How to Travel the World When You Have Student Loan Debt

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Ben Luthi

By Ben Luthi

January 31, 2020

Student loan debt can be a massive burden, but it doesn’t have to stop you from living your best life — and that includes traveling the world.  If you have a case of wanderlust but aren’t sure you can satisfy it with student loan payments, here are some tips to help you achieve your goal.

Get Your Budget in Order

Traveling the world isn’t cheap, but it’s possible to do it on a budget. Before you start planning out your first trip, take a look at your current financial situation.

Start by considering refinancing your student loans. If you can qualify for a lower monthly interest rate than you’re currently paying, you’ll not only save money on interest, but you can also reduce your monthly payment, making more room for travel expenses. Keep in mind that refinancing federal loans means you will lose certain benefits, such as the possibility for forgiveness and enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan.

Avoid the temptation to get on an income-driven repayment plan or extend your student loan repayment just for the sake of travel, though. Both options may lower your monthly payments, but you’ll end up paying a lot more in interest. 

Also, create a budget to get an idea of what you can afford. Some areas of the world are much cheaper than others, so compare how much you can reasonably spend with what it costs to visit, say, Peru versus Norway, to make sure you don’t overspend.

Finally, recognize that just because you can travel with student loan debt, that doesn’t mean you can do so right now. Make some goals about where you want to go and take some time to budget and save for your travel plans. That includes researching prices for flights and hotels, as well as food, local transportation and other expenses you’ll run into along the way.

Travel for Cheap

The internet is replete with budget travel tips that can help you save money without sacrificing your experience. Holly Johnson, a travel writer who runs a frugal travel Facebook group, uses a mix of credit card rewards and fare deals to travel roughly 20 weeks per year without breaking the bank.

“I frequently use airline miles for our flights abroad, but I also wait for airfare sales and book when prices are low,” she says. “I watch for sales on websites like The Flight Deal and Secret Flying. I also play around with Google Flights and find deals on my own.”

Travel rewards credit cards allow you to earn points or miles that you can use with a specific airline or hotel brand, or that you can use to book just about any type of travel. And as long as you use them responsibly — charge only what you can afford and pay off your balance in full each month — you can rack up rewards to use for cheap travel.

Johnson’s biggest tip to save money is to be flexible. “I’ve planned a lot of awesome trips based on finding an airfare deal,” she says. “I’m super flexible in where we travel, and I’m more than willing to plan a new trip around a great airfare deal. This also gets you out to see and explore new places you maybe hadn’t thought of before.”

Make Money While You Travel

Another reason Johnson is able to travel so much with her family is that she writes for a living and her husband, Greg, runs the couple’s blog, “Sometimes we’ll work on the longer trips, but we often take a week or 10 days off at a time,” Johnson says. 

Writing is just one job that allows you to work remotely. According to FlexJobs, there are several companies that allow you to do your job from anywhere in the world.

You can also consider working full-time for Americorps or the Peace Corps, relocating for a job that can help you pay down your loans via a loan repayment assistance program and more. 

If you’re thinking of going this route, be sure to have your plans in place before you start traveling. It can take a while to get a freelancing business off the ground, and if you’re working for Americorps or the Peace Corps, you’ll want to make sure the pay is enough to make your student loan payments and cover other essential expenses.

The Bottom Line

Traveling the world can expand your horizons and provide life-changing experiences, but you don’t have to wait until you’ve paid off your student loans to do it. Every situation is different, but if you follow these tips, you’ll have a better idea of whether traveling with student loan debt is possible and how to accomplish it with the resources you have.

As with any financial endeavor, make sure you also have enough cash flow to work toward other financial goals, such as saving for retirement or an emergency fund. This balanced approach can strengthen your financial health while you live your dream.

A good place to start:

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