My Workaways in Scotland helping at different hostels have been some of my favorite volunteer jobs around the world. There have been a couple of rather interesting experiences, but overall it’s been a joy to volunteer in my favorite country.
Why Do I Volunteer to Work in Hostels?
Workaway isn’t always a fair exchange between hosts and volunteers. When you consider the maximum 100 hours a month that you could be working for a host and the minimum wage for that city, you’ll quickly see that you would be making two to three times the value of your room and board if you were at a paid job. Then again, some volunteers really take advantage of their hosts, whether by eating a fortune worth of food, not working hard, etc.
With hostels, you rarely get three square meals a day with your bed in a shared room. Although the price of hostels in a city might be expensive in general, a bed in a dorm is rarely the equivalent of 25 hours a week at minimum wage. Most hostels recognize this and often require 10-20 hours a week of work in exchange for the bed, plus a meal or two.
I think one of the best advantages with working in a hostel is avoiding the hassle of finding another place to stay and getting all the legal documentation to get paid (I have an advantage in Europe as a UK citizen). Additionally, I’ve spent the better part of my life living in dorm rooms, and thus I’m more than happy to share a room for a few weeks from time to time in my travels.
My first Workaway in Scotland was at Malones Hostel in Edinburgh. The hostel has long since closed and the pub it was connected to has moved to a different location, but my six weeks there will always remain a pleasurable experience in my memory. Sure, there were a couple ups and downs, but overall I’d say we made a pretty good team.
As with any Workaway that has several volunteers, they tend to cycle through quite a bit. Malones was no different. I saw several volunteers come and go while I was there, although it wasn’t as erratic as I thought it would be. Edinburgh tends to have a high turnover rate generally in its businesses.
Malones was a smallish hostel with only about 40 beds. We had four volunteers who helped with reception, cleaning and the night shift. The night shift wasn’t covered in the volunteer hours, but it only entailed keeping the phone by the bed and getting up to handle any late-night inquiries. The irony was that, when I arrived, I was told no one ever called for the night shift. Well, I didn’t have a night shift in those six weeks when I didn’t have to handle something or several somethings in the middle of the night.
With such a small hostel, there really wasn’t a lot of work. There might be as many as 20 beds checking out that had to be made, and there were only a couple bathrooms. The reception shift was similarly easy with a minimal number of check-ins, and the manager took care of most of those. We set up breakfast at 7 a.m., took it down at 10, and otherwise took responsibility for the various little actions in the hostel.
The biggest disadvantage to Malones is that it was stag and hen party friendly (bachelor and bachelorette parties to Americans). On one occasion, a group of football players left the hostel in such a state of destruction, it took hours to clean up. Aside from the various fluids and filth left all around, they also managed to completely break one of the metal bunk beds. When I mentioned the state of affairs to the manager, she only commented that she had seen worse.
The Code Court Pod Hostel
My month volunteering at the Code Court Hostel could only be considered as a best-case scenario. The hostel was significantly bigger than Malones; in fact, it’s the largest I’ve worked in with over 200 beds! As far as hostels go, it’s hard to consider it as a hostel. Built into the original courthouse of Old Town Edinburgh next to St. Giles Cathedral, it’s far easier to consider it as a boutique hotel, except that it mostly has pod beds (although there are also a dozen private rooms too). The decor is left over from the courthouse, complete with the original iron bar doors in the hallways, wood-paneled courtroom and even the prisoner’s writing on the walls in the service stairwell.
I got to help during the Fringe, Edinburgh’s busiest time of the year. The hostel was fully booked every weekend, and quite full the rest of the week. I worked with the cleaning team, and consistently found additional functions to make the work run even smoother and faster. It was rather heartwarming each time I’d come back from my couple days off to have the whole cleaning team welcoming me back and stating things just didn’t run the same without me there.
That leads me to the best part about working at Code Court – the team! It’s such a rare treat to gel that smoothly with every other member of the team. From the general manager and owner on down, every person at the hostel is friendly, responsible, respectful and just a ton of fun. Every other volunteer they found to work at the hostel did a really good job, and it was sad to see any of them leave (a couple had family emergencies or last-minute jobs come up).
The managers made sure that there was a very fair exchange with the volunteers. We each had our own pod and locker, use of the kitchen and laundry, and a full breakfast provided. The breakfast improved throughout the month (I started working virtually the day after the hostel opened). The core of the breakfast was the American-style waffles that guests could make themselves with a three-step grill. Cereals, ham and cheese, fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs and beans, several different toppings for the waffles, juice, coffee, tea…the list goes on.
At first, we were working five days a week and were told to end off early a few times when our tasks were finished ahead of schedule. This was then changed to four days a week, which I consider is the right number of hours for a Workaway where you get a great place to sleep and one or two meals each day, but not all three meals.
Of all the Workaway and volunteer jobs I’ve had around the world, especially those working at hosels, the Code Court Pod Hostel was definitely the best!
Other Great Workaways in Scotland
My other volunteer work around Scotland has actually been through Trusted House Sitters. These have been in Dundee and on the Isle of Skye where I had the ultimate delight of watching animals (two dogs in Dundee, and a dog, two cats, four ducks and eight chickens on the Isle of Skye). I love animals and housesitting is one of my favorite ways to travel, but there are other Workaways in Scotland I would love to work at. One is on the Isle of Skye and has actually been voted as one of the best hostels in the whole UK. The only disadvantage of working on the Isle of Skye is that the internet sucks. It’s a hard compromise when the whole island is so drop-dead gorgeous.
There are also plenty of other volunteer jobs around Scotland that aren’t working in hostels. Families are looking for help on their farm, assistance with raising young kids, building an eco-friendly house, etc. Some of them can be a little remote (or really in the middle of nowhere, such as in the Outer Hebrides or Orkney Islands), and the Isle of Skye isn’t the only part of Scotland that has rubbish internet. But it’s Scotland after all; the best country in the world. Between the food, friendliness, fantastic scenery and frugal flights, it just makes the perfect package.
Switching to WorldPackers
Now that I’ve been harping on Workaway, I should probably point out that I’m actually not a fan of the platform. The Workaway reviews are too-easily misleading, volunteers and hosts both have problems with maintaining their end of the exchange, there’s absolutely no support system, etc. Recently, I’ve found the perfect alternative. Worldpackers is a volunteer platform that offers everything Workaway does, plus everything Workaway doesn’t. Worldpackers screens all their hosts and focuses on quality over quantity. They also offer a way better support system for the volunteers, even going so far as to offer a place to stay away from a host if things go bad, and then setting up an alternative volunteer location.
They focus a lot more on social impact and eco projects, which instantly grabbed my interest when I saw it. They already have hosts all over the world, and over 1.5 million volunteers (so you need to join quick and get ahead of the competition).
Click here to join Worldpackers or use SKYETRAVELS to get a $20 discount to your membership!
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I believe that giving back in your travels is a huge plus, and I’ll always spend a few months out of every year doing volunteer jobs. Here are some more articles that cover volunteering, the pro’s and cons, and some of the experiences I’ve had.
- Is Workaway Worth It for a Budget Traveler?
- 5 Reasons Why Workaway Reviews Are Inaccurate and Could Be Improved
- My Workaway Experience in Brussels
- My Original Workaway Story for France
- My Workaway in France – A Story of Worst Case Scenario
- My Adventure with Zanzibara Campground via Workaway
- My First 3 Weeks Back in Europe, Helping on a Farm in Sweden
- My Five Weeks in Sjuntorp Could Have Been Better