10 Life Lessons I’ve Learned While Traveling With Very Little Money


My friend and I went to Scandinavia recently. Despite my friend losing all her money to pickpockets and us scrimping on the money I have with me, I would still say that it was my most enjoyable and relaxing trip that has taught me valuable lessons in life.

1. Ask and you shall receive (even if it’s a stupid question).

My friend and I prefer a little bit of adventure when we travel, which is why we try to ask questions only as last resort. This changed when my friend lost all her money and we had to share all the expenses with the cash that I have with me (good thing I also brought my credit card with me).

Losing her money made us bolder in asking strangers for favors during our trip.

On our trip to Bergen, we had a two-hour stop over at Voss Station and we wanted to make use of that time by sightseeing around Voss. The problem is, we could not find the locker room where passengers can leave their luggage (for a fee of course). We decided to go a posh hotel next to the train station and dared to ask the receptionist if we can leave our luggage with them.

Without any hesitation, the girl at said yes (we probably looked gaunt and pitiful by this time, after having eaten mostly cheap sandwiches from convenience stores the past days). After a two-hour sightseeing of the town, we went back to the train station, where we found by chance, the locker room.

In the end, we were able to save money by (unintentionally and luckily) avoiding locker room fees.

2. Just because the door is closed, doesn’t mean you can’t enter.

During the early part of our trip, when my friend and I were unsure whether we were heading towards the right direction or entering the correct door, she would say that our general rule should be, “If the road is blocked or the door is closed, it means we shouldn’t go that way”. That became our rule-of-thumb — initially — until we started our 6 km hike from Gudvangen to Rimstigen in which the trail is blocked by several gates and other kinds of barriers.

We almost quit that time because we felt unsure whether we were heading towards the right direction. There were no signage and not a single soul to give directions!. For this hike, we had to climb over a roadside barrier and go through several closed gates just to reach our destination. Later, we learned from research that the general rule in the area is that you can enter the gates, as long as you close them behind you.

3. Goats with horns don’t attack people… sometimes.

Goats. Horned Goats. A Herd of Horned Goats. Goats with big, pointy horns. OK, I hope you get the image that I am trying to convey. These goats got us stranded on the road for one hour because they were blocking the way, and my friend was scared that if we cross their path, they would attack us.

So for one hour, I and my friend kept a safe distance from the horned goats, debating whether we should continue with our hike or just go back to our campsite and accept being defeated by goats.

For one hour, we discussed where we can escape in case they attack us.

There were only two choices, run to the mountains (which goats can easily climb) or dive into the water. It didn’t help that whenever I attempt to get closer to them, the biggest goat in the herd would stare at me and then look at another goat as if telling his goat friend, “OK, you attack the girl wearing glasses, while I’ll deal with the one with short hair”. I swear they seem to be talking to each other. My friend can confirm this.

So after weighing the pros of cons of continuing with our hike, we decided that it wasn’t worth being poked by a goat, so we started walking back towards our campsite.

Thankfully, minutes later, we encountered two hikers who were on their way to Rimstigen and I sheepishly (pun intended) asked them if we could walk with them because we are afraid of the horned goats. Needless to say, the goats didn’t attack us when we walked by them.

Up to this day, I still blame the innocent goats for making us lose time, causing us not to reach the summit (we had to catch the last bus for that day).

4. Just because many people are going that direction, doesn’t mean you have to go there too.

In Copenhagen, after visiting a tourist spot, my friend and I came across a place nearby where a lot of young people seem to be heading. From outside, it seems to be a complex or a park, but we couldn’t say for sure because its walls painted with lots of colorful graffiti block the view from outside.

Near the entrance, there were Reggae-related items that were being sold. “Maybe there’s a rock concert?”, I told my friend. Naturally, we got curious. Nothing wrong with checking it out, right? So we went in.

First thing I saw was a cafe with a colorful facade, no one seems to be patronizing it though, guessing from the empty chairs outside. I decided to take a picture. The people passing by stared at me and my friend as if we were misfits.

Nothing weird so far, just lots of young people passing by us, walking fast and entering a more secluded, tree-covered area. Things seemed fairly normal, that is until my friend saw a girl throw a cigarette-like thing into the bin, her hands shaking vigorously. Just nearby, two guys under a tree seem to be holding something that I only see in movies.

