“The following conversation was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.”
Acquania Escarne of Wealth Noir: Danielle, it’s been a few months since we first met at FinCon, a conference for personal finance influencers. You and I connected over our passion for travel and personal finance. We both also prioritize vacations by saving for our next trip with each paycheck. Believe it or not, my travel adventures have taken me to 35 countries and five continents, and I think you have traveled to just as many places. I cannot wait to see what you have been up to. But first, can you tell our community about yourself?
Danielle Desir of the Thought Card: My name is Danielle Desir and I’m a travel finance strategist, writer, podcaster and the creator of The Thought Card, a travel finance blog and podcast empowering people to make informed financial decisions – travel more, pay off debt and build wealth.
I show people how to creatively make travel a financial priority in their lives despite having a full-time job, student loans and other responsibilities. I do this by focusing on practical and actionable strategies (based on my own personal experiences) as well as bringing destinations to life through informative blog posts and podcast episodes.
I’ve traveled to over 24 countries and I’m obsessed with unbelievable cheap flights, beer fests, Bermuda’s dreamy beaches, and Iceland’s gigantic glaciers and mighty waterfalls.
I am also the founder of WOC (Women of Color) Podcasters, an inclusive community for women of color podcasters to connect, learn about podcasting, share resources and more.
WN: What motivated you to start your website and podcast?
Danielle Desir: I started my blog almost four years ago after a big Eurotrip with my cousins. After visiting London, Paris and Amsterdam, I came home with a serious case of wanderlust and so I created The Thought Card.
At first, my blog was a lifestyle blog where I shared my travel stories and random thoughts. It eventually grew to become a travel finance blog where I share how I travel on a budget and make smarter financial decisions. I even talk about my student loan repayment journey.
I recently launched my podcast, The Thought Card Podcast, in September 2018 after wanting to connect more with my audience and share content that hasn’t been featured on the blog. I also wanted to share stories from other financially savvy travelers who were crushing their financial goals and traveling the world.
My goal for the podcast is to educate and inspire listeners to live life on their own terms so they can ultimately travel more, pay off debt and build wealth.
WN: What kind of services or products do you offer your followers and listeners? Is there a particular niche or audience you focus on?
Danielle Desir: You can get tons of free content about travel or personal finance on my blog and podcast. However, I also freelance write for publications like GOBankingRates and offer 1:1 budget coaching.
As a budgeting coach, I work with those who need help managing their finances. Together we identify their passions and create an easy to manage, goal-centric budget that aligns with their priorities.
I’ve also recently launched an online budgeting course, Back to Budgeting Basics, where I teach my students the step-by-step process that I use to create a goal-centric budget, save money and achieve financial goals faster. This is the exact process that I’ve used to pay off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years and buy a house at 27 years old.
WN: Is there any particular childhood memory you remember that helped influence the person you are today?
Danielle Desir: I learned about money at a young age from my mother who encouraged me to start saving. We even opened my first retirement account at 15 years old. With that being said, from a very young age, my mother also taught me to work towards multiple saving goals at the same time.
So while paying off $63,000 of student loan debt, I also saved for a downpayment on a house and traveled multiple times a year. Looking back at it now, these have always been my priorities – pay off debt, build wealth and travel the world!
WN: What is the first trip you remember taking?
Danielle Desir: My earliest travel memory is a trip to Haiti with my grandmother when I was young. In fact, when I was growing up, I spent every summer with my grandparents in Haiti. There I learned how to speak Haitian Creole fluently and adopted the Haitian way of life.
WN: How do you pick your vacation destinations? How far in advance do you start planning?
Danielle Desir: I follow the flight deal and let my travel budget dictate where I go next.
Although I have a long list of destinations on my travel wish list, I leave myself open and pick destinations based on price.
I have a sense of how much flights generally cost to destinations around the world so when I find a “steal,” I jump on it.
By following flight deals, I’ve traveled to many countries like Sweden, Spain, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Iceland (three times), Bermuda (twice) and so many more.
WN: How do I find the best flight deals?
Most flights I book are between six and nine months ahead of departure.
WN: What are some travel hacks you use to save money on your trips?
