30 November 2016

Tips for Travelling Light on a Budget | Study With New Zealand

Helen Feest
US Study Abroad student
Last updated: 4 May 2018

Minimalistic travelling was completely new to me before coming to New Zealand. This is how I managed to do it while travelling across New Zealand during the semester break.

I was always the girl who loved to overpack, rationalising that it was better to carry along 5 different kinds of skin lotion for the weekend than go out in public without a perfectly hydrated face. It wasn’t until I had to pack my entire life into 23 kilograms or less that I realised just how little I need.

Although I came to New Zealand to study, the semester had three and a half weeks of break. I knew that I wanted to travel everywhere I could, spending as little money as possible.

Here are my best tips for travelling on a budget and living out of a backpack.

Don’t keep all your valuables in the same place

Your valuables are your weakness as a traveler. If your emergency cash (keep at least $200 in case your cards are stolen), passport, drivers license, credit cards and iPhone are all packed in the same cute leather wallet, your entire trip could be turned upside down in a few seconds.

Keep photocopies of everything—hard copy and digitised

You’ll need them to replace stolen passports or identification. Send copies to your parents or significant other, along with your travel plans. Tell your loved ones where you are supposed to be on any given day, and check in every couple days.

Get the right sized pack

If your pack is 40 litres large, you’re going to be carrying 40 litres of stuff. If your pack can fit 80 liters, you’re going to be carrying 80 litres of stuff. Trust me. The whole “better to have space and not use it” argument is a joke and I guarantee you will end up carrying more stuff you don’t need if you have the space for it. The right size is different for everyone and it may be a trial-and-error experience, but downsize as much as you can.

Listen to locals

The best sights and activities aren’t always in the guide books. Make sure to keep your plans flexible and ask around for suggestions. You can save money and even do things you never considered just because you didn’t know that they were an option.

Choose the right sized backpack.


  • Preparation is key.
  • Dress in layers, and waterproof EVERYTHING. Some quick research (stepping outside) taught me a lot about my study abroad country – New Zealand weather is wet and unpredictable. If your pack gets wet, all of your belongings are wet. Wet underwear is not good for morale.
  • Wear sturdy, waterproof hiking boots and your heaviest gear. Carry your lighter shoes or strap them on the outside of your pack.
  • You can never have too many socks or underwear. Besides those, don’t pack more than 2 pairs of – anythingjeans, long sleeves, shorts sleeves, hiking clothes, swimsuits, etc. Don’t pack more of something that serves the same purpose or is designed for the same weather, aim for a wide variety of weather conditions. Within one week, I had camped on an icy, windy mountain, a hot, sandy beach, wet rainforests, and sandfly-ridden New Zealand bush forest. I never once regretted packing an extra warm layer, but always regretted not bringing one.


  • Don’t spend money on already made meals that you could make yourself. A meal out should be part of your traveling experience, not just a (overpriced) way to sustain yourself. If you plan ahead, you can save massive amounts of money in this area.
  • You will need to tailor your food to your traveling style. Are you mostly camping? Buy a camp stove and high energy foods that are easily packable, like oats, rice, beans, peanut butter, or noodles. A bag of apples may keep you full, but they are incredibly heavy and are only 15 calories per apple. You will need to take in way more calories than that if you are hiking and camping in the bush, or you will get sick and weak. If you are staying at hostels, you can take advantage of the cooking facilities there. Hostels are almost always near groceries stores too, so you can buy food more often and pack light.


  • Bus - You can get a bus or train to just about anywhere in New Zealand. Nakedbus or Intercity allow you to buy a block of five, ten, or twenty tickets at discounted rates that break down to about $10 per ticket. This is massive savings, as most buses start at $15 and go up to $70 between major cities.
  • Car - A car has some major pros and cons. I traveled with one companion and a car, and I can honestly say it was the best choice I made. While gas was expensive and the car itself could be a liability, we had complete freedom. We weren’t dependent on bus timetables or other people—we could go anywhere, anytime. You can rent a car, buy a car and sell it later if you’re in the country for a while, or use cars for free by relocating cars for rental companies.
  • Hitchhiking - While I did not do this personally, some other fellow study abroaders hitchhiked to save money and said that they loved their experiences. Even in a safe country like New Zealand, however, I don’t feel comfortable recommending that you hop into a stranger’s car.


  • Camping - New Zealand is a country known for it’s outdoors, so I highly recommend sleeping in it! You can sleep in a tent comfortably for the majority of the year. There are freedom camping sites in almost every major town, or some that allow you to stay for a small fee (around $6-$18 per night). The paid campsites are usually nicer and provide more amenities, like toilets and showers.
  • Hostels - starting from about $25 a night. This is the classic, affordable accommodation for backpackers. Kitchens are stocked with pots, pans, and space for you to store your food. They are usually in pretty central locations, cleaned daily and are great ways to meet other travelers. Just make sure to take earplugs if you’re a light sleeper (someone always snores) and lock your belongings up before you leave or go to sleep.

Explore New Zealand

Check out Education New Zealand's NauMai NZ website for more information about travelling around New Zealand as an international student.

Travel can be expensive, but effective planning and research can save you tons of money!

When you look back on your travels, think about what you spent your money on—bungee jumping, or beer? A multi-day hike through mountains where they filmed Lord of the Rings, or a couple overpriced lattes? None of these things are bad, but all I’m suggesting is that a quick second thought before you swipe your credit card can make a huge difference in what you’re capable of doing during your time abroad. So, get planning!

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About the contributors
Helen Feest
US Study Abroad student

Helen, an international student from Denver, Colorado, came to New Zealand to study psychology at Massey University. Her favourite part about studying in New Zealand was being able to join the Massey Alpine Club which inspired her love for tramping and the outdoors.