So you’ve been traveling abroad for a while and want to get a short-term, volunteer gig at a fun-loving hostel. Maybe you burned through a huge chunk of your travel budget/savings and need to offset costs. Or perhaps you’re exhausted from packing and moving every few days and desperately crave a break to relax and recharge.
Whatever the reason, finding a temporary job at a hostel is not only extremely easy to do, it’s also a fantastic way to develop a deeper sense of community while on the road.
For one month, I volunteered part-time as a receptionist at a backpackers hostel in Bariloche, a small mountain town in Argentina’s Patagonia region. I worked 4 days a week in exchange for free lodging, meals and bicycle access.
The work was easy, too. 20% of the job required general administrative tasks: handling check-ins/check-outs, answering phone calls, booking tours, handing out maps and offering food and activity recommendations. The other 80% was straight-up chilling and chatting with the hostel’s guests who also happened to be interesting travelers and nomadic backpackers from all over the world. Not all work exchanges are this sweet, but sometimes you get lucky.
Most hostels have a mix of permanent staff and short-term volunteers who work for a couple of weeks to several months in exchange for free accommodation. There’s almost always demand for volunteers because traveling helpers come and go so erratically.
The easiest time to find a hostel gig is when you’re already on the road. You have a significant advantage “applying” in-person; there is no better way to showcase your personality, skills, character traits and interest for a position than in the flesh. If you are already staying at a hostel you love and can picture yourself working there, ask if they have a work exchange program.
You will likely learn a couple of the workers are travelers much like yourself. Ask for volunteering details – what are the requirements, responsibilities and expectations?
When I volunteered at Hostel Achalay, they offered helpers free home-cooked meals and lodging at a separate apartment two blocks away. In exchange, I was required to work four 8-hour shifts a week performing basic administrative tasks. Fluency in English and Conversational Spanish was a must. The minimum commitment period was 3 weeks. Most importantly, when asked about the hostel’s culture and working experience, the volunteers had only positive things to say.
If your hostel has zero job openings or the working environment and/or perks are subpar, go on a walk and check out if other places have it better.
Hostel Achalay was not the initial place I booked when I arrived to Bariloche. I found my sweet gig by walking around the neighborhood and asking if anyone needed volunteers. The first place I visited had an opening but the sleeping arrangements were far from ideal with 8 to 10 volunteers basically crammed in a dank, dungy attic. No, thank you.
I found the winner pretty quickly into my “neighborhood shopping spree.” The owner, a friendly guy named Pablo, wasn’t around when I initially came by, but I quickly made friends with the volunteer staff and learned there would be an opening in a matter of days. I “interviewed” the next morning and moved my belongings into the volunteer apartment that afternoon.
While searching and applying in-person is arguably the easiest way to land a gig, if you’re trying to secure a gig in advance, try browsing the web.
Workaday requires an annual registration fee to access its community – $29 USD for a single user and $38 USD to sign up as a couple / pair of friends.
HelpX has a free membership option but it’s quite limited because helpers cannot message hosts – volunteers must rely on hosts to reach out to them for opportunities. The better option is the premier helper membership which costs 20 Euro and lasts for two years.
Once you sign up, you can specifically filter and search for gigs with hostels and accommodation businesses only. But who knows – while surfing their networks for hostels, you may find a more-compelling opportunity volunteering for a community project or on an individual family’s farm.
Additional Websites and Resources for Finding Hostel Gigs Around the World:
- Volunteer Latin America | Short-term gigs and volunteer projects in Latin America listing anything from Hostel Staff to Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteers in Costa Rica to Volcano Boarding Tour Guides in Nicaragua
- Escape the City | Lists a wide range of international opportunities, paid and unpaid, for those looking for full-time, part-time and/or volunteer projects. With a mission dedicated “to help 1,000,000 people find the job they love,” this site features global, off-the-beaten-path gigs, mostly for commitments of 6 months or longer
- Workingholiday.co | job search site in Australia and New Zealand
- The Hostel Worker
- Hostelworld’s article on How to Find Work In Hostels and Keep on Traveling
- NerdWallet’s article on Free Accommodation at Hostels – An Interview with a Die-Hard Hostel Fan
[QUESTION] Can I make money while working a short-term gig at a hostel?
Maybe, but it depends on the hostel. The whole concept behind a work exchange is volunteering in exchange for free accommodation, and sometimes, food. That said, I worked at a place that paid its volunteers small commissions for booking tours and excursions for hostel guests. I sold an expensive fly-fishing excursion one time and took my coworker out for wine and steak with my commission earnings.
I also baked a couple batches of homemade chocolate chip cookies to share one time with the hostel guests and staff. They were such a hit that in the following weeks, the owner allowed me to sell my chocolate chip cookies at the front desk to make extra pocket change. I made a little dough there. We also had a staff tip jar we split at the end of every week.
[QUESTION] I don’t speak the local language. Can I still get a job at a hostel?
Yes. Hostels are filled with English-speaking guests so they need English-speaking staff. There is also always a need for night staff which requires minimal face-to-face interaction and phone conversations.
[QUESTION] Does the work typically involve administrative tasks only?
Depends on the hostel. Many gigs are admin-heavy, but volunteer bartenders and servers are extremely common too. Some hostels require volunteers to clean, shop for groceries, and even prepare food.
Hostel Achalay offers guests a wonderful, complimentary breakfast of jams and homemade breads. One of the requirements was learning how to make bread from scratch to bake for breakfast. I loved it – making bread from scratch is a badass skill to have.
[TIP] Get a written review
Once you have completed a work exchange or volunteer gig at a hostel, ask the owner or management staff to write you a recommendation on your Helpx.net or Workaway profile. There are a lot of members looking for opportunities on these sites and having a review will help make your profile more competitive.
[TIP] Check out the hostel’s reviews
Before committing to working at a hostel, check out their reviews on Hostelworld, Hostelbookers, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Agoda, and any other booking sites. If the environment and culture is recommendable, the reviews will reflect that. Hostel Achalay boasts stellar feedback and reviews on these accommodation sites. I was lucky to have been part of that community – I developed a home away from home.