Travelling can change people. As people stretch their comfort zones, learn new languages, learn about new cultures, and experience how others live, they truly get a lot. An unfortunate fact is, travel costs money. Whether someone is a poor student looking for some time off the grid, or a young family with bills to pay, the cost of hitting the road is significant.
Anthony Bourdain said, “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves a mark on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully you leave something good behind.”
While people can budget and save up for their bucket list vacations, sometimes things go off the rails. Others know they barely have two nickels to rub together, but don’t want to let that get in the way of a new experience. No matter what the cause, a lack of funds is something that hits tourists of any age. While some are generally frugal and looking to save a dime, others have truly run out of options and are doing whatever they can to get by, and sometimes even get back home.
Filmmaker Joseph Garner very publicly tried to live on the kindness of strangers alone for a month, for his documentary Craigslist Joe. Garner travelled across the US for a month relying on the kindness of strangers and posting ads on the famed site Craigslist, while relying on their generosity instead of any form of currency. When talking about his idea which hit him during the Great Recession of 2008 Garner said, "The country was falling apart around me, people losing their homes, people just out on their own. So, I got to thinking: If I lost everything, what would happen? I'd probably be OK, because I have great friends and family. But what if I didn't?"
One of the best kept secrets in the RVing world is that many Walmart locations around North America allow for free overnight camping. Sure, it’s dry and electricity free camping, and you’ll need to make sure you find a dump station somewhere else, as well as a spot to use your generator or fill your water tanks, but again you get what you pay for. Particular sites frequently update which Walmarts allow for this free stay, with many having parking spaces designated for RV parking.
Two German backpackers got the attention of the press after they disobeyed the advice of local police and hunkered down on a footpath in New Plymouth during their travels, where the duo also hitchhiked from Wellington to New Plymouth. Backpackers Joscha Kuehn and Eike Buckup were sleeping on the street to conserve funds after losing most of their cash during a three-month vacation in India. Buckup said of their choice to spend their cash on food and a beer every few nights instead of accommodation, "We see it as an experience. It's a different perspective and you somehow learn to appreciate what you’ve got back home."
Couchsurfing in your home town, or even abroad when you have friends, family, or even acquaintances to rely on is one thing, but Dutch traveller Ciaran Barr decided it would be a good idea to couch surf in war torn Afghanistan to get an ‘authentic experience’. Not exactly the safest price-saving method. Barr said, "You feel like you get a more authentic feel for the city so you don't get trapped in tourist hotspots, "Not that there are any in Afghanistan." Bar spent several nights staying on a thin mattress on the floor of a bedroom belonging to his Afghan native’s home.
The average North American cost of washing and drying a load of laundry ranges from around $1.50 and $4.00 each per load. This means anywhere from three to eight dollars spent on a single load of laundry and that doesn’t account for getting to the laundromat, detergent, or dryer sheets. Since this can add up quickly, particularly for those backpacking and often forced to intermingle dirty and clean clothing, a sensible and cheap option is to wash your clothes in the sink. To hand wash your clothes, plug the drain in the sink, fill it up with warm water, soak your clothes for a few minutes, drain and rinse. If the water is too dirty, add detergent or soap and hand wash each item on its own, then soak for a few minutes, wring out and hang to dry.
Public transit is generally a cheap way to travel, and it’s also an inexpensive way to spend a good portion of your night if you’ve run out of money and have no place to stay. Frequent traveller Nathan Agin says that train and bus stations are a good option for camping out overnight but cautions, “You never know who else might be hanging out at these, so is perhaps a less-desirable option than the others, but transit stations are usually open 24/7.” Zicla blog reports that there are only a few cities in the world with 24-hour public transit, so if you’re travelling in New York, Melbourne, Copenhagen, Chicago, or Tokyo you can ride the bus or subway all night long.
It’s not uncommon for broke backpackers to save the little cash they have by hitchhiking from place to place. Regular Hitchhiker and Blogger Lisa says one of the best ways to get a ride without a misunderstanding is to have a local who also speaks English to write a letter and hitchhiking sign to explain her needs and lack of funds. Lisa says her letter generally said something like, “Hello! I am travelling round Asia. I do not travel by plane or by bus. I travel by walking or by sharing the car or bike of kind people. If you could take me to the next city, or just a few kilometres, it would be really helpful! Unfortunately, I can’t pay you money. Thank you!”
