Backpacking without money – what happens when it runs out! – Is part 3 of my Long term budget traveling realism’s series.

Backpacking without money – what happens when it runs out!

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

This is another traveling realism and 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…

backpacking without money

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

Your mind over thinks, how will you eat? Where 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 can see how you could end up feeling sorry for yourself.

Slippery road!

Once you start feeling like this, it’s a slippery road. Trust me I’ve been down this hole a few times over the years. I’ve had some real 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 glued my shoes back together. However backpacking without money comes with the territory of being a long-term budget backpacker.

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

However as with so many situations with traveling, I learnt from it, adapted, I freed myself from the shackles and saw the other side of this coin.

The positive spin…

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

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

Before you think I’m completely crazy, think about it. As budget backpackers, we don’t start off flushed with money, we’re not on top of the money tree. We’re already on the tightest of shoestring budgets from the moment we start the trip. We constantly look out for the cheapest things, so when the money get’s very low or runs out, the game starts. And the game is to find even cheaper, or free things to keep us going.

If you’re positive about the situation, new doors start opening, you explore different avenues and make new discoveries. your imagination and human instincts start helping and lead you.

For example, maybe there’s a trip you really wanted to do but now you can’t afford it, so what do you do? You dissect it, strip it down. Instead of taking the tour group, hire van or doing it through an agency look at alternatives. Talk to locals, see how they would get there, check local buses, can you walk there? You can take off the unnecessary add-on’s that come with tours, check if a certain day is cheaper or even free. You will be amazed how much you can end up saving.

walking to Aguas Calientes through the Andes instead of paying for the train

Yes you don’t do the trip how you first planned but you still get to do it.

Getting into that situation in the first place!

I know you’re saying,  “Well I’m not stupid, I wont get into this situation in the first place and I won’t need to wallow in self-pity or put a positive spin on it” – Yup I hear you load and clear but here’s the thing – Shit happens when you’re traveling and you just have to deal with it.

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

Long term budget backpacking.

Budgeting becomes a whole different ball game when you become a long-term budget backpacker, (I mean years not months) and backpacking without money will occur at some point or another.

Of course we plan and research a trip, we work out roughly how much are going to need. However sometimes it can get complicated, like when we’re traveling through multiple countries or traveling without an end date in mind. (Check out my post on how I’ve learnt to streamline my planning)

planning a solo budget travel trip

Things like exchange rates, differing prices, transport and accommodation costs changing all the time come into play. That budget you set will reach so far but at some point that dreaded ‘0’ in your bank account will creep ever the closer.

As a long-term budget backpacker you have to learn to become savvy, learn how to manage your money better, adapt to changing currencies when going from one country to another. There will be times you could be sitting in a cafe debating with yourself if you want or can afford that second cup of coffee, or figuring out what expense you can cut out for the day to get the second cup. As trivial as this statement seems right now, you’ll understand once it happens to you.

backpacking without money
Hmm, should I have that second cup?

How do you deal with it?

So when the time comes, and you find yourself backpacking without money don’t panic; don’t think it’s the end of the world like I used to. There are so many ways to make the best out of the situation.

Replenish funds.

The first thing is to look for work. If your visa allows you to work like a working holiday visa, get a job. There’s plenty of jobs you can go for from bar work, office work, construction, labor, farm work, and if your tech savvy we live in the age of a digital nomad. If your visa doesn’t allow you to work in that country, there are ways around it. Ask the hostel you’re staying in if you can work for board, they always have cleaning, reception and maintenance jobs going. Simply ask around, some places might just pay you cash in hand for some help for the day, or even try applying for teaching jobs in non-English speaking countries.

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.


Cooking food for yourself in bulk, or sharing cooking costs with others will make it so much cheaper. I do this on a regular basic in hostels, all you have to do is ask others if they want to pitch in and cook together. Remember you won’t be the only one trying to save money, nobody ever says no to cutting costs in a hostel.

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

Get creative look for Very cheap or free.

Even with transport you can reduce your costs no-end, start taking local buses or even hitchhike (It’s not as dangerous as you think) I know so many backpackers that will only hitchhike, getting through a whole country this way.

Ask around, talk to other backpackers, locals or even he hostel notice boards, there’s always free activities, tours and trips going on. You don’t just have to go to the heavily touristy places which charge you; there’s plenty of places you will find for free which turn out but better. Some of the best experiences I and so many backpackers have is when we discover places for free not listed in the lonely planet or talked about on TripAdvisor.

When you stumble upon a random waterfall (for free)

The traveling realism.

You see, as a budget backpacker, especially a long-term budget backpacker, traveling is as much about leaning from and dealing with situations or circumstances that just pop up and those we’re not used to. We throw ourselves out of our comfort zones for a reason. And, backpacking without money, or running out of it is an age-old problem.

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.


What did you think to this post, was it helpful?

Are you already a budget backpacker and been in this situation before? What did you do to continue your travels?

Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post 😀

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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!

  10. I’m about to leave for a year (ish) of travel. Canada, NZ, OZ, Bali and who knows where. I’ll be working as I go (work permit in NZ helps). Otherwise, it’s up to me to make money from writing and my photography.

    • 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 😀

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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 😛 )

  15. 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 .

  16. 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.

  17. 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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