Life Behind Bar – Keep the Party Going by Bar Tending Abroad

Why bartending abroad can be a fun and practical experience

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

When you want to extend your trip, if money is running short, or when you’ve simply fallen in love with a particular place and want to stay longer, there are few options available to you.  In many countries, “real” jobs are simply not available to foreigners, as locals both need the employment more and are willing to work for a tiny fraction of the cost of a Westerner. Volunteer experiences can be rewarding but also costly and can consist of rigid schedules.  Sometimes, all you’re looking for is to extend the party.

It doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you have one option: Bar Tending.

All over the world, there are bars and hostels seeking out Western staff on a consistent basis.  The reality is turnover remains high as backpackers rarely hang around longer than a few weeks.  Requirements are also extremely limited as experience is rarely discussed when being “hired”.

Do you speak English?

Can you handle drinking every night?

If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you are officially qualified to be a backpacking bartender.  Few people want fancy cocktails but rather buckets of whatever cheap alcohol is stocked, or the local brew.  Truly though, little skill is needed other than the sheer ability to work while inebriated, and to do so on a nightly basis.  But if that’s what you’re doing anyway, you might as well get free stuff for doing it.  Because you won’t be paid.

Reality check: This kind of bar work abroad is rarely compensated financially; only for a long term commitments.  Most often bartending is paid in free accommodation and/or free drinks and food.  The quality of these things vary greatly from place to place, but if you search around a bit you can easily find something that suits your taste.

From private rooms to crash lounges, from restaurant quality meals to nothing at all; each bar or hostel has their standard for what passes as a fair trade.  These opportunities are available everywhere, from large touristy beaches in Thailand to tiny villages nestled in the mountains of Guatemala, but pretty much anywhere with a party atmosphere offers this sweet gig.  All you have to do is ask. 

Anywhere you see Western staff, just ask how it works.  You’ll instantly be bombarded with information on that place, as well as other possible gigs nearby.  Anyone working behind a bar picks up this info quickly and they are the best sources for questions of quality.  Without loyalty based on payment, they’re more likely to give an honest answer.

Let the good times pour!

You're not likely to see this kind of skill at a hostel bar (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So you’ve found a town you love, a bar where you dig the people and music, and you just signed a week or month of your life away: now what?  First, admit to yourself you’ll be there longer than expected.  Even if you leave, there’s no guarantee you’re not coming back.  Bar work, especially with a good staff, becomes a black hole of time and space.  Your days get lazier and nights drunker.  So what else can you expect to get out of bar tending abroad?

For starters, if you’re a female, you can expect a lot of unwanted male attention.  And when I say a lot, I mean an overwhelming amount.  Sure it’s fun at first, but consistent days on end getting hit on by sweaty disoriented Swedes gets old (surprisingly).  If you can handle the constant chest staring and cheesy pick up lines, live it up.  Work your flirting skills for the very limited tips you’ll receive and use them to make your male coworkers jealous.

Also, expect to get tired of the music.  Most bars run with a few playlists on a daily basis that works because their clientele has a high turnover rate.  Hearing the same song three nights in a row isn’t bothersome, but day 34 of Wonderwall will wear your down, trust me.  The best bars let you make the mix, a luxury not to be taken for granted.

Finally, get ready to have an amazing experience and meet some crazy people.  The best stories tend to involve alcohol, so imagine the outcome of nightly binges, whether your own or someone else’s.  You’ll bear witness to hook-ups, fights, and bad accidents.  You’ll need sober nights to balance out the ones you black out on, because let’s be honest, with unlimited free alcohol things are bound to get messy.  In the end, you’ll have loads of fun, meet a lot of great people, and make some of the best memories of your trip.

If only you could remember them.


Ruby Tuesday

About Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday was just an ordinary girl from suburban California until she studied abroad in the random and entertaining island of Malta. After that, she decided to explore every corner of the world in search of extraordinary adventures. Suddenly she was climbing cliffs in Thailand, befriending monkeys in Bolivia, and practicing the ancient martial art of sunmudo in Korea. Ruby is our global party expert and her experience in shenanigans all over the world has given her an endless series of stories.