I believe that traveling on a budget is an inherent ability, something that we know instinctively. Even so, we struggled a lot when we were planning our budget and try to minimize cost as much as possible. I have compiled a few ways you can travel New Zealand on a budget below so you can learn how to travel on a budget and take the short way around to do this.
Leaving everything behind and traveling New Zealand definitely burnt a hole in our pockets. My brother once told me, “If you come back with a lot of money, that means you have not enjoyed New Zealand enough.”
However, we returned home from New Zealand with plenty of money in our pockets and a bulging tummy (in my case). I can also proudly say that I have toured the north and south islands, went back and forth between both islands by flight and by sea, skydived (and survived), kayak in a remote lagoon, walked one of the greatest walk in the world and visited volcano craters in one of the greatest day walk in New Zealand – these are all just sand in the sea!
1. Buy a car in winter and sell it in summer
⬆︎Arranging our “kitchen” outside a supermarket
This first tip on how to travel New Zealand on a budget as a backpacker was taught by our fellow backpacker friends in New Zealand.
Depending on how strategic you are, you can buy a car for an extremely cheap price and sell it at a higher price.
We bought our Toyota Estima in winter, living roughly four months without a car prior in the summer months. Yes, it was torturing; yes, I almost jumped on a 7-hour journey bus to Auckland to buy a car that I did not inspect; yes, we tried to hitchhike but failed. We know how crucial a car can be, but money was more of a priority and we were willing to wait for the perfect opportunity to arise. I was glad my hosts at that time stopped me from making irrational decisions.
We bought our Toyota Estima for $2800 in June. Two German backpackers sold it to us with a bed embedded in and most of the things we needed. We then “pampered” the car and the value was increased to about $4500. We sold it in summer months, when the demand was high, for $5500. You do the math.
Buying a car in New Zealand is unbelievably easy! Just bring your passport and your international driver’s license, go to the post shop, fill up the form, pay the money, voila! Ownership transferred.
Of course, because we bought the car 4 months later, we saved 4 months’ worth of fuel. That’s a win-win situation for us. It was our home for more than a month when we were traveling.
2. Rent and stay in a small car
⬆︎Our Toyota Corolla where we also sleep in.
If buying a car is not an option for you because you are traveling for a week or two, then consider renting from the local car rental companies. Oh, you will be spoilt for choices! The moment you get out of the airport, you will see car rental companies… EVERYWHERE!
Of course, if you are planning to travel for a month or more, I would strongly recommend that you buy a car because renting a car is definitely not budget-friendly!
We sold our Estima a week earlier and were trying to figure out how we were supposed to travel that one week? We still had Northland to tour. Louis decided that we should rent from Go Rentals. We rented a hatchback Corolla and it was even better than Estima in terms of stability and speeding on winding hilly roads 😉 Don’t tell my parents we did that.
What did you say? But you need to book an accommodation? That brings us to number 3…
3. You may not need to book an accommodation at all!
⬆︎A freedom camp spot with a stunning backyard view of mountains and rivers.
You read that right. With both cars, the Estima and the Corolla, we did not once pay a single cent for our accommodation.
All we needed was the “Campermate App” and some guts.
From the Campermate App, you can find freedom camp sites EVERYWHERE in New Zealand. Though I must say that self-contained vehicles have more options in terms of freedom camp sites. A lot of the campsites that we chose had public toilets. Hence, you don’t have to worry if you’re a person who does your business in the morning EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Nonetheless, I survived! I relieved myself! I’m still here today! Although I must admit, there were times when I did experience emergencies and had to relieve myself. Things happen. We move on.
Elaborating more on the Campermate App, you can tweak your searches and look for campsites, toilets, public showers, library, information centre, gas station, grocery stores… Basically anything and everything that you may need. It’s our handy app.
We have saved so much money on accommodation and our cost was cut down by hundreds of thousands for traveling more than a month on a budget.
Some of the free campsites have the best possible sunset. A lot of them are situated beside the beach, a river, in mountain valleys and even beside waterfalls!
Now what about… showering? I’m glad you asked.
4. Shower whenever you can/sometimes even in public
⬆︎Washing up outside a public toilet at the freedom camp site. The sign is meant for people who irresponsibly park in front of the toilet. Always heed the signs and park at designated areas only.
⬆︎After washing up at a public toilet in a local township.
Oh, boy. The shameful things we have done to save some money. We had showered in the sinks in public toilets, basically just washing our hair and wiping our bodies with wet cloths; showered plenty a times using the beach shower (be careful though, some of them don’t allow shampoos that are not Eco-friendly); showered naked in swimming centres (they just don’t have any privacy); and took a dip in a freezing-cold river.
Taking a shower in places that do provide hot showers require a small fee ranging from $2 to $6 per shower. You REALLY need that hot shower in winter. But then again, you don’t sweat that much in winter. Honestly? I can go days without showering. Heck, I even bought a dry shampoo because of that!
Our last shower was free. It was in a swimming centre and they were about to close. We went to the counter ready to pay our $2 when the lady asked us to just head in.
“We usually collect a $2 payment, but… just head in.”
“Really?! Thank you!”
Food for frugal thought: Would you rather pay $20-$40 per night to stay in a holiday park, or would you pay $2 for a shower?
