Greetings, fellow adventurers! My name’s Will Hatton, founder and OG adventurer over at The Broke Backpacker. For over fifteen years, I’ve been exploring far-flung, off-the-beaten-path destinations all around the world on a budget of $10 a day and blogging about it online. Over the last decade, I’ve experimented with various online ventures and in total I’ve founded 9 different businesses. Several of these failed during Covid, and I learnt a ton along the way.
My journey began at the age of nineteen, when I found myself hitchhiking across India. I spent over two years exploring this wild and wonderful country, Couchsurfing, camping and sleeping in train stations. It was a formative experience that pushed me far out of my comfort zone and taught me many new skills. I didn’t have a phone, or a laptop. I wrote my first blog posts on a battered iPod touch as I careened around the globe, figuring out how the heck to STAY on the road with no money…
Fast forward “a few” years, and here I am, writing this post from the Island of the Gods, Bali in Indonesia. It is here that I realised my lifelong dream of co-founding a very special backpacker hostel, a hostel that is unique as Bali’s first custom-built Co-Working hostel, Tribal Bali, to serve aspiring entrepreneurs on their journey. This is a dream I was able to fulfil after a whirlwind of online venture successes, failures, mistakes and lessons.
Today, I’m excited to share with you a special story – one that showcases how I leveraged the success of The Broke Backpacker, particularly as one of Hostelworld’s largest affiliates, to bring my dream of opening the ultimate hostel to life.
I’ll walk you through the ups and downs of my journey, highlighting the lessons I’ve learned along the way and offering insights into how you too can turn your passion for travel into something truly extraordinary. Buckle up, friends, and get ready for a wild ride.
The Broke Backpacker began as a collection of handwritten notes I’d pass on to fellow travellers I met during my two-year adventure in India at the age of nineteen, my first real adventure. At the time, there weren’t many travel blogs out there, and none that focused on the extreme budget travel which had become my specialty. So, on January 30th, 2013, I launched The Broke Backpacker with a mission to show my readers that almost anybody can travel – travel is absolutely possible with no money if you are willing to embrace discomfort and to grow through it.
My ten years of travel blogging had several important moments; I visited Venezuela when nobody else was going there and some posts I wrote found their way into the BBC and Daily Mail (my first valuable backlinks). I travelled without flights from England to India over a year and recorded the whole thing on Snapchat, tapping into my audience to launch a tour company exploring Pakistan and Iran. The funds from this enabled me to invest further, hire a couple of other writers and focus on mastering SEO and the art of targeting untapped niches. Slowly but surely, my humble little travel blog grew from 14 users in September 2013 to over a million monthly users within eight years.
As the site gained traction, I quickly understood the power of building strong content silos, offering readers an array of practically laid out information for planning out adventures. Our bread and butter is our lengthy backpacking guides, such as this mega guide to backpacking Europe. Our gear guides are some of the best out there where we advise our readers on how to pick the right gear so they can camp out and save dollarydoos. Over time, we started putting together ‘Where to Stay’ guides and hostel guides, (such as this guide on the best hostels in Bali) building a strong relationship with HostelWorld along the way.
As we built an audience of loyal and engaged readers, The Broke Backpacker really made a name for itself in the community. Our content aims to inspire, educate and inform, and our “boots on the ground” writers know what they’re doing. The audience sees this, too. We have folks all over the world who are living the broke backpacker lifestyle and writing for the site, keeping our content fresh and real.
Over time, we scaled things to a point where we would rank for most relevant keywords that backpackers searched for. We focussed on doing a ton of research to make individual recommendations based on what ‘type’ of person our reader was; a digital nomad, a couple, a party hunter, etc. And guess what? If we recommend a hostel, our fans trust us that it’s probably pretty damn good and is the right choice for them and so they will usually go ahead and book it. And we’ll take a cut. And we’ll reinvest. We’ll grow stronger, and then do it all again.
We focussed on putting out a lot of content that isn’t even meant to make money, content that is simply meant to serve our audience, such as guides on avoiding burnout, strengthening mental health, being a responsible traveller, reducing your plastic footprint or staying safe when partying at festivals. We’ve got it all…
The key to The Broke Backpacker’s financial success was staying true to our core mission and leveraging our expertise in SEO and unique travel experiences. By building systems that work and having a team of awesome, competent adventures I can rely on, I was able to build an absolute powerhouse that then allowed me to expand into other ventures.
As The Broke Backpacker gained traction and became one of HostelWorld’s largest affiliates, it was clear that there was an opportunity to use the success of the blog to create something truly special.
We continued to explore different content silos within the hostel space, focussing on really drilling down into ‘who’ our audience was and what they needed for their individual stays. Some folks are looking for social hostels, for others the most important thing is price, others are more concerned with getting work done. Myself and my team investigated different keyword rabbitholes and started to produce content like the best digital nomad hostels around the world as a result of our findings.
The idea of building the ultimate hostel for aspiring entrepreneurs and digital nomads to begging their online journeys had been a dream of mine for many, many moons… and in 2018 I was to meet Mark, a close friend who, like me, is passionate about the power of traveling to change one’s mindset and outlook. After much hunting for the perfect spot, we broke ground on our first co-working hostel in Bali, Indonesia.
