Everything you need to know to work as a hostel housekeeper

Working as a housekeeper in a hostel may not sound like a dream job, but it could become yours! Read on to discover the pros and cons of cleaning for your accommodation, and discover if it's right for you!



Working as a housekeeper at a hostel isn’t on most people’s “bucket list."

For many, it’s just a job that will gain them free accommodation, a means to an end: so they can enjoy the trip of their dreams in their downtime without spending all of their hard-earned cash on a place to sleep. 

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, I’m writing to bolster your expectations and tell you why traveling the world while working in housekeeping can be an awesome adventure - one that will add to your entire experience abroad - and to tell you the nitty-gritty details of my own experience, so that you won’t be let down by too-high expectations, either!

I’ve spent the last two months as a housekeeping volunteer in two different hostels in Scotland: one on the Fife coast, and one in the highlands near Fort William. And now you can know all about it!

What's the day-to-day experience of a hostel housekeeper?

The precise details will vary depending on the hostel, but my duties typically included: 

  • Stripping beds
  • Doing laundry
  • Vacuuming rooms
  • Dusting
  • Cleaning toilets, sinks, and showers
  • Mopping
  • Sorting trash and recycling
  • Cleaning the kitchen

(Don’t worry, you won’t usually be the only person doing all of this!) 

On occasion, there were other little jobs, and at one hostel, cleaning the staff living quarters was also part of the work schedule. Let me tell you, having the task of cleaning your room as part of your official job was great!

My experience as a housekeeper

The first day at each hostel was very relaxed: even though I arrived in the morning each time, neither manager expected me to start cleaning right away, although I was prepared to! 

Instead, they showed me around, got to know me a bit, and then told me I was free to settle in and explore! This was great because I was tired of overnight travel! I appreciated their consideration : )

The second day was when I started the work. Each hostel has a different way of operating and slightly different expectations: some are very particular about how you do your job. They'll teach you precisely how to clean everything. Others will show you how they do it, then tell you to do it however you want - as long as everything is clean and ready for the guests by the set time!

After a few days, when I’d learned all the tasks, usually the other volunteers and I were free to divide up the tasks on our own. This worked quite well, especially when each of us liked doing different chores! 

When it wasn’t up to us, and was assigned on the schedule, everyone was given an equal distribution of work

I never felt like I was doing more than my fair share, or only the distasteful jobs! As a bonus, because the other volunteers were also hard workers, we usually finished our work at least a half hour early!

Because I wanted plenty of time to explore, I purposefully chose hostels that gave me free accommodation in exchange for 3 to 4 hours of cleaning work

When the hostels were full (and they usually were in summer), every bed was full and the whole hostel needed cleaning. On those days, the managers planned for all of us to work to get the job done quickly. 

Some days there were fewer guests, and only a couple of rooms were full, so the next morning we didn’t have to clean every room, or even every shower! 

Each hostel had a weekly schedule for the volunteers within a couple days of our arrival, which was great: I could plan cool things to do on my days off! Depending on how many volunteers are working, the hostel may have more flexibility on which days you have off - it doesn’t hurt to ask.

I was hoping to get Sunday mornings off in order to attend church, but I knew that weekends were the busiest days when all hands were needed to clean - so I didn't expect to be accommodated by my hosts. 

However, when I asked, both hosts were very kind! One gave me almost every Sundays off, while the other arranged for me to work the early morning shift and a couple extra chores through the rest of the week so I could have time to go to the service at a local church. I was blown away by their thoughtfulness, and made sure to make it up to them in hard work! 

To sum it all up: 

Both of my hosts gave me clear expectations, taught me the best way to do the tasks in their particular hostel, gave me accurate hours, and were there to help if I had any questions. They were good people who understood the kind of work we were doing, and often did it alongside the volunteers! 

hostel shared room

What are some of the specific details about housekeeping work?

Before you rush off to apply as a hostel housekeeper, let's get down to the nitty-gritty: cleaning is not always easy work. 

It’s important to have realistic expectations: the reality of this job is that you’re tidying up after other people. Usually, people who have different ideas of what kind of mess is culturally acceptable to leave behind them!

So, let’s get this clear: you will see messes. 

