Have you ever considered working abroad at a hostel? Nabbing a hostel gig is not only an awesome way to score free accommodation abroad, it’s also a great way to make a little extra money, experience a new city like a local, and meet tons of new people from all over the world.
However, working at a hostel isn’t for everyone. When I worked at a hostel in Granada, Spain, I learned a lot about what it means to be a professional social butterfly, what my personal space needs are, and what it means to be an undocumented worker abroad.
Nevertheless, my time working at the hostel was an eye-opening experience and, if it suits your personality, I absolutely recommend it as a way to shake up your travels.
11 Things You’ll Learn From Working Abroad at a Hostel
That Goodbyes Are Par For The Course
Working at a hostel, you’ll meet new people daily and have to say goodbye to people daily. You may see some of the people you met at the hostel again, but most you probably won’t. Because of this, you’ll learn how to say goodbye, and you’ll probably develop a que sera sera attitude about it all.
That Your Role Will Never Be Clearly Defined
When I first applied at the hostel, I applied for a party promoter position. When I got to the hostel, it turns out not only was I a party promoter, I was also the breakfast person, tour guide, chef, and assistant to the cleaning lady (who only spoke Spanish – that was an adventure). Not to mention professional social butterfly.
How to Bartend
During my time in Spain, I became a master at making both sangria and mojito’s. I learned how to pronounce and discipher all the ingredients in Spanish, as well as how to take stock of the quantities of each.
In regards to the mojito’s, one morning stands out in particular. There was a group of probably twelve twenty-something dudes in town for a bachelor party, they were up at around 8 am to catch their bus back to wherever they were from – I think it was either the UK or Netherlands, neither would be surprising – and they wanted to drink as many mojitos as they could before they left Spain.
So, given that I was on duty, it was up to me to provide. I must have made 50 mojito’s that morning.
That It’s a Communal Lifestyle
Before you accept a job working at a hostel, I urge you to consider how important your personal space is to you. I’m not shy about how my time working at a hostel ended, and it was because I need my personal space. I need time to recharge my batteries and, as I’m a freelance writer, write.
When I was at the hostel, I was expected to be a social butterfly extraordinaire from the minute I stepped through the door to the minute I fell asleep in my dorm room at night. If I was found reading a book or writing on my own, I got a weird look from some of the receptionists.
My personal experience working at a hostel meant that I was never alone. My sleeping space was communal, meals were communal, and the bathroom situation was communal. I actually had to find a secluded space near the Alhambra to spend some time by myself – not a bad spot to chill, mind you.
What I’m getting at here, is that before you accept a position at a hostel, take stock of how important your personal space is to you, and choose a position accordingly. Learn from my mistake. Some hostels will even give you your own room.
That People Will Look To You As a Local
The first day I was in Granada, I went on a guided tour through the Albayzin and into the Sacromonte caves with the hostel. The second day I was in Granada, I led this tour. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to these areas of Granada, but they’re a maze. I hardly knew which direction I was facing let alone where I was going or any interesting information about the sites I was showing my group.
What did I do? I faked it. I remembered little tidbits of information from the tour guide before me, and meshed that in with research I had done on the internet before my trip. “You see these decals in the street posts. Those are pomegranates. Fun fact, Granada means pomegranate in Spanish.” Then, when it came to guiding my group back to the hostel, I knew we were lost, but nobody else did. As far as they knew, we just took the scenic way back.
My favorite moment acting as a local in Granada? I was out for a solo walk around the Albayzin and I was stopped by a lady asking me (in Spanish) where the Mirador de San Nicolas was. I responded. In Spanish. And led her in the right direction.
What Your Priorities Are
In accordance with the personal space point, you’ll learn where your priorities are. Is your top priority meeting as many people as possible, is it saving up money to keep traveling, it is having a profound experience abroad, is it to learn more about yourself, or maybe is it to go home and spend more time with your family?
Not only working at a hostel, but traveling in general will teach you about your priorities. If you’re not sure what led you to work in a hostel in the first place, you’ll find out what it is by the time your time there is over.
Read More: The Ultimate Spain Playlist
How to Rock at Small Talk
I remember after a couple weeks at the hostel I met this guy who was down to talk about artificial intelligence, Elon Musk, and science in general. I latched on to this guy and picked his brain about all of this for hours.
Why? Because I was so damn tired of having the same conversation over and over again. You know the one, the one that goes like – where are you from, where are you going, how long have you been traveling, have you been to the Alhambra yet?
In my experience, at first, you’ll like this conversation. You’ll dig people asking about you and you’ll take interest in them as well. Then, after a few days, you’ll loathe this conversation. Most of the people you talk to about this are going to leave the next day anyway, and you’ll wonder what the point of the conversation is at all. Then, after a couple more days, you’ll come around again. You’ll remember that while the conversation is not new for you, it is new for them, and you never know when this initial conversation could lead to deeper discussions and friendships.
To Keep Your Role on the DL
On my first day working at the hostel in Spain, I was told that if someone walks in and asks me about my role, I was to say I was a guest just helping out. Because, as we all know, working abroad generally requires a visa, but in the hostel industry, visas for every month-long gig isn’t always practical.
Low Maintenance or Bust
When you work at a hostel, you have to learn how to be low maintenance, or you simply will not jive with the atmosphere. You’ll learn how to never be alone in a bathroom, how to deal with chilly mornings and no hot water in the shower, you’ll learn how to ignore that hair in your food, and that most mornings, the time it takes to put on makeup is just not worth it.
Bedbugs Happen… a Lot
The owners of the hostel I worked at are cheering right now because I haven’t mentioned their name directly, but yeah, I got a first hand look at how a hostel handles the bed bug issue. However, I have to stress that although this experience was when I learned about how hostels deal with bed bugs, let me assure you that every hostel goes through a routine fumigation process for bed bugs. And this process isn’t done in just hostels, it’s done in even the most luxurious hotels imaginable.
Bed bugs are a fact of life in the accommodation industry. Bed bugs not only live in beds, but backpacks, suitcases, airplane cargo holds, and beyond. They’re gross, but trust me, they’re everywhere.
Read More: The Essential Hostel Packing List
You’ll Take Part in Many Jam Sessions
It doesn’t matter if you play the guitar, the banjo, the kazoo, or if you just prefer to use your out-of-tune voice, jam sessions happen in hostels on the regular. And, when I was working at one, many times a day. Ask me about all the Spanish words to La Bamba – you’ll be surprised.
What to Pack for a Hostel Stay
Security Gear: A padlock for the hostel locker will keep your stuff secure.
Sleeping Gear: I never enter a hostel without a sleep mask and ear plugs in my bag.
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