Kiwi Cool: Saving Money While Traveling In New Zealand

Saving money in New Zealand - supermarket lamb
Last month, I spent three weeks traveling through New Zealand, focusing mainly on the cities and culture. After living in Istanbul for two years, it wasn’t the culture shock, the jet lag, or the seasonal switch that was hard to adjust to, it was the prices. While I knew New Zealand wasn’t cheap (though their dollar is slightly weaker than ours), I was unprepared for the sticker shock. Dinner and drinks can easily run $50 a head or more, city buses can cost more than a NYC subway ride, and $3.50 for a bottle of water seemed offensive. I did discover a few ways to save money and still enjoy the Kiwi cool.

1. Drink locally, eat globally – New Zealand is known for its excellent wines, and starting to get accolades for their craft beer as well. Whether you’re dining out or picking up a bottle in a supermarket, it’s hard to go wrong with anything made in New Zealand; even the cheapest glass of house “Sav” is likely to be pretty tasty. Also note that many pubs are likely to be “tied” houses (unlike the excellent Free House in Nelson, pictured in my first “Kiwi cool” post) and will carry a limited range of brands, giving you an incentive to stick to the “house” tap. In contrast, for cheap eats, look for foods with origins outside the country; Asian cuisine like sushi, Chinese noodles, and Indian curries are often the most budget-friendly options and given the country’s ethnic mix, just as authentic Kiwi as roast leg of lamb and Pavlova.

2. Rent a car – This is one area where I didn’t follow my own advice, preferring to explore the country on public transportation as my husband is the only driver in the family and my baby is not a fan of car rides (yet she’s perfect on planes). Generally, public transportation in New Zealand is not cheap – a day pass for the Auckland bus system is over $10, taxis from the airport can cost up to $100, and the cost of two bus or train tickets between cities often exceeds the daily rate for a budget rental car. Kiwi companies Jucy and Apex offer older model cars as low as $22 – 34 per day, if you don’t mind a less than sweet ride.

3. Book transportation online – If you do choose to go the public transportation route, it can pay to make your arrangements online rather than in person. By booking tickets for the Waiheke Island ferry online, I saved $7 on each adult fare, even for a same day ticket. As part of the promotion for the new Northern Explorer Auckland-Wellington train, Kiwi Rail was offering two-for-one tickets, check their website for current promotions.

4. Check out motels – In my European travels, I’ve been using AirBnB and other apartment sites to book accommodations, as it pays to have extra space, laundry and a kitchen when you are traveling with a baby. The AirBnB craze hasn’t quite hit New Zealand yet, though you may find luck with BookABach (a bach is a Kiwi word for a vacation home that might be more basic than a typical house). I was more surprised by the quality of motels and motor lodges in New Zealand, they are often modern in style and comfortably outfitted with nice amenities like heated towel racks, electric blankets, and real milk for your coffee standard (a small pleasure compared to the powdered creamer typical in most hotel rooms). Motel rooms range from modest studios to sprawling apartments with jacuzzis. I found a useful directory of accommodations on NewZealand.com, and you can filter for features such as laundry or pool and check for special deals. Golden Chain is a quality collection of independent motels spread over both islands.

5. Create your own Wi-Fi hotspot – Another surprise I found in New Zealand is the lack of free Wi-Fi. Even many coffee shops only offer Internet for a fee, and some accommodations will limit your free connection to 100 mb or so per day. The city of Wellington has set up free hotspots in the city center, but I found the signal hit or miss. A more reliable and affordable option is to make your own hotspot by purchasing a pre-paid SIM card with data. Consult this helpful wiki for rates; I bought a SIM through 2degrees with 1 GB of data for about $20. One other tip is to find the local iSite tourism office for a short period of Wi-Fi access if you need to check email or make travel plans (they can help with booking travel and accommodation too, of course).

6. Shop vintage – After a few days in Kiwi Land, you’ll feel an urge to buy lots of nice merino wool clothing and gifts. For a country with apparently more sheep than people, it is everywhere and you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on new sweaters. Another option is to try vintage and thrift shops. I found a lovely baby sweater probably knitted by a nice Kiwi grandmother for $8 in an antique store, just as quality as the $30 one I bought at a market, and both far cheaper than most retail shops. Auckland’s K Road and Wellington’s Newtown have lots of used and “opportunity” shops, often with proceeds going to charity. Eco-friendly fashion is also becoming more widespread, and “recycled” fashion shops can be found in most cities.

7. Stay in on public holidays – One upside to the high cost of a pint of beer is that tipping is unnecessary in New Zealand; the GST tax on goods includes service. However, you will note on many restaurant menus a surcharge for public holidays of 15%. This covers the owner’s cost of paying their employees more for the holidays. Try to avoid dining out on holidays or look at it as a special holiday gratuity.

