Friday, 8 July 2011

Flashback Friday–Travel Money

Here’s the next instalment in my Flashback series. One of the most frequent questions I get asked about travel is about money; how did I afford to travel?

When I started out travelling, I was driving around Australia in a 1979 Ford Cortina, and I was on disability pension, so as long as I lived frugally, I could get by day-to-day and I busked for extra cash. When I first decided to go overseas, I had a broken leg, and no money, but I did have an oven and a love of baking… so I spent a few months freezing in Hobart, Tasmania, baking organic goodies and selling stuff in Salamanca Markets. Didn’t take long before I had enough to fly to Germany…

Only once I’d forked out for the plane ticket, I found myself hobbling around Frankfurt (still recovering from the broken leg), with only $200 to my name, nowhere to stay, not knowing anyone, and not really speaking any German. And I’d left my trusty guitar back in Australia, so I couldn't even busk!

Just as I was feeling I’d made a terrible mistake, a funky-looking young woman came up to me handing out fliers for a party. I explained that I couldn’t speak German, and she asked me about my dreadlocks. Once we got to talking, and she realised I was essentially homeless, she invited me back to stay at a squat-house she lived in. Awesome!

So I had somewhere to stay, and for people who know how to live very simply, food isn’t hard to come by in a rich country. And for crafty mamas like myself (I had been blessed by a gift of some yarn from my aunt before I left Oz), hand-crafts are always an option.

I set to work crocheting like mad and I made up about a dozen water-bottle holders to sell, like this one

14 brasil bottle

Then I sat on the main shopping street in the city, crocheting more, and hoping people would buy some. I had a little sign that advertised 5Deutschmarks for each one (about US$3 at the time). I sat there most of the day, and no one bought any. Just as I was about to give up hope, a smartly-dressed businessman came up and asked me about them. He told me they were too cheap, and he’d buy one for 10DM, but only if I promised to change my sign to 10. I thought that was insane – way too expensive… But I did what he said. Within an hour I’d sold 7 more! And I learned a valuable lesson about economics.

So I made enough to get by. My main form of transport was hitch hiking, which is generally free, and in Germany, often results in free food, money, and accommodation as well as transportation. I never paid for accommodation; always “couch surfing” with people I met, or else camping out in forests or under bridges. Yep, I was 20, free, and a little crazy!

At some point, I was given an amazing gift: a backpacker guitar! It was in bad condition, but I rebuilt it, cut a new soundboard, made it good as new, and painted it all pretty. So I was back in the busking business!

I busked my way all across Asia with my funky guitar, hitchhiking, camping, and living very simply on a budget of around $3-$5/day. Overland travel meant I didn’t need to spend on expensive airfares and I got to see the world along the way.

Ela Nepal guitar

(Playing my funky guitar in Nepal, Age 21)

Sadly, my awesome guitar was stolen in India, and I didn’t have enough money to replace it. But I was blessed again – an awesome friend went around at the rainbow gathering I was at asking for donations to raise money for me to get a new guitar! It ended up not being enough for a guitar, but I could get a mandolin! And thus, I learned a new instrument, and travelled with that busking around India and Africa.


(Playing Mandolin in Lesotho, age 22)

I did stop for a while in a few places here and there working, but not really earning much. After I got pregnant with Littletree, Purple went to Israel for a few months, working like a mad thing to save money, and we lived off that (again, living very frugally) travelling around Latin America till Littletree was a year old. I think our budget then was around $15/day for the whole family.


In Peru, I spent a large chunk of the last of our savings on buying hand-made silver jewellery, which I then sold for a tidy profit in northern California, which sustained me through the expenses of traveling in the US and Canada. Littletree and I also teamed up with a group driving from Mexico to British Colombia, and we’d do group busking.


Our best effort was an afternoon playing music at the Grand Canyon – we got about $50 in half an hour.


Now I make money through my writing, and birthwork. I write articles for Essence of Life, which brings in a bit, and when I travel to births, the tickets and expenses are generally covered by my clients, so while I don’t really make money out of it, our travel is paid.

In general, we live pretty simply, we stay in cheap places, we eat local food, we camp a lot. It’s mostly about living with less, prioritising the truly important things, and trusting that the universe will provide everything that we need.


  1. Great story! Thanks for sharing with us...

  2. That group busking photo is lovely.

    Thanks for sharing more of your adventures, they are always so interesting to read xo

  3. Somehow we imagined our roadtrip around Oz would come to something like $15/day. How wrong we were. Of course, clearly we had no idea what we were doing! Next time, we'll consult you first!! :-) Thanks for the tips!!

  4. ah, this is just what i needed today. thank you to the universe for sending this my way XO

  5. rainblissed, it's so often like that! Our dramatically inflated budget in Brazil was largely because once we had a baby, we got a car (I don't count its purchase amongst our expenses as we sold it at the end) and we stayed in (very cheap) hotels (pousadas) when we didn't have a place to camp or a friend to stay with. We did sleep in the back of the station wagon on occasion, and we cooked a lot of our own food or ate cheap local food. But ultimately, living cheaply in the 3rd world is very different to living cheaply in the 1st world.

  6. I always wondered how you did it, I love your message about living simply, thank you for sharing!

  7. Love hearing about your adventures :)

  8. love love love hearing this. wish like hell i could live like this :/

  9. you can, of course, camille!
    It's all about making choices, and priorities. For most people who fantasise about travel, there are other things more important to them. That's not a bad thing - just better to be clear on what it is that one *really* wants to be doing, and DO it!
    We can't all travel the whole world *and* grow a sustainable veggie garden and build a house *and* get a degree *and* run a business, etc.
    (well, not all at the same time anyway!)
    We all live through each other.

  10. Me too Camille! I love reading your adventures, Your blog gives me hope that there are better ways of living. While I do get to travel, everything is so expensive in Aus (rent/housing especially), its easy to get stuck in a rut and not know how to find a path toward happiness. You should write a book! or at least something with all your amazing photos and tips for living the "good" life. Much love, and hopefully our paths will cross again soon.x

  11. I think the housing rut is something most people get stuck in. Before I started travelling, I used to say "oh, I wish I could travel! but I can't, because I have this house and all this furniture and these two cars, and a freakin washing machine!" But then I realised all that stuff was just stuff, and I gave it all away. Once one gets stuck in owning possessions, it weighs you down, and the things end up owning you.

  12. I know you wrote this a few years ago, so speaking to me at the moment though. I've given everything away, uped sticks and then started again a few times now; this time though it's proving harder - maybe cos I'm older and I have my son, worries of not being able to provide for him, his dad, worries on how i'd earn a living and be able to continue home educating. Trust, trust in myself, trust in the Universe


Thanks for your lovely words, witty banter and entertaining discussion :)