WATERLOO — Stitched onto the side of a well-travelled backpack, not far from an obligatory Canadian flag, is a patch from Byron Bay, Australia.
It’s a coastal town at the country’s easternmost point, one of many places Rob Evans visited during a break from his university studies in the late 1990s. It’s also the place where the idea for Backpacker College was born.
At the root of Backpacker College, a new accommodation booking app, is the belief that the desire to see the world shouldn’t be thwarted by concerns about finding a safe, affordable place to stay.
“The more I’ve travelled, the more people I meet, the more I realize that we share more in common than we do differences,” said Evans, Backpacker College’s founder and president. “I believe absolutely that the more people travel, the better the world will be.”
Evans worked for a few months in Australia to help finance his journey; one of his jobs was at an upscale hostel, the type that he felt would appeal to even the most discerning, budget-minded travelers.
Now, the hostelling industry in North America isn’t nearly as developed as it is in other parts of the world. But Evans knew there was another source of economical but under-publicized rooms just waiting for visitors during the peak summer travel season — college and university campuses.
“This gap in the market meant that it was an opportunity,” he said. “That was the genesis of Backpacker College for me, to leverage underutilized beds in college towns.”
Evans, a Wilfrid Laurier University political science grad, worked for several years in the local tech industry in sales and business development. Those roles, for firms including Desire2Learn, Maplesoft and LiveHive Systems, often meant travel, and business visits to post-secondary campuses — and meant that Evans’ idea for Backpacker College was never too far from his thoughts.
He incorporated the business in 2016, having made a successful pitch to the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo. His company is based there, with nine employees.
The Backpacker College website and mobile apps for iOS and Android list available accommodations at college and university residences and dorms first, followed by other affordable hostel and hotel choices in the area. Travelers can book directly; Evans said he also has distribution partnerships with sites including Expedia and Priceline.