Nothing brings you to the forefront of reality more than realizing that you might not be eating the next day. Not a budgeter in the past, I learned the hard way how important it is to account for everything that you spend. I’ll admit that I took the foolish route and counted on the hope that I would get a job right away when I arrived in Banff. I spent too much money on food I didn’t need (Unhealthy, processed fast food and snacks) and I made a trip to Fort McMurray that drained what was left of my savings – and then I realized after the fact that I needed to return to Banff for my own sanity.
I found a hostel in Banff that offered a “Work for Stay” program. This was my saving grace. Even if you are unsure of when you are going to be able to buy groceries or find a job, the simple fact that you have a bed to sleep in every night becomes a luxury when you are running low on funds.
What little money I had finally ran out after one grocery run and a couple of nights out (Whoops – budgeting failure right there). I did what many other young and single North Americans coming from a “middle class” family do. I called my parents and asked if they could lend me just enough money to cover groceries and new black dress pants. I know. First world problems. As childish and reliant as I was, that money suddenly meant so much more to me because it meant I could eat. Gone were the concerns of whether I could buy new clothes or spend $8 per day at Starbucks.
I found a job a few days later, but the first pay cheque would not come for another two weeks. Two weeks feels like two months when you are worried about “going hungry”. My parents’ money ran out and my kind sister helped me out again. When those groceries from that money ran out, I was left with over a week without the money to buy food. Often, the hostel guests left free food behind, but some days there was nothing on the shelves.
My next option was to go to the dumpster of the grocery store at night and see what they had thrown out earlier that day that was still edible. The idea seemed more and more desirable after I finished my last two boiled eggs. The night that I should have gone, I was tired from being on my feet for 10 hours that day, plus walking up the huge hill to get back to the hostel. I was too tired from lack of nutrients to journey back down the hill and go scavenging for them in a dumpster. Even though I was completely out of food (Besides the over priced tea bags I still had left), I knew that I would eat at some point in the next two days. As uncomfortable as it was, I was sure that I would not have to go a whole week without eating anything.
Thankfully, the hostel’s cafeteria has some great cooks that would make me a free meal on my volunteer shifts. One of the other hostel volunteers left a bag of bread and some potatoes in my empty food cart. It was honestly one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. It makes me feel so guilty that I consider “going hungry” as only eating one meal per day. This experience has reminded me about so many people – young and old – around the world going hungry every day.
Through a series of bad choices in combination with my chronic bad spending habits, I was brought into a situation where I ran out of money. But other people are subject to hunger because they are born into poverty with no established economy and they suffer through other atrocities such as disease, war, rape, etc. Meanwhile, many of us in the west are worried about the next toy we are going to buy and we consume so many unnecessary things that often hurt us more than benefit us.
I do not regret for one minute that day where I only ate one small meal. It opened my eyes to how it feels to worry about when you will eat next. You can empathize with the poor, but you can’t really relate until you go through what they do. I understand the maddening panic you get after working all day and you know that there is nothing to eat when you get home.
What I will never understand is the hopelessness of having no one to help you – and it has been five days since your last meal. It breaks my heart that people who are just as smart and ambitious as anyone in the west are living just to survive. I do not want to just write about the plight of the poor and hungry. I really want to act on it. And the reality is that I can’t do a damn thing to help anyone if I am always stuck in financial ruts.
I vow to not abuse the money I have earned. I will keep travelling, yes, but I will travel simply. There is really nothing more empowering than exploring the world around you with nothing more than a backpack and a bed to sleep in. I feel freed at last from the pressure to stay in once place for years, all for the sake of moving up in a company doing jobs that drain my creativity and passion while putting most of my earnings into paying off a house. I would prefer now to buy a $30 coat from the thrift shop that has character than spend hundreds of dollars on a new designer coat. A small fuel efficient car will do just fine for me.
What I do earn from jobs (And hopefully my book royalties), I want to use a lot of it to help others who are much less fortunate than I ever have been. I will budget better and eat real food, avoiding unnecessary spending on silly things.
Becoming broke while travelling has solidified my belief that living simpler buys you the ability to help others, and I think it allows you to enjoy life more. When you aren’t struggling to pay bills because of over spending, it gives you the ability to become a good citizen and assist people. It also allows you to do things like spend more time outside, pursue creative endeavors, read, travel, go back to school etc.
Fresh out of high school, I admit that I was excited to pursue that privileged, systematic way of living because I felt that was what it meant to be successful. I got a diploma in a field that really didn’t suit me. I look back to what I wanted out of life when I was 12 years old. I wanted to write; I wanted a house close to a creek that I could explore in.
After travelling and living minimally, I have discovered what it really means to live. I now know more than ever that my life’s dream is to help people, write stories/ film scripts, explore, and one day have that small house near a creek.