An Exploration of Backpackers and their Social Experiences


Find Your Tribe

Tribe is a mobile app inspired by the noticeboard element used within hostels and guesthouses to communicate information such as events, city tips, and other useful information.

Rather than the hostel and guesthouse hosts being in control of the noticeboard, the control is in the hands of the backpacker community, where one can be as active or as passive as they wish in order to form their own unique experience.

Take Charge of Your Adventure

Explore any city you want.

Passively receive tips on where to go based on their favorite places.

See who’s going where and when.

Customize Your Experience

Custom call-to-actions so users can continue using the communications methods they like best (like well established groups in WhatsApp and Facebook).

Filter through the tags that you’re interested in.

Foster Community

Connect with other travellers and expats.

See what you have in common

Learn how well they know the region.

Gauge their community status with badges.

View their posts.



The objective was to enhance the community aspect of hostels and guesthouses, for hosts and their guests; while considering differing personalities and travel styles, keeping in mind the many barriers such as language, lack of technology, and inexperience.

The process involved exploring their emotions towards travel, what they found memorable about their experiences at hostels/guesthouses, and what they desire most.

The Crux

The aim was to figure out what may have prevented someone from enjoying or participating in the community aspects of the hostel/guesthouse for those that had a desire to.

Project Type

UX Research and Proof of Concept


15 weeks - Spring 2020


UX Research, Designer, Usability Test Facilitator

Team of one

Faculty Advisors

Hillary Browning Essreg and Annie Nguyen at Maryland Institute College of Art


limited time

Each step of the process needed to be completed in about a week or less due to course constraints and while working full time.

limited users

Due to limited time, the user group for both research interviews and usablity interviews featured a limited amount of people (2-6), thus limiting the various of insights.

unable to use other research methods

Due to the constraints of the course, interviews and affinity diagramming were requirements, with no time to explore additional methods, such as fly-on-the-wall observation.


Inability to interview users in-person eliminated any insights that could’ve been gathered from in-person interaction.

The Process


The design process is sometimes thought of as a linear process, but it’s not. It’s more like a circle, involving several iterations of going through the cycle, gathering feedback, and repeating the process again. Below is a high-level overview of the process that took place over the span of 15 weeks.

  1. Research — problem framing, research planning, recruiting, interviewing, secondary research

  2. Analysis — data collection and synthesis, user personas, findings summary

  3. Ideation — “How might we” statements, sprint maps, sketches

  4. Design — wireframes, interactive prototype, brand persona

  5. Feedback — usability testing

  6. Iterate — refinements from user testing


  • Guests may or may not be new to the hostel/guesthouse experience, yet are interested in meeting people within the hostel.

  • Guests may be introverted or may not have time to meet the other guests when it’s most convenient.

  • Guests are less likely to converse with someone who speaks another language.

  • The existing bulletin board isn’t as useful as it could be.

  • Guests would rather go out and meet people rather than sit behind a device.

Research & Analysis

  • Secondary research — Secondary research, or desk research, was conducted to explore the key areas that make hostels and guesthouses stand apart from traditional accommodations, how guests may interact with one another and their host(s), and the importance of such communication practices in hostel/guesthouse accommodations.

  • User Groups and Recruiting - Two user groups were identified to recruit for user interviews:

    • those who have stayed in hostels and guesthouses

    • and those who are hosts at hostels and guesthouses.

  • Interviewing — Interviews were conducted with 5 participants, 2 of which had worked in a hostel while the others discussed their experiences while staying in a hostel, and explored topics such as pain points and what they enjoyed about their experiences. The questions were mostly open-ended to gain an understanding of each participant’s world review in order to prevent the introduction of biases.

The raw data from these interviews were then summarized and synthesized to gather key insights.


Affinity Diagramming

Raw notes and artifacts from each interview were synthesized using Affinity Diagramming. Affinity Diagramming allowed for the clustering of notes into meaningful insights using the “bottom-up” approach. This approach prevents the predefining of categories and allows the categories to form solely based on the patterns created by the data.

Here were our 13 clusters at a high level:


“I value the connections I’ve made during my hostel/guesthouse experience.”


“I try to make the staff and information accessible, however, it’s hard to be everywhere at once.”


“I want my guests to feel comfortable and welcomed as a friend.”


“There are guests I don’t want to interact with unless absolutely necessary.”


“I’m very interested in immersing myself in the culture by seeing how people live, meeting locals, etc.”


“I would be reluctant to spend extra money if I didn’t have to.”


“The hostel creates a fun environment for socializing if the guests choose to do so.”


“I rely on apps and online services, though the wireless ability needed may not be reliable.”


“Hostels may not be as ‘nice’ as a hotel, but I still prefer them based on my positive experiences.”


“I need a more passive way to meet other guests for when I’m too tired or nervous to engage in social activities like games and events.”


