Want to Work in a Trail Hostel? 4 Things You Should Consider First

You’ve finished your thru hike! Congratulations! Maybe you finished last week or last year or even 10 years ago, but regardless of the length of time it has been since you’ve seen your last white blaze all you can think about is a way to get back out there. You’re not alone. After my hike in 2012 I tried going back to my pre-trail life and something just felt like it was missing. Since I lived close to the Smokies I did some trail magic in the fall for SoBo’s and instead of helping me feel more connected to the trail it only made me miss it more.

The idea of possibly moving somewhere for the summer and working at a hostel had bounced around in my head a little bit and after going to The Gathering, which is held by ALDHA every Columbus Day weekend, NoKey and I had learned of quite a few places looking for couples to help out in the 2013 hiker season. After talking to some people about it and making some calls, we had decided to pack up and head out to Maine for the 2013 hiker season. Looking back on the experience there are a few things I wish I had known before getting into the work, and this list may help you decide if hostel work is right for you.

1) The hikers you meet in hostels are not the same hikers you meet on trail.  

This advice was offered up to me in my phone interview with the hostel we ultimately worked in. Basically, it was explained to me this way: You know those hikers you’d meet in a shelter one night who came in and were hateful and rude? Or super drunk, loud, and partied all night when you just did a 25-mile day and had 25 more tomorrow? The homeless person who claimed to be hiking but in reality stole some people’s gear while they were sleeping and took off? Those people will be at the hostel. The only difference is you can’t speed up or slow down to get away from them. I’m not saying all hikers are this way, but keep in mind that on trail you had the option to get away from people you didn’t want to be around. In a hostel, they’re your paying customers!

2) You will work long hours and rarely get a day off.

In Maine our hiking season ran together, meaning SoBo’s started coming in the third week of May (seriously, before Trail Days and even before Katahdin was open to hike!) and by the time the SoBo’s are trickling to only a few a week the NoBo’s are coming in. Our season ran from mid-May to mid-October with no time in between. Thankfully, we were guaranteed a full day off per week by the people we worked for, but it’s possible you won’t be so lucky. Our days started at 6 a.m. with shuttles and cleaning and usually didn’t end until after 8 p.m. every night and that was just because we went home! Want to sit down for a nice quiet dinner? Your phone will no doubt ring the minute the food is on the table. It’s an emergency and someone is hurt or sick and needs a shuttle.

3) You spend more time working than you do with hikers.

This is kind of a given, but maybe in your mind you’re spending time with hikers around a fire pit every night, kicking back and having a beer. Chances are this won’t happen. While we did have some opportunities to meet some very wonderful and gracious hikers, the time for that was pretty limited. We made some great friends in the Class of 2013, but we mainly spent a lot of time cleaning, chasing people down to get their payments, and shuttling.

4) At the end of the day, a hostel is a business and you have to treat it that way.

Most hostels are run by former hikers so we get it that money is tight, especially when we were near the end of the trail, but the reality is that it truly is a business. You won’t make much money. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons that hostels change owners so frequently – it’s a hard business to keep afloat. People will tell you your prices are ridiculous and will try to haggle with you. Some of our shuttles were more than 4 hours round-trip and your time is worth money too!

Working in a hostel for six months was the hardest job I’ve ever loved. I personally thought one season was enough for me and I’m glad I took the job. Just like when I hiked the trail, I made some incredible friends, I got to meet hikers and hear their stories, and also had some really tough days and just wanted to go home. Working in a hostel kind of gives you a special “behind the scenes” look at the elaborate and amazing system of people who make the trail as great as it is and was a really interesting experience. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have more questions!

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Comments 3

  • stilts : Feb 5th

    Some good info here that I hadn’t considered! Thanks for writing the post.

    By the way, I met you and NoKey when I stayed at the hostel before starting SoBo in early June… Before I even had a trail name. I got a lot of good advice from NoKey when being shuttled to Katahdin. So thanks again!

  • Priyam Patel : Jul 28th

    You certainly pointed out some of the practical problem while working on trail hostels. Yes, there are challenges staying in hostels, but you can overcome those and make it a good experience. Thank for this nice post!


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