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. That being said, 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, 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.