Spend Less, Save More. Surviving When You’re Broke

We’ve all been there at one point or another in our life where we are piss broke. It seems to be a common occurrence for me as of lately. If you’re smart about it, you can easily squeak by on $25-$30 a day, that’s what I usually do. How? Well prepare to be slightly hungrier than you usually are and more sober. It’s actually quite easy to spend less and save more, whether you just want to save money or are actually broke.

The first thing you need to do when you realise you are running out of cash is stop consuming anything you do not need and stick with the bare essentials. Staying at a hotel/flat/expensive hostel adds up, ditch the place and find the cheapest hostel you can which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the worst either. Use different websites such as HostelBookers or HostelWorld to find the best deals (use my links too, I get $$$ any time you use their services when clicking from my site, while you’re at it, click an ad or two even if you’re not interested, I get paid per click) these sites have the best selection of Hostels anywhere and their prices are always competitive.

You also need to cut out anything you don’t need to survive. Alcohol, cigarettes, illegal drugs and fast food will burn a hole in your wallet very quickly, especially abroad where anything that is bad for you is taxed to high hell. In Australia, you can drink goon instead of traditional alcohol if you aren’t too broke yet. $10 for 4.4 litres is a good price and can last you up to 3 nights if you go easy on it. Goon is very nasty and requires getting used to. Fizzy water (aka Soda) is also very expensive and should be avoided. Although better for you abroad since it contains real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, real sugar costs more as well in addition to the drink just being taxed. Best to avoid soft drinks all together.

As for fast food, avoid it and buy real food from grocery stores. When I say grocery stores I mean real grocery stores and not convenience stores. You can easily save 50% or more on food by buying from a grocery store rather than a convenience store so walk the extra distance. Local quinsies can also be surprisingly cheaper than fast food as well so just look around. While I was staying in Kings Cross in Sydney, there was this little place used by the pimps for their meetings in the red light district. It was shady but you could get a full breakfast 24/7 for a flat $5, pretty good considering you couldn’t even just get a big mac for that price. Plus, unlike in America, there are no such things as free refills on fizzy water, stick to regular water.

Food from the grocery store, it might be a little more expansive than you are used to back home (if you’re an American at least) but it gives you the chance to experience something new too that you might otherwise avoid. Fruits and vegetables are rather expensive in the states compared to abroad so eat a lot of those. They are good not only for your wallet but your body too. If you shop towards the end of the evening, say 7 or 8 pm, that’s when a lot of food that is about to expire or go past its sell date go on sale. Shop then and save. Most foods are good for an additional 10 days beyond their sell day and 3 beyond their expiration date so keep that in mind when looking at discounted food. Never buy anything you think might be mouldy or are too unsure of. Refrigeration will also help push back the date on foods that you might not otherwise refrigerate. Freeze if possible but most hostels do not have freezers.

Always keep your eye out for deals. Some places will have discount days between certain hours where you can get half off a pizza (Domino’s in Kings Cross for example has $4.95 pizza Tuesdays and in New Zealand, they have $5 pizzas everyday).. Getting a full pizza can easily last you two days if you don’t scarf it down in one sitting. Chat with people whom have been at the hostel a while, they always know where to find a good deal.

Finally, if you are really poor, figure out when the hostel cleans out the refrigerators and cupboards. Any food that is unlabelled gets tossed usually and if you are there when they begin the cleaning, you can usually stand around and have them give you anything you might want they would otherwise toss. Some days can be better than others. For example, since arriving at my current hostel, I have only gone to the grocery store once in the 17 days I’ve been here. The bulk of my food comes from people leaving behind what they don’t want or can’t travel with. Instant savings right there and it’s been good food too, nothing crappy or expired. People just forget about their food when they leave I guess. Don’t forget to check the “Free Food” area as well frequently as sometimes people aren’t lazy and will put their food there instead.

