Can you travel while paying off student loan debt? Absolutely! With a lot of planning and discipline, you can afford to do both. As Paula Pant says from Afford Anything Podcast, you can afford anything but not everything. This means that you have to focus on the things that matter the most to you.
Although I made a lot of sacrifices when paying off my student loans, I was adamant about traveling as often as I could. By living at home, keeping my expenses low and throwing money at my student loans, it took me four years to pay off my $63,000 balance. I ended up paying off my student loans six years ahead of schedule and during that time, I traveled over six times a year to places like France, Ireland, Ecuador and the U.K. I also saved enough money for a down payment on a house and some repairs.
So how can you afford to save for travel and pay off your debt at the same time?
In addition to sharing my tips for affording student loans and travel, three travel bloggers have also shared how they have aggressively managed to pay off their student loans while traveling the world. Their creative tips include thrift shopping, budgeting with spreadsheets (a new spreadsheet method that I haven’t seen before) and cooking meals when traveling.
How To Pay Off Your Student Loans and Travel
Practical Tips To Getting Started
Budgeting for travel despite having student loans starts with your mindset.
Make travel and paying off your debt financial priorities by adding them to your monthly budget and putting money aside consistently.
Start A Travel Fund
One of the most important things that you can do to afford to travel while paying off your student loans is to open a separate bank account devoted solely to your travel expenses. This account is known as a “travel fund“.
Keeping your travel fund separate from your daily living expenses and other savings goals is extremely important because it avoids commingling funds. Also saving consistently for travel is an easy way to keep it top of mind.
Did you know that I have a podcast on this topic!
Listen to Episode 2 of The Thought Card: Why You Need a Travel Fund
How should you use your travel fund?
Transfer all of your savings for travel into your travel fund and only use this account to pay for travel related expenses. At the end of the day, your travel fund ends up being your travel budget so spend only what you’ve accumulated.
Next, treat travel like a recurring monthly bill by consistently saving for it even if you don’t have a trip planned. For me, travel is right up there with with my mortgage, cell phone bill, utilities and car insurance.
I also recommend putting money aside for travel automatically every pay period. Save as little or as much money towards travel as you can afford. However, it’s best to save the same amount every pay period to avoid any fluctuations in your overall budget. Not only does this form healthy saving habits but your travel fund will always have some money in it which is perfect for when you find flight deals!
Go Thrift Shopping
Thrifting. It’s how I afford to travel 7+ times a year while working full-time as a freelancer and travel blogger. It’s also how I’ve paid off more than $7,000 USD of my student loans this past year.
I became a thriftaholic when I was in college. I was sick of buying cute tops for $36 USD a pop. I wanted more variety in my life and for significantly less. My college budget didn’t give me the luxury of purchasing the “hot items” that season.
Thrifting isn’t for the faint of heart. When you walk into a thrift store, you better have your creativity cap on. You’ll be browsing outdated items, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be spruced up for a chic, modern look.
Yes, I’m that girl who takes “grandma” tops and pants and makes a killer outfit or spray paints an old 1970s vase for that 21-century pop.
At my local thrift store, I can even buy brand-new Target brand tops, with the tags still attached, for $3 USD a piece. Now that’s being savvy!
By being more creative with my purchases, I get to live big right now. Since, my introduction to thrifting, more than 80% of my possessions are secondhand, and I still manage to live fabulously. Thanks to my killer bargain skills, I get to jet across the globe and pay off my student loan debt faster.
Spreadsheet Your Financials
Personally, I’ve always thought the key to affording anything, travel or otherwise, is to be aware of what you are spending your money on. The second is to move money to a place where you can’t easily spend it. Best way to do that? Keep a spreadsheet of your financials!
It’s easier if you’re salary based and have a consistent paycheck, but it works for freelancers and seasonal work too (it just means you have to do a little more guesswork).
So, here’s how it works.
The first column is the date of your paycheck. The second column is the amount you will receive for that particular paycheck. All of the proceeding columns are bills/goals/financial obligations in order of priority. This is where you define how much of each paycheck is going to go towards each.
If you’re using Excel, you can use the built-in functions to calculate either: 1) how long it will take you to reach your goal if you contribute [x] amount every paycheck or, 2) how much you need to contribute each paycheck in order to meet a particular deadline.
My spreadsheet might look something like this:
|Paycheck||Car Payment||Student Loan||Travel||Free Money|
|Goal Start: Student Loan and Japan|
|Goal Achieved: Japan Trip||$500|
|Goal Start: Ireland Trip|
|Goal Achieved: Student Loan||$1,000|
Cooking Meals While Traveling
The best way that I found to keep costs low so that I could also aggressively pay off my student loans and continue to adventure was by cooking all my meals in hostels (or packing a lunch if I was going to be outside the hostel).
Eating out on a budget will run you about 33 € a day. Multiply that by 7 days and you get 231 € for the week. Preparing all of my own food cost me about 42 € a week.
I lived on eggs, bread, dried salami, cheese, apples, chicken drumsticks, rice, beans and a rotating vegetable. Sometimes I would switch up the rice for pasta or splurge on a juice.
That means that I saved about 189 € a week by doing this – or 756 € a month! That was more than double my monthly student loan installment.
Yes, the food got repetitive, and sometimes I wish I didn’t have to cook, but when I weighed being able to explore the world with going back home, I didn’t mind.
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Danielle is a travel finance strategist, writer, speaker and podcaster. She paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27 and has traveled to 25 countries. She refuses to let her financial responsibilities hold her back from living life on her own terms.