Traveling with Student Debt: Everything You Should Know
1. IT IS POSSIBLE to Travel with Your Student Debt
I personally have about $50,000 worth of debt to my good masters degree earning name. But has that stopped me from completing the vast majority of my global travel in my 20s? Absolutely not. I have continued traveling with my student debt.
Want to know how?
I’ve chosen to temporarily prioritize the experience of travel above overpaying on my loans. I realize this isn’t the best idea for everyone but if your student debt feels like it’s crippling your dreams to explore the world, keep reading.
Over the last 5 years post-grad, I’ve been able to travel with student debt to 10 countries and several US destinations. 3 of those years of travel were paid for with part-time jobs.
Hotels aren’t off the table, Europe isn’t off the table, nice meals aren’t off the table. With budgeting, planning, and ideally some travel buddies to split costs with, you can make it work too!
2. You Don’t Need to Live in a Van to Travel Inexpensively
Contrary to salty-haired surfers beliefs, you can in fact have an amazing vacation staying in rental homes, hotels, and even some very nice hostels.
I have stayed in all of the above options and originally balked at the idea of staying in a hostel but have now done it in 3 different countries and had a great experience each time!
I usually start on Booking.com and filter “price: low to high” and look for something in the mid-range. I still prefer hotels, especially when abroad, because it can make locating transportation easier.
Booking.com gives you the option to pay when you arrive at the hotel but make your reservation without a down payment. This can give you more time to save.
Even AirBnb now gives you the option to pay in 2 installments before your trip or to send a split cost to your travel buddies.
For the best prices, try to book your accommodations at least 4-6 weeks in advance. Pay attention to the busy and slow season price swings to see if you can get a better deal.
3. Build a Budget and Plan Ahead
Most vacations are going to require some saving. Start to set aside extra money in your savings account each paycheck so you won’t be tempted to touch it in your checking account. Transfer it back over when you’re ready to start booking.
Start by giving yourself a maximum spending amount and work backwards. Next, get an idea of how much your flight or other transportation will cost and subtract that from your maximum spending number.
Make sure that you’ve taken your monthly loan payments into account so that when you are traveling with student debt, you can still make the usual payment.
What you have leftover will need to go towards lodging, food, sightseeing, and additional transportation.
Feeling overwhelmed already? Use this handy spreadsheet I created!
4. Be Flexible with Your Destination
If you are flexible about your port of entry, you can save yourself a lot of money by flying into a smaller airport, taking a train, or being on the outskirts of a major city.
For example, if you want to fly to NYC, the JFK airport can be much cheaper than the La Guardia airport. Depending on what port you are coming from, this trick can work for most destinations.
Use Google Maps to look outside of the city you want to go to for additional airports. Check if it saves you money to start in a smaller city and take a train / bus/ taxi / Uber to your ultimate destination.
You can very easily do this through Skyscanner by inserting your destination in the search bar like this “(Gotham City) All”.
Obviously it’s not a good time to visit Gotham so choose another destination and type it in the same format.
5. Loan Deferment can be Your Temporary Friend
Hear me one more time: TEMPORARY. This is not a 3 year long deferment, in fact, you should take the most advantage of your automatic deferment the first 6 months after graduation.
Example 1: I decided to spend 2 weeks in Europe with my college roommate during that 6 month deferment period. We flew on a budget airline, only packed carry-on bags, and split costs for hotels in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin. We booked most of the trip details 3-4 months before departure and saved money for about a year.
Example 2: While living in China, I was only making $750 a month. There was no way that I could pay my minimums on my federal loans, so I went with income driven payments that year. Instead, I made payments on a smaller private loan instead to continue my payment progress. That way, I was able to save almost every dollar I made for 3 weeks of travel around Asia, a quick wedding weekend in the US, and a week in Melbourne.
Once I got back to America and had a job, I switched back over to my regular loan payments.
I gave myself permission to live my life outside of my loans and refused to let them prevent me from doing what I love at the most flexible time in my life. You can too.
You will never look back in 20 years and regret a cultural experience that you planned for wisely and within your means. Know when to be aggressive and when to be flexible. And of course… use this budgeting tool!
I hope that this makes your dreams of traveling with student debt feel a little more tangible.
Happy planning, friends!