Although you may be tempted to steal other peoples food when you are broke, do not do it. The most important rule of backpacking is never steal from other backpackers, they are just as broke as you. Karma is real and it will come from you, I have seen it happen. In addition to Karma, most hostels have gotten wise and placed security cameras in the food storage area. When someone complains their food went missing, it’s not that hard to pull up the video footage of who stole it. At best you will get a scolding and have to pay the person back, at worse, you’ll be evicted without a refund and possibly, the police could be called. Just don’t do it. Begging on the street is better than stealing from your fellow backpackers.

I hope you found this article useful on saving money when you are broke. I know a lot of the stuff is obvious but some of it isn’t. If you have any good ways on saving money, please share in the comment section! The key to surviving when you’re broke is simply to spend less.

Working Abroad (Illegally)

You scrounged and saved every last penny and decided to take an extra long trip. Unfortunately for you, the exchange rates weren’t that great but you decided to go anyway and now, you are running low on funds. What’s a person to do? You could always apply for a working holiday visa but that costs money too. The solution? Work illegally. Yes it’s against your current visa conditions but a person has to do what they gotta do to survive. In this post, I’ll cover the basics, how to find a job that pays cash in hand (under the table for my American readers), avoiding being detected by immigrations and of course where to store your cash.

If you are gushing cash, my next article will cover how to save money (some ways are obvious, some not so much).

Cash in Hand Jobs – Least Risky
Surprisingly, the best place to find a job is to start at the hostel you are staying at (if you aren’t already at a hostel, see my next article). Most hostels will have a job board or people at reception that know where you can find a quick day job that pays immediately, cash in hand, but be prepared to work your ass off. Try the local Craigslist equivalent, Gum Tree which covers most Commonwealth nations, unfortunately if you are outside the Commonwealth Realm, you will have to use Google to find one. GumTree will usually have a list of people looking for day labourers, au pairs (nanny/housekeeper) and other odd ended jobs. The job will possibly suck and you might be working for less than the countries minimum wage but at least it’s money. Other places to look include restaurants, bars and other businesses the primarily are paid by cash (they are more inclined to pay you cash in hand as a result).

Keep in mind that when you are going around handing out your CV (curriculum vitae, a more detailed version of a resume) to actual businesses, you may need to add a few jobs that you never have held before depending on what you are applying for. In today’s competitive world, it can be difficult to secure a job unless you already have experience in that field. So if you are applying to be a waiter, put down that you have been a waiter before, use an existing restaurant from your home country in case they Google it. It is highly unlikely they will try and contact them as it’s just a waste of time. Padding your CV with jobs that you have never held may seem unethical but keep in mind, you’re already breaking the law by trying to work in the first place, plus it’s not that hard to wait tables or be a bartender. NEVER apply for jobs that require a tax number or do not pay cash in hand, that will send up red flags immediately.

A Real Job – More Risky
You don’t want to make minimum or below minimum wage huh? Ok that’s understandable but things get riskier if you plan on getting a real job. Most real jobs will require a bank account and a tax number. The bank account isn’t a problem as most countries (the US being one of few exceptions) do not require a tax number to open up a bank account. However, in order to get a tax number, you usually need to have a valid work permit of some sorts. Do NOT apply for a tax number if you do not have this permit, all countries immigration and taxation departments work closely together and instead of a tax number in the mail, you’ll get an immigration officer in person instead. Not good.

All hope is not lost, instead if you are applying for a real job, just don’t supply a tax number. Most companies don’t bother checking to see if you have a work permit anyway (Australia being an exception but even then, you can slip through the cracks. Be forewarned, this is one of few countries I would not try to work in a real job without a work permit as they can check online very easily). Without a tax number though, you will be taxed at that countries highest tax rate with no way to recover that money so say good bye to 50-60% of your pay. The other solution is to use a fellow travellers tax number but you can only use it until they leave. This too is risky as if they detect it (low chance) you both get the boot or if your friend denies it and says you stole it, you could be facing criminal charges. This is why, it is just best to find a cash in hand job.

