Travel agents and bangs-for-your-bucks: What are your international trip planning strategies?

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Magnetic Travel Map of The World
Magnetic Travel Map of The World
My significant other and I are thinking about a trip from the US to Australia and New Zealand. But we’ve never traveled internationally before.

I’ve heard that travel agents (like wedding planners) can save you money overall in planning a long, international trip.

Does anyone have any advice on using travel agents, or on how to get the most bang-for-buck from a trip like this? -Alexcansmile

Though I’ve never used a travel agent, I’ve travelled through multiple countries with everything meticulously planned, and I’ve travelled through multiple countries not knowing where I was going to sleep until the day-of. If you’re the type who likes to plan it all ahead of time, that’s totally doable without a travel agent. And if you like to fly by the seat of your pants, a travel agent is probably not for you. Here are some resources to get you going, so you can feel out whether or not you need a travel agent…


There are tons of good options for finding the best deal for flights online. Open an incognito browser window and check out Kayak to compare flights from many different carriers at once. Check out this article about the “magic number” of days before your trip, when the price should be the lowest. Tuesdays and Wednesday are usually the cheapest days to fly, so try to plan you trip around those days. Check back a few times before settling on a ticket (some sites even let you “watch” a price, and will email you if it drops). But don’t stress too much — as long as you’re not booking last minute, you don’t stand to save too too much by obsessing over the best price anyway!

Don’t forget to check out the travel options wherever you are, too. I know you’re travelling to Australia and New Zealand; Google “cheapest way from Wellington to Sydney” (or whatever) and check out the forums that pop up. Websites like Lonely Planet often have forums where travellers share tips on the best ways to get around in-country or between countries. You’re not the first to try this trip on the cheap!

In places like Europe, travelling between countries can be cheaper by air with discount airlines; or it could be cheaper to get a train pass, depending on which countries you want to visit, and how long you’ll be staying. Busses are another option, of course; and then there are ridesharing websites like CarpoolWorld where you can see if other travellers are renting vehicles to get between cities, and would like more people to split costs. Obviously that option comes with its “discretion advised” label.


I am a HUGE fan of AirBnB. I’ve stayed in AirBnBs in Paris, Prague, Seattle, Budapest, Rome, Athens, Edinburgh… the list goes on. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, we have an entire AirBnB tag to help you get familiar with the idea, and I wrote a post that lets you know how sweet it is for the guest. Often you stay with locals in their spare bedroom, which means it’s less expensive than a hotel, and your host can help you find your way around!

I’ve written about CouchSurfing before, too, which is like a free version of AirBnB. Some people aren’t comfortable with the idea, and that’s okay. But it could be perfect for you.

If you’d rather stay in hostels, there are great options worldwide with reputable companies like Hostelworld making sure the hostels are up to par. I’ve had great experiences with hostels around the globe, too.

We even have a post about doing a home exchange, where someone comes and house sits for you while you house sit for them. You both get the local’s experience in a new place, and it’s free!

If you’d rather go for the hotel experience, remember that hotels have sell-off sites, too. The same rules apply as for the airfare sites. But be warned: sometimes I’ve gotten a better deal through the hotel’s website itself. The general rule is that if you’re shopping closer to the date, a sell-off site will be better (the hotel is trying to get rid of that room). But if you’re planning far in advance, be sure to check the hotel’s website, too.


TripAdvisor is a network where people can leave reviews for hotels, hostels, restaurants, tourist sites, and more. It’s a fantastic resource when planning your trip. That hotel on the sell-off site is a fantastic price, and it’s 3 stars! Wait… the TripAdvisor reviews are all abysmal. But this 2 star one that I was going to skip has glowing reviews. Decision made!

If it’s too much — talk to an agent

This info is all available online for free — no travel agent needed. It just takes some time and energy to find. If you don’t have that time or energy, or if it’s just not something you enjoy, paying a professional to help you plan a trip could be (ahem) just the ticket. Travel agents have behind-the-scenes knowledge of a lot of destinations, and have access to. They could save you hours of Googling and reading reviews, and they could save you money, too. They will also go to bat for you if something were to happen with a flight cancellation, for example. In my opinion, a travel agent works best for you if you don’t have the time or inclination to plan the trip yourself, and if the trip you’re planning is less off-the-beaten-path. Don’t be afraid to give it a go yourself first; it’s not as hard as it may seem. And since your introduction to international travel is countries where English is the first language, it’s the perfect entry-level experience on which to cut your travel-planning teeth.

Homies, do you use travel agents? Have I been missing out? What are your biggest international trip planning tips?

Comments on Travel agents and bangs-for-your-bucks: What are your international trip planning strategies?

  1. Solid advice.

    Something to keep in mind is your budget — even if you’re a meticulous planner, a travel agent makes his/her/hir money from the commission of setting your trip up (a fee you pay) and sometimes from the resorts or properties that they have connections with at your destination (a fee they pay). It can work out fantastically if you have an upstanding travel agent, but just like with any service, do your research before going about hiring someone.

