New Zealand has a landscape totally unique to itself, and lots to offer to the enthusiastic backpacker. The scenery, especially in the South Island, cannot be beaten. If you are a fan of hiking, camping, trekking, or outdoor activities in general, and want to do it easily and safely, this country is for you.
Out of the 18 (and counting) countries I've been to, New Zealand is by far the easiest one to travel in. The infrastructure is good, crime is low, buses run on time, and every tourist town has a dedicated information center. It is extremely simple to book activities and arrange accommodation, whether you are camping, staying at hostels, or going a more luxurious route.
For what you get in ease of travel, you pay for in cost. Being a Western country, New Zealand isn't exactly a cheap tourist destination. However, I was able to keep costs reasonably low, by cooking most of my meals and staying in backpacker dorms. Additionally, I didn't pay too much for activities, because one of my favorite activities, hiking, is totally free! If you love taking short, beautiful hikes, the country will be a paradise for you.
Before getting into a cost breakdown, a couple of things should be noted. First is that New Zealand is undoubtedly a car country. While I found it easy to get to most of the places I wanted via buses, there are countless sites that cannot be seen without the use of a personal vehicle. Every once in awhile, I managed to hitch rides with car-owning friends that I met at hostels. However, the rest of the time, if something wasn't within walking distance of the town, I was shit out of luck. If you are coming here for an extended period of time, definitely consider buying or renting a car (though once again, I had an amazing time even without one)!
The other thing I should mention is that I traveled the off-season. The high season is December through March, and while the weather will likely be much better, prices for various things (hostels, etc) will be higher. I specifically chose September/October to travel in because it would be less crowded, prices would be lower, and the temperature outside wouldn't be completely awful. Maybe it's just that I got lucky with the weather, but I do not regret at all traveling during the off-season. I was able to spend less and deal with smaller crowds.
In total, I spent 39 days backpacking through New Zealand. I went as far south as Te Anau/Milford Sound and as far north as Auckland. Here is a breakdown of what I spent during those five and a half weeks (all costs will be described in USA dollars, NOT New Zealand dollars).
Food - $607.17
I spent the largest share of money on eating, and there is a simple explanation as to why; I ate out one meal per day. Many backpackers cook all their meals, but not having a car to store things in, I couldn't be fussed to prepare all of them. So I bought groceries most of the time but spent a fair amount eating out. Without having done this, I could easily have shaved hundreds off the cost. Oh well.
Accommodation - $519.49
There's not much that can be helped about this one, and for most people, this will constitute the lion's share of spending. I always stayed in hostel dorms, averaging about $14 per night. Not terrible, considering New Zealand is a Western country!
Transport - $368.31
I learned my lesson very early on, that booking bus tickets one by one would be too expensive. So I bought a "flexipass" from Intercity (NZ's main bus company). By booking a certain number of road hours, I was able to pay less per kilometer than if I'd paid individually for tickets. One thing to keep in mind: the more you buy upfront the cheaper it is. I could have saved even more had I bought a larger block upfront.
Activities - $177.89
This is a tricky one, as activities tend to be very expensive in New Zealand. A tour of Milford Sound set me back $80 and entry into Hobbiton was $54. A lot of people do things such as skydiving and bungee jumping, and these can cost hundreds. Thankfully, my free hiking "habit" led to this category costing not so much.
Miscellaneous - $74.89
Includes mobile data, laundry (quite expensive), toiletries, and other random expenses.
Average daily cost of $44.81. Despite freaking out a bit initially about how expensive New Zealand was going to be, I came out slightly under budget. I spent less than $45 per day, and I'd say that's excellent for a country like this. For a more comfortable time, you might want to budget a minimum of $50 per day, though this depends on what sorts of things you are planning on doing.
I don't usually like saying a country is "friendly" or "unfriendly." After all, there are good and bad people everywhere, and few regions fall into neat boxes like that. However, I'm going to break my rule when it comes to Nepal. Overall, this country was FRIENDLY as hell. While Nepal is quite a poor nation, I found the people to be generous, welcoming, and laid back. Compared to neighboring India, there was a relative lack of tourist scams and hassle. Moving from place to place was easy and convenient.