It pays to be prepared, especially when you know you’re going to be broke for your trip. The Bloggers at Overland Way said they spent two years building and preparing their car using free and generously donated materials and tools as they knew that it would be where they’d be living for the next three years. Traveller Michaela says of their car, “We built ours with our own hands using the tools and materials we could find (a lot of which came from (curbside junk collecting).”
Many discount or shorter flights don’t have TVs attached to each seat. Broke travellers like this one don’t have the money or inclination to rent a tablet from the airline to entertain them, so instead of reading the free inflight magazine they improvise using their own personal cell phone or tablet. Emma Martell says, “If your plane is somehow lacking in personal TVs, you can create your own with your phone and a clear plastic bag. Simply insert your device, position it, then hook it onto the back of the tray-table.”
Pool crashing isn’t just for teens in a stranger’s backyard, who are bored in the summer. It’s also a pastime of broke tourists who want to live the poolside life but have zero funds to pay for the corresponding hotel. Kristy says, “Sometimes it pays to be a little sneaky. Like when staying in budget accommodation in SE Asia, the 5-star resorts will often let you use their pool for free so long as you buy a drink.” Sites like The Tab even offer broke tourists tips on the easiest luxury pools to sneak into at various locales. For example, it’s not too hard for tourists in Athens to sneak into the pools at The Lodge, The Station, The Retreat or The Ikon.
People who are travelling across large expanses of land or through different seasons can find that it’s helpful, particularly when they run out of money, to sell gear they no longer need. Come May or June, that winter parka is just taking up space, and can add at least tens of dollars to your pocket. Flea markets in various towns, or local Facebook groups can be a wonderful way to unload your gear quickly and for profit. Canadian travellers who need cash can find it helpful to attend a gear swap to get some money for their gear, although generally it will be for around 80 percent less than what it retailed for. With over 22 locations in Canada, contact the store in the city where you’re staying to find out if you can stumble upon a gear sale.
Anyone who has ever worked with a trip budget for a lengthy journey knows that accommodation is the biggest cash suck. Overland Bloggers, who slept in their car for a year while travelling on the road say, “Let’s say you pay a very conservative $30 a night to stay in a motel for example – after a year of travelling you’ll have spent close to $11,000.” Many of these broke or thrifty travellers value the length of their adventure over comfort and opt to sleep in their car instead of at a campsite or even a cheap motel.
Most people who sleep at the airport don’t really plan on it, but for others it can be a viable option, particularly at the end of a journey, during a delay, when there is no more cash to book a night’s stay at a hotel near the airport (which are quite expensive). Many stuck travellers rely on tips from sites like Sleeping In Airports to make their night in the airport safer and a lot more comfortable. Traveller BR Valentine says, “Thanks to a tip from the sleeping in airports website I found the reclining padded wheelchairs and slept in one of them.”
Frequent traveller and avid cyclist Tom Allen recognizes how stressful and expensive it is to pay for accommodations, which is why he rarely does it. Tom says, “My introduction to wild camping was crossing Europe back in 2007, when a lack of money made it a necessity. In four months of cycling from England to Turkey, I spent a total of five nights in paid accommodation. It was difficult and stressful – at first. But soon, the realisation that it was not only possible but actually relatively easy was a true revelation. Since then, I’ve spent over a decade relying on the wild camp for overnighting during my travels on six continents.”
Point Me To The Plane Blog recently revealed that one in three Chinese tourists pack instant ramen noodles when travelling to save money. That’s a lot of noodles, and a lot of money saved when you can’t afford to buy restaurant or grocery food for every meal. In addition to those who pack noodles, “Another 58% of tourists might not pack them, but will buy them once they are at their destination.” A photo went viral a few years ago of several Chinese women noshing on their instant noodles while in front of a Gucci store in Florence, Italy. Who said thrifty can’t be ‘fashionable’?
On the road with an instrument and don’t have enough money for gas or a train ticket home. Street performers or tourists who dip their feet into the water of street performance can make a lot of money quickly. Tricks to bring in the most cash quickly include, picking high traffic areas (without other competing performers nearby), selecting songs that passerby’s will recognize, and making it easy for people to donate. Remember a good sign in the language of the country of where you are, about why you need the funds never hurt, just the same be aware of busking laws, as you could end up with a ticket for more than what you made.
