It was the first of January 2012. After a spectacular night of celebrating the beginning of yet another new year with a handful of friends, I found myself at the airport, surrounded by my family. The look on my brother’s face and the sight of my mum quickly wiping away some tears from the corner of her eyes almost tore my heart into pieces. For a moment, I wondered if I should really leave. I cried when I finally hugged them goodbye but smiled at the sound of the excited voice inside my head telling me that I was ready for this new adventure.
Here’s to one of the best times of my life and why you too should work in a backpacker hostel at least once in your life.
When you travel on your own for the first time, the beginning of your journey will most likely feel like an emotional roller coaster ride. There is the excitement about the unknown, the exhilarating feeling of new experiences that will differ from everything you’ve previously experienced, and even a little pride about being brave enough to jump head over heels into this new adventure. At the same time, everything will seem pretty scary when you think about it. I could tell you that there is no reason to worry, but I believe this part of your journey is an essential experience every traveller should make.
When you work at a backpacker’s, you will be welcomed to “The Family” that exists in every decent hostel as soon as you set foot on the property. There won’t be any awkwardness; you’ll become part of a group of people who will be your home for the duration of your stay and beyond. Just like that.
After you’ve settled in, it will only take you a few days to figure out that free accommodation and food in exchange for a few hours of “work” is a pretty sweet deal. Your duties will most likely consist of taking reservations, checking guests in and out, or maybe a bar shift here and there. You’ll realize that you have plenty of time to do whatever you like, but that you actually really enjoy doing your job as well.
Since it is part of your responsibility to talk to guests about the “things to do” in town, you will also be able to go on several different tours that cost little or nothing at all. After a while, you’ll be surprised to see that you don’t just know the touristy parts of town but also a few secret spots that you might have never found out about if you hadn’t set foot on the other side of the reception counter.
Also, there is a difference between staying in a different country and working there. When someone asks you where you are staying, you will be proud to tell them that you also work there. Like I said before, not only the place but also the people working and living with you become your home. You contribute to making it all happen. That is definitely something to be proud of.
Next to your newly acquired extended family there is another beautiful side effect that we don’t want to forget about. When you work in a hostel, you are constantly surrounded by an incredible species known as travellers. Every day new people will come to your home, asking you for a bed for the night, and – if you’re lucky – they will stay for a while. You will gladly open your doors and invite them in. You will share your room with them, but most importantly you will share your stories, and together you will grow.
Speaking of sharing your room: Believe me – you will know what a good night’s sleep feels like after a few nights of drunkenly falling into your bed in the early morning hours. You will also get used to fellow travellers doing the same. After some time, you will realize that you can pretty much sleep under any circumstances.
At some point, you will make an experience that might appear earth-shattering to you at first. You will become friends with different people in a heartbeat, feeling like you’ve known each other’s souls forever. You will spend your days exploring, and you’ll find yourself discussing world-changing ideas at night as you watch the stars come out and give you shelter. It is experiences like these that you will bond over. But then they will leave, and, for the first time, you will understand what it means to be left behind. Because when you work in a hostel, you will always be the one that stays. Eventually, you will realize that at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter how much time you end up having together because that one moment might be more than you could have ever hoped for.
The day will come that you get itchy feet again. You will know that it is time to start a new adventure. You will know when the time is right. After all, the traveller’s spirit inside you keeps you thirsting for more. As you pack your bags, you might catch yourself crying one moment and smiling the next. Because you know that you will never forget the beautiful, crazy, adventurous lessons in life you learned while working in the hostel.