Staying in hostels is a great way to save money, for many reasons.
The relatively inexpensive prices for dorm beds are an obvious advantage of hostels over hotels for backpackers and budget travelers. And just as important is access to a hostel kitchen, which is a luxury that can save you amazing amounts of money while you travel.
Being the thrifty budget travelers that we are having access to a kitchen while on the road is very important to us. When not staying in rental apartments we almost always opt for a hostel…as long as it has a kitchen. We will usually avoid staying in a hostel for more than a night if it lacks a kitchen. Cooking in hostel kitchens is not only a great way to save money while backpacking, but it’s usually a healthier option to greasy street food, or whatever other cheap junk a budget traveler can afford to purchase.
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Tips for Cooking in Hostel Kitchens
That said, hostel kitchens can range from barren culinary equipment wastelands to the rare oasis with everything you need to cook a full three-course meal. When backpacking or traveling on a budget you will have to be prepared to face all sorts of kitchen environments in hostels. Luckily you have us to give you some cheeky tips on how to best make use of your hostel kitchen to whip up money saving meals!
Check Cookware Stock
One of the first things you should do in a new hostel kitchen is take a look around and see what pots, pans, utensils, etc. are stocked in the kitchen before you start cooking or planning a meal. Though you might be highly resourceful if you want to make frozen margaritas and there isn’t a blinder, you might need to change your plan.
Additionally, if you plan to do a lot of cooking when you travel you may want to bring along a few essential items. We travel with a sharp knife, a small cutting board, and a wooden spoon. While bringing electronic kitchen items abroad is usually pointless (different plugs and all) if you plan on being in one region of the world for long enough something like a handheld blender with local plugs might come in handy too. Finally, if you are as much of a coffee lover as we are, an AeroPress Coffee Maker or V60 might be worth bringing along. They’re small, light, and won’t take up much space in your bag.
Check the Kitchen for Communal Food and Spices
A hostel kitchen can be a goldmine of spices, rice, oil, and other items left behind by the recently departed backpacker. I’ve made the mistake of going grocery shopping a few times before looking around only to find that I had needlessly bought salt or rice when there was plenty in the hostel kitchen.
Hostel kitchens rarely have everything you might be used to cooking with at home so being resourceful is a necessity. Get creative with the things that are available and don’t get discouraged when you can’t find a spatula or cutting board.
I once found myself in a hostel kitchen that didn’t have coffee makers but for whatever reason there was a metal coffee filter and the plastic piece it fits into from an electric coffee maker. So, I used the two pieces as a pour-over coffee maker and had my morning brew within 3 minutes. The filter ended up serving dual purposes as I later used it to drain rinsed rice.
Once you make it to the grocery store keep in mind how long you will be in your current location before making your purchases. When at home it may make sense to buy larger bottles, cans, or boxes of groceries but if you’re only going to be in the same place for a week it really isn’t practical.
One of the best things about being on the road is that each day can be unpredictable. Though you might have plans to cook dinner every single night for a week, things can quickly change. So shopping daily is the best way to ensure your perishable items don’t spoil before you have a chance to use them.
Bring a reusable shopping bag in your backpack for this reason.
Cook During Off Hours
Hostel kitchens can quickly go from being deserted to being the most active room in the entire building. Cooking an hour before or after peak meal times can help you avoid a chaotic environment and reduce the amount of time you spend in the kitchen.
Talk to Those Cooking in the Kitchen With You
If you do find yourself in the kitchen with company, strike up a conversation. It’s a great way to make friends and break the tension in a crowded or small kitchen. Plus, someone might be so kind as to share their meal with you.
On the other hand, watch out for the silent chef. Some people don’t want to be bothered while cooking, so have your feelers out before engaging.
Take the Basics With You
Even when purchasing smaller sizes of basic items I more often than not find myself with unused groceries like salt, oil, and coffee at the end of a stay. Rather than throwing them away I typically take them to the next location. If it isn’t possible or if you’re at the end of your trip give it to a friend you’ve made at the hostel or donate it to the communal food supply.
Save Your Plastic and Glass Containers
Finding storage containers in a hostel kitchen can be nearly impossible so hang on your glass and plastic hummus, olive, and salad containers to store your leftovers in. Also, if you travel with a tiffin tin you’ll always have something with you to store leftovers or food you’ve prepared for long journeys between destinations.
Keep it Simple
Cooking on the road isn’t the same as cooking at home and even the best of hostel kitchens won’t have every single piece of kitchen equipment you need. Since you’re also sharing the kitchen with other travelers, you are also on the clock, so to speak. Time is of the essence. So, keep it simple.
Try to cook meals that require one or two pots and don’t take too long to cook. You don’t want to spend all of your travel time in the kitchen cooking or cleaning.
Clean Up After Yourself
Speaking of cleaning; be kind to and respectful of your fellow travelers and the hostel staff. Always clean up after yourself. Hostels have a communal atmosphere, so we all need to do our part to keep the shared spaces nice and tidy.
Hope these tips help you guys cook in hostel kitchens while you attempt to keep your travel budgets low. As always happy travels, and we’ll see you on the road!