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If free accommodation in exchange for work sounds pretty good, then volunteering at a hostel is going to be right up your alley! When you’re travelling solo, accommodation is by far your largest expense. Any costs you can cut are going to help big time and allow you to do more while travelling longer. It’s a win-win!
- Pros of working in a hostel
- Cons of volunteering in a hostel
- Wrap Up
As a solo female traveller, I loved the opportunities volunteering at a hostel opened up for me. Not only did it allow me to save a huge amount of money, but I also meet some awesome people, got to know the local area and learned a ton about the countries I was staying in. Some of my favourite travel memories were when I was volunteering (minus the work part).
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, there are pros and cons to everything so to help you understand what you’d be getting yourself into, I’ve put together a list of pros and cons when it comes to hostel volunteer work. If after getting through these, you decide volunteering at a hostel is definitely for you then keep reading for some key tips on how to land your first volunteer gig!
Pros of working in a hostel
1. It’s SO much fun
Working in a hostel is such an awesome way to meet people and make friends when you’re travelling solo. Sometimes it can be a bit lonely and tiresome having to make new friends every couple of days while moving around. I felt a bit like this after a while. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a ton of fun moving around and meeting new people all the time but it is exhausting.
Depending on the size of the hostel you volunteer at, it’s likely there will be a few other volunteers as well. Unless it’s a particularly small hostel, however, one of the places I volunteered was a tiny surf hostel in Sagres, Portugal and there were about three or four volunteers most of the time. So it really depends on whether the hostel has staff or volunteers. The others you’re volunteering with are quite likely to be similar to yourself since you’ve all wound up in the same location. You’ll be spending quite a bit of time together over the next month or so.
On the flip side, I volunteered at a large party hostel in Mexico and there was a mix of staff and volunteers. This was particularly cool cause not only did I get to know other volunteers but I got to know the locals too! They even tried to (unsuccessfully) teach me Spanish.
Making friends with other volunteers (or staff members) is the best because on your days off you can go and explore together or continue travelling after your time volunteering is up. I did this in Portugal and it was so much fun having a travel buddy that I had known for weeks as opposed to days. The funny thing was that she was also a New Zealander! So we ended up having quite a bit in common.
2. You get to immerse yourself in the culture
Nothing says you’ve travelled to such and such a country like experiencing living there for numerous weeks or months. When you’re volunteering at a hostel, it really is all about travelling slow, getting to know the local spots and discovering the best of what that country has to offer. How else would you know that the little food shack down the road has the BEST pastel de nata’s!
Personally, I prefer this way of travel over just visiting all the tourist hotspots. Travelling slowly allows you to truly immerse yourself in the culture. Time is on your side which allows you to explore more places that are off the beaten track and that you wouldn’t necessarily get to experience if you were only in the country for a week.
You also get to chat with all the people staying in the hostel as well and figure out where they’ve been and what they would recommend. This leads me to my next pro of volunteering in a hostel…
3. It’s a fantastic way to meet people
For example, if you work in reception, you get to meet everyone that checks into the hostel. Then when you see them around the hostel again it’s easy to strike up a conversation because you’ve already met them. It doesn’t matter whether small talk isn’t really your thing or you’re a bit on the shy side (I like to classify myself as a bit of an introverted extrovert), a reception job is extremely easy to learn the ropes to and helps you get out of your shell.
A huge plus that makes it easier to talk to other travellers staying at the hostel is they all know who you are. They are likely to come to you with any questions they might have and hey, there’s your conversation starter! Other travellers tend to stay at hostels for only a few nights so if the sound of saying hi and then bye to people every couple of days doesn’t really float your boat, then definitely look into surf hostel volunteer work.
Why? Because surf hostels often run week-long programmes that teach people how to surf. What does that mean for the travellers staying there? They will be sticking around for at least a week, sometimes two! So it’s a great option to look for volunteer work in surf hostels if you want to meet people who are hanging around the area for a bit.
4. You save a ton of money
Possibly the biggest driver behind wanting to volunteer in a hostel is to save money and that is one hugeee pro! It can vary from hostel to hostel but most places will offer you free food and accommodation in exchange for about 4-6 hours of work, 4 or 5 days a week. It sounds like a lot but most of the time it’s fun work, and in places where hostel costs can be expensive such as Europe, it is weeeell worth your while.
