Photo: Gustavo Frazao/Shutterstock

How to Eat for Free at Hostels

by Marcus Crowe May 19, 2009
Beware, truly hungry travelers just might need to take things into their own hands.

HERE’s YOUR GUIDE for eating for free in hostels, one thing we definitely might consider an ethically dubious way to save money on the road.

Schmoozing and Flattering the Staff

The standby technique. Lurking around the kitchen, nonchalantly reading the paper while making salutations to all who enter and complementing the aroma of their food. Sometimes a hungry stare is helpful, but for many charity is abhorrent. They’d rather feed a happy, healthy dog, than a desperate-eyed mangy mongrel.

The Grab and Go

If such groveling passivity is too distasteful (or slow) there are other methods. A box of wine sitting on the fridge top for a couple of days, half full, and an empty box sitting on the table in front of you, is an opportunity to enact the Indiana Jones switcheroo.

And when the proprietress leaves out a bit of yellow rice, a couple of drum sticks, chunks of moist potato . . . if she planned to eat it later then she’d have put it in the refrigerator, right? We’ve got to do our part to prevent waste in this world.


When you can‘t afford clean water and the thought of boiling water is not appealing (or worse yet – the staff is threatening to lock up the kitchen), kneel down in front of the refrigerator and have a slam bam sampler of pineapple, orange, and apple juice, while the manager is busy text messaging.

Pillage in the Caribbean

Sometimes sampling isn’t enough. And sometimes it’s not just the hunger that make you want to pillage the fridge, but the incessant noise and meatheadedness of frat boys and sorority girls, at certain Party Island type hostels.

Watching the door, while Silenus rampages through the fridge, “Not much here.” A gaggle of girls coming down the stairs. He tries to ram a half loaf down his tight pants. Hurry. He gets it down the front. The girls enter, giggling. They go into the next room. We join them, chat a little.

Silenus makes a sojourn to take the bread out from his bulging crotch. I slide a bottle of hot sauce out of my pocket and into his. I grab a couple of cold beers.

There was a sign, after all, warning, “Food not marked with name and date WILL BE EATEN.” It was our civic duty to enforce the rules.

The Free Shelf

Some travelers leave prodigious rations behind. You may find a partial bag of pasta, an overripe mango, Tang, condiments, handful of rice and beans, crackers or chips. Sometimes a miracle: You’ve been salivating over the partial carcass of a pig, browned and succulent, waiting to rip a hunk off, when you watch someone nearly dump it in the garbage can. Egad!

Speak casually. Remember, nobody likes a desperate man. Hey, are you throwing that away? “Yeah, you want to try to get some more out of it.” Sure.

Soup, perhaps. Boil those shreds of clinging meat off the bone. Or just scrape it off with a knife, use a slab of lard to fry up the rice and beans, scrape the saturated onions from beneath the carcass, snag a chile pepper, mix it all together in a skillet.

Even if it turns out as a grey sludge, and what looked like meat was mostly ligament, tendon, cartilage . . . well, choke it down, and start scavenging again.

Community Connection

For more on hostel etiquette, please be sure to check out Tim Patterson’s classic Hostel Sex: A Practical Guide For Backpackers.

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