Traveling the world – it’s the dream, right?
But if you have student loans, you might think your only option is to spend your days on Instagram, scrolling past the magic you wish you could experience.
The truth, though? With some careful planning and hard work, you can travel with student loans.
For proof – and advice on how to do it – I turned to the pros: seven travel bloggers who’ve managed to explore the world despite more than $250,000 of loans between them.
Here’s their inspiring advice.
1. Kate McCulley of Adventurous Kate
“When I decided to travel Southeast Asia for seven months, I owed more than $15,000 in student loan debt.
But I didn’t let that stop me – instead, I decided to budget enough money to cover my student loan payments while I was away. It was just another expense that I needed to save up to cover.
I’m fortunate in that my student loans are public, not private, so I was not subject to sky-high interest rates that would have made traveling much more difficult. When my seven-month trip turned into five years of full-time travel, I just kept budgeting my loans as a monthly expense.
I didn’t want to wait until my loans were paid off before I could start traveling – even if I paid them off aggressively, it would have taken years in order to do so. I wasn’t going to delay the opportunity of a lifetime. Paying a little extra in interest made it worth it, in my opinion.”
2. Matt Gibson of XpatMatt
“I graduated from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, with about $20,000 in student loans back in 2003. I was eager to travel, but living in Vancouver, I was barely able to afford my living expenses, let alone pay off my loan.
Then, I met a guy who was planning to go teach English in Taiwan. So, I looked into it. It turned out that in Taiwan, an English teacher could save anywhere from $1,000-$3,000 per month.
It sounded ideal, so I bought a plane ticket and flew over in the summer hoping to find work for the beginning of the school year in the fall.
Everything I’d heard had been true. I paid down about $1,000 on my loan every month working about 25 hours per week. In the meantime, I also started my freelance writing career with a series of articles about Taiwan and started my adventure travel blog.
On holidays, groups of us would often travel to places like Thailand, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. Eventually, I finished paying off my loans and started travel writing and blogging full time.”
Note: Although Gibson taught in Taiwan for six years, he paid off his loans after only three.
3. Stephanie Be of TravelBreak
“Inflation in the millennial generation can make travel and lifestyle difficult – but it forces us to pinpoint our priorities. I attended UCLA with multiple scholarships yet still pay about $300 a month in student loans.
When I graduated in 2012, I decided to defer my loans a year to work while traveling – eventually starting my business. What’s one more year of interest compared to a year of travel?
I’d also sold my car and worked odd jobs until I’d built a career as a freelancer. I wasn’t paying student loans and traveling and shopping for Chanel or driving a Mercedes.
Four years later, I make between $5,000 to $15,000 a month working remotely and traveling. The ‘finding yourself’ concept may seem dreamy and silly, but my personal and professional life was reshaped by that gap year.
If going to UCLA (despite the student debt) was the best decision I’ve ever made, traveling for a year after graduation was the second.”
4. Shannon Ullman of Lives Abroad
“I thought my life was pretty much over when I looked at my $35,000 student loan balance. After getting over my initial mental crisis, I decided to get creative. While I had always used my extra money to travel throughout college, I would no longer have extra cash.
I was unwilling to give up travel altogether, so I took an online ESL (English as a second language) course and landed a teaching job in China.
My company paid for my apartment, the cost of living in China was cheap, and I was able to make a monthly wage plus supplement it with private tutoring. With all of that together, I was able to pay my student loans, travel around Asia, and save!
After that, I found teaching jobs in Vietnam and Thailand and eventually started freelance writing, allowing me to make money from my laptop while I moved around to different countries and states. I actually just paid the minimum, which was around $150 for about five years.
Then, I moved back home after traveling and really focused on cutting them out. So now, after all of that, they’re down to about $16,300.”
5. Katelyn Michaud of Diaries of a Wandering Lobster
“Between my undergraduate and master’s degrees, I graduated in 2012 with a total of $44,104 of student loan debt. It wasn’t until I returned home from a vacation in Belize in 2014 that I decided I wanted to take a career break and travel the world.
My goal was to start in January 2016, giving me just over two years to save up money and pay down some of my student loan debt. I started side hustling by teaching fitness classes, starting a travel blog, freelance writing, and selling everything I didn’t need.
With that money, I was able to pay my student loan debt down to about $18,000 – with another $7,000 saved for travel and $3,000 in my emergency fund. I made sure to have enough money in the bank to pay my monthly student loan bill of $300.
I opted to spend a year in Australia on my working holiday visa, which allowed me to work while I traveled in the country. The income I made in Australia helped extend my U.S.-based travel fund and also allowed me to throw a few hundred dollars here and there to finish paying off my undergraduate degree before my 30th birthday.
After almost 18 months of travel, my student loan debt is now at $13,800. Many people think it’s impossible to travel long term with student loan debt, but if you plan ahead and are smart with your money, it is possible.”
6. Laura Grace Tarpley of Let’s Go, Tarpley!
“I didn’t take out any student loans, but my husband, Daniel, did.
We combined our finances when we got married last October. He graduated in 2014 with just under $15,000 in loans. We have seven years to pay the remaining $10,590.
We’ve found two ways to keep the debt from dragging us down while we travel.
First, we integrate work into our adventures. Before we got married, Daniel worked in South Korea for a year and was diligent about making higher loan payments than necessary. We both work as English teachers in China now.
Second, we have side gigs. We both have extra tutoring jobs once or twice per week after school. I’m also a freelance writer and blogger.
All the money I make from writing goes into our American bank account, which we use to pay student loans and other bills. That way, the money we make from teaching in China can go into savings or towards big trips.
Thanks to our side gigs, we were able to take a five-day vacation in Tokyo last month, and I’m currently planning a trip to Beijing!”
7. Kollin Lephart of Every Girl, Everywhere
“Traveling with student loans can be extremely tough on a person. When you feel the bite but have responsibilities back home, it makes the lifestyle seem almost impossible. But no worries, ladies and gents; it’s not!
My secrets are living somewhere cheap so you can save, researching the places you stay so you’re getting the best bang for your buck, traveling during the offseason, and working while you travel. Gigs for freelance writing, photography, website design, and more are all available to you and can be found on numerous websites.
Taiwan (where I lived for a year) was so cheap that I saved nearly $10,000 and was able to put that toward my $100,000 student loan. Then, I traveled off the money I made freelancing.
Don’t let debt hold you back – use it as a driving force to push harder so you can live the life you’ve always wanted!”
Inspired to see the world in spite of your loans? Here are a few posts that might help you get started on your journey:
- How to Pay Off Your Student Loans by Teaching English Abroad
- Want to Travel and Pay Your Loans? Check Out These 5 Adventure Jobs Sites
- How to Become a Digital Nomad and Travel the World
- 7 Jobs You’ll Love if You Want to Travel the World
- How to Take Your Dream Vacation While Still Paying Off Debt
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