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Why you should volunteer in a hostel & how to do it

I love to volunteer during my travels, especially in a place as fun as a hostel. It’s something I believe everyone should try at least once while travelling and for a number of reasons.

Throughout this post I want to show you why its worthwhile to be a volunteer. Not only for your own benefit but more importantly for the hostel itself. After all, volunteering is the task of helping out with your time, without payment.

But “why would you want to offer any services for free” you might ask?

Doing a nice thing, helping out, gaining experience as well as staying in an exciting place for longer. But this is just a few of the amazing reasons why it can be a good experience.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you purchase something through my links I may make a small commission at no extra charge to you.

*Disclaimer – You should always make sure you check the rules of the country you are visiting before volunteering. Some countries actually require a specific visa to legally volunteer. Others, are happy for visitors to volunteer on a tourist visa. If you get caught out on the wrong visa, you could get yourself into a lot of trouble*


Graphic that says "hostel lifestyle" for a volunteer at a hostel

Hostel lifestyle

First up, What is a hostel? A hostel is a type of accommodation made popular by budget travellers. It’s a place that often has dorm rooms instead of private rooms and tend to come up cheaper than hotels.

But that’s not to say they’re all the same. Some hostels are nicer than hotels and can often have more amenities than hotels with the same rating.

If you want to get some more information on the differences, check out my post below:

Hostels vs hotels: Which is right for you?

Hostels are often the chosen accommodation for solo or small group travellers who wish to meet other people and get the low down on the local area. There is often a heavy drinking atmosphere around travellers using social or party hostels.

You can expect to see people gathered around beanbags or tables in the common areas with a few beverages and some playing cards, exchanging stories of each others’ travels around the world. I have met some great friends in hostels and still keep in touch to this day!

Want to get some volunteer inspiration? Check out this experience below:


The tasks you’ll be given as a hostel volunteer

So considering there are hostels in almost every corner of the world, they’re not always run in the same way. They can vary in:

  • Size – Sometimes there are multiple floors with many large bedrooms. Other times they’re more like a boutique with only a handful of guest rooms.
  • Location – Sometimes on the beach, near the mountains, or in the centre of a city.
  • Style – It could be a lively party hostel with a bar and music each night. Or it could be a relaxing hostel with minimal noise.
  • Amenities – Maybe they have a pool for guest use, pool tables, a bar or restaurant attached. Amenities are always location and hostel dependent.

Due to these differences, there are many different tasks you might be assigned. While working as a volunteer at a hostel you will be help . Each of these tasks help to keep the accommodation running properly – with or without guests.

hoover cleaning confetti off of the carpet
Photo by No Revisions

Cleaning

One job you might be given is helping to clean the property. This could be anything from making the beds in the dorm and private rooms. To cleaning the common areas and washrooms.

Clean accommodation is such an important factor when looking for somewhere to stay, and that is only possible when a sensible amount of cleaning takes place. Most humans know how to be clean so it really shouldn’t be too difficult to do at a hostel either!

Working the reception desk

This could be anything from checking people in and out, collecting payments from guests to answering calls and emails. The receptionist is generally the face of the hostel.

They usually choose people who are friendly and get along with people easily. The receptionist helps guests and does a lot of the “front of house” tasks.

3 cocktails on a bar - you get free drinks when you volunteer at a hostel
Photo by Kobby Mendez

Bar tender

This is always the most fun hospitality jobs. Everyone loves the person who makes their drinks!

Being a bar tender in a hostel is an extremely social job as you get to meet any and all travellers who want a drink and you normally get to become friends with them all.

Hostels normally have a simple bar rail and maybe 1 or 2 signature cocktails relevant to the local area, so it’s not as complicated as you might believe.

Night entertainment

This could be anything from selling tickets to local events, taking guests to a local karaoke bar, keeping the party alive and organising games in the common area.

Entertainment takes up many forms and when you have many travellers from around the world it might seem like a pointless job.

But believe it or not, many solo travellers get shy and won’t talk to others in a hostel until someone helps them break the ice. If you were part of an entertainment team you can be that person!

assortment of ingreddients for pasta
Photo by Icons8 Team

Cook / Kitchen staff

Ok, so generally speaking you only get a separate cook in a larger hostel with a restaurant attached as many hostels actually have a self-catering kitchen for guests to use.

If you do happen to be asked to help in the kitchen it’s definitely going to give you some useful skills to use later on in life.

Art & decorating

In some instances, hostel owners might want travellers to come and help with creating murals to bring some life to the hostel walls.

Since hostels are a haven for international travellers it makes sense that hostel staff want to incorporate some international flair to their artwork.


Help wanted sign in a window - you can help when you volunteer at a hostel
Photo by Tim Mossholder

How being a volunteer in a hostel benefits the hostel

Because of these different hostel styles, there are also different reasons that a hostel may benefit from hiring volunteers.

Extra hands to lessen everyones workload

When there are multiple jobs to be done, it’s always so much better when it is shared amongst multiple people.

