I began dreaming about my trip abroad and hostel work stay about a year before I stepped foot on the plane. You can bet I spent a lot of time thinking and planning–mostly about how a recent grad like myself with scarce savings could pull off an international experience.
From studying abroad to living abroad
I wanted to go back to Santiago, Chile. After studying abroad there, I knew I wanted to go back, but I wasn’t sure how to pull it off. With student loans just around the corner, I was looking for a way that I could fulfill my dream of traveling without breaking the bank.
I began to do some research, and I found out that I could volunteer in a hostel, paying my rent by working part time. It was just the right way for me to travel while also being able to maintain a modest budget. Eventually I got in touch with one right in the center of Santiago.
Communicate clearly with your host
I have to admit, this wasn’t the first hostel I contacted. The first one I chose, well located in a hipster and expensive neighborhood, left me hanging. One day we were exchanging online messages, and the next moment, nothing! I guess I’d been ghosted. This second time, I chose Candidate B, in a slightly grittier neighborhood. This leads me to my first piece of advice: establish clear lines of communication with your host! Not only will this make for an easier experience, but it will also make things much more pleasant.
Before arriving, I researched the neighborhoods of Santiago; this allowed me to make an informed decision about which hostel work stay would be just right for me. By talking with my host beforehand, I was able to understand their expectations and prepare myself accordingly!
For instance, are you living in a private room or a dorm? How many other people will be in the same room? How many hours are you working? Doing what?
I ended up in a 6-person room, but the owner of the hostel assured me that only four hostel work stay volunteers would live there–unless every other bed in the hostel was filled.
Be ready to work on your hostel work stay
I worked twenty five hours a week, doing a variety of activities: preparing breakfast, cleaning a bit, working in the reception, and coordinating guest activities. This leads me to my second piece of advice: be ready to work. Just like you wouldn’t pay a little less rent because you’re tired, you shouldn’t work less because you went out partying!
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get out and enjoy the city, but be respectful of the fact that your work is your rent. I definitely spent a couple sleepy mornings making breakfast and wondering why I didn’t go to bed earlier. The only thing to know is if you make that decision, be prepared for the consequences!
Waking up at 7 am to make breakfast may not be your cup of tea, but you should know what you’re signing up for. Besides, think of all the wonderful opportunities washing a couple of dishes is getting you! That leads me to my third point…
Get out and see the city!
When you’re living and working in the same place, it’s easy to be consumed by the place. There were some days I don’t think I left the hostel! But my most fun and memorable days were when I got outside, walked around, and explored the city.
One day after work, I went with my friends from Brazil and Venezuela to climb Cerro Santa Lucía. It was a beautiful view from the top, and I got to know them a lot better as we walked up and up and up.
I also took advantage of two days off in a row to visit Valparaíso, Santiago’s sister city. Depending on how long you’re there, you can easily see the tourist sites and more!
Also, leaving your hostel work stay will increase your chances of getting to know locals who will show you off the beaten path gems; my friend, Patricio, brought me to a coffee shop where we had the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tried!
Get to know those around you
All this talk about the city is great, but the true value of staying in a hostel is the social experience! Take advantage of the fact that you’re in a highly unique living environment to get to know those around you. As an introvert, I value my alone time; however, while living in the hostel, I also had the amazing opportunity to get to know people from around the globe.
I met most of my friends in common spaces, like the kitchen or living room. Guests from Germany, Brazil, France, Argentina, and China alike gathered to prepare food at dinnertime.
One thing I had in common with all of the other guests was a love of travel! It was a great way to start conversation, and I can honestly say that I met two of my best friends during my hostel work stay. Even if they’re not native speakers of your language, or you’re just learning their language, you might just meet some quality friends!
A hostel work stay is a great way to learn languages
That gives away my next point: take risks and start learning more languages! Since arriving in the hostel, I’ve decided to give Portuguese a try. Between Duolingo and my friends who are more than supportive, I’ve advanced a little bit.
Learning a new language may be scary but once you get over the fear of making mistakes, it’s a wonderful experience! I learned the most about English when I tried to explain it to friends…who knew tire, tired, and retired meant such different things?
I currently speak English and Spanish, and I’ve found that the absolute best way to learn is to just start a conversation. Learning grammar in the native language helps, and you’ll need to get into the nitty gritty parts of speech at some point; however, there’s nothing like the desire to communicate to motivate you to learn new vocabulary.
Keep in mind cultural differences; it’s easy to not realize your particular perspective until you find yourself up against another one. Though you may have cultural differences, you should always start with respectful listening.
Why a hostel work stay?
Volunteering in a hostel was a wonderful decision for me. It gave me a diverse circle of close friends, and I made marvelous memories! I truly recommend it as a way to travel to and see new places.
Not only does it provide you with a place to sleep, but also with a community to support your exploration and adventures!