    I’ve never used a travel agent, but was looking into getting into the field for a hot minute or twelve. With the advent of the internet travel industry, many travel agents will specialize in a specific kind of trip (leisure, adventure, ecotourism, volunteer) or a specific location (even as far down as specific cities or regions within a country). It would benefit to ask what specializations the agents in the office have and work with the one who works most closely with the destination and/or kind of trip you’re looking to arrange. S/he will be best able to design the best trip for what your tastes are.

    Doing international travel on your own is nowhere near impossible. Each country has its own entry requirements and it’s definitely best to use the government (in your case the Secretary of State) to see what paperwork you need to enter a country for the length of your intended stay. They will also be able to tell you about trouble spots within the country, if there’s any political problems or high-crime area, especially those that target travelers from your country of origin/language of typical communication (i.e. some areas of Rio may be safer for a native/home Portuguese speaker than for a native/home English speaker).

    Where you’re traveling shouldn’t have too many advisories, but in case you get lost in a city, you should know where the nearest Embassy or Consulate is located in case you do run into some trouble (there are shifty people everywhere).

    For accommodations and travel, I echo Caroline — search EVERYTHING and then check out the company itself. So, if you see a cheap flight on Expedia or Priceline, check the carrier and see if it may be even cheaper if you book directly through them.

    I would also note that the amount you need to bring in baggage is probably half what you’ll want to bring. Pack your toothbrush, but you can certainly get toothpaste in Sydney or Christchurch. Bring a small hand sanitizer (stuff can be gross! but that may be just me), but not necessarily a travel size of everything non-prescription you may need. It also give you an excuse to check out the drug store in your city and maybe pick up a few trinkets or try some snack food you may not be able to get at home (like chocolate is always a favorite when I’m abroad as American chocolate is very different than even Canadian made by the same company).

    If you do have any prescriptions, bring extra. With the extended nature of your flight alone, there’s more room for delays and cancellations as you’re flying over all sorts of places which could experience bad weather. Have a few extra pills, that extra prescription cream or other medical need is a good safety blanket as when travel gets complicated, it’s one less thing to worry about. Also, KEEP THEM IN YOUR CARRY ON!

    • I agree with everything you said, except drugstore products like skincare and makeup are easily 2-3x the price in NZ/Aus as they are in the US, so I wouldn’t plan on buying that kind of stuff here, because really that stuff adds up QUICKLY.

      • Besides, just my personal opinion: upon arriving exhausted, the last thing I want to do is try to locate anything necessary to my daily routine. However, I definitely agree that you don’t need half the stuff you think you do. 😉

      • That could totally be a bias on my end, admittedly.

        My beauty needs are light (non-metro, cis-male) and so it’d be toothpaste and shampoo. So, it’s something I *can* ditch if I needed to, but everyone is different with their beauty/skin health regimen. Each person also adjusts to time change differently, as well as flying in general. If you’re not too totally bugged out from not being able to sleep on the flight (or sleeping too much), I can see it being a ditch my plan and bring your own.

        Your point is very well taken, though. I’ve not done the 14-ish hour time difference of AUS/NZ and US; I’ve only done the 6 hours for central Europe.

        I didn’t know how expensive H&B products were, so thank you for letting me know!

  2. Look into travel insurance before your trip. It’s usually pretty cheap and could save you a lot of grief if something goes wrong with your flights. The insurance usually will cover the cost of your tickets if it gets cancelled for whatever reason as well as cover medical costs if something should happen on your trip. Check to see if your bank offers travel insurance or if they have a special partnership with a place that does offer it. Mine was $35 through my bank’s partnership. I didn’t need it, but it’s one of those things that I would have been very glad I had spent the extra, small amount of money for if I had.

    • Travel insurance seconded!!! I haven’t used a travel agent, but when I planned a three week international trip (my first ever international trip) I got travel insurance. The thought of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland – and how that affected SO MUCH air travel – was tapping persistently at the back of my brain… I think I ended up paying $75 and even though nothing ended up happening it was great reassurance that the hard-earned-hard-saved dollars I had already spent on travel, lodging, tickets, and tours wouldn’t be for naught.

      Also, even though I didn’t use a travel agent, I’d also say when it comes to travel research research research. I somehow got the idea in my head to do some kind of bike tour in conjunction with that trip and got so excited about the idea. I found a 9-day tour that looked REALLY amazing – but the price made me gulp. I continued looking and found a 5-day tour for a third of the cost. It wasn’t the same trip or the same company (or even the same country), but I felt a lot better about the price and LOVED that bike tour.

      • Just make sure you know exactly what your travel insurance covers! DO read the fine print – some of it wouldn’t cover many of the cases you might be worried about.

    • If you do run into an event where you will need to use that insurance, make sure you keep EVERY receipt and documentation for EVERYTHING. We recently ran into this – in New Zealand, actually (plan plenty of layover time because of the long lines at the biosecurity checks at least in Auckland!) – and the insurance was stubborn because we didn’t have the ticket stub from our connecting flight anymore. Srsly guys?!

