10 Tips for Long Term Travel With Student Loan Debt

Student loan debt can be a huge barrier to travel, but it doesn't have to be! Photo cred www.gotcredit.com

Student loan debt can be a huge barrier to travel, but it doesn’t have to be! Photo cred 

How did I manage to travel for five years when I started with $3000 in the bank and $67,000 in student loan debt?

The life of an international teacher is pretty awesome!  Sure I had $67,000 in student loan debt by the time I finished my first Master’s degree, but without it I wouldn’t be able to live the lifestyle I have now.  It was worth it!

Here are my ten tips for traveling the world while still paying off student debt:

Tip #1: Cut living costs

While working as an international teacher my housing is paid for as well as most of my utilities.

I know that a lot of ESL jobs will also include housing and sometimes utilities and these jobs generally only require a Bachelor’s degree.

Tip #2: Take the Higher Paying Job

This might seem obvious, but my first international school job was in Mexico (where I very much wanted to be working and learning Spanish), but I was offered a job in China where I could more than double my salary that I was getting in Mexico. I took the job in China even though it made my Spanish skills slide.

Tip #3: Keep the Shopping to a Minimum

It is slightly more difficult in Venezuela because I sometimes need to go to four or five shops to find the simple items I’m looking for (and I don’t always find the stuff anyway). The problem with this is that I find other stuff that isn’t on my list that I decide to buy because you never know when you will see the item again. The upside is that there is rarely stuff in my size or that fits my style so I don’t go clothes shopping here, nor can I easily find many grocery items.  I usually save my shopping for the summer.

Tip #4: Live in a Country with Low Cost of Living

Currently I live on about $200 a month… total. My life is pretty comfortable too. I even have a lady who helps me clean once a week! SE Asia and Latin America are areas where you can find a low cost of living, but still have a high quality of life.  Specifically, Ecuador and Thailand come to mind as places that fit in that sweet spot of low cost of living but high quality of life for expats.

Tip #5: Cook at Home

I really enjoy cooking my own food. I love spice. I love curry. I really like vegetables that are not covered in oil. I love seafood and high quality meat when I can find it too. When I’m not on vacation, I try not to go out to eat more than once a week. When I am on vacation I try to eat at least one meal at my hostel (and preferably two).

Tip #6: Sleep Cheap

90% of the time I choose to sleep in hostel dorm rooms. If I plan on spending most of my time out of bed, why should I pay more than the minimum?

Occasionally, if I have been traveling for a while, for safety reasons, after a long bus ride, or if I need to be close to the airport for a midnight flight, I might choose to stay in a hotel. I would rather spend my money on a good meal or my next flight than on a hotel.

Tip #7: Pay Way More than Required Toward Student Loan Debt 

Technically I am required to pay only $0 a month based on my income. However, I would be accruing tons of interest (and be stressed out of my mind because of it) if I did that. Instead I pay at least $1000 per month and twice a year I apply the majority of my work bonus toward my loans. I am even considering forgoing my next Spring Break vacation so I can hammer away at this debt even harder.

Tip #8: Have a Free or Really Cheap Hobby

I really like to read in my free time. It is really easy for me to find or borrow free books.  Instead of paying for TV I just read a lot and stream shows I want to see.

I also love to go to the nearby Caribbean beaches and gasoline happens to be nearly free here in Venezuela (about $0.03 to fill the gas tank of my Toyota Corolla).  This means I just have to pay for the boat to take me to the tropical island (usually about $5) and any food or drinks I might want for the day (generally no more than $20 MAXIMUM).

I am also obsessed with salsa dancing and if I had a lead handy I would happily dance for hours in my apartment (or anywhere really).

Some of my other cheap hobbies are yoga, hiking, walking, writing, scrapbooking (gotta watch this one), photography (most of the time I just use my old iphone), and cooking at home.

Tip #9: Don’t Visit the Family As Much As You Want To

If I tried to fly home for Christmas it would have cost me about $1200. Then I would then have to buy presents for my family (more than I already did that is) and I would have to spend another easy $300. I also love to eat out in Portland so I could have easily spent $400 in the three weeks that I would have been home. In addition to that, most of my friends go home and stock up on stuff you can’t find in Venezuela so that would have been another easy $300 plus baggage fees.  I can easily spend $3000 just to go home for a few weeks.

Instead, I usually go home in the summer for a few weeks because my schools pick up the cost of the flights. Then I just need to pay for entertainment while I’m home.

Try to keep the trips home to only once a year and settle for Skype conversations and Facebook chats instead.

Don’t tell mom, but after this July (2015), I am already toying with the idea of not returning home until June 2017!

Tip #10: Don’t Keep up with the Joneses

Girls in Venezuela are gorgeous. They get their hair, nails, and full body waxes done. Also, plastic surgery is hugely popular and highly encouraged by society. They also seem to live in towering high heels and cute colorful outfits.  Usually when I ask they tell me that the item I like is from the US. I don’t know how they afford it! Anything I like in a local store is outrageously expensive (even with the favorable exchange). I just wear clothing that is five years old and I wear the same shoes until they don’t work anymore.

The same goes for the new phones. Phones are hazardous in Venezuela and can tempt people to rob you. While I sometimes want a better phone with a better camera on it, I don’t think I will be getting a new one until I move out of this country.

By living this way I plan on paying off $67K (plus interest!) within seven years of my graduation date from grad school (July 2017). I will have also lived or visited 39 countries by that time. Even after paying off my student loan debt I plan on living frugally so I can continue to teach and travel my way around the world!

Please share: Have you found any of these tips useful? Do you have any frugal living/traveling tips?

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