Gross, Weird, and Wonderful: What it’s Actually Like to Live and Work in a Hostel
Let me paint a picture for you. Cramped bunk beds, very little storage space, people living out of backpacks and suitcases. Almost empty mugs of tea, plates, towels hanging up to allow privacy to bottom bunks. Cables and cords tangled. The floor is dusty. A small window, barely opened.
The staff room at this hostel in Edinburgh smells like sweaty socks and old cheese. There’s a spider named Derek living in a large web in the corner beside my bunk buddy’s pillow. Clothes on the floor, on the back of the door, hanging out of drawers, all dirty. One night someone comes in after having a smoke. Another night, after too much dinner, someone’s spaghetti revisits him… and the wall… and the floor… and the guy in the bottom bunk.
Now don’t let that turn you off! Follow me down the stairs and through the common room, past the huge kitchen, and cosy lounge room. Out the doors past the restrooms and showers, through another door into a small courtyard. You’re in my front yard. The cave, as it is affectionately known, was my room. Three occupants and not much room for anything else. I loved it; cosy, warm, no wifi, no cell service, no problems.
Six months ago I was living in London, but not quite loving it as much as I thought I would. I’d moved to London in March, lived there for two months, and then travelled pretty much all the way until late September.
Now you might be thinking: of course you didn’t love London, you barely gave it a chance! But I’ve never been a nine-to-five girl, nor a monotonous-routine girl, nor a stay-in-one-place or making-new-friends-in-a-giant-and-transient-city-like-London type of girl.
By September, your girl found herself absolutely skint to the point of no return, and thus her next decision – move to a hostel in Edinburgh! An old converted church, the staff of which quickly became a surrogate family within an enormous home that just happened to have a rotation of over a hundred other people on a daily basis.
The job I first took on when I moved in, as everyone does, was as a cleaner. Simple stuff: strip and make the beds, clean out lockers, scrub the bathrooms. I had a couple of run-ins with Henry the Hoover that ended in swearing and tripping and even a scar on my right ankle. But other than that, the work was totally fine, mostly.
Of course I’ve heard horror stories; people who work in hostels in the club district of Edinburgh have to deal with nightmarish incidents, like people who’ve…. relieved themselves in the shower, to put it delicately. We faced saturated mattresses – beer or water or vomit or piss leaking from the top bunk to a poor sleeping soul underneath. On the bright side, you can even find a few pounds when stripping the beds, and the lost property box can be a cheap new wardrobe.
My hostel had a staff of about 12, reasonably small compared to the other hostels in town. Small yet mighty, close-knit. There are a few other hostels in Edinburgh, and as you can imagine, they form rivalries and alliances. The field of battle is a local bar – quiz night on Monday, chicken wings and bar tabs as prizes. Those beer-soaked Mondays are only training for the main event: the annual Hostel Challenge.
Every year the Hostel Challenge proves which hostel is the strongest, the smartest, the fastest at drinking copious amounts of beer. Which hostel can make the tallest human pyramid? How far up the street can you go with a chain made from every single article of clothing in the room – leaving nothing to the imagination – in winter?
We came in second, collected our prize, took a bunch of shots, and put our clothes back on, chuffed.
Hostel living is a big subculture in many cities around Europe and the UK. Along with being great fun, hostel living is also an excellent way to save money; I had a full time bar job while I lived there. Quick maths: no rent + full time work = a bunch of money to spend on booze. I might be terrible at maths, but that adds up well.
I lived at the hostel for a few months, and would do it again for sure. Don’t let the work or the room turn you off! There are plenty of other jobs to do – reception or laundry or breakfast or bar, and there are always people to chat to, cook with, go out with. People from all around the world made up my family, and I genuinely loved my time, and wouldn’t trade it for all the private bathrooms in the world.
The hostel and bar work gave me a different schedule than the nine-to-five that I detest (although, because I’m bad at maths and money, I didn’t walk away any better off financially). But that’s a problem for future me to worry about! (My liver probably has a few words to say about it too.) With any hostel situation, people come and go, but when you work in a place and live there, the family you make is always going to have your back, and be stoked when you come back to visit.