Travel: New Zealand 2015

This trip was a splurge, flat out. We went in high season, booked a month out, stayed in hotels the whole way, and ate delicious, delicious food. It was amazing and totally worth it, but holy cow was it expensive!

My total cost for the trip was $6,779.06, including flights and just over 3 weeks in New Zealand.

I feel super weird sharing that amount since there are so many people who blog about credit card rewards and churning. My boyfriend used the trip to churn the Barclaycard and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which got him/us a decent number of points. This trip was not planned far in advance and we spent a lot of time not in big cities that had hotel chains, so hotel points weren’t that useful. We used discount hotel booking sites to book a lot of the hotels and we got better flights by paying for them than we could have with points. I don’t know where we would have managed to churn Air New Zealand points from the US?

This trip was also our second foray into shared finances and the biggest one, the first one being our shared checking account for groceries. At home, we split every expense except groceries at the source. This sounds tedious to everyone else, but it works for us. When we go out to eat, we either pay for what we ordered or we split the bill evenly if our separate amounts are within a dollar of each other’s. We agreed as we were booking this trip on about how much it would cost, how long we wanted to go for, where we wanted to go, and the type of trip that we wanted to have: hotels not hostels, renting a car instead of tour buses, not a big group experience. We also decided to put most of the expenses on one credit card (and agreed to use a recent card that my boyfriend got) and then deal with things when we got back. We both had separate credit cards that we used for non-shared expenses. This system worked out pretty well! We’re still talking about getting a joint credit card and trying to figure out which one we’ll get. I think it’ll probably be a few months before we figure that out.

This trip was also the longest amount of time that we have spent together consecutively, without anyone else around. And it was awesome! It’s definitely nice to have two bathrooms again, as well as couches, and gave us perspective on how nice my condo is.

It was interesting seeing people’s reactions to our trip. Some people assumed my boyfriend couldn’t possibly have this much vacation time, so he must have quit his job too. Someone else called it a once in a lifetime experience. I laughed at that because I hope to do another trip like this again in a few years. My mom told me that unemployed people shouldn’t take expensive trips. (My dad thought it was an amazing idea!) Another person called it a honeymoon! Most people were pretty excited for us though and other than my mom, no one seemed to wonder how we could afford to do this. The weird part though is that going to New Zealand for ~a month seemed crazy enough to people that the reactions we got seemed pretty similar to how I would expect people to react if we were quitting our jobs to travel full-time.

How did my portion of the costs break down? The number seems huge when I look at it, but once you break it down, it doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

  • Lodging – $61 USD per night. This isn’t that crazy considering that we did no cleaning other than one load of laundry while we were gone and we stayed in hotels.
  • Rental car + gas – $695.77 USD. This was about 2,000 miles of driving and included the ferry cost for the car and us. We rented an older model car which cut costs down a bit. Gas was simply expensive though compared to how much it costs in the US – our weighted average per US gallon was $5.285 USD per US gallon on gas. At the time of writing, the average gas price across the US was $2.28 USD per US gallon.
  • Food – $40 USD per day. We ate out for mostly every meal, occasionally super cheaply and sometimes a wonderful splurge dinner. I had leftovers a few times and we picked up some snack food from the grocery store like fruits and granola bars.
  • Mobile phone – $25 USD. We both picked up SIM cards in the Auckland airport since we have unlocked phones, which was awesome. I used about 1 GB of data while I was in New Zealand and a few minutes.
  • Flights – just under 40% of the overall cost. This was mostly poor planning as when we went ended up being super expensive and we bought them somewhat last minute. This was part of why I wanted to go for so long.
  • Activities – just under $600 USD. This included a dolphin cruise, checking out a LOTR attraction, going to a thermal village, the cable car in Wellington, some thermal pools, a train, a couples massage, some caves, and a few other items.

Beyond the finances, what did we do?

We went in January/February, in the height of a very hot summer they’d been having. I packed for that and was missing some long-sleeved shirts when it got chillier in parts of the South Island.

