In a quiet part of Desert Hot Springs, Sarah Phan watches chickens peck the land between sugar cane plantations.
A few guests stroll past the Crashpod Inn, a rustic stopover for travelers who want to experience Coachella Valley for less. Phan, career secretary and temporary worker, staked her dreams of a stable and more fulfilling career in the company.
Crashpod operates out of an approximately 1,200 square foot house at 16-530 Via Corto which Phan says was once a church of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has 20 dormitory beds and four private rooms formed by wooden partitions in the only long room that once served as the building’s worship hall. Three full bathrooms are shared by all guests.
Phan rents the dorm beds for $ 35 per night and the private rooms for $ 50 most of the year. Guests have free access to the eggs laid by the hostel’s hens for breakfast, can smoke weed on the 420 welcoming patio, and occasionally are treated to fresh cane juice when Phan decides. to harvest one of the many stems that grow around the property.
The facilities are maintained by volunteers – ranging from homeless international travelers to homeless people – who do minor work in exchange for free short-term accommodation.
Crashpod is a rare find in the Coachella Valley which, despite being home to a booming hotel industry that drives much of the local economy, has almost no hostels. Phan started the business with limited real estate knowledge from his previous temporary work and no entrepreneurial experience, planning to learn on the fly as it was built.
“What I realize in hindsight is that you really don’t need that much courage and in fact you don’t really need to know that much,” Phan said. “You just have to start and then… the answers will come to you along the way. “
Phan grew up in Orange County. She has held a variety of temporary jobs there and in New York City, including for a property manager and a home builder.
The longtime secretary said the job had become increasingly difficult to find over the years, ultimately leaving her to “bottom out” in a temp job at New York University when the chief of staff abruptly dismissed one day by raising her hand without a word.
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s demoralizing,'” Phan said. “There just has to be a better way. I have to be open-minded here.”
Phan returned to Orange County, where she lived in a mobile home with her partner near Little Saigon in Westminster. Phan said poor insulation left the cottage freezing cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer.
“I couldn’t even buy a portable air conditioner because of the wiring,” she said. “It was horrible to be so afraid of losing money, of not having money.”
The experience left Phan desperate to find a way out of temp work. She began attending personal finance and entrepreneurship events based on the controversial personal finance guru Robert Kiyosaki’s “Cashflow” line of educational games. Despite numerous media criticisms of Kiyosaki for promoting sometimes dubious get-rich-quick schemes, Phan says the community of entrepreneurs and investors around her work has helped her refine a plan. business.
The idea of starting a hostel, Phan said, came from a decision to marry her limited knowledge of the real estate industry with an enthusiasm for travel that she has had for most of her adult life.
“We always went to hostels. It was the only way we could afford to travel and see the world,” she said. “It was amazing to have this privilege. Otherwise, we would never have been able to travel.”
While her main goal was to gain financial stability, Phan said she also believes it is important to do something that she feels is meaningful. “If you just want to do it for the money, (when) little obstacles (come up) you’re just going to be wiped out. You’ll just stop,” she said.
Phan said she has contacted and interviewed other hostel owners to determine the details of how to run the business.
She then located several “silent partners” across the Cashflow community to financially support the hostel project. She says they chose Desert Hot Springs as a relatively affordable location with high demand in the Orange County “backyard”.
Phan declined to provide further information on the partners. She is the only name on the business registration of Crashpod Hostel LLC – the entity that property records show owns the hostel. Phan bought the property in his own name in late 2019 for just under $ 180,000, according to public records, before transferring it to Crashpod LLC in February 2021.
After several months of renovations, adding partitions and beds to create the space of a dormitory-like hostel, Crashpod opened in early 2020 – just in time for the onset of the pandemic of COVID-19.
“It definitely had an effect on us,” she said.
Although business has slowed down considerably at times, Phan said the hostel never fully closed during the pandemic. She said Crashpod followed all local regulations and that social distancing, masking and temperature controls were required for much of the pandemic period.
According to Phan, a wide range of people have taken advantage of cheap housing over the past year, including students, backpackers looking to explore Joshua Tree, people in the area looking for a place to live full-time, and even some people. homeless. The world map in the front hallway of the hostel has pins in locations in Canada and the UK, Brazil, Nepal and Angola. Phan says each was placed there by an individual visiting from this country.
“In fact, we have received a lot from Africa,” she said.
Phan said people without the money to pay for a room, including foreign and domestic travelers, perform household chores around the property in exchange for free accommodation. One of those travelers, Cait Cinque, 36, said she had been cleaning, watering plants and doing other household chores at the hostel for about a month in exchange for a free place for herself and her daughter four years.
“The owners were very helpful,” Cinque said. Originally from New York, the young mother said she stayed with friends in the Inland Empire when she ran out of money. She said she discovered Crashpod while researching cheap accommodation online. Cinque added that she was overall “very grateful” to the hostel for letting her stay with her daughter.
An untapped market?
Not everyone who stays at Crashpod will get rock bottom prices.
Phan said she plans to increase room rates moderately during times of high demand, such as the Stagecoach and Coachella spring music festivals. She said she hadn’t decided what exactly the rates would be during those times, but that the rates over Memorial Day weekend were increased to $ 45 per night for dorm beds and $ 69 per night. for private rooms due to high demand.
The hostel entrepreneur said she hopes her business will attract visitors to Coachella Valley looking for budget accommodation as major area events start to return.
Why aren’t there more inns in Coachella Valley to cater for these types of customers is an open question. Scott White, head of the regional tourism promotion group Visit Greater Palm Springs, said he was not personally aware of any other hostels in the area. Phan said she thought the answer might lie in the amount of work it takes to run a hostel compared to other accommodation companies.
“The impression I got from (talking to) short-term rental management companies is that it is much more labor-intensive than renting the whole house to one family,” he said. she declared.
Phan lives on the property full-time as an on-site manager, although she has said she hopes to hire someone to take on this role in the near future. If things continue to go well with Crashpod, she said she even plans to open a second hostel in the future. The location for it, she said, could be as close as another city to Coachella Valley, or as far as Puerto Rico.
Desert Sun photojournalist Taya Gray contributed to this reporting.
James B. Cutchin covers business in the Coachella Valley. Contact him at [email protected]