Why You Should Travel and Go Completely Broke

There were times when I was forced to travel with no money. Through these experiences, and through the hardship of learning how to get by and how to make something from nothing, I discovered a silver lining.

Why You Should Travel and Go Completely Broke

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.

Coastline in Noosa, Australia
Noosa coastline

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. That’s why going broke is one of our favorite travel tips.

It is absolutely glorious.

Vang Vieng, Laos
Sunrise in Vang Vieng, Laos

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.

Cooking on Koh Rong
A woman cooks her dinner on the beach on Koh Rong in Cambodia.

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.

If you were completely unbound by anything, how would you live your life?

You Have Nothing to Lose

With nothing to your name, you live life like you have nothing to lose, because that’s really how it is. You have nothing, and that empowers you.

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?

Wellington Harbor in Wellington, NZ
Wellington Harbor in Wellington, NZ

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.

Dunes in Charleston, South Carolina
Dunes in Charleston, South Carolina

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.

Sailing in New York.
Sailing in New York.

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.

READ NEXT: How I Can Afford to Travel on a Long-Term Basis

About the Author

Jeremy Scott Foster

Jeremy Scott Foster is an adventure-junkie, gear expert and travel photographer based in Southern California. Previously nomadic, he’s been to ~50 countries and loves spending time outdoors. You can usually find him on the trail, on the road, jumping from bridges or hustling on his laptop working to produce the best travel and outdoors content today.
  1. Couldn’t have worded it any better myself…absolutely perfect! It’s not money that makes the adventure but rather lack thereof. That’s when, as you so eloquently said, in come the “bizarre plot twists and guest appearances by unknown samaritans.” 😉

    1. You said it! I feel like too many people rely and worry about money when, in reality, it’s the realization that you don’t need as much as you think you do that can change everything!

  2. Very inspiring post. Many of us (including me) are usually afraid of becomig broke while traveling because for most of us it means going back home to our old lifestyle. However you are the living proof that maybe going home is not the only option out there.

    1. It’s something I’ve definitely been afraid of–I don’t want to downplay that. But, as people, we are smart enough that, when push comes to shove, we’re bound to figure something out.

  3. Fantastic Post, I work and save than travel. i tried traveling once or twice every month. Very cool of you just going with the flow.

  4. Reading this post scared me because it reminds me of me. I’m currently in Oz on a work and holiday and I’ve had that OMG-I’m–going-to-live-underneath-a-bridge feeling one too many times. But I haven’t (yet!). I’ve definitely discovered strengths within me to guide me through weak moments.


      But, like you said, you discover the strength within yourself to get through it. And you come out on the other side as a stronger person.

  5. Thanks for this post! As a newbie to long term travelling this is something I am terrified of – getting down to my very last few dollars! I think it mostly terrifies me because I have worked soooo hard and given up a lot to save my money, plus in my mind running out means returning to the very life I just left behind, which I am in no way ready to go back to!

    1. So just be frugal with your dollars. Keep that money on the side. And, once you’ve spent so much of the money that you worked so hard for, you’ll REALLY, truly understand the value of it.

  6. great post – am debating going travelling, but the money issue is scaring me… thanks for this

    1. It can be scary, but when you push yourself through the scary times in life, those moments become the most rewarding!

  7. I love this post, but I am the complete opposite. I start to worry about money when I have like 10k left. If I got to the 3k point I might have a full-on breakdown. I think ever since I’ve started earning, I’ve HAD to have at least a rainy day fund – something I won’t touch, ever. Which is funny, because why is it there, then?

    1. Haha that’s the investment banker in you! 😉

      Having that safety net DOES give you more capability to travel, because flights and the like DO cost money. I’ve traveled to fewer places, but believe that my experiences have made me a stronger person because of it.

  8. You make some interesting points. I could have done this when I was in my early 20s, but not now! I had two co-workers who left for New Zealand last year and traveled for 6 months, WOOFFing it, living in random places and hostels, working odd jobs. They had an incredible journey and met people in a way normal travelers never would.

    Great post and thoughts though! I’m glad I read this.

  9. Very inspiring! You are a strong person! You prove that there doesn’t have to be anything holding you back from what you want to do.

    1. That’s the idea, Mary! I feel like too many people find reasons, money being a big one, NOT to travel. I don’t believe in making excuses. Sometimes, you just have to take the plunge!

    1. I believe that traveling is about more than just a “great” time. It’s about broadening your mind and expanding yourself as a person. Building yourself up from nothing is a truly valuable experience.

