Sunday, December 22, 2013

How to get a job at a hostel

Option 1: Show up and ask

When I first met Miranda, she was trying to check me into Hostel Casa del Parque in San Jose, Costa Rica. I say “trying” because she was being trained, and had literally started the job an hour earlier (but by hour three she was a pro and had already left me a detailed

map of where to find the nearest swimming pool in San Jose!). We started talking and I learned that she was from Seattle, and was currently backpacking through Central America.

Lea: “Oh, so how did you get a job working here, then?”
Miranda: “Well I got here yesterday and I just asked.”
L: “What do you mean, you just asked? How long do you have to commit for?”
M: “Oh, I think I’ll probably stay about 3 weeks or so…I’ve been doing this all through Central America.”
L: This was a thing? One could just ask? I was bewildered. “How much are they paying you?”
M: “I’m just working for a bed! And I get commissions from the tours and taxis that I book.”

It turned out that about half the reception staff was actually working-for-a-bed staff. And it looked really fun. I wanted to get in on this deal. So, after a 4-week stint volunteering at a butterflygarden in Montezuma, I found myself back at Casa del Parque, just in time to conveniently replace the 19-year-old Belgian volunteer, Oliver.

Work involved a lot of tea breaks

Me, to the hostel manager, Roger: “So…I’m thinking of spending the next 10 days in San Jose, and I know Ollie is leaving soon… can I work here?”
Roger: “Okay. Oliver, train her tomorrow.”

And that’s how I got the job.

The staff hard at work in San Jose, Costa Rica

I ended up saving $10/night by working there, but I did have to work about 30 hours per week. Some people might find this ridiculous. It’s worth doing a quick cost-benefit analysis when you’re going to work at a hostel, especially in a poorer country like Costa Rica. My 30 hours/week of work were saving me a mere $70… which means I was being paid only $2.33/hour.

However, there are a few things to note.

First, $2.33 is a pretty standard hourly wage for a Costa Rican. And second, the work was fun and easy. I was working at reception (despite my lack of knowledge of the Spanish language – Me answering the phone every day: “Hola, Hostel Casa del Parque… uno momento por favor” while I went to find someone who spoke Spanish). Reception involved sitting at the table answering the phone, front door, emails, and checking in and out guests. Half the time, this just meant talking to people, giving them advice on where to go and how to get to the bus station, cooking fun dinners with the guests, hula-hooping in the back yard while listening to “Get Lucky” for the 30th time that afternoon, and playing with the hostel cat. And just for the feeling of being part of the awesome staff, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Duties included periodically turning on the faucet for the hostel cat

Tips for Option 1:
·        Get to know the hostel staff first, and stay there for a couple days before you ask to work there. This is also a good idea because you might realize that you don’t really like that hostel or city. It's always smart to check everything out before committing
·        You’ll most likely have more success (and more fun) at smaller hostels, as you’ll find that being a part of the staff will feel like being a part of a crazy little family!
·        Most places will probably want to you stay for at least a couple weeks (since they have to train you)
·        As always, it helps if you speak English and the local language of the country you’re in

Option 2: Contact directly in advance

Another example in which I “earned” a lot more was when I worked at Hostel Hayarkon 48 in Tel Aviv, Israel. In this case, I was working about 25 hours/week, and the price of a dorm bed was a staggering $33/night, or $231/week. So I was basically earning $9.24/hour. This was a great way to spend the summer in Tel Aviv for free, because at $33/night I couldn’t have stayed there for very long!

Party on the roof in Tel Aviv

I got this job with a bit of pre-planning. I knew that I wanted to spend the summer in Tel Aviv, so I looked at the map of Tel Aviv hostels on HostelWorld and picked out a few that had good ratings and a great location. 

Must have high ratings and be next to the beach!

I sent out a few emails about a month in advance, saying that I had some travel experience, I’d stayed in a lot of hostels and worked in one, and I was planning to spend June-August in Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, my email method was not very successful and I got almost no responses. 

I thought about it, and realized that maybe hostels would prefer to see who I was. So, I found the Facebook pages of the hostels I was interested in and sent them a message. I got a response within a couple days from a high-rated hostel a block from the beach. A few messages back and forth later and I had a free place to stay for the summer! 

