Backpacking Without Money: 8 ways you can continue & thrive
Long term traveling is different and so is budgeting/funding
Long term traveling is a different kettle of fish to short term traveling and in turn so is budgeting and funding a long term trip. For a short term trip you know the date you will return, in most cases the trip is not for long and there is an end date so budgeting can actually be simpler. You save, and budget for the amount of time you’re away knowing when you return you will most likely have income coming back in.
However for long term travel how do you budget when you don’t know when you’ll return? It’s actually that thought that puts many off long term travel in the first place; thinking you can’t afford it. — Here’s the thing you can afford it.
Before we go further, I just want to point out this isn’t one of those travel the world for free type posts. Nothing is free, however there are lots of ways you can make traveling very cheap and stretch funds.
Go with whatever we can…
There is a very simple trick to make traveling the world possible when we don’t think we can afford it. That is to save for the initial period. This becomes easier the more experienced you become. For a short term trip, people budget for that set amount of time. For a long term trip with no end date, you save for the initial part. You save whatever you can, sell what you don’t need, strip away your spending and take everything you have.
Your aim is to stretch that money for as long as possible whether that’s 1 month, 3 months, 6 months or even a year. We do that because we know there will come a point where we’re backpacking without money and will have to replenish funds to carry on.
Now some of you may think that notion is ridiculous but that’s what us long term travelers do. I left England in 2010 with just £600 to my name and turned into a nomad traveling solo for over 10 years. I’m what you could call an expert at backpacking without money and making depleted travel funds stretch.
That’s stupid, I will not be backpacking without money!
“I wont run out of money traveling, I’m not stupid” — Yeah, that’s what we all say before we start traveling long term. We don’t think it will happen to us, we’ve done our research, we know to be frugal, or we just don’t start traveling without having enough money. — But then it happens.
It’s gut wrenching, like we’ve been smashed over the head with a sledgehammer — Questions start flying out like: How did this happen to me? — Where has my money gone? What do I do? How will I survive?
You took your eye off the ball that’s what happened, you miscalculated and misjudged. But It’s ok, it happens to the majority of us and it can happen to you for a number of reasons such as:
- You’re still new and getting used to prices
- Not understanding currency properly yet
- Miscalculating expenditure
- Spending too much in overpriced tourist zones
- Not understanding the dynamics and mechanics at play
- Locals over charging you because they see you as a tourist
- You’re caught up in the whirlwind of travel life and forgetting how much you’re spending
- It’s your first few weeks you were just enjoying yourself
- You got ripped off/scammed/conned and didn’t know about it
- Didn’t want to come across like you didn’t have much money and spent when you shouldn’t have
- Not aware of certain charges — banks, surcharges, exchange rates, tipping etc
There are lots of reasons you can find yourself backpacking without money and funds can deplete quicker than you anticipated but there’s no need to panic. It’s part of your traveling education and the quicker you accept your traveling funds will run dry and you will be backpacking without money at some point the easier it becomes to cope, get over and even flourish.
Your mentality and ability to learn plays a big part
At some point you will be backpacking without money and your mentality will be crucial in how you over come it. If your mind is not in the right place, if you start feeling sorry for yourself it will be harder.
The reality is, the first time it happens, it has the potential to send you spiralling down a dark hole. You may make excuses, blame others, feel sorry for yourself. You can allow in your own self pity, question why you’re even bothering and even be ready to give up on traveling. You have to fight it, be willing to go through the proverbial shit pipe to smell the roses and that comes from having a mental toughness.
I won’t lie, backpacking without money can be tough, there will be hard times, it can get rough but if you fight and accept it, it can be so fulfilling.
Backpacking without money long term is part of everyday life
When you realise It’s not that bad to run out of money, your mind will expand, you will learn to do things for much cheaper. It’s only when you start running out of money or are backpacking without money that you fully grasp what you can do for so cheap because you seek it out more.
You shift your mind to realising holiday mode is over, while you have your initial funds it just feels like a holiday. Once your travel funds become depleted you realise this is everyday life now, you come out of holiday mode and you start treating it as normal life and actively look at ways to cut costs.
Break your expenditure down
Nobody is perfect to start with, it takes a few mistakes, experience, and experimenting to get to a point where you know what you’re doing. And in the first few months you’re not going to be perfect so don’t beat yourself up if you overspend; It’s all part of your education. Let’s not kid ourselves everything is still new, you’re still getting used to how things work and temptation to spend is all around you. You’re human; It’s natural.
A good trick to learn is to break your traveling costs into little components in your head, It becomes easier to manage.
Split it up into:
Essentially that’s where most your expenditure will go. Of course there will be money spent for other smaller things. Your job is to cut and strip costs down. By doing this you can go from spending $40- $50 a day (some people think that’s a tight budget) to $20 a day and in some countries even less.
