7 foolproof ways to NOT blow all your money traveling New Zealand

There’s no way around it, New Zealand is a pricey country to travel let’s be real. For many though it’s a must see destination despite the cost of flights getting down here (it’s basically in the middle of nowhere on the map). Its natural beauty is something to behold no matter who you are, complete with every type of landscape that you could imagine.

I feel like a salesman with this pitch but I’ll still throw it out there; if you want geothermic hot pools, black sand beaches, stunning mountain landscapes, world class adventure sports and skiing, thrill seeking activities, some of the most untouched and pristine national parks out there and much much more then surprise New Zealand is the place to be!

For me having just traveled a large portion of Australia it was more of a natural option for me to jump the border out to NZ, but for most others it takes some proper planning and not to mention, once again, those damn plane ticket prices are the real issue. If you’re still on the fence about traveling to New Zealand or wondering what kinds of things might be down there, then take a look at my previous post detailing some of the highlights and snapshots of this beautiful place: Photos to Inspire You to Travel to New Zealand

Do not fear though! As there are certainly ways to visit this amazing country without blowing all your travel budget! Here are a list of some foolproof strategies to make your New Zealand dreams more attainable, starting with my “big three” ways to save the most money, followed by a compilation of random tips, here we go.

1. cook your own food

The food in New Zealand is ridiculously expensive unfortunately, and I have no shame in saying that I had a steady diet of cheap meat pies in my time here, seriously try them they’re fantastic.  When comparing food expenses to traveling somewhere like the US you get a lot less bang for buck in NZ, but what you do get are much more fresh from the farm and far less processed foods.

As I learned in my time in both Australia and NZ, their government’s put real regulations on what they can qualify as “food”, especially with preservatives. Even things like McDonald’s have a full different taste than what we have in the US due to these regulations.

Cooking your own food is the way to go though for saving money and still trying out the local cuisines.  Whether it’s in your hostel kitchen, on the side of the road in your camper van, or anything else in between you’ll save heaps of cash by doing so.

Tiny Hobbiton food, the real meal of choice in Kiwi Land

Or just steal the tiny food from Hobbiton, your call

Supermarkets will be your life line for saving some moola out here, Pak ‘n’ Save is a God-send, to my American readers it’s New Zealand’s version of Costco where you buy in bulk for cheap. I loaded my backpack up with bulk items from Pak ‘n’ Save and saved a lot of cash by doing this. The smaller chain the store that you go to the more expensive it will be, as it typically is worldwide. The smaller towns will usually be a little pricier than the larger cities for groceries, and the ma and pa small stores are more expensive than the supermarkets, go figure.

Making your own food doesn’t sit well with you or you find ways to find new and creative ways to burn everything you try to cook? Well then there are plenty of options for you, albeit a little more expensive. Takeaway food in most cities and towns are abundant, you’ll find meat pies, sushi, pizza, sandwiches and so on and so forth that will be much cheaper than actual sit down restaurants. My advice would just be to load up while you can and stuff as much of the cheap items into your bag while they’re still cheap, because in the next destination they could be much more expensive it’s a toss up!

2. hitchhike or campervan


I’d like to point out before I get started with this that if you have the funds and the time then you should rent a campervan as my first priority, I knew countless people who did this all over New Zealand and it’s the way to go if you seek the freedom to go anywhere at anytime as you please, and the ability to sleep in your transport.

It’s a popular option to BUY a campervan in some of the larger towns if you’re traveling for an extended period of time, then simply SELL this campervan (assuming you didn’t drive it into a ditch) as your journey ends for about the same price that you bought it for. The only expense will be gas, of which I’m going to level with you, it’s not cheap here. Imagine for a minute the worst prices you could probably imagine for a liter of gas, then probably add an extra $1 onto that, yup.

On the bright side though think of the amount that you’ll save on accommodation as you go by sleeping in your mobile adventure wagon (and the added ability to cook in your van as well is a huge positive). The part that scares away most people from this option would be the upfront cost of buying a somewhat broken down van for $2000-$4000 NZD, but if you can survive this cost at the start and have the time and flexibility to sell it back at the end for the same price if not MORE, then you’ve got yourself a solid transport option.

If buying a van isn’t up your alley, then renting one is a very popular option is New Zealand. I love the people who rented vans around here, why is that you might ask? Well more often than not the people that picked me up while I was out hitchhiking were fellow travelers in rented camper vans.

More specifically with this option, there is a trusted company that operates all over New Zealand, they receive fantastic reviews, and everyone I know that used them had nothing but good things to say about them. That would be the camper van rental company known as JucyThese are the obnoxiously green colored vans you’ll see cruising down every highway in NZ, to my hitchhikers these are the vans that will often pick you up and with the bright green color they are easy to spot from a mile away.

For camping outside of your campervan it should absolutely be noted that with everywhere that  you pitch your tent you should ALWAYS check whether or not it’s okay to free camp there. This has been a growing issue within New Zealand, and the local authorities are really starting to crack down on it! The fees for trespassing while camping are not something you want to deal with, so always be sure that you’re allowed to camp in your intended spot!


This is the tactic that I primarily used for New Zealand, minus a stretch from Queenstown to the Mt. Cook National Park area where a friend and I rented a car and a couple little journeys at the start on a bus before figuring out that hitchhiking was wayyyyyy better than the bus, seriously. If you want to meet some awesome people, who are typically travelers like yourself and you want a safe place to try out your opposable thumb for the first time, do it in New Zealand.

New Zealand and Iceland are the two countries in the world that are renowned for being the safest for hitchhiking, and I can confirm one of two of these, with Iceland coming in three weeks for me!