  10. Falling into a job and payments and bills is exactly what happened to me. I’m just glad I made the decision to do like you have done. Most people only see the broke part and forget to think about the freedom part of the equation. Great post thanks for the reminder.

  11. This may sound funny at first but after I read the whole article, I was able to agree on everything about it. Before, I used to prepare for a travel saving huge amount of money for it but then I realized I don’t need much to enjoy travelling. The important thing is I have all the things I need and explore the place with the people who can complete it. Like my family. Of course I need to spend for them but I think what’s enough is enough. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m glad you agree! Yes, money is required, and I’m not trying to say that one should travel in poverty, but taking money out of the equation provides a sense of freedom unlike any other.

  12. This is the best thing I’ve read about the attraction of traveling with no money. I’m more of a planner and I get anxious when money runs low, so I can safely say that going completely broke is not for me. I do like budget traveling and, in a way, I love the low points of travel because they do make the best stories. But at the end of the day, I need to know that I can put a stop to the discomfort of being broke whenever I reach my limit.

    1. But what if you STOPPED planning, and just let it happen? Wouldn’t that be a hugely eye opening and experiential process for you?

  13. One could easily over-travel, spend too much and go broke, then this can become a reality. But I hope not.
    You make a lot of good points there.

    I like the idea of the dollar’s value. A single dollar has tremendous value.

  14. im sure you didnt have to sleep on the street with nowhere to go for months or you wouldnt write things like, without money you’re free, cause sadly enough in this world without money you’re nothing and its damn hard to travel without money for a longer time .im also sure you dont have children get some children travel with them become homeless and im sure you’ll write a different article….

    1. Hi Eva! I didn’t say “you should travel without money and be homeless.” I said you should go broke and find your way out of it, because it’s a very valuable lesson.

  15. this was a great read. The part where you talked about how how college loans kind of force you into that day to day grind… I’m stuck in that place right now-deciding whether to settle and find a job or take off and travel anyway anyhow. My only financial priority is my loans. I only have a little over a thousand to my name and all I want to do is travel. I hate that my loans are scaring me into being indecisive. Part of me thinks “oh I can just defer them” but I know I’ll end up owing more later :/ I feel like I’m having a young life crisis!

    1. I know that feeling, Sean! I would try to save up a bit more if you can, work on the loans a little bit, and then take off! I went broke due to poor planning, but if you can plan a bit and travel cheaply, that’s the best way to start!

  16. This sounds romantic on paper, but in reality the people who you meet while traveling who have no money (and if you stay in hostels, you WILL meet them) in my experience by and large simply not people you want to interact with.

    They preach a big game about being a free spirit, not needing money, etc. but the truth of the matter is most of them are parasites leeching off other travelers at best, or flat out thieves at worst who rob from other travelers to fund their trips. If you think they aren’t out there, they are.They are everywhere.

    Because the bottom line is that you DO need money to travel: Either your money or somebody else’s money. The ONLY way I have ever seen people travel without money is by leeching off the good will of others. I personally think that’s pretty lame, and very arguable whether that is or can be a character building experience.

    Perhaps the author is a rare exception to these observations. I don’t know. What I do know is this: Travel is a privilege not a right, and privileges are earned through hard work. Its just how it is.

    So get an idea, save your money, travel on the cheap, go to countries where your money goes far, stay in hostels, eat on the street, be a valuable fellow traveler not a traveling parasite, do it the right way.

    See you OUT THERE!!

    1. I would just like to point out that this article does not stand in support of traveling for extended periods of time without money. The purpose of this article was to highlight the lessons learned from going broke and then finding your way up, after experiencing rock bottom.

  17. Great and inspired post Jeremy! This is always a fear in the back of my mind. I’m 2 months into a year’s worth of travel and find myself watching a my Rupees and Bahts. It’s a feeling of lack that I don’t particularly enjoy. But you’ve put a great perspective on it. And most of the time it’s the way we see things isn’t it? Great blog: love reading your stuff.

    1. Thanks, Wayne. Have a wonderful trip. You’ve still got 10 months, and a lot to look forward to. Count your dollars, but don’t pinch your pennies.

  18. As a guy who was down to dollars in Laos and who has a few bucks stashed away now, I prefer having the money LOL! TOO much stress, not having $5 to my name and wondering what I’d no next……BUT……having no dough is a character builder and it made me who I am today, creating dynamo and all. Totally appreciate your post, your point, and until you’ve been on the road in an exotic, far away land, with no money, ya ain’t lived yet…..learned from experience hahaha….thanks Jeremy!