Danielle Desir: I have a few tips that I recommend to everyone when it comes to travel. They include how to pay for your vacation, the importance of budgeting, how to save for a vacation and spending money. My top four tips are:
1) If you have a big purchase coming up, consider opening a new credit card and using that big purchase to meet the minimum spend to get the sign-up bonus. Often times sign-up bonuses are enough for one round-trip international flight. I just met the minimum spend on the Capital One Venture Card and earned $750 in travel credits! This could mean one big trip or several less expensive trips!
2) Budgeting for travel starts with your mindset. If you want to make travel a financial priority in your life, treat it like a recurring bill. Travel is right up there with my mortgage, phone bill, gym membership and Netflix subscription. Build travel into your budget by saving money for travel every paycheck. That way you’ll be financially ready to take your next trip.
3) Do you have a travel fund? A travel fund is a separate bank account dedicated to your travel savings and expenses. A travel fund is important because it helps you be intentional about saving money for travel. When the time comes to go on a trip, you’ll have a stash to pull from.
4) Lastly, when traveling abroad, for the best exchange rates, exchange currency at your local bank (at home). Your local bank often has better rates than ATMs and currency exchange counters at the airport – avoid these completely.
WN: Do you travel alone or with friends? How do you handle the planning and coordination for your trips?
Danielle Desir: I mostly travel solo, but I’m fortunate enough to travel with family and friends several times a year.
I’m usually in charge of finding the cheap flights and my family and friends find the accommodations.
To plan my trips, I primarily use Pinterest and read blogs (from other travelers) to discover unique things to do at a destination.
WN: What are your travel plans for this year?
Danielle Desir: I have plans to go to China with my mom and boyfriend later this year. This will be a 10-day trip where we visit iconic sites like the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City as well as popular cities like Beijing and Shanghai!
I’m beyond excited to visit my fourth continent and my first Asian country!
WN: Are you based in one place and working or are you traveling full-time?
Danelle Desir: I’m based in Connecticut. I do not travel full-time.
WN: What is the most common question you get asked or you see come across from your community of followers?
Danielle Desir: One of the most common questions I get asked is “how I paid off $63,000 in student loan debt in four years?”
I decided that I wanted to pay off my student loans ahead of schedule when I calculated how much interest I was responsible for paying per day. When I first started paying off my loans, I had to pay over $10 in interest a day. This honestly angered me and set me on the path to paying off my student loans as quickly as possible.
I also decided to live at home with my mom.
Living at home meant that my commute to work was over 1.5 hours one way. I could have moved out and gotten an apartment in New York City, much closer to work, but I decided to live at home and substitute rent for making extra payments towards my debt.
I paid off my student loans in four years by also making frequent payments. I made payments every pay period regardless if a payment was due or not. I also signed up for autopay to get a 0.25% reduction in my interest rate.
Finally, whenever I received a bonus or tax refund, I put it towards my debt. I asked my lender to apply it directly towards lowering my principal balance.
Now that I’m working on paying off my mortgage, I’m using many of the same tactics. I make frequent payments and any extra money that I earn from a bonus or side gigs is applied to reducing my mortgage principal.
I’m on track to paying off my mortgage before I turn 40!
WN: If you could flip a switch and get everyone to do one thing related to their personal finances, what would it be?
Danielle Desir: Create a monthly budget (income minus goals and expenses) and check in with your money every week. Your money check-ins don’t have to take a long time; 15-20 minutes a week is more than enough time for you to feel more confident about your finances.
WN: Are there any exciting products or offerings you have coming up? Anything you are currently working on now?
Danielle Desir: I’m really excited to start working on my first book and continue sharing my thoughts on travel and money on my blog and podcast.
WN: That’s awesome! Thank you for sharing all of this valuable information with our readers. To learn more about Danielle’s global adventures, please check out The Thought Card on the web or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
Acquania Escarne is the creator of The Purpose of Money, a community of women building generational wealth for their families one dollar at a time. As an entrepreneur, real estate investor, and licensed insurance agent, Acquania has always been passionate about financial literacy. On her website, Acquania blogs about ways to help you improve your money habits, create wealth, and invest in real estate. Follow Acquania on social media for daily tips.