6 Money Lessons I Learned Whilst Traveling

A wise traveler once told me that the moment you run out of money is the moment when your journey truly begins. There is plenty of truth to this idea, but a little bit of money in your pocket does make travel a heck of a lot easier.

I’ve made my share of money mistakes while traveling, and I hope that by sharing the lessons I’ve learned over the years I can help you avoid some common pitfalls and successfully manage your travel funds.

1) Never Rely on Just One Money Source

I’ve run out of money twice while traveling  – once in Thailand and once in Argentina.

Each time, I had money in an account back home that I couldn’t access because of either losing my ATM card or accidentally deactivating it by entering the wrong PIN number too many times (note – when you can’t remember the PIN, don’t keep pressing ENTER in frustration or things will get worse).

Everything worked out both times. In Thailand, I camped on a friend’s plot of land and ate my meals at an organic farm, after promising to send the farmers some money once I returned to the States.

In Argentina, I used my last few pesos to buy a coffee in a cafe with WiF’ and found a short-term apartment from a landlord who didn’t mind waiting for rent until my bank had sent me a replacement ATM card.

My mistake was to rely exclusively on my ATM card instead of diversifying with separate stashes of cash and traveler’s checks. Even though ATMs are now common in nearly every corner of the globe, it’s important to travel with other funds in addition to your trusty card.

ATMs are everywhere but don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Photo by: Dennis Wong

2) Don’t Invite Theft

Trust is an important element of travel, but so are street-smarts.

I’ve had valuables stolen twice while traveling. Once, on a sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, I put my wallet in a pouch by my bunk and it was gone by morning.

The other time a thief climbed over a (locked) gate to access the guesthouse where I was staying in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, crept into my (unlocked) room and got away with a camera after I woke-up and scared him.

Both thefts could have easily been avoided by locking a door or tucking a wallet out of the way. Don’t be overly paranoid while traveling, but don’t invite theft either. Simple precautions can go a long way.

3) Choose Your Destinations Wisely

Some countries are a lot more expensive than others, and I’m amazed by how many travelers neglect to account for major price differentials when choosing their next destination.

For example, it’s hard to get by on less than $100 per day in Japan, but $20 per day is more than enough money to enjoy Cambodia.

Tim Leffel’s Cheapest Destinations blog is an excellent resource for budget travelers on the look out for a destination where their hard-earned money will go a long way.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia: a great budget destination. Photo by Chi King

4) The Best Things in Life are Free

Enjoy simple pleasures while traveling. The old cliche about the best things in life being free is especially true for travelers.

There’s a lot of pressure to buy tour packages and live the high-life while traveling, but your best memories are likely to come from a conversation, or an aimless stroll, or some other experience that money just can’t buy.

5) Panicking Doesn’t Solve Anything

If you do run out of money, get robbed or suffer some other money-related disaster, the most important thing you can do is to take deep breaths and stay calm.

The air is still breathable without money. You aren’t going to starve. You will get home safely. Just stay calm, take a moment to collect yourself, and start putting together a plan.

6) Be Conscious of the Power You Wield

One of the most important things one can learn while traveling is that money is a powerful force, and how you choose to spend your money has a big impact on the people you meet and the places you go.

Who will you support? What will you stand for? What sort of world are you helping to create?

Each time you spend money you are casting a vote, and each purchase has lasting consequences. Be conscious of the power you wield, and try to seek out and support local people when you can.

Do you think backpackers splash too much cash on the road? Do most travelers give little thought to where they spend their money? Post up your comments and let us know!

If you liked this, you might also like: How I Traveled the World Without Spending a Fortune

Main image: Floating Market Thailand by Chrissy575

8 thoughts on “6 Money Lessons I Learned Whilst Traveling”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out to my Cheapest Destinations Blog – much appreciated! The accompanying book is a sub-$15 (sub-$10 on Kindle or PDF) way to plan your itinerary in a way that fits your budget instead of picking places first and then figuring out you can’t afford them. This doesn’t mean you have to compromise though: some of the cheapest places in the world are also the most interesting. Plus you don’t have to fight through as many tour bus crowds.

  2. I learned my lesson the hard way on bringing multiple money sources. I had to rely on my credit card company for emergency cash. I am greatful, but it was an absolute nightmare.

  3. I agree with you about clever spending money when travelling. We do not understand that the persons consider us as idiots when we pay much than we would have to give them. I could see it many times when I accompain tourists in different famous places like Pompei, Vesuvius etc. It seems, these persons earn their money selling all those souvenirs and had to respect tourists, too. But they probably think otherwise.

    Similar stories tell my blogger friends from Asia. The poor persons that tourists think to help with their money become very bad in confront to those “saviours”.

    Well, we have to be conscious about the value of the money.

  4. Number two and Number four are the tips I would give anyone wanting to visit a foreign country; particularly if they want to stay in a big city.

    I’m not sure if I sometimes am a little too paranoid but having grown up in a city where theft is as common as sunshine in the Caribbean, I always try to keep my belongings secured. Nowadays, I’d have to be extra careful, I think, after being in a relatively small European city for the last four years.

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