Life as a Broke Backpacker

Life as a Broke Backpacker

Broke Backpacker

In my early days as a solo traveller, there was a lot of buzz around the notion of being a “broke backpacker”- that is, travelling so extensively that you don’t have a dime to your name, but are nevertheless happy because you’re living like a vagabond on the beach in a land far, far away. For some, that would seem daunting and very unappealing, but for Wanderlusters like me, it’s alluring – or so I thought it was.

It wasn’t until 2012, after several years of solo travel, that I realized I still hadn’t experienced life of a broke backpacker – something that was almost like a rite of passage for young travellers. And so, like many others, I decided to aimlessly wander off to Southeast Asia and Australia.

I got off to a great start by gallivanting through Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, where I spent a quite a bit of time living the good life: swinging from vines in the jungle, eating mysterious street food, meditating in temples, paddling through floating villages, and the list goes on… I was having the time of my life and my cash flow seemed endless. What I had yet to learn, however, was that Australia was one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit, and it just so happened to be my next stop and the longest leg of my travels.

Fortunately, I had already secured a Working Holiday Visa. But to my surprise, it was quite difficult to find suitable work, and the few jobs that I did land were only short-term assignments. The cost of renting an apartment on my own in Sydney was astronomical, and food was about 2-3 times the cost of what I was accustomed to in Asia. It goes without saying that I therefore raced through the “honeymoon phase” of life Down Under and was abruptly met with a very harsh reality: the funds remaining in my travel bank were only enough to get me to the end of the week!

 

Luck was on my side that week, because I was somehow able to secure my first long-term job and apartment, but I still had to undergo a major lifestyle change if I wanted to see another week in Australia:

  • My weekly grocery list could be at max $15 and would consist of: Ramen, frozen spinach or broccoli, 2 apples, bread and eggs. Fun Fact: I learned that you could actually purchase an entire loaf of bread for $1.00!
  • My social life would have to be put on hold because one pint at a bar would equal half my weekly grocery allowance
  • Instead of using public transport, I would walk (or run) everywhere. On the plus side, I was in the best shape of my life!
  • Shopping for clothes was completely out of the question, so a solid outfit rotation was essential.

 

Needless to say, it was quite a difficult adjustment, but it was a great learning experience.

Here are 4 Things I Learned from my Life as a Broke Backpacker:

 

  1. The value of a dollar, literally: It’s so important to understand how far your money will take you on your travels relative to the local cost of living. I clearly didn’t consider this major factor prior to arriving in Australia.
  2. Material goods really aren’t important: When you’re struggling to find somewhere to live or yearning for something better than Ramen noodles, outfits and gadgets suddenly have no meaning or importance.
  3. You can’t travel without money: That vagabond lifestyle that I once found alluring is so unrealistic (at least for me it is). Even though I somehow squeezed by on a low-budget vegetarian diet and a shoebox of an apartment, I found that there was so much that I was unable to see because I didn’t have enough money. Travel is about the experience: seeing the sights, tasting the food, and exploring – all of which will cost you, even if it is on a budget.
  4. If you’re going to be a broke backpacker, do it in the right place – it’s all about planning: I know I just said you can’t really travel without money, but if you find yourself running low on funds while you’re globetrotting, it’s better to be situated somewhere other than a thriving metropolis like Sydney, for example. Be smart about where you’re going and think about how far you can stretch your currency. In retrospect, I could’ve had I gone to Australia at the beginning of my trip when I had more money, I would have had a totally different experience. 

 

It was tough, but I am still so grateful for the experiences I had during my time in Australia.

How Saigon Brought Me to Tears

How Saigon Brought Me to Tears

war remnants museum buildingAs I’ve said many times before, Ho Chi Minh City just didn’t do it for me. It was too Westernized and tourist-centric, leaving me totally disconnected, which was a vast difference from my time spent in Northern Vietnam. I will however, credit Saigon for gifting me with one powerful and touching memory. Read more

Inching My Way Down to Central Vietnam…

Inching My Way Down to Central Vietnam…

central vietnam

I was so looking forward to taking a pleasant scenic train ride along the Vietnam countryside heading for Hoi An. I certainly didn’t expect a bullet train, but neither did I expect snail rail. When I purchased my train ticket from the agent, she provided detailed instructions on how to locate the correct platform and train. Now, there’s something about Hanoi, that even knowing what to expect sends me into panic mode when I see crowds of people rushing around. It was about 6pm when I checked my watch and looked down at my sheet of instructions, according to which I was not permitted to enter the platform until 6:45pm. But suddenly, the big platform doors were flung open and it was as if the entire station jumped up from their seats and made a mad rush for the doors. Read more

Wandering through Southeast Asia

Wandering through Southeast Asia

thailand beach

I was in Southeast Asia, which just so happens to be the perfect place to wander.

After completing my volunteer placement in Hanoi, I decided to forfeit my plane ticket to Australia, leaving me with the realization that I had all the time in the world, with no restriction on where to go or how to do it. Being in that position was rare for most people, especially me, so I just took it and ran with it. Read more

From the Hanoi to Saigon…Are you sure I don’t need a passport to enter?

From the Hanoi to Saigon…Are you sure I don’t need a passport to enter?

ha long bay, hanoi, vietnam

I was expecting subtle differences going from Hanoi to Saigon, but instead I felt like I had entered a different country.

I was already anticipating a different experience than my time in Hanoi simply because I would no longer be a volunteer living with the locals, but rather a backpacker staying in the tourist district. Upon my arrival in Saigon, I had such an odd feeling because I was accustomed to living in Cau Giay (Hanoi), where everyone always stared at me thinking I was a lost tourist in their neighbourhood. I recall getting looks of shock and awe as I jumped off the moving bus with the other locals, weaved my way through traffic, and headed into the residential neighbourhood everyday after work. When I got out of my taxi in Saigon, I was expecting the usual stares from the locals, but no one even looked at me!

Read more