7 Ways to Eat for Free on the Road

by Free Traveler on February 23, 2014

a monkey with gum in its moulthMany people ask me, “How in the world did you manage to survive for a year without any money?”

Admittedly, traveling the world without money wasn’t always easy. Finding food everyday was probably the hardest part. As you would expect, I didn’t always eat what I wanted.

However, when true hunger set in after 3 days of nothing to eat, since hunger is the best sauce, everything seemed to taste good. I ate bread so hard it could have doubled as a weapon. I ate cheese so aged it would have made even the most French cheese lover gag, and I don’t even like cheese.

While it was rough at times, going hungry did teach me a few things. For one, I gained an enormous appreciation for food. I became less picky about a little dirt or mold and I learned how to find free food just about anywhere in the world.

So, if you want to travel completely free as I did, or just want to try out a few budget saving techniques, below is a list of 7 inherently non-orthodox ways of finding free food on the road.

1 Become a Condiment Connoisseur – Oui Oui

One of the best things about restaurant chains is that they never have a lack of free condiments. And believe you me, I took full advantage of this. From McDonalds to local chains, I gathered them all. I found that if you adorned a moldy piece of bread with a light pate of ketchup, mustard, and relish, the complimentary flavors would result in pretty scrumptious appetizers.

2 Raid the Maids Carts – Like Tom Cruise

This option is a little less legal. In fact, now that I think of it, it is definitely illegal. However, if you do manage to sneak into a hotel, make it to one of the high roller floors, and raid the maids carts, you won’t be disappointed. Not only will you find all the usual soaps, shampoos, and pens, (good for hygiene and keeping in touch) but you may also often find much need nutrients in the form of mini fridge refills. While you’re up there, be sure to look for leftovers as well. And after eating, you can even try your luck at sneaking into the hotel pool. Be sure to humm the Mission Impossible theme song to get you into the right state of mind.

3 Go Dumpster Diving – Yayyyyyyyyyyy

First, get a running start…Just Kidding. Despite the name, you won’t have to dive and it doesn’t have to be a dumpster. Though it sounds disgusting, you would be surprised at how much clean and edible food you can find in the trash. Think of it more as recycling. The best place to do this is behind supermarkets. Here the food is often only a few days past it’s expiration date. Common foods include, packaged sandwiches, meat, cheese, and bread.  If you go on the right day, it can be a real shmorgishborg. For an extensive guide, check out, How to Dumpster Dive.

4 Take Advantage of Promotions – Like a Cheap Skate

While this only happens in big cities and doesn’t even happen that often, it is nonetheless another way to fill your belly for free. For this to work, simply keep your eye out for people carrying the same dwarf size packs of gum, crackers, or energy drinks. Then, try and follow it to the source and get in line. Once you receive your sample, change your appearance and repeat multiple times. Ok, so it is rather sleazy, but no one will judge you provided they don’t notice.

5 Hit Up Homeless Shelters – Thank You Socialism

Homeless shelters can be found most everywhere and generally offer three meals a day. While the food isn’t 5 star, it beats no food at all. However, while waiting on line, don’t be surprised if the homeless man in front of you starts yelling at you with a Tourettes induced barrage of curses. If you ask me, it’s a small price to pay for some free food, and after a while, you’ll get used to it.

6 Swipe Leftovers – A Classy Move

Nothing says class like somebody who just grabbed a handful of fries from your plate while you were looking back at the homeless guy peeing on the side of the restaurant. And guess what, you can be that somebody. In fact, when the hunger pains become unbearable, you just might have to. The best way to do this is to ask to use the restaurant bathroom. Then on the way in, swipe some food in a napkin from an un-cleared table. I probably don’t have to mention this, but discretion is advised.

7  Beg – Like a Dog

Begging should be used as a last resort mainly because it is just plain low and makes you feel like crap. However, there are many ways to get people to give you food, that isn’t as embarrassing as simply asking. One way is to play the pity card by holding your stomach and looking hungry outside restaurant or bakery windows. Admittedly, it’s not that much better, but it beats asking directly. Again, save this self degrading method for last.

At this point, who wouldn’t want to travel around the world without money. In all seriousness though, it is definitely possible to eat for free. More, much of the time you won’t even have to use the former methods. Whether it be through making friends and mooching off them, or getting free meals from kind restaurant owners, somehow the universe never lets you starve. As long as you’re personable, and think positive, you will always be all right.

By Leif Harum

For more about Leif, his life and adventures check out his blog, The Runaway Guide.

Bio: When Leif was 16 he ran away from home and explored much of Europe and the Middle East without a dime. He is currently working on a book about this journey as he continues to  travel around the world. Through his experiences, advice and adventures, he hopes to prepare, empower, and inspire others to travel.