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.”

The top 10 ways to make phone calls when you are abroad

Welcome to the Gadling top 10 ways to make phone calls when you are abroad. This top 10 list will take a quick glance at 10 ways you can save on keeping in touch with people back home. It’s a well known fact that international calls are quite the racket, and making long calls back home can severely deplete your vacation spending money. Thankfully, technology has opened up all kinds of ways to save on your calls, and I’ll list the 10 that I think are the most important.

Your own phone

The most common way to make phone calls back home when you are abroad is of course to use your own phone with your own plan.

This is all fine and dandy if you only plan to call someone to let them know you arrived safely, but if you plan to keep in touch every time you see a cute giraffe walking down the street you’ll owe your mobile operator quite a lot of money once you arrive back home.

Before you start splurging on the newest technology, decide how often you plan to make a call, and compare the price of those calls with what you’d plan to spend on a nifty new way of making calls. If you only plan to make 20 minutes of calls back home ($20), then spending $50 on a new prepaid card may not be the best solution.
Prepaid mobile phone cards

When it comes to making cheaper mobile calls abroad, the prepaid SIM card is usually the first solution people think of. Prepaid SIM cards are more popular abroad than they are in the US, and you’ll usually be able to find a prepaid SIM card at any store, including kiosks at the airport.

A SIM card is the small chip you slide inside your phone to let your phone know who you are, and what your mobile number is. SIM cards are primarily used in the US by T-Mobile and AT&T (the GSM operators). Verizon and Sprint use a different system, but to make things complicated, they DO have some phones that are GSM compatible, and therefore use a SIM card.

One thing to keep in mind with any SIM card that takes the place of your regular SIM, is that your mobile phone has to be unlocked. You will need to contact your mobile operator to get your phone unlocked and not everyone will be eligible for a free unlock.

Before you consider using a prepaid sim card, it pays to research the rates of the different international operators. The differences in prices of calls back to the US can be staggering. A fantastic resource of all prepaid operators around the world is prepaidgsm.net. It may take 20 minutes to pick the cheapest mobile operator at your destination, but that time could easily save you $100.

For example; if you purchase a Vodafone prepaid sim card in the Netherlands, your standard rate for calls to the US is €0.75 per minute.If you purchased a KPN Mobile sim card, the rate is a whopping €1.45 per minute. With rates like that you’d be better off using your US phone instead.

Where? Anywhere prepaid mobile phone cards are sold
Price? “SIM Only” starter packs usually cost about $20, packs with a SIM card and a phone start around $40

Global roaming phone cards

Global roaming phone cards are not the same as prepaid phone cards – the technology behind them is the same, but these new cards are often issued out of countries with cheaper roaming rates, which allow you to carry the cheaper plan along with you, no matter where in the world you end up. One of the most popular cards on the market at the moment is the MAXroam sim card, offered by Cubic Telecom in Ireland (don’t worry, they’ll gladly ship to the US). The MAXroam sim card replaces the sim card in your current GSM based phone.

The rates on these cards are substantially lower than the rate offered by your own mobile operator. Per-minute rates from most European countries back home to the US are about $0.30.

Of course, you often can sometimes get even cheaper rates with a normal prepaid sim card, but the low rates on these global roaming cards means you won’t have to buy a new prepaid pack in every country you visit.

Another great advantage of these global phone cards is the ability to assign a normal US based number to them, which means you can give your friends and family an affordable way of contacting you when you are abroad, without them having to call an international number.

Where? Research global roaming cards at Prepaidgsm.net
Price? Starts at around $20

MagicJack

MagicJack is a tricky one; they offer a quality product, but cheapen the brand with horrible early morning infomercials and a never ending “buy within the next 4 hours” hard sell.

MagicJack is a $30 USB stick for your PC that provides unlimited local and long distance US calls. You will have to bring your laptop along with you if you want to make a call. Magicjack comes with a local US number, which means your friends and family won’t have to call a foreign number.

MagicJack also offers cheap international calls. I’ve been using MagicJack for some time now, and it’s never let me down. Of course, you will need to be connected to the Internet to get a dial tone. Calls can be made with a regular analogue phone, or by using a headset plugged into your PC.

Where? www.magicjack.com
Price? $39.99 (includes the MagicJack dongle and 1 year unlimited local and long distance phone calls)

Blackberry from T-Mobile

I’ve written about this option before, so I won’t go into too many details. The Blackberry Curve from T-Mobile (along with several other T-Mobile Blackberry smartphones with Wi-Fi) have the ability to roam onto Wi-Fi instead of a foreign mobile network. As long as you can get online, you’ll be able to make and receive phone calls. The advantage of this, is that as far as T-Mobile is concerned, you are “at home”, and will be able to take advantage of the local US rates or minutes included in your plan.

Of course, once you leave the Wi-Fi coverage, you are back on the expensive cellular network. T-Mobile is also the cheapest option for international data because they offer a $20 Blackberry flat-rate and unlimited plan for any email sent or received when abroad.

Where? T-Mobile.com or any T-Mobile authorized dealer
Price? From as little as free on a 2 year agreement + monthly service charges

Skype

Skype is one of the most popular Internet calling applications on the market. It provides free Skype-to-Skype calls, as well as fee based calls to landlines and mobile phones. Skype is available for your computer, as well as several brands of mobile phones, and even on portable devices like the Sony Playstation Portable.

