Kiwi Cool: Saving Money While Traveling In New Zealand

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, 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.”

Cost of travel soaring but savings possible

Determining the true cost of travel takes some effort. What we pay for airfare, hotels, and meals away from home are elements of a budget we want to pin down as much as possible, but that is not always easy. Experts know the cost of travel is rising, but also offer explanations and suggestions on what we can do about it.

Paying attention to prices at the pump, we need not hear from an expert to know that jet fuel prices are probably increasing as well.

“You’ll see gradual increases and then a much bigger jump in April and May when people start shopping for the summer travel season,” says Rick Seaney, CEO of travel website

Still, there are ways to save on airline tickets, cruise fares, hotels and more. One trick, normally seen as risky business, is to book later rather than earlier.

“For those of you who are flexible with your travel, it can pay to wait until the last minute,” Steven Fischer, vice president of cruise development at Travel Holdings, Inc. told MarketWatch. “That’s when airlines and cruises need to unload inventory, so stay on top of deals through last minute booking sites like and Get a great deal and you don’t have to book 6 months in advance.”Playing it smart when checking into a hotel can help, too. TravelSavingsNut, a website dedicated to providing money saving advice, offers tips and ideas on how to save money when traveling.

“Even if you have a reservation, you may want to consider, before disclosing your reservation to the desk clerk, asking what rooms they have available and the price,” says TravelSavingsNut on its website. “If plenty of rooms are available, you may be quoted a rate lower than your reservation rate for the same type of room. If so, mention to the clerk that the rate is lower and ask that they honor the lower rate. They should be more than willing to do this.

On the road, eating is a different matter, but USA Today Travel has some ideas to help here, too. Travel expert Pele Omori is a freelance writer specializing in travel and culinary subjects. She has traveled and lived internationally since she was age three and though she likes the idea of cooking when we can, Omori has some other suggestions:

“Stay at a place with a complimentary breakfast; otherwise, eat breakfast at a local bakery. Eating baked goods from local bakeries often costs less than eating at a restaurant or a hotel. Ask locals, such as the hotel staff, about bakeries in the area.

If you are looking to sample the local cuisine, eat lunch at a restaurant instead of dinner. Lunch at most restaurants costs considerably less than dinner at the same eatery. Cut costs further by sharing an entree or having a light meal that consists of soup, salad, or an appetizer.”

We may not be able to do much about the prices charged by airlines, hotels, and restaurants, but taking a step back to consider alternative ways of looking at travel expenses can often make an out of control budget more manageable.

Pocket WiFi device offers cheap service in Europe

Using your US-based smart phone in Europe can make for some expensive phone calls. US service providers have international plans that can help but the average roaming charge across Europe costs US travelers $19 per MB. Connectivity is another issue as travelers struggle to get and stay online with phones, laptops, tablets and other wireless devices. Tep is a convenient and affordable service is now available and more than just a way to avoid roaming charges.

“At long last there is an alternative to expensive mobile phone roaming charges and the hassle of finding WiFi internet connections aboard,” said Tep Founder Tomas Mendoza. “Our star service, the pocket WiFi, gives business travelers the power to go anywhere connected with their laptop and Ipad, a priceless service when not being connected can cost time, money and business.”

The Tep pocket WiFi device offers an on-the-go connectivity service across 16 European countries anywhere, any time for $7.95 per day. This isn’t fixed WiFi hot spots, this is 3G on the move that can be used for multiple devices: laptops, tablets, phones.

“No longer will business travellers across Europe be held hostage by mobile phone operators making excessive profits out of their need to use their phones and stay connected” added Mendoza.

The company also rents phones and the simple three-step process is easy. First, users visit the Tep website, choose their Tep service, select travel dates and provide a delivery address. Next, the company delivers the device to their home or destination. Once received, users simply turn the device on to begin use. A pre-paid mailer is provided to return the device after use and all personal information is erased after return.

“With the number of broadband enabled mobile phones hitting the one billion mark this year, and with 70 percent of all consumer devices connected to the internet by 2014, TEP is providing a service that will allow consumers to get the most out of these devices, rather than being prevented from using them by profit-hungry operators,” Mendoza said.

$7.95 a day with unlimited wireless Internet usage stacks up pretty nicely compared to plans offered by hotels or Internet cafe’s and beats any US-based service provider’s International plans that we have heard of.

Flickr photo by Ed Yourdon

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10 ways Gadling readers save money when they travel

Sometimes, when you travel, it can feel like you’re bleeding money. Often, the problem starts even before you go, as you stock up on the right gear for the trip and make sure you have all your (expensive, not-covered-by-insurance) shots.

There are endless ways you can thwart this problem, and we wanted to know what readers like you do to save money. We asked our Facebook fans to give us their tips, and the tips we got were, as we expected, totally freaking awesome.

Here are our top 10 ways Gadling readers save money when they travel:

1. “We try to find a hotel that offers breakfast, Then we split our main meal of the day!” — Shelby

2. “I don’t stay at $300+/night hotels. Unless its a resort vacation, I’m not going to be in the hotel other than to shower and sleep. As long as its a nice stay with good reviews and good location, I’m all set.” — Saadia

3. “By spending more time in fewer places!” — Craig4. “I try to find an affordable place with a kitchenette, or, at the very least, a mini fridge. You can save a lot of money when you don’t have to pay $10/glass for a decent wine, and when you can make a simple lunch with what you pick up at the grocery instead of buying a $15 salad at a sit-down restaurant!” — Kristen

5. “We leave the kids with the grandparents!” — Karen

6. “Ask for ‘Tap’ water (when in countries with decent water systems) at restaurants.” — Dale

7. “Do your homework – the more advance research, the better. Local innkeepers, merchants and restaurateurs seem to be more appreciative and more candid with recommendations when they see you took the trouble to learn something about them/their town beforehand.”

8. ” I do tons of research before leaving and order tourist information packets. Usually we end up with a few coupons and talking to the tourist office workers garners a few tips. I also check out to see what others have found in the area.” — Megan

9. Dress respectfully but not too touristy. It’s hard to get a response to “what’s not too expensive?” while carrying a fancy camera, purse, bags of souvenirs, or otherwise look like the tourist with money to spend.” — Lillian (again)

10. “Walk as much as you can, keeps you fit as well … public transport makes you feel like a local … but the MAIN TIP i can give is NOT SPENDING when I’m at home … SAVE, SAVE, SAVE … I’d rather have one great holiday a year, or once every couple of years, so I can enjoy it and do the things I like and want.” — Yvonne

Got a better tip? Want to join in the conversation? Visit the Gadling Facebook page!

[Photo by Annie Scott.]