Becoming Broke While Travelling

Nothing brings you to the forefront of reality better than realizing that you might not be eating the next day. Not a budgeter in the past, I learned the hard way how important it is to account for everything that you spend. I’ll admit that I took the foolish route and counted on the hope that I would get a job right away when I arrived in Banff. I spent too much money on food I didn’t need (Unhealthy, processed fast food and snacks) and I made a trip to Fort McMurray that drained what was left of my savings – and then I realized after the fact that I needed to return to Banff for my own sanity.

My understanding parents thankfully lent me money to leave the dirty city and I was back in Banff two days later. I found a hostel that offered a “Work for Stay” program. This was my saving grace. Even if you are unsure of when you are going to be able to buy groceries or whether or not you will be able to find a job soon, the simple fact you have a bed to sleep in every night becomes a luxury when you are running low on funds.

What little money I had finally ran out after one grocery run and a couple of nights out (Whoops – budgeting failure,  right there). I am ashamed to say that I did what many other young and single North Americans coming from a “middle class” family did. I called my parents and asked if they could lend me just enough money to cover groceries and new black dress pants. I know. First world problems. As childish and reliant as I was, that money suddenly meant so much more to me because it meant I could eat. Gone were the concerns of whether I could buy new clothes or spend $8 per day at Starbucks or Second Cup.

I finally found a job a few days later, but first pay cheque would not come for another two weeks. Two weeks feels like two months when you are worried about “going hungry”. My parents’ money ran out and my kind sister helped me out again.

When those groceries from that money ran out, I was left with over a week of being unsure whether or not I would be eating on some days. Often, the hostel guests leave free food behind, but some days there is nothing on the shelves.

My next option was to go to the dumpster of the grocery store at night and see what they had thrown out earlier that day that was still edible. The idea seemed more and more desirable after I finished my last two boiled eggs.

The night that I should have gone, I was tired from being on my feet for 10 hours that day, plus walking up the huge hill to get back to the hostel. I was too tired from lack of nutrients to journey back down the hill and go scavenging for them in a dumpster. (Actually, I was being too lazy). Even though I was completely out of food (Besides the over priced tea bags I still had left), I knew that I would eat at some point in the next two days. As uncomfortable as it was, I was sure that I would not have to go a whole week without eating anything.

Thankfully, the hostel’s cafeteria has some great cooks that would make me a free meal on my volunteer shifts. It makes me feel so guilty that I consider “going hungry” as only eating one meal per day.

This experience has reminded me about so many people – young and old – around the world going hungry every day. What they would give just for a loaf of bread or a bowl of rice… it is astonishing.

Through a series of bad choices in combination with my chronic bad spending habits, I was brought into a situation where I ran out of money. But other people are subject to hunger because they are born into poverty with no established economy and they suffer through other atrocities such as disease, war, rape, etc.

Teen-aged girls and young women in many areas are fighting just so they can obtain an education and not be forced into marriage. Families struggle simply to survive long enough to eat their next meal or fight against diseases spread by poor hygiene and contaminated drinking water. Meanwhile, many of us in the west are worried about the next toy we are going to buy and we consume so many unnecessary things that often hurt us more than benefit us.

I do not regret for one minute that day where I actually missed two meals. It opened my eyes even more to how it feels to worry about when you will eat next. I understand the maddening panic you get when you are working all day and your mind keeps reminding you that there is nothing to eat when you get home.

What I will never understand is the hopelessness of having no one to help you – and it has been five days since your last meal of bread. It breaks my heart that people who are just as smart and ambitious as anyone in the west are living just to survive. I do not want to just write about the plight of people in third world countries. I really want to act on it. And the reality is that I can’t do a damn thing to help anyone if I am always stuck in financial ruts. This is life.

Despite my perceived crisis, a lot of people do not even have the luxury of a warm bed with blankets to sleep in, let alone friends and colleagues and parents that are there to help you through a “rough time.”

When I am back on my feet again, I vow to not abuse the money I have earned. I will keep travelling, yes, but I will travel simply. There is really nothing more empowering than exploring the world around you with nothing more than a backpack and a bed to sleep in. I feel freed at last from the pressure to stay in once place for years, all for the sake of moving up in a company doing jobs that drain my creativity and passion while putting most of my earnings into paying off a house.

I would prefer now to buy a $30 coat from the thrift shop that has character than spend hundreds of dollars on a new designer coat. A small fuel efficient car will do just fine for me.

What I do earn from jobs (And hopefully my book royalties), I want to use a lot of it to help others who are much, much less fortunate than I. I will budget better and eat real food, avoiding unnecessary spending on junk food and fast food and other silly things. Unhealthy food really is expensive when you add it up.

Becoming broke while travelling has solidified my belief that living simpler buys you the ability to help others, and I think it allows you to enjoy life more. When you aren’t struggling to pay bills because of over spending to keep up with your friends and putting all your money into a mortgage or expensive apartment, it gives you the ability to become a good citizen and assist people. It also allows you to do things like spend more time outside, pursue creative endeavors, read, travel, etc.

Fresh out of high school, I admit that I was excited to pursue that terrible privileged, systematic way of living because I felt that was what it meant to be successful. I got a diploma in a field that really didn’t suit me. I look back to what I wanted out of life when I was 12 years old. I wanted to write, I wanted a house close to a creek that I could explore.

After travelling for five months and living minimally, I have discovered what it really means to live. I see older adults with degrees and diplomas and work experience throw away North American ideals and work in an area that allows them to appreciate and take part in nature while meeting new people from around the world. There is a lot to be said for staying in hostels as a traveller as opposed to staying in a hotel. You get to meet people from all over the world and hear their stories.

I now know more than ever that my life’s dream is to help people, write stories/ film scripts, explore, and one day have that small house near a creek.


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