To make a Skype call when you are abroad, you’ll of course need Internet access.

Where? Skype.com
Price? Free Skype-to-Skype calls, $2.95/month for unlimited calls to US based phone numbers

Mobile phone add-on plan

Before you leave, be sure to call your mobile operator. You’ll want to do this for 2 reasons; first to make sure you are allowed to roam abroad, and second to ask whether
they have any international calling add-on plans.

These add-on plans don’t just apply to your regular mobile plan, many foreign prepaid cards also offer options to lower your per-minute rate for international calls. Using Vodafone in the Netherlands as an example again, their normal rate of €0.75 per minute for calls to the US can be lowered to just €0.30 by calling them and paying a one-time fee of about €10.

Where? Your mobile operator
Price? Starts at $5.95 (for example; the AT&T Wireless “World Traveler plan“)

Type, don’t talk

With roaming charges often as high as $4 per minute, it often makes more sense to send a written message instead of a spoken one. Many mobile operators offer add-on plans that add fairly large amounts of international data for as little as $20. Sure, an email may not be the most personal way of staying in touch, but at the end of the trip you’ll have a lot more money to spend on crap at the airport souvenir store than if you had made a bunch of phone calls.

Many mobile phones can be outfitted with instant messaging or Twitter clients that allow you to communicate in real time with anyone who has Internet access.

Just be sure to keep the data to a minimum as international data charges can be even more painful than phone call charges.

Where? Twitter.com or search for “mobile instant messaging client”
Price? From free

Picking the right roaming operator

When you arrive at your destination, your mobile phone picks the strongest signal it can pick up. This may not always be the cheapest provider. When your mobile operator negotiates prices with foreign operators, they won’t always get the same deal. A simple rule of thumb is to always try and stick with partners of your own operator, if you use T-Mobile in the US, pick T-Mobile in the UK and anywhere else you can find it.

Where? Check the international rates of your operator on their own web site.

Not making the call…

This one sounds pretty lame, I know. There is however some logic to it. Before you pick up the phone, always decide whether it’s really worth the money. Sometimes it makes more sense to just drop the folks back home an email. Just 15 years ago people survived fine without a mobile phone, and it can often be quite liberating to spend a week at the beach without the constant interruption of your Blackberry. I would not suggest leaving your mobile phone at home, as it always makes sense to have access in case of an emergency, but you do not need to keep your phone on 24/7.

One other tip to consider before leaving, is to turn off voicemail on your phone before you leave for your destination. If someone tries to call you abroad and reaches your voicemail box, you will actually pay the international rate for them to leave a message.

Do you have any other tips or ways you call the folks back home when you travel? I’d love to hear them, so please leave them in the comments!

Phone safety tips – safeguarding your phone on a trip

If you plan to take your phone abroad, please take a moment to read through these tips on safeguarding your phone and your data. Back in January a member of the UK government lost his Blackberry during a trip to China. Of course, with a device like that there are all kinds of security risks. But even if you are not a senior government official, it is important to protect your phone.

I’ve put together a couple of simple ways you can stay safe, plus some information on what to do if your device does go missing.


Don’t show off your phone.

The iPhone and most Blackberry models rank up there with that well known Cola brand in the red can; everyone recognizes it. Sadly, not everyone around you will be as good natured as yourself, so don’t flash your phone around too much. If possible, put it in a nondescript case so you don’t tell the world you have an expensive phone. Don’t forget that those white iPod headphones can also be recognized by anyone. Replace them with something less recognizable and you won’t stand out too much.

Leave your phone at the hotel and carry a cheaper model.

If at all possible, leave your phone at the hotel, and carry a cheap disposable phone. Your Blackberry, iPhone or other smartphone is always going to be attractive to thieves, but if you carry an ugly $50 phone, nobody will think of stealing it (hopefully).

Know who to call
.

If disaster does strike, and someone runs off with your phone, do you know who to call? If your phone is stolen or missing, don’t assume it’ll be OK, and don’t think you can take care of things when you get back home. Call your operator immediately. When someone steals your phone, the first thing you’ll want to do is block the account to prevent it from ending up being used by 100 people at the local phone store to make international calls.

Since some countries block access to US toll free numbers, you’ll need to use the international customer service number for your operator. In some cases, if the call is about a stolen phone, you can ask the customer service representative to call you back, or even use collect call to contact them.

  • AT&T Wireless: 1-916-846-4685
  • T-Mobile: 1-505-998-3793
  • Verizon Wireless: 1-908-559-4899
  • Sprint: 1-817-698-4199 (Sprint also have several toll free international access numbers here)

Password protection is your friend – use it!

Pick up your phone right now, and read through all your emails, text messages, notes and contacts. Now picture all of that information being handed over to a complete stranger. That is what happens if someone steals your device. Everything you have stored on the phone will land in the hands of someone else.

If you must use email on your device, make sure it is not using the same email account you use for banking, Paypal, Ebay or anything else important. If someone steals your phone while it is set to receive your primary emails, then they could gain access to all your personal information and bank accounts in a matter of minutes.
Some devices have the ability to be remotely locked, if you have a company phone with this option, be sure to carry the number of your IT department so they can assist you.

Always enable the password protection feature of your phone. I’m fully aware that it is a hassle to have to enter the password every time you want to use your device, but it really is the only way to safeguard your data. If someone does make off with your phone, you’ll at least feel safer knowing that there is no way for them to make things worse.