As hostels are the beginning and end of most of the crazy stories that backpackers have, most fantasize about one day owning a hostel, or at least working in one. Hostels are a very legitimate source of work while on the road, are a lot of fun (even when you’re on the other side of the reception desk), and as a traveler it’s very easy to pick up the work.
By far the easiest way to start working in a hostel is to not be fussed about earning money. This may seem counterproductive but can be great. Basically, you’ll work between two and four hours a day – probably cleaning (but maybe behind the bar or reception desk) and in exchange, the hostel will give you a free bed in a dorm, a bit of food, and a couple of beers. If you think of this as part of your traveling and less about work, then it’s a very cheap way to travel – suddenly it becomes feasible to stay a few weeks in an expensive city.
You can mainly only do this in smaller (less than 50 bed) or independent hostels as with the bigger ones and chains there’s rules and security issues. But that’s exactly what you want – huge, faceless hostels are dull – you really shouldn’t be trying to stay in them.
To get a volunteering job in a hostel, you need to do one thing: ask. There’s very little cost to hostels for you staying there, but a fairly big benefit to being able to boss you around for a couple of hours. The work is dull, but you’ll have no responsibilities – when you decide you’ve had enough, you can pack your bags and leave without any guilt.
By far the most intense option – you’ll have a paying job at the hostel, but also live in one of the dorms (most hostel’s I’ve been to have a specific dorm for staff, although when I was in Ireland they gave me a proper room ensuite room to myself!). The upside of this is that it’s very cheap to survive (food and accomodation is normally provided by the hostel), and you can save a little money.
Typically, these jobs are easiest to find during the high season – hostels will take on more staff to deal with the rush of backpackers but as the work dries up after a few months, it’s difficult to get locals to do it. You can either email ahead to a bunch of places, or just ask along the way. My first hostel job was in Turkey, I met the owner in London and he invited me to come work for him (a week later I quit my terrible dishwasher job and jumped on a plane); the second time, I decided I wanted to work in Ireland, so email every single hostel in Ireland (one said yes).
Occassionally, there will be “proper” hostel jobs going – these are normally aimed at locals who have done a lot of travelling in the past. Unless you can show the hostel manager that you’re commited to staying in town for a long time, you won’t have a chance. This is a feasible option if you want to move to a city and need a job quick while you get settled in and find something else.
Back home, you’re a plumber, a painter, a web designer, a [insert your profession here]; and you’re the dogs bollocks at it – why would you waste your time cleaning sheets? Swapping your skills for a few nights free and a round of drinks is incredibly common – the hostels get a professional job done (probably better than anything they could normally afford), and you get to feel useful.
When I’m on longer trips, I spend a few of hours fixing up a hostel’s website, and I can stay for free for a week. Okay, normally I could charge more for my time than a dorm bed costs for a week, but by helping out the hostel you’re building a relationship and often get more than what you bargained for.
So you’ve worked up the courage to ask for a job (or sent an email ahead of time), you have your bunk, you know where the washing machine is. Wondering what your life is going to be like for the next few weeks/months?
The upside is that you are now a professional partier – you’ll meet everyone staying at the hostel, give them tips on what’s cool in the city, and take them out to your favourite little bars.
The downside is that you are now a professional partier – you’ll meet everyone staying at the hostel, give them tips on what’s cool in the city, and take them out to your favourite little bars.
That wasn’t a typo. On one hand, it’s an incredibly fun lifestyle – you spend all day meeting interesting people, doing a bit of work, and then going out with everyone from the hostel at night. The downside is that you do this exact same routine every fucking day. It quickly gets old,
Worse still is when the hostel doesn’t take on enough staff to cover shifts – you end up working 24 hours a day.. waking up to clean up after last night’s party, washing the sheets in the afternoon, and checking in those last few stragglers at midnight after you’ve just lost a game of Kings Cup.
Shortly after I lost this game of Kings Cup, I had to check-in a group of terrified French girls
This is going to blow your mind.
Typically, if hostels want you to volunteer, they’ll put up a couple of signs around the hostel with details of who you should talk to; but even if there are no such signs, you have a pretty good chance.
For the paying jobs, they might ask you to volunteer for a week or two first so that you know you like it (and they like you).
In small hostels, you’re pretty likely to meet the owner or manager before you – if they like you and think that you’d be a good fit with the guests, they’ll likely be pretty happy to help you out.
Bigger hostels (the more corporate ones) tend to have more processes and rules – despite the fact that they probably need more staff than the smaller ones, they’re harder to work in. Often their hands are tied by regulations and security rules – they’ll only hire you on a contract, and insist that you’re legal to work and pay tax (something the smaller hostels often overlook).