The Lonely, Unusual Way This Guy Paid Off $25K in Student Loans in 9 Months

over head photo of truck driver talking on radio
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Robert Langellier just needed to pay off his student loans.

It was May 2014, and armed with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, he drew up a plan.

For the next year he’d forget his aspirations to be a literary journalist.

Instead, he’d tuck himself away in his parents’ Springfield, Illinois, home and piece together an income with part-time odd jobs. He figured within a year he could pay off the nearly $25,000 he collectively owed to the government and his parents.

One of his first stabs at employment was as a waiter at a shiny new restaurant in town. On Langellier’s second day, he battled the (insert expletive here) point-of-sale machine.

Within an hour of his second shift, an owner pulled him aside and fired him. That was that.

Finding the Right Gig

Langellier went back to square one: Craigslist.

He’d been using the online classified site to look for odd jobs. In the midst of the freelance writing gigs and a glut of restaurant positions, he noticed an abundance of long-haul truck driver jobs.

The more he thought about it, the more attractive hitting the road sounded.

Always up for an adventure, Langellier decided to take out one last $3,500 loan to pay for trucking school.

The Perks of Being a Truck Driver

Long-haul trucking is appealing on many levels when you break down the statistics (from the U.S. Department of Labor) and the logistics:

  • Average median pay in 2016 was nearly $21 an hour, $41,000 per year.
  • No experience is necessary, but a high school diploma is recommended and a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required.
  • Job training is short term.
  • No rent, in some cases
  • No car insurance or car payments, if you’re on the road full time

It’s also a free way to travel.

Langellier stopped in Denver; Kansas City, Missouri; Minneapolis; Oklahoma City; Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis; and Wichita, Kansas to see old friends. He even stopped by his home in Springfield.

Once every three weeks, Langellier was allowed a few days off. He used it to hike Yellowstone National Park, soak in New Mexico springs, explore New York City and work on an organic farm in Wisconsin.

Saving Money While Working as a Truck Driver

Langellier hit the road in October 2014.

Though pay calculations are complicated, Langellier basically earned 28 to 45 cents per mile. He drove an average of 8.5 hours a day — about 500 miles — and made a minimum of about $4,000 a month.

By April 2015, he’d paid off his last federal loan. By mid-July, he’d paid his parents back. But he continued to drive with the intention of stockpiling funds.

On his one-year trucking anniversary, he decided he’d had enough and turned in his keys with about $18,000 in the bank.
Next, he capitalized on his adventure by writing about it for Esquire and gaining a freelance gig.

The Pitfalls of Trucking

Before jumping into the driver’s seat, Langellier’s biggest piece of advice is to consider the downfalls of trucking.

Most notably, Langellier got pulled into these weird, inwardly reflective journeys — alone.

He spent most of his time trying not to run over cars, dodging debris in the road, talking to himself, counting the money he was making — and money he was still owed — and getting sidetracked with thoughts about the number of subways in the nation.

Although Langellier often opted to drive during the day, he was initially paired with a training partner who enjoyed nighttime drives. That’s when Langellier drifted off into a post-sleep, incoherent world — and into a field on the side of the road.

Not only was it mentally taxing, but he physically perched in a seat all day as he maneuvered a truck-full of anything from cat litter for PetSmart to mattresses for IKEA.

Langellier was young and more immune to these hardships, but, as he wrote, truck drivers are known to have high obesity rates and have at least one chronic health risk, such as smoking or hypertension.

This could partly be due to the food available on the road. Piecing together meals at gas stations — think Zebra Cakes, Cheetos, hot dogs — wasn’t ideal.

Injuries aren’t uncommon either. Langellier remembers the time a 1,000-pound pallet of toilet paper fell on him.

Considering these factors, the 87% industry turnover rate he mentioned makes sense.

Want to Become a Truck Driver?

The gig certainly takes the right personality, Langellier says.

If the job sounds appealing, he suggests simply Googling “trucking school,” plus the city you live in. Schools typically work to place you with a company upon graduation (or, of course, you can just hit up Craigslist).

And if you like the idea of driving to pay off your student loans but aren’t too sure about all of those 18 wheels, consider these other driving jobs.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.