Not only can this speed up the process of completely all the jobs quicker, but it means the other staff have someone to hopefully make the tasks a bit more enjoyable. Multiple brains are better than one to get things done.

pile of money

Save money on labour

Every business likes to save money where they can, and thats not a bad thing. By getting help, they’re still paying the volunteer – just not with money.

By offering a discounted or free stay they are exchanging something they have for the skills of someone else while still saving money. If that’s not a huge green flag then I don’t

Can bring skills that the current staff might not have

Say if the hostel is in the middle of a rural area or a beach, the owner might know how to run a hostel but may not have the right entertainment or bartending skills to match.

By outlining what tasks they would like volunteers to help with, they can hopefully get some help from people who have a little more experience.


a graphic asking what do you get

How being a volunteer in a hostel benefits you

Now’s the extra fun part, you get to hear about how volunteering can benefit you as a traveller! Because let’s face it, most people are only interested in doing things if they also get some kind of benefit.

You can get free or discounted hostel stays

Considering accommodation is often the most expensive part of travelling, if you have a way to stay places for cheaper or free, you’re basically on a gold mine!

This can in turn make it easier to travel for longer since you had lower expenses for a few weeks during your volunteer exchange.

You’d be amazed how much you can save by getting even just a few nights free or discounted, let alone a few weeks!

a list of the things you might get when yo uvolunteer at a hostel

Discounted or free extras

When I volunteered at my first party hostel, I was part of the entertainment team. It was our job to inform guests of the different event options each day, sell tickets and take the groups to the correct place.

One of our “payments” was free alcohol during the nights we were “working”. When staying in party hostels as a backpacker, alcohol is also such a big expense when travelling for a long time so its great to get them for free!

Some hostels will offer you food as well or just food with discounted drinks, it totally depends on the hostel itself.

You get to meet more travellers

One of the best ways to meet other travellers is by staying in a hostel. When you’re living and working in one for an extended length of time, you’ll get to meet an infux of new travellers every day.

You’ll also start to make meaningful friendships with the travellers that stay more than a few days. This is a great way to find people to travel with later in your trip!

scrabble pieces spelling out the phrase "I am still learning"

You can learn new skills

Maybe they teach you to work behind their bar or be the face of the hostel as the receptionist. Depending on the roles they assign you during your time as a volunteer depends on the types of skills you can gain.

Any new skill is worthwhile and if valuable enough towards any future jobs you want, can even be put on your CV or Resume.

You still get down time to explore

Since you’re only a volunteer and not a full time employee, you’ll still have plenty of time to be a tourist outside of volunteering.

If you’re near the beach, you could probably catch some sun and practice surfing. If you’re in a city, you’ll have time to check out the sites and go on a city tour. The possibilities are endless and you’ll have the time to see everything.

Koh Rong Samloem beach in Cambodia

You get to work in paradise

If you’re visiting this hostel in a new country, there must have been something that interested you about the destination in the first place.

If you get to live and help out in this exotic place for a slightly longer time than originally planned, where’s the harm in that? It gives you longer to enjoy this new exciting new place you decided to visit.


Where to find opportunities

Work Away

Work Away is an online platform where hosts and volunteers can find each other. A host is a local who lists a job or project they would like help from volunteers for.

As a volunteer on the site, you can let people know where you will be travelling to and between what estimated dates, and hosts can send you a message, the same way you can browse volunteer roles available and message the host yourselves.

Worldpackers

Worldpackers is another website similar to Work Away, that allows hosts and volunteers to communicate and arrange for volunteer positions to be filled.

Not only are there positions in hostels but also on farms, in homes, ecolodges and more. There are many different volunteer positions available to arrange your hostel experience.

Help Stay

Help stay is a smaller website with less users than Work Away and Worldpackers but it has a lot of similar opportunities. Once a user (volunteer) has registered with the site, they can browse the different opportunities available.

Like the other sites above, you can also check reviews and comments that other travellers have left about each opportunity to give yourself a clearer picture of what to expect.

Direct with the hostel

Since there are no two hostels that are exactly the same, there is no “one way fits all” for finding an opportunity. If there is a hostel you have always wanted to visit you can try emailing them from home and seeing if they have any volunteer spots available.

Better yet, if you are already at a hostel overseas and you want to stay longer, try having a word with the owner or other staff members about volunteer vacancies.


graphic that reads "How to book a hostel?"

Where to book hostels

Since there are hostels all around the world, there are numerous platforms to find one that suits your needs. If you’d like to just stay in a hostel and ask them directly if they have volunteer opportunities, I can at least point you in the right direction for where to look.

In Person

Of course you can only ask in person for vacancies if you are already in the local area, but it can also be the most effective. If you are currently in a new destination and enjoyng your trip you can easily stop by a local hostel and speak to reception about booking a room.

Hostelworld

This is always my go-to choice when looking for hostels to stay in. They have the biggest collection of hostels around the world and have an easy filtering system to quickly find the most suitable property for your needs.

Booking.com

Booking is usually my first choice when looking for non-hostel accommodation but they have some hostels available too! As a worldwide platform they have an easy interface and most people are familiar with Booking already!

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