Working While Traveling: Bartending at a Hostel

My friend Dillon plays chess at the Black Cat Hostel in Antigua, Guatemala.

My friend Dillon plays chess at the Black Cat Hostel in Antigua, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Dillon McCord.

The last thing that I wanted to think about when I started traveling was working, but it’s an easy way to keep more money in your pocket and get to now a city better.

“It didn’t feel like a job. I was working five hours a day and drinking the rest,” my friend Dillon McCord said about his experience working as a bartender at the Black Cat Hostel in Antigua, Guatemala.” “It was a lot of fun. Friday nights got packed and crazy.

“I got to play whatever music I wanted: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, The Black Keys.”

Dillon said he never expected to find a job at a hostel. He said he was staying at the Black Cat and enjoyed the vibe. He listened to people’s stories and played chess when he heard about a job opening for a bartender.

Dillon didn’t have any experience, but did know some Spanish. That was enough to impress the owner; he was hired on the spot without an interview.

For the next month, Dillon received a free room and meals in exchange for five hours of work from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Dillon said if he worked Sunday morning, he received Q12 ($1.54) an hour.

“It felt more like hanging out and partying,” Dillon said. “I had a ticket back home in January, but I had to cancel because I was enjoying Antigua so much …

“Living and working there, I really dug the city in a way that I couldn’t have just traveling through. When you start hanging out with the people who actually live there, and they show you around and introduce you to people and take you to all the best places, that’s when you really get into a city.”

Aside from learning the basics of bartending and being a waiter, Dillon said he learned a lot more Spanish, including Guatemalan slang.

Dillon worked five hours a day most days a week. The rest was free time.

Dillon worked five hours a day most days a week. The rest was free time. Photo courtesy of Dillon McCord.

But the best part of the job for Dillon was meeting people from across the world.

“The whole vibe at the Cat was so friendly. Everyone was traveling, and no one knew anyone, so there were less barriers between people. You could just sit down with a group of backpackers at a table and be like, ‘Hi. Where are you guys from?’ Everyone was always so welcoming.”

Dillon said the next time he travels, he’s open to working again at another hostel.

And if you’re planning on working while traveling, Dillon had this to say: “People worry about planning things too much. You have to be open to whatever things come your way. I think that’s the best way to travel.”

Tips to working at a hostel

  • Just ask. Most of the time positions aren’t advertised.
  • With that in mind, be open about the location. Often times, places off the tourist trail will openly advertise their need for volunteers or “Western” staff.
  • Be willing to stay at least two weeks, but the longer the better.
  • If you find a place you like, be friendly with the staff, have fun and show you’re a good person to have around. This ups your chances of getting a job.
  • Know a bit of the native language or show you’re willing to learn. Some of your clientele could be locals.

Have a tip that wasn’t mentioned or want to share your experience? Write about it below.

Update: April 28, 2014: I have learned from a friend who recently visited Antigua that the Black Cat has now closed. In addition, the website for the hostel is no longer active.

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3 Responses to “Working While Traveling: Bartending at a Hostel”

  1. Which bar was this at? Any tips for landing my own gig like this in antigua? it sounds pretty fun

  2. This was at the Black Cat Hostel in Antigua; however, I have learned from a friend in Antigua that it has closed.

    As far as tips, the best advice I can write is to be open to what comes along and get to know the hostel staff and owner.


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