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4 Ways to Save Money while Travelling

When we go on roadtrips, it’s not all ‘glitz and glamor’ – we sleep in our car, eat peanut butter sandwiches and sometimes go days without showering as we de-prioritize more of the ‘material’ things in exchange for natural beauty and adventure.

The fact that we are working full-time in our professional careers does help in providing disposable income, however we have always consciously looked for ways to save money so we can spend our cash on things we REALLY want to do! Outside of a few recent partnerships, we’ve funded more than 97% of our adventures the last year from saving where we can and prioritising when to splurge.

So in hopes of helping others, we thought we would share some of our tips on how we save while travelling in New Zealand (although in general these tips can pretty much be applied to any country you visit)


1. Accommodation

One of the best things about New Zealand is its culture of ‘freedom camping’ and network of low-cost Department of Conservation (DOC) camping sites. When we landed in Auckland last September our first purchase was a car and the #1 thing we checked for was the ‘sleep test’. We wanted a car that had seats that could fold down flat to allow us to car camp, but wanted a fuel-efficient vehicle as well – hence the quirky Ractis was the winner!

It doesn’t look like it’s possible, but Jordan and I can both sleep comfortably inside our tiny compact car! We’ve had some pretty funny looks from people when we crawl out of the car in the morning and can tell by their face they’re thinking ‘How did they sleep in there?’

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We save a ton of money by forgoing the expensive hotel stays and opting for a more rugged adventure sleeping in our car or at staying at hostels. One of our Top 5 NZ Apps is the Campermate App that provides a map view of all the camping sites in the country – Freedom sites, DOC sites, Holiday parks and Hostels. It can even be used offline so no need to worry about using up all your data. If you’re visiting New Zealand, I would recommend renting a campervan. If you want a really economic option, check out Motorhome Republic (sounds sketchy but they have retired Jucy vans – pictured below left) or if you want a bit more room or have a group of friends, the larger Jucy campervans are a great option too.


Freedom sites are becoming more scarce though with many areas banning it all together so be sure to check the site Camping our Way to see what regions allow it. Many DOC sites have little to no cost ranging from FREE to $6-$12 each per night. All offer toilet facilities (outhouse) while quite a few have water tanks and shelter/picnic areas for cooking food. Our favorites have been Moke Lake outside Queenstown, Gillespies Beach in Fox Glacier, Okiwi Bay outside Kaikoura and Okareka Lake in Rotorua. You can also pick-up a brochure at any i-site that shows all the DOC sites around the country.

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Moke Lake

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Jordan making dinner

Every other night we do look forward to a hot shower, so staying at one of the many Holiday Parks around the country provides some basic amenities while still a low-budget option. We usually opt for a non-powered site that allows us to stay in our car, while having access to the kitchen, washroom and common area facilities. Most sites are between $15-$20pp and usually offer the ability to stay along the beach or a beautiful lake while still having lots of amenities. Some even have little ‘rooms-to-move’ that have a bed and small table for when the weather just doesn’t make it very comfortable for staying in your car or tent. A couple great ones we’ve stayed at are Tatapouri Motor Camp in Gisborne (be the first in the world to see the sun rise), Waikite Valley Thermal Pool Campground outside Rotorua (free natural hotpool!!) and Aspiring Holiday Park in Wanaka (hot tub, sauna and free wifi included)

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First sunrise of 2014

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Waikite Vally

Waikite Vally

Every now and then though we long for a ‘real’ bed. So when we get tired of sleeping in the Ractis, we usually stay at a backpackers hostel. YHA and BBH hostels are quite common and each town has its own small local hostels. These can run between $15-25pp in a shared dorm room to $20-$35pp for a private room with shared bath. Since there’s two of us we usually opt for a private room. One trick I’ve learned though is calling same day and saying ‘we’re a young couple looking for a room tonight – what are the shared room rates?’ – more often than not we get offered the private room for the same price as a shared! Always ask for the cheapest option and hope for an upgrade 🙂

Some of our favorites have been Tasman Backpackers in Nelson (free wifi, continental breakfast and CHOCOLATE BROWNIE PUDDING WITH ICECREAM), Flaming Kiwi in Queenstown (free wifi & hot tub), and Bob & Maxine’s in Te Anau (free wifi & bike hire). As you can tell we always look for hostels that offer free wifi – it’s become a basic need now 🙂

Hot Tub in Wanaka

Not all hostels are created equal though. We stayed at one in Picton that was pretty much run by cats – this guy checked us in and we found some of his friend’s hair in our ‘free’ icecream…

