How to volunteer at hostels

How to volunteer at hostels

I started my nomad life five years ago. By now, I’m used to going from town to town, never staying for too long in one place. Most people don’t understand how can I do it. Where does all the money come from? The truth is, when you are traveling for a long time, you don’t need as much money as you might think. There are many ways to earn money while you travel. And there are also many ways to save enough just to keep yourself going on the road. Volunteering at hostels is one of them. So, dear backpackers, I present to you this humble post.

What does volunteering mean?

Isla Baru volunteering
Volunteering at Baru Island, 2019.

When you hear the word volunteer, you probably think about an altruistic person donating its time or skills for some noble cause. Well, volunteering at a hostel has a different connotation, but it derives from the same basis.

You donate your time, yes. But in this case, you will receive something in return. It is an exchange.

Volunteering at a hostel means trading your work for accommodation. In some cases, you will get a plus, like free breakfast or staff discounts, but this varies from hostel to hostel. The number of hours you will work, or in which field, also differs.

Volunteering can be a great deal if you are planning on backpacking for a long time. It will allow you to put your knowledge and skills to good use and save a large amount of money in return.

However, you should be careful and stay alert, as some places might abuse your good predisposition and try to get a full-time worker for free. Luckily, those are the least.

Don’t worry, you will find below everything you need to know if you are planning on volunteering at a hostel during your next journey.

Reasons to volunteer at hostels

Are you considering volunteering? Would that be the right move for you? Why do we do it so often?

Here are some of the reasons why I think you should try volunteering on your next backpacking adventure.

You will save money

When you travel, most of your budget goes on two main items: transportation and accommodation.

Even though hostels are a great wallet-friendly option, it can become a big expense when you are supposed to pay for several nights.

So, if you volunteer, you will use your experience and abilities to help a hostel, and you will get to stay for free in return. Some hostels will also provide you with free meals. And, some of them will even give you a staff discount to buy drinks, or yet tours at a cheaper price.

Whatever the exchange is, your budget will be thankful and you will travel more for less money. You can also check out this post we wrote with the best tips to stretch your budget while traveling.

You will make new friends

volunteer cartagena
Cartagena 2018, Photo by Andres Viviani

It doesn’t matter if you are traveling alone, with a close friend or with your partner. Volunteering at hostels is always a great way of meeting new people.

Most volunteer programs offer an exclusive staff room. As a result, you will spend a lot of time with the other team members. You will probably share work shifts and free time as well.

Another great thing about volunteering is that you will get to know people from all over the world. Even locals! This is because you will have the chance to bond with guests, other volunteers, and permanent staff.

When you join a volunteer’s team, you are joining a family!

Some of the closest friends we met at our travels are fellow team members of hostels we volunteered at. And even though we live in different countries, we are still in touch!

You will get to know better a place

Volunteering implies that you are going to stay for a longer time than a regular guest. And I believe the slowest you travel, the more authentic the experience is!

Most hostels ask for their volunteers to stay for at least two weeks. Some of them, even for a month. So imagine all you can do with that time in a new place.

Not only you will be able to see the most iconic places. You will also get to know local spots, and experience a little how the life at that town or city is like.

You will have more fun!

Andres and I had volunteered in a lot of hostels over these past years. We have done exchanges as single travelers before we met, and since we are together, we have spent about 8 months doing it.

And among the things we discover and the great times we had, we learned that, at the right hostels, volunteers are the ones that have more fun.

This is because when you are a guest, you come and go so fast, that it is difficult to get to know well other people and the place you are at.

On the other hand, volunteering will give you the chance to bond on a deeper level with fellow backpackers and locals.

You might also get tours or activities for free, bar discounts, and get the feeling of being a part of the hostel’s inner essence. And when that happens, you will notice how fun volunteering can be!

Reasons not to volunteer at hostels

Volunteering at Huacachina, 2019.

Sure, not everything in life is perfect. And as there are so many volunteering advantages, there are a few disadvantages too. These are some of the ones you should keep in mind.

Having to work when others are having fun.

Although it doesn’t happen often, you might get stuck with a night reception shift and you miss a fun night out. Or perhaps you will be working at the bar, and while everyone is partying, you will have to clean the glasses and make the cocktails.

You shouldn’t worry too much, there will be plenty of nights ahead.

Having less time to go out.

Yes, if you want to stay for free, you will give up some of your time. But in a fare volunteer exchange, you will work around 20 to 30 hours a week. So you are still going to have free time!

And combined with the extra time you are staying at a place, you will end up having more than enough time to enjoy.

Having to share a room.

Well, that’s not a problem for backpackers. We normally stay in dorms anyway! But it can get a little annoying when you are traveling with your partner and want to spend some alone time. I’m sure you can bear it for a few weeks, can’t you?

In the end, I don’t find these disadvantages so terrible! Do you?

So if you are considering if volunteering at hostels is the right move for you, you can now do the maths and make your conclusions.

