(Last Updated On: June 17, 2018)

Backpacking without money: when it runs out! – Is Part 3 of the Long-term budget traveling realism’s series.

This post is for long-term budget travelers and backpackers who plan to travel for months and years on end. This has no relevance for those who take short holidays or set timeframe trips. 

When your funds run dry and coping with backpacking without money!

I’ll make no bones about it, backpacking without money or running out of it can undoubtedly be one of the worst situations and feelings a backpacker can have. A real low point for backpackers, It can make you feel really shitty about yourself and travel, incompetent and at times even depressed. Self-doubt takes over and you question yourself about why you’re even bothering to continue. It can ruin your whole traveling experience…That’s if you allow it to!

I’m not stupid!

You might be shaking your head saying, “Well I’m not stupid enough to get into this situation, I won’t be backpacking without money” – Yup, I hear you loud and clear but here’s the thing – Shit happens when you’re long-term budget traveling and it could happen to you!

Yes, sometimes it’s our own stupidity, our own fault, or because we’ve taken our eye off the budget. There are times when we can miss calculate exchange rates, not realized how expensive a country is, or we’ve just overspent.

However, there are also times when it’s out of our hands, an accident or injury incurring medical costs that the insurance doesn’t cover. Or, getting robbed/mugged, fraud on our accounts, and sometimes it’s just the case that we don’t want to go home.

This is another traveling realism that can happen to anybody at some point. It just depends on how you look at it like it’s the end of the world or put a positive spin on it.

The end of the world…

Put yourself in these shoes for a minute; You’re in a foreign country and far away from home. Your money has dried up, nothing to fall back on, no way of borrowing more money from family back home either. Money for rent, food, transport and bare essentials is drying up fast…You find yourself stuck in a dark hole and can’t see a way out.

backpacking without money

Your mind over thinks, how will you eat? Where are you going to stay? How are you going to survive? You start beating yourself up for getting into this mess. Sometimes you even deflect and start blaming others, convincing yourself it was their fault.

I’m sure you’re getting the picture…

Slippery road!

I used to hate it, I wallowed in self-pity, felt sorry for myself and I let it feel like the end of the world. It was like I was shackled, having to watch others have the times of their lives, eat, drink, go on excursions as they pleased while I couldn’t; it really fucking sucked!

Once you start feeling like this, it’s a slippery road. Trust me I’ve been down it a few time and endures some very low points backpacking without money. I’ve had to borrow money from people I’ve barely known, gone days without a proper meal, missed out on trips and excursions, I’ve even had to glue my shoes back together.

Gluing shoes back together in Vietnam

Sometimes backpacking without money just comes with the territory with long-term budget travel. There can be times when the funds do dry up and if it happens to you, remember it’s not the end of the world, there are ways around it and for funds to return.

Like with so many facets of traveling life, having to cope and travel with little to nothing is another learning curve, a test of character if you like.

The positive spin…

You may be asking how there can possibly be a positive spin on backpacking without money?

Well if you don’t let the self-pity take over, you can turn this negative situation on its head. Look at it as a challenge, a test, or even better…a game.

Before you think I’m completely crazy, think about it. We’re budget backpackers for a reason; we don’t have much money, to begin with. Many of us have struggled and survived through life on the bare bones following the simple principles of finding bargains and making what little money we have stretch.

So while we start out trips on the tightest shoestring budgets, when the money really starts to dry up the game really starts. And that game is to search for bigger bargains, seek out the FREE stuff, and get the imagination really rolling.

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You’ll be surprised at just how much fun you can have, how many new doors open up, and just how much satisfaction when you get when you let your creativity and human instincts take over and lead you.

Ways to keep your travels going!

Channel your imagination, let your human instincts out.

Do some research into things that are free or cost very little, check hostel boards, and talk to locals. Locals can give you tips and insights into things that are not touristy but just as impressive. Remember places that are popular with casual tourists have a high chance of being an overpriced tourist trap.

There are plenty of things you will find from locals or just by exploring a place yourself that are not listed in blogs, Lonely planet or TripAdvisor.

Imagine there’s an excursion you just can’t miss but you can’t afford to do it the traditional way, so you find another way of doing it.

For example:

You can dissect it. Strip it down, instead of organizing and booking through tour companies or hiring transport, look at other ways of getting there. Talk to locals, ask other travelers, take local buses, walk there if possible. Find out if there are entrance fees and what they are. Some places have different prices for locals and tourists, different entrances to the same place can have different prices or find out if certain days are cheaper than others or even free.

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By doing some research and using your creativity you will be amazed how much you can end up saving.

Juggle your budget, become a savvy backpacker.

As a long-term budget traveler, you have to learn and become savvy. You learn how to manage your money better, adapt to changing currencies and you have to juggle your daily budget around.

