It All Started On A Great American Road Trip

The ETHIC idea started small as two former roommates/coworkers decided to follow their dreams, pack up their belongings + two dogs into a 21st century covered wagon, and head west for California:
Lucas + Will + The Armada

And then they added two more friends for the first leg from DC-to-Atlanta because the more the merrier:

Breakfast at Flying Biscuit in Atlanta, Georgia; Day 2

But after Atlanta, the voyagers hit their first snag as Lucas + Will approached New Orleans: hotels were either booked up, too expensive or too far from where they wanted to be to make it worth paying. So do they skip New Orleans? Bummer! But they still need sleep…

They start looking for campsites near Lake Ponchetrain and, sure enough, there are several…but then each one they call says no new guests after sundown!?!?

And so, with plenty of days to reach San Francisco, they end up not sleeping on night #2.

With new vigor from their frustration, they drove straight through the night to Houston – to meet up with this guy:

Mat + Food Trucks in Austin

Mat and Will were Fraternity brothers, baseball teammates (with Andrew) at Emory during undergrad, and road trip bunkmates to boot. Mat was on Winter Break from law school when he learned Will would be coming through Texas. Most reasonable people just offer a place to crash, but not Mat. See, Mat is the consummate do-er: if something fun is there to be done, he’s the first to raise his hand, so naturally, he decided to join the journey to San Francisco as well.

After a brief early morning nap, the trio decided that the notoriously weird state capitol of Texas, Austin, would be a better choice for the evening’s revelry, so the four-hour trek was made and hotel room booked at a standard family-named-brand hotel via the Hotels Tonight app. They spent too much on the room (only because they were sharing three-ways) and ended up in an area of town that required an Uber ride to the real “weird.” The only remotely noteworthy “weird” thing in the vicinity of the hotel was some graffiti they found on a wall in a nearby creek bed:

Kind of cool, but kind of depressing, like those family-named-hotel-brand, really.

So despite all the hype, in Austin, the primary highlights were the breakfast tacos at a food-truck-in-a-park we found on Yelp (not near the hotel), and this picture of Will + Lucas + their dogs + the Texas Capitol Building:

This one’s a keeper – but Marley gave us the butt.

They had made the most out of an unfortunate hotel situation, thanks to Austin just being its cool funky self, but 2/3 nights with hotel struggles so far? Not ideal. So of course, onward they went through the never-ending monotony that is West Texas. Though Mat’s family ranch was considered as an overnight possibility, the decision was made, based on some form of logistical calculations (probably Google?), that Albuquerque, New Mexico was an attainable destination for their evening. Thus, en route, hotel sparring round #3 commenced.

Between the expensive downtown hotels near the University and the various highway hotels and motels in the close-but-unwalkable vicinity, La Quinta won the sweepstakes for their business that night thanks to their dog-friendly policy and adequate online booking site.

To be brief, there was one clear takeaway: there must be a way to create a better hotel experience for less than the $115 they paid for a La Quinta in Albuquerque.

Breaking Bad-Camera Work – Or Great Camera Work

They were pleased to be on their way the next morning. Some goofy photo shoots at the now infamous Walter White house from Breaking Bad coupled with brunch in Santa Fe salvaged their New Mexico experience. But from there, it was north into the Rocky Mountains for them – oh, and it just so happened to be New Years Eve.

Lucas + Mat + Will – Midnight on New Years Eve, 2013/14 – Telluride, Colorado

Sure, one could argue showing up to a ski town on New Years Eve with no reservation wasn’t the brightest of moves – and they’d be right – but adventurers make their own destiny, and the travelers forged ahead. That is, until they figured out the only option they had that night was a $600+ room at the nicest hotel in Telluride, up in their Mountain Village.

Needless to say, they eventually agreed the price was simply far too high to be reasonable for a night they all knew would last until the wee hours of the morning, regardless. . . So, three guys + two dogs sleep in a Nissan Armada. . .on Main Street, Telluride. . .on New Years Eve.

Fortunately, no one bothered them for the several hours they slept in the car. After breakfast and exploring a nature trail so the dogs could run off some pent-up energy, they resolved to pay the now-deflated price of ~$300 for a hotel room in the Mountain Village to have a place to recharge for the afternoon + night.

Marley braved the cold mountain stream – Bentley not so much.
The view from that same creek bed.

Refreshed from the hike and a nap, wheels had begun churning about why there weren’t more hostel experiences in the US – a potential solution to their hotel headaches thus far – and how much they’d love to own a lodge in Telluride, a town they’d taken to rapidly.

A scenic overlook outside Telluride – sign explains importance of natural conservation.

A seed had been planted in New Orleans. It had grown in Albuquerque after Mat’s Houston upbringing added the idea of shipping containers to the mix, creating a building block for a hotel as an alternative to the bland La Quinta construction. The obvious shortage of accommodations in Telluride led to the insight that a flexible container supply could respond to demand surges.

Four Corners en route to the Grand Canyon

It wasn’t until they arrived at the Grand Canyon at sunset, as they wondered what made sense for their sleeping arrangements that evening, that they realized shipping containers would be as great for accommodations in a National Park as in the cities and towns they’d been visiting.

Grand Canyon at Sunset

They drove and drove. And before they realized they hadn’t found a satisfactory destination for the night, they were pulling into Los Angeles as the bar crowds were heading to their late night fourth meal. Paying $100+ for a room at dawn didn’t seem to make sense to the bunch.

They decided to head to Santa Barbara for breakfast by the beach as the sun rose, and as they ate their last breakfast of the trip, they discussed the earliest foundations of what the ETHIC Cooperative could be, under the working name “Hostel Environment.” They knew sustainability and a dedication to each local place and community would be paramount. They knew shipping containers would provide flexibility and global possibilities. And they knew applying the REI membership co-op model to travel could make a lot of sense. . .

They also knew a lot of work lay ahead of them – academically, creatively, entrepreneurially, and personally – before they were ready to start the kind of company they were envisioning at the time. In the winter of 2016, three years since the road trip that planted the seed, the vision for ETHIC finally laid its roots with a renewed sense of vigor in the form of a two-page executive summary. The pace has been frantic since.

Born out of the exact type of trip ETHIC is designed to facilitate, we believe, as travelers and global citizens, that experiencing cultures and places outside one’s own hometown has the power to dramatically change lives for the better. And we are working hard to build not just a great lodging experience, but a platform built around a core set of values and frameworks that aims to facilitate the development of a more empathetic, interwoven global community leading to a more sustainable society.


Thank you for joining us on this mission to build a better world through travel.