Life Stories Portugal

How I ended up working at a hostel bar in Lisbon for one month

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Every traveler knows there are cities you connect with, and others you just don’t. For me, it’s been Paris, Berlin, and Lisbon – and I’ve lived in two of those. Lisbon, though, has been on my radar ever since I visited in 2012. The orange tile rooftops, the crooked alleyways filled with colorful street art, and ha, let’s not forget the Portuguese language – it was all so different from everywhere I had lived before (New York, Barcelona, Paris…um, Indiana, hello!).

After spending the past four years going through a true love-hate relationship with New York City, I could feel my time there was about to expire, as my relationship was starting to turn more hate than love. I knew it was time to do something. Yes, a move to LA was imminent, but ever since living in Paris, I’d been dying to move back to Europe, even if it’s only for the 90 days the Schengen Region allows Americans. With all that on my mind, it was time to check back in with Lisbon.

I emailed the hostel I had stayed at my first time in Lisbon (Lisbon Destination Hostel) to tell them how much I enjoyed my stay and just how MTV Real World their hostel looked (seriously). I decided to throw in a quick PS about how I’d love to work at the front desk for a few weeks.

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The hostel that put other hostels to shame.

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The team responded a few days later saying they offer a volunteer program of twenty hours a week in exchange for accommodation and breakfast.

Three months later and here I am.

I’m now on my fifth day working the hostel bar, doing two things I know nothing about: making cocktails and grilling burgers. I could have been put on other duties like flipping pancakes for breakfast, housekeeping, or walking hostel guests from one hostel to their two sister hostels for pub crawls and tours, but I got put mainly on bar, which is probably for the best because we all know how terrible I am in the kitchen. At least at the bar, I can finally learn the cocktails I was always too broke to afford while living in New York ($17 for a mojito that is 85% ice, mint, sugar, lime, and soda water, no thank you). And as for grilling burgers, I mean, I’m a vegetarian, but there’s always a chance I’ll have a cookout when I live in LA.

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The Zebra Bar!

Because you’re supposed to provide twenty hours of service, you’re mainly working two days a week and few odd jobs here and there. At the bar, I’ve done everything from setting up twenty-two shots for the pub crawl to DJing my favorite tropical house playlists to serving a free “sunset drink” (red wine) every night at sunset to anyone on the terrace. Can you imagine how miserable it is to work outside making gin and tonics, all while listening to relaxing deep house music next to a pool overlooking the Tagus River!?

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Yes that is a pool overlooking the Tagus river you’re seeing.

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Sunset Drink time, hurry, get to the terrace!

For these twenty hours a week, I get a cozy corner of a room in the attic of their waterfront hostel, which is probably larger than my studio apartment back in New York City. As Destination Hostels has three hostels in Lisbon, we could say I got lucky to be placed in their waterfront hostel, but I use lucky lightly because all their hostels have their own charm. They’ve got a hostel in the winding, cobble stone streets of the old city, Alfama, a hostel in the city center inside of Rossio train station (where I stayed my first time), and my hostel right next to the Tagus river, which to my eyes is an ocean.

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Every morning from 8am to 10:30am, one of the volunteers serves breakfast, consisting of pancakes, toast, cereal, fruit, juice, coffee, etc. Another thing I’ve learned about being here is that you can survive on jelly toast for twenty days straight and not even get sick of it, mainly because you factor in how much money you’re saving. Breakfast is great, but the views from the kitchen are better.

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Dinner is served nearly every night to hostel guests, but staff gets a special price, which is great cuz again, I’m terrible at cooking. Friday night’s a BBQ, Saturday night’s a pool party, and Sunday night’s a traditional Portuguese dinner, so as you can see, the food choices never really get old.

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Most volunteers stay longer than a month and not everyone speaks Portuguese. For example, there are a few Americans, a few Canadians, a French guy, a Korean girl, etc, but it’s constantly changing as everyone is off traveling or heading back home. Among the many people I’ve met here are a Californian girl who has been volunteering at the hostel for seven months, an Estonian who just got back from working at a surf hostel, an Australian model on his way to a shoot in a small town in Portugal, an American woman who writes a blog about finance and debt, and another Californian who has lived in Paris for the past 12 years.

What I think I’ve realized most while being here and being surrounded by nonstop travel is that when you’re back home stressing about school or crappy jobs, you forget that life is happening. You don’t realize that there are people living and working abroad (for next to nothing, might I add) and creating more interesting stories to tell and that that person could be you.


If you’re interested in Destination Hostels exchange program, check it out here!

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  • Camila Souza Fonseca

    Woah! this place looks awesome. Congratz! hope you have a great time.

  • Yumna Fatima

    this is so cool, hope to do the program in the near future!

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  • I’m gonna need those tropical house playlists tho…

    • 8tracks is the King of playlists. Google it! Love that site.

  • Vini Vlog

    Wow Damon you really inspire me!

  • Charlotte Bone

    Love, love, love your stuff! Although I tried clicking through to the American woman’s blog but got an error message. :/
    Is it just me?

  • Treix

    You neeeed to come to Estonia!

  • Svetlana Sun

    Thanks for inspiration, Damon! Couple of month ago I read this article and applied to Destination Hostels…. and now I’m here in Lisbon, living and working in this amazing place!! Already have got a lot of new friends, next week gonna start to work at Zebra bar too. Impossible is nothing! Just don’t be afraid, shut up and go travel! =)) good luck, guys!

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