Believe me, I’m a huge cat person, but this place was a bit much

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2. Food

Another way we save on money is food. Eating out can be expensive in New Zealand, so buying groceries to make our own meals is important. When we’re out on the road, we always plan to make our own breakfast and usually either lunch or dinner. We’ve got a pretty good food plan that works for us – here’s a sample of what we eat:

– Bananas, Granola Bars, Apples, Oatmeal (cooked with our Jetboil), Orange Juice

– Peanut Butter or Pepperoni & Cheese Sandwiches, Salads (Jordan loves his salads no matter where we are)

– Almonds, Granola bars, Chocolate bar, Carrots, Cheese, Crackers, Kiwi fruit

We picked-up one of the ‘disposable’ cooler bags at a local grocery store for ~$3 to help keep our food ‘cool’ (it’s not a fridge but helps a bit). We also bring with us a large 4lt jug of water to fill our water bottles, clean dishes and brush our teeth (and fill it up when we’re at a hostel or Holiday Park). Buying large bottles of juice from the grocery store also keeps us from buying drinks at gas stations and take-aways (they are so over priced!)

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3. Finding Free Activities

New Zealand has a reputation for being an expensive destination – but it doesn’t have to be! You can enjoy much of what New Zealand has to offer without spending a penny. There are hundreds of beautiful waterfalls, short hikes, beaches and caves to explore that are just as fun (if not more) than any paid tourist activity you can find. Some of our favorite adventures were at ‘natural gems’ like Rere Rockslide, Cave Stream, Elephant Rock and Moeraki Boulders.

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Elephant Rock

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Rere Rockslide

If you’re looking for some great ‘off the beaten path’ activities, check out NZ Frenzy. Scott shares all kinds of great tips for little unknown gems in his North and South Island books. A few he mentions are Castle Hill, Nugget Point, Clifden Caves, and a secret hot pool waterfall in Rotorua! I’m still amazed by how much natural beauty is crammed into such a small country – one of the reasons New Zealand is so special!



Secret hotpool waterfall

Secret hotpool waterfall

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Nugget Point

Earlier this year we compiled some of our favorites in our list of Top 20 FREE Activities in New Zealand.


4. Travel in the Off-Season

New Zealand’s temperate seasons mean you can pretty much visit any time of the year and have fairly good weather. Yes the dead of winter won’t guarantee sun every day, but if you plan to visit just before or after the busy seasons you can really save some money.

Last October we completed 4 of the most popular Great Walks in the ‘off-season’ (May-October) and not only saved a ton of money but had the luxury of a less busy track and huts. During peak season, the Great Walk huts can run you between $32-$54 per night, but during the off-season some are only $15 per night. If you’re looking to take in a few walks, a back country pass for $122 (or $100 at YHAs) can get you 4 of the Great Walks and many of the backcountry huts for FREE!

Note: If you plan to do any hiking in the off-season, be sure to talk with local DOC offices about the conditions/weather and always rent a locator beacon. Learn more about our tips on how to prepare for hiking in New Zealand.

Kepler Track

Kepler Track

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Milford Track

Many of the tourism operators also provide off-season discounts. We did the famous Black Water Caving with Kiwi Cave Rafting for nearly half the peak season price! And since you’re underground all day, it doesn’t really matter what the weather is like outside!

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Many hostels have off season deals, often throwing in some free stuff. If you’re travelling to Nelson be sure to stay at Tasman Bay Backpackers. For only $30 each/night we got a private room, FREE wifi, FREE breakfast and FREE delicious chocolate pudding with icecream dessert! Seriously the best hostel we’ve stayed at and the owner is such a nice guy.

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Brownie Pudding!!

Save to splurge every now and then

So when we find ways to save money on accommodation, food and taking in as many free activities as possible, we allow ourselves to splurge every now and then on a paid activity of our choice. New Zealand has a thriving tourism industry that the country’s economy relies on, so it’s very easy to spend money on some pretty amazing activities. Some of our favorites we’ve taken in over the last year and can whole-heartedly say they were WORTH EVERY PENNY are Milford SoundWhite Island, Fox GlacierBungy Jumping. Hang Gliding and Hobbiton to name a few.

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White Island

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Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

So we hope these tips will help you when planning a trip around New Zealand. Despite it’s reputation for being an expensive destination, there are always ways to save money so you can splurge on those bigger ticket items!

