Working in Hostels: The Best Way to Have a Cultural Experience on the Cheap

If you’re the type who couchsurfs and stays in hostels and homestays when traveling abroad, then I’ve got the perfect travel tip for you. Go somewhere where English isn’t regularly spoken and volunteer your native speaking talent. I’ve seen a dozen backpackers, including myself, do it and it’s a win-win for everyone. If you have a lot of time on your trip (or ideally, no return ticket at all) spend some of it helping out at a hostel to stretch your funds while still achieving the social and cultural goals that most of us are looking for when traveling.

In my own situation, I had been traveling with a hodgepodge group who randomly met in northern Thailand and decided to do our entire Laos itinerary together. A few weeks into our time together I woke up and realized that I’d spent almost two weeks nonstop partying with a group I could barely stand anymore.

After a minor confrontation, I decided to go back to solo traveling and ventured to the southern tip of Laos to a place called the 4,000 islands. Of course, calling it the 4,000 islands is kind of like calling your local golf course “the 500 mountains,” in that the 4,000 “islands” are mostly just sandbars that barely peek out of the Mekong river, but a few of them are big enough to house some bars, restaurants and hostels.

Ryan Farley / Own Work
Ryan Farley / Own Work