We spent about half the trip on each of the North and South Islands. The ferry between the two islands was one of my favorite parts about the trip! It was incredibly gorgeous. We spent a few days in Auckland, Bay of Islands, Rotorua, and Wellington. We only spent one night in the Marlborough (wine) area, which we regretted pretty quickly. Post-earthquakes Christchurch was both really sad for all the historical buildings that they had lost and really interesting to see how the city is changing. Milford Sound was absolutely amazing! Such a long day though. Queenstown was gorgeous, but super touristy. Wellington was fun because we didn’t do too many touristy things and more so went to interesting cafes and restaurants.

Driving on the other side of the road was both weird and not weird. The rental car we ended up with was pretty similar to the one I drive at home, so that wasn’t too much of an adjustment. The weirder part was the volume of driving we did and the windy roads. We drove about 2k miles in the 3ish weeks we were there, which is about what I normally drive in 6 months.

I can’t wait to take a long trip again with my boyfriend! Some of our fellow introvert friends were surprised we managed to not kill each other despite not hanging out with anyone but each other for almost a month!


24 thoughts on “Travel: New Zealand 2015

  1. Sounds like a fun trip! And, honestly, seeing the costs broken down, at a pretty reasonable price. I think it’s funny your mom thought that “unemployed people shouldn’t take expensive trips.” When else will you have the time!?

    • It was an amazing trip! And yeah, my boyfriend and I chuckled a bit at my mom’s comment. It seems much more reasonable broken down – the food costs are in line with what I would have spent per day if I ate out at restaurants for all meals every day (which I don’t) and lodging was like paying for an apartment here, except that I still had my place here. My February spending was basically: trip, mortgage, electricity, internet.

  2. This sounds like an amazing trip, and one that I think My Mr. and I would really like. We’ve driven around Iceland a couple times now and New Zealand has always been a place we’d like to go. Will there be pictures coming?

  3. Sounds great!

    I get tired of traveling after 2 weeks. I just don’t want to do it anymore. So I’m more of a stay put for a year (or a month, or whatever) and take day-trips thing for extended “vacations”.

    • We were definitely tired of traveling by the end and so excited to get home. I must say that traveling for longer was easier with my boyfriend than when I’ve done it by myself in the past.

      Our original plan was to find an Airbnb in Wellington, but I think that staying there for so long in the middle of the trip really helped to break it up a bit. We ran into a few of our bartenders at cafes we were eating at for breakfast the next day, which was fun! I’m definitely more of a stay put and work somewhere and travel on the weekends / for day trips type of person too.

  4. Sounds amazing.

    Air New zealand is bookable via united and the star alliance. Which is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. You usually need to route through Japan, but you get a free stopover and double open jaw.

    I’ve switched to instead of hotel chain points. 10% back and you can book anything on their website! Paired with 7% cashback via cashback portals.

    • It was amazing!

      We used for most of the hotels – we couldn’t find places in all of the cities we went to. We got a lot of points though! I didn’t think about the extra cashback shopping mall… We were booking much too last minute to be able to use any airline points.

  5. Wow, what a great trip. And so glad to hear things went well with your BF.

    I think it’s so great to travel and take big trips when you are younger and don’t have kids. So much harder with kids and then you practically have to wait to be retired. Well done!

    • Thanks! I have some friends who wanted to have kids early so that they would be empty nesters early. There were quite a few people with babies on the long haul flight – I couldn’t imagine doing that. $7k invested is a good sum of money, but I don’t want to wait until retirement to take big trips. You have no idea what will happen with your life.

  6. You’ve done very well!!! To spend a little and enjoy it is part of life…. Yeah you could look at wow I could have invested that almost 7K and it would be worth so much in 30 years… but look at the awesome trip you had… well work 7K??? sounds like it.. cheers!!!!

    • Honestly, I didn’t think about how I could invest that almost 7k until now! Haha. I wanted to do the trip and didn’t think about it :) It was totally worth it! I don’t know that I would have done it if I had a much smaller nest egg saved. I wanted to travel right out of college, but the $$ amount seemed too high a portion of my savings to do it. It wasn’t so bad now. I’m looking forward to having a paycheck again though and saving money instead of spending it all…

  7. Seems like a great way for you to spend your break in between jobs – and I am impressed your boyfriend was able to snag that much time off work! Kudos to that!

