After high school in Italy, undergrad studies at Appalachian State University in North Carolina and earning an International MBA from the University of South Carolina while studying and working in Germany and Italy, is it any wonder that Mehdy Ghannad is wherever he is today?
The modern-day nomad -- and frequent short-term resident of Tampa -- is on the move around the globe, meeting new people, challenging barriers and always discovering new adventures.
Yes, there was a brief interlude when Ghannad took a crack at living the corporate life in Miami.
But it didn't take him long to discover inflexible hours, shared cubicles, unending deadline pressures and too many meetings that came with working in a tie-your-tie-shine-your-shoes environment -- even in a city that considers itself a microcosm of the world -- wasn't for him.
With wanderlust coursing through his heart and mind, he soon began to plan escapes through trips that would take him back on the road and across the oceans.
"I would always be looking forward to these trips,'' he tells 83 Degrees
While abroad, Ghannad would send emails and images to friends and family updating them on where he was and the exciting things he was doing. The emails elicited so much enthusiasm and encouragement that he decided to take them public. All he needed was a vehicle to tell his travel stories. One story led to another, and before long, The Hostel Life
emerged as an online place where he could share his experiences and advice with others around the world.
In 2008, Ghannad left everything behind intent on disrupting misconceptions about travel, culture and everything in between.
Learning, Respecting, Doing
"I’m a normal guy. I don’t come from the production world. I don’t have any training,'' Ghannad says. "My original intention was a video show. I was hoping to pitch it to the (television) channels.''
When no one in traditional broadcasting latched onto his idea, he decided to pursue his vision as an independent.
"I usually plan very little and jump right into things,'' Ghannad admits, "and things just happen.''
Much of The Hostel Life focuses on travel tips based on real life experiences -- things that amateur travelers wouldn’t necessarily consider. For instance, part of The Hostel Life philosophy is that meeting new people abroad is the best way to break down cultural barriers. So how does Ghannad suggest travelers break the ice?
"Always take a Frisbee,'' he says, calling it a "great way to meet new people, as everyone wants to throw a Frisbee.''
Ghannad has also learned that travelers rarely spend a large amount of time in their hotel rooms, and suggests that a hostel is an excellent way to save money, enabling travelers to see and do more during their stay in a city.
"You can meet interesting people at hostels too,'' Ghannad says, "and meet up with them later in other countries and share experiences.''
The Hostel Life focuses on infrequently visited places like Jordan, Scotland and Israel, and offers booking information
for hostels around the world.
"We want to give a glimpse of what these countries have to offer,'' Ghannad says in explaining why The Hostel Life features photos, writing, and video from more unfamiliar places rather than from more common tourist destinations such as France or Italy.
The Hostel Life’s website also features blogs and tales from other travelers. Lisa Cordeiro
, author and travel writer, writes about the ups and downs of hostel life. While living and working in Paris for a year, Stephanie Yoder of Twenty-Something Travel
explains how traveling changed her life, and why she pursues blogging about travel as a career. Like Ghannad, featured writers tell their stories about traveling and hostel life, and offer advice and perspective to those ready to see the world.
Eventually, the video blogs led Ghannad to producers who previously worked for food networks, and they helped him structure The Hostel Life show and develop his ideas. Now, Ghannad and his team are working toward creating a TV show featured on the new on-demand travel channel that will convey his message to a wider audience and can be accessed from all media outlets.
"The end goal is to have a series of shows,'' Ghannad explains, in addition to featuring the experiences of a host of travelers on the site. He hopes The Hostel Life will soon be accompanied by a show featuring festivals and nightlife around the world, print travel guides, and eventually a documentary on his parents' homeland of Iran.
"I’ve never been to my home country. It’s a detachment for me -- an emptiness,'' Ghannad tells. "It left a void.''
Ghannad intends to film Iran in a new light with The Hostel Life tradition of honesty -- this time as seen through the perspective of "an Iranian, not a Westerner.''
Ghannad plans to expand his website's travel planning features to include flights and arrangements with local companies.
"I want to stay with The Hostel Life. Maybe in three or four years it may not be me,'' he says of hosting duties, "but I’ll still produce it. I’ll still run the company.''
Be Prepared, Travel Light
Mehdy Ghannad’s ideas about breaking down cultural barriers and stereotypes through travelling don’t come from a philosophy on world citizenship, but from personal experience. His tips are practical -- not preachy.
"Zip-off pants are awesome as they double as shorts and pants depending on the weather,'' he explains, recommending that multiuse garments are the best option. "I always take my scarf that I purchased in the Middle East, as it doubles as a beach blanket.''
Years of experience have lead to loyalty to certain products, such as Osprey backpacks
, and Vibram 5 Fingers shoes
. Ghannad also suggests Converse All-Stars
, because "they can also be used when you go to a bar if you want to kind of dress things up.''
And what about ground transportation? "That all depends on where you’re traveling to. I prefer public transportation any day,'' Ghannad says, but sometimes trains and buses aren’t practical, especially with a production crew.
"Some places are more hitchhiker friendly, so I suggest someone [do] a little bit of research to make sure.'' Ghannad suggests one such place based on experience. "I have hitchhiked [once] in Colombia, and it was an awesome experience.''
That's why his first video project was filmed in Colombia. He and three friends funded the trip themselves and flew south of the equator to see if they could create the show.
''People hear Colombia is the worst place,'' Ghannad says, citing drugs and violence seen in the media as factors that keep travelers away, but it was a trip here, south of the equator, that made Ghannad want to focus on traveling as a career.
"I had a life change and went to Colombia to clear my head. The whole experience was the best.''
Upon landing, Ghannad found himself in the car with a Colombian man who shared his flight, as well as his family, who volunteered to deliver him to a hostel in Medellin. "I jumped into a car with these people in Colombia. I had no idea who they are.''
After chatting, Ghannad discovered that he and his fellow traveler had an acquaintance in common, and the world got much smaller. When his new friend came by the following day simply to check and see if Ghannad was settled, he knew he found his calling. "That was why I picked [Colombia] to film my pilot. This is the perfect example of travel and untrue stereotypes.''
Visit Hostel Tampa
The Hostel Life even features Gram’s Place
, Tampa’s only hostel, as a booking possibility for travelers. Though, Ghannad says, a lack of reliable public transportation makes it "kind of tricky to get there if you’re a traveler,'' the quirkiness of the musical theme and train-dormitory make up for it.
He knows because he "moved to Tampa about a year and a half ago,'' Ghannad says, though having a place to call home is dictated more by his family’s location than a place he spends lots of time. "My parents and sister live here.''
Even in Tampa, an open mind and attraction to the non-commercial side of things helps Ghannad discover treasures in places around the world, including his own back yard. "There’s a cool place that I go to every once in a while. It’s in Ybor City. It’s called Cepha’s Hot Shop
, and it’s owned by a Jamaican guy who grows aloe plants and makes aloe drinks.''
''It’s cool to find those things,'' he says, and tells people who don’t travel to ''get out of your comfort zone'' to find multicultural experiences around the world.
''That’s the key. It can be done economically. Start small,'' he advises.
An attitude that anything is possible helped Ghannad build The Hostel Life. "If you leave yourself open, great things can happen.''
Theresa Woods is a graduate of the University of South Florida, freelance writer and literature nerd living in Tampa. In her spare time, she writes, contemplates her place in the universe and enjoys being an all-purpose geek with her friends. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.