When you travel through multiple countries at once managing your budget can get complicated, especially if the currency exchanges are not accurate or up to date. Sometimes you find money needlessly slip through your fingers so you need to be able to juggle your remaining budget around to counterbalance. This is can get some get some getting used to, and can even be considered an art but once you get good at it, there will be days when you just don’t have to spend a penny.

Some basic ways to do this is to keep a tighter on the exchange rates, check out a few different exchange rates, do some research where you can change money to get the most value, don’t use ATM’s that charge extra for foreign withdrawals.

Cut out needless spending.

When you find yourself in the position of your funds running out, stop and cut out needless spending. I’m talking about basic things, which may seem trivial right now but they can help. Things as simple as buying bottled water, you don’t need to buy bottled water in every country, tap water is more than safe in most countries. However, if water isn’t safe out of taps that don’t mean you have to buy expensive bottles of water, buy liter bottles instead of smaller ones.

The same can be said for alcohol, buy local beers/wine/spirits instead of imported. If you’re staying in hostels take advantage of free breakfasts, fill yourself up so you can skip lunch.

When you’re sitting in a cafe really think about if you need that second cup – If you do, then think about what costs you can cut that day to counterbalance your budget to accommodate it.

If you are a smoker like me then this can get quite tormenting, yes smoking is detrimental to both health and budget but we all have our vices!

Food.

When the money starts to run out, just keep walking past those restaurants.

However again by playing the game and searching around you can find some local gems. Sometimes it’s the little hole in the wall places, food stalls, even in food courts which turn out to have tastier and more authentic food than the restaurants. There are also local restaurants who offer lunchtime and happy hour specials, or a set meal for discounted prices. Again, you can save money by eating a full lunch and skipping out on dinner or eating something light in the evening.

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To go even cheaper, cook for yourself and no I don’t mean you have to live on instant noodles. Shop in local markets and not in supermarkets, cook in bulk so it lasts you a few days. You can buy food for next to nothing and have decent meals that last a few days. I guarantee you any hostel you walk into at least 2 people will be making spaghetti bolognese or any type of pasta/rice meal because it lasts.

Also, if you are staying in hostels offer to cook with others to spread the cost, or even offer to cook for others if they buy the ingredients.  Remember you won’t be the only one trying to save money, nobody ever says no to cutting costs in a hostel.

This isn’t limited to hostels either, you can do this if you’re Couchsurfing, camping, or in a campervan.

Note: You don’t have to live on instant noodles, buy pasta, rice, make a sauce it’s just as cheap

Accommodation

Two of the biggest contributors for running out of money traveling is accommodation an transport. They are like having a hole in your pocket but again there are ways to plug this hole.

You can look at other alternatives and change your accommodation style, maybe you’ve been staying in a boutique or more expensive hostels or in private rooms; you may want to think about downgrading to shared dorm rooms. Or to cut costs, even more, look beyond hostels with Couchsurfing or maybe buy a tent and find campgrounds.

Other alternatives are to volunteer, you can do this within hostels, exchange work for rent, or look further afield with volunteer programs. And there is also house sitting. This post gives you more detail on alternative options – Different budget travel accommodation options.

Transport.

As with Accommodation, you will have options when it comes to getting around. Instead of taking more expensive private buses start taking local buses. In some countries, there are even cheaper options like little local minivans they use within communities. This post covers your budget travel transport options.

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Another thing you can do is hitchhike, obviously, you have to have your wits about you if you are too hitchhike but over the years I’ve met travelers who will only hitchhike. Many of them have had some amazing adventures.

Replenish funds.

I’ve saved this until last but really it should be the first thing you should do, and here’s the thing – There are always ways to make money while your traveling.

If you are traveling on a working holiday visa, then it’s a no-brainer; get a job. You can work in bar work, office work, construction, labor, farm work, tour guide, work or even in your own profession. This is the same if you are traveling within a country or region where you don’t need a visa I.E a European traveling within the EU.

However, even if you don’t have a visa which allows you to legally work, there are ways around it. You can ask within your hostel to exchange work for rent, ask around locally, many places will offer ‘off the books’ cash in hand work, especially within manual labor.

It doesn’t have to be illegal, we live in the digital age now, simply look online, if you are tech savvy or have particular skills, you can work remotely online, you can do online surveys, freelance, travel writing, translator etc.

Another popular option is to teach, either class-based or online, while teaching English in foreign countries is the most popular option you don’t have to restrict yourself to that.

If you’re creative, make and sell things. I know so many travelers who make trinkets, pottery, paintings and all kinds of things and sell them.

There are a number of volunteering programs like wwoofing or workaways, you can apply for where work in exchange for food and board. If you can’t afford hostels anymore try Couchsurfing, or house sitting if you love nature, find camping spots and pitch a tent.

