How to Travel the World with Student Loan Debt

Thank you Navient for sponsoring this post.   

When I meet people in real life who read our blog or follow me on Instagram there are a series of questions I always get asked. Within the first few minutes the question comes around – I know it’s coming – I can always feel it. Eventually, after asking me my favorite travel destinations [Austin, Chiang Mai, and Barcelona] and a couple warm-up questions they start asking me about my finances.

There are very few other careers where strangers feel comfortable asking you how much you make or how you afford to pursue your passions. Evidently, travel blogging is one of them.

Usually, I don’t mind. I get it – what I do is intriguing to a lot of people.

It’s also wildly expensive to travel the world on your own dime. Which is why I’m pretty open about our finances.

Plus there’s this misconception that bloggers just snap a photo or two and we’re done with work for the day and make buckets of money. [EL OH EL]

I started traveling years before I did my first brand partnership or took a press trip. All of those trips were 100% on my own dime. One of my first big international adventures was when I moved to South Korea to teach English, visited 5 countries and saved $12,000 in one year.

Little bitty baby Meg in Seoul, South Korea.

When I was getting started one of the things that I thought would really hold me back was my student loan debt.

I’m a US citizen and went to college in the United States where our student loan interest rates are anywhere from 6-10%. To date, I have just north of $100,000 in student loan debt.

I completed graduate school with student loan debt because I grew up very poor and was on my own if I wanted to pursue any education beyond high school. I don’t regret going to school because I believe that my education was a pivotal base for me to learn and grow as a person but also provides me with career opportunities I wouldn’t receive otherwise.

There are really only two ways to do this – you can make more money and lower your expenses.

I’m not going to pretend like everyone can travel extensively, everyone has unique financial realities. But having student debt doesn’t prevent you from traveling. If you prioritize paying down your loans and take advantage of as many programs as possible, you may be able to make it work.

There are really only two ways to do this – you can make more money and lower your expenses. Now – how you go about doing those things is really up to you. Here are the few ways that I’ve done it over the years.

Can you use student loan programs to lower your payments?

While I was working in nonprofits I was using programs like Income Based Repayment. They can help you lower your monthly payments to a more manageable rate. Many of the U.S. Department of Education loan programs available require a lot of hoop jumping and paperwork but once you get through all of those steps you’ll have a bit more peace of mind and more cash in your pocket each month.  Keep in mind that by paying a smaller amount over a longer period of time you may pay more in total though. Only you can decide for yourself whether this is a good program for you.

Is student loan refinancing right for you?

Student loan refinancing is when you apply for a new loan that is then used to pay off all your other student loans. This helps in a couple ways, first it consolidates your payments into one place. It may also be a good option if your credit score is better than when you originally took out your student loans because you may have a lower interest rate and a lower payment. This will help you pay off your loans more quickly and have extra money in your pocket for travel. Be aware, though, that refinancing may lower the interest rate for those with very strong credit and steady earnings, but you may also no longer qualify for federal government benefits like Income Based Repayment if you later fall on hard times.

Are you working in a loan forgiveness career field?

Join the military service, become a teacher, or work for a nonprofit. These are all career fields that the US government provides programs to support federal student loan repayment. Obviously, this is a more long term solution but many people are already working in these fields and may not realize loan forgiveness is even an option.

Can you teach English in Asia?

Teaching English in China, Japan or South Korea can be very rewarding and lucrative. I worked in South Korea as a teacher for both children and adults plus did a few private lessons on the side. I made a lot of money and lived with very little expenses. Teachers in these countries are provided with airfare, housing, salary, and some meals. When you’re not paying for basic necessities like daily lunch and rent it’s amazing how you can reallocate your funds.

What are your side hustles?

When most people think of a side hustle they think – driving for Uber – serving at a restaurant – or getting a gig at the local mall. But that’s a really old school way to look at generating income. These days it’s all about building passive income streams.

There is nothing wrong with serving at a local restaurant but there is a limit to the amount of money you can make. Even if it’s the nicest restaurant in town, you’re not going to be able to work 24 hours a day. When you’re exchanging your time for money you will always have limits. But with passive income, there is no limit to how much money you can make. Let me say that again – there is no limit to how much money you can make. There are limits in the hours in a day – what your current skills are – how you’re willing to spend your time etc. But in the US there is no upward limit to how much money you can make. See Beyoncé for reference on this one.

Examples of passive income might be – the advertising on this blog – listing your spare bedroom on Airbnb – selling products through Amazon etc Find the one that suits your skills and use it to pay down your loans or save for your next flight

Student Loan Resources:

For more concrete tips on how to adjust your spending use these resources from Navient to set financial goals to make your life of travel a reality. 

Thank you again to Navient for sponsoring this post.  All content and opinions expressed here are all my own.