After having the opportunity to study abroad twice in college, I knew that I wanted to go abroad again after I graduated. But there was a gray cloud that loomed on the horizon. How could I travel with student debt?
This is the very reason why I hear many people my age choose not to travel or go abroad at all. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard my peers tell me, “I wish I could live abroad too, but I have to pay off my student loans.”
While everyone comes from unique financial circumstances, there are feasible ways you can manage your student debt while traveling. Make no mistake; most of the those travel bloggers “living the dream” are most likely making payments off their student loans as well, just like you.
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I’m one of them. I was lucky enough to graduate from Loyola University Chicago, and received an academic scholarship that covered half of my tuition. I also received this because my single mother mainly supported me through college, so I was technically coming from a family with a bit smaller of an income bracket.
I am very privileged in that my mother helped me pay off most of my tuition by the time I graduated. (Love you mom). However, I still had my student loans kick in during 2017.
In 2017, I paid around $800 towards my student loans, which I know is not a lot at all. I was working a job abroad and was able to set aside savings to do this. Since it was tax deductible, and YES I still have to pay U.S taxes on income abroad (crazy right?!), it also was nice to take this out of the income I made.
However, I realized that there are many ways to go about paying off student debt while traveling, so I wanted to share how other travelers are making this happen too.
Here are 4 ways other bloggers travel with student debt:
1. Sojourner of Sojournies
I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I graduated from Bradley University in Peoria, IL with a nice stack of student loan debt. Yet, I love to travel. I was on Unemployment Deferment when I taught English in Logroño, Spain, and currently I’m on an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan. IDR can also be called Income-Based Repayment (IBR). Here are a few tips on how I managed debt while traveling.
Call your loan provider and inquire about an IDR plan
I recommend calling multiple times throughout the week, because you speak to different people. Though they work for the same company, some are more helpful than others. It’s worth it to get the best information and plan for you.
Paying any amount on an IDR plan is better than paying nothing on Deferment and Forbearance Plans. Some IDR plans only require you to pay $20/month. Even though Deferments don’t charge interest on subsidized loans, interest accrues on federal unsubsidized loans. Forbearance accrues interest on all loans, private or federal. This means while you’re not making payments now, you’ll owe even more later. Also, be mindful that interest can increase when you change plans.
Side hustle while you travel or live abroad
While teaching English at a school in Spain, I also taught private lessons and made an extra 70 to 85 euros a week. Of this, I set aside 20 to 50 euros per month to save for my future loan payments. If you are stationary and living abroad, and want to make extra cash for loans, I highly recommend this route. Of course, for higher demand, you would have to be in a country whose native language isn’t English. However, VIPKID is an online English teaching option.
Live in a smaller and cheaper city, then travel to the bigger ones on the weekend
Instead of living in the city, live outside of it to save money while you travel. In Spain, Madrid and Barcelona are amazing, but can be more expensive. Since Logroño is one of the cheapest cities, my basic monthly expenses (rent, utilities, food, and a bus pass) to total 365 euros! This left 520 euros of my stipend, not including the private classes. With low costs daily, it was easier for me to have that side hustle, travel and save. However, staying outside a big city does require more time, overnight buses and planning.
You can also follow Sojourner on her Instagram.
2. Kiyoko of Footsteps of a Dreamer
I graduated from a state university in the United States last year, so I’m just starting to pay off my student loans. Thankfully, my student loans are not too high, so I decided to go with the standard repayment plan (my payments will be a fixed rate for the length of my loan). I go a little crazy when it comes to planning and budgeting, but its allowed me to comfortably travel while still paying off my loans.