Your education begins
While It’s easier to stick with what you know or what lonely planet or your favourite blogger told you, It’s much more worthwhile to learn for yourself and listen to locals even do as they do.
- Take stock of where you are
- As you’re walking around look at prices of things
- how much does one café compare to another
- Look out for markets, don’t be afraid to eat in local eateries because guess what — you’re going to have a real home cooked meal there and not in that ‘authentic or traditional restaurant.
As you break costs down, you start noticing new doors open up, things you didn’t know about or thought were possible became so cheap and in some cases Free. All of a sudden even though you’re traveling or backpacking without money it becomes fun. You start seeking and exploring avenues to make things even cheaper and before you know it you’re living and traveling like a local would do.
Food and drinks are your constant. You’re going to spend money on it no matter what. During those first few weeks because you don’t know any better. You will usually start off eating and drinking in popular establishments, most likely in the tourist zones, buying things from shops you see on the main roads, well known cafes etc. However you are more than likely to kick yourself when you find the same things much cheaper.
Ways to cut costs of food and drinks:
- Move away from the tourist areas, sometimes just a block or two away is much cheaper
- Don’t be afraid to eat where the locals do
- Find local eateries
- Cook for yourself rather than eating out
- Shop in local markets instead of supermarket chains — produce will be fresher and cheaper
- Cook in bulk to last a few days
- If staying in a hostel or other shared accommodation group together and cook for each other
- If your hostel provides a free breakfast or meal take advantage of it, but don’t moan because It’s not hotel quality
- You can buy simple ingredients for virtually pennies like rice, pasta, eggs, veg
- If you enjoy cooking — make a deal, you will cook if others buy ingredients — in hostels great way to save money and make friends
- If drinking water out the tap is safe, do that instead of buying bottles of water all the time
- Drink in local cafes rather than big international chains
- Think about if you really need to buy that second cup of coffee
- Find smaller cafes in side streets
- Buy local alcohol over imported
- Be friendly, get to know locals. In some cases once they start to recognise you, it prices drop
- Realise in some places there is a local price and a touristy price
- If you’re into other recreations substances, seek out local people who will give you a better deal and more quality — ask around, be friend people in the know
While it may not seem to make that much difference to begin with, in some cases it might be a few peenies here and there but overtime they add up and you can end up saving so much money.
Transport and accommodation
While food and drinks will be your constant expenditure, transport and accommodation will take the largest chunk and without being careful it can rinse your funds dry.
Again it will come with experience, the first few times you may overspend but It’s not as simple as saying just pick the cheapest option. With transport and accommodation you need to strike a balance between cost, safety and comfort.
Instead of taking transport around the local area — just walk. It’s the best way to explore and get your bearings when you first arrive
- Look for the best mode of transport to get around
- If moving between countries, check if flying is cheaper than land travel
- Subways/metro/underground are largely very cheap but look into passes and discount cards
- Take buses, shared transport rather than hiring a driver or tourist coaches
- When moving around nationally or long distance do your research into the best options
- If renting or buying a vehicle check around, check bulletin boards, notice boards to find your best option — Don’t just walk into a rental showroom or at the airport and take what’s offered straight away
- Do your due diligence if renting or buying a vehicle — you don’t want to spend your budget on constantly fixing problems
- In certain countries you need to agree on the price of a ride before getting in like with Tuk-tuks and off the meter taxis
- Be careful with Taxis, with the rise of Uber and other privatised taxis, traditional once will try rip you off because they can see you’re a tourist
- Find a balance between comfort and price — Some luxury options are not worth it, and some journeys can be back breaking
As a long term traveler who’s backpacking without money or close to funds being depleted you’re obviously no going to stay in resorts or five star hotels but you can find ways to save more money:
Again find a balance in cost and comfort
- If your backpacking funds run dry do look for cheaper alternatives
- Hostels are great budget travel accommodation and great place to meet fellow travelers
- Hotels are really a viable option when trying to converse money
- Walk around the local area and see if there is accommodation that isn’t listed on comparison sites — You find some good bargains without compromising on comfort
- Check bulletin boards, notice boards in local cafes, posters on lampposts for shared accommodation — if somebody is looking for a roommate.
- Slow down. Sometimes you can get a long termer rate for staying longer, it works out cheaper
- To save on rent, or to even get a bed for free look at working in hostels, or look into volunteering, homestays and housesitting
- Start camping — a great way to save money and you can camp out in some amazing and picturesque locations and get in touch with nature
For the majority the primary reason to travel in the first place is to discover, explore, see and do things all over the world and experience the world. Your time is going to be filled mainly by activities, doing tours and excursions filling minds with unforgettable memories — but that costs money.
