What to do When You’re Broke Overseas

Most of us find ourselves broke at one time or another, but it is never a bigger problem then when you find yourself broke when you traveling and stuck overseas. When you are out of your own country it can be hard to make money the traditional ways so you need to find other ways to get out your situation.

I have found myself broke overseas before, and have found a few ways to to make some money that might be helpful to keep in mind if you ever find yourself in that situation.

1 – Sell yourself

hippiesaleI won’t advocate actually practicing prostitution, doing that is up to you and the local laws. Though selling bodily fluids, like sperm, blood, plasma, and eggs is a viable option in some places. It is also possible to make some money volunteering for medical or scientific trials, though the latter may require a visa or citizenship, it all depends on the laws of the country.

In some countries though it is against the law to pay you for your donations of bodily fluids. While I was living in London, a friend and I needed some money for traveling and after some research we found out that the only money that we could get paid for sperm donations was the cost of the subway ride to the clinic, though there are some other benefits to donating we decided against it.

Though to make some money I did go another route that is very helpful, and many people do it everyday, sell your stuff. Most of the things you bring with you are worth something, and in many places you can find a place to sell your stuff.

There are places that buy clothes, books, and of course jewelry and electronics. In my experience I have found that you can get more money when selling to specialized stores as opposed pawn shops. I have had to sell books and camera lenses to make some money for food, and plane tickets. While a was a little disheartened to lose some of my stuff the money I made helped out with food, and getting home.

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2 – Work under the table

hostelworkerWorking under the table is a way that many people in the world make their money. It can be work doing anything from cleaning to even agricultural work. In many countries the immigration laws are getting tougher so it can be harder to get work for long periods of time, but you can still find some odd jobs to do. Though once you get outside the western world, don’t expect to get too much for your labors.

These jobs are easier to find once you know some people in the country, so go to places where you can meet locals, bars off the tourist path, residential areas, and churches. Many of the jobs that people need done don’t require much skill from cleaning to painting to yard work. In some hostels it is possible to work to help pay for your stay.

There are quite a few websites where you can find farms and inns that need workers and will pay you in room and board.  Also, working in a country can help you understand the spirit of a country and come to appreciate and love the country in a way that you can’t by just sticking to the tourist trail. This is usually the route most people would like to go, but you can’t always count on getting work, so keep your options open.

>> Find jobs that allow you to travel

3 – Starve yourself

breadWhen visiting Marseilles, a few years ago, I only had enough money to pay for a hotel, or to sleep on the street and have money to eat and drink. I decided on the former, figuring a roof over my head was better than big meals. So, with the few Euro I had left I could only afford to eat baguettes for over a week straight. Now this isn’t something that is good to do, but it can teach a lesson.

Stay away from the restaurants, and rely on the markets where things are much cheaper. Eat like a local; in many places in the world the locals live on only a few dollars a day. When you feel that you are broke you still have more money than many people live on each day.

Take advantage of cheap food, you can find some new favorites, and old standbys for cheap in market and stores around the world. Even if you stick to the ‘restaurants’ in the markets, where the food is cheap and fresh, you will be saving a lot over the restaurants along the beach or in the middle of the capital, in the tourist centers.

>> Read about how to eat for free in Italy

4 – Tell your story

netcafeWhen you are broke overseas you are still in a position in which many people envy you, because you are overseas. Many if not most people don’t get to travel much and try to live vicariously through those that do, and they do this by reading about what you are doing and experiencing. You can do this through your own blog, and reach a few people. But, there are websites (including this one) that will pay for travel related articles.

There are many websites that feature reader submitted articles, and will pay you for your work. Nowadays you can do all of the work at any Internet cafe by using Google Docs to type up the article and email to communicate you don’t even have to have a laptop with you, maybe just some scrap paper to make notes. As long as you can carry a narrative, and make yourself understood there is a website out there that might pay you for your work.

5 – Dress like a statue

statuebuskerYou’ve seen them in most big cities, on street corners and city centers painted silver, gold, or bronze: human statues. If you can find some of the colored body paint you can dress yourself up as a statue and stand perfectly still for hours on end to get tourists to pay you to move around. Or you can use some of your other skills to bring in the change.

If you can play in instrument all the better, then you will get people to fill up your guitar case with shiny coins. If you are not musically inclined you can perform whatever you want, you can do a skit or some other performance art, as long as you are entertaining people are more likely to give you money than if you just sit there and beg. Though I have seen people make money without any talent just because they sit on a corner and make noise. Just try not to be too annoying.

6 – Go green

cansBesides being a buzz word, it’s a good way you could make some money. In many countries you can make money by taking cans and bottles into the recycling center. Growing up in Iowa we got five cents for each soda can you returned to the store, so I would collect cans when I was a kid to get some spending money. It is still a good way to make money. You can find recyclable materials in the lobby of your hostel, on the street or in trashcans. It’s not glamorous by any means, but it can make you money, and help the planet by cutting down on the amount of garbage that goes to the landfill.

As long as you are being humble you can also eat leftovers, many people will leave some food on their plate, and if it’s an outdoor restaurant you can snag some of that food before the plates get cleared. Maybe even find some things that the people in your hostel have left over that they are just planning on leaving behind. Or you can practice the art of freeganism and look for food in grocery store dumpsters, a lot of times it’s still wrapped and just a day or two past the expiration date.

>> Find ways to travel greener

7 – Grovel

grovelWhen all else fails, it’s time to go with the old standby, something you’ve been doing since you were little: ask mom and dad. This is something that I’ve had to do from time to time, to get plane tickets or just some money to get lunch. It’s not a fun thing to do but your parents can help out.

Money can be wired almost anywhere with Western Union, or plane tickets, hotels, and rental cars can be booked and paid for online so that you will have a place to stay or be able to get home. It’s probably a last resort for many people but it is always a viable option.

Read more about traveling on a very tight budget:

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Older comments on What to do When You’re Broke Overseas

John Nye
20 June 2009

Well written article with lots of good ideas! Glad I have a credit card and have not gotten in this situation yet.

Ian Rose
16 June 2009

I’ve never gone the selling fluids route, but have had to work my way home a few times. And I’ve certainly done my share of parental begging.