My Number One Piece of Advice for Young Travelers

I’m going to jump on the ‘Independence Day’ theme for today’s post, because, as cheesy as it sounds, I had my own little Independence Day last week.

On Tuesday, I clicked ‘submit’ on my very last student loan payment EVER. On Friday, I got an e-mail that it had cleared.

Paid in Full
The most beautiful screenshot in all existence.

I am now officially debt-free.

After over 7 years of (largely) unnecessary debt, this is a very. big. deal. And while I don’t buy into regrets, I would certainly not recommend learning this money lesson the hard way.

So if there is one piece of advice I can give to young travelers, it is this:

Do not rely on your credit card to travel.

Yes, this seems obvious. But when I was young and careless, I ignored the little voice in the back of my head. The one that said, “Lauren, this is a bad idea” every time I decided to use my credit card to pay for something.

Admittedly, a few of my trips came out of those reckless swipes. If I’d been sensible, I wouldn’t have gone to Prague, Samoa, or Perth. It’s hard to say I’m sorry about that.

But I am sorry about all the trips I couldn’t take in the future – the ones that I had to miss out on because I was paying off my debt. And there were far more things I couldn’t do after running up that debt than the things I did to get it.

Free lunch for Buddha's birthday - Korea
If you’re low on cash you could always come to Korea, where there is such a thing as a free lunch.

I’m not saying that having a credit card is a bad idea, because I don’t think it is.

Abusing a credit card? That’s a different story.

Credit cards and travel are natural partners, especially when you’re booking transport and accommodation online. And I do believe in living in the moment, especially while traveling.

But living in the moment doesn’t mean using your visa to buy another round, or extending your trip because you got a credit line increase.

And it can be really, really hard, but sticking to a budget is an incredibly important part of long-term travel. If you don’t, you’re sacrificing your future travel plans, all for the sake of a moment.

You’ve got to decide: is this moment worth it?

Sometimes it is, like buying a spur-of-the moment flight so you can spend one more day in Vienna with someone who you’ll later end up marrying. (Yes, it was romantic and extravagant but completely worth it.)

…And sometimes it’s not, like buying those expensive boots because you were sick of dressing like a backpacker. Especially when you have to abandon them in London because they don’t fit in your luggage. (Fail.)

Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna
Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna with my personal Australian tour guide? Still glad I did that.

And, as a bonus piece of advice: Sometimes you’ve got to say no.

No to that third gelato in a day (which would have made it seven consecutive days of triple-dips). No to another pair of earrings or no to another budget-busting dinner out. No to that extra month on the road if it’s financed purely by credit.

Unless you’ve already allotted for these expenses in your budget, in which case I’ll have a scoop of amarena, please.

But maybe the most important thing to remember is this (holy cow, I’m OVERFLOWING with advice today!):

Whatever your means are, be sure to travel within them.

That way, you’ll be able to keep on traveling for a long time to come. Trust me when I say that is worth so much more than an avalanche of impulse buys.

Happy Independence Day – what advice would you give to someone who’s hitting the road for the first time?

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  1. Love this advice! It’s so true. You shouldn’t spend what you don’t have, which is why I didn’t even own a credit card until a few years ago – and even then I only got it for the extra security when buying flights and other travelly things. I’m going to read your Vienna story now – very intrigued!

    1. I feel like that’s all a credit card should be used for – booking flights that you can pay off immediately, and honest-to-goodness emergencies! As for Vienna – I was visiting Jared for 3 days while he worked there, then decided not to take my flight back to London because I had one extra day before I had to be back to work. A few minutes on the easyjet website & 175 pounds later…I had 24 more hours with him in Austria!

  2. Great post – I’ve never had a credit card, purely because I know I couldn’t trust myself right now with it! Well done you for getting out of debt!!xxx

  3. Congratulations on getting your student loan paid off!
    Another bit of advice would be to NOT accept a high credit limit or unnecessary increases in credit line! One, because it’s easier to dip into it, but also because it’s that much more money you may be liable for if your card is stolen.
    My basic rule is that I need to leave enough room on the card to get home from anywhere…

    1. That’s great advice! You really only need a credit line high enough to cover an emergency flight. The rest is just asking for trouble! And good point about having your card stolen. I’ve been lucky so far, but that’s always a possibility.

  4. Congratulations on being debt free. It must feel amazing 🙂 I read your other post and I am truly impressed at how quickly you were able to pay them off and still travel. I have about the same amount of students loans you did and feel like they will never go away…

    Like you I’m pretty terrible when it comes to money and after a not great experience in college with a credit card, I don’t trust one in my presence. I only use debit so I can’t spend what I don’t have. Credit card debt is scary!

    1. It feels so good…but also normal and not quite as exhilarating as I’d imagined. I think I’ve been anticipating it for so long that I got used to the idea! Working in rural Korea has made a HUGE difference. Our cost of living is so low, plus we get a rural bonus, so it’s been really easy to save.

      Debit is the way forward! I look back and can’t believe I racked up that much debt. Now I have a totally different perspective of what my credit card is there for – practical use only, not for entertainment. No more shoes and beer unless I’ve got the money in the bank!

  5. I know so many people who don’t travel because they have wracked up debt even though they are dying to. It is such a shame that they can’t come with me that they can’t see what I have seen and what I will see. But I grew up poor (not in a worldwide sense but in a British sense). We didn’t have a lot of money growing up and my parents certainly don’t fund my travel now. I do. One thing I did inherit was their tightness.

    One tip for travellers. Travel while you are young, while most opportunities are open to you. While you have the time to do so for the rest of your life. I’m lucky that I was early to the game, but everyone can start … now!

    1. Good tip and oh-so-true! I agree that you can travel anytime, but no time like the present, no matter what your age! But getting started while you’re young erases a lot of regret that some people feel when they’re older.

      I used to feel like I was alone in my debt issues, but then I realized that people manage to fall into debt for many different reasons – it’s just that some of them (mortgage, car loans) are more acceptable than others (travel). I wouldn’t say I’m tight with money now, but I do have a pretty firm grip on the reins, especially compared to the past.

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