Staying Versus Volunteering in Youth Hostels: The Perks & Pitfalls

Controversial opinion, but I LOVE youth hostels. There, I said it. I get the bunk-bed, beer pong way of life is not for everyone but for me, they are vibrant hubs where travellers from all corners of the world can meet, share stories, make memories and leave with friends for life

But what if I told you there's a way to not only experience the magic of hostels but also immerse yourself in their inner workings? You get to enjoy the perks of behind the scenes, where you don’t just stay; you become an integral part of the party. 

This post shares the delightful differences between workawaying in, versus staying in youth hostels. If you’re on the fence whether you want to just chill with the backpackers, or learn about the business then this is the post for you. 

But First…

Before I dive into the perks and pitfalls of hostel volunteering, I want to preface this by saying that many hostels and hosts in general on Workaway offer paid positions. This is great news! However, it is essential that if you accept a paid Workaway experience that you have the correct visa for that country. It goes without saying you should always check you have the correct visa for visiting, working or volunteering, but triple check in particular if you are accepting payment for your time. 

group of travellers on the beach at night partying

Staying in a Youth Hostel: The Benefits

Flexibility and Freedom

Staying as a guest offers the freedom to follow your own adventure. Getting up at noon? No problem. Partying until 2am? Sure. Hiking at sunrise? Why not! While you can also do all three as a workawayer, your schedule might not be entirely up to you. When staying in a hostel as just a guest your itinerary has zero obligations, whilst as a volunteer there will be agreed responsibilities. 

travellers dancing during sunset

Find a Travel Buddy - or not

Hostels are epic places when travelling solo as you’re thrown into a kaleidoscope of connections. You’ll meet travellers of diverse backgrounds to trade tales with, exchange tips, and even find a travel buddy to continue the adventure. Or, you can avoid socialising entirely and embrace your own company. As a guest, you're free to join or disengage, depending on your preferred level of interaction. 

On the flip side, workawaying in a hostel means you're more than just a guest, because you will be an integral part of the team. It's a commitment that goes beyond the social scene, and you’re valued more as a colleague and team member than just a party partner. You will still enjoy the same sense of camaraderie but it comes from working collaboratively toward a shared purpose, not just over a shared kitchen. 

group of travellers in a hostel posing next to a world map

Full-Time Adventure with Minimal Commitment 

When staying in a hostel, you can dedicate your days solely to exploring the destination. This means trying local cuisine, visiting attractions, and embracing the culture all without the additional commitment of volunteering. Whether you stay a night or a month, it’s no big deal. When staying as a guest there’s minimal commitment beyond your reservation period. 

As a volunteer however, there’s a deeper level of commitment as someone is relying on your skills and support. While it’s perfectly possible to move on as a workaway volunteer if you don’t vibe with the project, both parties need commitment and communication from day one.  

group of travellers watching sunset above the clouds taking selfie

Staying in a Youth Hostel: The Disadvantages

Higher Costs

Though hostels are budget-friendly, the cost of accommodation is still a factor, especially for extended trips. When you join Workaway you pay a small fee that covers your membership for an entire year. 

This means for the cost of one night in a hostel you could be enjoying volunteer projects in 170 countries around the world for 365 days of the year without additional accommodation costs! 

group of travellers eating food

Limited Interaction

If you’re the introverted type it can be tough to motivate yourself to engage with strangers. I have also found making friends in hostels particularly difficult when travelling as a couple. Hostels are definitely more catered to outgoing solo travellers so it can be tough to make deeper connections and “find your tribe” at times. 

When volunteering as part of a team day in, day out there are more opportunities to make those connections. Your host will instantly welcome you as part of the family. You’ll be working towards a shared goal, laughing through the challenges and cheering each other on through the triumphs. Not to mention you can join Workaway as a couple if you want to bring your BFF with you. 

Two women pose for a selfie with their faces pressed together by a river. They are both young, have dark hair and are beaming at the camera. Their damp hair suggests they have just been swimming.

Routine Experience

Wake up at noon, beach all day, beer pong all night. Repeat. It's too easy to slide into the routine of a conventional traveller and getting caught up in the chaos of backpacker banter. You can end up following the crowd in fear of missing out, instead of immersing yourself in cultural experiences and heading off the beaten track.  

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Volunteering in a Youth Hostel: The Benefits

Cultural Exchange

Here at Workaway we’re on a mission to do things differently. Cultural exchange is at the heart of our entire ethos. This means we provide a platform where you can live with locals and embrace an authentic travel experience like no other. 

By volunteering in a hostel you have the opportunity to connect with locals, discover hidden gems and even learn a new language. The same level of cultural exchange just isn’t possible when passing through as a tourist.   

workaway india taj mahal

Cheaper (and better!) Accomodation

There are so many ways volunteering with Workaway can save you money - the free accommodation is just one of them! By volunteering your time and skills in exchange for a place to stay, you’ll find your adventure fund lasts far longer. For those with the correct type of visa, many of the hostels on Workaway also offer paid positions, allowing you to not just save money, but make money as you travel.

You may also find the accommodation dedicated to workaway guests is better than the typical chaos of shared dorms. While we can’t promise you won’t face the same bottom bunk battles (we all know it's the best bed) we do know workawayers are often given the best pick to ensure they’re rested and ready for the day. 

