I published my first book just a little over a month ago.
It’s called ‘The Grand Hostels: Luxury Hostels of the World’ , a book about 116 of the world’s finest luxury hostels.
I published my first book.
Even typing that now, it feels so surreal.
My last month actually has been surreal. Spent most of it exploring Latvia. Wow, what a beautiful country. Pure nature and silence.
I also had 2 wonderful book launch events in Zurich and Berlin where I got a chance to talk about the book.
I shared in the talk the story about how I got the idea for the book. How did it all come together…those fine pieces of the jigsaw puzzle coming together.
So here’s my idea for today. I thought I’d share the story of how I came up with the idea of the book on the blog today. Something a bit personal for a change. It is a long read, so please, bear with me. Grab a cheeky beer or coffee for company.
This is not just a story about how I got the idea for the book. It also a story about love and following your dreams. I also do talk a lot about weird diseases. Plus about shitting. I apologise in advance. I think its an obsession in my family.
Lord, I hope you are not reading this dad.
Back to the book launch events. Both had a good turnout. I still get nervous when speaking in public. I’ve done it countless times but I still get the nerves. Stupid irrelevant thoughts enter into my head like what would happen if I swear too much, which I do.
Or what would happen if I suddenly let out a massive big fart in front of everyone while speaking. Am i alone in thinking about weird shit like that?
I used to have a shot of whisky before getting on stage to calm the nerves. Nowadays, a double espresso does the trick.
My talk turned out pretty well. No, I didn’t do a massive fart. I cracked a few shit jokes though.
The one joke about ‘parcopresis’ always gets a few laughs.
Aha, I see you’re not familiar with this word. Google it. Got the answer?
Yup, turns out that you and me might have a common disease…. the irrational fear of shitting in public toilets.
I trace the fear of using public toilets back to the age of 4 when I took my first ever holiday with my parents. We flew with Aeroflot from London to Calcutta.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the misfortune of flying through Moscow Sheremetyevo airport , especially in 1984 but boy, was it a bleak place back then to have a 12 hour stopover.. No place to rest. No TV. Nothing.
Just hyperactive mini me ( 5 years old), my calm and well behaved sister who was 8 at the time and a frantic mother trying to figure how to keep us entertained for an eternity.
I had to go to the toilet during this nightmare stopover. As you’ve guessed it by now, the public toilets in Sheremetyevo left a lot to be desired in terms of public hygiene. So, yup, my ‘irrational fear of shitting comes from that ordeal and subsequent ordeals in public toilets across India after.
So. Naturally finding hostels with private toilets was my first criteria when I started researching for the guidebook.
I found a bunch of amazing hostels that had rooms with private toilets along with those good old dorms with shared toilets for those brave ones who have no irrational fear of shitting in public.
There was something more about these hostels that really got me excited. Each of these hostels were more than just a cheap place to sleep. Each, were creating an experience for their guests.
The first luxury hostel I ever visited was in Porto and it blew me away. It was called the Gallery Hostel.
This was April 2012. The hostel was situated in the heart of the art district of Porto on a street called Rua Miguel Bombardia. I remember the moment I walked into the hostel and was just blown away by the place. The parquet floors, the beautiful library with a wonderful collection of coffee table books that you would need a lifetime to read, the open bar lounge area where they offered me my first taste of Alentejo wine and their humongous kitchen where their Brazilian chef was preparing a 3 course meal for all the guests later that night.
It didn’t feel like a hostel but more like a boutique 4 star hotel. I slept in their 4 bed deluxe dorm the first night and the beds were super comfy and we even had fluffy woollen blankets to keep us warm on those chilly April mornings in Porto. The following night I stayed in their private suite with my very own bathroom. The whole experience felt like true luxury but the reality is you could spend €15 a night and experience all this or for the comfort of your own space and toilet, pay something around €50.
My whole worldview of hostels changed after that experience. If that hostel would have been a stinker, I never would have had the guts to write the book. ( Obrigado Goncalo!)
Since visiting this hostel it became an obsession to see if I could uncover more hostels like this.
I went later that Spring to Cocomama in Amsterdam and then to another beautiful hostel called the Independente Hostel & Suites. Both these places blew me away. It was then I realised I could possibly write a whole book about all of these hostels.Someone needed to tell their story.
My only problem at that time was that I didn’t know how to find a publisher. I had been barely blogging for 2 years. I couldn’t afford to travel and explore this hostels full-time.
I was holding down three jobs in Edinburgh and barely making ends meets.
I did social media training for voluntary organisations for a wonderful organisation called Midlothian Voluntary Action plus worked in a bar in evenings, just for kicks. My third job was as a trainee bookseller in a bookstore called Blackwells on South Bridge, Edinburgh.
The job didn’t pay well but the perks were good: you would get a big fat staff discount on books plus get to borrow the books on the condition of not making a dogs dinner of them when at home. I had a really nice manager by the name of Jackie and fun colleagues- all the people were extremely intelligent folk…some with dreams of writing their own book one day, some wanting to be a musician or some simply with the ambition of enjoying the everyday business of life.
There’s something quite magical about working in a bookstore.
Surrounded by all those wonderful smelling new books. Even though we live in a digital world, there is still an undescribable thrill about holding a book in your hand. I’d spend hours watching people’s faces- the whole gamut of human emotions. Books can move you in so many ways. I’ve seen grown women and men weep. I’ve also seen kids, speechless , lost in books. I love how books encourage introspection and reflection in people of all ages. For me there is no greater temple of learning than a bookstore…it is also one of the last few refuges for the human mind.