    • Absolutely!! Never, ever travel internationally without travel insurance. You might need it if your flights are cancelled, if you lose all your cash, if you have your laptop stolen.. but most importantly, if you get ill or have an accident. I’ve been ill abroad before and was flown to another country (officially known as emergency evacuation!) for medical treatment. If I hadn’t had insurance, I hate to think what kind of money all that would have cost.
      It may feel expensive at the time (especially for a long trip like the original poster was asking about) but it’s worth every penny – even if just for the peace of mind.

  3. Travel agents usually get their commissions not from you but from the airline, so if you want an unusual ticket they are actually a great bet.

    The smart thing to do is to check online – kayak, and the airlines’ actual sites once you have an idea who flies where the cheapest, for these fares. Then get a good travel agent to book the trip you want. They can help you better avoid annoying layovers, let you know if changing your plans by one or a few days will significantly reduce your fares, and can get you the best rates on open-jaw and layover tickets.

    For example, I live in Taipei. Most affordable flights from Taipei to New York require a layover. If I book it myself it’s hard to plan a short stay in a 3rd country or get a good layover. With my travel agent, I manage to weekend in Tokyo or take a 4-day mini-vacation in Seoul or take advantage of the Shanghai 48-hour transit visa so I can enjoy Shanghai for a day without getting an expensive Chinese visa.

    Clear all cookies or use Tor to search kayak and other sites – they absolutely DO offer different fares based on what their mining of your cookies and other data they can get their hands on says you will pay. Get rid of all of that, and then compare the kayak fares against what you can find on the actual airline sites.

    If you bother with frequent flier programs, just sign up for the biggest (One World, Star Alliance) and only use them when they benefit you – as in, don’t pay more for airfares because “I can get miles!”. Carriers have, for years, been making the benefits of FF membership less and less and making it harder and harder to accrue or use miles. So use ’em when it works for you, but don’t pay significantly more because you think you’ll get the reward in miles. You probably won’t. Frankly I find most FF programs so worthless that I don’t even bother.

    Book locally within an area. When we did our Panama-Guatemala bus trip, we took one small flight from Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica to San Jose because there was no other good option. We wisely booked that separately, for less than $100 per person. If we’d bought it with our main ticket it would have been several hundred dollars. Always book in-country or short regional flights separately!

    It’s tempting to take overnight train or bus trips to save $$ on hotels. That’s fine if you’re on a train with a real sleeping compartment or you get an actual bunk. But if you think you’re going to save money by sleeping in a bus or train seat, think again. You’ll just be tired and cranky. Always check airports out online before deciding you’ll save money by taking a red-eye and staying at the airport. That’s fine in, say, Singapore, but it’s a TERRIBLE idea in Cairo where your choices are a wooden bench in a smoke-filled cafe or a metal folding chair just inside an open door in the departures terminal (they won’t let you check in early). You just need to trust me on this. It may have been the worst night of my life.

    Pick and choose museums carefully. They can be hellishly expensive, so pick the one you want to go to and not the four others that sound ‘pretty good’. It’s more fun to explore the city you’re in anyway – at least for me, I’d rather see what life is like for real people in the place I’m visiting and will minimize my time looking at old artifacts.

    Travel in even numbers – 2 people can get a cheaper hotel room than 1, and 4 people can split a hotel room for about what 4 hostel beds will cost in many countries.

    Save $$$ by picking a hotel or hostel with free pickup and free breakfast, then stuff yourself at breakfast so all you need is a snack at lunch. The free pickup will save you the cost of the always-expensive taxi.

    Be aware of common scams and hard-sells. If you hire a car and driver to go to a famous historic site far from the main city (say, the Pyramids, the Terracotta Soldiers, Ephesus, the Great Wall, and so many more) they will almost certainly try to take you to a ‘traditional shop’ where ‘traditional artisans’ craft anything from essential oils to rugs to jade to papyrus to calligraphy. These will always, NO EXCEPTIONS, be shoddy pieces of crap. Just say no. They will insist you need to pay this or that guy or tip this or that fellow – know in advance what the tipping rules are and don’t be afraid to say no. If they insist you need to pay for some other service (e.g. horses to ride to the Pyramids from some back parking lot or a boat to see the Taj Mahal from the river when that’s not really necessary), you probably don’t. Research these things in advance. They will give you the hard-sell. Stand firm. Say no. They’ll insist. “NO.” They’ll say that you can’t, in that case, see what you came to see. Insist that you WILL see it, and they WILL take you, and if they don’t, you’ll make many complaints to whomever helped you book them. They’ll back down. They’ll grumble, but they’ll back down.

    Know your taxi fares – ask at the hotel, or research before you go. If you get in a taxi, especially in India, and they hand you some pre-printed paper with high prices on it for various well-known destinations, say NO and walk away. Be nasty. Be a bitch. It’s okay. They’re scamming you. Don’t be nice.

    Most souvenirs are overpriced crap. If you really want it, try to get it for half of what it’s being sold for. Better yet, research (online or in a guidebook) a shop known for quality products, go there, and buy one thing as your souvenir. Let all the fake-silver, fake turquoise, fake-silk crap go. If someone presses you that it’s “real” or they are an “artist” and they “made it themselves”, they didn’t, and it’s fake. Almost every time.