Sometimes this can include private rooms, private bathrooms, free WiFi and in a more peaceful or picturesque part of the hostel. Don’t forget to ask your host about the living arrangements before you arrive! 

man playing guitar at hostel reception

Boost Your CV

Sure, hostels teach you skills like patience (hello shower and laundry queues!) and resilience (thank goodness for ear plugs!) but these aren’t necessarily the skills your CV will thank you for. 

Hostels need all sorts of skills behind the scenes to run a smooth ship. For example, marketing, social media, DIY, events planning, accounting, food preparation and more. Not only is this the perfect way to test drive your dream career but having experience in these areas can put your CV ahead of the competition.

Especially if you plan on working within tourism or hospitality in the future as Workaway can provide you with a reference letter for potential employers. 

playing guitar at hostel reception

Avoid Food Fiascos

We’ve all been there - you label your food in the communal fridge with your name, room number, and even a cute doodle of yourself just to ensure your sandwich isn't mistaken for someone else's lunch. Only to return after a hard day exploring and your precious picnic is gone.

One of the perks of volunteering in a hostel versus staying in one is that food will be provided as stated on hosts’ profiles. This means, you no longer need to guard your snacks like treasure. While it’s not guaranteed (so always check beforehand) the majority of hosts offer meals as part of your exchange. This saves you money, as well as fights over who ate your yoghurt. 

workawayers and hosts eating food in garden

Volunteering in a Youth Hostel: The Disadvantages

Balancing Act

Hostels are nocturnal places, which is all well and good when you can sleep in until noon. When you’re volunteering in a hostel however, you may be on breakfast duty or have beds to change. This means you need to learn how to balance your responsibilities

The same goes for exploring the local area - volunteering is all about work and play so it can take a little while to find your groove and adjust from the tourist mindset. As mentioned, these responsibilities may limit the flexibility of your schedule, but the reward is worth it. 

A group of twelve young people indoors, huddled closely in a group for the shot. They are all smiling and look excited! Some of them are in fancy dresses with accessories like bandanas, drawn-on tattoos and fake swords.

Challenging Work

If you’ve been a hostel guest, you may have been exposed to some gruesome scenes. From blocked toilets to ant infested cupboards, bed bugs to vodka vomit. As a volunteer however, it may be your role to resolve these issues. 

As someone who’s been there, I can assure you these absurdities become anecdotes. The challenging days make the best stories and forge the strongest friendships. Yes, there will be days your tasks are tough but these will be the days you’ll laugh most and are guaranteed to never forget. 

man pouring drink behind bar

How to Volunteer at a Hostel

Now you know more about the perks and pitfalls of hostel life, you’re maybe wondering how to get involved? Thanks to Workaway it could not be easier:

1.      Join - Start by signing up for a membership. Remember you can join as a solo traveller, as a couple or even as a family. Don’t forget to use our top tips to make your profile stand out. If you have any experience in a customer facing role, event planning, DIY or marketing make sure to include these so your potential host knows what you can bring to their dream team. 

2.      Search – We have a variety of search options to help you find a hostel project that aligns with your dates, skills and goals. Here’s how to find your perfect match:

  • Search by destination -  If you have a dream destination in mind, you can simply enter it then search through the entire host list. Never set foot in a hostel before? Why not try a local one first! There are so many reasons to travel in your own country and it’s a great place to start your volunteering journey!
  • Filter by Host type – Head to “Find a Host” then “Top Host Type filter” and select “Hostels.” This will avoid you having to read profiles of hosts such as farm stays or housesitting which don’t align with your current plans.  
  • Keywords – Then as a sneaky tip, use keywords to narrow your search further.  This can help you narrow down the type of hostel you want to join. For example, would you prefer: family-run, party hostel, beachfront hostel, boutique hostel or backpacker hostel? You can also search for particular skills, or areas you want to learn more about. Such as: sustainability, marketing, tour guide, eco-tourism, renovation, surfing, etc. 

3.     Connect - Add any exciting projects to your favourites list then it’s time to craft your introduction message. Don’t be lazy with copying and pasting the same message to each host. Prove why their hostel needs a personality like yours, share why you’d fit in with their team, not forgetting why you want to visit and what tasks you can help with. 

4.      Pack your bags – Once you and your host have agreed dates, projects and expectations it’s time to pack the essentials, book travel insurance and get ready for the wonderous world of youth hostels. Soon you’ll discover every creaky bunk bed, communal kitchen mishap, and impromptu dance party is an opportunity for skill acquisition like no other. Not convinced? We’ve put together our top tips for your first Workaway to prepare you!

group of travellers smiling and laying down on the floor for a picture

Volunteer Projects in Hostels

Unsure which type of volunteering you’re suited to? Why not check out this sample of projects from hostels around the globe. This will give you an idea of the variety of tasks and types of people our hosts are looking for. 

Are you ready to wake up in a hostel no longer just as an observer but as a contributor? Where you can swap stories with fellow adventurers before stepping into a role that amplifies your immersion. From whipping up breakfast, helping to guide a city tour, to leading a brilliant bar crawl. In some hostels, you’ll do all three before lunch!

Volunteering in a hostel bridges the gap between staying and experiencing. It's a guaranteed gateway to deeper connections, cultural insight, and authentic memories that linger long after checkout. Whether you choose to be a guest or to lend a hand, you'll find that hostels are not just a place to rest your head; but, (bunk bed battles aside) they'll fill your heart too

group of yogi travellers in new zealand
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About Lauren

Growing up in a small coastal village in Scotland inspired Lauren to seek adventure and challenge the norm. Armed with just her backpack and trusty travel companion Darren, she quit her day job to liv... show more...

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