Painting on the Beach: Hostel Work Exchange

It was difficult to find hostels and guesthouses in South Korea. They could surely be found in certain neighborhoods of Seoul and randomly scattered throughout the country (we highly recommend Seoul I Guesthouse and The House Hostel), but they were often fully booked …and with such a steady influx of visitors, none offered work and accommodation trade opportunities. Also, many of these Korean institutions do not have an internet presence.

Taiwan was a different story. Our first lucky hostel find was in Taipei. The Flip-Flop Hostel was a great place to land to get introduced to this friendly country. Their bulletin board supplied us with an array of local resources including business cards from many of the hostels scattered around the country. We also found a special posting from The Spot: “Backpackers, maybe you can come to help us in exchange for a room at our surf shop hostel…”

This one immediately caught my interest.

I thought about the benefits of temporarily working at a hostel: previously unheard of people, foods and places, extra time in a bustling hub to experience the lives of others, meeting locals and other travelers, developing relationships with a new place and new friends…

Hwy 6 to Toroko

Tim and I thoroughly enjoy being exposed to random opportunities and scooping them up. We are also enjoying what we call “slow travel”. We let little clues – such as a passing tidbit of advice, a business card or bulletin board ad, a cool mountain range – lead us to anywhere where we can stay in the same spot for a week, or a few. We make a home for ourself in each place, wake up in the same space each day, see the small details, and find a simple new routine… walk a familiar route each day to a coffee shop that already knows our standard order and see the same people each day on that walk. There is something very special about having this in each place we travel; each place we go feels like home.

We have the goal to see a country’s main cities, as well as to find pockets of that country that do not exist in travel guides. We want to experience what we perceive as the obscure, the beautiful and the bizarre, and to experience the diverse daily lives of people world-wide. To do this I feel it is necessary to take risks, allowing the potential of “Factor X” to manifest… allowing the unknown potential and possibilities of life to lead us places that we could never dream up. Picking up to go to a town we have never heard of, doing things we would never have done otherwise, CouchSurfing with people who can show us the ins-and-outs of a place through the eyes of a native (or at least someone who lives there).

Tim in Toroko!

So we decided yes, lets pursue this opportunity and see where it takes us. In the event that The Spot did not need help, I also sent out feelers to the other hostels whom business cards I collected. More than half, including The Spot, responded with excited messages welcoming Tim and I to “come on down”. Some had stay-length requirements, some offered me projects from their to-do lists and some just offered a bed and asked what skills I could offer. The Spot mentioned that they could use some paintings and a website redesign… it sounded like a relaxed, backwoods-y place and the owner, Tony, was very personable. We planned a date later in the month to arrive.

From there we CouchSurfed and stayed at the Formosa Hostel located centrally on the West coast in Hualien. Also a great hostel find… they had an English library and floors filled with cool artwork.

Zhunan Beach

A few weeks later we arrived, by train, in Zhunan. Tony was already in town and picked us up. He drove us out of the town’s main avenue to a barely-populated street leading straight to the beach. Here, Tim and I had the pleasure of staying right on the ocean with a small, tight-knit staff group – and extended friendship circle – of all kind people. We felt like we fit-in right away and stayed for ten days. Everyone became our newest friends.


For work, I painted a mural on the wall that stretched the length of the building and reorganized their website navigation and design. Tim transferred their site from a behind-the-times site-building wizard to our server and the WordPress platform so that it looked great, worked great and would be easier for them to update.

Music at SpotHanging out together every day and evening, we found many ways to exchange knowledge, skills, stories and good feels with each other. Tony’s wife, Ming, made delicious lunches in the afternoon and was a delight to talk to. Roger showed us how to fire-treat wood furniture. Hill, the kite-boarding instructor, and I shared many common interests… we had a lot of fun together and she showed us how to Stand-Up-Paddle board. Ha Jong taught us many useful Chinese words. Duncan, Hill’s visiting cousin, shared his delicious cooking skills, including mini-burgers. Tony shared breakfasts, insightful stories, kind smiles and much more. Shawn and Dora, Ming and Tony’s little ones, were a joy to be around. We enjoyed our stay very much and I really cannot begin to explain it all in a single post…

We left The Spot very satisfied with our spur-of-the-moment decision… I highly suggest work-trading in Taiwan, or anywhere. I truly believe that many wonderful sharing opportunities exist around the world, waiting to be scooped up.

Spot mural

Spot mural- black and white

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