Don’t Be Taken Advantage of
A lot of people will use your inability to work legally to their advantage and will try and exploit you. Don’t let this happen. Always ask what the pay is before you start working, even before a trial shift. If the pay is more than $3 below the countries minimum wage then it’s best to keep looking. Ask how frequently you will be paid, in Commonwealth countries, it is standard to be paid weekly, as a day labourer, daily. If you are just working for the day, be sure you get paid that day, do not let them tell you they will send you a cheque in the mail as it won’t show.

If a company ever tries to tell you they aren’t paying you for work you have already done, threaten to report them. In most cases, they will pay you immediately. If they still don’t, actually report them. Many countries take exploitation of migrants seriously and employers know this. You may think you will be getting in trouble but if you throw them completely under the bus (say something like, “They told me they had a special permit from immigration allowing them to employ tourists for short periods.”) you can usually escape trouble pinning it all on them (A friend of mine used this in Brisbane once and it actually worked). Don’t feel bad for the company, they were trying to screw you anyway.

Also ask fellow backpackers, chances are some of them are working illegally too. They can give you advice on who to contact regarding work and who to avoid.

Storing Your Money
Obviously if you are being paid cash in hand, eventually you are going to have a lot of cash on hand which is good but not safe. The best place to store all this money is at an actual bank. As I mentioned before, you can open up a bank account in a lot of countries without a tax number. If they ask any questions, just tell them you are on a working holiday but haven’t received your tax number yet. Do not try that though in countries that do not have working holidays as they will be on you quick. Again, most of the time you will be fine, all you need is a passport and proof of address (ask your hostel to print something out saying you are staying there or bring in a letter you received at their address).

If you don’t want to go the bank route, place the money on a prepaid credit card. You can pick one of these up at a grocery store or post office, usually there is a one time cost but it is minimal. When selecting a prepaid card, find one that suits your needs with the lowest fees. Prepaid cards are great if you are super paranoid, anyone can buy them and you don’t need to register them (although I strongly advise you do register it because if you lose it, you lost all the money on it as well) nor do they require contact information. Most countries don’t bother keeping a central list of who has one anyway, it’s just not worth the time and effort.

Never keep a lot of cash on you or any of your stuff that is stored at the hostel. There is always a snake among us and they will steal from you the second you turn your back. That is why it is critical to keeping your money in a more secure place, a bank or prepaid credit card.

The consequences of working illegally are pretty simple, you’ll be given deportation orders and/or deported but only if you are caught. If you are smart about it, you can work illegally and immigration won’t be the wiser.

I hope this post has given you a few pointers and if you have any questions, please post them in the comment section. If there is anything super critical I missed, I will append it to the article and make it obvious as always.

Duct Tape – Never Leave Home w/o It

This post is in regards to a tape that can sometimes be overlooked even by the most experienced of travelers, duct tape. This little wonder of a tape is can be used for anything, from making wallets to patching a hole in you luggage. Not to mention it is quite useful for pranking your fellow backpackers or duct taping their mouth shut when they won’t shut up after a long game of goon pong. In this article, I will cover a few things that this modern marvel is useful for when traveling and why it is an essential to your backpack must have list.

At home, we use duct tape for a variety of purposes, usually beyond what it was originally intended for, patching duct work. However, when  you travel, things tend to break, need to be held down or suddenly begin to move when they shouldn’t, if you have ever had something break on you, duct tape is the answer.

Back in June before my travels even began, my laptop fell off my desk onto the concrete floor of the garage. Granted I didn’t think much of it at the time as a worthless piece of plastic fell off. I tossed the piece of plastic, checked the machine, everything worked and I didn’t think twice about it. However, 3 months later, the power connector that was on that side began to shake lose. I was too lazy to fix it but then one day, the whole thing broke off, there was no way to charge my laptop. So I opened the thing up, cut the connector out and spliced in the power adapter directly to the motherboard. Without my duct tape, this wouldn’t have been possible. I used it to re-insulate the wires and permanently attach the power adapter to my computer. It’s not the prettiest of sights but it works and that’s what matters to me.

