How to Travel the Country While Paying Off $35,000 in Student Loan Debt

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Do you think your student loan debt makes it impossible for you to travel the country?

If so, you’re not alone. Our 2017 survey found that 18% of student loan borrowers can’t afford to travel during the holidays.

You don’t have to be among these statistics. Justine Nelson, the founder of the personal finance blog Debt Free Millennials, paid off $35,000 in student loan debt over the course of two and a half years — and she did it while traveling all over the United States, including Puerto Rico.

Here’s how she did it and how you can, too.

1. Prioritize your vacation wish list

As an intern working for $10 an hour right after college, Nelson didn’t have the money to travel a lot. However, she was able to narrow her focus and enjoy travel by breaking down costs and prioritizing the trips that were most doable.

“Write out all the trips you want to take within the year,” Nelson said. “Estimate how much your expenses will be with each trip.”

Looking at the year ahead helps you break things down into manageable steps, according to Nelson. Additionally, it helps you face the reality that you might not be able to take all your desired trips in the year. “You’ll have to ask yourself which vacation is the most realistic for you to save up for,” she said.

Over time, Nelson’s income improved. She started earning $33,000 a year, and eventually ended with a salary of $41,000 a year during her debt-free journey.

But she wanted to make sure to pay for trips in cash and travel as cheaply as possible by prioritizing her destinations — especially since she still was paying off student debt.

“When you focus on just a few trips, you’re more likely to take the steps to make those vacay days a reality,” Nelson said.

2. Consider low-cost destinations

Nelson wasn’t visiting high-priced cities. Instead, she chose destinations such as Colorado Springs, Colorado; Lake Tahoe, California; and Daytona Beach, Florida. She eventually visited Puerto Rico, but she wasn’t living in the lap of luxury, even when she traveled.

She looked for places that had something of interest but didn’t cost too much.

For example, a trip to Colorado Springs might cost a total of $500 if you are close enough to drive rather than fly, can stay on someone’s couch, and if you like cheap outdoor activities, such as hiking.

Compare that with a trip to Denver, where you might spend $500 just for the hotel room for a few nights.

Sometimes, it was hard for Nelson to make tough choices. “I had difficulty figuring out what trips I really wanted to go on, and the ones I had to say no to,” she said.

However, getting the system down and being honest about it helped her stay on track and continue reducing her student loan debt even while she traveled.

3. Break down your costs

Next, list your potential travel expenses. Nelson organized her expenses under the following categories.

  • Airfare
  • Accommodations
  • Transportation
  • Food
  • Entertainment

Then she did the research to estimate travel costs in each category and figure out ways to save money in some ways, such as staying with friends or finding free activities at the destination. She also could use the comparisons to see if she could save money by driving instead of flying.

“My best friend lived in Florida, so I went to see her and crashed on her couch,” said Nelson. “That easily saved me $100 per night in hotel expenses.”

Nelson made it a point to take trips to places where her friends and family lived so she could reduce her overall costs. It allowed her to visit people she loved and experience new destinations without breaking the bank.

4. Factor travel into your budget

Open up a separate savings account for your cross-country adventures,” Nelson recommended. “When you keep the money in a separate fund, you’re more likely to be motivated by how much is in the account.”

It’s not just about opening the account, though. You also need to make travel a line item in your budget. Travel needs to be a budgetary priority — it’s like making student loan payments or paying for housing.

“Look at your monthly budget and figure out where you can cut expenses so you can start contributing monthly to a vacation fund,” Nelson said.

There’s a good chance you’re spending money on things that aren’t that important to you. Whether it’s eating out more than you should or paying for services you don’t use, you can identify and cut those items and divert the money to your travel savings account.

Over time, Nelson was able to cut back on overspending at the store with impulse purchases, reduce her telecommunications bill, and generally be ruthless while trimming expenses. That enabled her to eventually direct $1,200 a month toward her student loan debt.

5. Be ready to snap up deals

Having money sitting in a special account gives you the ability to snap up deals. “It was challenging, at first, to come up with the cash if I saw a really good deal on a flight,” said Nelson. “You have to act on those quickly.”

She began to see increased success as she worked on her system and became better at it. The freedom to take advantage of low prices and special promotions meant better trips over time.