Volunteering positions at hostels

volunteer look
Uro’s Island, 2019. Photo by Ashita Lopez.

You will find different volunteering offers and positions depending on the hostel’s needs and what your abilities are.

Whatever the position, most hostels already have permanent paid staff to perform these roles. As a volunteer, your job will be to help them or perhaps cover some shorter shifts.

Here there is a list of the most common positions at volunteer exchanges at hostels:


If you speak more than a language, have good social skills, and have some basic computer knowledge, this position might be the one for you.

You will have to welcome new guests, walk them to their rooms, and help them with touristic information.


When the hostel has a bar, it’s not uncommon that they choose volunteers to work at it.

This is a great position, as most times your real job will be to entertain guests and have fun with them.

Organizing drinking games and pouring drinks to travelers doesn’t sound bad at all, right?


Most hostels have a permanent cleaning staff. So don’t worry, you won’t be asked to do all the heavy cleaning.

This position is normally about keeping things clean and organized once the cleaning staff has finished working. You might have to help with making the beds, emptying the ashtrays, or sweep the common area.

I know, it doesn’t sound so fun, but it’s not as heavy as it looks either.

Teachers or professionals

Some hostels are constantly looking for skilled travelers that have some unique thing to offer.

Occasionally, hostels are looking to improve their web presence, so they search for photographers, web developers, or social media managers.

They might also look for Yoga teachers willing to impart free classes. Or maybe English native speakers capable of teaching English to the staff.

How to find volunteering opportunities at hostels

Titicaca lake
Titicaca Lake, 2019. Photo by Andres Viviani

Nowadays, technology has become one of our great allies to make our traveling adventures easier. That is why, regardless of where you are, you will be able to find volunteering opportunities all around the world.

There are two main ways to find volunteer jobs at hostels: through volunteering platforms, and by contacting the hostels directly.

They had both worked really well for Andres and me in the past, so I want to share with you some of their basics.

Use volunteering platforms

There are a lot of worldwide platforms dedicated to volunteers programs on the web today. The biggest ones to find volunteer jobs at hostels all over the world are Worldpackers and Workaway.

To sign up on them, you will have to pay a membership fee. In return, you will access a list of hosts available on every place you want to visit. You will then be able to contact them and apply for a volunteering position.

Andres has used Worldpackers for a year and it works pretty well. He was able to find volunteer offers in Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia.

Contact the hostels on social media

This is how we got most of our volunteer experiences!

When we know we are going to a new place, we search on Booking and Facebook for all the hostels in the area. We check the reviews, we make a list of the ones we like the most and we contact them.

Our first option is always to contact the hostels on their e-mail addresses, as we think it is more likely that a manager or an owner will read our message there. When we don’t find an email address, we contact them on Facebook.

Normally, I’m the one in charge of sending the volunteering requests, and I use the same method every time. I write a short introduction, I ask if they have any volunteer opportunities on a certain date, and click send. Copy-paste the basis, and add something especially addressed to that particular hostel, and you are done!

So if you want to contact the hostels on your own, I recommend you to keep it brief, sell yourself as a great addition to their staff, and make sure you sound polite. Don’t forget to mention where you are from, what languages do you speak and how long do you want to stay.

Go to the hostels in person

If you are at a place and you decide you want to stay longer, it’s not too late to find a volunteering position.

Even if you didn’t apply in advance, you can find opportunities at hostels just going to the front desk and asking. We have done it before and it also worked great for us.

When you arrive at the reception, just ask for the manager of someone in charge and introduce yourself. If they don’t have volunteering positions, you can go around and ask in all the other hostels in the area.

Some final recommendations

Never accept a volunteer exchange if the hostel doesn’t make the conditions clear. You should know how many hours they expect you to work, what will the job be, and what you will get in return, before even moving into the hostel. A fair volunteering exchange consists of working 20 to 30 hours a week in exchange for accommodation and breakfast.

Try to check out previous volunteer’s experiences and advice when you are considering going to a particular hostel. This is especially easy if you use a volunteer platform. If you choose to contact the hostel on your own, you can search for reviews or ask for advice at Facebook volunteering groups.

It is important to check out the guest’s reviews as well. Imagine that customers don’t like a hostel. They may say it’s dirty or it has a negative vibe… Would you want to spend two weeks at that place? I’m guessing it is a harsh no.

Finally, I want to remind you that this article was based on my and my partner’s personal adventures, but every traveler should live its own experience.

I hope you find it useful and, if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to use the comment section below.

Have a great adventure!

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    Susana Viviani

    July 2, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    Great post! I used Workaway when I travelled for 4 months in South East Asia. I was amazing because you get to experience what it feels like to live locally, meet amazing people and have more of a routine when travelling.

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      Yes, to live more like a local is one of the best advantages of volunteering, besides saving money. We are so glad you shared your experience with us. Thanks for the support!

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