Without the duct tape, I may have well have been screwed but luckily, I always keep a roll with me as should you. Besides fixing my laptop with it, my backpacking bag took an unfortunate side trip and when it returned to me, one of the seams came undone. Not good. I am not one for sewing, in fact I usually make matters worse by trying to sew things back together. I also knew that if I did nothing, it would get worse. Duct tape to the rescue, I patched the seam and the breakage has not spread since,

That’s one of the more common problems you will run into as a backpacker. No matter how much you spend on your backpack, not matter how good care you take care of it, something will eventually break and usually at the worst of times. Use duct tape to solve the issues whether it be a broken strap, a seam coming lose, a gaping hole or even a zipper that lost it’s pull cord. You can fix almost anything with duct tape. Not to mention if you need to attach something to your bag because you over packed, you can wrap the duct tape around the bag and the extra one and it will be secure. However, I do not recommend flying with your bag like this but only when traveling by foot or vehicle.

In addition, duct tape can make all kinds of nifty things, from wallets to bum packs. The possibilities are endless and if you are short on case and need something useful, use your trusty duct tape to make it. Use your imagination! A friend getting rowdy? Use that duct tape to tie him to the wall until he stops his rampage, he may thank you if you stopped him from destroying the local hostel.

In America, duct tape is dirt cheap so be sure to stock up one a roll or two before departing. It is also better quality, never settle for some cheap brand, always go with “Duck Tape”. You’ll thank yourself later. If you have an interesting story of how you used your duct tape while traveling, post it in the comment section, it’s always fun to hear the creativity when it comes to duct tape use!

Deportation: What Happens if you are Deported

Deportation is a serious problem for backpackers and expatriates. If you over stay your visa, work illegally or break the law, you are liable for deportation. However, deportations can happen by accident as in my case. I was given deportation orders after visiting the Department of Immigration and Citizenship of Australia after someone had “flagged” my passport. I won’t go into the details of the flag but it wasn’t good (and unfortunately for me was quickly resolved but only after I reentered the United States on my own dime). If you are given deportation orders, it is best to follow them and exit the country immediately.

With that being said, there are a few things to keep in mind regarding deportation orders. Usually, the orders will give you a chance to leave of your own free will (as in my case) and most of the time, you won’t get an ugly deportation stamp in the back of your passport and more likely than not, be allowed back into the country after a set amount of time (or simply after you leave and get a new visa). Deportation orders usually come with terms and conditions, you must leave within a set amount of time, buy your own ticket out (don’t necessarily need to go home but you can’t stay here) and stay outside the country for a set period of time.

If you violate the deportation orders, you are in for a nasty surprise. You will more likely than not be detained in an immigration detention centre while the host country processes you out. If you are detained, you can expect to sit in the detention centre for up to a week and sometimes longer. At this point, it is an official deportation, you get the deportation stamp in the back of your passport and free ticket home (they usually don’t give you a plane ticket to anywhere but your home country). You may have just stopped and saw I said free ticket and yes, it is free in a sense but you will be billed for the ticket and usually fined, it will be much more expensive than if you had self-deported.

If you were forcefully deported, cross that country off the places you cannot visit again as you won’t be allowed back in until you repay the ticket, fine and have to wait a set period of time, that is if they even let you back in. Not only that, be prepared to answer some questions at the next port of entry as immigration officers really don’t like seeing deportation stamps. However, hope is not lost if you find yourself with one of those stamps in the back of your passport and in fact, is easy to rectify (won’t help you get back into the country you were deported from).

If you have a lot of problems getting into countries with that deportation stamp, the solution is simple, get a new passport. Yes it is that easy. Granted, you may want to report the passport as “lost” if you don’t want to explain to your home country why you were deported but usually you are fine. As Americans, we can renew our passports at anytime and thus, this is the easiest solution. I’ve never experienced the wrath of the deportation stamp myself but have had a few friends that did so I know a little bit about the troubles it causes. If you want to reenter the country that you were deported from, pay the fine, the plane ticket and wait out the time. There is no simple solution to getting back in to a country you were deported from.