The traveling realism.

As you can see from this post, there can be situations and times when you might end up backpacking without money but there are also plenty of ways to replenish and carry on your travels. Like I’ve talked in many other posts Long-term budget travel is just as much about the things you learn about yourself as the things you see.

There will be times life on the road is difficult at times, it’s not glamorous all the time, there will be times you struggle but then life isn’t easy and that is the traveling realism.

You may have seen blogs or articles titled ‘How to travel for free’ or ‘hacks to free travel’ or ‘ultimate guides to traveling for free’ or ‘backpack the world with no money’ floating around. There are loads of them, why? Because countless backpackers have run out of money in the past and will continue to do so in the future, possibly even you.

Just remember if or when it does happen to you, keep your chin up, as bad as the situation feels at the time you will get through it and one day you will look back on it and be glad to have gone through it as it strengthened your character.

***

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  1. Your adventures are worth noting! I really feel I can not live without money or by borrowing money. I need a comfort zone though small in nature but it needs to exist. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. I think I have never been to such situation. Well once…. when I lost my wallet and banks were closed for the whole weekend, so I couldn’t take cash. I didn’t have money for transport to get to the central bank, that worked on the weekend. It looked bad at the beginning, but then I was surprised how many people have helped me. And funny thing – I would never get to know them if I didn’t lose wallet
    Alexander Popkov recently posted…Kingdom of ghosts, colors, and steel – a night at Duisburg-NordMy Profile

  3. Thankfully I have never faced the scary situation of running out of money! I usually carry my credit card with me or even an ATM card which I can use to withdraw cash, if required. I can only imagine what an uncomfortable position it must be to fall short of cash in the middle of the trip! But you have some interesting tips here, for how to handle the situation. I still hope I never have to use any of them ?

  4. I could never be able to do it, travel without money… For me it will be a nightmare… I can’t even imagine myself doing it…. But kudos to you, you are a brave soul…

  5. While I’ve never “back-packed” or run out of money while travelling, I have learnt some valuable lessons about budgeting (largely down to my old career as a journalist at MoneySavingExpert I think haha!) x

  6. This is brilliant! my friend and I really want to go travelling but we’re students with no money but you’re right this shouldn’t stop us! Thanks for much for sharing! 🙂

  7. Thanks for sharing a reply insightful and helpful post one this topic, I really enjoyed reading it and the tips you gave and creative ways to earn money whilst backpacking.

  8. Very interesting article. Budget travelling is always a challenge but possible when you travel smart, thanks for sharing ! 🙂

  9. We are really lucky when we travel I will be working online. I get the same amount of hours every month so we do not need to worry. But another option is to do online freelancing!

    • If you’re under 30 you can get working holiday visa’s for Aus, NZ and Canada – You should check out my guides to Aus and NZ (not your typical guides) – Once you’re out there, you’ll start getting pretty creative with how you make money 😀

  10. It’s really smart to cook with others or share grocery costs. Works out so much cheaper in the end. I’ve glued my shoes back together once too and I wasn’t even backpacking haha. Love this, you’re a great writer!

  11. Running out of money in a foreign country terrifies me, probably why I’ve never done a large travel stretch! Always assume I need a big pot to go with, when really that’s not the case. Maybe one day I’ll summon up the courage to give this a go!

  12. This is some great advice! I’ve always considered backpacking but the money usually holds me back. Maybe now I’ll give it a try!

  13. Have you ever read Wild by Cheryl Strayed? Your post reminds me so much of her book. He’s backpacking on the Pacific Coast Trail and always have to make do with either very little money (or none at all). I was forever amazed at how creative she became!

    • No I’ve not read that, I should check it out 😀 That’s the thing you would be amazed with yourself at just how creative you can get without money. In a weird way traveling becomes more satisfying and enriching that way (Not that I complain when I do have money 😛 )

  14. You are right, having no money should not stop us from travelling and this is something I need to realize myself . Like you said it can open our minds to new avenues and in return create different stories x

    • Dont worry you wil get there, It took me a long time for my brain to allow me to see the positive side and for new avenues to open up …I used to come across backpackers who had no money but were so happy and I couldn’t understand why I would feel so shitty …however once I let myself embrace It, some of my best traveling memories have come from times when I had no money .

  15. Great read! I’ve never personally run out of money as I travel because I work on the road but I’ve came across some travelers who have and had to cancel their trips shorts. I always feel bad for them but theyre the ones that spent too much in the first place.

  16. It was interesting to read your article because I am a budget backpacker but I have never run out of money during my travels. I think I have budgeting in my blood, inherited from my grandparents. I wouldn’t really know what to do if I would ever run out of money, rather then try to work somehow, probably in a hostel.

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