What is it like to work in a hostel?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was absolute insanity. This year I got to spend an ample amount of time in New Orleans. I was absolutely psyched to finally be spending some time in one of my bucket list cities. I hadn’t specifically planned to be in NOLA for Carnivale Season and was ecstatic about my good timing.

Things started out rocky. I made a verbal agreement over the phone to work 20-25 hours a week in exchange for room/board and breakfast at Madame Isabelle’s Hostel.

Madame Isabelle’s

Though I now think the owner is a great guy and have a lot of love for this hostel I almost left as soon as I arrived. To say the  owner did not have the best conversational skills would have been understatement. He improved a lot during my stay but when I first started  he kept panicking because he thought I wasn’t going to show up or stay. When I arrived he left to go shopping instead of showing me to my sleeping quarters and the co-worker on duty hadn’t been informed where I should go. My co-worker was also super baked and kept telling me there were cockroaches everywhere. There weren’t, well at least not at the hostel. But where some of the guys had to live there was a small infestation. I was one of the lucky/unlucky ones who lived on site. Within minutes I was laughing in the kitchen because the same guy had just overloaded dish detergent in the dishwasher. And there I met another co-worker who was shaking her head but appeared amused. The manager didn’t think it was that funny when he arrived. I should have taken that as an indicator that we weren’t going to get along. That same manager ending up robbing the cash drawer, stealing the business credit card, renting a porsche, and bouncing. I think it was all the cocaine. But that’s another story.

I digress, a couple of hours later I was settled in and in the jacuzzi. The jacuzzi came as a surprise and we quickly became best friends. I joined a guest we’ll call B and her bottle of vodka. Shortly after we hit Bourbon Street and I got my first taste of Louisiana fried chicken. B joined a tour and was promptly kicked off. I had to retrieve her from the bathroom of the bar. There would be many nights for drunk babysitting. My first night was not going to be one of them so I left her with a couple other guests while I abandoned ship and hung out with another traveler and his dog instead.

So what is it really like to work in a hostel?

The type of hostel can make all the difference. Some are much more reserved while some are absolutely insane such as the Mad Monkey Hostels in Southeast Asia. I’d say the hostel I worked in had a good balance but leaned more towards the party end of the spectrum. It was intimate with about 30 beds total but almost every event we held was centered around getting drunk in one form or the other and we had one event per day. Here are some universal basics for those considering working in a social hostel.

Everyone’s trying to get laid. This goes for the employees as well as the guests. You will have to pretend you didn’t catch someone fucking at least once a week. Occasionally Love happens, especially if you’re a staff member. You’ll probably fall in love once a week.

You are expected to look the other way. Unless another guest is making a formal complaint or if someone is being endangered in some way guest happiness is what is most important in most hostels. No one really cares if someone is smoking pot or sneaking into the hot tub at 3am.

You will make friends from all over the world. One of my regrets was that I didn’t get more numbers. I was reluctant to add people on social media while they were guests and I can’t tell you how much I regret that now.

There are guests that you will get attached to and you will be sad when they are gone. This will happen repeatedly and it can be tiring having to make new friends every two days.

You’ll always have someone to talk to. It’s actually hard to be lonely. It’s so easy to find people to converse with. With that said sometimes you might not want to talk to anyone and that can be a struggle.

You will end up at the same places, repeatedly. At first you’ll be happy that you have people to go to destinations with. Until you’re being asked to go to the French Market for the fifth day in the row. It’s okay to say no and if you don’t venture off by yourself you may end up regretting it.

Your co-workers can make all the difference. Just like any other job shitty management or slacker co-workers can make or break your stay. In a hostel this is even more true since you all live together. Often in the same room. Speaking from personal experience it’s not fun getting into an argument with your manager and then having to sleep across from them that night. It’s also not fun having to get up and make breakfast because the person who is supposed to be opening is nowhere to be found. On the upside an awesome co-worker can turn into a lifelong friend or a traveling companion.

Say goodbye to your privacy. The hostel kitchen is now your kitchen. The social area is now your living room. I suggest getting over it quickly and walking around in your pjs to your heart’s content.

Your shift might be 8am-2pm but it does not end. Ever. This is one of the things that will usually get on your nerves after a couple of weeks. You are always going to be asked to do things or answer questions, mainly because an off duty employee is usually closer to the guests than the reception desk. Making local friends to hang out with or venturing out on your own is a great way to avoid some of the stress and annoyances of being a 24/7 google wielding employee.

Your shift might be 8am-2pm but your actually job is to get drunk with everyone. The hostels good reviews depend on it. With that said guests often get you drunk. Which is awesome, until you’re on day 28.

If you’re staying long term you’re probably going to have to get another job.  Most staff members are typically broke. Raiding the fridge after a busy weekend was often a group activity. In some places you might be okay doing occasional work under the table or finding other ways to get by. This is not always an option and just cause you’re not paying rent doesn’t mean expenses can stack up quickly. Especially if you’re expected to host pub crawls.

I hope I was able to shed some insight on the reality of hostel work. Got something to add? Leave it in the comments. Got a bone to pick? I guess you can leave that too.

Cover photo Credit: xpistwv, Morguefile

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