Our tips to Backpacking New Zealand on a Budget
After thinking long and hard about what place to write about for our first blog post, we decided to write about New Zealand– a luscious, geographically diverse backpacker’s paradise. Everyone wants to travel, but money and responsibilities always seem to stop people from taking that first step towards their dream trip. Now, we can all agree that New Zealand can admittedly be very pricey for budget travellers. So whilst we can’t help you overcome your responsibilities (we can only offer some 21st century advice: “YOLO”), we can certainly give you a hand on the money management side. No one knows budget hacks like two students with tight wallets! So if New Zealand is your dream destination but you’re worried about having to count the pennies, then keep reading!
We all want to be food goals, especially with the sudden rise of the ‘Tasty’ page on Facebook – seriously, can we take a second to appreciate the recipes those guys come up with? Sadly, most of us can’t always afford to make a homemade 8 hour slow-cooked lamb hotpot. But we don’t have to live off wholesale pasta and canned tomatoes every day. Here are our top food hacks for eating well in NZ:
- Cook for yourself: Pretty much every hostel we stayed in had a kitchen area available for guests to use. Cooking for yourself is far cheaper than eating out in New Zealand. Although it is nice to go out and experience some fine dining from time to time, we found that cooking for ourselves worked out to be miles cheaper. You don’t have to eat badly; butchers offer great deals on meat, so you can finally taste the famous New Zealand lamb chops! But if you can’t cook, there’s always frozen pizza!
- Utilise the supermarket cards!: Popular Supermarket chains like Countdown and New World both give out tourist cards that can save you money on your next shop. Stay loyal, get rewarded! TOP TIP: these supermarkets also have fuel discounts when you spend a certain amount in their store!
- Check hostels for free food: It sounds kind of gross, but actually it’s just smart! Loads of hostels have spare rice, pasta, sauces etc. from backpackers who’ve left them behind – waste not, want not! As well as the ‘free food’ box, some hostels even offer free tea/ coffee for their guests so be sure to look into that if, like us, you can’t start your day without a morning pick me up!
Sadly, you can’t really ignore this factor unless you want to be homeless and, unfortunately, it takes up an enormous part of your budget. Try as you might, hostel prices are always going to be your worst nightmare in New Zealand, but we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves:
- Hostelworld: aka the best app/website ever! It will save your life whilst travelling- if you don’t have it, get it now! Almost all hostels are listed on this site, making it very easy to compare prices and find the best option for your visit. You just type in your location and the dates of your trip, and book without a fee (just a small deposit!). Make sure to read the hostel reviews, not just for the utility but also for the amusement of reading some of the priceless comments people leave.
- Get a BBH Card: When we first arrived, innocent and oblivious, we were offered a BBH card at our first hostel for $45 NZD. We naively decided it wasn’t worth the money to pay such a price for discounts at BBH hostels around the country. Could we have been more wrong? Almost every hostel we stayed in was accidentally BBH registered (it turns out its a much bigger scheme than we thought), meaning we racked up a potential saving that was greater than the cost of the card. Great. Seriously, these things are actually a good investment, as there are so many BBH hostels all over NZ, and the card makes the price cheaper! We really missed out.
- Try walking in: No word of a lie, we walked into a hostel in Rotorua and were offered a deal for half price! This is a godsend in a country where £12GBP/night is the standard price! However be careful in busy towns at busy times (i.e. don’t try this in Queenstown – ever!)
- Consider Camping: It might not be for you, but it could be a blessing for your wallet! What’s a few nights of sleeping rough if you save money, eh? And if you do happen to love camping, then this is the best and cheapest option for you. Alternatively, you can pitch up your caravan/ tent on hostel land and pay reduced prices for using their facilities – a perfect compromise!
- Air BnB: This is a great website where you can rent a room/ apartment for a sometimes much better price than hostels. Thanks to this you can also experience living with a local and getting the true New Zealand experience. During peak travel times, hostels are often fully booked, particularly the cheaper ones, so this can be a fantastic alternative. The only slight downside is that they can sometimes be located out of the way as it is someones house, but if you have a car then it’s not really an issue.
It’s all well and good to want to save money, but sometimes opportunities to do really awesome things come your way, and you have to take them! And, yeah, it’s going to be a blow to your budget, but it’s worth it. After saving lots of money on food and accommodation, why not spend a little on doing something unforgettable? Like Australia, New Zealand is famed for its activities and extreme sports, coming with a hefty price tag. But, we can help you reduce it:
- BOOKME: This was by far our best find in NZ. It’s a website that has hundreds of discounts for all sorts of activities, from kayaking to skydiving – the lot! The site is genuinely a goldmine of discounts, particularly if you are flexible with your dates. So don’t book anything through a travel agent, they ALWAYS take commission, no matter how well they can convince you you’re getting a discount! Bookme has the best deals around, always go through this website.
- Go to tourist centers: New Zealand tourist points can sometimes be very useful in getting prices down, particularly if you’re a little cheeky and push for a discount. We managed to get a $20NZD reduction on our glacier trip – it doesn’t sound like much, but it is when you’re travelling! But remember, now you know about Bookme, so you probably won’t need to do this unless your activity is sold out on the website.
- Car share: The activities themselves are expensive enough, so try to avoid paying extra for transport! A lot of the time they’ll offer a more expensive price which includes getting there and back, but if you don’t have a car all is not lost! Plenty of people offer spaces in their cars to get there for a cheaper price/out of the goodness of their hearts, so take advantage! Ads are usually found in the common areas of hostels and can save you a lot.
Last but not least, since we’re relatively sure you don’t want to stay in the same town for the duration of your stay, you’ll need transport. We strongly believe in cars over buses… mainly for the freedom, money saving and general fun of it all! We found that the bus tours such as Kiwi Experience that operate in New Zealand are actually quite pricey and slightly restrictive. A bus won’t take you to see the spectacular sights of Milford Sound, and the infamous road leading to it. That being said, there are ways to make transport costs cheaper:
- Hitchhike: Everyone does it, and while there’s no guarantee it’s going to be 100% safe, it is a good way to save money. Our friend had a good idea: don’t carry a sign, just stand in the direction of where you’re going and then you can judge whoever pulls up for yourself, without revealing where you’re going. Clever and cost effective! If you are in a group, we would definitely recommend hitchhiking to save money.
- Car relocations: We rave about this all the time, and we’re going to rave about it again! FREE CAR HIRE, come on! Car rental companies offer deals where you can collect a car from one branch and drive it to a different store (often across the country) for free, aside from fuel costs and insurance. Sure, there’s a time limit, but that just adds to the excitement. We did 827 km in one day so we didn’t fall behind, and it became a whole day of singing along to old tunes, snacking on chocolate and bonding on our car trip. It’s all part of the experience, plus FREE CAR HIRE! This is such a great money saving option if you can’t afford to hire a car yourself.
- Buy a car: This can sound a bit crazy for someone who is on a tight budget. However, it could be a good idea to buy a cheap old car at the start of the trip, and sell it on at the end! If you are staying in New Zealand for a while and think you’ll have enough time to guarantee a seller at the end, this could be a worthwhile thought. Ads are often displayed on the notice boards in hostels, so keep your eyes peeled!
- Fuel saving: As we mentioned, supermarkets have fuel deals on receipts when you spend a certain amount of money, so get shopping to save tons! (That feels good to say!)
We wish we’d known some of these hacks before we set out on our journey, but at least we can share them with you guys so you can save the money that we wasted! What’s travelling for, if not the advice you can pass on? (Minus, you know, the whole rest of the experience!)