Pre pub crawl: German, Canadian, British, American, British, and French!

Since this was a much larger hostel than the one in Costa Rica, my duties were a bit different. I was in charge of running breakfast in the morning, manning the laundry room, planning group dinners and social events, and getting everyone out the door for the weekly pub crawl (which I got to go on for free!). All in all a very different, but worthwhile experience.

Note: this option, and the one below, requires a bit more advanced planning and commitment. If you’re doing a multi-country backpacking trip it can be difficult to know where you’ll be in a month’s time, and you may come across a great city along the way that you wish you could spend more time in…On the other hand, if you’re heading to an expensive part of the world it can be comforting to know that you’ll have a free place to stay for a given period of time. For example, hostels in Brazil quadruple in price during holidays and the world cup, so pre-arranging a hostel to work in during these times might be a smart option (but know that you’ll be giving up 20-30 hours/week of your trip to working).

Option 3: Use a work-exchange or volunteer website

If you’re willing to make plans in advance and you’re not having luck with the directly contact method, there are a few websites that allow you to create a profile about yourself and contact “hosts” (such as hostels) that you’d like to work for on a work for accommodation (and sometimes food) basis.

The most popular ones are:

-          Thousands of postings of hostels, organic farms, families (for au pairing), guest houses, and more. All have a brief description of the host and overview of the work-exchange agreement, including number of work hours expected, type of accommodation offered, etc. You create a profile about yourself and hosts can also contact you, offering you a place to work for them. Membership to the website costs 22 euros for a two years, or 29 euros for two years for a couple/two friends.

-          Very similar to; often the same hosts are posted on both sites. Membership is 20 euros for two years, but the site layout is not as user-friendly. has better search options.

Another site that lists volunteer projects is At the moment, they have listings for hostel internships in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Israel. Note that this site requires a $300-$350 placement fee, but you can conveniently secure a spot working at a hostel without much effort on your part. Most jobs have a 6 week minimum.

Option 4: Use a hostel job board

I’ve found a couple good job boards advertising hostel jobs around the world. These jobs usually require a longer commitment (often 3-6 months), and are occasionally paid. They may be more stringent on things like being able to legally work (i.e. they might only want people with an EU passport for jobs in Europe) and speaking the local language (a lot of them are reception jobs). The best ones I’ve found are:

Both have extensive forums where people can discuss how to get a job in hostels, jobs offered, jobs wanted, etc. In addition, you can see the competition as people often post their CV and interest in the job directly under the job advertisement.

A recent posting on from a hostel in Barcelona looked like this:

Garden House Hostel in Barcelona is looking for a responsible, helpful, fun, easy going and social person in January, we offer:
- accommodation with other staff members
- breakfast (the hostel has a kitchen too)
- laundry
- basic salary
- commissions
- free accommodation in FeetUp Hostels in other spanish cities
... and a great work environment where you can meet travellers from all over! The job is about 40hs, 5 shifts per week and 2 days off. It´s a great opportunity to meet a lot of new people, enjoy spanish culture and save money!
Send a short description about yourself, C.V. with a picture, contact information and details about how long you can stay in Barcelona for. A Skype interview is required so please include your Skype ID.
It´s important that you have an European passport, we provide you with everything you need to get the spanish "ID", work contract and work insurance.

There’s also, and a quick search of “hostel jobs” on Google will come up with dozens of other similar sites.

The party continues...

Working at a hostel is a great way to see a city as more than a tourist. You will:

·        Make friends with the local staff (and get to hang out with their friends)
·        Learn a few useful skills (such as how to use a hostel booking software)
·        Practice the language of whatever country you’re in
·        Save a ton of money on accommodation
·        Enjoy staff perks. In Tel Aviv, I got to go on free pub crawls (guests paid $20), do my laundry whenever I wanted, and help myself to unlimited drinks that the hostel sells to guests. Being in the kitchen every morning, I also had first pick of all the great food that guests would leave when they checked out.
·        Finally, it’s nice to combine travel bumming with work experience so you have something to put on your CV!

It’s usually a very flexible job, and you should still have plenty of free time to travel on your days off. Try it out sometime!