I told my friend I am starting to feel uncomfortable about the place so we decided to go the other direction. We ended up at another semi-gated entrance where a group of guys stared at us again as if we were two lost girls. As we made our way towards the entrance, I saw the words “Green Light District” and a drawing of marijuana leaf on a signage. That’s when I finally realized why we were getting stares. Needless to say, we left immediately (I swear we didn’t stay!).

Later, I googled about the place and learned that police officers occasionally raid the place. And one more thing, there’s a rule that you shouldn’t be taking photos when in the Green Light District.

5. It’s OK to be paranoid. But not extremely paranoid that things become unenjoyable.

Just keep your guard up, be aware of your surroundings and accept the fact that there are not so nice people who will take advantage of you.

Whenever I travel, I normally wear my backpack in front of me. Except this one time when we went to Scandinavia. I’ve always had the impression that Scandinavia is the safest place to travel in Europe, so my friend and I were lax on our first few days, until her cash was stolen. After that incident, we started wearing our backpacks in front again.

6. The things that you think are going to suck may end up being good!

When my friend and I booked our accommodation early on, we made sure that our beds will be in an all-female dorm. When we couldn’t find a cheap, centrally located female-only dorm in Bergen, we resorted to a mixed dorm. This was one accommodation I wasn’t really looking forward to staying.

When we arrived at the hostel late at night, almost everyone was sleeping or preparing to sleep already. I then imagined some crazy, terrible things happening to us while we sleep. I told my friend that I am not comfortable staying in this hostel. She suggested looking for a new hostel for the next day. However, considering that we do not have enough money with us and that we already paid for a two-night stay, we thought it would be unwise to do so.

The roaming hunks who greeted our waking eyes the next morning told us that we made the right decision. This was probably one of the highlights of our trip. We vowed to stay at mixed dorms on our next trip (they’re cheaper, you know?).

7. Go free and easy.

Traveling free and easy isn’t really 100% “easy” because I and my friend had to spend several late nights doing research and planning. However, once you’ve finished all the necessary pre-trip preparations, I can assure you that you’ll get that rewarding feeling during and after the trip.

I couldn’t even count the number of times that I and my friend said “Wow! I can’t believe we were able to do that on our own!” Other obvious benefits of going free and easy are: One, you get to feel what it’s like to be Dora the Explorer or a contestant of Amazing Race (at a much slower pace of course!). Two, you get to save more money. In fact, for this trip we only shelled out half of what we spent for our packaged European tour in 2011.

Considering that Scandinavia has the world’s most expensive cities, I would say that this is indeed an accomplishment. Last but not the least, you get to experience what it’s like to be local when you explore the city by foot or public transportation.

8. It’s OK to say yes to strangers (but be wise about it).

While at the grocery store, we met a fellow Filipina who invited us to her place when she found out that our campsite is just near their house. I am generally wary of accepting invitation from strangers but I do not know why I just blurted out “Sure!” to her invitation.

She told us that her sister had cooked some Filipino delicacies at home and would like to share them with us. Having eating mostly sandwiches for almost two weeks was probably the main reason why I said yes without hesitation. She went ahead of us (she has a car). We told her we’ll go to her place later.

While walking, my friend and I came to the realization that we shouldn’t have trusted strangers so easily. We thought of things that could possibly go wrong (Are we going to get poisoned? Murdered? Cooked as a delicacy?). Turned out we didn’t have to worry. We met her equally nice sister and nieces. And what do you get when Filipinos gather together? Instant fiesta! The usually quiet campsite was turned into a circus with all the ruckus we made. We laughed and joked around as if we have been friends for a long time.

9. It’s OK to be a lazy tourist.

There were days during our trip when we spent half of the day napping at our hostel. For instance, at Gudvangen, we intentionally did not do anything touristy, we just enjoyed the view of the mountains from our window, did a bit of walking to buy food, ate along the riverbank and allowed the cool breeze to dampen our faces. I think traveling should be more like this.

Instead of rushing from one place to another, aiming to just strike off a particular tourist spot from your list, we should (and can) actually experience the places we visit by not doing anything and just watching people and things as they go by.

10. Have an ice cream.

As I mentioned earlier, my friend lost all her money during this trip and we had to rely on the cash that I brought with me. Thus, we had to scrimp on some things, though not with ice cream.

We thought: “We will not allow this bad experience to spoil our vacation!” So having ice cream did help us to keep our sanity. What I am trying to say is, as long as you know how to budget well, you deserve to have little luxuries in life once in a while. So, have a break. Have an ice cream or a chocolate. Or both.