“I’m aware and empathetic to the fact that much of the world is catered towards English-speakers and that their experience may not be as advantageous as mine.”


“There are many different travel styles based on one’s lifestyle and comfort level, even for the purpose of cultural immersion.”


“I would be interested in a solution that accommodated the varying wants and needs of my guests in order to give them a unique experience.”

User Personas

Using the data from the research, the scope was narrowed down to the Backpacker/Traveller user group with the creation of 2 user personas. These personas were created to help visualize each archetype's goals, needs, and behaviors and to foster empathy between us and the end-user.

What the research revealed about...

communication barriers

The main culprit of communication barriers isn’t always differing languages. A person can have the desire to meet other people but are unable to work up the courage to.

meeting other hostel guests

Research showed that while someone may have a strong desire to meet new people, they may not care to mingle with the other guests. They may want to meet other locals or guests from a nearby hostel.

the staff

There was a mutual consensus that the hosts/staff were genuinely friendly and cared about the best interests of their guests, some even becoming lasting connections.

the backpacker culture

It was important to ensure that the solution didn’t take away from the hostel/guesthouse culture.



Various concepts were explored during the ideation phase, including:

  • a digital noticeboard

  • a way to signal you’re in a common area and looking for friends

  • and an app for private messaging within the hostel.

The digital noticeboard concept was chosen for the path forward and was further explored with additional sketches using the Crazy 8s technique.

Iteration 1: Unity - The Digital Noticeboard

Wireframing the Digital Noticeboard

The initial prototype aimed to simulate this common, though not so often used, aspect of hostel and guesthouse accommodations known as the noticeboard.

Goal - to focus on users learning about the people around them

But users commented...

  • Is that [question post] an ad?

  • I don’t care about the people at my hostel.

  • How can I filter the stuff I don’t want to see? I don’t know John.

  • Can I see what other hostels are up to?

Key Insights from User Testing

  1. Users want to feel empowered to learn more about the people around them.

  2. Enhance the way users can find, sort, and filter through information.

  3. Users expressed interests in not being isolated to who they can meet within the hostel.

The following assumptions were disproven:

  • Users don’t seem to mind if an app exists that changes the traditions of the hostel/guesthouse experience.

  • Just because the user is staying at a hostel/guesthouse and is very
    interested in meeting others, doesn’t mean they care about those within the confines of the accommodation.


  • Reconsider the hostel/guesthouse’s role in this solution

  • Consider that the overall social experience in the area adds value to the hostel/guesthouse experience.

Iteration 2: Introducing Tribe

"I want to find my tribe..."

- Usability tester

Refining the Noticeboard

Insights were taken from the previous iteration with Unity to create what is now called “Tribe.” The name came directly from a quote from one of the user testers:

“I want to find my Tribe.”

From there, the focus was put on how the backpacker community may digitally interact with one another, removing the restriction of communicating with others within the hostel or guesthouse accommodation and including the possibility of meeting locals and expats in the area.


New onboarding screen

Refining the Noticeboard: Filtering and Community

With new insights, the focus was switched to refining the onboarding experience.

This time during onboarding, the link that tied the user to their accommodation was severed. Instead, the onboarding experience focused on which details could be gathered to enhance the user's experience.

This allowed for a domino effect of the following features to be refined:

  • A customized feed so the user can only focus on who and what they care about.

  • A profile page to invite others to connect with them if they'd like.

  • A profile page to find others with common interests, and whether they are locals, expats, fellow travellers, and travellers who happen to be frequent visitors as well.


On this screen, you can see "WhatsApp Group" and "Call to Reserve" as custom Call to Actions for any user who sees the post and wants to acquire more information.

Refining the Noticeboard: Custom Call to Actions

During research, it was discovered that many traveller and expat communities are well-established on other platforms and may not feel the need to move over to a new app. With this in mind, the main focus of the noticeboard (or the feed) was kept to be on things like posts, ads, and question/answer type formats, rather than trying to include in-app community-building features.

If the user reading the post wanted more information or to connect further, the poster could provide their own call to action. This could look like:

  • The phone number to the company advertising the activity

  • Inviting users to the Facebook group called Expats in Mexico to join the discussion about brunch tomorrow.

  • Inviting users well established Whatsapp group for solo women doing a group tour together to Teotihuacan from Mexico City on Saturday.


The concepts learned during these 15 weeks as well as feedback from classmates were crucial in helping to carry out this user research as a Team of One.

Getting into the user’s worldview really fostered creativity — Strong emphasis was put on fostering the interviewees' worldview during the research phase of the project. This ensures user insights are gained without personal biases.

More research would be beneficial— Due to the pandemic, the interviews conducted had to focus on experiences that happened in the past rather than the present. There would have been great value in being able to visit a few hostels and a few guesthouses to observe how everyone interacts with one another, and to see firsthand how the accommodation fosters community.

What's Next?
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