When you start running out of money traveling, those activities and tours slow down, sometimes it can get to a point where you have to miss out on something you’ve always wanted to experience. However this is the time you can get creative, so you don’t completely miss out.
It’s important to note, one of the reasons people run out of money quickly while traveling is because they do things too quickly. Take your time, you’re a long term traveler, time is on your side, you do not need to have crammed itineraries, or over plan. In fact the more lucid your plans the better but that comes with experience.
- Research well but don’t over plan; there’s a big difference in knowing what to do and actually paying and planning for everything at once
- Talk to locals, they are your best guides not your favourite blogger, vlogger or guidebook
- Read between the lines when reading blogs that implore you not to miss something, a lot of the times they are paid or sponsored to write that post (might put a few noses out of place)
- Break trips, tours down — If you want to do something but can’t afford an organised tour, see ways you can do it yourself.
- Get creative, look into excursions, is there tourist prices and entrance fees as apposed to local prices (It’s very common)
- Are there days that are cheaper or even free. Is it better to visit during the week or weekend
- What’s the best option to get there — is there local transport that can take you, can you walk or cycle?
- Do you need to stay overnight, if so are there cheaper accommodation just outside the area
- Are there local places to eat or is it better to take your own food
- Can you arrive at the location by yourself rather than an overpriced tour
- If you really want to do a tour, don’t just take the first price, shop around look for more
- Learn to haggle it will hep you out no end
- Are there less popular ‘hidden gems’ you can explore for free instead of that popular spot
- Can a local be your guide rather than paying for one. Do you even need a guide
Of course it’s not always possible to travel independently and there will be times you need to do organised tours or activities for safety reasons but always do your research well.
There are going to be other expenditures along the way, you’ll end up spending money without realising it sometimes but there will come a time when you need to be conscious of that too.
- Be wary of hawkers, street merchants and people trying to sell you things. In most cases that authentic souvenir you think you’re buying is mass produced. Unless you are in a remote area and seen the personal make it themselves they’re more than likely scamming you
- Slow down you’re a long term traveler, take your time, if you’ve overspent one day try to do nothing the next to balance out.
- Have down days, there is nothing wrong with having days where you do nothing. You can save on money by not spending and just chillout. Pay a weeks rent in advance, do some food shopping for the week and then you don’t have to spend money.
- Don’t take traveling life too seriously just because you can’t spend too much doesn’t mean you have to be too serious about it
- If you’re a smoker (like myself) turn to tobacco instead of cigarettes most of the time It’s cheaper and lasts longer
Replenish funds when backpacking without money
As mentioned at the top of this post, there is going to come a time when the dreaded ‘0’ hits our bank accounts and we’re out of money. The reason there is no need to panic is because there are always ways to replenish and continue your travel life.
I want to make it abundantly clear at this point there is no reason for you to start begging and become a begpacker though! In 10 years of traveling the world I’ve never had to beg when I’ve ran out of money. I’ve always found a way to replenish my funds and so can you.
There are different ways to replenish and what visa you’re on does affect it to a certain amount but not all the way.
- If you’re on a working holiday visa you can work legally in any job that employs you. You can work for one single company for up to 6 months (but there are loopholes)
- There is possibilities of sponsorship (but that’s a long game
- You can get rural work
- If you don’t need a visa then you can apply for any job you want or have the skill set for
If your visa doesn’t permit you to get a job, don’t worry there are ways around it
- Work in the hostel
- See if local builders, construction jobs are available
- Cash in hand jobs (nothing on the books and no tax records)
- Exchange work for food and drink
- Volunteer programs (Woofing, work exchange)
- Work on a farm in a rural area
- Odd jobs in the local area
- Walking tour guides/ promotional work
- Teach online
- Work online id you have the skillset — freelancing etc
- See if you can do your old job remotely
- Get creative, if you can make things, trinkets, pottery etc you can sell them
Backpacking without money over time turns you into a savvy traveler
Like with everything in life, over time you gain experience, you learn (sometimes) from your mistakes and that’s the case with backpacking without money or making your depleted funds stretch. The first time it happens you may panic, but over time, with experience it gets easier to manage, cope and even thrive.
There are so many long term travelers who have become savvy frugal travelers, who can adapt to different situations and circumstances, know how to juggle budgets, and have a tighter grip on their bare bones funds. Once you crack it, you can go days without spending, you can have days without a penny to your name knowing money comes and goes.
When you get to that point, backpacking without money will come naturally, you’ll have a sixth sense of how to stretch your funds, where to look for the cheapest options and seek out lesser known places from locals with confidence.
Want more deep insights about long term travel like this? — You can find it in my debut book: You, Yourself & the World
Originally posted on Forever Roaming the World