    There are always extra fees for things that seem like you really can’t miss them but actually you can. For example, it’s worth it to go see the Pyramids. It’s not necessary at all to pay the fee to then go inside one (you can go inside an older pyramid not far away for free). There are exceptions: if you go to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, it is worth it to pay to go to the harem quarters.

    Plan your trip around awesome things that are free. For example, Istanbul is great and you absolutely should go, but the admission fees to some of the great stuff are very high (the same is true in Cairo and Luxor). But if you go to Cappadocia in Turkey or Aswan in Egypt, you get all of the astounding countryside and natural views for free.

    Stay in one place for longer – it’s cheaper to stay awhile in one place and have a routine than to move from place to place, as you’ll become more confident walking (and saving transport costs) as you familiarize yourself, you won’t feel guilty about spending an afternoon sipping coffee (and not spending more than the cost of the coffee), and you’ll save yourself the long-distance transport costs too.

    If you are not in the West, Western food may seem cheap compared to back home, but local food is cheaper. A bowl of noodles or an ‘everything pancake’ is cheaper in Japan than a sandwich. A bowl of pasta might seem cheap in a backpacker cafe in Laos, but larb gai with baguette or banh mi (they have those in Laos, too) are cheaper.

    It may seem cheaper to go ‘off the beaten track’, but it’s actually not because, not having a lot of infrastructure, what accommodation and transportation there is is often more expensive. It’s actually cheaper to bum around hostels in Rajasthan (just beware of the scams) than it is to plan your own trip around Kannur and Wayanad in Kerala. (the downside is the ‘off the beaten track’ stuff is usually better).

    Look for amazing spots that haven’t been monetized yet. The Taj Mahal and the Hagia Sophia are amazing and you should go see them, but they are $20 each but the best parts of Hampi in India and Bagan in Myanmar are basically free (in theory there is a ticket for Bagan, in practice nobody will even tell you where to get it, nor will anyone ask for it).

    Hiking is free. You should go hiking. Bring a prepaid local cell and your hotel’s number, lots of water, research natural hazards and bring a partner especially if you are female (I know, SO SEXIST, but it is true around the world that women face increased risk of sexual assault). You can spend ZERO DOLLARS hiking Bugaksan in Seoul, or Love Valley or Rose Valley in Cappadocia, or Yangming Mountain in Taipei, or Ometepe in Nicaragua, or Semuc Champey in Guatemala, or the area around Hampi in India (be careful around there though).

    Many cities now have what amounts to a tourist tax on the subways for non-locals who won’t be there long enough to buy a local card. It’s now actually worth it to just get the card, especially in Washington DC (get a SmarTrip – otherwise it’s an extra $1 per ride and it adds up) and Boston (get a Charlie Card or it’s a similarly elevated price). Other useful international cards to get are an Octopus Card for Hong Kong (makes it easier to take the ferry) and a Suica for Tokyo (uh…just trust me on this).

    • Also, in places without potable tap water, your hotel and many restaurants probably do have ‘filter water’ that you can safely drink. Buy a large hiker’s water bottle (aluminum is better than hard plastic) and fill it at the hotel every day (if they won’t fill it, get one several-gallon jug of mineral water and fill it from that daily rather than buying mineral water in smaller bottles). But always ask for the ‘filter water’ first, especially in India, China etc. where that’s a big thing. It’ll save both you and the environment!

      I just thought of two more great hikes – Gunung Kerinci and Guning Tujoh in Kersik Tua, Sumatra. Free free free. If you want to save money, go hiking.

      • Personally, I would prefer a travel post like this that is specific to a certain country or part of the world. The comment has lots of specifics, which is great, and I would want more specifics in an official post (for example, several posts each specific to different regions, or a post that has different advice for different regions separated by section). This is a good way to avoid stereotypes and assumptions.

    • Also seconding the look-for-free-entertainment advice. Just walking around a new place taking pictures can be entertainment enough for me. Google to see if there are free tours in the area; I’ve taken a few and they really are free, just tip the tour guide. Also, there are plenty of free museums and historic sights that just take donations. Smaller, less-known places won’t have the glitz and flash of the higher end destinations, but will also have much smaller crowds and lower price tags.

  4. The biggest international travel expense will be your plane tickets, esp. from US to Australia/NZ. And the best way to save money on plane tickets is to travel in the off season, meaning, when fewer people travel. Peak travel seasons are usually summer, spring/Easter break, & Christmas holidays. For this trip, “summer” means about December to February bec. Australia/NZ is in the southern hemisphere. That’s when plane tickets will be most expensive.

    “Shoulder season” is the month or two on either side of the peak travel season, & this is when the weather is still pretty nice, but plane tickets aren’t as crazy expensive as in peak season. For the OP’s trip, that’d be November & March. I’ve been to Australia & NZ in November, & it was occasionally rainy, but often gloriously beautiful weather!

