Why Travelling Poor is Awesome
Finding yourself overseas with an empty bank account is commonplace for most who laboured under the myth — probably at your shitty local pub — that a couple grand would support a six-month romp around Europe. This newfound poverty might have forced you to sleep in airports, beg for a cheaper room, ride a bus for 40 hours or drink Super Tennents on the street. Maybe you shared a meal with homeless people in a soup kitchen, ate out of dumpsters or slept in a park for a couple of nights. The point is that these experiences were probably more poignant than the rest of your trip. They probably formed the best stories that you continue to rehash today.
These brief brushes with the other side of the poverty line force a solitary desperation which, when allowed to gestate, grows into self-reliance, disregard for inhibition and spontaneous creativity. So why restrict these experiences to the result of accident or oversight; why not seek them out? Shed the cushion of hostels and restaurant meals, banish your plan B and turn away from the path most travelled, not because you’re ashamed of becoming another “tourist” and not necessarily because you can’t afford it, but because you learn so much more from slumming.
These soirees are the most direct route into the bowels of a city. Buried beneath layers of consumption lies a suppressed truth – the truth of wastage, the truth of inequality and the truth of survival. Some might argue that to seek out poverty is disrespectful to those truly impoverished, but I think the real disrespect comes from flippant, unrestricted spending without acknowledgement of inherent privilege. I am not saying go steal a man’s panhandling spot – I’m saying sit next to him, don’t spectate, but speak to him, because chances are you’ll learn way more than you would on a walking tour of Paris – and he might even share his food with you too.
The more money you have, the more you can hide behind it. A passing whim like “I could really just be alone and watch T.V. right now” or “I’d love some pizza” forms into a necessity or ambition, not because you need these things, but because you have the opportunity to fulfill them. If you have no cash, these options cease to exist, and all you are left with is what you actually need, not a desire or want or wish, but a need. When you reduce the world into necessity, it simplifies a lot and lets you appreciate the rest.
Best of all, when you learn how to travel poor you can travel whenever you want. There are no six-month grinds for three-week holidays, no counting calendar days or “Nah, I can’t afford it”. All you need to do is say “yes” and then excavate the tool of self-reliance that you haven’t utilised since the last time you went overseas.
The hobo road trip from the Gold Coast to Perth wasn’t as pervaded by poverty as some might have hoped. We paid for petrol, sometimes at $2/L and shopped at Woolworths when dumpsters were locked or hidden. We bought goon and beer and indulged in the occasional pack of Shapes. Despite what some readers may think, we acknowledge and appreciate our privilege and luck, and sometimes, we exercise it too.
There were certain glorious moments where desperation cooked up some creativity and self-reliance. Sharing a gourmet dumpster meal with a group of hungry new friends – most unaware that the tomatoes had blemishes or the bread was slightly stale – bred a primal form of social cohesion from hunger, freedom and unconventional living.
Eating roadkill quickly evolved from sarcastic palaver to a realistic objective, not that any of us particularly enjoy meat, but the idea of eating without impact, sustainably and for no cost ravaged our appetites more than a menu ever could. As I sawed off the bloody leg of a kangaroo which I dragged from the side of the road into a nearby bush, the fear of disease and the grinding of knife on bone heightened every sense and broke and repositioned several personal boundaries. We weren’t as poor as we could have been, but we were poor enough, and when that steak of kangaroo was masticated between our teeth and swallowed with relish, the idea of free food, free travel and free existence tasted better than any meal money could buy.