A bonus tip that may or may not be relevant in the future: follow the rugby fan trail. Started for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 to ease traffic congestion and crowding on public transport, Auckland’s Fan Trail was revived for a match against Australia last month. The trail stretches two miles from downtown to the stadium and is lined with entertainment, food and drinks, and other activities, most of which are free. Even if you aren’t headed to a game, it’s fun to watch both the performers and the fans dressed up to cheer on their team. If you happen to be in Auckland during a future big rugby match, find out if the city plans to run the fan trail again.

Stay tuned for more “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Un-adventurous.”

10 budgeting mistakes even smart travelers make

don't overpack if you are on a travel budgetWhen traveling, it’s easy to go overboard and spend more money than you expected. What’s important is that you spend your extra cash having fun experiences instead of on mistakes that could have been prevented with some planning. Read these 10 common money mistakes often made by travelers to help save money on your next trip.

Mistake #1: Overpacking

This is a mistake that can rack up travel costs for many reasons. First of all, depending on what airline you are flying with, you may be charged a fee for each bag you bring. Not only that, but travelers must pay not only based on how many bags they bring, but also on how much they weigh. Once you are off the plane and at your accommodation, if you have brought more luggage than you can carry yourself you will have to consider porter and bellhop costs. Just do yourself a favor and only bring items you can see yourself using and wearing multiple times.budget travelMistake #2: Not knowing the exchange rate

If you’re looking to save money, it’s a good idea to do a little research and figure out what destinations will give you the most mileage for your dollar. For example, many regions in Canada, Australia, and Western Europe have strong currencies, meaning you may end up losing money in the exchange. However, if you plan a trip to, say, Hanoi, Vietnam, or Prague in the Czech Republic, you can end up saving a lot of cash.

When traveling, you should also pay attention to what currency exchange offices offer the best rates. For instance, airport currency exchanges are usually not the best places to change your money.

Mistake #3: Forgetting to check the weather of your destination

Last June I went to Paris, France, traveling under the assumption that France is always hot (on television the French always seem to be sipping wine in sunny vineyards and relaxing in little clothing in quaint little cafes). If I had checked the weather beforehand, I would have known that shorts and sleeveless shirts were not practical for when I was going, and I wouldn’t have had to buy new clothing, a jacket, and an umbrella that I ended up leaving behind anyway.

The moral of the story? Check the weather of your destination before you leave so you can pack appropriately and save yourself from having to buy a whole new wardrobe.

Mistake #4: Not knowing international phone rates

If you really don’t need your phone, leave it home, as you can save a lot of added costs. There are many other ways to stay in touch with people at home, such as e-mail or web chat (find areas with free Wi-Fi or see if your hotel provides it). If you must have your phone, invest in an international calling plan. While every phone company offers a different plan, I have always found that services such as Skype and PennyTalk offer the best deals. Another low-cost option is to purchase a local SIM card in the country you are visiting.

budget travelMistake #5: Traveling like everyone else

Not only is traveling during high-peak season more crowded and chaotic, it’s more expensive. If there’s an activity you love, try an off-the-beaten path destination to do it instead of following the crowd. Instead of going away in the summer, find a destination that offers your ideal weather in the spring. This can not only save you money, but can also introduce you to new, unexplored destinations.

Mistake #6: Not knowing the tipping etiquette

Tipping etiquette differs from country to country, so don’t just assume that just because in your home town you leave 20% gratuity when going out to eat you must do that everywhere. For example, an article on MSNBC.com says that tipping in Fiji is discouraged, while a server in Mexico will expect a 10%-15% tip. Know the customs before you go to avoid throwing away money unnecessarily.

Mistake #7: Not purchasing travel insurance

While travel insurance isn’t free, it can also end up saving you a ton of money if an emergency does occur. Hospital bills, cancelled flights, and natural disasters aren’t cheap and you can get very affordable travel insurance plans at Access America and World Nomads. Also, if you have health insurance or a travel credit card at home, call their customer service numbers to ask what you are already covered for abroad.

Mistake #8: Not knowing your transportation options

While taxis may be the most convenient way to get around a place, they are often the most expensive. Using public transportation options such as trains, buses, tro-tros, tuk tuks, and metros can save travelers literally hundreds of dollars. If you are unsure of how to get to a place ask your accommodation to help you plan the cheapest route. Also, before even stepping on the plane to go abroad, contact your hotel and ask them what the most cost-efficient method to reach the hotel from the airport is, what stop to get off at, and specific walking directions.