    IME, the month you travel is far more important than the specific dates/days. The dates only really come into play if you’re trying to use frequent flyer miles, which are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, super complicated, & there are tons of forums dedicated to gaming each specific system. (Btw, I don’t recommend bothering with it; in a couple decades of travel, including setting foot on every continent & Antarctica, I’ve never found frequent flyer points to be my friend.)

    I’m old & cranky, so I hate 99.9% hostels, except the ones in NZ were the only ones I did like, bec. they had private rooms for my hubby & I & they were super clean & not filled with noisy college kids, plus we even found ones with historic charm, which is important to me when I travel. Being old & cranky, I also prefer proper B&Bs to AirB&B, which NZ is chock full of, not to mention there were some adorable retro roadside motels. And AMAZING food & tasty beer everywhere. Some of my travel journals are here

    Depending on where you’re going, you may find it more cost-effective to rent a car. Remember, when you travel, time is money — if you’re spending more time in transit than seeing the place you traveled to, you’re wasting your money. Don’t take 2 trains & a bus to go see some cute little town when you could rent a car to drive 20 min to see that town. NZ, in particular, is more spread out & has semi-rural areas that are hard to see without a car. Australia has several big cities that can be easily explored on foot or by pubtrans, but seeing things between them can take time without your own transportation, tho’ there are tours from the cities (esp. Sydney). Plan out some of the important things you want to see so you can figure what transit fits you best.

    Have a great time — I always find that planning the trip adds to the excitement 🙂

    • Oh & I should have said that traveling in off season can also be pretty nice if you’re not afraid of a little weather. I like going to Europe in winter bec. air fares are so much cheaper. I don’t mind bundling up, & a lot of places have pretty holiday decorations out. The one downside is that museums, shops, restaurants, etc. may have earlier closing hours, & the farther north you go (hi, Scotland!), the fewer hours of daylight. All depends on what kind of trip you’re looking for.

      Off season in Australia/NZ wouldn’t have as short of days or as extreme of weather, so it’s worth considering. The money saved on air fare could pay off.

    • Renting a car or campervan in NZ is definitely what I would recommend. The price of filling a gas tank may be equivalent to the cost of a flight between the two cities you’re trying to get to within NZ, and if you’ve got time, the journey between town is often the best thing about NZ. The scenery is absolutely amazing, and the public transport is reasonably arse, so the combination means car travel is often the best way to go. NZ doesn’t really have motorways/freeways apart from within the major cities, so the roads are more technical to drive on, but are also right smack bang in the middle of the gorgeous landscape rather than interrupted by concrete monstrosities.

      Do be aware if you do this, that there are currently stricter rules coming in for overseas visitors hiring cars after a spate of tourist drivers driving dangerously and killing other passengers on the road. (It’s a big thing in the media here at the moment).

    • Tourist season here in Australia is actually our winter because it is cooler. Summer is the wet season, storms, cyclones and bushfires. It is also jellyfish season so if you come up north you have to wear a stinger suit if you want to swim on the reef or anything and weather could mean cancelled trips. There is also more mosquitoes. I would just stay in backpackers around Australia. Transport of all sorts around here is expensive if you are travelling long distances (which you have to if you wanna see the whole country) plane, train or bus and so is our fuel.

      DO NOT rent a campervan in New Zealand unless you want to pay for both a more expensive vehicle plus in most places $40 a night just to park the damn thing. Additionally in some places we were paying over $2 a litre for fuel in a van that chews a bit of petrol that really adds up. I just got back from Nz maybe a month ago and it would have been so much cheaper just to hire a smaller car and stay in cheap hotels or bed and breakfast there.

  5. Home exchange home exchange home exchange! That’s the only way we travel now. It’s cheap (can’t get cheaper than free!), more comfy than a hostel or hotel, and you get a locals perspective. People leave maps of their favorite hangouts, we’ve exchanged subway passes, bicycles, CSA memberships, and cat sitting responsibilities… So more money saved!

    Every time we’ve exchanged we’ve made great new friends all over the world and learned so much more about local culture than we would otherwise. And BONUS! My husbands in the military, so we move every few years, so we have plans to go back to our old favorite spots, exchanging with the same people, only now they get to visit Alaska instead of Massachusetts.

  6. Check out, which assesses flights based on passenger experience; like, some flights have wifi or better entertainment or whatever and the price difference is negligible.

  7. I’ve found super cheap NZ flights on Make sure to check the details though- some of these amazing fares can only be used certain times of year or into certain airports.

    And for NZ specifically: ROAD TRIP!!!! Drive your way through both islands, if you’re comfortable driving on the left side or feel you can learn it. SO many unexpected beautiful sights we wouldn’t have seen doing touristy things booked by a travel agent.

    Hostels, AirBnB, couchsurfing for us. NZ seems to be all about it.

    Oh, and if you get the chance to go during the World of Wearable Art show (happens in Wellington), I have to say ABSOLUTELY spend the amount of money for tickets. Incredibly worth it. It’s like Cirque du Soleil on steroids (imagine!).

