How to Get Free Accommodation in Exchange for Work as a Hostel Volunteer

How to Get Free Accommodation in Exchange for Work as a Hostel Volunteer

As a cash-strapped backpacker, I need to save money wherever I can so I can continue my dream of travelling the world.  One of the ways I have managed to travel for free (almost!) is by exchanging work in hostels for free accommodation.  Because this is a kind of work exchange, it is a great way to work in a hostel abroad without needing a visa or a long-term job contract.  Work exchange programs offer free accommodation for travellers if they offer their services, skills and time in exchange, so it is a win-win for both parties.  However, before you sign up, there are several things you need to know about getting free accommodation in exchange for work as a hostel volunteer.

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Where to Find Hostel Jobs in Exchange for Accommodation

The best place to look for free accommodation in exchange for work as a hostel volunteer is on work exchange sites like Worldpackers, Workaway and HelpX

READ MORE: 6 of the Best Work Exchange Sites Compared

If you’d like more information on the different work exchange sites, check out this comparison here.  Work exchange websites act as an intermediary between potential hosts and volunteers, so you can browse available hostel volunteer placements and easily apply for the positions.  Usually, there is a membership fee to sign up on such sites, but there are a couple of free websites you can use as well, although they offer less support than the paid sites should something go wrong. 

I’ve teamed up with one of the best work exchange sites called Worldpackers to offer all Tales of a Backpacker readers a $20 discount, which means you only need to pay $29 USD for a full year’s verified membership.  Once you are a verified member you can apply to any volunteer position you find, and message all the hosts on Worldpackers to volunteer in hostels and other projects all over the world.  What are you waiting for?!  Read more about travelling the world for free, or get your discount here!

GET YOUR DISCOUNT NOW

If you are already in a destination and decide you want to stay longer, you could simply walk into hostels and ask if they are looking for volunteers.  In that case, check the reviews of the hostels online so you can choose the ones with the best reputations and really enjoy your hostel work!

A chill out area in a hostel in Mexico
A chillout area in a hostel in Mexico – A Hostel with Great Reviews Should be Good to Volunteer in

FAQs about Volunteering in Hostels Abroad

How Long do you Volunteer For?

Although you can sometimes find volunteer work in hostels for as little as one week, most hostels will require you to stay for a minimum time of two to four weeks.  The longer the hostel volunteer works, the less time they have to spend training up new volunteers, and the more knowledgeable the volunteers become about the local area, so they can help the guests by sharing tips and recommendations.

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How Many Hours Will You Work in Exchange for Accommodation?

Again, this varies depending on the hostel.  Remember, work exchange programs are supposed to be part-time, so you should expect at least one or two days off, and to work in shifts suited to what the hostel needs you to do.  Working hours will probably be 5-8 hours per day, depending on how many days you have off during the week.

Most Hostel Work will be in the Reception Area – Hostel Work in Exchange for Accommodation

What Do You Get in Exchange for your Hostel Volunteer Work?

Accommodation should always be provided as a minimum exchange for your work.  Most hostels usually provide a bed in a dorm, whereas others may provide a private or twin room for its volunteers, or you may be camping or in other accommodation.  Usually, breakfast is included, and some hostels might provide other meals, as well as free tours, language classes or other benefits.  Check each volunteer listing carefully to see what is provided.

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What Kind of Hostel Work will you do?

Each hostel volunteer placement will be different, but usually, hostel work exchange programs will expect you to work on reception, checking guests in, helping with guest inquiries, changing the bed and some cleaning work.  Other hostels may be looking for bar staff or people to work the night shift, while some may need help with their social media presence or website design.  New hostels might also be looking for people to help finish building or decorating work, gardening or painting murals.  Make sure you know exactly what is expected of you.

Painting Hostel Murals – Work in Exchange for Accommodation

What Kind of Skills do you Need for Hostel Work Abroad?

Any previous experience you have working in hostels or hotels will help you out, but it isn’t essential.  Before you consider working in a hostel abroad you should definitely stay in several hostels to make sure you enjoy the environment and atmosphere.  You will need to be friendly and helpful with guests, and a relaxed and fun personality will mean you be able to deal with any challenges while you’re working.  Language skills also help – some hostel jobs require at least a basic grasp of the native language, wherever the hostel is.  Other languages are certainly useful so you can speak to guests from different parts of the world.

What is Working in Hostels REALLY Like?

The Good

Being a hostel volunteer is a fun and varied job.  You get to meet travellers from all over the world, hang out in a chilled out or party atmosphere and travel the world for free.  I made some good friends while I was working in a hostel – when you work together for several weeks you have a special bond that you wouldn’t get just passing through.  

Staying in the same place for several weeks is also a nice break from constant travelling.  You can really get to know the place, explore like a local and go beyond the usual tourist activities.

My Welcome Dinner at a Hostel I volunteered at in Mexico

The Bad

However, you could end up working long hours, not sleeping very much, and be tired of having to make the effort to talk to people all the time.  Even when you’re not working, hostel guests might still ask you questions or advice, so it is good to get out of the hostel and enjoy the town or city where you are on your days off.  I found that working more than a couple of months at a time got quite tiring, so I was glad to take some time off, travel to the next place and catch up on sleep before taking on my next hostel job.  

The Maybe

You should also calculate how much money you will be saving by not paying for accommodation (or food), to make sure it is worth your time.  If a dorm bed only costs a few dollars a night, is working for several hours a fair exchange?  Volunteer hostel work abroad is never going to make you rich, but if your goal is simply to travel for free or for very little money, then getting free accommodation in exchange for work as a hostel volunteer can work out as a good deal.

A Dorm Room at the Good Morning Hostel Lisbon
Make Sure that The Hostel Work is a Fair Exchange for Accommodation

How to Prepare for Working in a Hostel in Exchange for Accommodation

Contact Hostels

If you sign up to a work exchange site, then you can contact hostels which offer volunteer work in exchange for accommodation before you even leave home.  Create a detailed profile, with photographs of your (smiling!) face, information about your personality, hobbies and work experience so you present yourself as a good person to work in a hostel business.  When you contact hostels, try to mention something about their specific hostel so it’s clear it’s not just a copy and paste application – show them you really want to work at their hostel.  Plan your trip a few weeks in advance so you have plenty of time to arrange a volunteer placement. 

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Get Your Paperwork Sorted

Unlike most paid jobs abroad with accommodation, work exchanges don’t usually require a visa, but check with each country you plan to visit for the entry requirements to make sure you know which paperwork you need for travelling.

Make sure your passport is valid for the whole duration of your time abroad, bearing in mind that most countries require an additional 6 months validity on your passport from your return date.

Documents Needed for Travel - Passport and Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate
Make sure your passport, visa and other paperwork is all in order

Book Your Transport

Once you have arranged a work exchange with a hostel and agreed on the dates of arrival, you can book your flights or other transport to get there.  Consider arriving a day or two before and staying somewhere else so you can get your bearings, and see some of the destination before you start work – or you could stay on for a few days afterwards.  Don’t forget that you also need time to explore!

Buy Travel Insurance

No matter where you travel, you should always get travel insurance to cover you in case something does happen. Travel insurance from WorldNomads is available to people from 140 countries, and you can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home.  It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.

 

Have you worked in a hostel before?  Would you consider working in a hostel in exchange for free accommodation?  I’ve love to hear your thoughts, please leave your comments below.

Prepare for your work exchange trip with these top picks from Amazon:

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Last updated: May 12, 2019

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