Exchange Work in a hostel – what’s it all about?

For the past 10 weeks we have been doing exchange work in a couple of hostels in New Zealand. Also affectionately known as wwoofing (which actually stands for World Wide Work on Organic Farms, which is far from cleaning up after other hostelites) exchange work involves working for a few hours a day in return for free accommodation, and often free laundry and wifi.

The type of work you do is most commonly cleaning, and depending on the hostel size this could involve beds, kitchen, bathrooms, the lot, or you could have assigned jobs that alternate between you and your fellow wwoofers for the bigger places. Cleaning work is usually 3 hours a day, 6 mornings a week.
Alternatively, there is sometimes reception work, which I was lucky enough to bag at one hostel. The reception work I did involved 3 days a week, 6 hours a day (and 100% no cleaning toilets).

Whilst some picky Percy’s out there will say you’re better off just getting a job when you break down and work out what the wage wouldbe based on the hours you do and the amount you’re not spending on accommodation, I’ve found that we’ve saved a right old fortune by not spending a penny on beds. Whilst, yes, you may ultimately have more wonga from working, let’s not forget that for most people there is a period of time involved in actually finding the job. If you’re paying out for accommodation for a few weeks whilst you’re seeking work then you’re not really winning in the money stakes are you?
Plus, with exchange work you often finish much earlier than you’re allotted 3 hours meaning that would-be ‘hourly wage’ of us wwoofers has magically risen very nicely.
Fortunately enough I was lucky enough to find a job also, so I’ve been doing both exchange work and work-work the past couple of months which has pleased my bank account and satisfied my (too) occasional requirement of eating yummy, vegetarian food.

Of course, exchange work can be described loosely as cleaning up other people’s shit (literally and not quite-so literally) but don those yellow rubber glove beauties and put aside your thoughts of ‘you’re old enough to travel the world alone, but not old enough to do your dishes’ and learn to appreciate the benefits of having that pesky winter cold – lack of smelling abilities, and you’ll be absolutely fine.

Cleaning is really not that hard, but choose your hostel wisely! By all means if you enjoy clearing up the contents of someones stomach after a night out then work at the party hostel full of weary 18 year olds, alternatively if you’d prefer a more relaxed vibe, do your research! Of course, not all hostels constantly need exchange workers, we emailed about 187 million hostels across the country before we arrived and had about 6 ‘yes’ replies. We chose the one best suited to us and voila, here we still are in Nelson! After a few weeks the hostel was due to close for winter, so Ed went and asked the other hostels in the area and we got lucky. Don’t be put off by no replies or a constant stream of hostels saying ‘no thanks’ there are enough hostels in New Zealand that somebody will want you!

The best bit about exchange work in hostels is all the people you meet, from the downright eccentric and bizarre, to the amazing, interesting, funny, and ones full of stories. Of course, people come and go which is the most sucky thing about travelling, but the precious moments when life is just super because you have wonderful conversation with great company are some of the moments that I always treasure.

So. There you have it. Exchange work in a little wwoofy nutshell. If you fancy stopping in one place for a while, saving a little money and getting to know an area, get exchanging!


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