Working in a Hostel While Traveling

OK, you’ve handed in your notice, packed your bags, said bye to mum, paid off the credit card (well, most of it) and you’re off on your yearlong adventure. Problem is if you are anything like me you’ve spent a little too long in Europe, enjoyed a couple extra flights in lieu of excruciating overnight chicken buses, sampled a few too many brews in Mexico and before you realize it you are not quite half way through your trip and over three quarters through your budget.

There’s a plethora of articles out there on how to continue seeing the sights and meeting new people without breaking the bank. You could volunteer with an NGO rebuilding hurricane ravaged cities in Peru, do some WOOFFing on a vineyard in France, teach English in South East Asia or you could even be luckily enough to support your travels by writing about them, but the easiest way to keep traveling on a limited budget without the need for any specific skills (or back breaking labor) is to work at a hostel in exchange for accommodation and if you are lucky, some food too.

You would have seen signs at the hostels advertising for new ‘crew members’ or at least met a few of them during you’re travels. Generally young (but not always), easy to get along with (but not always) and helpful (definitely not always), it can sometimes be quite a welcome respite to not only be checked into your room by someone who speaks the same language as you, but might even be from the same town or at least country, especially if you’ve spent the last week in the Peruvian jungle absolutely saturated due to the monsoon that you’re travel agent neglected to tell you about, while trying to convince your host family in your rudimentary Spanish that as a vegetarian you really would prefer not to eat that guinea pig. Just saying.

I recently volunteered at the Secret Garden Hostel in Quito, Ecuador. I was asked to work 8 hours a day, 6 days a week for a month, and in exchange I was given accommodation, 3 meals a day, all the alcohol I could drink and some Spanish classes. While 8 hours a day might seem a bit excessive to not get paid for your troubles, I did spend most of that time on the rooftop reception area imbibing a few beers, catching up on some reading and practicing my Spanish with the local staff. There’s not really a great deal of work to do if everyone has already checked in/out except open the fridge and grab someone a beer when they want it. Hardly back breaking work and it was a great way for me to meet some interesting travelers and by hanging out with the locally employed staff I got an understanding of the life of a working class Ecuadorian, something that never would have happened if I were just passing through as a guest.

I’m not saying that volunteering at a hostel is all fun and games and drinking beer at the bar (though sometimes it can, and will be). Sure, you have to deal with some really obnoxious guests, lost bookings, language barriers and the occasional empty beer fridge (including all the repercussions that come with it). Also, some hostels might not offer the same perks that I was lucky enough to get, but if you’re in a predicament like I was and you have to choose between going home early or supplementing your travels by working at a hostel, I recommend breaking down your options;

Work at the hostel

Work 8 hours a day while everyone else is out exploring the sights of the city. But hey, once your stint is up you get to travel again, having saved a bit of cash during the past month and likely met some pretty interesting people along the way.

Go home early

Work 8 hours a day in your crappy little cubicle hating the majority of the very boring people that surround you, desperately wishing you could pay off your credit card faster so you could just quit and go on your next adventure.
The choice is pretty simple really.

If you are keen to do a bit of volunteering at a hostel to supplement your travels, try looking up on the web the details of hostels in your city of choice. If they offer a volunteering program they will usually mention it on their website, or if you are one of those travelers who only really know where they’re going once they turn up at the bus station, just ask the people that run the hostel when you rock up. You’d be surprised how many owners need someone reliable to help them out for a few weeks.

About the author:

090319_Brighton_0084Somewhere along the way Shane Brown caught a nasty case of the travel bug, having racked up passport stamps to over 35 countries with no plans to stop any time soon. Currently on a year off from work, you’ll find Shane practicing his dodgy Spanish on the locals (pity they speak Portuguese). When not gallivanting around the world Shane splits his time between Melbourne, Australia and a beach somewhere in Thailand. You can read about Shane’s travels at

11 Replies to “Working in a Hostel While Traveling”

  1. Hey Shane
    Great article. That’s how I started my travel career. Working as a night manager in a hostel in Sydney. It was actually well paid for not much work, as well as the light workload, it was a great first up travel job.
    Happy Travels

  2. Just wanted to thank Shane for his contribution. It’s a great article and working at a hostel has always been something on my mind for when I start an extended trip.

  3. Great article. Working or volunteering at a hostel is a great way to fund or continue your travels. Think of all the people you’ll meet and the experience you’ll gain. If you want to go back to working 9 to 5, at least you’ll have some great skills on your resume that will make you stand out from other candidates. Then again, after experiencing the freedom of travel and working at a hostel, what would make you want to see the walls of a cubicle?

    1. I had a great year travelling around and working on farms and hostels. I’ve been back at home working in my cubicle for about a year now, and I can’t wait to leave again. I’m literally counting down the days. Only 212 to go…

  4. Great article Shane….Wish there we opportunities like this when I was your age even here in Qld. as we are sailing up the coast to Cairns having a great time…I know it is not off the beaten track nor the slightest bit exotic for us native bananabenders, but it is still a most glorious location. Keep up the great writing and I am sure many young people will be chucking their jobs to follow your suit!

  5. Well written article :) Also with the perfect amount of sarcasm.
    I’m living in Quito right now and I’m hoping to work at Secret Garden when I’m done with my current responsibilities.
    I’m a white, eighteen year girl who speaks fluent spanish and is pretty sociable.. do you think me and this hostel would work out alright? Also if you could maybe recommend other places you worked/volunteered at in Ecuador it would be much appreciated!


  6. I think your stint in Ecuador sounds amazing! I’d love to work there for a month just to meet the people, and the chance to practice another language is payment in itself :-)

    Thanks for sharing you experiences!

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