Landscape view of lakes and mountains, Lake Tekapo, Southern Alps, South island of New Zealand

Travel New Zealand on the Cheap!

Let me start this off with addressing a question that anyone who has ever been to New Zealand is probably asking upon reading the title of this post—Is it even possible to travel cheaply in New Zealand? In a short answer: Yes.  

I will add that New Zealand is the most expensive country I’ve ever traveled to—I paid almost $60 USD for a bag of tobacco that would cost me $6 in the US (and they say people are addicted to drugs)—but I managed to find ways to circumvent day-to-day expenses and get along relatively cheap. So cheap in fact, that I only spent around $300 for two weeks there, including a flight from Christchurch to Auckland. 

Before you call bullshit, have a read at some of my money saving tips. SPOILER ALERT: Get ready to throw away your morals again, because I’m about to guide you through another hobo adventure.

Hostels? Hotels? What are those?

Never. Nope. Not ever. Either Couchsurfing (highly preferable), camping, or sleeping on the streets. Luckily, a graphic design client of mine, who also happens to run a pretty cool travel website called Life in a Rucksack, generously offered her spare bedroom to my traveling companion and me.  Another benefit to this option is that you’ll probably get your very own local tour guide and some great local food! Thanks Abbi! Unfortunately for us (my travel companion and me) we didn’t plan much ahead (which perfectly fit our modus operundi)so we were left sleeping on the streets a majority of the time. We’ll tackle that in another post. But I’ll say offhand that we were kicked out of quite a few places, and that the Kiwi police officers were incredibly friendly and helpful even when they had to give us the boot.  I’ll say again: if you want to travel New Zealand on the cheap, you will absolutely NOT be able to stay in any kind of paid accommodation. Cheap hostels are around $30-50 USD per night.

Abbi showing me around the shipping container mall in Christchurch

Shop Smart

Rice, peanut butter, fruit, and canned food. Buy cheap, non-perishable foods (other than the fruit, but it’s important to have a good vitamin intake so they make the cut.) 

Oh yay, more rice!

Paid Transportation

There are a couple of surprisingly cheap options for getting around New Zealand:

  • Naked Bus–  It’s insanely cheap. I took a bus from Christchurch to Tekapo for around $12 USD
  • Jetstar– Cheap airfare around NZ. I’m talking flights from Auckland to Christchurch for $55 USD!
No, you don't have to drop your undies to ride.

FREE Transportation

What’s better than free? SPOILER ALERT: Nothing.

  • Hitchhiking– I’ve already covered the ins and outs of this incredibly fun and frugal traveling option in another post.
  • TransferCar– How does driving a rental car or campervan around New Zealand for free sound?! Transfercar is a service that connects rental car companies with people who are willing to drive their cars back to them after they’ve been returned for rental. In other words, if someone rents a car to drive from Christchurch to Wellington, the rental company needs a way to get that car back afterwards. That’s where you come in. Transfercar lists these cars which you can then drive back to the rental car company for free. Not only that, but sometimes the company will even pay for your gas! The only issue with this method is that sometimes the rental car company has a deadline by which you must have the car back to them.

No Drinking!

I know, bummer. I’m sorry, but there’s no way you should be spending money on alcohol if you’re barely scraping by. One of my pet peeves is “budget travel” bloggers who post pictures of themselves out drinking every other night. Nope. If you’re truly budgeting to the best of your abilities, you’ll rarely be caught out at a restaurant, let alone drinking! I will say that there is a difference between what some people call budget travel and my guides to extreme budget travel (see: homelessness). Not everyone—a very small majority, really—of people can handle it. It kind of sucks at times (see: not drinking), but it can be very rewarding in its own ways: Meeting all kinds of locals and experiencing things that most travelers will never get to experience (see: illegally camping on a mountainside and waking up to see Lake Tekapo every morning).

Plan Ahead

6. Plan Ahead- Okay, maybe this is cheating, because I kind of already mentioned the importance of it. Oh well. Make sure you plan ahead. This will probably save you from a lot of nights sleeping in parking garages, city parks, and on cold mountainsides as I did (okay so the aforementioned experience wasn’t all roses as I’d made it sound). Make sure you at the very least plan one or two places you’d like to say before making it to New Zealand if you want to travel on the cheap there. And for the love of God, don’t be a smoker. I’ve since quit the nasty habit, but it was a true testament to my addiction that I was spending exorbitant amounts of money on something I was literally catching on fire while at the same time barely eating enough food to survive.

See that dark area back there? Yeah, that's where I spent the night ????

Again, I will reiterate my usual extreme budget travel disclaimer: This shit is not for everyone. It’s not like you have to do all of these things if you don’t need to. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend some of them unless you really need to. If, however, you want to see the New Zealand on the cheap, the CHEAP CHEAP, then stick to my guidelines here. This is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to really enjoy being there. It also helps that Kiwis are some of the nicest, coolest and most down-to-earth people I’ve ever encountered.

Do you have any other tips for readers for saving money in New Zealand? Have you ever illegally camped there? Let’s here about it! Post in the comments below.

Peace and Happy Travels,


Images of rice cooking on the street and shipping container mall were taken by Aaron Littler.

4 Responses

  1. Great tips! Here are a couple that I used:

    1. Flights: Cheap domestic and international Air NZ fares can be found on

    2. For attractions, check to see if they’re available at a discount.

  2. I can’t believe its coming up to a year ago that you in NZ. Great post Tom, and photos … reminds me so much of the place I called home. When you mentioned about hostels being $30, I thought ‘surely not’ then I checked and the last hostel I stayed at in Queenstown cost that. Now I’m paying $3-5 per night in Asia. How will I ever survive in the real World again?

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