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First time working at a hostel? Here's what you need to know

You've set up your first work exchange gig at a hostel, but you're nervous and unsure of what to expect. Here's everything you need to know to prepare for this experience.


Sep 10, 2023


first time working at a hostel

So you've set up your first work exchange gig at a hostel, but now you're nervous and unsure of what to expect. 

The purpose of this article is to provide some insight on what to expect when you arrive at the hostel for your new work exchange job in order to alleviate as much nervousness as possible before you arrive. 

Included are tips on how to prepare before you arrive at the hostel, questions to ask your host, both in advance and once you've arrived, and some general tips on expectations and how to ensure that both you and your host have a pleasant experience working together. 

My personal experience 

When I arrived at Site 61 Hostel in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I completed my first work exchange experience, I was very nervous. 

I had never worked at a hostel before, and although I was confident in my ability to perform the job well, I had no idea what to expect. 

Not only would I be learning a new job, but I also would be living here so I had a long list of concerns:

  • What if my new coworkers and roommates didn't like me? 
  • What if I didn't like them? 
  • Would the beds be uncomfortable? 
  • Exactly how many other people would I be sharing a room with, and how would that affect my ability to sleep? 

In the end, my fears were all unnecessary, I had a great experience and usually, no trouble sleeping, but if I had had someone who could tell me what to expect, I think I could have saved myself some worry. 

That's what I'm here for! 

Let's talk about what you can expect on your first day at the hostel, and what you can do ahead of time to help calm any anxiety you may be experiencing.

First time working in a hostel

How to prepare for a hostel work exchange

1. Talk to your host

2. Ask questions

3. Do your research

4. Have a positive attitude


1. Talk to your host

About a week before you arrive, I recommend reconfirming your stay at the hostel by sending your host a message via Worldpackers. This way, there's no miscommunication between you and your host about when you'll be arriving. 

This way you have actually spoken to your host ahead of time and have a better sense of who they are and how they will be interacting with you. 

I would also recommend giving them a phone call in case they do not answer you via Worldpackers website/app. Hosts are always super busy running their places. Sometimes the hostel owner, for example, can be the owner, manager, and receptionist all at once. They're making their best to make everyone (guests, staff, and volunteers) comfortable, so if you do not receive a quick reply, don't take it as a bad attitude. 

Especially if language barriers are a concern, you can gauge how communication will be. When you call, ask for whoever you've spoken to on Worldpackers by name. If they are unavailable, ask for whoever is next in the chain of command. 

Introduce yourself and then use this phone call to gain as much insight as possible into your new work and living environment. Any particular questions weighing on your mind can be addressed. Most likely, the simple fact that you have already had a friendly conversation with your host will help set you at ease.

2. Ask questions

What is the easiest way to arrive at the hostel?

From wherever you'll be coming from, depending on whether you're flying, driving, or taking another form of transportation to your destination.

This question serves a dual purpose: you can communicate your plan with your host so that they know when to expect you, and it will relieve some travel stress since you'll have a plan for getting to the hostel. 

Some hosts offer a pickup service from the airport, bus station, etc., and they will most likely volunteer this information in their response.

This is also a good time to ask about any general safety tips for the area.

Will there be someone available to receive me when I arrive at the hostel? 

If you're arriving during the day, this most likely will not be a huge concern since there will probably be someone at the reception desk. 

Even so, knowing who to ask for will help you feel more confident upon arrival. This becomes a much more important question if you'll be arriving late at night. 

The hostel that I first worked for only had someone on duty at the reception desk until 9 pm, and you needed to know the door code in order to get inside the building after that. 

Once you're inside you'll still need to know where you'll be sleeping, any curfew or quiet hours that are in place, etc. Find out the proper procedure for when you arrive, and you can eliminate any potential problems before they happen.

When is my first shift? 

Find out exactly when you're expected to begin work. If it's soon after you are set to arrive, then make an extra effort to be on time. If a situation comes up that can not be avoided (flight delays, for example) then be sure to contact your host and explain the situation to them. As with most jobs, communication between you and your host is very important. 

If you find that your host has graciously given you a few free days after your arrival, then you can plan some sightseeing to help familiarize yourself with your new city. This is especially important when working at a hostel because the guests will likely look to you for advice and tips on where to go and what to do.

Have a pen and paper handy to write down directions, door codes, landmarks to help with navigation, etc. 

Be sure to ask about the best way to contact your host in case you have any trouble once you've arrived in the city but remember that your host is likely busy so it's okay to save some non-essential questions for once you get there.

3. Do your research

Check your host's profile on Worldpackers

By familiarizing yourself with your host's Worldpackers profile and the hostel's personal website, you can gain a lot of insight into the vibe of the hostel and the host's expectations of you. 

Noticing things like the activities schedule and types of activities hosted, the number of beds, reception hours, etc., will give you a much better idea of what to expect. Not to mention, your host will likely appreciate your effort to come prepared. 

Save maps and directions for offline situations

If you will not have internet access once you arrive, remember to save maps and directions so that you can use them offline. 

If you are visiting a foreign country, it's a good idea to learn some keywords in the local language in case you have any problems finding the hostel.

4. Have a positive attitude

As with any job, you want to show up with a happy demeanor, ready to learn. Once you get there, you will likely be given a tour of the hostel and be introduced to the staff. 

Greet them all politely and make an effort to remember their names and positions so you know who to ask if you have any additional questions.

During the tour, you can ask questions such as:

  • What tasks will I be expected to perform, and will there be training for these tasks?
  • Is there a copy of my work schedule that I can have for reference?
  • Where will I be sleeping and who will I be sharing a room with?
  • Who can I ask if I need anything, and where can I find them?
  • What are the hostel's general policies that I should be aware of? Guests will likely ask you about things such as age limits, check in and check out times, policies concerning alcohol or tobacco use, etc. You want to be able to answer their questions accurately and confidently! Not to mention, knowing these policies will help prevent you from inadvertently breaking the rules yourself.
  • What are some good things to know about the history of the hostel or the building itself? For example, the Site 61 Hostel building was originally a boarding house and is over 100 years old. These kinds of fun facts are handy to know when interacting with the guests, and your interest will probably be well received.

Take some time on your first day to chat with your fellow work exchangers. Not only will you be living and working with them, but they also are a great resource as far as understanding what is expected of you during your stay

They can offer you lots of advice and information about which things are important to remember (for example, my host felt strongly about the laundry being folded a certain way and the dishes being washed as soon as we finished with them, so I made sure to pay extra attention to these tasks). These people will also likely be some of your closest friends during your stay, and they can help you get to know the area.

It's important to remember that even though the work exchange setup is a form of collaboration between you and your host, it still has very well-defined responsibilities that were agreed upon. And, of course, there will be expectations. 

The work will likely be simple but living where you work also presents a unique situation since you will be representing the hostel any time you are on the property or interacting with guests. 

The hostel environment itself is typically more laid back than other work environments, and you're certainly welcome to get to know the guests and have fun with them (in fact, it's usually strongly encouraged!), but do keep in mind that you are still a helper. 

Often, there are at least basic rules governing how you should and should not interact with the guests, and it's a good idea to ask about those in advance. Even though you are not being paid cash, you are benefiting from your work exchange agreement and should show an appropriate amount of gratitude and respect.

A small amount of nervousness when entering a totally new situation is to be expected, but hopefully, these tips will help you get off to a good start. 

One final tip: relax! You're about to have a wonderful experience, and as long as you follow the rules and take pride in your work you'll be just fine!

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