Traveling, Partying, and Working: What Is It Like to Volunteer in a Hostel

Filled to the brim with enthusiastic travelers, and a rich backpacking culture hostels are a true travel gem.

They let us go from one place to another without having to worry about heavy price tags, or isolation.

The only thing better than staying in a hostel is staying for free.

If that sounds like your kind of adventure, check out this guide to hostel volunteering and global work exchange programs.

What is Hostel Volunteering?

Commonly, hostel volunteering is also referred to as “work exchange.”

Simply put, people can exchange specific services for accommodation and food rather than direct pay.

For example, you would work X number of hours every week, and in return not pay rent for the room or the bed you are staying in at the hostel.

It is often called work exchange rather than using the term ‘volunteering’ because the work is different from that of a non-profit or charity.

It is work for a business, which does produce some form of payback. Since it is not entirely ‘not for profit’ (the profit being room and board), it goes by both names commonly.

What Is It Like Day-to-Day?

Both a job and a hobby! That sounds untrue because most people wouldn’t describe where they work as ‘fun’, but depending on where you go it can make for some pretty amazing memories. You are literally surrounded by people looking to have a good time!

However, it is important to keep in mind that this is a job.

You would wake up before the sun for some early check-ins, or you wouldn’t go to bed well after closing for some last-minute repairs or customer service.

Since this is the place you both work and live, you’ll be expected to do more because you’re there.

But it is much more a community than an office is. For example, you can share meals with not only fellow coworkers but travelers from all over the world in the common area (hostel kitchen, game room, it goes by many names).

Breakfast, coffee, potlucks, parties. Considering you deal with a constant stream of people new to town, it can feel like a celebration every day.

I remember one week where every single night was spent cheerfully sending someone off the next day, and I still keep in touch with everyone in that was in that room.

Which brings us to another point: hostel workers don’t treat customers the same as in a real job.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be kind and respectful (you should), but here it’s almost unordinary if you don’t interact with the guests.

And by interact, it more so means ‘make friends with’. Obviously, you don’t have to force anything, but some people are just looking for someone to explore something with.

It may not be part of your job description, but if it sounds fun then lace up!

Don’t be afraid to make some genuine friends with the people that pass through here.

If you are still wondering how it looks like, the following video is about to make it clear for you.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

As with anything, you should look at this opportunity from all angles.

The good, the bad, the indifferent.

It’s important to know all aspects of what you’re getting into before you arrive. So check out this short pros and cons list to figure out if this is the right job for you:

Pros

  • Stay for free. Finding a place to live somewhere new can be the most expensive part of a trip. Especially in a hostel, you stay at for more than a month. Sure the daily costs are incredibly low, but paying (for example) $20 every day really adds up. Instead, you stay for free! No need to worry about whether or not you can scrounge up enough pennies to stay another day!
  • Make new friends. And not just from the town, but from all over the world! I have now visited: Canada, Germany, The United Kingdom, and I have a ticket to Australia all because I met four people in a hostel a year ago. You’ll be making contacts all over the world, allowing you to travel even more!
  • A job you don’t dread going to. More than anything, this job is fun! Sure you have to answer a few phones and wash a few sheets but you live and work here just as you would do anything else. You joke with your coworkers, play some board games in the downtime, and explore what you haven’t seen yet.
  • Laidback, stress-free job. More often than not, hostels are very casual, easygoing places to work. It really all depends on the host but the general standard is that work gets done, but without the high-stress demands of a regular job. Simply help where it is needed, and you don’t have to worry about much!

Cons

  • As a place akin to that of an airport (people fly in, then fly out the next day), there isn’t much time for peace. There’s always something going on at a hostel be it work or play, and if you’re someone who likes their quiet time you may not enjoy hostel work. It’s not that you have to be ‘on’ all the time, but the time allotted for quiet time alone is pretty slim.
  • Little to no privacy. Most hostel workers stay in a dorm-like area altogether. That means 4-8 people sharing one room. Sure there’s (hopefully) a bathroom with a door, and numerous places in the city to go to be alone but your actual room won’t provide you with much privacy. Not that you’ll even be in your room much. As stated above, you’ll constantly be on the move.
  • No time off for holidays. Again, this is dependent on the host but holidays usually mean big business for the hostel! Lots of people coming in, looking for rooms means that they’ll need you to work hard that day! Generally, there is no time off for holidays with hostel work.

Still wondering if hostel work exchange suits you? Check out the following video. Brandon is an American who has had two hostel volunteering experiences so far and shares some first-hand insights.

What Does the Host Provide?

It’s a little different with everyone, but all hosts do provide their workers with free accommodations.

Most hosts will also include at least one meal, typically breakfast free of charge.

Beyond that, be sure to check with your specific host for any other additional offers. Some will include more than one meal, while others provide drinks.

Regardless, you are allowed free use of the hostel’s kitchen to make any and all of your meals.

