Three tips for traveling while in debt

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For most recent college graduates, student loan debt is as much a guarantee as gas prices going up. Even so, many twenty-somethings still dream of traveling the world and being carefree—because who really dreams of spending their glory years working 9-5 chained to a cubicle? But is traveling while still in debt a good choice?

In the past two years, my husband and I have been able to pay off $20,000 in debt. I still have another $20,000 in student loans left to pay.  While my husband and I have made enormous sacrifices to reach this milestone—such as downsizing from a one-bedroom apartment to a one-room shack, and working a side hustle to make extra money—one thing that we have refused to give up is travel.

In the two and a half years we’ve been married, we’ve swam in the oceans of Kauai, went on a hot air balloon ride in Temecula, feasted in San Francisco, partied in Las Vegas, driven up the California Coast, hiked on Catalina Island, relaxed in Monterey, sunbathed in Palm Springs, and this fall, we plan on river rafting in Costa Rica.

How do two broke newlyweds manage to pull all this off? It’s not because we’re rolling in the dough—mind you, we managed to pay off debt and travel even though we were a one-income family for four months, upgraded from our one-room shack to a two-bedroom townhome, and dealt with an emergency room visit that resulted in five weeks of no income.

Our secret is that we made traveling a priority. Traveling is very important to me and I’d like to do as much of it as I can before we have little ones running around. For this very reason, I am okay with pushing back our debt pay-off debt if it means taking advantage of traveling. Traveling will always be an extravagance because there will always be something else that the money could go toward, whether it be your child’s education, repairs on the house, or saving for retirement. Unless you make traveling a priority, it will fall by the wayside.

Here are our tips for traveling while in debt:

Don’t go further into debt. In all of our cases, we saved money prior to going on these trips. If this meant that we couldn’t pay a certain amount of money toward debt, that was fine. $10,000 a year toward debt is still no small feat. We saved and scrimped by forgoing other items, such as eating out (we limited ourselves to one to two meals out a month, max), clothes shopping, and going out—three very big money-suckers. It didn’t mean that we didn’t get to have fun—we often hosted friends over in our shack for wine and fun.

Bum off friends and family and look for deals. For every single trip, we took advantage of deals and the generosity of our families to lessen the cost of our trips. When we went to Kauai, we stayed with my husband’s parents in their two-bedroom timeshare—we only had to pay for our food, flights and entertainment. In Palm Springs, we stayed with my family at their timeshare.  When I traveled to Australia in college, I stayed with a high school friend, saving hundreds on accommodations.

Work hard for things you want. Much of our travel would not have been possible if we didn’t have a side hustle. It was much easier for me to work harder to pay for trips, than it was to simply pay off debt. Our standard full-time incomes pay for our basics—living expenses, debt payoff, retirement, and savings. Anything extra we figured was fair game, which really meant the more we worked, the more fun we could afford.