How do you find ways to save when you travel? What activities have you splurged on when travelling?

    Comments ( 15 )

  • Laurie

    Fantastic post! Really useful information. When would you say is start and finish of the off-season for the Great Walks?

    • Hi Laurie! The ‘off season is May to October for the Gret Walks. We did 4 of them last October just before the booking season opened (around labour day weekend here) and it was great as it was Spring weather but still a little snow in the mountains 🙂

  • emma quick

    This is great! moving to nz in a couple of days, we’re just finishing our USA road trip and have 5 weeks travelling before the Hubby’s work starts. This is basically how we need to do it! Thanks for the tips 🙂

    • Hey Emma!
      So glad you enjoyed our post! Hope your move goes well and you enjoy your trip exploring New Zealand before work starts again – I’m sure you’re going to love it here!!

  • Scott Weisner

    Wow! What a wealth of information. Thanks for the great links. My wife and I explored the beaches of Thailand in a similar fashion.

  • Maggie & Billy Lau.

    Good on you guys. That’s very fantastic info. Thanks for sharing. We were there recently (Aug/Sep 2014) and did some of the things. Cheers !

  • Kenneth Polly

    This is exactly the kind of article I’ve been looking for. I’m planning a trip to New Zealand and it seems that my line of thinking was pretty close to what we needed to do to save the most money possible. Lots of camping! If I could enquire, what would you say a trip of about 2-3 weeks in length would cost for a young couple like yourselves? I’m trying to get everything as planned as possible and set some goals for saving to cover the trip costs. We’re mostly focusing on the north island, but we are also planning on making the hop down to the south island for a few days at least to see some of the more wondrous sights. Also, what would you recommend for finding the best prices for airfare from the US? Every little resource like this site is a gem in my book to prepare for the journey. Hopefully we like it as much as we think we will while we’re there, because we have a pretty big dream to move there eventually too. Thanks for any tips!

    • Hi Kenneth!
      So glad you enjoyed our blog 🙂 Exciting you will be visiting soon and having your own road trip around New Zealand!

      As for flights, I’m not really sure what’s best for the US (as we’re from Canada) but I always look at Expedia as my first option.

      As far as a budget goes, it’s hard to determine as it depends on how far you’re travelling (for gas cost) and what food you typically eat, but overall if you ate similar to what we had in our food plan, budget for $3-5 each for breakfast and $5-$7 for pack lunch or dinner and snacks. Then a cheap take away meal is $7-$15 each. I listed the ranges of prices for whether you’re at a DOC campsite, holiday park or hostel – so use that for your accomodation costs. If you’re renting a campervan, it depends but check that motorhome republic as they have the best deals for sure. Gas – bank on about $100 or more for every 500km with a small van campervan. If you plan to take the ferry to the South Island, just keep in mind that is a $440 minimum round trip…

      Anyways, hope that helps a bit!

      Good luck!


      • Kenneth Polly

        That’s some terrific information. You wouldn’t happen to know of a good work recruiting service to help find a job before we go, would you? I’m very keen on living there eventually and it almost seems like a catch 22 with the work visa requiring a job offer, but most places of work requiring legal eligibility to work within nz, if my info is still correct. If it helps any, I work in game development and simulation development as a 3d modeler. You both make it look so easy 🙂

        • Hi Kenneth
          You definitely need to get a visa sorted before any will really talk to you about jobs. That was our experience anyways. Just know that as soon as you get a Visa the clock starts ticking and you usually have to enter the country within 6-12months. As for recruiting company’s, I’m not familiar with any particular one specializing in game development but check out some of the names Jordan’s used in our blog about securing Visas such as Worklife, Find Recruitment, Hays and Powerhouse People
          Hope that helps! Good luck!

  • Jacek

    Hi guys, thanks for that. We are a family of four (kids aged 7 and 10) and we came to live in NZ for a year. We are working only to explore the place at the weekends. Sounds familiar, right:-) A bit more challenging with two kids and one salary but the info you are sharing is absolutely fantastic. We are planning many of our trips following your blog. Hope to use your know how in the future.

    • Hi Jacek

      So happy to hear you’ve been enjoying our blogs and that they’re helping you plan your holidays 🙂 I can imagine it’s a bit different with 2 kids but hopefully our tips help with the planning! Wish you guys a great year in New Zealand


  • I don’t think it’s a sign of laziness when you don’t write closing paragraphs Thank you for your lovely compliment, I appreciate it! Thanks

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