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Living and Working in a Hostel Abroad

Rio de Janeiro Almost for Free

As an enthusiastic admirer of Brazil, I always look for ways to stay as long as possible in this wonderful country. Usually money is the determining factor in the length of time I can spend overseas. However, on my most recent trip to Brazil, I was able to stay three months longer than planned due to my luck in finding rewarding employment.

Typically, Rio de Janeiro is among the most expensive places in South America. In particular, Ipanema tends to be the priciest neighborhood in the city. Due to some luck in finding a job at a local hostel, I was able to stay just one block from Ipanema Beach while spending nearly nothing.

The hostel, which enthusiastically hires backpackers to work in reception and its small bar, provides travelers the opportunity to eat and sleep for free in exchange for seven shifts of work per week. This works out to roughly 30 hours of work each week and requires at least a two month commitment. The only requirements for the job are a strong work ethic, basic knowledge of Microsoft Excel, and the ability to speak English. The hostel prefers two backpackers to work alongside the local staff.

Besides free lodging and meals, hostel jobs typically provide workers with several other benefits. At the hostel at which I lived and worked, backpackers receive a commission each month based on the number of tours they sell to guests. For me, this worked out to roughly R$200 per month (US$80 as of 12/3/08). In addition, the position at my hostel allows for VIP entrance to a few area nightclubs and parties, as well as the benefit of participating in tours through the hostel for free or at a considerable discount. These tours include soccer matches, hang-gliding, city tours, and an energetic funk party which lasts all night. These benefits provided plenty of entertainment while costing almost nothing.

In addition to the aforementioned benefits, working in a hostel provides workers with the opportunity to meet and interact with some interesting people. The majority of my co-workers were Brazilians, allowing me to continue to hone my Portuguese language skills. Hanging out with them also gave me additional insight into the culture that so deeply fascinates me. Besides co-workers, I met numerous guests from a variety of countries and cultures. These friendships further enhanced rich experiences while abroad.

Although working at a hostel provides the opportunity to spend time abroad while significantly reducing costs, there are a few drawbacks to the hostel lifestyle. For starters, you are pretty much tied down to one location for the duration of your employment with the hostel. Although you can get a few days off to travel to nearby places, plan to spend the majority of your time in the city where you work. In addition, hostels generally provide for limited privacy. If you choose to stay in a hostel, get used to having people around almost constantly.

So, how did I manage to obtain such a great arrangement in an exotic locale? Basically just by being in the right place at the right time. Another backpacker was planning to leave the hostel shortly after I arrived and the owners had not yet found a replacement. I did not need any kind of special visa or work permit. Also, although I already spoke Portuguese, it was not an absolute requirement to secure the position. The vast majority of our hostel guests were from English-speaking countries. In addition, the Brazilian staff members were available to handle any Portuguese-speaking guests.

Based upon my experience and observations, hostels frequently employ guests in exchange for free lodging and other benefits. I know of several hostels in Rio de Janeiro that do this--one of which hires only foreign travelers. Do not let lack of foreign language skills deter you. Nearly all tour operators I dealt with speak English, the lingua franca of the hostel world. If you are interested in working in a hostel while traveling abroad, I suggest you contact hostels directly to see if they offer this kind of arrangement. Also, speak with other travelers you meet to see if they are aware of any places that offer such deals. With any luck, you will be able to enjoy a lengthy stay in the location of your choice without spending a fortune. 

For More Information

For further information and to locate hostels near your destination, please refer to the following websites. 

www.hostelworld.com
www.hostels.com
www.hostelbookers.com
www.hostelsclub.com
www.hosteltraveler.com
www.hihostels.com

Editor's note: You can see our section on hostels abroad for a few more options.

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