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How to Travel Long-Term & Pay Off Debt

Saving Money RTW

Scott and Christy, a couple of surfers from Ordinary Traveler share some finance travel tips.

We have been paying off student loans for a few years (or shall I say my other half has been paying off expensive loans from helicopter pilot school and college) and we have decided not to put off traveling until those loans are paid off. I know countless other people are in the same boat.

They want to travel, but feel it’s not possible because they are still paying off debt. I want to share how we plan to make this dream a reality without having to wait until we are old and gray.

Planning to travel for an extended period of time while being tied to a $500 or more per month loan payment can be scary, but I want everybody to know that it’s not impossible.

I’m not going to lie, it takes a little more planning and discipline than if you were to wait until you are debt free.

Saving Money is Top Priority

First things first. We made sure our savings accounts were extremely cushioned before we made the decision to set a date for our big adventure. Even though we are paying off debt, we made it a priority to also set aside a certain amount of money every month towards our savings goals.

Now, this is where the tough part comes in. Since we make modest incomes in San Diego (where it is also expensive to live), we have to limit the things we spend our money on. Basically we;

Live like we are poor, even though we are not.

We don’t go out to dinner, shows, or bar hopping all that often. We definitely let loose occasionally because you have to give yourself a break every once in a while, but for the most part we cook at home and try to stick to free or cheap forms of entertainment.

For some people this may seem difficult at first, but trust me, you get used to the lifestyle and after a while it feels really good not to blow your money on hefty booze tabs or $100 meals.

Stop Spending Money

Saving for Travel

Resisting the Urge to Buy

In addition to finding cheap entertainment, we also make it a point to avoid buying all the latest gadgets. Keeping up with the Joneses can eat up your money real quick.

We don’t replace items unless they are falling apart.

Scott’s car has over 200,000 miles and counting, but no car payments. Β When we do have to make a purchase we usually buy used items.

Second HandSecond Hand

You can save a lot of money by purchasing something that is a few months old. This is especially true for electronics and furniture. I once bought a brand new couch and TV that totaled about $5,000. When I needed to sell them less than a year later, I was only able to get about $700 for both! That was the first and last time I bought new furniture. Β This gives you an idea of how we were able to save a good chunk of money.

Money Saving Tips

If you want more money saving ideas, we have written an entire post on this topic.

In order to feel comfortable quitting our jobs, we decided to have at least one years worth of loan payments set aside in addition to our traveling budget.

Remember, you also need to be disciplined enough not to dip into the money you have set aside for loan payments while traveling.

If possible, pay a little extra toward your loan while you still have a job. That way your due date will be extended and you can skip a payment or two while traveling, if necessary.

Limiting Monthly Expenses While Traveling

While you are on the road, subletting your apartment or renting out your home furnished will save on storage costs. We love our apartment because is a great deal for the area we live considering we are two blocks from the beach. Our apartment is in high demand and we don’t want to give up such a good place until we know we are ready to move away from San Diego for good.

If you don’t want to keep your place and you have a friend or relative who will store a few of your things, then you are way ahead of the game.

Since you already have loan payments to make, you will want to keep your other monthly expenses to a minimum while you are traveling and storage costs can get expensive.

Working While Traveling

Digital Nomad
If you find a city or town that you really enjoy while traveling, you may want to look into finding a little work and lay down some roots for a few months. It’s a lot cheaper to find a monthly rental and explore a place for a while than to constantly be on the go. This will also cut down on your transportation expenses.

You can stretch your budget a lot longer by practicing the art of slow travel.

There is also the possibility of finding online work while traveling. Think about what you are good at and if you could offer your services or consulting.

These are just a few examples of how to make traveling with debt a possibility. Most importantly, make sure you have enough money saved before you take off on your trip and don’t wait until all of your money is spent before you look for ways to replenish your savings.

Keep an open mind and remember that long-term travel is possible if you are willing to make sacrifices.

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emma says:

thanks for publishing this, I just got back from 5 days teaching english in spain and decided to travel, but I have a fair amount of debt and really worried it would stop me from travelling, but reading this makes me realise I can do it. Im moving back in with my parents next month so I can start saving up to travel next year! and Im putting my mum in charge of my money! πŸ™‚

That’s excellent news Emma! I wish you great success with your new goals. Seeing the world will change your life.

Name says:

couldn’t agree with other comments more. great advice for life, not just travel… enjoying slow travel in Berlin as we speak with India and Argentina on the horizon πŸ™‚

AJ says:

Great article you have captured the art of discipline needed to achieve this. Great idea about settling in another city for a few months and maybe finding part time work. Congrats on doing what you aspired to do.

How inspiring. Saving money to travel is hard enough. To pay off loans at the same time, even worse! Congratulations on not letting anything stand in your way.

Dorian says:

Great Tips…

I need to be more frugal… or at least try to be..

I’m thinking this is going to open people’s eyes and let them know that traveling isn’t out of the realm.

Oh yea make the most of everything you have. I’ve been driving the same car for over 10 years. It has 215,000 miles and counting. I realize that it’s not important to always buy new things.

Norbert says:

This is some great solid advice. I’m pretty much in the same situation as I have college loans, but still I’m saving to do my RTW for next year. I too believe it is possible to travel long term even if you’re not debt free. The trick is to have a solid plan and a lot of control on your spending.