Mistake #9: Not taking advantage of frequent flier programs

If you travel regularly, it pays to either signup for a frequent flier program or apply for a credit card that will give you miles. Having loyalty to specific airlines may be difficult for some people to commit to, however, it can lead to free flights and discounted travel.

Mistake #10: Always being a tourist

This is an easy mistake to make, as when people are in a place for the first time they usually end up being drawn to all the flashy signs and salespeople offering experiences at must-see attractions. While you should see the big sights, there are often free museums, open air entertainment, and complimentary attractions in every place you visit. This goes for restaurants, too. While the big, sparkling venue with the extensive (and pricey!) menu in English may look good, wouldn’t it be nice to have an authentic (and budget-friendly) dining experience at a smaller, local eatery? Street-food is also a money-saving option, as well as grocery stores (bonus if you’re accommodation has a kitchen or serves free breakfast). Also, ask your hotel when museums, restaurants, and attractions offer discounts and promotions, such as free entry on Monday nights at an art gallery or complimentary tapas at a Spanish restaurant with a drink purchase.

Royal Caribbean revises tipping guidelines

royal caribbean tipping guidelinesSaying it was the first time in 13 years that they had an increase in their guidelines, mega-line Royal Caribbean today raised the amount of suggested gratuities for on-board staff members on all it’s ships.

Beginning July 1, 2011 the line is revising tipping guidelines to suggest that guests pay $11.65 per person per day, up from a suggested $9.75.

Tipping on Royal Caribbean is not required but the line offers a number of ways to get it done. Guests can either prepay gratuities for their entire cabin in advance of sailing, elect to have that amount automatically added to a guests on-board charge account or choose to use envelopes provided by the line to present cash gratuities to crew members at the end of the cruise.

In a statement, Royal Caribbean said “Gratuities will continue to be given at the discretion of each guest, except for guests who choose My Time Dining, which require prepaid gratuities”

Tipping guidelines vary among lines. Compared to most other cruise lines, the Royal Caribbean plan offers the most flexibility. Carnival Cruise Line, for example, automatically adds gratuities to guest accounts, requiring them to visit the Pursers desk when on board to have them removed should they choose to present tips directly to crew members.

Flickr photo by Uhuru1701

Ten things to know about your destination before you go

know before you go travel planningSo you’ve chosen your vacation destination – booked the tickets, agonized over TripAdvisor to find a hotel, and bought the guidebooks or downloaded the apps. Whether you like to plan your itinerary in advance or play it by ear, there are a few things you should research in advance to make your arrival – and your trip – go smoothly.

From airport taxis to local laws to transit passes, what should you know before you go?