  8. If you’ve never travelled internationally before, I would definitely suggest at least talking to a travel agent to see what they can do for you – but do your research first and know exactly what you want out of your trip. Travel agents will try to sell you stuff that you don’t need so be prepared. Look up hotels/flights/car rentals and know exactly what they are offering so you can ask for the things you need and will use and ignore extras.

    ABSOLUTELY get travel insurance. If something goes wrong it will get you back home and save you SO much money.

    As a New Zealander, time for a little specific travel advice for this part of the world. First off – money. You will need it. Stuff here is hella expensive. Food, clothes and tourist stuff will eat at you. Accommodation ain’t cheap either so definitely check out Air BnB etc if that appeals to you. As someone else said, hostels here tend to be a lot nicer than the ones in Europe so that’s also an option. Hotels are just crazy expensive in my experience. You will pay more for food but that is justifiable in that A) you don’t tip in NZ, ever, unless you are really happy with your coffee and there is a tip jar on the counter and also B) our food does tend to be pretty high quality compared to other countries because agriculture is pretty much what we do best.

    I would suggest that if you are spending any length of time in NZ you will want to rent a car. Same goes for Australia. Things are pretty spread out, most tourist destinations are not in cities and even in cities public transport can be less than ideal. (Wellington is best for transport, Auckland is average to poor. Other main tourist destinations like Rotorua and Queenstown are pretty small towns actually.)

    I see people up thread recommending travelling in off season – for NZ be aware that there is a LOT of winter tourism between June-September, so places like Queenstown, Ruapehu and Oakune are PACKED this time of year. If skiing isn’t something you’re into, it’s best to avoid winter here. October-November and February-April are probably the best times to come, you will get mild weather and attractions will be open. A lot of the good stuff in NZ is outdoors so you want it to look pretty and preferably not covered in water (which is the case presently, stupid storms).

    A few recommendations:

    – Queenstown is the main tourist drag in the Southern Alps. Beautiful skiing, great nightlife, adventure tourism, all that. Expensive though so be prepared for that. This is where you do the bungy jumps, the jet boating, all that cool stuff.

    – Rotorua is the other main tourist destination, it is located in the middle of the North Island. This is the place to go for Maori cultural shows, natural hot pools, geothermal activity (think Yellowstone park – geysers, boiling mud) and also more adventure stuff. They have a luge and the big plastic zorbs that you climb into then roll down a hill.

    – Personally, I love Wellington. I lived there for 5 years and in addition to being the capital city, it is also the offbeat capital of NZ. Great coffee and nightlife, awesome museums, art, food, theatre. I think most offbeat homies would feel at home on Cuba Street, the centre of NZ’s alternative culture.

    – My last suggestion would be to venture into the far North of the North Island. (You will need a car for this, and beware that the roads get a little dicey in places.) Best in the summer (December to February) this is where you will find the best beaches in the country. Also Kauri forests, vineyards, the best seafood and also plenty of tourist traps like the Pahia, where you can take a boat out into the Bay of Islands and watch dolphins, or Kawakawa, the town with the train line running through the middle of the main street. You can take a tour from Kaitaia to the very top of the island and then back down Ninety-Mile beach, which is a beach that is actually part of the main highway system and you drive on the sand dunes. If I sound biased towards the north it is because I am, it’s where I grew up and it is often sadly ignored in favor of southern destinations.

    Yay for planning trips! Australians and New Zealanders love to travel, I think there is something in our culture that compels us to explore. But we also love showing off our own countries so I think you will find that people will be really excited to have you here!

    • In addition to the Far North, Coromandel Peninsula. Amazing beaches, fantastic and cheap seafood, quiet and rural in places, and a hot water beach! Again, you’ll probably need a car, and the coast roads are pretty hairy (but those of us that live or visit locally – my parents live there – are pretty used to slow tourist drivers, especially over summer).

      • Actually yes, Coromandel is is excellent and just as good as Northland. (I went there for the first time last summer! Hot Water Beach is awesome, and Cathedral Cove was amazing!) Roads are definitely awful though. Tourist drivers have actually been in the news a lot lately, because a few people have died from tourists forgetting what side of the road they should be on. So if you are planning to drive around NZ (Australia is not so bad, they have a little more room and their roads tend to be flat) PLEASE be super careful.

  9. Two words: Rail pass. I don’t know what kind of system is in Australia and NZ, but if it’s anything like Europe and the UK, then it’s awesome. They look pretty pricey on the outset, but you can get on any train you want, as many trains as you want, for each day you have the pass. The hubs and I backpacked around England, Wales and Scotland for our honeymoon five years ago, and the rail pass was awesome. If you’re talking bang for your buck, that’s what I recommend looking into. My father in law was a professor of finance and economics and he gave rail passes his stamp of approval!

    • Trains are a very expensive way to travel in NZ, and very inconvenient as they only run maybe twice a week between Auckland and Wellington (not sure what the Southern trains are like but I imagine it is similar). A good way to see scenery, sure, but a car would be a lot better, especially since there is only one train route and it doesn’t pass through many of the major tourist sites. Rail passes are great for Europe where they have that infrastructure but we just don’t I’m afraid.

    • We don’t really have a national rail system in Australia. There’s a few lines but nothing to write home about. You can get a travel pass for public transport when you are in the capital cities though.

