The Hostel Life: Behind the Scenes
The Hostel Life is a group of avid, adventure-seeking travelers who explore the world and film their travels to educate their viewers on the benefits of travel. We go behind the scenes with Mehdy Ghannad, the creator and host of The Hostel Life.
How many countries have you visited so far with The Hostel Life?
Countries that I have visited with The Hostel Life has been 8, but 6 complete shows have been or are being made from those shoots. Personally I have traveled to 37 Countries, have lived in 4, studied in 3, and worked in 1.
How long are you planning on traveling? Is there a minimum of countries you want to visit before your journey comes to an end?
This is a great question. I will travel as long as I can! Now for the show that is obviously a different question. I don't know. I haven't thought about when I would end as the front person of The Hostel Life. But I tell you what, when that point comes, I do want someone similar to me. Meaning someone who followed a path that comes from that corporate world, has had some cultural experience either being a first generation American or having spend some of their formative years over seas. This is America, the land of opportunity, what better way to illustrate that! As for the corporate world its easier to choose a path and stay that course than it is to completely change that path over night. For me that's an impressive feat and the one I am most proud of. I wasn't scared to try the alternative and I wasn't scared of the unknown.
What has been the most surprising experience you have had on the show thus far?
There are 2 experiences that come to mind. One is when I was filming the Colombia Pilot at Carnival in Barranquilla. This was my first real shoot, I am filming a travel show. So obviously that appeal has a lot to do with a memorable experience. But the surprise was how crowded the streets and stands were, it felt like the whole city had emptied to come to participate in Carnival. Also this was the first time I was treated like press, myself and the crew were given press passes, so we were allowed to move around the parade right there amongst them. I was able to jump into crowds and talk to people, I will always remember this experience.
The other was in Israel, I learned the fighting technique of Krav Maga. It was a humbling experience for me, as I consider myself to be in decent shape. Having guys that are half my size beat the crap out of me, its a great way to check your ego. I don't want to say too much, because you have to wait to see the episode." But I can tell you want, my wrist is still sore to this day from that shoot.
Mehdy, what inspired you to create The Hostel Life?
I have had some amazing experiences staying in hostels because of all the people I have met. Most of the time the next destination I picked was to go visit one of those people I met on the road. I think from that horror movie Hostel, people in the United States have this negative impression of hostels, and I wanted to show them that this is not the case.
I was living in Miami at the time, and I was planning my trip to Asia. I was talking to my roommate and his girlfriend while we were watching "Anthony Bourdain's, No Reservations." I made a comment and said there is no real show based on a backpackers perspective.
I love watching the Travel Channel, but most of those guys have some years on them and its mostly about food. Yes, each county has their own cuisine and I show that in the show as well, but what about other stuff you can do. I want to see a more youthful approach to travel. I still just sat on the idea for months before I really did anything with it, but the name The Hostel Life came right there and then. I have some amazing experiences staying in hostels because of all the people I have met. Most of the time the next destination I picked was to go visit one of those people I met on the road. I think from that horror movie people in the United States have this negative impression of hostels, and I wanted to show them that this is not the case.
What pushed me over the edge to give it all up, it took some things that happened in my personal life that led to me taking a trip to Colombia. As I was on the plane I began speaking with this guy roughly my age and was a native of Medellin. I was just asking him questions about the city, places to go, and more importantly how do I get from the airport to the center of town. Once we got off the plane he pointed me to the direction of the bus to catch but 15 seconds after I started walking that direction, he called to me. He said "American, Come here". Without questioning anything I went over to him, his family had offered to give me a ride into town. I did not hesitate, looking back on it maybe not the smartest thing to do, jumping in a car with people I don't really know, but I did not process that at the time.
But the story gets even cooler, here I am in a car with my new friend, his family, and I have no idea where I am staying. On the way their he asked if I knew anyone from Medellin that can help get me settled. I said actually yes! I have a friend who I played Ultimate Frisbee with in Miami and she is now back in Medellin. I gave a little physical description and her name, and then he told me hold on for second. He grabbed his cell phone and made a call, and then he gave me the phone and it was her. He was friends with her as well. Talk about small world. Right then and there I was like I have to pursue this idea. I got to show people this.
Colombia is a place that has so many negative stereotypes and here I am disapproving all of them in one car ride. His family took me to several different hostels and made sure I was okay before they left me and the next day my new friend Camilo came by to make sure I was okay. How freaking cool is that?
The Hostel Life Team is pretty diverse. How did the team come together?
I would be completely lying if I said I planned it that way. I have worked with many different individuals up until the point of forming the current team. Myself being a first generation American, I naturally gravitated towards finding people with similar backgrounds. I think they also gravitated towards the project and me as well. So really it was all left up to chance!
The underlying message in the show is breaking down those cultural stereotypes, and what better than have a multi-cultural diverse team.
What was it like to spend Mother's Day with locals in Amman, Jordan? Is it true you were taught to cook?
Mothers Day in Jordan was simply amazing. We were so lucky to have met Maria and her family! I am Middle Easterner as well, and to be able to showcase the hospitality of the people was double gratifying to me as a producer/host and as a traveler. Yes I was taught how to cook, but don't ask me to re-make anything I was taught.
You believe life is about the journey, not the destination. In what way has The Hostel Life has helped you live that out?
I strongly do believe that saying, " Life is about the journey, not the destination". The Hostel Life has been a journey for me, I stepped out my comfortable lifestyle and entered into a new career path that I had no idea how it worked. But if I eased into it I would have never gotten this far so fast, I had to jump. That's how I travel as well, if you are cautious when you travel into a new country, then people can sense that you are guarded. But if you are open from the beginning, cool things happen. As for the project, If it doesn't turn out the way I wanted it to, I lose nothing. The journey itself has been extremely rewarding. I have met some amazing people that I work with currently, amazing people from my recent travels, and I have actually received a lot of praise from people in the media industry. Not bad for someone who never went to film school.
Surely there are many differences you have encountered across cultures. What are some of the most striking? And are there any surprising similarities you have discovered?
The major differences are usually how religion plays a role in the culture. This is usually what one sees at first. The way people dress, the architecture, and how locals treat each other. That's on the surface, under all that, people are the same. People all over the world are nice, they are proud of their country, they have financial worries, they are concerned about the health of the economy, they want to feel loved, and they all want to know what the rest of the world thinks about them. Doesn't that mean we are all similar more than different? That's what I have noticed form all my travelers, we are 99.9% the same. Unfortunately many people concentrate on that 1% that makes us different.
Anything else you would like to share?
I hope as a result of the show, besides millions of people watching it, that I speak to some people to take that risk. Don't be that person that had that great idea and never did anything about it.
Finally, I would not be here with out my team, family, and friends. I have never felt so loved than I do at this point in my life and this all would be still a dream.
Photo Credits: all photos provided by The Hostel Life.