Aside from blogging, I have a normal 8-5 desk job, so I work the same number of hours each week. This means that I know how much my much my take home pay will be every paycheck. In an excel spreadsheet, I have the dates for all my paychecks in rows. I used the columns to separate what part of my paycheck I will put towards what goal. For example, if I get $1,000 USD per paycheck, I might divide it as follows:
- $100 – Savings Retirement
- $250 – Mortgage/Rent/utilities
- $100 – Groceries & Household Items
- $125 – Car payment
- $50 – Student Loan
- $25 – Nashville, Tennessee, USA Trip (Travel)
- $35 – Ireland Trip (Travel)
Then the rest of the remaining money is what I call “free” money. That’s what I can use for things like going shopping, going out to eat, going to the movies, etc. Having it divided into a spreadsheet likes this helps me determine how much I need to set aside each paycheck in order to meet by goals by the desired date.
I also have a separate savings account for each of my goals (i.e. I would have one savings account for Nashville and one for Ireland) so I can easily keep track of my progressive towards my goal. Thanks to direct deposit, money gets put into my savings accounts before I even see it, so I can’t spend it.
My methodology for budgeting is probably a little more intense than others. However, if you can manage to keep up with it, I think it becomes much easier to find the money you need to do the things you want.
You can also follow Kiyoko on Twitter.
3. Alex of The Wayward Walrus
Maybe it’s because I’m stubborn, but the idea of letting someone else (looking at you, United States government) collect interest on my student debt irked me. When I tell people from other countries about this, they’re typically aghast. “Your government makes money off your education?!” Welcome to the U.S.A.
When I started traveling more extensively after graduating from Florida State University, I made sure to sort out my student debt situation. Walking away with a diploma costing me $26K of student debt wasn’t ideal for someone with a serious case of the wanderblues.
To juggle traveling with a debt, I set out a plan to pay double the minimum of what I owed monthly for my loans. While I would still inevitably pay interest, this allowed me to save for travel but also put me on a faster track to paying back those $$$.
So how exactly did I do this? Learned new skills. Although blogging is just a hobby, it taught me skills I could monetize for other brands. I used these skills and prior experience working in a Public Relations firm to market myself to small business owners who didn’t have the budget for a marketing firm, but wanted to amp up their branding.
Then I’d come in offering services like content writing, social media management and graphic design work. While one-off jobs like those found on Upwork can be beneficial, the optimal ones are clients looking for consistent, monthly work. The key to my strategy is consistency. Right now, my paycheck doing monthly social media freelance work for a client goes directly into paying off my debt.
You can also follow Alex on Instagram.
4. Savannah of Savvy Dispatches
Despite attending a public school (James Madison University) and receiving scholarships covering tuition for 2.5 years, I graduated $30,000 in debt. I have two student loans: one from the US federal government and another from a private company, Discover. I slowly pay off my loans on a monthly plan that reminds me I will owe them money until 2023.
As is standard in the States, six months after I graduated I began paying $243.76 a month towards my loan debt. Even when I made $7.25 an hour at a part-time job in that first post-grad year, I paid $243.76. Then, my partner Emmett and I combined our finances in 2015 when we first moved in together. He’s also $30,000 in debt and we pay an additional $267 a month towards his loans.
Despite the fact that we owe a whopping combined $60,000, we haven’t let our debt tie us down – at all. In 2014, we visited China and 12 European countries. Since August 2016, we have been living abroad on Working Holiday visas – first in New Zealand and now in Australia. In a few months time, we’re planning to see as much of Southeastern Asia as we can over three months.
How do we make that work while paying off our combined debt? In addition to just being frugal and saving primarily for travel, our secret has always been to find the cheapest housing/accommodation possible.
In China, we were lucky enough to stay with a friend’s family. But during our 3 months in Europe, we hostel-hopped, slept in airports, took overnight trains, and did help exchanges to keep our costs low. In New Zealand, six out of the ten months we were there, we lived for free (five months at a long-term help exchange and one sleeping in our cheap used car!) Here in Australia, we have sought out paid jobs that have housing included.
When you don’t have to pay rent, student loan payments don’t seem like as much of an added expense.
You can also follow Savannah on Instagram.