It’s definitely possible. I guess it just depends on what you want out of life. Good luck with your loans! Want to have a loan pay down race?

Norbert says:

Thanks! Good luck to you too!

Let’s race it!! Though I’m barely starting to pay them, so I have many years ahead… Bring it on! πŸ™‚ lol

Yea I might have a head start on you. So it might not be fair I guess, but it would be fun. Maybe I’ll give you a handicap.

Abby says:

I never tired of hearing the importance of saving. So simple, yet every time I hear it I double up my efforts. So thanks!

So true, Abby. I’m glad we could help.Sometimes we need a little motivation.

This is a great read! I know so many people have debts and often postpone traveling due to their debts. This gives hope to all who want to travel ASAP while handling their debts. Buying new vs used really does make a huge difference. I have seen how some people have saved bundles of $$ by buying used car, furniture, etc. Thanks for sharing those tips. πŸ™‚

I figured many people could relate to this post. One of our goals is to show people that travel is possible, even if you are working full time or have debts.

Great tips for saving money in order to travel!

jade says:

Great tips- we have been trying to figure out the balance for awhile, but ultimately you are right. you learn to live on less money and watching the savings account grow and the debt shrink is really rewarding.

Watching the savings account grow is a great motivator!

Randy says:

Fantastic tips! We are in a similar situation with our debt. But by being more frugal with our spending, and incorporating some of the other tips (I love craigslist) we were able to start traveling. As we have found out, if you are creative enough, there are always ways to travel cheap in every country.

I agree. Sometimes getting creative and finding ways to travel on the cheap is part of the fun.

Ash says:

This topic is my greatest hurdle that is stopping me travelling anything more than 6 weeks at a time.
Although I could sell up, and come out well in front and have enough to travel the world many times over, my house is something that I want to keep for down the track.
Putting away money to cover the debt repayments is the key. You need to have that covered, as well as putting away cash to cover your actual trip. 2 lots of savings effectively.
Nice read.

That’s exactly what we have done for the past 4 years. We have taken shorter trips, 2 to 6 weeks, until we have enough savings to feel comfortable quitting our jobs. Those short trips are sometimes enough, depending on what you want your life to look like.

This post is so true. We didn’t sell up to travel, instead we still maintain the mortgage and have renters in the house. We’ve been travelling for 1.5 years like that.

That’s great that you are in a position to rent your home out and still cover your mortgage. I attempted that for a while, but my tenant’s payments didn’t come close to covering my mortgage. lol

Adam says:

Great tips for someone like myself who is trying to not only find the time but the money to go on a very extensive hiking adventure.

That’s exciting! I look forward to following along your adventure.

Krista says:

This post was PERFECT for me today since I’ll be leaving for Amsterdam next month then going on to Italy then Australia in September. Today I was fussing with figuring my debt/savings/expenses and this post cheered me right up. πŸ™‚

Krista, I just helped a friend set up a budget last week and we used If you are looking to track your expenses, it’s a great website. I’m jealous you are going to Italy. I really want to go back soon!

Jillian says:

It’s all about making a plan and sticking too it! Even if you have debt it’s not impossible to travel (as you guys point out!), you just have to prepare to handle it while you’re traveling. Kudos for taking the time to figure out a way to make it work- many people would have just given up and never followed their dream!

I know you guys can relate, Jillian. You have created an awesome website to help others get control of their spending and set up a budget. It’s easy to set up, but it just takes dedication to follow through with it.

Mike C says:

Ah man I wanna see what the bad language was.

Nice article – I like the art of slow travelling as I like to pitch up and stay somewhere for a few months or a season. Helps you earn money and also really get to know a place. If you get tired of a place, you simply move on to your next adventure.

Mike C says:

Also how I do get a picture in my profile?

Jason says:

It was, “Testing this bullshit” Lol. Visit gravatar(dot)com and set up your email.

Mike C says:

Cheers Jason

That’s great, Mike. It sounds like you have got the hang of slow travel. I sometimes need to force myself to stay in one place. πŸ™‚

Mike C says:

Hey Christy, I wouldn’t say I have it down by any stretch of the imgination. What I do like though about putting down roots in a different country is the sense of community you get with others who have done the same.

Amy says:

I completely agree with ‘practicing the slow art of travel.’ It’s crazy to think that you could pay for a months rent with those couple of nights spent at a hotel!

Overall, these are definitely the tried-and-true methods of frugality.

Slow travel is relatively new to me. It’s usually hard for me to want to stay in one place for long because I want to see it all. My boyfriend and I are also considering house sitting, which I think will definitely force us to travel slowly.

Jason says:

Oh man, I just realized that I left some ummm, poor language in that post from some testing that was frustrating me. Oops, sorry about that everyone. It’s now removed. Oh that is so funny.

Hehe. Thanks for the entertainment, Jason. πŸ™‚

These are some great, honest thoughts. Not only great for travel – but people should learn how to live like this in all areas of their life. Whether they’re traveling or not.

It’s good to be a little frugal. I think it’s a small trade off in order to be living in a place you love.

I agree. I have always been frugal. My parents instilled that in me at a young age and I’m thankful because I would rather live simply without a lot of things I don’t need. When I have too much clutter it makes my life feel less manageable.

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