How to Pay Off Debt and Start Traveling

How to Pay Off Debt and Start Traveling - picture of back of woman overlooking mountains and water with arm raised

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Please enjoy this guest post from our friend Zina Kumok!

More than a year ago, I paid off $28,000 worth of student loans – only three years after I made my first payment.

I learned how to budget, find free hacks, limit and lower my spending by shopping through ebates and amazon, rather than paying full price and ways to save money. But while I was paying off my debt, I also found time – and money – to travel around the world. While I was paying off my loans, I traveled to Spain and Israel. Did I mention that I was only earning about $30,000 a year?

Paying off debt is possible, but many don’t realize that it’s also realistic to pay off your debt AND travel at the same time. You don’t have to sacrifice your true passion in order to be financially responsible.

Make Them Your Priorities

When I was paying off my student loans, I refused to turn down travel opportunities. I wanted to prioritize being debt free and traveling abroad.

But having two expensive priorities meant that I couldn’t afford to do other things, like going out to the bars or grabbing take-out with my girlfriends. I avoided eating out at lunch and rented books and DVDs from the library instead of buying them.

A good friend told me, “If you want to say yes to something, you have to say no to something else. If you want to say yes to something hard, you have to say no to a lot of things.”

Giving up all those things meant making sacrifices on my part, which could be hard on a day-to-day basis. But I always felt better when I saw how quickly my debt balance decreased and when I was able to travel abroad.

Sign Up for Rewards Cards

One of the best ways that many people are able to afford expensive vacations is by signing up for travel rewards credit cards that offer lucrative bonuses. These sign-up points can often pay for one or more flights, hotel nights or rental car reservations. Some of my favorites were the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the United Mileageplus Explorer, and the Delta Skymiles card.

Signing up for credit cards can also increase your credit score, as long as you use the card responsibly. There’s no point in getting a 40,000 point nous to use on a flight if you end up spending more money just to earn the bonus.

Devote Windfalls to Your Goals

Traveling for less was my fun goal, but I also cared about paying off my student loans in three years. So when I received a windfall like a birthday check or freelance assignment, I put the money toward travel or my debt.

It’s easy to spend $100 when you’re not expecting it, that’s why you have to plan ahead what you’ll do with the money before you actually get it. It’s simpler to spend it on a shopping spree at the mall (or on Amazon), but you’ll feel better if you put it toward your goals.

Find Cheaper Places to Visit

When many people think of traveling abroad, they imagine floating down the Seine in Paris or visiting Big Ben in London. But these famous landmarks require big bucks – something you may not be able to afford when you’re also paying off debt.

Thankfully, not every dream destination is expensive. Countries like Croatia, Peru and Vietnam are much more affordable than their continent counterparts such as Italy, Chile and Japan. You’ll be able to see great sites without busting your budget. I only spent $2,000 when I went to Spain – including airfare, lodging, food and sightseeing expenses.


P.S. – Want to learn how I paid off my student loans in three years? Sign up for my debt payoff course here. Readers of Club Thrifty get 15% off using the code CLUBTHRIFTY. (Course available until June 8, 2016!)


Zina Kumok is a personal finance freelance writer and blogger at Debt Free After Three. In 2014, she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years. Now, she’s created Student Loan Knockout: 20 Days to Debt Freedom, a course on how you too can pay off your student loans quickly.

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  1. That’s true and as you’ve proven it works, it’s all about prioritizing and making tough decisions (a lot of ‘nos’).

  2. Signing up for rewards cards is good, but wouldn’t you recommend that people who are in credit card debt NOT sign up for cards until they are making progress getting that debt to a lower level (or eliminated)? In that case I would recommend a 0% transfer card over any of the travel rewards cards.

  3. We also traveled including internationally while paying off our student loans. We used reward cards, brought each other along on business trips to save on lodging and dining, and were selective about what tourist activities we’d pay for. We also sometimes camp instead of getting a hotel. We kept our overall lifestyle simple so we could afford to do what we really wanted. The student loans are long gone and now we are getting close to paying off the mortgage, and we’ve always continued to travel, even with kids now.

  4. We did some traveling as well when we were paying off debt as well and did a number of these things to enable us to do so. Travel is pretty important to us as we want our kids to experience different places so these things help us keep it a priority.

  5. Lila @ Lila Donovan says:

    The travel industry is super competitive so it’s not hard to find deals. I paid off $7,000 in debt and it was worth it!

  6. And if you *do* want to travel to pricey places, you need to consider cheaper accommodations like hostels. My mom stays in a hostel when she visits NYC. It’s around $40-60 a day, compared to $150+ for even a low-end hotel.

  7. Spending your money and time on what you actually value is so important for a joyful life. Well done on making the “hard” choices to have what you really want.

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