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Don't let student debt ruin your summer. 5 tips for traveling on a budget

Quito, Ecuador
Mike Matthews Photography | Getty Images
Quito, Ecuador

When I graduated college in 2009, I had $74,000 in student loans and no financial help. But I didn't let that stop me from seeing the world.

With only $800 in the bank, a credit card with a $400 spending limit and a pile of student loans, I traveled to Asia to start a software development company with my business partner.

With a strong U.S. dollar plus a low cost of living, I was able to live on just $1,000 per month. I traveled to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam despite my massive student loan debt.

When it comes down to it, there are many ways you can stretch your dollar when you travel. Here are a few methods that helped me travel abroad with substantial student loan debt.

1. Choose cheap destinations

I chose to live, work, and travel around Asia because I knew my income could support it. With the right tools, finding the cheapest places to live and travel to wasn't very difficult.

Sites like Nomadlist and Price of Travel are great resources for figuring out which cities are cheapest for travelers across all continents. They give you a helpful breakdown of how the local currency compares to the dollar as well as how much to budget daily for a cheap but good hostel, transportation, meals, entertainment, and attractions.

For instance, Pokhara, Nepal is ranked as the cheapest destination for travelers in Asia looking to spend less than $16 a day, while cities including Bucharest, Romania and Krakow, Poland rank among top choices in Europe at about $25 a day. Or, if you're looking to head south of the border, Quito, Ecuador is your cheapest destination in South America at just over $22 a day for expenses.

2. Stay in budget accommodations

Though it's possible to afford travel alongside student loan payments, don't expect to stay in four-star hotels. There are plenty of websites and apps you can use to stay in comfortable, clean, and affordable accommodations that are still budget-friendly.

Airbnb has taken off all across the world and many countries are embracing the ease it provides tourists looking for a nice, cheap place to stay. The trick to getting the best deal is booking at least a month in advance, preferably during the off-season.

Of course, hostels are the standard go-to for backpackers on a budget. Hostels.com can help you find the best places to stay while traveling. Keep in mind, the cheapest hostel stays tend to be ones where you share a room with other travelers.

If you don't mind waiting until the last minute to book your accommodations, HotelTonight is a great website and app that helps you find last-minute hotel rooms at discounted rates.

3. Avoid paying with a credit card

While it might seem more convenient to charge travel expenses to your credit card and figure out how to pay it off later, that's a recipe for serious financial trouble (which I demonstrated myself). You already have student loans -- you don't need any more debt.

Unless you're a savvy travel rewards user and have the ability to pay off the balance immediately, it's best to avoid plastic. Instead, set up a travel savings account. With a dedicated account, you can deposit a certain amount of money each pay period for your next trip and then pay cash. Just imagine how good you'll feel knowing all your adventures are paid for already.

4. Consider working abroad

Don't have the cash to travel for fun? Find a job that lets you mix international adventure with work. After all, isn't getting paid to travel the ultimate dream?

For example, if you have a bachelor's degree, a TEFL certificate, and/or experience teaching English abroad, consider teaching in a country with a low cost of living. English teachers in Asia, for instance, can typically save between 30 and 50 percent of their monthly salaries there. And that's after paying expenses and spending some fun money.

Or keep your eyes open for freelance or contract-based jobs on sites like We Work Remotely, especially if you have experience writing professionally or running social media campaigns. Most of these positions let you work remotely from anywhere there's a laptop and internet connection.

5. Don’t ignore student loan payments

One of the most important things to remember is that just because you're overseas doesn't mean you can ignore your student loans.

I know all too well; I missed several student loan payments while abroad and ended up defaulting on two loans. My debt skyrocketed to $107,000 before I got a handle on my finances.

Consider going on an income-driven repayment plan in order to reduce payments as a percentage of your income. That way, you're still making progress on your debt but don't have to put a lot of money towards payments each month.

If you find yourself unable to make any payments, consider applying for deferment or forbearance rather than letting payments lapse. Both of these options allow you to pause student loan payments for an extended period of time. However, deferment/forbearance should be considered last-resort options since interest will typically continue to accrue, causing your balance to go up rather than down.

Student loans don't have to stand in the way of your travel plans. If you carefully plan ahead, you can experience the trip of a lifetime without a lifetime of debt.

Commentary by Andrew Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero, a a company that combines easy-to-use tools with financial education to help millions of Americans living with student loan debt. Follow him on Twitter @josablack.

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