I’ve been working as a hostel volunteer in San Sebastián, Spain, for seven weeks now. As my trip is coming to an end soon, I share you my experience from the perspective of a hostel work.
Before the Trip
How Did I Get the Hostel Job?
There are plenty of websites which you can use, like Work Away or Worldpackers. Those websites require you to register to the website and pay a fee to apply a position. You can look through volunteer positions even before you have registered. I will probably use one of those sites next time but for this trip I simply e-mailed the hostels.
I looked for hostels with good reviews in Booking.com. I paid special attention to what people had said about the atmosphere and personnel. I messaged a few people who had worked in the hostel and asked about their experience. Some previous volunteers might be nervous to tell about the corns in the publicly visible reviews so I messaged them privately to make sure that they are standing behind their positive reviews. I picked two hostels and e-mailed them my CV and application. When I had already thought that neither would take me, I received a positive reply from this hostel in San Sebastián.
How to Ensure a Good Volunteer Experience?
My volunteering experience turned out to be amazing. To make sure that you are having great time at the destination, I recommend to make your research well. Look at the reviews, google for more information, talk with your hosts and message previous volunteers. My hostel didn’t answer to some of my questions about the work beforehand and it made me a bit nervous. However, I had seen many good reviews and heard that the owners are good guys, so I decided to take the risk.
Be confident and make sure that you get what you were promised for. Ask if you don’t know something. Try to talk to solve the possible issues. Leaving in the middle of night, like I’ve heard some volunteers have done, is pretty sh** thing to do for the hosts. Try to be positive and take things as a learning experience. You can always go home or look for another job if you think it wasn’t what you were looking for.
Life is an adventure. Don’t take it too seriously.
At the Work
How is the Job?
Hostel volunteer positions generally take about 15 – 36 hours a week. I’m required to work six hours a day six days a week, which makes me to work 36 hours a week. In my opinion, that is a bit too much for a hostel volunteer and I thought about staying shorter time because of it. However, the job is very easy and relaxed. Some days are busy but on the other ones I have time to relax, chat with guests or study for the exams that are waiting for me in Finland. As many others, I fell in love with San Sebastián. Within few weeks, I felt like home here and I had made some good friendships. I didn’t want to leave this life behind too soon.
The Struggles of the Beginning
(I had an amazing experience and I fully enjoyed it. However, I want to tell you about my struggles as well, so you can hear the real story. Anyone who goes out of their normal familiar surroundings, can face challenges. If you go to volunteer, maybe it helps you to hear how puzzled I was as well. Most of the times everything will be alright in the end and you will be smarter than before. That’s the cool side of life as a human.)
When I came to San Sebastián, I was puzzled for a week. I felt that my prepping for the work could have been better and communication more clear. The other hostel volunteers showed me each shift on my first day. They forgot to tell me a few things. On the next day, I started working in the afternoon. I had no password for the computer which we use for check ins. I had ironed sheets for many hours the best I can but on the next day I heard that I had done it wrong. I was working alone and wasn’t sure who to contact. The communication between me and the owners could have been better.
The problems were small in the end. Besides of some additional stress, everything was fine. I got to know my colleagues and the owners better and it was easier to relax. They were like family to me. People at the hostel were generally cool and nice. The job got easier and I knew what I’m supposed to do. I knew what to tell our new guests and I was able to answer most of their questions.
All Good Again
We volunteers are quite self-reliant here. Most of the time, I simply need to do the things that I know that needs to be done during my shift and after that I am free to relax, study my school books or enjoy chatting with the guests. Most of the time, the volunteers co-operate among ourselves to organise the shifts. In the beginning, I felt that I could have got a bit more support and advices but now, after some time, I’m simply happy to be here.
The best thing at this hostel job is probably the relaxed environment. I can be myself and I don’t need to play the role of someone else. In most jobs, I feel more pressure and anxious. When I work and live in the same building and my friends are mainly our clients or my colleagues, it is easy to relax. Probably also the fact that we aren’t getting money and we are, in theory, able to leave the job any time, gives the sense of independence.
What Tasks Do I Do?
We have normally three shifts for the volunteers: Morning, afternoon and night. In the beginning, I worked mainly in the afternoon. I had four colleagues on the first week, three during the next weeks, two after that and now we are just the two of us. The season is ending so the job is super relaxed on these last days. In fact, I am doing my shift right now when I’m writing this text. I finished the tasks that I was supposed to do this morning, and now I just try to stay out of the cleaner’s way while she is doing the daily cleaning.
The morning shift starts at nine by opening the bar, making the planning of new guests coming and old ones leaving. She writes down which beds are free and where will the new guests sleep. She makes sure check outs are going fine and goes to make the beds ready for new guests coming. Whenever a check in comes, we register them and help them to feel like home at the hostel.
The afternoon shift starts at three. His main tasks are to take sheets from drying, iron them and take care of the people who want to check in or make a reservation. During all of our shifts (and often other times as well) we do our best to answer for whatever questions the guests have in their minds.
The night shift simply takes care that the hostel is quiet and nice when guests are going to sleep. When all is fine, he is free to go to bed as well. Usually he stays up until one or two but it depends a lot on the season. I came here in the late September so I only heard about how much more work there had been during the summer when the hostel was always full and guests coming back late from parties every night.
What Do I Get Out of Being a Hostel Volunteer?
Besides of the experience, of course…
The diversity of volunteer positions is as wide as for any job positions. In my job, I am getting the following benefits:
- Free Accommodation
During my first week, I lived in an apartment next door with my four Argentinian colleagues. After the hostel got quieter, we all moved to the hostel supplementary beds. Now, during the low season, I am sleeping in a bunk bed like any guests.
- Coffee, beers, toasts…
This hostel has a bar and they serve breakfast for guests for extra payment. We volunteers can get some coffee and toasts if we ask for it in the morning. At night, I usually drink cheaper drinks at the bar without need for payment. For real meals, I have to look for the amazing restaurants this city is famous for. (Did you know that this city has more Michelin stars per square meter than almost any city in the world. Only Tokyo is ahead of us. – Not like I had money to eat at those restaurants though.)
- Laundry Facilities
We have one washing machine which we are allowed to use after the cleaner is done with the sheets. We also have a dryer which is a nice thing when the weather of San Sebastián shows it’s other face.
- A Surf Board And a Wetsuit
Now we are talking about what truly matters! The owners gave me a wetsuit and board to use freely during my stay here. The wetsuit fits me perfectly although it can be a bit cold as it is a spring wetsuit. My board is super good for my skill level and I love to take it out to the sea.
The first time in my life, I am able to surf whenever I have time and feel like and the waves are good.
+ Social And Lively Living Environment
I like to live at a hostel. It’s very different from staying in Finland where I can spend days without talking to almost anyone. It is always interesting to see who is coming and it’s always possible to make friends with people all over the world.
Sometimes, of course, I want to have my own space and time alone but I have found ways to get that space every now and then. (Like now, I am writing this in a bottom bunk bed at the dorm where I’m staying. Most of the guests left for a hike and my colleague joined them. They will surely have a great time but I’m happy to have some time for my own things and I have done that hike with other guest friends a few days ago.)
Do you want me to tell something more about volunteering in San Sebastián? Let me know at the comments 🙂
Peace and love <3