Today I have a guest post from a couple who is working to pay off over half a million dollars of student loan debt. Amber from RedTwoGreen.com is sharing how she and her husband were able to travel internationally for free when they were newlyweds!
The hardest part about buckling down and tackling our $590k of student loans is the fear that our life will never be fun again. There is not room in our budget for fancy traveling, fancy date nights, or really anything fancy at all. We do not have discretionary income. We live off of a carefully planned budget of $3000/month. Everything else we earn goes straight into our student loans.
We LOVE to travel. We have been really lucky to have lived in lots of different places– the volcanoes of Chile and Hawaii, rural China, the beaches of Miami, the mountains of Salt Lake City. The thing is, we have never really been able to afford traveling.
Fortunately, we have been able to find creative ways to get it done. Our most lucrative venture without question was living in China for six months.
After we finished our undergraduate degrees, we wanted to spend some time traveling before we started law school (Amber) and dental school (Danny). We were newlyweds and had no money to our names. We started researching a few ideas, and it quickly became apparent that traveling was not going to happen given our lack of cash.
We talked to a couple of people who had taught English while they were traveling and made a little bit of money doing it. We started researching different countries and companies that pair you with a school to teach English. A couple of weeks later, we were signed up to teach English in western China for 6 months!
4 Things we did to travel for free:
1. We did our own research
First things first, we started asking around and searching for a country and company we could work for. We had friends go to several different places and each one was fairly opinionated about the place they went and who they worked for. They were each convinced that they had received the most bang for their buck when it comes to traveling.
We could have easily just taken their word for it, but we would have spent quite a bit of cash instead of earning money on our travels. Luckily we did our own research, and found a really great deal.
2. We negotiated our salaries
We negotiated our salaries and stipends like mad people. We ended up getting our flight paid for, meals provided on each day that we worked, free rent, (side note: they also chose the apartment for us. It was nice and spacious and it was heaven not having to hunt for an apartment).
In addition, we received a small monthly salary which converted to about $500 USD each. While our salary was low by US standards, our expenses were also very low so it made it doable. By the way, even if you aren’t trying to travel, don’t be shy about negotiating a fair salary for yourself before you accept a job.
3. We chose a country that was inexpensive to live in and travel around
Another thing we considered was the fact that China is remarkably cheap to get around. We could take overnight trains to different parts of the country for less than $10 USD (just a heads up, these are not the nice bullet trains. We are talking like, you might get bed bugs kind of trains).
Food was also really cheap. You could find street food for 50 cents, hot and ready to go. To be fair, China could also have been really expensive. There are lots of western restaurants chains out there as well (Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, we even saw a Dunkin Donuts one time!) So you have to be careful.
We worked four days a week. We used our three days off for traveling. Often it meant leaving on an overnight train or bus right after work and returning on one right before work started the following week.
4. We traveled on a budget
We were careful with the money that we earned there. We didn’t spend it on fancy dining or hotels, ever. We always stayed in hostels, which we loved. I will admit that it is a little unnerving to share a room with a group of strangers, but hostels attract a similar type of traveler. They were so informative– you meet great people who can tell you the best places to go and help you find cool local spots. If we had stayed in hotels, it would have been WAY more expensive.
It was tempting to buy fancy food and trinkets that we knew we wouldn’t be able to find back in the States. Occasionally we gave into that, but we always carefully budgeted for it. If we flew anywhere, we took the cheapest flights which usually meant they were terribly inconvenient. We ended up spending 24 hours in the Shanghai airport at some point.
Because we were so careful with out budget, we had a small stack of extra cash after our teaching commitment was over, and after we had seen most of what there is to see in China. We used that cash to fly to Thailand and explored it for about a month. We chose Thailand for similar reasons, you can get around and eat for dirt cheap. We took inconvenient flights. But we were able to do all of that and somehow come home with $1000 USD.
How about you?
- What hacks have you found for traveling on the cheap?
Danny and Amber are a husband and wife team tackling more than $590,000 in student loans. Danny is a dentist and Amber is an attorney, both practicing in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They are debt haters and travel lovers. They share their debt journey at www.redtwogreen.com.
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