Working for Accommodation- The Truth..a backpackers guide

When you’re travelling one of your biggest expenses, if not your biggest, will be your accommodation…

Most backpackers chose to stay in Hostels, partly because it’s one of the cheaper options but also for the social aspect and party atmosphere that can often be found there. This being said, even staying in hostels will soon add up and eat away at your budget.

In Perth I am staying at one of the better hostels (which is actually only about $3 more than some of the horrific ones) and I have been paying $30 a night, for a bed in 4 person, female dorm. The cheapest room available at my hostel is $28 per night (6 bed mixed dorm), during the Autumn. That means that for the first couple of weeks I was paying $210 each week, that’s approx. £105!

A popular way to stick to a backpacker budget and save money is by working for accommodation or becoming a work/stay. But what does this really mean?

The four main job roles that will allow you to stay for free are housekeeping/cleaning, Night Supervisor and reception or bar work (if your hostel has a bar). Often it may be a combination of the above.

Hi-YHA hostel in Auckland…not the hostel I’m working in!
How do I get the job?

A very good question my traveller friend. The answer is simple…Ask! Sometimes you will see adverts on the internet (although from personal experience these are usually best avoided!), or posters in your hostel. Speak to the hostel manager and ask if there are any positions available, or if they know of any that may be coming up in the near future. Chat with your fellow guests who are working there and ask how they got the gig. Keep your eyes and ears open and be prepared to ask more than once!

Just ask!
What will I be expected to do as a Night Supervisor?

This is hard for me to answer specifically, as every hostel will vary. The easiest way to explain is to give you a quick rundown of a night that I’m working;

  • 5pm– Go to the reception desk for a brief handover from the manager. Find out any problems from the day shift, see how many check-ins are expected and be made aware of any potential problems or important info. in relation to those.
  • Take in the sign from outside and turn on the outdoor lights
  • Be on reception to check people in, extend stays, swap notes for coins for the washing machines and deal with any other queries/sales.
  • Empty the bins in the kitchen and put fresh bin bags in


  • 7pm– Lock the front door for security. Only guests with the code can enter the property
  • Walk around every hour or so, checking that everything is ok, no overly rowdy behaviour and that no one has set fire to the kitchen! If you get the opportunity to dry up a couple of pots/pans and put them away, or wipe down the sides then do it….it will save some time later!


  • 10pm- Put the sign up saying reception is closed and to press the buzzer for any check- ins or emergencies. If someone does press the buzzer, the phone you will be carrying at all times will ring, to alert you to this.
  • Follow the checklist to ensure everywhere is tidy, no light bulbs are broken, corridors are clear and bathrooms are ok. There are lots of other things on the list such as making sure the vending machines are fully stocked but I won’t list them all!


  • 10.30pm– Get everyone out of the kitchen and lock the door. Empty the kitchen bins again. I then have to get everyone in the smoking courtyards (which have bedrooms around them) to go inside and lock the doors. It’s then time to empty the ashtrays, bins in the courtyard, sweep up any cigarette butts and bottle tops and clean the top of the picnic benches.
  • Once that is done, it’s back to the kitchen! I wash up any remaining pots, pans, utensils etc, clean the tables, cooking surfaces and hobs. Sweep the kitchen floor and make sure that the gas hobs and ovens are off and everything is safe.


  • 12.00am– It usually takes me about an hour and a half to do the courtyards and make sure that the kitchen is clean. Following that I go back to the office and check I have entered all of the transactions onto the computer system, make sure the things I need for any night time check ins are sorted, turn off the light and lock the door.


Bed Time! Yay! I get to bed but have to take the phone with me, so I am “on call” for any check-ins or emergencies. This can occasionally include drunk guests coming back, forgetting the code to get in is on the back of their key and buzzing to be let in!!

  • 5.45am– Get up and open the door to the kitchen. DO NOT be late with this or face the wrath of some very hungry, sleepy, construction workers waiting outside the doors to get their breakfast before heading off to work.

I then go back to bed and try to grab a couple more hours sleep before….

  • 8am– I take the phone, keys and night supervisor badge back to the manager who has now come in, and give a quick run through of any problems overnight.

That’s pretty much it!!

  • FREE Accommodation!
  • FREE laundry!
  • Experience for you and your resume, which will be applicable anywhere you travel. Also a “supervisory” role will look good when applying for jobs back home.
  • Meeting great people
  • Mess up on the job and potentially lose your home!
  • Finding paid work around the hostel hours/rota can be tricky but definitely not impossible
  • Living and working in the same place can be tough. Other guests will come up to you on the nights/days you aren’t working asking about things and wanting help. You have to politely explain you aren’t working (you would think that being slumped across the sofa in your comfy clothes would be a giveaway) and point them in the direction of the person who is. Alternatively answer the question, if it’s a quick and easy one!
  • You will start to become a little jaded and begin to hate people…you have been warned!


How many nights will I need to work?

Again this will vary depending on the hostel. Where I am, I’m expected to work 2 nights per week but this may be more elsewhere.

What skills do I need?

People skills and life experience are probably the most important here. You need to be able to give good customer service, say no to people when necessary and deal with any problems that may arise. If you get on with the people in your hostel then that will be invaluable, as you will find that if there is a problem they will be more willing to back you up, which is always good…especially as a female. Other skills that will help are being able to use a computer and learn a new system quickly, the willingness to get your hands dirty (pulling lumps of something out of kitchen sinks is not very glamourous!) and being able to problem solve.


I’m in! What advice do you have?

Working for accommodation is a great job if you can get it, which can save you a lot of cash, but be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and deal with people and situations that were not on the job description! At times it will be stressful.

You will find yourself in many roles:

  • Authority figure/leader
  • Cleaner
  • Nurse
  • Counsellor/therapist!
  • Party Pooper!
  • Mum…yes some people do behave like children…
  • Technical expert
  • Security Guard
  • Tour Guide and Visitor Information Person!

The best advice I can give is to only work at a good hostel that you feel comfortable in. If you get on with most of the guests, your job will be a lot easier. Also be confident in the management and make sure that you know if something goes wrong, that they will be behind you and be supportive (unless of course it was a massive error on your part and you’ve been a first class idiot)! The managers here are fantastic, and I know that if I had to throw someone out call the police, or need them to remove someone in the morning that they would be right behind me, not unfairly questioning my judgement.

Be wary of certain places. If you go for an interview/answer an ad online for a hostel you haven’t stayed in previously, MAKE SURE you meet with the manager and get a guided tour of the place, especially the staff accommodation if it is separate. If you can speak to people that have stayed there or some of the other work/stays then that is even better. Whilst looking for work for accommodation I visited a hostel that was a complete dive (sadly there are quite a few in Perth), how people actually pay to stay there I’ll never know! Listen to your intuition, if your gut is making you question something then it is not the right place for you.

I hope that this has been helpful, please feel free to ask any questions and why not share your own experiences (good and bad) in the comments below 🙂


Hannah xx

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About The Author


Creative unicorn ninja; Travel vlogger/blogger. Green tea enthusiast and lover of dance and art. Currently be found back in England planning the next adventure! Southeast Asia Odyssey coming very soon!

Where I can be found: UK

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