    For longer trips, we’re more comfortable with establishing a home base (short term apartment rental), and then forming a routine around that place with shorter trips off of that. It tends to make the trip cheaper and feel like it’s a bit less hectic (if we’re not constantly packing and checking in/out). But for seeing as much of New Zealand in as much time as you had, you guys probably did it as well as could be done.

    But what about pictures? And did you hug a sheep? I’m trying to live vicariously through you for a minute. =)

    • He was, ahem, not the best at using his vacation time until we started dating, so he had a good amount stockpiled ;)

      That’s definitely my preference for longer trips as well, but we wanted to see a large portion of New Zealand in ~3 weeks and this was really the only way to do that unfortunately. We did make a mental note for our next trip though to spend a minimum of 2 nights anywhere because one night in places was too rushed.

      I’m still sorting through the photos. We filled up our 64 GB SD card, so that’ll take a while ;) I may post a few later – we’ll see. I did not hug a sheep, but I bought a stuffed sheep as a souvenir (I love stuffed animals) and there was a flock of sheep on the middle of the highway on our last big drive, which was awesome because that was on the practice New Zealand driver’s test I took online :D

  8. It looks like you did really well imo! Esp on food and lodging (the easiest expenses for me to judge).

    You guys were lucky, petrol prices haven’t been this low in years (and yes this is low for us).

    • Thanks! It was so great to meet you and your husband! I can’t believe how cheap we ended up eating once things converted to USD because we ate almost entirely delicious food! We even had a few expensive dinners: 130 NZD, 150 NZD, 210 NZD and occasionally stopped in towns where there was only one place open to eat.

      Gas prices are cheaper in the US than they have been in years too. I was paying $3-4/gallon and then it recently went down to almost $2/gallon.

  9. Sounds like you guys had a fantastic trip.

    Before my wife and I were married we use to split everything down the middle as well. We just kept track of who paid for what and at the end of the month we would net our figures together and one of us would right the other person a check. Since I usually paid a lot of the more expensive things like rent and dinners out, she was typically writing me a check. It was important to us to split things fairly as it helped spread the burden.

    It was also a great way to get on the same page financially. So by the time we got married and combined all of our accounts it was no big deal. No everything is just one big melting pot. But I don’t think the transition would had been so smooth if we didn’t do what you and your boyfriend are doing…I think it is smart.

    My wife and I are working to pay off the mortgage before we are 35. And one of the things we plan to do once that is paid off is go stay in other countries for a month at a time. We still do one big trip a year for about a week and a few smaller ones. But is the ultimate goal for us.


    • We did, thank you! I love your comment. I feel like so many people talk about how to have finances when you’re married, but no one really talks about how to work with your finances when you’re unmarried.

      I love your goal for once your mortgage is paid off! That sounds like something I would love to do too, though honestly getting the time off work is much harder. My plan was to pay off the mortgage by the end of this year (I’ll be 27), but I think it might be dragged out a bit further.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. As a reader of your blog from Christchurch, New Zealand, I love this post and your mention of my city.
    When we travelled to New York I just had to ignore the cost of accommodation per night – crazy!!!!
    Good that you had the exchange rate on your side too, as this also hardly ever happens when we travel.

    • Thanks Jasmine! It’s good to meet you :)

      We weren’t really sure what to expect from Christchurch, but we ended up just wandering around a bunch and we both really, really liked it! It is a gorgeous city – I especially loved the Botanical Gardens :) I would love to go back to New Zealand some day! I was joking to my boyfriend that we should live here in the summer and in New Zealand for 3 months out of our winter ;)

      Oh gosh I couldn’t imagine going from NZD to New York City…it’s bananas expensive enough even when you’re spending in USD.

  11. Air NZ is in the same alliance as United. You can fly direct from LA to Auckland on Air New Zealand using United miles.

    • That’s true, but we decided where we were going and how long we were going for < 2 months before we actually went. And we only booked our flights a month out. Using miles would have required planning in advance.

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