Author: Kathleen Schmidt

Finding Jobs in Hostels

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Hostel worker

Most people are aware that hostels often get their workers from people staying there, but actually getting those jobs yourself isn’t as easy or obvious as you might think. As a former assistant manager of a hostel who knows many other people in this business, I’ve put together some tips on getting jobs, and also the good and bad things about these jobs.

Working at hostels is a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and if you are able to get a job while you are in the midst of your travels it is a great way to earn some money or pay for accommodation. There are a few types of jobs you can get whether it’s full time permanent, part time temporary or trade work in exchange for accommodation.  

The Benefits of hostel work


Hostel work can be very beneficial and a lot of fun. It’s a constantly changing environment, with guests coming and going, events and parties happening constantly and you always needing to be happy and willing to help. Here are a few of the benefits but there are many more:

  • Meeting Folks: You get to meet people from all around the world, a great advantage as you keep traveling, as it never hurts to have friends in the places you hope to go or even friends in places you never thought you would go.
  • Cultural Exchange: Living in another country truly expands your view and opinions of the world.
  • Accommodation: Especially for trade work or temporary work, accommodation is provided, though be prepared to live in a dorm with guests that are coming and going. Sometimes there are staff rooms and in the rare case a staff house. Managers can sometimes get an allowance towards their own place but need to live close by in case of emergencies.
  • Sense of Accomplishment: For some taking a break and doing work for a few months during their travels gives them more of a sense of accomplishment, versus just randomly wandering.
  • Saving Money: Work trade is often a life saver for a backpacker strapped for cash due to a little miscalculation or simply those of us who travel on the lowest of budgets.
  • Meals: If a hostel has a meal for guests, workers are often able to enjoy that at no cost.
  • Fun: What more could you want for a job other than it being fun and hostel work, while it is often hard work, is just plain fun.
  • Oh the Stories!: If nothing else you will certainly have a treasure chest worth of stories, from the drunken lad passing out half naked on his way from the bathroom, to the all night 80’s punk rock party to the obstinate guest who had to be escorted out by the cops.

The drawbacks of hostel work

activity board

Nearly everyone assumes that hostel work is easy and laid back and nothing much to it, and for the most part it is. But while hostel living and working is fun it can also grate on your nerves after a while. Here are a few things to take into consideration before you embark on a career in hostel work:

  • Accommodation: If the hostel provides your bed it is often in a dorm with guests that come and go, this could be annoying if you are a light sleeper, have party animals or snorers in the room.
  • Hours: You often have to work strange hours and not in a regular fashion.
  • Drunken Guests: Be prepared to have to deal with the happy drunk and the not so happy drunk. I have had to call the cops on more than one person who threatened to get violent but of course didn’t remember in the morning. Either way they usually lead to an amusing story.
  • Theft: Unfortunately this is a common occurrence in hostels, keep your stuff stowed safely away. I have a friend who is a manger in London who has just lost her laptop, phone and wallet all in 2 weeks.
  • Facilites: In a hostel you are always sharing showers bathrooms and you never know which guest might have athletes foot, so wear thongs/flipflops/slops.
  • Food: Be prepared to lose your food or beer out of the fridge at least once, most likely on regular occurrence. There are many drunks who get the munchies at 2am.
  • Sleep: Be prepared to not get much in general, whether it is a guest who finds the need to come and go in the middle of the night or rustle that annoying plastic bag at 3am or the most recent party going on, hostels aren’t known for the thickness of walls, and it’s not always a party that makes that thumping noise.

Tips for Temporary or Trade Work

Dudes at desk

Many of these tips might seem self explanatory but you won’t believe how many people lose any hope of work by breaking a few of the cardinal rules. Just remember some common sense and be friendly and helpful, as those are the most important qualities.

