Paying Debt VS The Travel Dream

I love receiving emails and I especially love emails that keep me motivated. It’s flattering and encouraging to know so many people read this blog. Below is an email I got from Christian. I’ve been asked this question many times and thought it’d be perfect for an article. With Christian’s permission, I’ve included his email and my response.

Christian’s Email

Hi Michael,

I love your website, Art of Backpacking. In particular, I love your advice regarding the corporate lifestyle to your current lifestyle. I’m a freelance graphic/web designer and have considered many times going to work for banks & investment firms, but I’m still glad that I haven’t to this day. I graduated with a degree in Economics and unfortunately this degree put me in about $100,000 worth of debt. So while I learned a lot, I’m struggling because all I want to do is travel, yet I owe huge payments (more than my rent) every month. Any suggestions? I’ve already paid off one high interest credit card and the rest is being paid off very slowly.

Is it best to buckle down, get another job and pay off as much as I can before traveling? Or should I just move to another country and try to pay it off there (while I’m living my dreams)? Just curious about how you would handle this.



My Response

Hi Christian,

Thank you so much for emailing me. This is a good question and I’m often asked this.

I, too, had debt before I traveled. Debt is usually the main issue many people have when they’d like to travel but can’t. I believe it needs to be conquered with a plan in place before you travel.

There is something to consider. Are you traveling long-term? Or is this a short vacation? If it’s short term, it’s still possible and probably a good idea to take a trip regardless of debt. It could be a nice break from your day-to-day life.

Long-term travel (months or years) requires more freedom from the things that tie you to home. This includes debt, contracts, and goods.

As cliche as it is to say, debt never goes away and especially school debt unless you start paying it off. I believe it’s a better idea to pay off the debt as soon as possible within your home country where you may have more opportunities and a higher income than going abroad. If you do happen to get a higher income abroad, the first year or two is difficult to save. Being in a new country is exciting and thrilling, you’ll want to experience as much as you want because that might be the whole reason you’ve moved abroad otherwise you could be doing the same thing back at home.

Having a dream is a great step forward but the preparation to get to the dream is where all the action is. Steps can’t be skipped and it’s a long difficult process. With determination and will power, the travel dream can be achieved by anyone. Remember your travel dream when you’re working and don’t get sucked into more debt. I hear many people say they’re going to travel and so they start saving for a month but then they lose motivation and continue their day-to-day job for years.

Good luck and safe travels!


Christian’s Email

Hi Michael,

To answer your question, I desire to travel long term. I want to backpack europe and asia over the span of a year and live abroad, perhaps in italy for a couple years.

I’ve been putting a tremendous amount of thought into this and I agree with you 100%. I think I need to pay down at least 60-70% in order to even consider traveling. Right now my student loan payments are more than my rent, which can be disheartening sometimes. But fortunately I’m only 26 and have a good amount of life left in me :)

I’ve already paid off one credit card (of two) which has relieved some stress. I think if I buckle down for two solid years I can pay off a significant portion of it my loans, although it won’t be easy by any means. Fortunately, reading blogs and websites like yours are extremely motivating. I love hearing the stories and I often find myself tearing pages from travel magazines to save for motivation too (definitely cheesy, but whatever works right?).


Like I said before, I love getting emails from all of you. Please feel free to send me any questions, suggestions, or comments to contact (at) artofbackpacking (dot) com.

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