  1. Best way from the airport to the city – This should be your first order of business – figuring out the most efficient and/or least expensive way to get to your hotel before you find yourself being hounded by taxi touts at baggage claim or standing in the rain waiting for a bus that comes every two hours. London’s Heathrow Express is a great compromise between an exorbitant taxi ride and a long Tube ride with transfers, but other cities may have cheap cab fares (find out approximately what you should pay before you get in the car) or excellent public transportation systems connecting with the airport. Check out any guidebook or the Getting In section of a Wikitravel article for the best info and check if your hotel offers pick up service for a good value.
  2. How much cash to start with and in what denominations – Now that you know how to get to your hotel, you’ll need cash to pay for your transfer. No matter what the exchange rate, you should find out how much money to withdraw from the ATM or exchange at the airport (note: most airports in the world have ATMs and will give you a better value than exchanging currency, but it never hurts to have some backup cash). Lonely Planet‘s Cost Index is great for determining about how much cash will cover a taxi ride, a meal or two, and other expenses for your first day or so. Some countries will give you large bills that are hard to break – try entering an odd amount like 130 to get some smaller bills or visit a newsstand to get change.
  3. What’s the tipping culture – So you’re in the taxi, cash in hand to pay the driver, do you tip? In many countries, like Turkey, people don’t generally tip taxi drivers, perhaps rounding up to the nearest lira or two, so a 38 TL fare would cost 40 TL (taxi drivers here are so loathe to give change they may eat the cost of a 52 TL fare and give you change for the 50). Likewise for restaurants and cafes, 10% is standard in many places outside of the US and often included in the bill. I’ll never forget leaving a 20% tip on top of an included 10% in a London bar – the waitress was thrilled but I felt like a fool. Figure out what’s appropriate and do as the locals do to avoid stiffing or overcompensating for service.
  4. A few key phrases in the local language – This is a necessity in some countries, and always a courtesy to know a few words of a foreign language. “Please” and “thank you” and “where is the bathroom?” will always be useful, and “two beers,” “another one” and “check” will usually result in good things.
  5. When to leave for the airport when you depart – It’s hard to think about going home when you’re enjoying vacation, but knowing how much time to allow for your departure can help you to maximize your last day. While your airline might tell you how far in advance to arrive, better to ask someone who really knows how long to budget, like your hotel concierge. A Lisbon hotel front desk clerk once saved me several hours waiting at the airport by letting me know the recommended three hours before check-in was overkill.
  6. What’s legal – Learning about the local laws can save you headaches and money. I just discovered that in Warsaw, jaywalking is illegal and punishable by a 50 zl fine, hence why all the residents wait patiently at crosswalks for the light to change. In some cities, it’s fine to bring a bottle of wine or beer into a park for a picnic, but in others, public drinking can get you fined. Knowing what’s legal can also help you avoid (or seek out, depending on your proclivities) potential danger areas such as red light districts. Wikitravel is good at listing info on local laws and dangers.
  7. What days museums are free or discounted – Visiting a museum on a free day might allow you to see something you’d otherwise miss due to the admission price, and free nights are often packed with locals and fun events. Find out what days you can get free to help plan your itinerary. Rick Steves’ guides always have a good summary of free (as well as closed) days.
  8. The real value of a transit or tourist pass – Many cities have a museum or tourist card that you can purchase to get free admission at many sites for a set time. But before you invest in a pass, check out if you really want to go to the included places (cheesy sights like wax musuems are invariably included) and if you’d have enough time to really enjoy visiting them all. Similarly, public transportation passes can be great in a city like New York, where a Metrocard can save you time and money, but if you prefer to walk or cab around town, you might skip it. The single best deal I’ve found is the Japan rail pass, which must be purchased in your home country, and gives free or discounted access to public transit and many of the country’s awesome bullet trains.
  9. Where to get help if you need it – I used to think registering with the U.S. Department of State when traveling abroad was a bit silly but a friend at the embassy in Istanbul stressed how important it is in case of a disaster in locating citizens, as well as to help Americans abroad in trouble. Leave your travel details with friends back home, carry the contact details for your embassy and credit cards and check your insurance policy for coverage away from home.
  10. Can’t-miss tips from locals and travelers – Here’s where social media can really help you have a great vacation – before departure, ask your travel-savvy friends on Facebook and Twitter what their don’t-miss recommendations are for what to see or where to eat. Even if they are well-known attractions, having a tip from someone who’s been there will help you prioritize. You can always ask us at Gadling, chances are one of us has been there and can provide recommendations – just post to our Facebook page or send us a tweet @Gadling.

Other tips you’ve found handy to know in advance? Leave us yours in the comments.

Where’s My Tip – a cashless way to tip when you travel

Where's My Tip
Tipping when you’re traveling can be an uncomfortable situation. For example, you get to a foreign country and, exhausted, you have to get cash and get it changed into small bills or coins immediately so that you can tip whoever takes your bag when you get to the hotel. Half the time, you don’t even know what an appropriate tip is in that country (I always ask the exchange teller if I’ve forgotten to Google it), and the other half of the time you forget completely and all you have in your wallet is a $20 bill. Even on a domestic trip, having nothing but a $20 bill is a dilemma.

Where’s My Tip is a new company which aims to solve these problems. Upon joining, you get a small box of 100 cards slightly taller and less wide than business cards which say “You’ve just been tipped!” Instructions on the card direct the holder to WheresMyTip.com, where they can click “Request a Tip” and enter the unique ID number on the card.On the “Request a Tip” page, the tipped party enters their name, the email address they use for PayPal, their service and location (like … bellhop service at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island) and their tip request. Yes, the dollar amount. The screen prompt will inform them that the most commonly requested tip is $5.

After the request has been filed with your unique ID number, you will be emailed a PayPal invoice for the amount specified by the tipee. PayPal takes their cut, of course. You will also have the option to modify the amount; if they request a $400 tip, you obviously don’t have to pay it.

There are clearly some kinks to be worked out; I’m sure that the valet at a restaurant would rather the $20 bill than a card with instructions on it. Also, this won’t work in parts of the world where people aren’t hip to the PayPal thing (though that number is always shrinking). Still, this is an innovation we could see growing into, at the very least, a great backup for when you have no tipping cash on you, and maybe, one day, an alternative to carrying cash when you travel at all. Additionally, if someone, like the concierge, gives you service over and above what you have in your wallet, this is a great way to get them that $50 you’d like to give.

We recommend tipping a couple of dollars extra with these, since the tipees have to go online to get their tip.

Membership at WheresMyTip is $100 per year and comes with 100 tip cards per year. Currently, membership is by invitation only. Click here to apply for a membership.

[Photo by Annie Scott]