If one of your passions in life is traveling, don’t let student loan debt stand in your way. Traveling is one of the most amazing experiences you can have, especially if you are lucky enough to take a long-term voyage.
If you’re traveling for more than a month at a time, however, you’ll need to prepare your student loans in advance. These simple steps will help you cover your bases and give you peace of mind that your trip will be without a financial emergency.
6 financial steps to take before traveling abroad
1. Set a realistic travel budget.
Traveling abroad isn’t cheap, so map out your destinations and the cost of getting there in advance. Remember that a fixed budget, such as $50 a day, means different things in different places. It will go a lot farther in, say, Guatemala than in Paris.
Start with up-to-date guidebooks and websites that have specific details on the spots you want to visit. This kind of planning is essential, especially if you want to have a little more flexibility to be spontaneous. Overestimating how much you need is far better than underestimating.
One of our most sage pieces of advice on traveling while keeping your money in mind is to commit to using cash. Going cash-only cuts off the temptation to overspend on credit. It also allows you to see how your money is spent in real time.
You should also look into trip budgeting apps that can help you stay on target. Trail Wallet, for example, allows you to input a daily budget and add expenses as you spend. It then tracks how much you have left per day or trip and warns you when your balance is getting low.
2. Appoint a money manager.
Whenever you’re traveling (but especially to places with unfamiliar languages), appointing a trusted relative or friend to look after your money while you’re away can be the difference between being able to access your money in an emergency or not.
Call your student loan lender and let them know who is authorized to speak on your behalf. Don’t forget to forward your student loan paperwork to the person for the duration of your time away!
3. Make it automatic.
Set it and forget it — it’s the easiest way to pay. If you have not already set up your automatic bill pay for your student loans, do so as soon as you can. Start early, since many lenders take 30 or even 60 days to process a new automatic account.
The good news is that you may actually lower your student loan payments by doing an automatic payment plan. All you need to do is make a phone call to your lender (see how to reach them here) and provide a bank account they can withdraw from each month.
4. Design your bank accounts for travel.
Having bank accounts that are split between home and travel expenses can be a great way to stay organized.
Consider opening three checking accounts: home (student loans, phone, rent), travel (hotels, airfare, food), and emergency. Place the amount of money you’ll need in each account and carry separate debit cards for each so you’ll know where you’re spending from.
Another way to ensure that your money is safe is to “pay” yourself. Set up automatic money transfers from a general spending account into your travel spend account. This will keep you and your monthly budget on track and guarantee you won’t touch the cash meant for your student loan bill.
5. Back up your funds.
To travel, you’re going to need money. Before you go, you can jumpstart your cash flow by taking on a second job or working a few one-time gigs (check out our list of ways to make extra money).
Save as much extra as you can, because you never know when an emergency might strike. A financial emergency while far from home can lead to overdraft fees, penalties, and more.
When determining how much to save, consider both your situation back home (i.e. your student loan bill monthly payments) and what it would cost to get yourself back from abroad if necessary (plane tickets, hotel, food, etc.). Round up the amount to be safe.
6. Protect yourself at all times.
According to a study by Experian, 20 percent of travelers have had sensitive information stolen while traveling. Staying alert, smart, and aware is your best bet in keeping your money safe, whether it’s your finances back at home or your cash on the road.
Read up on travel alerts in your destination and watch for signs alerting you of high pickpocket areas. Make extra copies of your travel documents (such as your passport and visas) and leave a copy with your money manager.
If you have access to a secure cloud data, save your copies on that instead of carting around extra paperwork. And travel with your money secured to you in a hidden location, such as a money belt or pack.
Student loans and international volunteer programs
If you’re traveling because you are participating in an international volunteer program such as Doctors Without Borders or Peace Corps, you may qualify for a student loan deferment to temporarily postpone payments on your federal student loan.
However, if you plan on continuing to work in a nonprofit post when you return from your Peace Corps service, your better bet may be to apply for an income-driven repayment plan to readjust your payments based on your earnings.
Your payments while in service may be as low as $0 per month. In the future, you can use those income-driven repayments as part of your 120 required payments to qualify for public student loan forgiveness.
Traveling with debt
Your travel plans shouldn’t be put on the back burner because you’re worried about the logistics of paying your loans. Budgeting in advance for both your trip, your bills, and potential emergencies will keep you safe.
Setting up a secure system that works for you and your money manager will mean little potential for missed payments or overdraft mistakes. With diligent planning and foresight, you can leave the country knowing that your student loans are taken care of and your finances are secure.
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