    1. Haha it’s a tough place to be, but a character-building experience for sure! And you do sound like a man who’s got dynamo, Ryan 😉 Thanks for your insight!

  19. I’m so glad someone wrote an article like this! I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about budget backpacking and how to *avoid* going broke that I’ve forgotten to consider the silver linings when you actually do hit bottom. I can’t quiiiite get on board with your carefree enthusiasm towards it (it scares me every time!), but I can definitely agree that it leads to character-building experiences, allows you to focus on people rather than things, and helps you learn how resilient you can be and how far you can go with very little. I wouldn’t give back any of my ‘oh my god what am I gonna do’ experiences even if I could.

    Thanks for writing this!

    1. Hi Jakob,

      Perhaps I’ve come off as more carefree than I am. Of course, I don’t WANT to go broke, and I do stress about money when things get tight. But it’s only after looking back at the times when I’ve been cut down to nothing that I realize just how important that silver lining is, and how valuable those lessons can be. It sounds like you know exactly what I’m talking about 🙂


  20. Very well written! Found this on my twitter feed! I always believe that travel teaches you the best management which you don’t learn in all business schools! But one should ready to learn.

    Thanks and regards,
    Siddharth Malkania
    Indian Candid Wedding, Travel & Street Photographer

  21. Brilliant! Always seems like money is the number one reason holding people back from traveling. Great job showing that you can travel for cheap! And I definitely believe it makes you stronger (and smarter) when you’re on a tight budget! 🙂

  22. Reminds me of the time, when just 19 years old, I ended up having to sleep on the beach with a group of other broke backpackers in Tel Aviv without so much as 1 Shekel to weave between my fingers, never mind not have 2 to rub together. Lets just say that was a learning experience I don’t actually need to be reminded of, it is something I have learned from to this day, and that was 20 years ago. Probably one of my most valuable lessons ever.

    1. Ha! I’m so glad you know what I mean. I think it’s one of those things you can’t really understand until you’ve been there, and then a few years later, are able to look back on it. Tough times, they are, but valuable.

  23. Great post! Reading the comments I do agree that saying “just go broke and travel” can come across as a bit cavalier but I totally get where you’re coming from – when you’re in the moment, flat broke and scrounging around for supper money, you see and appreciate the positive moments soo much more than when you’re coming from a more entitled position. And looking back, its those moments that stay with you!

    When I first moved abroad (to Beijing) 3 years ago, I was working odd jobs and struggling to make rent, but then I got a good office job. I found that I became too comfortable – nice vacations in Singapore and Hong Kong, shopping… So I quit my job and moved to Japan. It is stressful sometimes but on the whole I LOVE it 🙂 And since I’ve done it before, I know that I can find work and build my savings back up.

    1. That’s what it’s all about–not actually being broke, because that sucks, but the lessons you learn in that time.

      Money comes and goes. Time doesn’t.

  24. Phew, this article helped me to breathe a sigh of relief. Not having money is definitely a fear of mine as I fly to Colombia on a one-way ticket in a week and a half. On the good days, I think to myself “that’s ridiculous, you’re awesome, you got this, you won’t go broke! You’re gonna MAKE money! And if you do go broke, you’ll deal.” On the bad days, it’s more like “WHAT AM I DOING???” In Dec. 2014 I had 2.5K after very wasteful and aimless travel, and I have almost 6K now. That’s after 8 months of teaching part-time ESL here in the states but not really enjoying my life. Blech, so much work for so few earnings here.

    I won’t be able to get a regular job in Colombia as I’m not a citizen, but that only means I’ll have to work even harder on building my art-centered travel inspiration website and finding other creative exchanges of value such as offering photography lessons and photography scavenger hunts, which I’m really excited about!!!

    So thanks again for bringing me down from a panic.

    1. There are definitely panic moments, and I’ve had them more than a few times. You have a plan–a course of action–and that’s the hardest part. And your plan may not work out, but like you said, you’ll deal. You’ll find a way to make it work because you have to.

  25. I totally respect your approach to things. It’s amazing how you learn to adapt and as you say, enter survival mode. It kind of brings out the best in us.

  26. My backpacking days are well behind me. Now I’m just grateful to God that I still wake up in the morning,

    Nor did I go broke by choice, Stupid government policies in Washington created the opportunity for my current financial plight that so many others here are praising here.

