This is the first of what will be a few posts dealing with hosteling. Most Americans don’t know much about these places and are maybe a little intimidated because probably what they think they know isn’t exactly right.
First, there are more of them even in America than you might have guessed. But that is for another post. Right now let’s talk about making your meals in one.
This covers one of the most expensive aspects of travel, eating out in restaurants, cafes and coffee shops. For about a third or quarter of the cost of eating out, one can eat in and save those dollars for something else in your life, like more travel. And while some aspects of hosteling are not cheaper as you add more people, such as the per person cost of a bed, sharing a meal can be both more economical with added people and social too.
Hostels come with common kitchens. And common areas to eat meals. This can be one of the prime reasons to stay in one. All of these can vary somewhat hostel to hostel but there are certain things you can reasonably expect of the hostel kitchen.
There will be a place to store your food. Refrigerators are provided and guests are usually asked to mark their food along with their checkout date so the staff can keep things clean. I usually try and leave my items inside the bags in which they came from the store, marked with my name. Theft is a very low risk but I think it is still a good idea to not expose what you have to prying eyes that could be tempted.
Usually people will have left behind some staples, which can then be used by all. So it pays to check for these and other basics like oil or butter before you head out to the market yourself.
The hostel staff can probably direct you to a nearby market to acquire food. In this case, Seattle’s Green Tortoise Hostel across from the Pike Place Market there was a Target a few doors down, an IGA a block away and a daily fish, meat and vegetable farmers market at Pike Place.
If you can manage the weight you might travel with an insulated grocery bag to carry from one to the other. I picked one up at the Tillamook cheese factory in Oregon. I am looking forward to loading it up with unnecessary snacks before my train ride home. Overall, however, I am not sure something like this is worth the weight in carrying it.
Usually there are multiple cooking stations with adequate pots and pans.
Microwaves are almost universal. Plenty of cutlery and dishes will be provided. Basic seasonings usually are provided but this varies as to how extensive the spice rack is.
Adequate counter space for lots of people working at once is usually not an issue.
And cleanup is available. Sometimes this is pretty industrial. Here guests only needed to rinse and the staff would put everything into an industrial dishwasher. But usually everyone needs to clean up on their own - as they go. As long as dirty dishes don’t accumulate, everyone has a chance to make a meal.
Then you can eat in the common room where you have a good chance to meet someone new and share experiences. Or sometimes you will on a balcony overlooking a fjord.
If you want local foods and think you need to eat out for that, consider that sometimes the best local foods can be best found at the market rather than in a restaurant. That after all is where the locals get their food.
Deciphering and navigating a local market in a foreign language will provide a window on everyday life that isn’t gained at just the tourist attractions. You probably only will need to look up the translation of a particular fish once before you have it then in your head for life.
If you don’t enjoy cooking or cooking for just yourself then the grocery store will likely have all sorts of convenience foods and ready-made meals. Dinners can be as simple or complicated as you wish. Simple usually is best, though I tend to, as one fellow hostel patron once put it, “chef it up.” Others with frozen pizza, Mac ‘n cheese and hamburgers looked pretty happy too.
Come morning you can make up your own picnic lunches for later. Sometimes half of what you need for a picnic is available in the breakfast spread provided as part of your stay. Occasionally they will ask, on an honors system, for you to pay a small additional fee if making a lunch from the breakfast buffet. Maybe around $5. In some hostels, particularly in Scandinavia, the breakfast typically will include homemade bread, butter, eggs, ham, salami and cheese.
Some form of breakfast is usually provided. But that can be supplemented or replaced with whatever your favorite breakfast is.
One sometimes might get carried away and make up too much, and then can do leftovers if staying over. But it can also be very healthy to eat this way.
All in all, the whole hostel kitchen experience is easy, communal, social and an opportunity to eat well at a reasonable cost. More often than not you will meet someone new. Other guests are all sharing the same space and cooperation is the norm. In some places, like Iceland, eating in the hostel was necessary to make the trip affordable at all.
Give it a try.
©️2019 D Abbott