Whether this is the plan from the beginning, or something you fall into when finances dry up, teaching English abroad can be a great way to earn some cash when things seem dire. Blogger The Broke Backpacker says, “Teaching English abroad is a fantastic way to stretch your funds and to see the world at the same time. Teaching English abroad has, for a long time, been my back-up for when I run out of funds on the road and I know a lot of people who have scored jobs teaching English in China; one of the best places to earn a decent income whilst exploring a truly amazing, truly different, culture.”
Some people manage to make it all the way back home only to find their bank account drained, and no cab fare to get home. It’s worth rolling the dice and taking a trip like these folks did, to the Tax Return Stand. While every country has a slightly different purchase it is worth checking to see if you can claim back the taxes on purchases made over the course of your trip. While it may not be a lot of money, it’s worth a shot, the worst they’ll say is no.
Whether you’re travelling and run out of funds or are waiting on that e-transfer from the bank of mom and dad, hostels know that they have many guests who are broke and could use a free place to stay, so they routinely offer up shifts to travellers without cash. Budget Traveller says, “Most hostels need cleaners and reception workers and many offer work exchange programmes where you work a few hours per day in exchange for free accommodation.” Raponchii says you can get free travel fare if you’re willing to help out with, “some shipping companies, where if you lend a hand, they take you to your destination at no cost.” Some food for thought the next time you’re stranded far from home.
Being broke means there is always a need to be resourceful, even if you must take some extra fruit, muffins, or whatever else from the hostel provided free meals. Frequent travellers without spare cash tell Hostel World, “It may seem obvious, but SO many hostels offer free food. Yeah of course breakfast is often a given, but there are hostels all over the world that provide baked goods, BBQ, pizza nights and loads more. Stock up on free eats to take with you while you’re off adventuring for the day! “
Being broke doesn’t mean that you can’t live like a tourist. You just need to adjust your bucket list to include free stuff. Traveller Kristy says of her time touring with very little cash, “Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Go on a free old city walking tour with SANDEMAN Tour Company at 11am & 2pm. Ahhh-mazing!” There are places all over the world that offer such tours, often run by knowledgeable volunteers who can provide a taste of the city you’re visiting. So, grab some free Wi-Fi and find out where the next tour is happening, no matter how little shrapnel is in your pocket.
You never know about free food unless you take the time to ask. Blogger Travis Hornsby of Millennial Moola says, “When I checked into the hostel, I met these two really friendly English women who told me about this big free food stash shown above. It had all the bread, tortillas, tea, coffee, PB&J and spices/sauces you could want. I realized that this would make cooking imminently doable since all the staples were mine for free.” Hornsby also adds that by talking to people who are leaving shortly, you may be able to get them to generously ‘donate’ the food that they had in the fridge, but are going to be leaving behind, to you.
There are a lot of things that make vacations expensive - accommodation is a major one. People who find themselves filled with Wanderlust but no funds often house sit to ‘find out how the others live’ which affords them the lap of luxury at virtually no cost. Travel writer Matthew Kepness told Insider, "Can't afford your vacation? Watch someone's house while they go on theirs. You can sign up for one of these sites and watch people's homes for free, allowing you to stay in one destination for a while and get to know it well without having to pay for accommodation. Bonus: you get a kitchen to cook your food (which saves you even more money!)"
Data fees add up fast and there is nothing worse than breaking your budget on data before you even leave the ground. This is why broke travellers are looking to steal free Wi-Fi wherever they can get it, because sometimes buying that cup of coffee from the coffee shop really is too much for their budget. Consider situating yourself directly outside the first-class lounge in the airport, or outside of a fancy restaurant that is known for offering free Wi-Fi to its customers. Social sharing sites like Foursquare can be used to show tourists who offers Wi-Fi for free and what some hotspot passwords are.
While this may be a better choice for those who are running short on money than completely broke, it’s often a good option to offer to review a place and use your online influence to get free stuff. Full-time travel blogger from Practical Wanderlust says she plays the blogger card to enjoy, “Free meals, films, drinks; all that kind of stuff. Companies all over the world are looking for people to try out their wares, test their staff and give feedback. It involves very little work and is pretty enjoyable, really, so why not apply to be a market researcher in the country you’re travelling and get all the things for free.”
Sources: This Is Insider, The National