If you’re struggling with debt and know it will take you years to pay off, you’re not alone. Average credit card debt for indebted households was up over $16,000 as of last year, after all. Furthermore, the average student loan debt for college graduates was $34,144 per borrower in 2017, according to Experian.
What are you supposed to do? Pay down debt and avoid having fun while you’re young?
While that’s certainly an option, there may be a better alternative. If you could see the world and pay down debt at the same time, wouldn’t that situation be ideal?
How to Score Frugal Travel While You Pay Down Debt
If you’re someone who is hoping to live a little while also taking care of the debts you owe, it’s possible to do a little of both. You can travel frugally while you’re young and pay down debt, but you’ll need to avoid some pitfalls along the way.
Here are four strategies you can use to see the world while you still can — without avoiding your responsibilities:
Use a cash-back or travel credit card for regular bills, then set them up to be paid off automatically.
By and large, travel and cash-back credit cards offer the easiest way to score free or cheap travel. However, it’s also easy to get in trouble with credit since carrying a balance will cause you to pay interest and may even lead you into more long-term debt.
That’s why the best way to pursue rewards while you’re paying down debt is by using your card only for regular expenses and bills, then setting your bill up to be paid off automatically. By doing this, you can avoid the prospect of debt and earn travel rewards or cash-back at the same time.
If you’re worried you’ll overspend with credit, however, you should probably steer clear of this option. Especially if you have credit card debt already, you are likely better off focusing on paying it off as quickly as you can.
A balance transfer card can be a smart tool to consider in this case since these cards offer 0% APR for 9 to 21 months. Without any interest accruing, you can pay down debt considerably faster. Once all your credit cards are paid off completely, you can consider using travel or cash-back cards to pursue rewards.
Use rewards cards to play the signup bonus game.
Another strategy that can work well for people with student loan debt and other debts is pursuing travel rewards or cash-back in the form of signup bonuses. With this particular strategy, you will sign up for new travel credit cards offering huge bonuses, use your card for regular spending and bills to meet the minimum spending requirement, then pay your bill off right away.
This will leave you with a large bonus and no debt in the end if you do it right, but the same pitfalls still exist. If you spend more than you can afford to pay back right away, for example, you will wind up carrying a balance and paying interest. Most of the time, the interest you pay will outweigh any rewards you earn over time.
Start a frugal travel fund.
One of the best ways to be able to afford to travel while you’re in debt is by setting up a travel fund in a high-interest savings account. By saving your own money every payday or each month, you can begin building up an account you can use to pay for the trip of your dreams.
Building a travel fund works best when you are working with a monthly budget or spending plan. By living with a budget and planning how you spend your pay each month, you can make sure you’re setting aside enough cash for regular bills plus debt repayment and savings for travel.
Even if you’re only able to save $20 or $50 per month, the cash you accrue will add up over time. This is especially true if you open a new high-interest savings account for your travel fund since your money will begin working for you and accruing interest right away.
Look for ways to vacation for free.
Last, but not least, don’t forget to think outside the box when it comes to ways you could see the world on a budget. If you’re young and have few responsibilities, there are multiple ways to get your travel completely paid for.
Ways to travel for free can include:
Work as a flight attendant: Many flight attendants get to fly for free and may also have time to enjoy new destinations in between jobs. If you can get some of your airfare covered, you will be able to travel a lot more while spending a lot less.
Work as a nanny or au pair: It may be possible to travel internationally when working as a nanny or au pair. There are numerous websites devoted to finding nannies for jobs around the globe, including travel nanny positions. Check out Care.com for the latest job openings.
Consider pet sitting: If you want to see new places and live as a local, you should also check out TrustedHouseSitters.com. This website connects pet sitters with families seeking pet care around the globe. You don’t get paid for these opportunities, but you do get free lodging in exciting destinations like Australia, France, Italy, and the U.K.
The Bottom Line
If you’re working on paying down debt but wishing you could travel, don’t forget to think outside the box. With some creative planning and time, you could save up the cash or rewards required for the trip of your dreams. You could also find work that lets you see the world if your job situation and lifestyle are flexible.
Focus on paying off debt, but don’t forget you have to live. After all, tomorrow is never guaranteed.
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