I also volunteered at a hostel and Mexico which was only $13 NZD a night but it was still worth it because I was there for a month in total. So when I did the math and worked out that I was able to save $390 NZD it was a bit of a no brainer. Mexico was also my first destination as a solo female traveller and starting with a hostel volunteer job made me feel a lot more secure.
If you’re new to travelling solo I would highly recommend starting out by volunteering at a hostel, it really helps you find your feet and ease into the whole solo travelling thing. You will realise it’s not as scary as you think and in turn, your confidence will improve. Volunteering somewhere first also gives you time to build up knowledge about the country you’re in and get to know some people before heading off on your own.
Another way that you’ll save money is by taking on the recommendations of the locals. Even though the savings of this aren’t as visible as cutting out your accommodation bill, it can be pretty valuable. For example, say you want to travel to another city on your weekend off, you talk to some of the other staff or volunteers and discover that there’s a much cheaper way to get there that you hadn’t thought of and voila you’ve saved money without even trying!
Cons of volunteering in a hostel
1. You don’t have a lot of flexibility
This is probably the biggest con and depending on how you plan to spend your time in a certain country or city, this could influence your decision on whether you chose to volunteer or not. You will always get days off but it’s not always guaranteed these days will be back to back, it totally depends on the hostel and the work that needs to be done.
Also you are likely to be working during the day, which works great if you’re a night owl or plan on hitting the town but it can be a bit restrictive and leaves limited time for visiting beaches etc
2. Sometimes it takes a while to find a hostel to volunteer at
Not all hostels offer work in exchange for free accommodation and food so it’s important to plan ahead. There are a few sites like Workaway that you can sign up for but all my volunteering gigs I scored outside of the platform. In Mexico, I actually DID have a volunteering gig through Workaway setup, although I wasn’t too keen on it as it was a bit far out from Cancun, which is where I decided I wanted to base myself.
What I ended up doing instead, was volunteering at the hostel I booked my first few nights in Mexico at. It was a total coincidence and I guess I got rather lucky but the whole reason I was able to score a volunteering gig here was talking to people. I would chat to the staff about how long I was planning to stay in Mexico etc and then it turns out one of the staff members I was talking to was the manager. He offered me a volunteering position the following day and I ended up staying for a month.
However, when I volunteered in Portugal I used a pretty different approach. I had a look on Workaway but again there wasn’t any hostel in places that I was super keen on. I had my mindset on the Algarve and being near the beach so that did limit my options a little.
What I did instead was search Hostelworld to help find the hostels in the area, find their email listed on their website, and send then reach out asking if they were in need of a volunteer.
3. You usually need to stay for at least a month
This could be a pro or a con depending on how long you like to travel but usually, with volunteering gigs, you’re unlikely to score something unless you are planning to stay for at least a month. From my experience, a month seems to often be the minimum a hostel is willing to have a volunteer for. The reason is they need to train them up to learn the way things work in the hostel and that isn’t something that happens overnight so they aren’t too keen on repeating this process every couple of weeks.
In my mind, I was totally fine with this, as my goal was to make my money go as far as possible and travel the world long-term. My longest stay was 6 weeks at a hostel in Sagres, a gorgeous little surf town in the south of Portugal.
If all of that sounds pretty great and the cons don’t phase you too much then volunteering at a hostel is going to be the perfect option for you! Your wallet will thank you later, but what’s even better is that you will have so. much. fun.
As I mentioned, I had some of my best travel memories while I was volunteering and the countries that I volunteered in, are still some of my favourite to this day. Overall it is a really great way to see the world and connect with like-minded people. If one of your travel ambitions is to see how far you can go on the amount of money you have, volunteering at a hostel will get you soo much further than you could ever imagine.
Best of luck and just remember to go for it, even if it doesn’t look like the hostel you want to stay at takes volunteers, reach out anyway. The worst thing they can say is no!
If you’re curious about solo female travel in Portugal (which I hope you are because it’s AWESOME) and want to read more about my experience, check out my Ultimate Guide for Lisbon Solo Travel blog post here.