Traveling Perks

I’m broke.

I’ve stopped frequenting cafés, eating out, and heading straight to the shops with bright red SALES banners. Now I pack almost everything in an adult lunchbox (a bunch of tupperware containers in a ziplock) and turn my head whenever I pass by my favourite shops.

I tell everyone I’m broke. And yet, I’m not. Not really anyway.

The truth is, I’ve been saving and this is the first time I’ve ever had that amount of money in my accounts.

Now, I I never really was an extravagant spender (except when it came to gifts for people), and I’d say that I’d lead a modest life, but while I never had debt, I never put away money either. I always made sure I didn’t overspend, but I frequently reached points where I eagerly awaited my pay check because I had barely anything left in my wallet. I was repeatedly and literally broke.

But now that I’ve been forced to scrimp and have successfully driven my daily expenses to occasionally be as low as zero, I wonder what was wrong with me to have spent the way I used to.

Then again, I never really had motivation to tighten my belt this way. Saving was something people around me joked about not doing, and I had several friends who’d blow rent money on manicures and pedicures, or a couple of tubes of Mac lipstick and several books.

This kind of behaviour was not just accepted; material things were considered great investments, and a life of comfort and frivolous purchases took precedence over insurance and other financially sound decisions. We never discussed the terrible return we were getting out of this. We understood, but eh. We were young and could afford to be foolish for at least another good decade.

Sunburnt and shutter happy


So what changed? I started travelling.

When I tell people that I travel, I often get this bewildered look, followed by a, “You must be rich.”

I’m not. I’m comfortably middle class and traveling is just not as expensive as most people think. Especially now with budget airlines and websites that help you find bargain accommodations, it is possible to go on week-long excursions for less than the cost of a new smart phone (which is, ironically, a commodity that almost everyone in this country has).

“But that’s a lot of cash for something intangible.” is usually what I get in reply to that.

Technically, that is true. Money goes out and I don’t have anything to show as proof beyond my boarding passes, but travel is a lot like an unorthodox way of learning things. And, as many people have told me, education is something that cannot be taken away. Granted, it won’t pay the bills on its own, but what’s in your head does a lot for character development.

Which leads me back to this sudden shift in my attitude towards money.

Trying the pho in one of the local Saigon restaurants.

Traveling broke me out of routines, which made me realise there were a bunch of things I regularly did that I could live without. Traveling forced me to quit big chain cafés and be more adventurous with local joints. Traveling taught me how to spend less than I had because I couldn’t keep withdrawing without being penalised heavily by my bank back home.


Eventually, I learned that I could live on less. But to be honest, having to save up for upcoming trips forced me to live on less too. And it’s sort of becoming a habit, I guess. 

But I’m not alone in this. All the other frequent travellers that I know are the most

Waiting for my first self-funded long haul flight

monetary wise individuals outside of professional finance. Apart from saving out of habit, they have stocks, trade in ForEx, and can recommend when to invest.


And they’re all seriously another level of laid back and unprejudiced. This becomes a natural thing with many travellers, apparently, because it is inevitable to have your outlook and patience change between all the delayed flights, inconsiderate seat mates, and interaction with people from different backgrounds.

I haven’t reached their level of zen yet though, and judgement still comes out so quickly from me. But maybe, just maybe, after a  few more passport stamps and plane rides, I’ll be somewhere close.


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