Nelson thinks it’s important to research deals at destinations in advance. “Booze, food, and fun add up throughout the trip, so I should have researched local pricing a bit more at times,” she said.

6. Travel with friends

In addition to traveling to see friends, Nelson also went on trips with friends. Splitting expenses, especially for accommodations, can make a huge difference in your total trip cost.

“My trip to Puerto Rico was affordable because we split the cost of the room between four of us,” said Nelson. “We also opted for cheap Airbnbs as opposed to swanky four-star hotels. Who wants luxury when you’re spending most of your time on the beach anyway?”

Traveling with friends also can help you save money on transportation costs during a trip. You can spit the cost of a rental car or a ride-sharing service. Stay in a place with a working kitchen, so you and your friends can split the grocery bill and prepare a few home-cooked meals instead of eating out every day.

7. Use loyalty points

Nelson didn’t worry too much about being loyal to brands. Looking back on her travels, however, she thinks she could’ve gotten even more value out of her experiences.

“I would try to be more brand-loyal to a particular airline to increase my frequent flyer points, allowing me to allocate more money toward entertainment and food,” Nelson said.

Some travel sites, such as Orbitz, offer their own loyalty rewards when you book through them, allowing you to save money on accommodations later. There also are credit card loyalty programs, such as American Express, that partner with Airbnb to allow you to redeem card points for reservations booked on the vacation rental website.

When you earn credit card travel rewards and brand loyalty points, you have a chance to significantly reduce your travel costs so that your student loan payments don’t get in the way of your next trip.

8. Get creative with your budget

Creativity can go a long way with your budget. When Nelson’s Ford Escort was rear-ended, she could have allowed the insurance company to total the car, give her some cash, and then use that money as a down payment for an expensive car.

Instead, Nelson asked for a salvage title and got $3,200 from her insurance company. She then went to a vehicle junkyard, found a replacement bumper for $25, and kept driving her old car.

It’s important to be careful with these types of creative solutions, however. Nelson’s car was safe to drive; it just needed a bumper. Before you do the same, have an expert look over your car to ensure it’s safe to drive.

Looking for creative solutions to budget for challenges allowed her to keep putting extra money toward demolishing her student loan debt while taking trips she enjoyed. “I was able to get creative so I could throw extra money at my loans,” Nelson said.

9. Reward yourself with a trip

“Using a trip as a reward is going to motivate you to pay off debt that much quicker,” Nelson said. “When you pay off a small debt, reward yourself with a trip.” One of Nelson’s rewards was a whitewater rafting trip with her family.

Instead of consolidating her student loans and making one monthly payment, Nelson kept everything separate. She used the debt snowball method, popularized by financial blogger and author Dave Ramsey, to pay off her debt by tackling her smallest loan first. Even though paying off loans with higher interest rates first while making minimum monthly payments on other loans can save money overall, the reality was that Nelson wanted to stay motivated. Those small, quick wins of paying off smaller loans kept her going, especially since she knew she could take a trip after paying off a loan.

You can travel even if you have student loan debt

You don’t have to put off your travel dreams due to student loan debt.

By prioritizing travel along with student loan repayment, it’s possible to reorder your finances so that you can enjoy your life now, rather than waiting for some distant future.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at hello@earnest.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.899% APR to 8.179% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.570% APR to 6.980% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. SoFi rate ranges are current as of September 14, 2018 and are subject to change without notice. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.570% APR assumes the current index rate derived from the 1-month LIBOR of 2.08% plus 0.740% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score.
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.57%-8.17% (2.57%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.75%-8.69% (3.75%-8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Estimated average savings amount is based on 14,659 Education Refinance Loan customers who saved on loans between August 1, 2017 and July 31, 2018. The calculation is derived by averaging monthly savings across Education Refinance Loan customers whose payment amounts decreased after refinancing, calculated by taking the monthly payment prior to refinancing minus the monthly payment after refinancing. We excluded monthly savings from customers that exceeded $4,375 and were lower than $20 to minimize risk of data error skewing the savings amounts. Savings will vary based on interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of loans to be refinanced. Borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if monthly payments are lower.

2.57% – 6.98%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 5.87%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.47% – 8.03%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.80% – 6.22%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 6.25%5Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.57% – 8.17%6Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.