  • Think Ahead: If you are planning a trip and know where you will be and which hostel you might stay at, start researching if there are any positions.
  • Introductions: When you arrive be sure to introduce yourself to the staff and to management and let them know you are planning to stay for more than a week.
  • Don’t Pester the Staff!: It happens too often when an overly enthusiastic guest who might be a great asset turns into a pest and continually asks and bugs the front desk workers. This usually leads to annoyed staff and no work for you. It can even lead to you being asked to leave.
  • Friendly Attitude: Be friendly with guests and interact, if you have been around for a bit and have the general lay of the land, offer to take guests out and show them around.
  • Don’t Be Lazy: and hang out like a slob not doing anything and turning yourself into that creepy guest in the corner who is never going to leave.
  • Help Out: Help out without being asked. Clean up if you notice dishes, or general mess, help a guest with bags etc. It will be noticed and appreciated. Some of the best help I had was a longterm guest running guests to the rooms when I was alone at the front desk.
  • Smile and be Friendly
  • Use Your Skills: If you have a special skill, such as electrical, internet, carpentry etc. that the hostel could find useful, offer your help. But be careful an owner doesn’t take you for granted so be sure you get something in trade.
  • Use Your Talents: If you are a musician or massage therapist, or have some talent that could be beneficial to the guests as entertainment or the such, be sure to mention it. You might even want to let them know ahead of time and see if you can work out a deal to offer massage or the such before you arrive. Buccaneers Hostel in Cintsa, South Africa, has a whole “beauty and health spa” area and long term guests are encouraged to help out where they can.
  • Shower: So many times longterm guests end up being those creepy, stinky folks, so be sure to have good hygiene and a positive attitude.
  • Don’t Pester the Staff: This one is so important it bears repeating!

Tips for Permanent Work

desk girl

Permanent work is not as easy to come by as one might think and it is often a case of being in the right place at the right time. Longterm hostel work can be a great way to spend a few years and definitely helps out your travel addiction if you are forced to be grounded for a bit, but it can also be exhausting and frustrating. Keep the above tips in mind along with the following ones below.

  • Websites: Keep a look out on websites (see below), they change daily.
  • First Contact: Give the hostel you are interested in a call and see if there is anything new, be positive and flexible and ask to send a resume even if there are no positions open.
  • Plan Ahead: If you know you are planning or hoping to stay in an area for longer than 6 months and would like paid work, be sure to plan ahead and see if any hostels have openings or might have anything coming up for the busy season.
  • Be Flexible: Most times front desk also means cleaning, and food prep, and tour guide, so be prepared to do all of the above and more.
  • Management: Positions in higher management usually require at least a year commitment, and often folks end up staying longer.
  • Be Prepared: Many times hostel owners are a rare and special breed, shall we say. Be prepared to deal with micromanaging and folks with grand ideas on little money.
  • Do Not Underestimate the Job: A hostel manager might sound like an easy laid back job, but often it comes with more interesting characters and unexpected challenges not usually found in hotel management.
  • Reliable and Hardworking: If you start as temporary but hope to go full time permanent be reliable and show that you care about your job. Too often people don’t care and just do hostel work because they think it’s easy, but remember to think how you would like someone at the front desk to treat you.

My own personal experience

From my own personal experiences I have worked in 2 hostels, Bomvu Backpackers, in the former Transkei of South Africa and The Green Tortoise Hostel in Seattle, Washington. Bomvu turned into an unexpected longer stay and Green Tortoise was a planned-ahead position.  

Bomvu Backpackers started out as just a 4-day stop and after about 3 months I finally moved on. For that position I started by helping around the place, doing some odd decorative painting for the occasional meal and it morphed into me becoming the personnel assistant to the manager while he prepared for a huge AIDS benefit concert. My last month was spent as the morning bartender (best job in the world). I lived in a tent and all my meals were included. Nothing quite like 3 months in a tent on the beach for basically free.  

My position at the Green Tortoise Hostel, started after I met the owner during a trip from Oregon and during a tour of the hostel I mentioned that I was hoping to move to Seattle but was having a hard time finding a place to work. He said I could move up and do cleaning for accommodation, and some front desk work for pay. Within the first week of me working there he asked me to be the assistant manager. A great experience, both for the resume and learning to deal with many situations not common in everyday jobs and one I will never forget. I lived in a 6-bed dorm for the first 2 months and then moved into my own apartment. I worked as the assistant manager for a year, even doing a stint as assistant manager, stand in manager and fun director. I met tons of amazing people and continue to be in touch with many of them.

All these experiences have led me to start thinking about opening a hostel of my own…  

A friend of mine, Deborah Stewart, joined me when I toured some hostels in Edinburgh and simply asked around if they had any work available. She ended up getting a front desk position with accommodation at the Royal Mile Backpackers.

Good resources on the web – A great site with lots of postings – Many good postings and information for those interested in management – Some good information and postings – Gives you some ways to work in hostels – Usually work exchange related, not only hostels listed but also farms and such.
– Mostly USA hostels – Hostels in Scotland

Other sites include things like – each country has its own version.

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