Nepal was the perfect place to relax my brain, and work on personal projects. While trekking, I continued practicing photography, and got some much needed exercise. There's something about climbing thousands of meters in elevation that stimulates the body and the mind, and challenges one to think outside the box. While in the capital, Kathmandu, I completed writing my first feature screenplay. I've never mentioned this on the blog, but it is my life's ambition to become a film director, and this was a huge first step. Writing a screenplay is to date one of the most fun and challenging projects I've undertaken. This gorgeous country afforded me a peace of mind that helped me express exactly what I needed to put into words.
While Nepal is by far one of the cheapest countries I've ever traveled in (if not the cheapest), the price comes with a caveat. Most tourists don't come to the country just to bum around and do nothing. Meaning, if you just want to relax and eat momos and stay in your hostel, you'll spend barely anything. However, you will likely be going to Nepal to do activities, be they trekking, national parks, or visiting historical sites. Activities come at an extra cost, which I will get into in the category breakdown.
I spent 25 days in Nepal, and managed to travel from the western border (Mahendranagar), until as far east as Kathmandu. Here is a breakdown of what I spent over those three and a half weeks:
Food - $181.82
While food was once again my biggest cost overall, it was relatively cheap. Meals could be had for $1-2 almost anywhere. The big exception is while trekking, where meal prices are inflated from 3-6x. A standard serving of Dal Bhat (Nepal's national dish) is usually 150 Nepalese rupees (approx $1.30). While doing the Poon Hill trek, it jumped to 400-600 rupees. Nonetheless, coming from a western country, food in Nepal is quite cheap and filling. Just stay away from the tourist restaurants in Pokhara.
Miscellaneous - $86.57
Includes everything from mobile data, to ATM fees, to haircuts. One thing to note, my debit card was discontinued by my bank (due to an unfortunate ATM scam in Pokhara), and I had to pay for a costly Western Union money transfer.
Activities - $77.07
Trekking permits and national park entry fees were accounted into this, as well as a single movie ticket I purchased in Kathmandu. Depending on what percentage of your trip will be spent trekking/going to national parks, this category can be much more expensive.
Transport - $72.04
Local buses are on par with India in terms of cost. The only thing that sucks about Nepal is that Uber (and Ola, India's ridesharing app) is not in operation. When taking a taxi or rickshaw, you always have to haggle, and will likely pay higher prices than locals.
Accommodation - $63.71
This one takes the cake, folks. Nepal is by far the cheapest country for accommodation I've ever traveled to. I never paid more than $5 for a hotel or hostel room during my entire trip. Rooms on the Poon Hill trek were free (in exchange for us eating all our meals at the guesthouse).
Average daily cost of $19.25 per day. You can have a great time in Nepal for $20 per day, a cheaper backpack bumming experience for $15 per day (or lower), or trekker's paradise on $30 per day. It's your choice.
It certainly felt like longer than 31 days, but yesterday I concluded my month-long visit to India. This trip was far more nature focused than my previous adventures in the country (see archive of blog posts in the India country guide). I went trekking in Ladakh, hiked to a waterfall in Manali, and viewed numerous beautiful hill stations in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Four years ago, I explored the south of India, and all up along the western coast. This trip, however, was focused on the far north, notably the Himalayas mountain range. It was beautiful! From the staggering peaks near Leh, to the hills of Shimla, to the Ganges River in Rishikesh, it was time and money well-spent.
Speaking of money, I spent quite a bit more in this month than I had expected to. Though I still came well under budget, I couldn't help but notice I was being much more liberal with my trip savings. Perhaps I'm just getting older and more careless, or maybe the north of India is more expensive than the south, or maybe *gasp* has India become more expensive in the past four years? Actually, the answer is quite simple: I purchased an internal flight within the country (Delhi to Leh). This jacked up my average daily cost by nearly two dollars per day.
Here is a category by category breakdown of what I spent in India. It does not include my flight into the country, nor the (10 year, WOOHOO USA! USA!) visa I purchased ahead of time. Those costs will be factored in at the end of this journey, in a retrospective post.
Food - $250.84
I'm starting to notice a trend here. While accommodations used to be the costliest part of my travels, food keeps taking the cake (have you seen what I've done here)? I owe this in part to two things: First, I've become a massive foodie in the past few years, and cannot stand to leave any dish untasted. Second, I've been a lot lazier about seeking out cheap food. In tourist towns such as Rishikesh and Manali, it wasn't unusual for me to eat at the backpacker restaurants. They usually cost double of where the locals eat (and often taste half as good).
