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How To Travel The World When You Have Student Loans

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The following question comes from a reader named Kyla K who is wondering how she can travel the world when she has student loans. The response comes from our study abroad correspondent, Tristan Hicks.

I’ve become very interested in the idea of perpetual travel. I love backpacking and want to experience the world and what it has to offer.

I’m just curious if you or someone you know has taken on this lifestyle while buried in student loans? If so, how did they manage to balance that and make timely payments? I’ve been reading all of the information on making money while you travel, but I would like hear any firsthand advice if you have some.

Ideally you want to get rid of all debts, but considering how common it is for people to owe $50K, $70K, $100K, it might not be feasible to get them entirely paid off before leaving. If you must, look into the income-based repayment plan (IBR) for your federal loans, which can reduce your monthly bills sometimes to nothing (but ultimately you’ll be in debt for much longer and pay more overall). Though there is a clause in this plan that states that the loans can be forgiven after 25 years in the program.

IBR repayment chart from IBR Info.org

IBR repayment chart from IBR Info.org

Depending on your skills/experience/education, here are a few ideas:

1. Teach English in a country where you can be well paid and save a lot of money (Taiwan/Korea/China are fairly common for entry-level teachers, but there are many more options). Teach private lessons on the side for extra cash.

2. If you have a job that can be done online (technology/ writing/ consulting), move to any country with a very low cost of living but work for clients in rich countries. If you can work online for $15+ an hour but live in a country where rent is only $100-$150 a month, you can save quickly and pay back the loans while living abroad.

3. If you don’t mind the service sector, get a working holiday visa and go to someplace like Australia or New Zealand, where the minimum wage is $12-16. If you can live cheaply and work multiple jobs for a while, you can put a dent in those loans.

There are also hundreds of other options available to you, limited only by your diligence and creativity. In my case, I went with route #1 and paid off half of my loans in a year. (My loans weren’t huge, but were nearly the size of the average year salary in my state).

This cut my monthly loan payments in half, bringing my payment down to a manageable rate. At this point, I don’t have to sweat the loans anymore, because I can just set aside enough cash every year that I can pay the 12 months in advance every January.

Filed under: Education, Save Money for Travel, Travel Help, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Tristan Hicks is a compulsive traveler who believes that travel and “real life” can be one and the same. He has combined working and studying with his long-term travels, living in the US, Turkey, Hong Kong, South Africa, South Korea, Estonia and Poland. Tristan recently finished a season teaching at-risk youth in his native Appalachian mountains. He is currently on the road. has written 15 posts on Vagabond Journey.

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Tristan Hicks is currently in: Surat Thani, ThailandMap