Some of the other additions can be anything from restaurant coupons to pick-ups from the airport. There are excursions, parties, athletic lessons, and so much more available from a wide variety of hosts. Just be sure to check what is included before assuming.

Where Can I Find Hostel Work Exchange Programs?

There are many websites on the internet where you can be matched with a hostel that needs some help.

To give you an idea about them, let’s dig deeper in who they are, what they offer and for what price.

 

WorkAway

One of the most popular sites used for finding hostel work abroad! WorkAway is a great program that filters through numerous requests to deliver the best options for your situation.

Price: $42 a year

Here are a few sample listings:

Help around the hostel in Guatemala and scuba in your spare time!

Hostel hands needed at one of the best free-spirited hostels in India!

Talented artists needed at a stunning hostel in Uruguay!

 

Worldpackers

Worldpackers can take you all over the globe! For the highest concentration of opportunities, check out some of their listings in South America. But don’t limit yourself to one continent! Worldpackers is available everywhere!

Price: One-year membership for Worldpackers costs $49

Here are a few sample listings:

Help with daily tasks around the hostel in the Netherlands and explore the Dutch countryside!

Become a receptionist at a hostel in Israel and organize parties in Akko!

Work as a hostel photographer in Malaysia and live on a secret island!

 

Hostel Travel Jobs

A real-time search engine that filters through hundreds of work exchange programs to help narrow down your search! Search all corners of the world here!

Price: Hostel Passport for 1 year: $10.11, for 2 years: $15.72

Here are a few sample listings:

Bartender and receptionist at a hostel in Mexico close to the beach!

Activities volunteer at the best party hostel in Madrid!

Hostel Manager in India nearby Pink City!

 

The Hostel Girl

One of the best resources out there for female travelers — and especially solo female travelers! These are marked by all factors including safety, and provide some of the best opportunities for women to globe-trot without fear!

Price: Free. This is more of a guide to hostels than a placement system. A great resource to find independent hostels to apply to.

Here are a few samples:

Deep dive into backpacking culture with this hostel in Scotland

Live and work in luxury in Madrid’s premiere hostel

Quirky and cute check out this hostel in Italy for a stay you won’t forget!

 

Hostel Jobs

A constantly updating network of independent hostels from all corners of the world. With the interactive map on the main page, just click where you want to go, and get to packing!

Price: Free to use. Look at independent sellers for any other costs that may come up

Here are a few sample listings:

Receptionist for a hostel in Sicily steps away from the Italian coast!

Hostel hands needed in Portugal for 4 months of sand, sea, and sun!

Boutique hostel Management in Nicaragua surrounded by the city!

 

Live Seasonal

One of the best resources in seasonal traveling! Check out where to go for any number of seasons, and the best jobs available during any time of year! With this link, you can change every season with a new country!

Price: Free to browse

Here are a few sample listings:

General hostel work in Amsterdam with several hiking/biking paths!

Housekeeping at a hostel in Budapest for 1-2 months of adventure!

Vlogger intern in Cape Town by the water!

 

HelpX

Connecting wandering workers and dedicated hosts for years! HelpX is a great resource to use to go from hostel to hostel, adventuring the world and living for free!

Price: $15 a year

Here are a few sample listings:

General housekeeping in New Zealand’s summer countryside!

Hostel receptionist and cleaning needed in Australia for all seasons!

Live and work in Canadian hostels for free-spirited fun!

 

HelpStay

HelpStay is a great place to check to cover all of your bases. They are a dedicated network of specialists who consistently deliver the best in safest and most enriching options!

Price: Free!

Here are a few sample listings:

Hostel team members needed in Chile with stunning natural attractions!

Volunteer at a hostel in Malta with on-location sea views!

Seasonal work in Sweden nestled in the wilderness!

 

HippoHelp

Tired of scrolling through listings? HippoHelp is a great map-based resource to help narrow down where in the world you would like to work.

Price: $0.00!

Here are a few sample listings:

General hostel work in a hostel in Morocco surrounded by history!

Housekeeping in Thailand by the beach!

Receptionist and housekeeping in the lush camping grounds of New Zealand!

 

WWOOF

If are into farming and growing organic fruits and veggies and taking care of domestic animals, WWOOF farms are ideal for your interests.

You have to register with the national WWOOF chapter where you want to volunteer. For volunteering in more than one country, you’ll have to register with more than one chapter and pay the fee to each one of them.

Price: Varies

Here are a few sample listings:

Take care of domestic animals on a farm in the east of Serbia

Volunteer in a permaculture farm in the jungles of Bali

Help on a traditional farm in Ethiopia

 

Ready to Start Your Adventure?

Hostel volunteering is an enriching, memorable, and life-changing adventure that is available just about anywhere! It is a program where people exchange work for a place to stay, and often a few other amenities. It also allows people from all walks of life to get up and go! From New Zealand to Israel to Brazil, and so many other countries found all over the world, hostel volunteering is an adventure in every city. The only question now is where will you go?

Happy hosteling!

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