    For the past 62 years I have written for newspapers. Most of my travels have taken place before blogging was invented. A workaholic, I spent long hours on the job and then traveled. I have been in almost every country in Europe, traveled in a VW Beetle throughout Mexico, criss-crossed the United States many times in a pickup and slide-in camper, and toured South America more than 40 years ago.

    Now that I have retired, with most of my savings wiped out in the 2008 economic blowout I have quit my job writing editorials for a Florida daily paper. I purchased a used (1999) Class C motorhome and began blogging. That ended last April when a logging truck with a distracted driver crushed my motorhome. His insurance company replaced by little motorhome with a
    35 foot long used Winnebago. Too big, I admit, but I’m stuck with it now.

    About to return to the road on a financial shoestring, I have joined the ranks of those responding to your blog about being broke. Because of my wide range of interests I have
    been experimenting with a dozen websites on a variety of topics. My goal is to tell people
    about things I feel are important, such as the thousands of small USA towns and the amazing individuals in America.

    I met a woman who raised 48 unwanted foster babies and adopted 10 of them. A homeless couple signed on with the owner of a rundown motel and turned it into a profitable business. The mayor of a small Alabama town has devoted his life to helping his quadriplegic son, injured when he was a boy. A town manager wanted to retire but didn’t have enough money.
    He did own some rather worthless land which he converted into a five acre solar field. A wealthy doctor looking for a solid investment signed a contract and the town manager will be
    a paid $30,000 a year for as long as he lives. A young girl in Mississippi dropped out of college to open her own business and at the age of 19 has hired four more young women.
    For the past 62 years I have written for newspapers. Most of my travels took place before blogging was invented. Now I can’t wait to get back on the road to meet more people and learn more about our nation’s tiny towns.

    Your ideas are inspiring.

  27. Love this post, will embark on a new great adventure at the end of this year and I already know my budget will be really small. So this is actually a great read. Been there before, but to see that others also actually have lived this and actually have had the same feeling I did is just encouragement 🙂

    Keep going

  28. One of the things I’ve learned from traveling one place to the next is to remind myself to DETACH. Not just from family & friends, but from possessions as well. Emotional detachment is nearly impossible because our memories and sentiments about what we’ve been through never disappear. Everything seems in vain because it sort of is, but at the same time, I think we all enjoy the struggle/process because when it comes too easily, we get bored and can’t appreciate it as much. As an outsider looking in, I’ve discovered/observed the same exact arguments/discussions among my fellow humans. Where there’s people, there are problems. Acceptance, tolerance, & change are so, so difficult to embrace. I think of little things such as how everybody takes for granted the stocked shelves at the supermarket. What really is the difference between one person using an EBT card for food while another has a job anyways? WE ALL HAVE TO EAT and if you deny the ones who are struggling, they will steal for it. Therefore, I get a bit irritated as I hear the jealousies and anger over absolutely NOTHING! Comparison is such a Mother… Yeah…

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  34. An interesting perspective but one that would require a great deal of courage / resilience. Many thanks for sharing your experiences.

  35. You really don’t know yourself until you hit rock bottom and the greatest crime is to grow up being given things and thinking everything grows on trees as well as the sense of entitlement that comes with privilege. We are born with nothing, die with nothing and should be comfortable with nothing. HAVING NOTHING IS OUR NATURAL STATE! And if one can’t be happy with nothing, one definitely won’t be happy with everything.

  36. What an awesome list! I wouldn’t doing a hopping tour on all of those destinations. Flying via private jet makes everywhere accessible.

  37. Nice article, thanks for sharing.
    I don’t know if I agree with the “go broke” part, but I get I understand what you’re saying! 🙂
    Keep up the good work.

  38. I just wanted to say thank you for writing this! As a travel-obsessed college student and fellow blogger, I’m always trying to tell people that you don’t have to be rich or be settled down in life to get out and see the world. If anything, the more money you make and more responsibilities you have the tougher it can be to find time to travel.

    I’m all about letting ‘survival mode’ kick in and seeing what I’m made of. 🙂



    1. What do you do when its raining and you don’t have money?? Nobody addressed the actual “way” ppl pick themselves up…

  39. I like all of your reasons. They terrify me, but they are so true.

    When we decided to travel full time (starting in September 2016), we gave ourselves three years to work out how to afford to do it and not reduce our net value. 18 months in and we are still trying to work out how to make a dollar – all the while our savings drops every month.

    We measure everything we do – every cent is accorded for. We assess what gives us value and what changes need to be made. It is this commitment that gives us confidence that we will continue to travel for as long as it is of value.

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