We wanted a place that catered to the needs of digital nomads, aspiring entrepreneurs, and full-time travellers who were looking for a space that allowed them to hustle hard while still enjoying the best aspects of the backpacker lifestyle and community. Leveraging my affiliate success with The Broke Backpacker allowed me to invest my share of the funds in the creation of Tribal Bali alongside my business partners. We’ve had a pandemic trying to stop us, but we never stopped believing. Oh, and the dream is on, baby.
Throughout my years on the road, I realised that there was a gap in the market. As a digital nomad myself, I faced numerous challenges in finding accommodations that offered reliable Wi-Fi, quiet zones, and ample charging points. Great coffee, delicious food, a swimming pool, the almighty pool table… truly a space for working travellers who were looking to balance work AND play.
The goal was to design a space that not only provided the essential amenities for digital nomads but also fostered a sense of community and collaboration amongst guests. We really believe we’ve created something special here and we are just getting started…
We eventually settled on building the hostel in Pererenan, an up and coming destination just outside of the hip, but sometimes hectically busy, surfer hub of Canggu. We found the perfect piece of land and conducted a ceremony with the local Balinese priest to gently re-home the spirits of the rice field to a nearby shrine. This meant we could begin construction…
We built the hostel from the ground up, in an empty field. It was a hugely ambitious endeavour and we learnt a lot along the way. Covid constantly got in the way as it was tough to get the materials and labour we needed to keep construction going. It was a challenging time and it took much longer than we expected to get the doors open. But when we did, oh boy…
Tribal has been extremely popular and is often fully booked. We are still making some tweaks and improvements to the property and already planning on opening a second Tribal in Bali, we’re looking for the perfect spot now.
In the future, we hope to expand to other countries. Personally, I would love to open a Tribal in Pakistan as it’s an adventurer’s dream location and I can imagine building something really special there. I spent a lot of time travelling in Pakistan and was involved with supporting the opening of a small local guesthouse there back in 2021.
Tribal has been specially designed to serve the entrepreneurship community, but it is a melting pot for broke backpackers, intrepid influencers, veteran digital nomads and aspiring entrepreneurs alike. We get a lot of folks coming in to use the facilities who are not staying in the hostel, it is pretty damn popular – that may have something to do with the gigantic pool which catches the sun, juuuuust right, all day.
We do however guarantee seating for all of our residents and pretty soon we’ll have to look at putting in a cap to non-residents visiting Tribal as it’s a popular spot and we want to make sure it’s not too crowded.
We have individual co-working booths, plentiful rice-paddy views, delicious coffee, an extensive menu of healthy food and treats, lightning fast WiFi, plentiful outlets, standing desks and many different configurations of seating, tables, nooks and crannies. It’s sleek, custom-built and we have an incredible team on-site who really make the place feel homey.
Moving forwards, we plan to expand Tribal and build some more private rooms, as they are literally fully booked weeks in advance, as well as adding in AC meeting rooms that can be hired by the hour. We are still learning how best to serve our community and we’re excited for these additions and some other secret projects I can’t quite reveal right now.
Tribal is a great place to network, to find your tribe, and to meet a friendly community of folks who have ditched their desks and stepped away from the norm with the dream of building their own online incomes or remote working their way to success. It’s honestly awesome to see so many folks from so many different backgrounds all working hard on forging their own destiny.
My top tip; don’t run a travel business during Covid. Jokes aside, I have gathered some wisdom over my decade of working online, here are some of my top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs…
Discipline eats intelligence for breakfast: it is your sword and shield with which you shall cut your way through the fray and onwards to victory… Forge a strong routine that ensures you have dedicated work time each day and keep chipping away. It takes TIME to build anything worthwhile, be consistent.
Remove distractions: Limit your procrastination, have good phone hygiene – if you are constantly distracted by your phone whilst working, leave it in another room.
Do the ONE THING that really matters each day: What is the big domino that you can topple every day to build your business? Write it out, get it done.
Know when to outsource, and when not to: Some things you should learn to do, others you should outsource to an expert. Figuring out which is which is an artform but ask yourself these two questions – Am I the best person to do this task? Is this something which needs to be done again and again, and is expensive to outsource, which would be useful to know? If the answer is yes to either of these, do it yourself.
Be patient, work hard, dream big: Most people are pretty lazy and give up after a few months, or never truly commit to the hard work – instead focussing on endless logo redesigns or using ‘I’m working’ as an excuse to spend a ton of time on social media via their venture’s social accounts. If you develop a good work ethic, are patient with the journey, and have goals to reach for, you are already far, far ahead of the pack.
Do not be afraid to fail: Fail cheap, fail fast, fail young. Try crazy things when you have little to lose.
Educate yourself: Modern Wisdom is a fantastic podcast, and Tools of Titans should be a compulsory read.
Use the right tools: Trello is incredibly powerful for organising thoughts and projects. A roll of statically charged whiteboards could literally change your life… these are endlessly useful for planning, habit tracking and goal setting. Use a journal to strengthen your mental health, focus on your wins, project out the steps you will take to reach your goals.
If you’re sitting on the fence, I strongly recommend you take the plunge and chase your own entrepreneurial dreams. It is totally possible to have whatever kind of life you want, if you are able to motivate yourself to put in consistent work to build it. Assume it’s going to take at least two or three years before you start to see a return on your sweat-equity.
Be ready to pay the price. It is hard work, but if you can remain disciplined, optimistic and proactive, anything is possible. Get out there, get it done. And hey, if you’re looking for the perfect place to start your journey, or to find your community, swing on over to Tribal Bali and if you see me pop on over to say a hearty ahoy and challenge me to a game of pool. 😉
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