Depending on where you happen to be and the general clientele who come to stay at your host hostel, you will see different types of messes. (Before I frighten you off, I want you to know that there are many people who leave their bunks and rooms in order: they strip their own sheets and only leave a stray earplug under the bed!)

If you get a gig with a big hostel in a busy city, it’s likely that you’ll find the remnants of wild parties (picture a room littered with beer cans, bottles, random pieces of paper, food, and weird new stains on the floor). 

Any hostel cleaner will deal with airing out stinky rooms, unclogging some really nasty toilets, and cleaning hair from the shower stalls. If you are squeamish, this may not be a good job for you! 

However, if you are task-oriented, enjoy making things neat and sparkly clean again for others, and feel accomplished when you can easily see the results of your work, this is a job in which you will find much gratification!

Now, we’ve established that people can leave a mess. They also leave behind a lot of personal items: one hostel I worked at seemed to have at leave two guests per day who left behind dirty socks!

People leave an assortment of toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, various sprays and toothpastes. 

If you’re lucky, you may be able to find one you want to use instead of throwing it out! While this kind of find is more typical, and generally makes a little more work for you (more stuff to throw away). However, the upside to this habit of your guests is that you can find some really cool or useful things when they leave - and most of the time, they don’t want it back!

When I stayed at a hostel on Scotland’s east coast, people almost never failed to leave food behind. 

Some days, I didn’t have to purchase groceries, and the other staff and I split the food. Boxes of fudge, bags of oatmeal, fruit, coffee, potatos - all of these were nice little treats to supplement our meals. 

At the hostel in the highlands, we found some great items: posh as well as practical! 

We had many groups that came from hiking the West Highland Way, and many more came to climb Ben Nevis, the United Kingdom’s highest mountain. 

Because of this, they came fitted out for adventure and left behind what they didn’t use. I was able to waterproof my hiking boots with solution left in one room, and the bag of nuts and dried fruit left in another fed me on my own hiking!

My roommate ended up with some new clothes: two hats, a t-shirt, a sweater that no one came back for. Because many of the guests were celebrating large accomplishments in the evenings, these groups tended to leave behind things like cider, beer, and even unopened bottles of Prosecco!

Cleaning the bedrooms could be a little bit like a treasure hunt… We never knew what we’d find, or where we’d find it!

hostel toilet

All of that said, working as a housekeeping in a hostel is more than an easy way to earn a free bunk in a foreign country. It’s not just a dirty job with the potential for little perks along the way. It can a way to gain good life experience and learn about yourself and other people… And believe it or not, you may just have the time of your life.

I know you may think this is a silly thing to say about a job, but hear me out. Hostels can be fun places anyway, but when you are one of the behind-the-scenes people, working a job that seems thankless from the outside, you have a perfect opportunity to develop life-long friendships. 

Picture your fellow staff-members - people from all over the world, some from places you’ve never been. They’ll have their own stories, desires, lives. They’ll be very different from you, and yet similar in most of the ways that matter.

Now, see yourself working beside them: you’re scrubbing toilets, making faces and laughing as you pull hair out of the shower drain. You blast music for each other as you strip beds and fold sheets, and find out you like the same kind of music - or maybe discover a new band that you love!

You’ll gripe to them about doing the dishes that a careless guest left behind, and end up telling the story of your life as you wash and they dry. You’ll trade words in different languages, and develop inside jokes that transcend your language barrier!

Hostels are fun places anyway, but when you are working in one and making friends with your coworkers, everything is a little bit better - you have built-in friends to explore with, a camaraderie and team spirit that brightens even a dingy room or a city you decide you don’t love. 

Sometimes, it feels like you have a new family - you'll even end up cooking entire meals for one another!

It’s true that sometimes you won’t have a great coworker, but these experiences tend to be rare. 

I know that in each of the places I worked, and in other hostels where I spent a longer period of time, there was at least one good friend that I made that I will keep in touch with, and probably visit in their own country one day. 

I know that they will always be welcome to visit me, wherever I happen to be on the globe! And why not? We’ve done dirty jobs together, learned a new country together, laughed together (sometimes cried together), shared a room… And through all of it, we’ve grown together and shared an important part of our lives. 

That tried-and-true friendship is something I would never give up, bottles of Prosecco or not.

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