Keep in mind, most countries ask you if you have ever been deported or removed from a country. If you have but never got the stamp or it is no longer in your (new) passport, then tick no. It saves you time and energy from explaining what the hell happened. Thankfully in this modern age of computers, countries still do not share who has been deported and why, hence the stamp. If you have that stamp and the arrival card asks if you have been deported, obviously you need to tick yes because it will be quite obvious to the immigration officer you are lying and you’ll probably be booted out of another country.

The longer you are outside your home country, the more likely a deportation will happen at some point in your travels, it’s a simple fact. You need to work, you don’t want to leave, you get too drunk and end up in the drunk tank, whatever it might be. However, if you follow your visa, leave when your supposed to, and avoid brushes with the law, you’ll be just fine. This won’t be my last article on deportation either as there is a lot more to them than you think. In later posts, I will tell you how to bide time (something I discovered by accident working on my permanent residence visa for Australia) and even use a deportation to your advantage.

Always Have a Plan

So you decided to travel abroad huh? As a backpacker no less. Well, if you have ever travelled abroad before but in a tourist group/predetermined plans then you haven’t really experienced travelling I’m sorry to say. Back in 2003, I travelled with my family to Australia and all of our tours and attractions were predetermined and already set up. It was a great time, something that I have always cherished and possibly gave me the travel bug in the first place. When I returned to Australia in May of 2012, as a backpacker, my idea of travelling was completely flipped upside down. I arrived without a plan.

All of the sudden, the tourist traps, the sightseeing, the worry free hassle of getting from point A to point B vanished. Granted, I came a lot less prepared than most, catching a plane 12 hours after I booked my ticket then landing in Sydney and not knowing where the hell I was even sleeping that night. I realized sitting in the international arrival area just outside customs that I quite possibly made a huge mistake. Nothing was sitting there like before. I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing or how I was even going to get around. It took me 5 hours of painstakingly communicating back and forth with my friend Austin back in the states before I even had a general idea of where I was going to sleep that night. Granted, I was still in shock that I was in another country when 36 hours before, I had no idea I was even leaving my own country so it may have taken me a little longer to compose myself.

The point is, you need a plan and cannot travel on a whim. One, it’s dangerous depending on the country you are going to (Australia is rather safe so I lucked out on that one), two, you may not be able to research essentials (lucked out on this too) and three, it can be quite costly as someone is always ready to nickle and dime the lost tourist (stay away from fast food restaurants abroad, especially outside the United States, they are costly). If at all possible, have a plan together long before you even book your flight as you’ll be glad you did, after all, a long transcontinental/transoceanic flight will take a lot out of you and it’s best to have it all sorted out so you can get to your hostel and sleep!

So what do you need to plan? A lot actually. In fact, you need to do so much planning, I am only going to cover everything briefly in this post and make a new one for each planning essential at a later date.

Have your passport? Be sure you do, you won’t get into a country, out of some or back into yours without it. Be sure it’s valid long enough too!

Most countries require you to get a visa before hand otherwise at best, you get to the airport and find out you can’t board your plane, at worse, you get to your destination and turned right back around, on your own dime.

Banks are concerned about theft and fraud, as they should be (don’t get me started on fraud measures of banks, they don’t do enough). One thing banks are extremely good at is preventing you from getting to your cash overseas. Before leaving, call your bank and let them know you will be using your debit/credit card overseas and from what dates. That way they don’t flag your card the second you go to an ATM and have it sucked up into debit card purgatory.

Pack enough but not too much and be sure to pack for the right season of your destination. I learned the hard way that when it’s Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is Winter in the Southern Hemisphere (I was in a rush, give me a break). Going to be gone for a while? Pack for all the seasons you will encounter, not just the ones you hope to encounter.