  10. I am a huge advocate for the Travel Agent when booking long expensive trips. I have been to England twice now, from Canada (flying in and out of the US though, Woot woot border city). Both times, I booked with a travel agent. I will admit, at first it was primarily because we have a life long acquaintance who is a travel agent, and since my parents paid for my first flight as a gift for Christmas/birthday all that jazz, it was all about making them comfortable. This time, we booked with the agent again and I can genuinely say it was the best decision ever.

    My flight to England was a hot mess from start to finish. It started with getting a phone call 5 minutes before we were about to leave the house saying my flight had been cancelled, and the airline had not bothered to tell me. Not my long flight mind you, just my little commuter flight from Detroit to New Jersey. Travel agent called back 20 min later, informing me I was on a different flight to Jersey, leaving 30 min sooner with a different airline, but no additional cost to me. Wonderful amazing and no stress to me, as I will now be making my connection no problem, no delay, and Travel SuperAgent has already confirmed my seat on my flight from Jersey to Manchester.

    I arrive in New Jersey, and am informed that I am no longer booked on my flight to Manchester, and have been actually bumped to the next day since my original commuter flight was canceled and I wouldn’t have been in Jersey yet to make my connection. I show them the boarding pass I have for the flight I am no longer on, and they say that they do not know how I got it, because I am booked for tomorrow. After some discussion and the supervisor see in the paperwork my Travel agent had sent me, I get back on my original flight, which *apparently* is booked solid. So the Airline was sure to inform me that even though they were the ones who cancelled me without my knowledge, they did me a huge favour putting me on the flight I was supposed to be on in the first place.

    Back story- I had checked in the day before, paid for a priority seat, and now had my boarding pass, and was good to go in theory

    I check my ticket a little later, and realize I no longer have the seat I paid extra for, and am stuck in a middle seat in the very back of the flight. I go up to the airline counter, the lady says “well, you switched flights and then switched back, you lost your seat and you get no reimbursement”. I call up my travel agent. After 8 different boarding passes, a minor mental breakdown in the flight attendants area after I am informed that I am on the plane but I don’t actually have a seat (because an older couple paid to have an empty seat next to them, it was given to me, and then had a fit and yelled at me for taking the seat), and a nasty lady who was more than mean when I eventually sat down in the middle seat next to her, my amazing wonderful goddess of a travel agent not only got me a seat on the plane, because it was all the airlines fault for taking me off the flight without telling me in the first place, she got me an upgrade to Economy plus, with no one sitting in the middle seat (sold out flight my behind) and I now have a pen pal named Dudley who is a lovely retired Jamaican American man who splits his time between New Jersey and Chicago. I will forever and always tell people to book flights overseas with a travel agent. If you have a good one, they make everything better. My minor breakdown would have turned into a full fledged panic attack rage tears episode. Travel Agents are awesome. Even after all the issues, I do need to mention mine did not charge me any travel agent fees due to my parents friendship with her, but she would have earned every penny if she did and more. I will be booking with her again for sure, and I will be insisting on paying her all the travel agent fees, because she is worth every damn penny.

  11. I know the original question was aimed at the Pacific, but let me chime in for Europe (as usual 😉

    Air travel in Europe is ridiculously cheap with low-cost airlines such as Ryanair, Easyjet (continental coverage and some Northern-African countries as well -yay for sunny vacations in Morocco or Jordan) or local options such as HOP in France, WOW to Iceland… As a matter of fact, when I travel around Europe, I never spend more than 70 bucks for the round trip. Yup. They make up for the cost by charging everything they can (luggage, food, drinks…) but since it’s Europe we’re talking about, there’s no compromise on safety.

    As far as ground travel is concerned, you can get Eurail passes for continental trains, go by long-distance in Eastern Europe where this transportation means is so dirt-cheap it will blow your mind (20 euros for Berlin-Vilnius, for instance) or try your hand at carpooling with websites such as Blablacar offering litterally thousands of rides accros Europe. Again, there are national websites, but I guess this one is the most comprehensive as it goes from Spain to Russia and has an international, English version.

  12. Such great advice from so many people above! I just wanted to add one little thing (and it’s absolutely only my point of view, so YMMV)…

    I always want to try to make sure as a tourist that I am helping and not damaging the place I am visiting, as far as is possible. In many of my favourite places, tourism is a huge industry and a huge employer of local business. A huge part of that is (a) the hotel business and (b) the hotel taxes that many places put on tourists, which help to support the local area and infrastructure in so many important ways, and make up for the damage tourists might do.

    For this reason, I personally would not use Air BnB or similar systems – sure they are cheap, but they are cheap in part because it is a way of avoiding local taxes on tourists, which are an important part of how many areas support themselves. This is not going to apply everywhere, by any means, and many areas do not have tourist taxes. But I think it’s worth considering, if you want to support the economy in the place you are visiting. Again, YMMV, and I have no problem with other people travelling this way – it’s just not something I would personally want to support.

