Talking about needing money to travel isn’t an easy thing to do but it’s time to do just that. Mainly because I am literally travelling broke right now.
A few weeks ago, while in Bali, I ran into a snag. A money snag. My hotel, where I’d been staying for two weeks, didn’t accept cards – something she told me the day before I left. I had been banking on the fact that I could use my Amex card for it, and was worried when I learned I wouldn’t be able to. Worried to the point that I wondered if I could go out for coffee or go for dinner.
I withdrew as much cash as I could from my own debit card, I emptied my New Zealand bank account, and I drew on my emergency fund. I made up the cash and was able to pay the next morning. I also made sure that my accommodation for the next few days would take a credit card. I held on until Singapore, where I knew I could use my card for everything. Screw the foreign transaction fees.
money money money must be funny…
During my last week in Indonesia, I skipped across to the Gili Islands, on Lombok, where I kept my cash close to me and only paid for the most necessary things. I didn’t put conditioner in my already-dry hair because I didn’t have it, and I made my tiny amount of body wash last me the full week. Honestly, I’ve never felt so worried about money and it was a test of my travel endurance to see if I could do it. Could I book that flight to Kuala Lumpur and get by there for a few days? Would I be able to spend two weeks in Nepal before flying to Europe? I already knew I wouldn’t be able to make Dubai or Eastern Europe a reality, but part of me held on to the maybe.
Money is never fun to talk about. In almost every culture, it is considered inappropriate to discuss it. I grew up never mentioning it; we were instructed to thank our grandparents and extended family for “their generosity” or “the Christmas gift” if they sent any money. I knew very little about what my parents made, salary-wise, I only knew that we could afford to build our own house, travel to Europe, and buy what I needed or wanted. We didn’t have flash cars, my mom didn’t flaunt any jewellery, so I had no benchmark against my peers.
… living in a rich man’s world
When I moved away to college, I came across a different set of person. Ones who had money, and flaunted it. Sorority recruitment was a shock to my system, because I didn’t wear the right Tiffany’s necklace or namedrop the right high school from the right suburb in Columbus or Cincinnati.
Moving abroad to Scotland sent me far away from that. My friends came from all walks of life from all sorts of different countries and we operated on the round system, no matter what we did. Someone paid, and it was known that whoever they paid for would get them back – either that night, or at lunch later, or whatever. Money was never discussed, unless we went away for a weekend and needed to split things equally. Even then, my flatmate and I first offered to pay in fairy dust and porcelain shards – a running joke – before we agreed to deposit the money in Liam’s account.
I’ve always had a job too, sometimes more than one, always worked long hours to sustain my house, dogs, boyfriend, travels, and more. It wasn’t until leaving to work on the boat, though, that I started saved my money. I always operated on the “put a Christmas gift aside” principle but not the bi-weekly paycheck savings. I deposited money into an IRA account, not a savings account.
going for broke
When I quit my job and left for New Zealand, I ran on the remainder of my boat job savings until I ran out, and then I got a job. I went through most of that money just by living, no heed for Future Sarah’s goals. In Australia, I ran on the savings from the sale of my car in NZ, until I ran out. In Bali, I went through the rest of my savings, alternating between transferring payment from writing gigs into my debit account and using them to pay off what I was quickly accumulating on my credit card.
So, let’s talk money honestly. Let’s discuss the downfalls of long-term travel, because so many people skip that step. Go to any big travel blog and look at what they post. They’re sharing stories of the hotel that comped them a night stay, the restaurants that gave them meals, the dive company that prorated their PADI certification. I haven’t come across another writer that has sat here, in a cafe on Gili Air (or anywhere) and said, “guess what guys, I am broke and it’s my fault for travelling so much.”
If you are travelling broke, you are not alone
I repeat, you are not alone. The “begpacker” syndrome that has hit across SE Asia, where broke backpackers sit on the street and beg for money to keep going, is a real thing. I don’t condone it, which is why I haven’t done it. Sitting on a street in a country where the majority of the population makes way less than the average westerner seems horribly backward and pretty fucked up.
My girlfriend here in Kathmandu with me is also broke. We’re constant travellers, moving from place to place, working a job, then moving on. We’ve discussed how we will pay for things, whether buying a wine is good idea or a bad one. It is hard to travel without money, but guess what… we do it anyway. This isn’t a plea for money.
Like the depression post, you don’t want to hear this from me. You have seen my photos, heard my stories, and think that I am exaggerating. I am not.
In Australia, I had several very good writing contracts. I was making a couple hundred a week in freelance writing, but that money went straight back into paying for 6-8 bed dorms in shady parts of cities. I never ate out, I used transfer car to get a free one-way rental car, and I put all of my flights on my credit card, which I then paid the minimum on with part of my freelance money. The week I left Perth, those contracts dried up, and I no longer had money coming in. I sent out 30 bids to different jobs, but didn’t get anything. For a while, in Ubud, I was worried. Very, very worried. Could I even afford to stay in Indonesia for my last week?
where to next
I am making my way doggedly around the world. I stay in places I can afford, barely, because a good night’s sleep is important to me and I had few of those in Australia. I drink copious amounts of coffee. They cost maybe $2 in Asia, but every little bit adds up. I haven’t bought new clothes in months, preferring instead to wear the same shirts over and over again.
It’s also too hot to wear the t-shirts I have, so I rotate through the same four tank tops. I left pieces of clothing in various places across NZ and Australia, yet I am still carrying my torn jeans with me in case I need them in Nepal, in case I go to Nepal. I have a sweater with me, one I haven’t worn since Melbourne, and it takes up space, but what if I need it? I can’t afford to buy others, so I err on the side of caution and keep the clothes I don’t know I’ll need.
(The day after I typed out this post, I tossed the jeans, the sweater, and a few shirts. Did it make space? No. Will I probably want those things in a few weeks? Yes. Edit: I am in Nepal and I don’t need them.) (Double edit: I’m in Iceland and I want them. HA!)
Am I screwing myself over for the satisfaction of seeing the world? Do I go home? Do I give up? I am not a quitter. I cannot see how admitting defeat is practical – I’ll just end up home in a more expensive country with the same amount of money: none. Where is the practicality in that?
Does writing pay much?
No, not at all. It doesn’t. I am supposed to be paying for a course this summer to kickstart my business. Do I have the money for that? Not a cent.
How can I talk about luxury travel to clients if I can’t experience that for myself? That was my train of thought in New Zealand, in Australia. Yes, do that thing, so you can share your experience. Yes, do the other thing, so you can write a review for your blog. Others were more bucket list experiences: scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, flying over the Whitsundays, having a glass of wine in the Rocks in Sydney, wine tasting in Margaret River.
Every little thing adds up, though, and I know I’m reaching the end of my line. So… money is an issue, whether you want to believe it or not, and it’s time we talked about it.
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