How to Take a Vacation When You’re Juggling Student Loan Debt

With a little discipline and money management, you can travel responsibly.

Are your student loans keeping you from taking a much-needed vacation? While many put off planning a trip to pay down their loans, others find ways to do both. Student loans don’t need to feel like handcuffs restricting you from the excitement of traveling to a new or favorite destination. With a little discipline and money management, you can travel responsibly. Here’s how.

1. Live Within Your Means

While it’s always advisable to live within your means, taking on an extra-frugal mentality will not only help you save money for your vacation but also help you put more money toward your student loan debt. Living within your means starts with creating a budget.

Many dislike the word budget, or think it’s an impossible task. However, you may be surprised how much cash you free up when you limit your expenses to a set amount and cut unnecessary spending. When you have an idea of where your money is going, you see where you can make cutbacks. (Here are 50 things to stop wasting your money on.) Even a few cutbacks can free up enough cash for your vacation.

2. Start a Vacation Fund

If you don’t plan on traveling anytime soon, you may want to open a vacation fund where you put money aside each month. If you’re in a position to set money aside, even a small contribution a month will add up in no time. You may want to consider making automatic transfers so you’re not tempted to spend the money elsewhere. Just remember, saving money in an emergency fund (and for retirement) should take precedent.

3. Spread Out Purchases

For those looking to book flight and hotel accommodations with their credit cards, you may want to consider spreading out these purchases. Typically, flights and hotels will be the costlier part of your vacation. When you book these together, you’re making it difficult to pay back in full — add in your student loans and monthly bills, and this may break your budget. By planning ahead and spreading out these large vacation expenses, you’ll make your monthly credit card and loan payments a bit easier.

4. ‘There’s an App for That!’

If your travel and hotel accommodations eat up too much of your vacation budget, you may want to consider other options. Sites such as Airbnb let you rent out homes, apartments or even rooms, often for a lower price than a hotel. When traveling by air, consider downloading helpful apps like Hopper. The Hopper app predicts when flights to a specific location will be cheapest and notifies travelers when they should consider purchasing tickets.

5. Pick Up a Side Gig

A side hustle can be a great way to help supplement your current income. This extra cash can help pay for your vacation while helping you keep up with student loan payments. Between babysitting, tutoring, freelance writing or shifts at your local gym, there are endless possibilities. Consider finding something that interests you so it doesn’t feel too much like extra work.

6. Opt for a Staycation

While a staycation may not sound as appealing as an actual vacation, sometimes a trip around your own region can end up being surprisingly relaxing or adventurous. Consider researching what your own area has to offer. Between beaches, hiking trails and museums, you may find a staycation is just what you need to forget about those student loans.

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28 Ways to Save For This Year’s Big Adventure

Here are 28 tips for saving money on travel, starting with opening a savings account.

If it seems your friends and coworkers are always off on their next big international excursion and you’re stuck at home trying to figure out how you’re going to pay this month’s utility bill, we’ve got some good news for you. That dream of lazy days on white-sand beaches or gentle afternoons reflecting in the Louvre is actually possible, even if you think you can’t afford it.

We’ve put together 28 mostly pain-free ways to start setting aside money today so you can turn your dream vacation into reality.

Everyday Ways to Save

1. Open a vacation savings account.

Automating your savings — whether for a vacation, retirement or a down payment on your dream home — makes the process so much easier. Even if you’re only able to save $5 a week at first, you have an account established and can plunk savings from the following list of ideas in there whenever possible. And make sure it’s a free account with a low enough minimum balance requirement so that it won’t end up costing you money.

2. Save your change.

You can really up your simple savings game by using a bank service like Bank of America’s Keep the Change program, which automatically rounds up your debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and deposits the difference into your savings account.

If you’re not quite ready to take this step, you can start saving your change the old-school way by grabbing a jar and emptying the change from your pockets or wallet into it at the end of the day. Don’t hesitate to throw some paper bills in there as well.

2. Cut back on your food budget.

It’s amazing the money you can save on food with just a little advanced planning — like making a weekly menu and buying your groceries strictly around that list, cooking in batches so you have meals prepared ahead of time, eating this 16-cent breakfast and avoiding the impulse to eat out or get delivery.

3. Cut back on duplicates.

Do you really need the Oreos and the Milanos? Probably not. Still, treat yourself to some cookies, but choose one to put back.

4. Put a stop to loose spending.

A little advance planning can go a long way toward saving money. For example, shop for next year’s winter coat during this year’s winter sales. You’ll save money by avoiding impulse buys and giving yourself time to find good deals.

5. Cancel your subscriptions & memberships.

Do you actually know how much you spend each month on subscriptions to websites, like your streaming services, magazines, and the gym you swore you’d hit three times a week? Make a list, including amounts you spend each month, and then prioritize that list. Cut out anything you don’t use regularly and bank that money in your vacation account (or change jar).

6. Walk to and from work.

If you live in a walkable city, consider commuting by foot instead of by car or public transit. Not only will it save you some cash, it’s a good, healthy habit.

7. Go to the library.

Want to know what’s even better than getting the latest James Patterson book? Getting it for free. You’ll get to lose yourself in a great story, all while saving up for your own adventure.