So. There was me, wondering in this intimate world of books and emotions, unspoken thoughts floating all around me…
I loved the travel section the most. I’d sit there for hours reading about places I dreamt of going. I’d read travel guides from cover to cover to get inspiration for blog posts I wanted to write on my blog. This was my go to place for whenever I planned any trip back in the day. I also researched a lot of the first book here and getting ideas for which hostels to visit.
The more I read about these hostels, the more I felt the irresistable urge to write this book and so one day I decided I would create it. It was to be self published. It was to be called the ‘Luxury Hostels of Europe.’
Luxury Hostels. A nice oxymoron I thought to get people to think differently about these hostels.
My only issue was covering my costs and bills for the 6 months I needed to write the book. Thankfully I have saved up a bit from the 3 jobs I was working. Plus, I managed to crowdsource financial support from within the hostelling community and found sponsors like easyJet, Eurail , Busabout and a website called Travellerspoint. Without their support, I never would have written the first book and be standing here now.
One fine day in June 2012, I left Edinburgh. I sold all my possessions within a week and packed my life into a rucksack. It was the scariest and bravest thing I have done. To leave the world behind that you know so well and love, for one that you have no clue about.
I have never looked back since that moment. After 6 glorious months of travelling and visiting hostels which had its fair share of highs and lows, I wrote my first e-book. It was a grand success, featured by the Guardian, New York Times, CNN to name a few.
My blogging career took off after that. I published 4 years later a subsequent sequel to the book which was also very popular but again self published and in e-book format.
Last year, I got the chance I had been waiting for.
I had come to Berlin after experiencing blogging burnout. I was travelling too much. Not spending enough time home. Not enough time for myself. I went through a painful breakup and my whole life was turned upside down. I was back on the road at 37 leading the sometimes-epic-sometimes-not-epic life of a digital nomad.
In Berlin, I switched off the laptop and just remembered to live again. Berlin, in the summer is a place of real beauty. You have to experience it once in your lifetime. Everyone is on the streets till late. Its like a never-ending festival of happiness. There’s the sound of music or something fun going on every nook and cranny. People are smiling. Beers in hand. You can eat wonderful food from all parts of the world for not too much money. I joined a fantastic coworking space called the Factory and met creative people from all over the world. I also met a girl. The kind of girl you dream of meeting. Infectious. Happy. Silly, like me. Beautiful. The kind of girl who walks into a room and brings a smile to everyone’s face. I discovered Berlin through her eyes. I discovered a lot about myself thanks to her.
Things started looking up. After a few weeks of barely doing any work, I found slowly my creative energy coming back. Ideas were forming, waiting to break out and find shape. I was keen to find a publisher who I could work with on a much needed sequel to the Luxury Hostels of Europe. I wanted to do a global edition of the book. I found myself spending a lot of time in bookstores across Berlin researching publishers and then I came across the beautiful coffee table books of Gestalten in a bookstore called Ocelot.
I was keen to know more about the publisher and then I had a wonderful twist of fate. I met the charismatic founder of the Berlin Travel Festival, Bernd Neff at a travel storytelling event at the Factory. He invited me to become part of his inaugural Berlin Travel Festival which would be taking place in Spring 2018. It was thanks to Bernd, I got a meeting with his long term friend and founder of Gestalten, Robert Klanten. The rest is history.
After a year of working tirelessly on the book, sleepless nights in Bangkok to Berlin, the book launched on the 30th August, 2018.
It’s more beautiful that I could have imagined it to be. The first time when Adam and Maria from Gestalten presented me with the book in my hand, was a moment of pure joy, one I will never forget.
A very surreal moment.
An even more surreal moment- I went back to Edinburgh a fortnight ago after eons. I had brought the girl to see my hometown and take her to all my favourite haunts where all those dreams were made all those years ago.
Blackwells Bookstore, of course featured highly on that list.
I walked into the travel section. I gazed at all the books with a nostalgic sigh, remembering a former, more innocent version of me standing there with all those dreams to travel , make some sort of a living and even oneway, publish a travel book of my own.
Then, came the magic moment.
There, on the top, I saw my book on display in their featured travel books section.
A very surreal moment.
The girl and me safe to say , made a whole lot of noise and create a fair racket that might have upset a few browsers around us.
Afterwards, we drank beer. Lots of it.
So. That was the story I wanted to tell you today.
My dream came true.
It still feels surreal.
It still feels great now.
I’m grateful to everyone who made my dream came true. My family, brother in law, my sister who slogged endlessly to help me pull together this book, my girl aka Sabrina who stuck with me through all the highs and lows of putting this book together, my publishers- Robert, Maria and Adam especially who I drove nuts a few times throughout the whole process, Bernd and everyone at BTF, Steve Lowy-my hostel guru, the original Busabout crew Roger Kerr and Graeme Ward, my friends- Chris Richardson, Peter Parkorr, Bjorn, Melvin, Keith, Nicholas, Michael Ball, Paul D..the list is endless ……all the folk within the blogging community who stood with me throughout the whole journey, the hostels themselves who have been an inspiration to discover and write about…so many people to mention here,,,you know who you are PLUS I am thankful and gratefull to especially YOU.
If you’ve been patient enough to read this whole story and patient enough to follow, support my blog throughout these last few years, I really can’t thank you enough from the bottom of my heart.
It means so so much to me.
I really can’t express it in words now.
Oneday, if we meet, which I hope we will, I’ll tell you.