There’s just something about being broke in a new city.
Not broke in the sense that bills are piling up and you’re worried, but broke in the sense that you don’t actually have any bills, you’re in a strange land, you have nowhere to be, nowhere to go, and nothing in your wallet.
It’s happened to me more times than I can count. I don’t usually travel with much money because, in fact, I don’t always have a lot of it. I prefer the adventure: the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of journey that unfolds with bizarre plot twists and guest appearances by unknown samaritans.
My first two months of travel in Australia left me broke with no job, no plan, and I was within days of ending up homeless. I’ve stayed in hostels on consignment, I’ve flown to new countries with less than $100 to my name, and I’ve blown my credit card into the red on a night out only to wake up the next morning with less than a single penny to my name.
I have been broke so many times, frankly, it almost is funny.
But those times when I had to travel with no money, when I’ve been stripped down to zero, have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have been diminished down to nothing more than a living element of the world, forced to accept the brutality of life, revel in the beauty of that sentiment, and build my way back up.
Without money or material possessions, you become unimportant in a world that revolves around these two things. You become nobody. You are forced into solitude, bewilderment, and appreciation.
It is absolutely glorious.
You Enter Survival Mode
When you’re broke, survival mode kicks in. You learn what you’re made of. It’s you and the world, and you’re going to have to “Bear Grylls” your way out of it. You learn what it means to survive because you don’t have any other choice.
You become resourceful. You are forced to make something from nothing because you have to eat and find shelter to keep yourself alive. You become rougher, you become tougher, and you fight your way through the day. You build character and confidence, and you develop a strength in yourself far deeper than that built by the ability to support yourself with your paycheck.
You Find Freedom
When you end up broke you end up free.
It sounds counterintuitive, but money is shackling. It restricts you to the belief that tangible currency is required to buy the things that give you freedom. You do not need money to be free, you need nothing to be free.
By being forced out of financial constraints, you live in a place where there is no Starbucks, no takeout, no gym, and where nothing is certain. Instead, you live in a place enriched by the kindness of people and the generosity of strangers. The whole world becomes your jungle gym and every moment of life, no matter how unfortunate or calamitous, becomes devastatingly beautiful.
When you are stripped to nothing, you live life in a way that allows you to take action with everything you have. Everything you own, which is only your mind, body and soul, is poured into every aspect of your life. You are not restricted by the things you have, and the world becomes yours.
So what would you do if you had nothing to lose?
If you were completely unbound by anything, how would you live your life?
You Learn to Live in the Present
When you travel with no money, when you are stripped down to nothing, you can focus on the present moment more openly and freely.
You learn that life is just the way it is. So, smile, laugh and focus on the now. You have no other option.
You can be happy in this moment, sad, angry or dirty, but that will change. Everything always changes. You learn to focus on what you have right now because it’s never like that ever again.
You Learn the Value of a Dollar
In a world where nothing is cheap, it’s easy to lose sight of the value of a dollar. When you have very little and you are forced to scrounge, every nickel, quid, loonie or yuan becomes highly significant.
Through not having dollars, you learn how powerful a single dollar can be and you learn how one dollar becomes two. Money is no longer a number that just goes up and down, but it becomes something of value that you learn to appreciate.
You work hard for every dollar that comes your way, and you learn not to waste it.
You Rebuild Yourself
Perhaps the single most valuable lesson that comes from going broke on your travels is finding your way up.
When you have been left with nothing, you start over. You don’t build a foundation based on your degree or employer recommendations, but based on the inherent nature of who you are. You use every ounce of yourself to rebuild from the ground up.
It’s rare for someone to ever truly start at zero. After college, with help from parents or loans, most people fall into a job, live off their paycheck, pay bills and enjoy whatever luxuries they can afford.
Having nothing and no one is difficult. You are forced to rely only on yourself to start all over and create something in your life.
Doing this time and again builds incredible strength of character. I’ve done it multiple times in places all over the world, and I have become a more resilient and resourceful person. By being open to all possibilities, I have learned to take things as they come with optimism and an open mind.
It’s true what they say about travel being a catalyst for change, but I never anticipated that change could take form in a place so deep.
With very little money, I have managed to travel around the world. I never let anything stop me from living life on my own terms, not even a few dollar bills. It wasn’t easy, but in retrospect, that was the fun part.