5. Couchsurfing and WWOOFING
⬆︎Before we started traveling, we did work for accommodation on days when we had no work in the kiwi orchard. With that, our host kindly offered us the job to clean her garden and cut our rent by half or sometimes all.
If you just can’t bring yourself to do the things above, here lies 2 other options that you can opt for.
I’ve never tried couchsurfing, but basically hosts allow you to stay with them for free for a few days in exchange of cultural exposures. You can perhaps spend time with the host, cook them some of your home-cooked meals, play with their kids, and the list goes on!
Many of them are looking to make new friends and expose their children to travelers around the world. When they travel, at least they could turn to someone they know at a foreign place!
WWOOFING, on the other hand, is working for accommodation. You help them manage their place in exchange for food and a place to sleep. It can be gardening 3-4 hours a day; helping out in farms; taking care of their children as au pair, scrubbing the toilets and cleaning rooms in backpackers lodge or hostels,…
We did not try these options as we had our cars. However, these are the options for you to meet people of different nationalities!
6. Eat easy-to-make meals or canned food
⬆︎Our staple – sandwich
This may sound silly or unbelievable to you, but we lived off sandwiches when we were traveling. Every single meal that we had: sandwiches.
Our staples were bread and tuna. Together, we ate 12 pieces of bread PER DAY.
Also, we spoilt ourselves quite often with fish n’ chips takeaways as well as a few Indian meals. The cravings want what it wants.
I bought heaps of canned corns as well. Oh, that will supplement you with enough fibre that you will run to the bathroom the first thing in the morning the next day. It had gotten Louis into some pretty nasty situations.
7. Is a 9,000ft skydiving worse than a 12,000ft skydiving?
When you are booking for an activity, ask yourself this: Do I really want to do this?
The idea of bungy jumping appealed to me, but when I looked down from the bridge and imagining myself falling head first, I decided that it was not my type of thing. Instead, I went skydiving – something that didn’t need me to fall head first. It was an extremely liberating experience.
When booking for our skydiving, the lady encouraged us to pay more for an extra minute of free fall. It was just an extra minute of free fall. That will cost another $100 or $200. I used that money and got the handy cam package instead. No regrets.
I was clear that I had only wanted the experience.
8. Nature is free
⬆︎On top of Isthmus Peak after Roy’s Peak (both in Wanaka) was closed for lambing.
⬆︎Another Isthmus Peak view
Most of our destinations were free. We stayed away from cities as much as we can.
Firstly, we don’t like to be reminded of the feeling of being stuck in traffic. We had traveled on highways with no one but ourselves! Being in the city was such a huge difference!
Louis and I were in very grumpy moods when we arrived in Wellington, a compact city, as they called themselves. There were literally no parking, and looking for a place to even stop and look at maps was almost impossible! We had to park at the Wellington free camp spot earlier than expected and rested most of the afternoon doing nothing.
Of course, we had spoilt ourselves with some Malaysian food in the famous “Little Penang” in Wellington. Let me tell you this: the meal did not come cheap. We even went back the next day, which increased our expenditure even more. We also paid to watch birds in the sanctuary in Zealandia. Another cost. That was a lot of paying! We HAD to leave.
9. Make use of deals
⬆︎Jetboating for free
When I booked the Milford Cruise in winter when my parents were here, they were having deals. With every purchase of the Go Orange boat cruise ticket, one can be entitled to a free jetboat ride in Queenstown. Yes! Yes, please!
It was too cold then, so my parents did not like the idea of jetboating in freezing temperatures. Hence, I kept the email safely pinned on top. When Louis and I were traveling in Spring, we presented the email and claimed the free jet boat ride! Win-win!
There are always deals in New Zealand to help you enjoy New Zealand at the same time save money. A good website would be bookme.com. It was this website that I booked my skydiving activity. Just make sure that you’re always keeping an eye out for cheap deals!
10. Winter is cheaper than summer
⬆︎Traveling in winter in our Apollo motorhome. Look at the autumn colours!
Everything is cheaper in winter. That includes motorhome rentals, holiday parks and activity bookings. In summer, not only was it crowded, things were more expensive as well. Places get filled up very quickly and people everywhere you go!
We met a couple when we were at Nugget Point Lighthouse. They told us that in summer months, the deck would be full of tourists fighting to take a picture. There were only 6 of us there at the time.
Of course, if it seemed too good to be true, it probably has its reasons to be. It can be extremely cold and painful to travel in winter. It rains sometimes and you will have to bear the excruciating pain when a breeze passes by. To balance it all out – you get to witness snow, like my parents did for the first time in their lives.
11. Work your butt off! Literally working with butts.
⬆︎Milking cows in a milking shed.
Last but not least, work.
We worked every possible chance that we got. The glamorous life that you see on pictures did not show how hard we worked; how we volunteered to work on weekends when everyone else just wanted their weekends off; how we insisted to work when no work was given to us; how we were willing to go the extremes just to get paid. Be willing.
At the end of the day, you will see your growth curve rising – along with your wealth curve.
⬆︎Went on a boat fishing trip with my host and ended up catching heaps of fishes!
Being frugal is not a bad thing. At least you come back with some money, not completely broke.
Now where should I travel next? 😉