Opening a Hostel in the Caribbean

About five years ago, a 26 year old guy had the same idea that many of us do: quit the job, pack the bags, travel the world, fall in love and never come back.

It all sounds so easy, right?

For most of us the thought is fleeting and daydreams remain exactly that. Others do embark on exciting adventures, but ultimately return home, albeit with a tad more life experience and no end of funny stories.

And then there are the few – the very few – who not only go off on adventures, but who actually stick with the plan to never return and begin a new life on some paradisiacal island.

Chris Lineham is one of these non-returners.

Chris quit his job at the University of Bath, sold his house and got on a plane to the USA for a summer as a camp division head, which marked the beginning of a worldwide adventure. He travelled across the Americas, backpacked through Asia and toured Australia before settling in the Dominican Republic. Yep, he is that guy whose Facebook account is littered with pictures of gleaming beaches and stunning sunsets and who can actually use #home as an accurate hashtag.

Not long after he hit the road, Chris started to think about opening his own hostel somewhere exotic and, after a lengthy process, he managed to make his dream a reality and open Island Life Backpackers Hostel in the city of Santo Domingo.

It all began when, somewhere parked between insanity and genius (or New York and Indonesia) Chris started to dream about putting all his travel experience into action and opening a hostel tailored for every traveller’s needs.

I caught up with Chris recently to find out more.

I have stayed in around 1,000 hostels worldwide and each and everyone has their own feel. I have learnt something from every single one.

After meeting his wife Katherine on his travels (yep he ticked that one off the list too), and finally opting for the Caribbean as his new home, Chris began the grueling process of opening Island Life. It was two years of permits and plastering, tiling and painting but, finally, the hostel opened earlier this year offering budget backpackers affordable accommodation in a beach utopia.

When I was deciding where to open the hostel, I knew I loved Central and South America but most of these countries were already heavy loaded with hostels and I wanted somewhere different. It turned out that Dominican Republic was that special place that was an up and coming destination for budget-conscious travellers to explore.

While delivering his ethos for all things adventure, Chris is also helping to put the Dominican Republic on the list of must-visits for backpackers. For many travellers on an uber-tight budget, such dreamy islands don’t feature on the bucket list. With the Dominican, five star resorts and package holidays spring to mind, but it seems the island has a whole lot more to offer; the world just doesn’t know it yet.

In the UK, a lot of people think that the Caribbean is only for the rich, and that if you step out of your hotel you’re going to be in trouble. These stereotypes are there to be proven wrong.

While the brochure-shot beaches and the exotic lifestyle do exist, there is a whole lot more to sample in the way of action and adventure. Think ATV riding through the Jarabacoa hills, swimming in the 27 waterfalls of the Rio Damajagua and trekking to the summit of Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Caribbean.

Many gappers disregard it as an expensive honeymoon resort, but it would seem that the newlyweds are going to need to move over because there is a new wave of gappers swooning in to make the DomRep their playground.

Island Life is located in the colonial zone of Santo Domingo and is close to all the city’s top picks, like the Parque Colon and Plaza Espana. It’s got all the hostel essentials, along with a few necessities like a pool and bar (told you he knew what he was doing).

From laying the bricks to designing the website, Chris has turned this UNESCO heritage site into a Hispanic haven for backpackers.

I walked into a property one Sunday afternoon that was basically a ruin but there was something about the place. I remember everyone saying I was crazy and I didn’t plan on a construction project but that is exactly what happened. I want Island Life to be more than just a place to stay. I want it to be a starting point for people to start exploring this amazing country and to meet other likeminded people.

Ten years ago Chris probably daydreamed about living near the beach on some far-off sunny island, and maybe even flirted with the idea of running a funky business but, like most of us, it was most likely ushered away by the presence of reality. But now, it seems that the cheesy lines of quit the job, pack up, travel, fall in love and never return actually can come true - and if a hip hostel in a cool country are the result then that is even better for us.

It can be done.