Birds fluttered to the ground by our feet. They could see us eating bread and the little crumbs that were falling in between the cobblestones below. Normally, I would have loved to throw a couple of pieces of bread at the birds. But as my feet dangled off the bench in the courtyard of the church, I clutched my bread in my hands and didn’t share a morsel. Because, if you can believe it, this piece of bread was my food ration for the day. We were so completely broke, that we couldn’t even share some of our bread with the birds.
We were in Padova, Italy, had just gone through a beautiful church and were eating before our next leg of the journey. I will never forget sitting next to my love, eating bread and denying the birds of any of our limited food.
How it Happened
Austin and I had been saving up money all year so that he could do an internship in Italy. That sounds amazing, right? We had it all planned out, to see as much as possible while we were there. After all, how often do you get to live in Italy?
He got an internship with the Monte dei Paschi bank in Siena. And with the $1000 they would be paying him, we had just enough money to fund the remainder of our trip. We were excited.
We flew across the world and landed in Torino, Italy. From there we went to a number of different cities in the North. The day before we went to Padova, we were in Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.
Right before we left for an opera, Austin checked his email. During the week that we had been in Italy, the bank had gone bankrupt and was obviously not going to be having any interns whatsoever. His internship was gone and our $1000 was gone.
Fortunately, our school was able to find him a new one. But this one was an unpaid internship and suddenly we found ourselves completely broke in Italy.
Completely Broke in Italy
If there’s one place that you don’t want to be completely broke, it’s Italy. The food is incredible, the sites are amazing, the history is rich and everything is expensive. Suddenly we had no money in one of the places where you want to spend money.
We did the math. The amount of available money we had for our meals for the rest of the trip was $5 (3 euro) per day for both of us. Meaning we had 1.5 euro per person for the ENTIRE day (breakfast and lunch were already covered in our living expenses during the school week, but on days when we were away from Siena, we were all on our own). Our habits changed drastically:
Grocery Stores instead of Going Out
We went to grocery stores to buy all of our meals. These meals frequently were things like rolls, cans of tuna, tomatoes & mozzarella cheese. There, the cheese was much less expensive than it is in the United States, and much better.
If we ever treated ourselves to gelato, we got the smallest size and we shared it.
In Milano, it was 90 degrees at night. We were sweating in our room. Our clothes were sticking to us. It was 10 euro for air conditioning. Do you think we got it? Nope. Instead we got the towels wet and slept with them on top of us to cool us down. That was my husband’s ingenious idea and I couldn’t believe it worked as well as it did.
We shared every meal except two. One was an incredible panzerotti place in Milano (Luini’s by the duomo, in case you are ever there) – Austin said this was one time we could not share. And on my birthday, I got my own gelato, which was my only request.
If a hotel ever had a breakfast (which was rare because we were staying in hostels), we ate as much as we possibly could and took whatever we could with us. We didn’t care who looked at us sideways. It was take the food or starve.
No Rest for the Weary
We walked EVERYWHERE. In Rome, at the very end of our trip, we had been walking forever. My feet were so sore I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Suddenly, Austin pointed at the metro. “Want to take the metro?” I think I started crying.
Our souvenirs were extremely limited and we only bought what we had planned on buying. Because on top of being broke, we were also carrying everything on our backs everywhere we went.
We were literally, the epitome of starving college students.
When you are in dire straits, you tend to see more miracles. We, of course, said many prayers pleading for help and we saw so many miracles that helped us make it through. Even if they weren’t critical to our well-being, they were all a reminder that God was watching us and He cared about his completely broke children.
One of our photography clients offered to pay us early for an upcoming wedding. We graciously accepted. (Unfortunately, on our way to the wedding, our cameras were stolen in the airport right after we got home from Italy. Gratefully, we had emptied our memory cards onto our computer just a half an hour before.)
There are people everywhere who are trying to get you to buy their products or souvenirs. In one such situation, the men were trying to get us to buy their bracelets. In an act of desperation, they pleaded, “One euro. Just one euro.”
Little did they know that one euro was 1/3 of our combined meal rations for the day. We both declined again and again.
Finally they said, “You can just have them. For free.” I don’t know why they both changed their mind. Maybe they could sense that they may have met a couple of tourists who quite literally did not have one euro to spare.
Whatever the reason, we kept the bracelets on the rest of the trip as a reminder that God was looking out for us.
Someone had extra tickets for a tour and they singled us out of a group of tourists and asked if we would like them. The tickets were only 2.5 euros each, but we could not have gone inside without that blessing.
Hop on, Hop off
A couple was going home a day early and had one more day of a Hop on, Hop off bus ticket in Rome. Guess who they asked to take it? We rode that bus, seeing a lot more of Rome than we would have otherwise and saved our feet some serious damage. Which, really could have changed the outcome of the story above when I could barely make it to the metro.
There is only one Sunday every month when visiting the Vatican is completely free. It’s the last Sunday of the month and guess what Sunday we were there. Yep, after standing in the pouring rain, we made it in and saw everything. It was incredible!
An already planned, but a miracle nevertheless was a Christmas present we had received. Austin’s parents had used their points to get us two nights at the Waldorf Astoria in Rome. It was, in a word, exquisite. Basically, it was a good thing we had already seen everything we wanted to see in Rome because once we went into that hotel, we did not leave until we were forced out.
Being completely broke was one of the most stressful things we had done together up until that point in our marriage. We hadn’t even had our one year anniversary. But because we were going through it together, we leaned on each other and became stronger together because of the trials we faced.
Three months later, our trip to Italy was over. We were exhausted, hungry and excited about hamburgers, but also devastated that we would be leaving. We had had so much fun. There were so many adventures, so many stories and so many moments where I grew to love my husband even more.
We worked through being completely broke and came out on the other side, albeit a total of 35 lbs lighter for both of us. (I lost 15. Austin lost 20.) It was hard going back to America and finding jobs again and ending our adventure, but after that I knew that Austin and I could get through anything together. We had endured a lot and relied on each other.
Dealing with the struggle of being completely broke in Italy, enabled us to travel to China later with a 6 week old baby. I couldn’t have made it through without knowing what I learned when we were in Italy. We may have been completely broke, but it was the best time of my life. My husband and I are imperfect, but we can get through anything together.