Our road trip through New Zealand was a bucket list trip for us. New Zealand has a ton of unique scenery, a lot of hiking, and plenty of outdoor activities, so it seemed like a perfect fit. But we were aware from the beginning that it was not going to be cheap, in fact it was one of our more expensive trips. With that in mind, we started to discuss planning the trip ourselves.
In the past, we have planned our own trips (albeit shorter and less complicated ones), worked with travel companies and worked with a travel agent for our South African wedding/honeymoon. Our experience using a travel agent was great, we were thrilled with the package she came up with and had an absolutely amazing trip. The downside of course, was the cost. Sometimes it is worth the splurge to have someone else plan and book everything, but we could not afford that luxury for our New Zealand vacation.
Now, planning a multi-stop international trip when you have no familiarity with the country or locations is a daunting task. Planning our trip to include both North and South Island and approximately 10 locations was extremely time consuming and a bit overwhelming. I spent hours and hours researching places to visit, where to stay, things to do and how to get there. In the end, I came up with a pretty good process for planning and organizing the trip, a method I will definitely use for future adventures. Hopefully, it will help save you some time and $$ as well!
Step 1: Research! Spend a lot of time researching the location, the best time of the year to travel, the weather, different areas you want to visit, the culture of the country, the conversion rate (this is SO important, you need to know how far your money will go) and search for activities that suit you and your travel style.
Step 2: Make a list of all of the places you want to visit/stay and what activities you want to do. Now, this may be quite a lengthy list, so consider how many days you have and how much traveling you want to do. Depending on whether you want a more adventurous trip or more relaxing trip, you will probably need to trim this list down to what is an absolute must for you.
Our list was very long and we did not do such a great job trimming it down, but our travel style is pretty much GO GO GO, see everything and do everything. We usually come home more exhausted than when we left, but that’s what we love.
Step 3: Get a map and pin every location you plan to stop at. This will help you determine if there are any outliers or out of the way stops that need to be eliminated. This will also give you an idea of where to start the trip and the most convenient order to follow to get to the rest of the destinations.
This visual was so helpful for me! I was not sure where we should fly into and what direction everything was. By looking at the map of New Zealand I was able to orient myself to where things were and decide that we should fly into Auckland first (the northernmost location we were stopping at) and then drive south through the country all the way to our last stop in Queenstown. I was also able to plan the best driving routes and minimize our time in the car by assuring there was no doubling back or driving out of the way.
Step 4: Determine how many days and nights in each location. Search for and make reservations for places to stay. Be creative with this! We’ve stayed at everything from a working farm to a tiny house. Vacation is the perfect time to experience new things, so don’t be afraid to trade in the typical hotel room for some out of the box accommodations.
A huge way we saved money was by renting apartments, baches, and even tiny houses through Airbnb and New Zealand’s own rental sites like bookabach.com (interesting tidbit, the word “bach” means a small holiday home or beach house in New Zealand). I had a budget in mind for each night and limited my search parameters to that price range. I was pleasantly surprised at the availability of rentals in each location. Word of advice here, beyond looking at availability, price and the condition of the places, make sure you carefully review the listings for any musts as far as amenities (our Auckland apartment had no A/C and the windows did not open, which was an uncomfortable mistake to make in the middle of the summer).
Before booking the rentals, I checked local hotel rates to make sure renting through private owners was the best way to go. I couldn’t find many options in our price range that weren’t dated or in inconvenient locations. When I compared hotels that were of the same quality of the apartments and houses I found, I was honestly shocked at how much we would be saving. Plus, the ability to have a kitchen and cook some of our own meals was definitely another cost saving bonus.
Step 5: Book and plan specific activities you want to do.
One of our favorite things to do is hike, which luckily is a relatively cheap hobby. In New Zealand, there are a lot of beautiful hikes and other activities you can do for free as there are no fees for most of the trails, parks, and beaches. But, New Zealand is also the adventure capital of the world, so there are also plenty of unique and expensive activities too. We chose plenty of free activities and some more expensive tours such as a heli-hike, a scenic flight and boat tour to an active volcano. For us, these tours were absolutely worth the extra cost and mixing and matching these activities helped keep our budget on track.
Step 6: Celebrate because you just saved yourself a ton of money!
Even after all our stops, activities and tours, planning the NZ trip on our own saved us around FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!! I know this because during my planning I started to wonder if all of the time and effort was worth it. So, I contacted several travel agents and asked for proposed itineraries, which included every location and activity on our list. The proposals that I got back were outrageous! We would have had to cut out several stops and tours to stay within our budget. While every country and trip is different, it was clearly in our best interest financially to plan our New Zealand trip on our own. The time sacrificed in the planning process paid us back tenfold because we we were able to stay everywhere we wanted and had the flexibility to do more activities.
I hope I inspired some of you to act as your own travel agent and use the above roadmap next time you have multiples stops on your itinerary or are looking for ways to save some money on vacation. I am sure that your wallet will thank you!
By Ashley Quiambao