How I Travelled the World While Broke AF: 16 Countries in 18 Months

When I introduce myself to people, my travel experiences often lead as an icebreaker. People usually listen in awe as I mention my recent trips to Asia, North America, Africa and Europe. And without fail, I am instantly questioned with:

“How do you afford to travel so much?!”

So I want to share the “how” with you today.

Let me give you a bit of context. Although I’ve been travelling since I was a child, 2015 was the most significant year for me because it intensified my passion for travel. It was also the most confusing year.

I was a few months away from graduating and hadn’t landed my dream job yet. So while many of my friends were only stressing over exams, I was secretly losing my mind.

I wanted travelling to be my backup plan because I didn’t feel prepared to apply for a whole other career yet. But the way my bank account was set up… it was literally saying:

I had bills to pay. I didn’t have a job. But I also knew that I didn’t want to work as I travelled.

So it really didn’t make sense when I booked a trip to Germany and to multiple countries in Asia! Everyone thought I was going through a phase, and that I would come back from Asia, graduate, and then sort my life out. While I did graduate, to the amazement of my friends and family, I ended up travelling to 16 countries in 18 months.

So, I guess you’re wondering how I made it happen? I’ll tell you now, it’s no easy ride. You are going to need a lot of determination and willpower. But here’s how I was able to travel even though I didn’t have a lot of money. Hopefully this will kick-start your own travel journey!

I got a flexible job

This isn’t a fairytale, so I knew I had to get myself a job. But I needed one where I didn’t have to ask for permission to take leave, allowing me to come and go as I please. So while all of friends were landing awesome graduate jobs, I signed up to a temporary hospitality agency.

While I didn’t enjoy waitressing very much, I was able to apply for shifts depending on my availability, and didn’t even need to tell them when I was abroad! This was a super easy way to make money whenever I was in London, and most importantly gave me the opportunity to apply for extra shifts if I ever needed extra cash. The downside is that you’re sacrificing high pay for flexibility, but that’s when you need to ask yourself: what’s more important, money or experiences?

Temporary hospitality agencies can be found online, so have a little search on Google and see what comes up. (Note: I know that not everyone wants to live on a temporary lifestyle forever, including myself. I now have a full time job and have been delivered from the financial struggle. I will give the low down on how I’m still able to travel frequently very soon!)

I had a side hustle

I’m quite ambitious, so if I identify something I’m good at, you can bet your buck that I am trying to make something of it. I established a bespoke wig business during my last year of university and continued to make wigs whenever I returned to London.

If I really wanted to, I could have sold wigs and had a mobile salon as I travelled. Hairstyling was initially a hobby of mine, so I didn’t mind making wigs alongside waitressing.

So the key takeaway is if you are good at something, find a way to make money from it!

I couchsurfed

If you’ve never used couchsurfing.com, you are truly missing out. Couchsurfing is a website that connects travellers with hosts who offer you a bed – or couch – to sleep on for free. Couchsurfing can initially be very daunting but I felt the fear and did it anyway, because I didn’t have many options as a broke traveller.

I stayed with two lovely women in Montreal and ended up having the best time. They cooked for me, we stayed up late talking until the early hours of the morning, and they helped me with all of my touristy questions. But honestly, they made me feel at home.

We still talk now (hey Awovi and Simone!) and have even discussed meeting up in a different continent! So please take advantage of these kinds of resources. But as always, trust your gut and be aware.

My wonderful Couchsurfing hosts (Awovi and Simone) and me

I stayed with friends whenever I could

I’m incredibly sociable and outgoing so I have no problems with making friends. As a result, I’m pretty blessed to have friends all over the world.

I often don’t have to ask, but if I want to visit a country, I drop the idea to a friend who lives there.

Before booking my ticket to New Delhi, I contacted an old friend and asked him if he thought travelling alone to India was a good idea. He was completely against it, so he secured free accommodation for me (in a Member of Parliament’s house!) and drove me to the attractions everyday.

It’s always nice to see an old face, so cherish your friendships because you never know when one may move to a country that you’ve been dying to go to (and because they mean a lot to you, obviously)!

I met Paige (left) when she was studying abroad at my University in London. We ended up travelling to Berlin and Amsterdam together, and I went to visit her in Brooklyn.

I stayed in hostels

During the 18 months, I predominantly stayed in shared dormitories in hostels. They are incredibly cheap, especially in Asia, and provide ample opportunities to meet new people and experience new things.

In fact, I’ve gone on to visit people that I’ve met in a dorm room, and had others come to visit me! If you aren’t keen on staying in a shared room, many popular hostels have private rooms so you can take advantage of the social benefits while having your own space. But if you aren’t going to be in your room for most of the day, why not opt for the cheapest choice?

This is hands down my favourite hostel! I met so many intelligent people at Rainbow Lodge in Hong Kong, and I still talk to a few on a regular basis. I know that whenever I decide to visit their hometown, they will welcome me with open arms.

I made sacrifices

A friend once told me that she wished she could travel more as I was following her on a make up shopping spree.

It’s all about priorities, my friend. In order to ball on a budget abroad, you have to make sacrifices at home. So I stopped eating out with friends, only bought clothes when it was completely necessary, and didn’t buy the newest gadgets just because everyone else had it. If I did go out with friends, it was to have a fun experience (like bowling or clubbing) and not something that I could already do at home.

I often asked myself before buying anything: “would I choose this over a flight ticket?” Most times it was a no, so most times I didn’t buy it/wouldn’t do it. If you don’t ask yourself questions like this before you buy anything, then ask yourself this one – do you really want to travel?

This is probably the hardest step to make when choosing to travel more. But honestly, nothing beats the happiness you’ll feel when you’re abroad. I would choose that over numerous shopping trips any day.

I bought the ticket and worried later

This one is a little controversial, but I swear it works. If you decide to do this, make sure you can work well under pressure!

Sometimes I saw a flight deal and would start to fill in my passport details, and my bank account would be like:

But I refused to let my drowning account be the enemy of progress, so I would book the holiday anyway. If it wasn’t an immediate trip, I could always save up the travel funds.

What I love about the human mind is that it gets very creative when we have limited resources. It was the reason why I started my wig business and the reason why I contacted Awovi and Simone on Couchsurfing.com – I had no cash. But all of those experiences brought out amazing skills in me, which inspired me to start Melanin Travel and help all of you!

I never went on any of my trips with less than I needed. I always made sure that I reached my planned budget. So if this sounds like something you can handle, don’t let your bank account stop you!

So to every person who has emailed or told me that they want to travel more but it doesn’t seem possible:

If I can do it, so can you.

So there you have it. Do you have any creative tips on how to travel while broke? Share them with me by commenting below!

Melanin Travel

Encouraging you to keep exploring the world through advice, inspiration and experiences.

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