Hitchhiking in Europe : Where to get Food and Water ?

After numerous kilometers hitchhiked around the world and especially in Europe, I’m hoping to write a comprehensive and complete guide about how to hitchhike in Europe that will help you to do the same while answering your questions. In this second article of the Hitchhiking in Europe series, I’ll focus on how to get food and water for free or on a very low cost. Don’t underestimate their importance, you need to eat and drink enough in order to have enough energy to handle the unexpected ! Food can also become the main part of your budget once you manage to reduce your transportation and accommodation cost. Let’s see together how to reduce the food budget !

I also wrote a complete article on Where to sleep for free in Europe, feel free to have a look before the start of your journey.


Contents | Where to get Food and Water ?

Water

  1. Tap water
  2. Hitchhiking
  3. Boil water
  4. Fill your bottle

Food

  1. Carry some camping gear
  2. Dumpster Diving
  3. Asking bakeries for leftovers
  4. Table Diving
  5. Markets
  6. Supermarkets
  7. Wild Plants
  8. Fasting

Water

Luckily, you can drink the tap water in most countries in Europe. Therefore you only need to find a tap to refill your bottle. First here’s a map :

Where is it safe to drink tap water in Europe ?

Tap Water in Europe : Where is it safe to drink ?

Source : European Union Commission, Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, World Health Organization, Can you drink tap water in Croatia ?, How good is tap water in Belarus ?, Water in Ukraine

You should always ask locals first in case of any doubt.That’s always one of the first questions I ask when I arrive in a new country.

Please be aware that even in countries where the tap water is safe to drink, you could be sick due to your body being used to a different composition of water, on top of that it could also taste bad or different despite being safe. Some countries have a higher level of minerals for instance, and that could upset your stomach.

Nevertheless I drink tap water everywhere locals do it, and I’m still alive.

Hitchhiking

I noticed that, often, in countries where tap water was not safe to drink, people who would pick you in their cars might be more likely to provide you some water to drink.

Boil water

A good option would be to just boil water at night, let it cool down overnight and pour it in your bottle the next morning so that you have enough water to go through the day. It would require you to have access to a kitchen or enough camping gear to boil water.

Tip : Get a stainless bottle, pouring boiled water in a plastic bottle releases chemical elements that are harmful for your health.

A kettle with boiled water
It would have been a shame to make a complete article without the picture of a kettle

Find a dispenser to fill your bottle (banks, museums…)

There are a decent amount of places where you can fill your bottle. In my experience, I often find some in museums or in banks. You could go to a bank, ask for the exchange rate and fill your bottle on the way out for instance. It surely won’t bother anyone.

A water dispenser
From experience, picture a dispenser and it will appear when you need it the most !

Food

If you’re hitchhiking, please be aware that the food in rest areas is usually very expensive in Europe. Especially in my home country, France, where it can be triple the normal price. Therefore eating there is not an option. You would better prepare something to eat before or carry your own material to cook.

Sadly, in Europe, we waste 1/3 of the food we’re producing. The least to say is that food wasting is a huge problem here. Even though mentalities are starting to change on this matter, there’s still a lot of waste food, therefore this fact opens possibilities for you to eat.

Carry camping gear to cook anywhere

One option that I seriously considered was to carry my own kitchenware in order to be able to cook pretty much anywhere. When looking to buy gear, you have to think practical. It’s important to find a cooking set that can be compacted when you don’t need it in order to take less space. Cooking your own food works perfectly when coupled with camping in the nature. In the end I didn’t do it for a simple reason : the weight !

A photo of a camping cooking gear
That’s a pretty good example, but it takes space and makes your backpack heavier !

Dumpster Diving

It works well in Europe because we are wasting so much food. There’s a website with lots of information about how and where to dumpster dive called Trashwiki. Dumpster diving will normally be easier in Western Europe than Eastern Europe, simply because Western Europeans tend to throw away more food and have less people in need.

Bear doing dumpster diving
Don’t feel any shame, not only humans are doing this !

My favorite : Asking bakeries for leftovers

Very similar to dumpster diving, I found that one efficient technique is to ask bakeries if they have any leftovers that they are going to throw away. I start by introducing myself and explaining why I would need these leftovers, and if I get a positive answer then the staff will urge me to come back around the closing hour. This is my favorite way of getting food. Feel free to ask a local to write a message in the local language to explain what you’re doing, it works better.

Hitchhiking in Europe : Where to get Food and Water ? 1
Imagine what happened to them if they can’t sell them ?

Table Diving

I’m truly not crazy about doing this but well let’s make this list as complete as possible. Table diving means to go to a restaurant, usually a food court, and eat whatever people left on their plate. Imagine yourself going to a fast food, and eat the fries that someone left on his plate, this is table diving. I did it a few times and it definitely works.

Leftover in a fast food restaurant
Yes that’s pretty much how it looks.

Markets

Local markets are a good option to get food. Depending on your budget, you could buy cheap vegetables and fruits or just ask sellers if they have anything that they’re not going to sell.

Hitchhiking in Europe : Where to get Food and Water ? 2
Don’t be afraid, just ask !

Supermarkets

If the possibilities above don’t attract you, you could simply go to a supermarket and buy the things that you need. You could make a sandwich after buying bread and the rest of the ingredients to have a quick lunch. If you have enough time and an access to a kitchen or a cooker, you could get pasta, instant noodles, lentils or rice.

Wild plants

This technique is famous because of the movie “Into the Wild”. You could survive or complete your diet by picking edible plants in the wild, such as mushrooms or berries. It requires you to have good knowledge on this matter, so you should definitely do that with a comprehensive book on the subject. Mistakenly eating the wrong mushroom can lead you straight to the hospital, be careful !

A mushroom in the forest
Edible or not? You’d better know before trying !

Fasting is good for health

This is something I try to convince my mind when I’m on the road. The feeling of hunger can be regulated by your brain ! Several studies have shown that fasting can actually be good for your health

Conclusion

I like to see hitchhiking as a way to push my limits and challenge myself. Finding new creative ways to lower my budget is always something I aim for. At some point in my life, I used to travel Europe without any money. It’s not necessarily something I enjoyed or that I would do again, but it was only a challenge with myself. I got used to stand hunger, and more importantly to deeply respect food.

Sadly, this experience helped me to realize how much food we are currently wasting. I personally know of travelers who have managed to survive only with eating from dumpster diving. The tap water is safe to drink almost everywhere in Europe, unless in a few remote areas, so you’ll surely won’t ever need to buy any bottled water.

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Maxime

A young father following his dream of travelling the world, now joined by HiuYing, his wife, and Darian, their first son.
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