How you cart around your belongings is a very important decision. Luggage or backpack? Both have pros and cons. You also need to make sure it is durable as international flights tend to beat the crap out of your stuff more than domestic flights.

Do you have enough money? Unlikely, you can never have enough. Calculate what you expect to spend and double it, you’ll be glad you did. On a working holiday? Still take more than you think you may need to get started, otherwise you will be phoning home (thanks mom and dad).

Insurance can be a lifesaver, figuratively and literally. Be sure your heath insurance covers you outside your home country. Just because your destination has socialized health care doesn’t mean you are entitled to it. Take out travelers insurance too in case your bag takes its own holiday (mine went missing for almost a week, traveling the opposite direction of me somehow).

What is the cheapest way to get around? By walking. But if you are lazy/out of shape like me, you’ll take the next cheapest way to get around and that usually means public transport. Research the transit system long before you need to use it.

We all need to eat, some more than others. If you are coming from America, you’re in for a shock. Fast food abroad is very expensive and should only be eaten when drunk and you found a $20 on the ground. Try the local cuisine if you must eat out, otherwise shop at a grocery store (not a convenience store, an actual grocery store). While you’re at it, buy fruit, it’s cheaper and taste better abroad than it does in the states. Oh it’s also better for you too, win win.

You like the Ritz-Carlton huh? Well unless you are filthy rich, prepare to experience what I like to call the place between a cardboard box and a college dormitory. It’s got the roaches you find in the cardboard box plus 4x as many people in a college dorm room, we call them hostels! The only place to live off the street that won’t break the bank. This can either be a great experience or a miserable one, go in with an open mind and you’ll do fine. Also bring a set of earplugs.

If you’re like me, you need to be in constant communication with the world. Either bring an international capable phone or buy one when you arrive (not at the airport). If you are bringing one with you, be sure it is unlocked and will work in the country, each country has different frequencies, if you have a “quad-band” phone, you usually are fine.

On the same line as communication, phoning home doesn’t have to be expensive. In some countries, internet is relatively cheap so use Skype on your mobile to phone home instead of minutes on your plan. Wi-Fi + Skype = perfect. Skype to Skype calls are even free, imagine that. If you’re coming from America, signup for Google Voice and use that to text back home, it won’t cost them or you any extra money (except for some data on your end but it’s minimal and worth it). Ideally, Skype on a computer is best so you can see each other too.

Humans are social creatures and contrary to popular belief, most people are welcoming of Americans, they just hate our government, like us! Don’t make assumptions about other cultures and if you do, keep them to yourself. Hitler was a long time ago so don’t heil the Germans! There are a few things about socializing however that you need to keep in mind but I will cover those in another post.

Finding Work
Finding work in another country can be easy or it can be the most difficult thing you have ever done. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time, and other times, you need to work to find work. Start at the hostel you are staying at, they usually have leads or know people looking for day laborers. Check GumTree, Seek, Indeed and local recruiting offices. In some countries (like Australia) you need to be licensed to serve liquor, work where there are gambling machines or even to swing a hammer (I’m not kidding). Look for jobs before leaving if at all possible in your field of study/talent.

I have met my share of stinky people unfortunately so I cannot stress enough how important it is to bathe daily, brush your teeth, wash your clothes and wear deodorant. This helps your social life as well. If you notice people moving away from you or avoiding you, chances are you reek and need to take appropriate action. At a bare minimum, always pack soap, deodorant, a towel and a washcloth. However if people are still avoiding you and you know you don’t stink, stop being a jackass.

Have fun! Not everything is about finding that job, sometimes you need to let go and remember you are in a different country. Don’t get too caught up with work or partying at the hostel. Get out and see the sights, do actual tourist things once in a while. If all you have smelled in the past 24 hours is funny odors, smoke and booze, it’s time to leave the hostel.

Obviously there is more than what I have mentioned here and so much more detail as well. These are simply the basics, stuff to always keep in the back of your mind when you are preparing for your next adventure. I will be posting more about each section in greater detail soon.