Debt can be a hindrance to travel plans, Grownups—Blogger Chonce Maddox tells how she planned her vacation while still paying off her student loan.
My student loans aren’t just a financial burden—they’re a debilitating roadblock that prevents me from living my life to the fullest.
I took out approximately $21,000 to get through college. And while I’m set on getting rid of my debt ASAP, I also feel like now is one of the best times in my life to do some traveling. I prefer to get out and see new things while I’m in my 20s and before I settle down with a house and mortgage payment.
I never really traveled much when I was growing up, but an international study abroad trip a few years ago solidified my passion for travel.
So what did I do when torn between two passions? I decided to fulfill both! I’ll travel a bit and aggressively pay down my debt.
Determining My Goals
As soon as I got serious about my debt, I decided to set a debt-free date to specify exactly when I’d like to have all my debt paid off.
That date has changed quite a few times, but for now, it’s December 31, 2017. Based on that date, I divided up my remaining student loan payments to determine how much I needed to contribute each month to eliminate them by the end of next year.
Last year I only paid the minimum on my student loans because I was paying down a high-interest car loan. But this year, I’m paying about five times the minimum payment, and I hope to increase that amount next year.
For travel, my goals are pretty flexible: I want to take short domestic and possibly international trips, but they must be done frugally. I utilized strategies like optimizing credit card rewards, traveling during the off seasons, cutting lodging costs, and using coupons for entertainment to reduce the cost of travel.
Going After My Goals
When I decided to travel and pay off my debt aggressively, I knew an income boost would definitely help. I started by making sure my employer gave me a raise at the end of last year, and I ramped up my freelance writing side hustle by securing a few additional clients.
I made less than $40,000 last year, which was not a lot of money to help meet my travel and debt payoff goals, but I also cut expenses and made a few sacrifices.
Since I had two primary goals (and a few other priorities), I basically let all my other expenses fall to the wayside. I’ve cut back on cable, a pricey cell phone bill, shopping for new clothes, and dining out regularly (just to name a few). I also conserve energy in my apartment to keep some of the utilities low, and search for free and frugal ways to entertain myself on weekends.
Getting Into Action: Planning 4 Trips
I did quite a bit of planning since I wanted to go on at least four trips throughout the year and continue to make progress on my debt. The first consideration is choosing where to go and how much it will cost. A trip to Europe is certainly not in the budget right now, but I did recently go to the Caribbean.
- Caribbean Vacation
I recently honeymooned in the Caribbean with my husband for less than $400 (for both of us). We achieved this by strategically using credit cards to earn enough points to cover our flight in full, along with most of our stay at an all-inclusive resort. All-inclusive resorts are great because you pay one price for your stay, and all your food, drinks, and basic activities are included in that initial price. Since we had good credit, no credit card debt, and needed to spend money each month on wedding expenses and other priorities, we considered using the credit cards for points for travel. Otherwise, we would have come up with another strategy.
- Family Trip to an Out-of-State Waterpark
I want to do some traveling with my son this year, so we’re planning a trip to a neighboring state to do some tours and stay at a waterpark resort. While resorts can be expensive, the one we’re considering has tons of deals and discounts that can be found on Groupon. I’ll also possibly invite other friends or relatives to share the costs.
- Weeklong Cross-Country Trip
In the fall, I plan to fly to California for a work conference, but I’ll be sticking around afterward to go sightseeing with friends. I’m budgeting for this trip by saving up ahead of time, utilizing a Southwest airfare credit, and using AirBnB for lodging afterward and splitting that cost with my friends.
- My Birthday Weekend Trip
After booking my honeymoon, I received an offer to book another three-day trip at an extremely discounted rate. Destinations included Ft. Lauderdale, Charleston, and Las Vegas, among others. While I’ve already paid for my stay, I just need to set aside money for my flight and some miscellaneous spending.
Weighing All My Options
Whenever I get paid, I set money aside for my student loans first and some funds for travel in a high-yield savings account. My student loans are $16,000 right now, and I’m on track to get them down to $10,000 by the end of the year.
I also weigh all my frugal travel options carefully to make sure I’m not spending more on travel than I need to. Additional affordable trips I could take would be to visit family in Tennessee or Minnesota. I could also go on a road trip and visit national parks in a neighboring state.
Since I haven’t done much traveling aside from this year, the world is my playground. I’m not super picky as to where I go first, as long as I’m feeding my need for adventure and continuing to crush my debt.