We spent a total of 55 days in the land of the long white cloud and averaged $113 USD per day ($61 per person per day) which was under our projected daily budget of $125 per day ($62.50 per person). Saving an extra $12/ day over 55 days gave us an overall savings of $660!
budgeted our flights separately, but if we add in our flight costs we spent a grand total of $153/ day ($76.50 per person).
Budgeting for Travel in New Zealand
New Zealand was one of the more expensive countries we planned to visit, so we budgeted substantially more than we did for say, the South East Asia region.
To come to a realistic budget, we started with the cost of renting a van to transport us and sleep in during our stay on the South Island and built out our budget from there. After a lot of online research about the costs of living and traveling in New Zealand, we figured our daily budget would be pretty close to what Lonely Planet suggests: between $75/ person for ultra cheap and $150 for budget travel. The main difference between the ultra cheap and budget travel options is the former relies on public transit whereas the latter includes a rented van. So we budgeted to average $100/ person while we travelled the South Island in February and $25/ person in March while we were house sitting.
Where We Spent our Money
We do want to stress that while we were in New Zealand for 55 days, we did house sit for one month which helped to drastically reduced our average daily budget. All amounts are in USD unless otherwise stated.
|Budget Category||Daily Exp||Budget %|
|Food and Alcohol||$31.49||28%|
Transportation – If you are renting a campervan in New Zealand you can expect this category to be a large chunk of your budget. We paid $130 NZD/ day for our minivan. Gas (petrol) in New Zealand is also pricey, so check out our New Zealand tips and tricks section to help save some money at the pump.
|Transportation Category||Daily Exp||Budget %|
|Ferry and Long Distance Bus||$4.82||9%|
Food and Alcohol – Food in New Zealand is expensive. We spent on average about $220 per week on food and alcohol. The vast majority of these costs were incurred at the grocery store versus restaurants. Because restaurants are so expensive in New Zealand, we only ate out a few times for meals like fish and chips, Chinese take out and of course, Pizza Hut $5 NZD specials. Depending on your diet, you could easily spend less than us on food and alcohol. We generally prepared normal meals as we would back home and weren’t shy to have a glass or two of wine with dinner each night. I would venture to say that if you don’t eat meat, don’t drink and you are content with rice and pasta meal after meal you can easily get by on less than $100 per week, but what’s the fun in that?
Other – This category consisted of expenses such as customs fees (see Budget Killers below), activities and personal care.
Budget Savers and Budget Killers
Here are the top opportunities, decisions and mistakes that either positively or negatively impacted our travel budget.
- House Sitting – The number one budget saver was hands down house sitting for a month. This opportunity helped us keep costs low by eliminating accommodation and car rental costs for the month. Having a home to live in also allows you to take advantage of bulk purchases in the grocery store. We secured this house sit through trusted housesitters.
- Smart Shopping – Knowing where to shop for groceries and taking advantage of deals can really add up over the course of your trip. Check out our article on Where to Graze in New Zealand for a run through of popular grocery stores.
- Relocating a Campervan – Keep your eye out for campervan relocation deals. They can drastically bring your car or van rental cost down, but as we mention below in the Budget Killers section, don’t wait too long for the perfect relocation deal. Many campervan companies will occasionally offer relocation deals between two cities to re-balance their fleet of cars after busy periods. The campervan companies will give you a short period of time, usually 1-5 days depending upon the relocation distance, to move the van from one city to another. The daily rate of the van is often either free or $1/ day. Some companies will throw in extras such as a free tank of gas or basic insurance during the relocation. While transfercar.co.nz advertises that they aggregate these deals, we had no success with them. We would suggest finding a few good rental companies and frequently checking their website for relocations. These relocation deals can be hard to find on the website. Here is an example of one. If I couldn’t find it on the website, I emailed the company directly.
- Staying at campgrounds over holiday parks – Whenever possible, we would opt to stay at community run or Department of Conservation (DOC) camp grounds over holiday parks. Rankers aggregates many camping options and provides helpful reviews. In the vast majority of places, DOC camping cost about $6 NZD/ person/ night vs the average holiday park which cost $15 – $17 NZD/ person/ night. Most DOC sites don’t have showers, so we opted to stay in a holiday park every 3 days or so to scrub up and get a taste of luxury. While holiday parks offer a handful of extras that camping spots don’t such as powered sites or DVD rentals we found that DOC and community run campsites were much better value and often much more beautiful than holiday parks, which in some cases is just a grassy parking lot.
- The small things add up – There were a number of small decisions we made that can add up to a big savings your travel budget. We outlined some of these in our New Zealand Tips and Travel Hacks article.
- Waiting till the last minute – By trying to take advantage of a campervan relocation deal for our entire stay on the South Island, we waited too long to actually book a campervan. This resulted in us paying $130 per day for the campervan when we probably could have booked it earlier for $90 – $100 per day. We really felt the effects of this when we checked the prices the morning we were going to book and saw that they were $120 per day and when we booked later that afternoon Jucy had bumped the price up to $130 per day. They of course did not honor their earlier price. They told us that their pricing approach was similar to the one used by airlines so prices can change throughout the day. We assumed that they had a peak, low and shoulder season pricing model since it was described this way in the literature. Not the case!
- Custom Expenses – We’ve both been through the border crossing procedure countless times. But this time, after 20+ hours of flying, we were caught with the two apples we forgot to get rid of at the bottom of the bag. We were instantly hit with a $400 NZD fine. Luckily, we spent 55 days in New Zealand so the daily cost of this only averaged out to $6.63 USD.
- Drinking – While alcohol is such a nice thing to splurge on, it has the potential to be a budget breaker. We didn’t break the bank with buying alcohol, but we would often have a glass or two with dinner each night. Depending on what you like, you can actually pickup a number of decent wines in the $6-$9 USD range ($7 – $11 NZD) which is somewhat comparable to California prices.
- Make sure you have a ticket out of New Zealand – New Zealand requires an onward ticket, which we didn’t realize until we were in the LA airport checking in for our Air New Zealand flight. So, we had to book an onward ticket on our phones. The cost of our onward ticket wasn’t too bad but I’m sure we could have found a better deal if we had more time to look. Some people get around this problem by booking tickets and then canceling within 24 hours, but you are still hit with the fees you have to pay for the flexible or cancelable ticket. What a racket!