Vagabonding on a Budget – Australia and New Zealand
Welcome to the first installment of the Vagabonding on a Budget Series, where I will share tips and tricks for budget conscious travelers who aren’t willing to skimp on freedom or adventure.
Australia and New Zealand are both highly sought after destinations, but often budget travelers shy away from such places due to their high cost. Being so remote, Oceania is a long plane flight for most international travelers, so the cost for that alone often sways money conscious wanderlusters against adding it to their itineraries. But fear not, I come bearing good news! After spending nearly two months in this glorious part of the globe, I am sure it is very possible to travel both Australia and New Zealand on an average of $50, or less, per day (per person). Below are the tips Web and I found most helpful in maintaining our long-term vagabonding budget in both countries.
- Earn A Free Flight (or nearly free) No, this is not a joke. For many travelers, the flights alone force Australia and New Zealand to be nixed from possibility. Eager nomads can remedy this by paying as little as possible for the flights. The best way – and likely easiest way – to eliminate flight cost is to work the credit card miles system, also known as travel hacking. There are a number of cards that are geared towards those who travel frequently, and will allow you to earn points that can later be used for flights – our personal choices are BarclayCard and United Mileage Plus. Be on the lookout for promotional bonues when choosing a card to sign up for, they frequently offer 40-50,000 points if you spend x amount of money in however many months.
Avoid debt at all costs by treating the credit card like a bank account, never spend more than your budget allows – this is the secret to earning maximum points without getting yourself into financial trouble. Once you’ve earned the points you simply choose your desired flight and erase the cost. My flight – a one way from LA to Sydney) was totally covered, and originally cost about $750USD. These cards are immensely helpful during travel as well, as you will continue to earn points on every dollar you spend, therefore earning you more free flying.
– Pro Tip: Use SkyScanner.com to find the cheapest flights by every carrier, which day is cheapest to fly, and which destination is most affordable.
- Eliminate Lodging Costs. Second to flights, the next heftiest costs is housing – unfortunately we found that even hostels are fairly steep in price in this part of the world. Depending on the type of traveler you are, and what type of accommodation set up you are comfortable with, it is very possible to eliminate lodging costs in Australia and New Zealand entirely. There are several ways to do this so I will break it down into different sections:
Couchsurfing – most travelers are familiar with the Couchsurfing.com community, and it truly is a wonderful way to erase lodging costs, with the added bonus of meeting locals and tucking into a bit of their experience in their home country. Be sure to fill out your profile completely and message hosts early as free accommodation is in high demand. The only downside to couch surfing is a lack of flexibility, as most times hosts receive so many requests they are forced to book things well in advance.
– Pro Tip: As a general rule of thumb it is recommended to bring your hosts a gift of sorts – which can be cooking a meal, a bottle of wine, or any other tokens of appreciation.
WWOOF – This is another excellent way to combat the high costs of housing in both Australia and New Zealand. For those that aren’t familiar, WWOOFing is an international community consisting of hosts who take on travelers for help on their land.
Generally WWOOF is geared towards sustainable farming and living, but there is some variety in terms of work to do. Travelers work a number of hours a day in exchange for accommodation and food. Like Couchsurfing, you get a glimpse into local life, and a chance to meet some wonderful people. Once again it is essential to plan early and message hosts that interest you. Both countries are loaded with some really interesting and unique options. You do have to pay a fee to access the online host network in each country, and it can limit flexibility, as dates are normally set in advance.
– Pro Tip: It is essential to know yourself as a person and be prepared for work that can be laborious. Be sure to thoroughly read through what is expected from each host before committing.
Be on the lookout for a post about our experience WWOOFing in NZ!
Get Outside and Camp! Australia and New Zealand are riddled with beautiful, fun spots to pitch a tent or park a caravan. We purchased a cheap but roomy tent, two sleeping bags, and an air mattress for $100 NZ, which we easily made up for in two or three nights of camping beneath the stars. Even better, pack your own camping gear from home if you plan to spend a bulk of your travels exploring these outdoor-loving countries. Campsites range from $5 per night to $35 depending on the accommodation level. The cheapest sites offer limited facilities, and more expensive ones often offer kitchens, showers, Internet etc. Travel can be quite flexible when planning to camp since there will always be a spot to crash for the night. Pick up a map of the holiday parks and campsites upon arrival.
