Top experts agree, New Zealand is frikkin' rad, but there’s no getting around the fact that it isn’t the cheapest place in the world to visit. It's a couple of small islands located a billion miles from anywhere, with a tourism economy and excellent education, healthcare and welfare systems funded, in part, by taxes waged on the masses of visitors that find their way there annually.
After about two and a half years of life and travel there, I would estimate that costs on the ground are generally similar to those in Canada and the pricier parts of the US, which is actually slightly less than most other island countries in the Pacific. But if you tack on the price of a flight to get there, a trip to New Zealand quickly starts to seem cost-prohibitive for budget travelers from the English-speaking world.
Personally, I feel the pain of that fact intensely. New Zealand is my favorite place for a whole bunch of reasons. Angel and I lived there during a formative time of life, in our early 20's, and fell in love with the people and the landscape. We visited again in our early 30's when we were in the best shape of our lives for outdoor pursuits, and saw hundreds of miles of stunning trail that we hadn't previously explored, whetting our appetites for more of the country's infinite beauty. And we visited again last year in our late 30's, and were overwhelmed by waves of nostalgia and desire to spend more time there. But like a beautiful night out at an expensive restaurant, it may be well worth the cost, but the cost is undeniable.
The last several years, we've made month-long trips to Mexico a winter routine, but this year we replaced that trip with a two month visit to New Zealand. I haven't broken down the cost comparison meticulously, but roughly speaking, on a per day basis, we spent twice as much per day in NZ as in MX, and the cost to fly there from the West Coast of the US was three times as high. In addition, in MX we definitely live more high on the hog - eating out most meals and staying in hotels and Airbnb's the vast majority of nights. In NZ we camped as much as we could (about half the nights we were there), and most frequently bought our food at groceries.
But I just love New Zealand so much, and it's totally worth the cost, so I want you to go there. So, since the trip, I've been putting together this brief guide to navigating finances on a visit to the country. I want you to have a sense of where costs lie, and where you might save money. New Zealand is a relatively expensive destination for a budget traveler, but if you plan correctly it doesn't have to be that expensive. You can totally figure it out.
(All costs listed are in $US and are approximations based on our most recent trip, in December 2018.)
Things that cost a lot, in the grand scheme of things
New Zealand is a long way from everywhere else, and is an island in a big ocean. There are some things that just will cost a lot of money there, inevitably. To give you a picture, here's my rough list of pricey things:
Places to save money
After all of that bad news, there is plenty of good, and there are ways to avoid breaking the bank on a trip to New Zealand. The country is a tourist economy, it's true, but for decades it's also been a top destination for backpackers and budget travelers, so there is well-developed infrastructure and cultural support for this kind of thing. Kiwis are awesome, frugal people themselves, and they have made it possible to travel like an awesome, frugal person when you're there.
So here's a list of the places where you can save money while traveling in the country.
New Zealand really is one of the world's great places, and that reputation has gotten around. While the infrastructure is in place now for luxury travel, and that does have the potential to blow your budget, it really doesn't have to. Budget travelers can absolutely figure it out. The culture and scenery are worth the cost of admission at virtually any price, but you can travel for long periods of time on $1500 - 2000 a month if you plan correctly. I hope you do!
If you're the type of person who believes that even if the best things in life (like New Zealand) aren't free, but can be figured out on a budget, you're going to love our new book, "The Dirtbag's Guide to Life: Eternal Truth for Hiker Trash, Ski Bums, and Vagabonds." It's kind of like this article, but is aimed to help you figure out an entire life of adventure on the cheap. Check out the webpage, or if you prefer buy it on Amazon.
Tim and Angel
The goat in the picture lives in Silverton, CO, and tried to kill us. We survived to bring you this dirtbag wisdom for the ages.