8. Wash your car by hand.

If you use one of those automated drive-through washes, or especially a fancy handwash place, you can save a ton of money. The average drive-through costs nearly $10, and the premium carwashes can be as much as $30 for just the basic wash and vacuum. Instead, grab your hose and a bucket or, if you live in an apartment, head to one of those do-it-yourself stalls and then tuck away the savings.

9. Stay home.

It’s that simple. If your friends want to get together, ask them to come over and watch a movie, or have a potluck dinner. Even if you’re spending just $20 or $30 on a once-a-week outing, that can add up to some serious money over just a few months.

10. Make a no-gifts agreement.

The holidays can get ridiculously expensive ridiculously fast. The average American planned to spend around $929 for gifts this past holiday season, according to a report by American Research Group. Instead of spending all that money on things your friends and loved ones may not even want, see if they’ll agree to skipping the gifts this year. Maybe you could all book a holiday trip together instead. Two birds …

11. Cut back on your habits.

If you regularly drink, smoke or take illegal drugs, you probably already know these habits are expensive. For example, a pack of cigarettes can cost nearly $13 in New York, so if you’re a pack-a-day smoker, that’s more than $4,700 a year. That’s a seriously nice vacation fund, not to mention the health benefits of quitting. You can start small, too, if that’s easier.

12. Get a side gig.

If you have no interest in changing your lifestyle and spending, you could always get a second job and use those earnings for your next vacation. You could do the same if you’ve looked at your budget and there’s simply no way to cut back any more than you already have. Of course, if this is your situation, it’s probably more important that you set aside savings for possible emergencies before considering any travel savings.

13. Clip coupons & use savings apps.

You really can save a lot of money using coupons, especially if you manage to hit double or triple coupon days. And using apps or discount services can help you save on your everyday purchases as well.

14. Give yourself plenty of time to save.

All of the above can add up to some pretty dramatic savings, but you’ll still need time to accumulate enough money for a significant getaway. The farther in advance you plan your trip, the less you’ll have to cut corners to save up for it. It’s usually a lot easier to set aside $200 a month for a year than $400 a month for six months.

Ways to Leverage Your Credit

15. Get a new rewards credit card.

If you don’t already have a card that lets you earn points or cash back, now’s a great time to consider it. Even if you don’t have stellar credit, you may qualify for a card that can help make your vacation dreams a reality. Check out some of the best rewards credit cards you can get to see which best fits your spending and savings needs.

16. Improve your credit.

If you don’t qualify for the rewards cards you want, it’s time to start working on your credit. Not only can having great credit help you get the best terms on that new credit card you want for your trip, a good credit score may be able to help you save on insurance premiums and avoid paying deposits for new services. You can read more about how to quickly improve your credit score, and you can see how you’re doing by reviewing two of your credit scores for free. Not sure where to start? Take a look at this guide, which will go over steps to help you rebuild your credit.

17. Score a signup bonus.

Lots of travel rewards credit cards offer bonus miles if you spend a certain amount in your first few months. So if your wallet and credit score can handle it, consider adding one of these cards to your wallet. (Don’t get carried away, though. There are plenty of downsides to credit card churning.)

18. Transfer your credit card balances.

If you’re already carrying balances on your credit cards, getting those paid down should be a top priority. One of the easiest ways to do this is by applying for a new credit card with a 0% introductory balance transfer offer. Some cards have offers as long as 18 months. That can result in a big savings on interest.

Ways to Power Plan

19. Book smart.

Timing is everything when it comes to booking your airfare. Experts recommend booking domestic flights about six weeks out; international flights may require more lead time.

20. Score a companion pass.

Whether you’ve saved enough miles or your friend has you covered, a companion pass — offered through your rewards credit card — can save you a bundle.

21. Google flights.

Enter your destination, fare type and dates, and a number of options should pop up. The site’s also helpful for exploring nearby destinations, and you can sign up for fare alerts.

22. Check Travel.State.Gov.

Before you set your budget, visit this site to see what’s required in terms of passports, visas, vaccines, and more.

23. Visit Wiki Travel.

An excellent tool for sussing out a new place, this user-generated site can give you a sense of whether it makes sense to visit. You can see more great travel websites to bookmark here.

24. Book through your credit card issuer’s travel portal.

Most give you more bang for your buck when it comes to redeeming or earning rewards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in your first three months — equivalent to $750 in travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Or the American Express Platinum, which offers five times the points on airfare booked directly through the issuer or airline.

25. Ask hotels for a discount.

Skip the search engine and call a hotel directly to ask about their lowest nonrefundable rate. If you strike out prior to your trip, ask the concierge whether any upgrades are available when you get there.

26. Sign up for a loyalty program.

Most hotels and airlines have one, and they’re generally free to join. Rack up points where you can (say, on your flight home for the holidays) and then look into pooling them with credit card rewards to fast-track an award flight or hotel stay.

27. Prioritize your itinerary.

You can’t see and do everything at your travel destination, and trying to do so will likely only stress you out and break your budget. Prioritize the travel items on your to-do list so it’s easier to make a cut when your budget calls for it.

28. Avoid the peak season.

A quick internet search will tell you when your destination of choice is particularly popular. If the vacation you want is still possible during off-peak travel times, consider trying to go when there’s lower demand. It can help you save on travel and accommodation costs.

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