    • Totally see your point! Most of the time, those hotel/tourist taxes go to local municipal funds that do things like make the city better for tourism (road repair, trash cleanup, etc.).

      However, I would go further and say that if you are doing this in the altruistic way mentioned above, it would be even better to stay at local mom and pop BnBs- not, for instance, the Mariotts, Hyatts, etc., since for those, the high markup is certainly not all taxes and goes to making corporate profits instead.

      The other thing is that, for me, supporting AirBnb DOES support the community.
      1) I’m giving money directly to local people who are working to support themselves and run their own little businesses. In turn, they spend that money in their local economies. Furthermore, they may be the people who have one unemployed partner and couldn’t afford the mortgage on one income, so having renters lets them keep their homes and contribute to the economy that way, rather than collecting unemployment/housing assistance or foreclosing.
      2) AirBnb hosts are more likely to know about local mom and pop shops/restaurants/cafes and refer me there, whereas hotels will normally refer me to Starbucks and its ilk (or other sponsors that have the money to pay the hefty sums for being listed/referred by the hotel).
      3) AirBnb is doing a LOT to foster a sense of community and create sustainable/shared cities, starting with Portland and including 20 others to begin with ( warning, this made me cry). I want to support AirBnb, because that company is up to what I want to be up to. I can support THAT over a hotel and a city tax any day.

      • Great points! I think family-run small hotels / BnBs are a really good compromise, and can often give you great value, plus lots of local knowledge too!

  13. A lot of great advice here! I would just in general remind you to first consider how you are envisioning this trip and then make sure you and your significant other are on the same page. Try to be realistic with yourself and find a good travel balance that will work for you – that means taking a lot of the things into consideration already mentioned:

    – What kind of accommodations are you comfortable in? Remember – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Maybe you want to spend some time hosteling or whatever, but you want a few days hotel in between or at the end to make sure you don’t feel overwhelmed or so you feel like you’ve had some luxury.

    – What kind of time/money balance do you have? Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little more money (say, on transportation or getting a good night’s sleep) to ensure that you can make the most of your time budget. By the way, if you do plan it yourself, this goes for your flights too – don’t lose sight of the timing of the flights due to cost. If you only look at the end price, you might be missing out on a flight with way better times for only a few bucks more.

    – What are your main goals for the trip? (Again – make sure you and your SO have a joint vision!) Are there specific things you definitely want to see? How much time do you want to spend exploring? Relaxing? Driving? Outdoors? This will help you figure out what kind of route and timing can be reasonable.

    – What’s your budget and what do things cost? Even if you decide to use a travel agent, it’s worth it to do a little research to make sure your expectations are realistic.

    I don’t think that a travel agent can help you answer these questions, but maybe once you have the answers, it will help you know whether you want to work with a travel agent. Maybe once you start looking into things, you’ll be inspired to keep going, or it will inspire you to contact a travel agent!

    I haven’t used a travel agent in the past, but I think they can be really helpful (and efficient!) IF they are good. So if you do go that route, try to get a recommendation from someone you know or trust or find some reviews or something and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions or try to get someone who has experience with your destination.

  14. I’ve traveled internationally (Europe, mostly) quite a bit, and I do exactly what Caroline describes, down to pretty much all the websites she mentions. I might also ask locals or others who have traveled in the region for tips on less obvious ways to save money, which you seem to be getting plenty of right here in these comments!

    I would not be interested in using a travel agent because I like to figure things out for myself. I also like staying in hostels, so I would never be seeking good deals on higher-end hotels or anything like that. I also prefer to wander city streets, visit museums, and browse stores. All of those things, a travel agent can’t really help save money with. With some exceptions, I’m not interested in guided tours, adventure travel packages, or fancy dinners. Also, even hostels can offer some deals on tours and side-trips.

    So it might also have to do with what kind of trip you want to have and if a travel agent can help you have that kind of trip.

  15. I have become a huge fan of house and apartment rentals. They are super cheap, especially if you are traveling by group, and you can save money by cooking at home. Homeaway is a good site as is Owners’ Direct.

  16. And back to the Travel Agent thing… I have a close family member who is an agent and she receives all of her commissions from the airlines – not from the traveller, just as the above poster mentioned. As with any time you work with someone in ‘sales’, as your friends and families for recommendations, but using an agent should not cost you more money than booking anything yourself via the web. However, they will probably save you considerable time with the knowledge that they already have.

  17. My favorite money saving tip: buy your ticket as soon as possible after Wed. at 1 am in the zone where your airline is headquartered.
    Here’s why.

    I tested this for my current trip to Berlin. I have to use a travel agent to buy tickets through work, so I made a preliminary reservation on Tues. afternoon about four weeks before travel (DEN-BER), and asked the agent to check prices as soon as he got in to work on Wed. Sure enough, by Wed. morning the fare had gone down about $600, and I booked it then.

    I also recommend doing your research about prepaid phone cards in advance. Make sure you have a phone that can run on networks in the target country. As soon as you arrive, head to the appropriate shop and switch out SIM cards. This was particularly important for me in Berlin, where internet access at cafe’s isn’t as ubiquitous as in the US.

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