. “Traveling exposes you with different cultures, and different religions. For me that’s super important because you can find yourself getting stuck in a bubble and if you’re around people all the time that look and talk like you and have the same beliefs, in my opinion, you don’t really grow.”
You can book a room at Wanderstay online at www.wanderstayhotels.com. The rooms range from $40-$78.