– Pro Tip: If you don’t plan to take your camping gear past AUS or NZ, look for the backpacker boards and post a for sale ad for your camping gear. There are always eager travelers willing to take used gear off your hands.
- Lower Transportation Costs. There are also several ways to lower your transportation costs around the country without sacrificing too much flexibility. I, for one, am not interested in being on a bus every other day in pursuit of the next activity – mostly because I get serious queasy while jostling around on the windy roads – and they can often be expensive. Below are the two ways I would suggest for budget rambling:
Camper Van Relocations. Web and I were big fans of this method of travel. There are several major caravan rental companies in both countries, and they offer low-cost relocations when they need their vehicles transported from one city to another. Relocations are the ultimate win-win, you help the rental companies, and the rental companies help you. Often the fee is $5 a day or less, and some will even reimburse a portion of petrol or pay your way across a ferry if necessary. Usually you will be responsible for the petrol, but you will have the freedom to navigate your route with a bed and kitchen at your fingertips – this, of course, doubles as your lodging. Most relocations require the vehicle back by a certain date, but some allow for an extra day or two. You can park the caravans either for free or a relatively small fee for a powered site.
– Pro Tip: Use Drive Now and iMova to search for relocations. These sites pool together the major rental companies and conveniently lay our your options.
Note that the relocations often won’t show up until only a few days before they are available, so it can be difficult to book these far in advance. They are best suited for the flexible traveler.
Buying A Car + Selling It After. Though we did not choose this method, it would be the one I would likely opt for second time around. Obviously buying a cheap car or van is better suited for travelers who spend at least two months – ideally longer – in either country, as the buying and selling can be a process. Since this is a popular choice for many budget travelers there is a steady supply and demand of worthy automobiles changing hands from departing traveler to folks just arriving. Often times you can collect back a significant portion of the money you bought the car for, thus greatly reducing your transportation costs. Of course you must pay for petrol, but in exchange you have the ultimate freedom to go where you please, when you please – which can be the greatest commodity. Of course cars can also double as lodging – sleeping in vehicles is common practice here – or simply pick up cheap camping gear as mentioned above.
– Pro Tip: Australia and New Zealand Backpacker Forums are quite helpful for buying or selling a used vehicle. Be sure to get the car checked out if possible, you don’t want to get stuck with a lemon.
HitchHiking. In New Zealand there is something of a hitchhiking culture, especially on the South Island. Web and I always aim to pick up fellow travelers and often you share good conversation and learn something new. If you are really committed to hitch hiking you can get just about anywhere, eventually anyways. Obviously this is not for everyone, and you should always have your wits about you, but that being said there are many backpackers who make it work.
– Pro Tip: Stick that thumb out there with authority, and signs with your desired destination can be helpful. One hitchhiker told us that having a female companion with you if you are a male has a much higher success rate.
- Cook Your Food. Meal costs add up quickly, and cooking (or simply making) your own meals as much as possible is an ideal way to cut down on costs. Dining out in both countries is very expensive; without trying very hard you could easily spend $60+ dollars on three meals. While it’s tempting to forgo the efforts of cooking yourself and indulge nightly at restaurants, you will quickly put a massive dent in your budget if you do. Stop at the grocery store, bulk up your repertoire of cheap (and we prefer healthy) meals that are easy to put together, and save your money and physique. Many campgrounds and hostels have community kitchens available for use. Furthermore you don’t have to miss out on the local faire – simply buy local ingredients and search for a native recipe online. Below is a sample of one day’s worth of meals:
Breakfast: Soaked museli in fruit juice with yogurt and cut fruit or berries
Lunch: Tomato, avocado and feta salad with bread and cured meat
Dinner: Fresh local fish pan cooked in butter with lemon and herbs, and a side of green veggies
The possibilities are endless – get creative!
– Pro Tip: Purchase travel utensils and Tupperware for easy storage of leftovers, they also double as containers to eat from.
Of course, there are countless ways to save while traveling internationally, and the most ingredients in successful budgeting are flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to try something new. These tips just scratch the surface, and are the ones we found most helpful on our travels. We are always eager to hear more new and innovative ways to enhance the vagabond lifestyle, so please share!