It was nearing 1pm and I couldn’t ignore the grumbling emptiness in my stomach anymore. It was time to stop working on the travel writing for a while and have some lunch, so I closed my laptop and headed to the kitchen of our hostel in Buenos Aires.
The florescent lights flickered as I pulled open the fridge door and reached for our food, wrapped neatly in a plastic bag with our names written on it. Lee and I had been out for a curry the night before and I couldn’t wait to microwave the leftover fragrant pilau rice and juicy spicy lamb jalfrezi. However, as I opened our Styrofoam takeaway containers, a rage bubbled up inside me. Nothing but a few dregs of rice and a smattering of curry sauce remained. Some greedy bastard had gobbled up my lunch!
Unfortunately, food theft is one of the things that you sometimes have to deal with when you are staying in a hostel. When you share a communal fridge with several people with different moral codes, there is a chance that someone will believe they can help themselves to anything in there. Perhaps their travel budget is stretched so thin that they couldn’t afford food that day, but the more likely answer is that they were just lazy and decided to help themselves.
Don’t get me wrong – I completely don’t mind if someone steals a squirt of my ketchup or a splash of milk. Those things don’t really affect my meal plans for the day, so I’m happy to share. However, the problem comes when ingredients that we were planning to cook with or meals I was planning to eat disappear. We stay in hostels to save money, not to spend it feeding someone else who can’t be bothered to buy and cook their own food.
Hostel Food Theft is Like Bedbugs – The Important Thing is How the Hostel Deals with It
In my previous post about bedbugs in hostels, I explained that bedbugs are just as likely to show up in any hostel or hotel around the world – they don’t discriminate between a five star resort or a grotty budget backpackers. The difference between a good establishment and a bad one is how they deal with the problem.
The same applies to food theft. There are dishonest people all over the world and there is always a chance that you will be sharing a fridge with one. However, the way that the hostel deals with it is important.
Does the hostel have a policy where guests need to keep their food contained in a bag and write their name on it? This often deters theft (but not always). Do they have signs in the kitchen stating that food theft will not be tolerated? When you tell them that your food has been stolen, do they seem to care?
At the hostel where my curry lunch was stolen in Buenos Aires I told the staff about the theft. There was nothing they could do, of course, but I thought they should know that there was a dishonest person in our midst. They didn’t really care and in fact, one of the guys said, “Well, some people cook a lot of food to share with others…” Okay, but that’s not what I did. My leftovers-for-one were not for sharing and his defensiveness made me suspicious as to whether he was the culprit. We later learned that particular hostel was notorious for thefts (of other items, not just food) and that the problem had been persisting for years.
Keep Your Stuff Secure
Either way, food theft in hostels isn’t the end of the world. However, it is a good reminder to keep your other more valuable possessions locked up. If someone is happy to help themselves to your pasta, they might also take the opportunity to snatch your iPhone if you leave it charging next to the bed. Use the hostel lockers to keep all of your precious gear secured.
As for your food, keep it wrapped up in the fridge and put your name on it. Try to keep it in a dark coloured plastic bag so the contents can’t be seen and stuff it into the back of the fridge – if it is out of sight it will be less tempting to hungry scavengers. Also, if you have something very valuable or some really yummy leftovers that you don’t want to lose, you can always ask your hostel receptionist very nicely if you can keep it in the staff fridge – in the hostel I am currently in they said yes.
Also, if you have anything that doesn’t need to be refrigerated such as tins of soup or bottles of wine, consider keeping them in your locker rather than in the kitchen.
Of course, this is no guarantee against theft, but it might help to reduce your risk.
Have you ever had an experience with hostel food theft? What happened and how did you deal with it?