Transportation - $160.92
This is where the $50 plane ticket really made a dent in my budgeting. If I had opted to take a bus, I'd have likely spent $10 instead. However, after experiencing the terrifying and death defying bus ride from Leh to Manali (where the bus rocks back and forth and you feel like you're about to fall off a mountain for 20 hours), I'm rather glad I flew from Delhi to Leh. I'm never taking long distance buses in that region again! Everything else was pretty cheap. I opted for government buses and shared rickshaws, and took just a single train journey during the month.
Accommodation - $138.55
Hostelworld, Hostelworld, how can I sing thine praises? Thanks to dorm rooms, and the very rare cheap hotel, I pretty much never spent more than $7 for a single night. In fact, many hostels fell in the $3-4 range. Super duper inexpensive, and highly recommended for meeting other travelers.
Miscellaneous - $64.20
Includes laundry, toiletries, ATM fees, haircuts, etc. Nuff said.
Activities - $17.18
Ok, I know this makes me look lame, but believe me: I did waaay more activities than that! It's just things like trekking and hiking were calculated into my accommodation, food, and transport costs. The only things I specifically paid for activity-wise were some tourist sites in Delhi, and entry to the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh.
Average cost of $20.38 per day. Without the flight, I would have easily been under $20, and this was a trip where I spent money pretty liberally! India is easy to travel in under $20 per day, especially if you're steadfast in terms of eating choices and such. Heavily touristed cities such as Manali can get expensive if you aren't careful.
That's a wrap. I'm in the neighboring country of Nepal, so let's see where the next leg of this trip takes me!
Photo Cred: Haythem Refaai
My time in Egypt is finished, and boy did I have a blast! In four weeks' time, I met many wonderful people, saw some spectacular desert and mountain landscapes, and explored the local cuisine. I went snorkeling in the bright blue Red Sea, bummed it in the coastal towns of Nuweiba and Dahab, and went camping in the desert near Faiyum. After spending way too long in Cairo, I had an extraordinarily memorable time in the oasis of Siwa. So all in all, time well spent.
Although I was unable to make time for the popular tourist destinations of Luxor and Aswan (hopefully I will return to Egypt!), I feel like I had an authentic, complete trip. Four weeks is quite a while to spend in one location, yet at the same time, not much time at all, No amount of time is enough to fully experience a culture, though a month tends to fall just shy of one getting bored of a country.
What did these four weeks in Egypt cost? Here is a breakdown by category:
*Note - This doesn't include expenses such as flights in and out of the country (which will be covered at the end of my trip, in a separate retrospective). It also doesn't include the costs of my film photography, which I paid quite a lot to ship and develop overseas. Fingers crossed that the photos turn out ok!
Food - $295.89
By far, the most money I spent in Egypt was on food. After all, how could I not try every single new dish I could get my hands on? Highlights were hamam mahshi (stuffed pigeon) and koshari (a common street food consisting of rice, macaroni, lentils, and numerous other ingredients). Meals tended to cost in the range of $3-6 dollars.
Transportation - $101.13
Thank heavens for Uber in Cairo and Alexandria. Sure, the drivers are crazy, but they're dependably cheap and require no haggling. Buses between cities in Egypt usually cost no more than $5-15, though I didn't take too many of them on this trip.
Accomodation - $74.16
Thanks to my very generous host in Cairo (where I was for nearly two weeks), I paid very little for accomodation. During the rest of my trip, I never paid more than $9 for a hotel room, and saved money by taking overnight buses.
Activities - $62.24
This includes things such as entry fees, snorkeling, and the like. There are so many activities to do in Egypt, and none of them cost too much. Just stay away from tourist traps like Sharm El Sheikh, and you should be fine!
Miscellaneous - $53.29
Random little costs crop up here and there, such as laundry service and bakeesh (little tips for bathroom attendants and the like).
Average cost of $20.23 per day. Because I was lucky enough to stay with a host in Cairo, this trip ended up costing much less than I expected. Egypt is the kind of country you can spend a bit amount more in, or a bit less in. I think a solid budget for one month in Egypt should work out fine at $25 per day.
There you have it. Time and money well spent!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write music and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.