Hitchhiking is simple, use a cardboard sign if you can with thick font and a clear directive for where you’re going. Stand on the side of the interstate in the direction that you’re going and stick out your thumb with a smile on your face (nobody wants to pick up a grumpy hitchhiker). With this being said, in New Zealand the population is low and a lot of stretches of road can be pretty empty, so depending on where you are it could take 10 minutes to get picked up or up to 2 hours if you’re in a really scarcely populated area, been there done that just got to have patience.

hitchhike New Zealand, you will not regret it!

If I can stress one point and beat the dead horse one last time with this,  hitchhiking is all about the experience of it, much less about the efficiency of the transport (the slowest option of any of course but also the cheapest). Hitchhiking is all about the people. 

The crazy, interesting, sometimes really weird people that pick you up who can either serve as just a ride or become some really good travel buddies, you never know what you’re going to get, and that thrill is something I believe should be experienced. So much of traveling and life in general I have come to find it’s all about the people, and if you agree with that statement, then I urge you to try hitchhiking here, plus come on, it’s free.

3. activities (free vs paid)

Allow me to be a total hypocrite for a second here so bear with me, this portion is more about what I learned than what I did myself. I spent a lot of money on activities, it was part of my draw to New Zealand originally, but looking back I wish I had spent less on these and more time doing the free activities, the hikes to be more specific. I’m an avid outdoorsman though so take that with a grain of salt, your activities will of course be specific for each of you depending on what you enjoy.

For the right money you can do just about anything here for adventurous activities, especially around Queenstown, to name a few; bungee jumping, world’s largest canyon swing, paragliding, skiing, skydiving, and so on and so forth. If you’ve got money, you can find a million and one awesome things to do here.

The world's largest canyon swing

The canyon swing though…totally worth it if you ask me

If you’re a more typical traveler who’s on a backpackers budget, then personally as I learned, enjoy the natural wonders around you more and the paid activities less. There are some of most amazing treks be it day hikes or two week outbounds that cover beautiful landscapes out of your wildest dreams. The best part about these hikes/treks? They are FREE (usually), so while these thrill seeking paid activities such as bungee jumping are adrenaline pumping and some are once in a lifetime, so are the free activities, so choose wisely!

Do I regret doing the Glacier helicopter trek, the canyon swing, the paragliding? Oh hell no not one bit I loved every second of it, but it was not the fiscally responsible thing to do for me and I did miss countless things around the country that do not cost a dime.

In New Zealand the DOC (Department of Conservation) provides amazing huts all over the country for several of their treks for low cost/free accommodation that gives you the real authentic experience instead of some lousy motel! With such a cost efficient option at your disposal it just adds to the list of benefits for opting for the free activities rather than the paid “touristy” things.

To sum up my thoughts on this, the adventure activities here are a big part of NZ’s draw and they’re worth the money, but only if you have the money to spend otherwise do not feel one bit bad about missing them and opting for the free activities and seeing Kiwi Land’s magical landscapes, to each their own!

Queenstown hill views

You don’t even have to go far out town to get beautiful views, this is right above Queenstown Hill

4. no tipping

Much like Australia, there is no tipping around these parts, that’s just how the culture is. No matter the service tipping is not necessary for you to partake in, wages are not as high as they are in Australia (I believe around $15 NZD per hour is minimum wage) but they are still relatively high and account for the tips in the wages a bit.

5. Travel in the offseason (winter)

Want to escape the crowds and feel like you have a good portion of the country all to yourself (other than the Ski areas)? Come check out New Zealand in the winter, the temperatures get down to a balmy twenty to thirty degrees Fahrenheit give or take, but snow often only falls in the higher elevations like the mountains. It’s quite the site to see you’ll see on the mountains all around you exactly where the snow stops in somewhat of a perfect line on the horizon all around you, cool am I right?!

In the offseason there are more freebies for tours, accommodation in hostels and Airbnb’s will be much less expensive, and just about anything “touristy” will be brought down in price. Which makes total sense seeing as the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing their summer during New Zealand’s winter so a lot of you would be giving up your summer for another winter, but if you’re alright with some cold, it’s a great time to come down!

Up above the snow line of Queenstown New Zealand

Up past the “snow line” above Queenstown!

6. bring a water bottle

Having traveled through much of Asia I’m always a little weary trusting tap water, but New Zealand’s water is some of the cleanest on Earth. You would be hard pressed to find a water source cleaner than New Zealand’s and to save some extra money on your daily budget, consider bringing a decent sized water bottle or hydro pack and carrying around as much as you can manage.

Water much like the rest of the groceries in NZ are overpriced, so it just makes all the sense in the world to lug around your own water, it makes more of a difference than you would think!

When drinking from wild streams please exercise caution and a little common sense though, if you’re unsure of what constitutes as safe drinking water then check out this guide: Drinking Water Safety

frozen water bottle in New Zealand

Warning: water bottle may freeze in high altitudes…so there’s that

7. use your plastic

No no no, not that plastic, use your credit/debit card here and forget about the traveling “cash is king” rule here. Almost everywhere in New Zealand will accept your card, and saves you from the terrible exchange fees and or ATM fees that are found in almost all New Zealand banks/ATM’s. If you’re an American and looking to travel abroad and would like to save on ATM fees WORLDWIDE in any country, then please DM me, we’ll have a nice lengthy chat about how much money you could be saving by using a Charles Schwab card for all your ATM withdrawals, as it allows you to avoid ATM fees at every ATM in the world, seriously. Here is a link to the Charles Schwab website incase you don’t wish to DM me (I don’t bite though): How to set up a Charles Schwab  Bank Account and Avoid ATM fees.


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