Why I Love Being Poor

“Jen, I could seriously hook you up in a heartbeat,” says my father. “Why the hell wouldn’t you want to work on Wall Street?!”

Like everybody else who has ever existed, I would love to dine with millionaires on two-hour lunches, drive a red Ferrari, and wear $2,000 shoes… from nine to five, Monday through Friday. As Jordan Belfort so kindly pointed out in The Wolf of Wall Street, “I’ve been a rich man and a poor man, and I choose rich every time.” I, too, have been a rich woman and a poor one (although not quite as rich as Belfort) and although I relish extensive shopping trips and boat outings, there is one occupation that I feel is better off experienced as a nomadic, dirty being – and that is of a traveler.

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I’ve stayed in fancy chain hotels in Budapest and hairy hostels in Milan. Although I kind of remember laying in that Budapest Marriott and watching some Disney movie on TV, I can vividly recall the off-green Italian hostel with pubic hairs littered on the itchy twin bed next to the barred window. I remember sitting up at night, wrapped in my sweats, trying not to touch anything as I listened to the drunken tourists stumbling home from outside. I remember spending the day being dirty, wandering Milan with a backpack strapped on wondering where I could pee. At the chance of sounding like your mom, being a poor traveler makes you interesting, resourceful, and perhaps most appealing, the most captivating storyteller on this side of the Atlantic. 

I’ve purchased overpriced designer dresses in Madrid and lost my shoes at the airport. That navy blue dress still sits like-new in my closet from four years ago, a little too European and expensive for anything casual here in the States. However, my $20 brown boots from Kohl’s ventured Italy years later, stomping the cobblestone streets during the night many times over before eventually falling to pieces at the Amsterdam Shiphol Airport. It’s the cheap items that become priceless; living out their days being worn and being useful before dying a noble death most likely outside of the confines of your closet.

I’ve met rich Columbians with closets as big as my room and dirty Australians who spend their days wandering shirtless. When we think of the rich and powerful, our minds default to thinking of their exciting lives jet setting the world, eating the finest food, and rubbing elbows with the coolest people. In reality, it’s the nomad travelers that do this without ever having to fake one sentiment. I’ve met countless backpackers who spend their days with smiles on their faces picking fruit, bar tending, and food running as they see countries that others don’t even consider as destinations. It’s these behind-the-scenes people that live the real adventures, not the ones who have never had to leave their comfort zone.

I’ve eaten “top-notch” food at the finest restaurants in the world and home-cooked stews on grandmother’s porches. It’s undeniable that $100 steaks and the rarest wines aren’t scrumptious, but when you leave, what else do you have to say but Wow that was a great steak but now I’m out $200? When I think back to my most memorable meals, I don’t think of these gourmet pastas at tourist spots but instead I remember the nights I spent on Norwegian porches sampling home-cooked elk and whale with a view of the fjords below. Food needs a story – something you won’t find for many restaurants in the guidebook.

Being rich is great when you’re a shopper, great when you’re a businessperson, and great when you’re trying to impress the flavor of the month. But when that time comes around when it’s my turn to see the world once again, I prefer to revert back to the filthy nomad I am at heart.

3 comments

  1. If food needs a story, and events do, too (and they do), doesn’t that mean the determinants have to do with the person, and not the person’s money? I’m sure you could get a great story out of wearing the too-European dress one night, no matter where you go in it. Just because it isn’t as practical as $20 boots–or probably any boots, for that matter–doesn’t mean it’s a false sentiment, too. Sometimes keeping too vigilant against falsehood encloses a person in the same way.

  2. I too have had some great experiences with those upper crusts and I don’t discount them at all, and it’s true that those back street experiences usually make for great stories and add flavor to your travels, but I wouldn’t entirely give one up for the other. All our experiences make us who we are. Yes, if you’re looking for “real” people that’s a very different story. Money doesn’t necessarily make the person, sometimes there isn’t a person behind all that glitz, it’s just someone who only knows how to shop and eat well, I’m not impressed by any of that anymore, give me someone who’s real and who can eat at a 5 star or on the boardwalk and feels comfortable in either. Travel however your means allow you, but as long as you stop and smell the flowers, that’s what’s important.

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