If when you think "hostel" you think dingy, bunk bed-stuffed rooms that only a desperate young traveler would dare to sleep in, you haven't seen HK Austin. The immaculately renovated Victorian mansion that opened in Austin in August is redefining "co-living space" with accoutrements normally suited to a boutique hotel.
Visitors have transplanted Austinite Matt Kepnes to thank for it.
"After having stayed in probably close to a thousand hostels since I started traveling, I've seen what makes a good (and bad) hostel … and I've also seen what makes for a truly mind-blowing one," Kepnes says. "I've been wanting to help make a world-class hostel that gives travelers an amazing experience and a good night's sleep for years."
HK Austin is located in a registered historic landmark building, on the city's thriving east side. It was originally constructed in 1892, but aside from the dual wraparound porches, it sure doesn't feel like it.
The hostel offers two six-bed dorm rooms and a private double room, all with brand-new comfy mattresses and access to amazing showers. The bunk rooms go for $34 per person per night; the private room is just $64 per night. There is also a large indoor common space, free Wi-Fi, a coworking space, laundry facilities, a fully stocked kitchen, onsite secured parking, and events and games (think cornhole and darts) for guests.
So how did a guy who grew up in Boston to a family who didn't travel much end up opening a hostel in Austin? At 23, he took his first trip overseas, after which he settled into the life of a typical college graduate. He got a job with the standard American two weeks of vacation time a year, but a journey to Thailand opened his eyes to the possibility of living life on the road.
In Chiang Mai, he met five backpackers who showed him one didn't need to be rich to travel — that, in fact, long-term travel was often far less expensive than the two-week vacations, and he could find ways of making money on the road.
So Kepnes quit his cubicle job and, after finishing his MBA degree, set off in July 2006 for an adventure around the world. He started a blog — one of the ways he makes money while traveling — and has become quite well-known as "Nomadic Matt."
After six years of traveling solo, Kepnes started feeling like he wanted a better balance in his nomadic life. He made New York City his home base and leased his first apartment in years. He still traveled for eight to 10 months out of the year, including to Austin for South by Southwest.
"I love the vibe (and warmth) of the city," he says. "The music, the food, the people. It's a really awesome city that's on the move and changing."
He transferred his home base from New York to Austin — "I want a city without winter with more access to the outdoors," he says — then took it a step further. With his friend Brent Underwood as a business partner, Nomadic Matt opened HK Austin.
Underwood previously ran a hostel in Brooklyn for three years and made the perfect business partner. He also is a traveler, having experienced many hostels in 20 different countries.
"I fell in love with the atmosphere and energy within a hostel and really wanted to re-create it back home," Underwood says. "I think the most important part of a hostel is fostering an atmosphere where everyone is comfortable and able to enjoy the city they are visiting."
"I love fulfilling dreams of mine, and this has been a 10-year-long dream that has finally come to fruition," Kepnes says. "I'm also excited to create something psychical that contributes to the traveling community. I'm a lover of hostels and travelers, so this is a passion project for me."