Whether you’re moving to Buenos Aires or backpacking through South America, volunteering for accommodation can be a great way to meet people, get to know the city and save some cash. Many hostels take volunteers, who usually work anywhere between fifteen to thirty hours per week in exchange for anything from a bed in a dorm to a private room with all meals included, depending on the arrangement they have made with their host. Volunteer arrangements are particularly helpful in cities like Buenos Aires, where accommodation can be steep for foreigners.
How to Find a Hostel
This step is actually pretty easy, and several well-known websites are available to help. For a yearly fee of around US$20, Workaway and HelpX both offer lists of hosts that are looking for volunteers in exchange for accommodation, including hostels. The advantage of using one of these websites is that hosts and volunteers can leave reviews for each other, so there is a degree of accountability for both parties. Workaway is more widely used and generally more user-friendly, but both sites have a good track record of helping hosts and volunteers find each other.
Contacting Your Host
Make your profile as informative and engaging as you can. Upload several pictures of yourself (hopefully looking responsible), and make sure to list all of your skills and any languages you speak. Think of your profile as your volunteer CV (résumé). Don’t expect hosts to contact you first, and don’t expect everyone to respond quickly, because many hosts receive several applications a day. Be polite and persistent, and you should start hearing from hostels.
If you don’t want to spend the money for membership or aren’t receiving answers that appeal to you, you can also bypass the website and contact hostels directly. A quick search online for “Hostels Buenos Aires” or a scroll through Hostelbookers.com or Hostelworld.com will give you a decent list of hostels to contact. Check their website and simply email them directly; attaching a CV helps.
Choosing your hostel
Once a potential host gets in touch with you, there are several things to bear in mind before you accept the offer.
Make sure you and your host have the same expectations. Some questions to agree on before you arrive include:
1) How long will you be staying? Many hostels are looking for people for at least a month, though they can be flexible if the terms are agreed on beforehand.
2) What work will you be doing, and in exchange for what accommodation? How many hours will you be working? What do your tasks include? Are there night shifts involved? What will you get in exchange? Are meals included? How about discounts on any tours the hostel offers to its guests? Do volunteers stay in a dorm? If so, with how many other people?
3) What kind of experience are you looking for? No two hostels are the same. Some pride themselves on a smaller, family-style atmosphere, and others guarantee guests a different party every night. Both can offer wonderful experiences, IF they are what you want and what you were expecting.
This is especially important to take into consideration in Buenos Aires, where safe neighborhoods can often border don’t-take-a-stroll-at-night sort of areas. It’s best to be aware of your surroundings wherever you are, but hostels in less reputable neighborhoods have been known to label themselves as located in more tourism –friendly neighborhoods such as San Telmo or Palermo when they aren’t strictly speaking within the neighborhood’s limits. This doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t volunteer at these hostels, but you should definitely be aware of what neighborhood you will be in and how safe the area is.
You can use our map of the city below to figure out which neighborhood you’ll be in.
—Vetting your hostel
Once you’ve contacted your host and feel comfortable about your arrangement, it’s time to vet your hostel. This means reading online reviews on booking websites like HostelWorld and Hostel Bookers and scanning travel websites such as Trip Advisor as well as making sure there are no reviews on Workaway or HelpX that are cause for concern. If the reviews seem iffy — or directly contradict something the host has told you — you might want to clarify with your host, or choose another hostel altogether. Beware of any mentions of bedbugs, unsanitary conditions, rudeness/dishonesty on the part of the staff, a sketchy neighborhood, or paying a large deposit in order to start volunteering. Most hostels offer wonderful, safe experiences, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Looks like you’re ready to go. Don’t forget to remind your host of your arrival a few days before you get there, and get ready to meet lots of new people and have a great time!