Kash Bhattacharya is an award-winning travel blogger based in Berlin. His Budget Traveller blog reflects his passion for adventure, while simultaneously travelling in style – and on a budget. We chatted to Kash about luxury hostels, coronavirus and what holidays are next on his horizon.
Q: You’re known as the “Luxury Hostel” guy. What is your favourite way of travelling and how do you currently satisfy your wanderlust?
A: I think it is a sign of my age but the older I grow, the more I like to travel at a slower pace, taking time to feel the rhythm of a place. I used to fly a lot thanks to the low-cost airline revolution in Europe, but in keeping pace with my desire to travel less and travel slow, I really love train journeys, especially in Europe. Being based in Berlin, in the heart of Europe, the choice of destinations you can visit within a 5-hour radius is amazing. Since the Covid situation has improved, I’ve visited Hamburg and Leipzig, which are just two hours by train from Berlin. My biggest trip was to Prague a few weeks ago and that was an emotional, amazing trip. I miss the feeling of being in a place where the language sounds unknown, where the architecture and street signs look different, the food is an unknown language waiting to be deciphered and the locals feel like beautiful aliens from a different planet. I was on a natural high for a while after that trip but I know I want more and I’m actually am off on another trip to Dresden and Vienna tomorrow.
Q: As the name of your website suggests, you love travelling on a budget but in style – how do you manage to combine these things?
A: The creative challenge of travelling on a budget has always been something I’ve enjoyed since I started travelling twenty years ago, whether that’s finding the bar that sells the cheapest beer or find the cheapest dorm bed in town. I was always told that you need money to travel, so part of my blog mission has always been to inspire travellers that you can travel, even if you don’t have much money. Travel is a democratic right that should be accessible to all humans in the world. With time and age, my mission statement has evolved with my needs. I still enjoy the thrill of finding the cheapest beer and best dive bars in town. However, I realise at the age of 41, I can’t hack it in 24-bed dorms anymore. I need my sleep, otherwise, I’m the grumpiest, meanest traveller in town. So I started finding hostels that offered private rooms, which led to me starting my “Luxury Hostels” project. I also realised that I wasn’t the guy who was happy eating noodles out of a packet or the cheapest doner kebab in town. I wanted to find foodie experiences that were authentic and popular with locals, while still remaining budget friendly. For me the true luxury is the opportunity to experience the city in a way known only to locals. I try and document these experiences and share practical tips along the way. Sometimes, I will splurge on a nice meal or bottle of wine or go paragliding – the idea is to be able to save money to spend your cash on things that are important. I truly believe this is how most people travel nowadays.
Q: Out of all the countries you have visited, what are your top three and why?
A: It’s hard to pick a top three, but I’d probably put South Africa at number one. Backpacking South Africa across the Garden Route remains one of my best travel experiences to date. This stretch of the country has it all – amazing hostels run by some beautiful humans, who really give you the keys to the hostel and the destination. There is a wealth of affordable and amazing experiences like paragliding in Knysna or zip lining in Storms River. And that’s before we come to the food – I ate so well and so cheaply! Plus there’s an incredible emerging craft-beer and coffee scene – a budget traveller and hipster’s ultimate dream.
I also love Japan. Japan is one of those countries that never leaves you, long after you’ve said goodbye. Like a mythical figure, its legend grows with the passage of time. Sometimes, when I look back at my pictures or those Lonely Planet videos from the trip, I wonder if it really happened. Japan, just like you see in the movies, is a country really in the future. You will see things here that you will not find anywhere in the world. Plus the food scene is incredible. I’d love to return soon.
My third favourite country would have to be Portugal. I lived in Portugal for five years and fell in love with the people, their stunning natural coastline and historic cities, their passion for gastronomy and if you love wine, Portugal is a wine lover’s paradise. It is also incredibly affordable – the perfect country to travel in style on a budget with some of the best luxury hostels in the world.
Q: Covid-19 has had a tremendous impact on the travel industry, and during this time you started the initiative www.adoptahostel.com. Could you tell us more about this project? How can other hostel aficionados help?
A: The idea of Adopt a Hostel was an idea dreamt over a few Zoom conversations with fellow hostel industry leaders, Stay the Night and hostel.consulting.
We all have pretty much dedicated our life to travelling and helping the hostel industry. Hostels have been such a huge part of our lives and that of so many travellers, so we wanted to find a way that we could support the hostels during these desperate times. With the global travel sector devastated by the outbreak for months (since February 2020), thousands of hostels were forced to close their doors without knowing when – or if – they will be able to reopen them.
The inspiration for Adopt a Hostel came to us after seeing two independent hostels – The Beehive and 7 Fells – asking their past guests to help them through the crisis by buying a voucher. Seeing the passionate response to their idea made me think of the number of travellers out there who have an emotional connection to hostels and would like to give back and show their support by “adopting a hostel”.
So we developed a campaign, calling on travellers to purchase a virtual gift card for a future stay or donate to a hostel of their choice. Over three hundred hostels from around the world have joined the campaign.
All you have to do is visit www.adoptahostel.com, pick a hostel you would like to visit and “adopt”, then buy a voucher of your choice. These vouchers are valid for up to a year and can be redeemed directly with the hostel or via a platform like hostelworld.com.
Q: What items do you not leave home without, whether you’re going on a three-day getaway or an extended trip?
A: I love listening to music while watching the world go by from a window, so my Sony noise cancelling headphones are my pride and joy. I love taking photos as a hobby and also for work so I always have my Panasonic Mirrorless camera with me. I always have a notepad and pen for scribbling random ideas or stories. Plus, my reusable water bottle revolutionized my life three years ago.
Q: 2020 has been a tough year for travelling. Where are you heading out to next? And do you have any long-haul travel plans for this year or next?
A: I am heading to Dresden tomorrow for ten days. I’m there to create some content for tours and activities provider, Get Your Guide. We have a street-art tour planned, which I’m really looking forward to, plus I’ll be doing a tour of the city in the iconic GDR vehicle, the Trabi. After Dresden, we’ll be hopping on the train to Vienna, another old favourite of mine that I love revisiting.
I have no long-haul travel plans yet. It all depends on where we are in November/December. I would love to visit India to see my family in Calcutta and also make it back to Thailand, which is another happy place, a country I love going back to. Lets see, fingers crossed. I really miss Asia.
Q: While coronavirus has been tough for the travel industry, it has also given us a chance to stop and think about the way we want to travel going forwards. How do you think travel might change in a positive way as a result of Covid-19?
A: I think it will take us a few years to recover from this crisis and by the time this pandemic dies down, the world and the travel industry will look very different. Lot of jobs will be lost and a lot of the travel companies we know and love, especially the smaller businesses, will not survive this crisis. I feel the era of cheap travel is over – flights will be more expensive and we’ll probably see a boom in domestic travel/staycations. I think in this post Covid-19 reality, it will be more important than ever to travel with companies that give a damn about the world and us, as humans. I think a new world of more conscious travellers will emerge and we’ll be much more grateful for the ability to travel. So, in a perverse way, we’ll hopefully emerge from this more humble, more sane and grounded – that’s my hope.
Top image: Beach of Camilo, Algarve, Portugal © Ester Lo Fuedo/Shutterstock