Having worked in a popular Dublin hostel for more than 7 years from the age of 17 I have had many, many great days & nights. And the odd shite day too, but mostly a lot of the best times of my life so far were directly hostel related. There's been plenty of blogs and articles about hostel life, rehashing the same observations & advice but very few if any (I've never actually found any but I must assume there's a few) relate life inside the hostel from a staff point of view.
Maybe for good reason, maybe it's not as interesting to anyone else as it is to those of us who have been the other side of the desk but fuck it, here's a random list of things which tend to make up a typical day in the life of a hostel receptionist. Obviously everyday is different and the experience of working in a hostel will vary from place to place and hostel to hostel so keep in mind I'm taking from my own experiences here;
Paying the balance due on bookings is typically done on checking-in and generally there's the option of paying cash or credit card. Easy right? Cue the group of seven or so all wanting to pay separately. The next 15 minutes will be taken up with cash and credit card transactions and the inevitable “Oh you only have Swedish Kroner and Aussie dollars? No worries I'll work it out. Oh you bought her a bottle of water at the airport so she's gonna pay 96 cents of your share, okay no problem I'll do that, oh you might leave the others a day early to stay with a friend from home who's studying here so just want to pay the first two nights of your share now? Ok, that's cool. And you paid the deposit online for everyone, that's fine I'll deduct that from your share. Oh, you're not gonna go visit your friend and wanna pay your final night too now. Yeah, no problem dude...” It's ok, I see you only booked this 6 weeks ago. Not enough time to have worked this shit out.
The slightly younger generation who never knew a world without the internet, mobile devices or indeed even the delightful song of the 'dial-up' absolutely on the verge of panic or tears when the WiFi goes down for a few minutes. It's ok, your friends back home will be fine without seeing the sandwich you just made. You're in a new city, surrounded by new people. Talk to each other or get the fuck outside to a pub and chat the locals.
Checking people in and seeing their name on the system and their passport is generally a non-event but from time to time it can be hilarious, or challenging should you try not to laugh out loud...which happened never. There's many I can't recall but the ones who come to mind right now are the likes of Rebecca Alltit, Simone Fuchs and Kok Loong. I kid you not.
Note: The name used by yours truly, is in fact, a pseudonym used for my own amusement – the irony is not lost ;)
The Desk Jockey
Those friendly guys and gals who hang out at the reception desk pretty much constantly; not to ask a question or get advice or anything...just to hang out because well, they're a little bit bored and you're their new best friend. Obviously being nice to guests is a huge part of the job and one of the best parts of it too but there are times when it's difficult to find a nice way of saying “ Brittany, as much as I've enjoyed having the craic with ya for the past 4 hours there's laundry to be done and cash to be counted so please kindly fuck off for a little while”. Don't get me wrong, these are usually long-stay guests who become friendly with all the staff as the only real consistent faces in their lives while other backpackers come and go during the weeks they call the hostel home - they become part of the family, join you for drinks, come to parties, become proper mates outside of the hostel in fact but the lines between hangin' out and working tend to get blurred in the hostel environment, especially as it's all fun fun fun and the real work is actually done by the never seen leprechauns in the basement.
“ Hi, just to let you know I think someone puked in the elevator”. “Oh, someone did, did they? That Someone wouldn't happen to be you would it?? That crusty stream of vodka and carrot vomit staining your shirt is from a totally different incident is it???....well, at least you told me. I'll go clean that up. Here's a plastic bag. You go to bed for a while. Take the stairs!”.
The sexually charged atmosphere created by young, horny, fun-lovin' people travelling around and feeling free 'n' easy means the Hostel is a great place for hooking up, and I've seen quite the amount of love stories unfolding from my perch behind the desk. Some are beautiful, romantic stories even resulting in eventual marriage and the return of guests years later as life partners...others are messy, hormone fueled orgies in corridors, the laundry room, showers and, of course, inconsiderate copulation in dorms. The general rule is unless everyone is involved don't screw in the dorm while people be trying to get some shut-eye.
Spontaneity vs the agenda
I always got a kick out of the guy or gal who would rock into the hostel looking for a bed who had only a few hours previous been in a different country with no real idea as to where they might be by early evening versus the ultra-organised traveller who has every second of the next three weeks meticulously planned. Different strokes for different folks but spontaneity is a massive part of the travel experience and the culture of hostelling, being open to going where and when the mood takes you - there's a certain freedom in that which can only be respected. This same dude or dudette will also only have one bag containing their other shirt and pants.
Being a good judge of character
You have a large degree of responsibility behind the hostel desk, especially with regard to the best interests of your guests which means that you must be quick to realise if someone who just walked in looking for a bed should actually be staying here. It's a gut reaction and, as much as you like to be human and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, most of the time you just know the nutters from the off. I learned this the hard way early on. Ignoring my better judgement, I checked in a chap who seemed legit and withstood my probing questions with ease as I tried to decipher his story without offending. 10 minutes later a bemused guest came to the desk to tell me there was a guy standing on a top bunk, masturbating furiously and ranting about nazis. My first time to have to kick someone out too.
Teaching and Learning
I once taught a 19 year old American chap how to read an analogue clock at the hostel reception. No joke. He asked me the time. Now, a big feature of our reception was a number of large working clock faces so I brought his attention to them to which he said, without a hint of embarrassment or awkwardness, “ I can't read those kind of clocks, only digital”. I was shocked but he left the desk with a new life-skill (and, remarkably aptly, I happened to be pumping 21st Century Digital Boy by Bad Religion through the hostel speakers). But I also learned many things from guests there. Did you know that a bear has 42 teeth? And a days worth of blinks is the same as closing your eyes for more than 30 minutes? I didn't. I do now though.
The rest of the day tends to consist of answering the same questions one hundred different times, stuffing your face with food kindly made and shared by guests, checking hostel reviews online to see if you've been mentioned in a positive light (somewhat egocentric perhaps), compiling what you think is the best playlist ever to come out of a hostel reception and guessing the nationalities of arriving guests before they even breath a word. This last one can be a lot of fun especially if you're working a shift with a colleague and wager beers on who gets the most correct. You get very good at it very quickly too...so many stereotypes are so true. It's also fun on particularly quiet days in low season when you only have a few arrivals left on the list late in your shift so you can go one further than guess the guest's nationalities and welcome them by name as they walk in. Minds blown. Well, ya gotta make your own fun.
All in all it's probably one of the best jobs in the world if you're a 'people person', like to party and don't care about making a small fortune before you're thirty so if that sounds like you and you get the chance then go for it.