Travel the World Despite Your Student Debt

by Broke Professional on March 31, 2011 · 7 comments

This is a Guest Post from Paula Pant, the blogger at AffordAnything.org. If you like it — “Like” it on Facebook!

Five years ago when I graduated from college and started thinking about the future, I noticed that my friends seemed to fall into one of three camps:

1. Those who felt empowered by their lack of student debt to do anything they wanted.
2. Those who felt trapped by their student debt to get a job, any job, as quickly as possible.
3. Those who felt empowered to do anything they wanted — DESPITE their student debt.

Almost all my friends fit into one of these three categories. Today I’ll highlight true, real-life examples of each.

One friend (we’ll call her “Carol”) wanted to explore the world’s highest peaks. She loved winter sports: snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, and she wanted to see something different than the mountains in our collegiate backyard (we all lived in Colorado). Her father paid for her education, so she graduated with zero debt.

Another (we’ll call her “Kate”) also loved the outdoors. Rock-climbing, rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing — she was enamored with it all. But Kate came from a family that couldn’t or wouldn’t give her any money. She paid for rent and groceries through school working two jobs, but she borrowed tens of thousands to pay for tuition and books. She also owed $300 monthly payments on her Toyota pickup truck. She held zero interest in finance, but majored in accounting because she thought she could at least get a well-paying job in that field.

A third (we’ll call her “Sara”) loved learning languages and foreign cultures; she held several thousand in student loans but longed to see the world.

So what happened to these three?

Carol finished a double major with honors and had a wide array of career options open. Yet she felt no need to panic about money-making; all she needed to earn was her basic cost-of-living. But she did feel a certain pressure to do something “career-oriented,” something “grown-up” and “professional.” Despite not having any debt, she questioned the “respectability” of pursuing her dream of skiing the world’s mountains. She ultimately decided to follow the conventional track and apply for career-building jobs within her field.

Kate felt panicked about her level of student debt and car loans. The monthly payments added up to $500 between the two loans; in addition, she’d need another $1,000 per month, at least, to pay rent, utilities, groceries and other basic costs. After graduation, she took a job she hated just to pay the bills.

Sara had more loans than Kate did, and felt the pressures of impending “adulthood” as much as Carol did. But Sara kept a cool head. She knew she was in her twenties and without kids — and recognized this as the most free point of her life. Owing an extra few hundred bucks per month wouldn’t change that fact. So she started checking into fun, part-time jobs in Europe, where the Euro was outpacing the dollar. She discovered mutual friends of ours were earning the U.S. equivalent of $20 per hour tutoring in Madrid, and thought that would be a great way to experience her dream of living overseas while also paying off her loans.

She ended up not going that route, though. She ultimately decided to enter the Peace Corps, where she volunteers with low-income children in Romania. Her student loans are waived while she serves in the Corps, and at the end of her two-year term, she’ll receive a $6,000 lump-sum which she can use to resettle back in the U.S.

So who did it “best”?

The point here isn’t to encourage you to run off to Romania — the point is simply to acknowledge that everyone has a different dream, and a different set of circumstances, and with some creativity, everyone can make those dreams work.

Carol had no debt, yet she ultimately succumbed to the pressures society inflicted on her. She was free, and yet she acted as though she was burdened.

Kate had debt, and let it keep her down.

Sara had both debt and pressures, yet was confident in herself and was determined to find a way to do exactly what she dreamed of doing.

Who are the Carol’s, Kate’s and Sara’s in your life? How have they — and how have you — managed the pressure, both real and imagined, of debt, family, society, and a sense of duty?

This is a Guest Post from Paula Pant, the blogger at AffordAnything.org, the blog that believes “Yes, you CAN afford it!”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nicole April 1, 2011 at 9:20 am

I had no debt, DH had 10K. We got married, went to graduate school, paid off his debt even though we could have deferred it. I don’t think debt or the lack really affected our plans, though we did live pretty close to the bone when we were paying down DH’s debt. Mainly I wanted to get out of graduate school before trying to start a family.

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2 Mr. Broke Professional April 1, 2011 at 9:28 am

Some people travel the world when they have a ton of student loan debt. They just never come back, and hope to never be found. Glad you were able to get scholarships, and likely a fellowship for grad school (if only law school had fellowships!).

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3 Money Pincher April 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I think I am a Carol in the story. I had no student debt. My parents graciously paid it off for me because I gave them all the money I earned while studying in school. I came out of school with $0 instead of a negative number.

I felt I was pressured to find a job and start working right away. Now, I wish I can just pick up and go travel for a year but I can’t :(

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4 Mary April 1, 2011 at 4:36 pm

I was a “Sara.” Graduated with $25k student loans and joined the peace corps (oddly enough, in eastern europe.) I’ve been back in the US for 4 years and have paid off the student loans (along with a $14k car loan…!) Let’s just say I felt the pressure of paying off all the loans AS SOON AS I moved back.

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5 101 centavos April 2, 2011 at 7:05 am

I guess I fall into the move-abroad-with-debt camp. I left college with $3k in debt, and got a job in the Middle East not long after graduation.

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6 Debt Free Divas April 7, 2011 at 10:34 am

Good story. I’m closer to Sara…have debt, but will travel :) I was a military brat, so I did my living abroad during my formative years. However, I do think you can find a way to “live” while paying down debt that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. It may take a bit longer, but I don’t begrudge the debt repayment process in the meantime. Great story.

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7 Christy @ Technosyncratic October 25, 2011 at 4:58 pm

My partner and I are in our mid-to-late twenties and have almost $40,000 in student loans… but we still live on the road and travel full-time.

We work online in web development and travel slowly, spending a few weeks to a month in each city we visit. We’ve been able to make significant headway on our student loan debt – and even contribute the maximum amount each year to our Roth IRAs! – while still living a life we love.

We track all of our monthly expenses on our travel blog so others can get a sense of how affordable it can be to travel (at least in the way we do so), and of course having a location-independent career helps a ton. Sometimes our student loans seem crushing, but we’ve made the decision to not let them hold us back. Granted, we could have waited until they were all paid off before we followed our dreams… but then we would have missed out on all the incredible experiences we’ve gained these last two years. :)

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