Broke but Happy: 5 Lessons to Learn From Traveling on a Tight Budget

Whether you’re planning a big trip to escape the daily grind, or you’re looking to change your lifestyle and become a digital nomad; money is probably your number one worry. How much do you need to save? What do things cost abroad? What happens if you run out of money?

Every traveler has been there, but as scary as it is, traveling on a shoestring budget can be incredibly transformative. Living and traveling on a tight budget is not just possible, it can also be more fun.

Here are 5 lessons to learn from budget travel that will also benefit you in your life after traveling:

1. Enjoy the journey

As cliché as it sounds, travel really isn’t always about the destination, but the journey itself. Nothing brings this lesson home better than traveling on a shoestring. Being broke simply forces you to travel slower. Do you want to travel the length of Central America? Flights in that region can easily cost $500 one way, so you will most likely be forced to take chicken buses for a fraction of that cost. The experiences you will have taking local, slow transport will become some of the most cherished memories of your trip. The best stories can come from sharing a seat with a goat and a grandma on a cramped bus ride on a windy road, and you will retell them for many years to come.

2. Step outside your comfort zone

You’ve probably heard some horror stories of bed bugs in cheap hostels and travelers catching Delhi Belly from street food. But if you’re broke and have no choice other than to make your budget go as far as possible, you’ll simply have to take the risk. I can almost guarantee you that you’ll have a better experience as a result.

Food is one of the best examples. So many blogs and guidebooks warn you about eating street food, but it’s hard to argue with a $1 plate of a local dish sold from a little street cart. Any traveler who has been to Thailand will assure you that you’ll find the best food in these places. Personally, I’d take a spicy papaya salad over a fancy burger any day.

3. Sharing is caring

Money isn’t the only way you can pay for goods and experiences. The sharing economy is booming around the world, so there are many ways to trade your experience, skills and time for meaningful experiences abroad.

If you’re low on funds but have plenty of time, why not try a work exchange through websites like Workaway, WWOOF or HelpX? When else would you get the chance to make organic chocolate on a French farm, herd camels in the Australian outback, or manage a treehouse hotel in Costa Rica? Others would pay a small fortune for these experiences, but you can have them for free in exchange for a few hours of your day and help your hosts out in the process. It’s a win-win.

4. Experiences beat cheap souvenirs

Even scientists agree that meaningful experiences make you happier than material possessions. The same goes for souvenirs. It’s really tempting to collect trinkets from every place you visit. But as well as being heavy to lug around, they will also make a huge dent in your daily budget.

On the other hand, experiences and their memories will last you a lifetime. A fresh coconut with a beautiful sunset beats a fridge magnet any day.

Once you’ve spent a month on a tropical island, sleeping in a hammock and running around barefoot all day, you will see how happy you can be without many possessions. And you won’t need any tacky souvenirs to remind you of this special time.

5. Change your perspective

There’s nothing like visiting other countries and seeing how people live around the world to put your priorities into perspective. In particular, visiting poorer countries can be an eye-opening experience. Homestays are a very affordable way to encounter everyday life in different countries.

A few days spent in a village in rural Peru can teach you more about priorities than a lifetime in your home country. Sharing one room with a whole family, plus their chickens and guinea pigs, for a night is intense. But it also makes many of the things we take for granted in our lives suddenly seem frivolous, like giant McMansions, expensive cable TV and daily $5 Starbucks frappes.

You see, there are many things we can learn from traveling on a tight budget. Instead of viewing your low funds as a disadvantage, see it as a challenge and try to make the most out of your experiences on a shoestring. You’ll learn some important lessons along the way that will be valuable in your post-travel life as well.

Are you planning a trip, but worrying about your shoestring budget? Please share in the comments below.

About the Author

Jennifer Lachs is a writer for Open Colleges, one of Australia’s leading online education providers. She is a globetrotting writer, blogger, and former scientist. Originally from Munich, Germany, she has lived and worked in 5 countries across the world. After finishing her Ph.D. in chemistry in 2013 she went on a round-the-world trip that took her to over 15 countries, including Australia, where she lived for a year. She writes about her travels and her quest to become a digital nomad on her blog Square Hippie.