Coming from a (mildly extroverted) introvert and major homebody, solo-backpacking my way through New Zealand has been one of the most important decisions I've ever made. If I can do it, so can you. Trust me. New Zealand is known for all of its glorious neature, but there is SO much more to this extraordinary country than the mountains, fiords, and endless coastlines. Here are my top 10 travel tips for a country that stole my heart:
1. don't be afraid to fly solo
New Zealand is my first international experience going stag, if you will, and I couldn't imagine a better place to do it. I've never felt unsafe - in fact, I feel safer here than I do home in the cities. Have your wits about you and trust your gut - your intuition rarely lies. Kiwis are kind, helpful, and generous with their time and words. You'll also meet countless travelers from all over the world with the same or similar goals as you - to experience all that NZ has to offer. It's actually silly how easy it is to meet people and make friends - you just have to be willing to put yourself out there.
2. pack light, and then pack even lighter
Coming from a girl who has worked retail for the past 6+ years, I have accumulated a serious amount of stuff. If you're really going to commit to backpacking, you'll be carrying around all of your stuff on your back - think toiletries, camping supplies, clothing, food, etc. Last time I weighed in, all my stuff combined was close to 60 pounds. Oy vey. Think about everything you want to bring, and then narrow it down to the bare essentials. Do you really need four pairs of shoes or six pairs of leggings? Is the curling iron a must? Carrying around a too-heavy load gets real old, real fast.
P.s. try and skip the suitcase unless you're planning on settling down and staying in one place. You never know where you might find yourself, and wheels can be a pain in the ass if you're not on pavement. A big backpack is definitely the way to go if you're planning on hopping around from place to place.
3. save the over-planning for your wedding
I cannot stress enough how much over-planning kills the magic. If you're a total Type A like yours truly, you're probably putting together a trip itinerary practically down to the minute. Do your research, figure out the things that are most important to you, and book those. The biggies: the great walks and backpackers (hostels) can book up quickly during popular times, so it never hurts to book early for those. It's important to know what you're getting yourself into, but leave some room to feel things out in real-time and go with the flow. Fellow travelers, the people working in your hostels, and Kiwis are your best resources. You never know what might come from striking up a conversation with someone - just the other day, I met someone during a hike and we spent the whole 6-hour return chatting together. How cool, right?
4. take your time
I realize it's not always a possibility to quit your job or take a few months off of work and travel New Zealand, but I highly recommend spending as much time as you can (or would like) here. It's a relatively small country, but there are so many must-see places packed into this set of islands. If you can make it work, take your time here. Slow things down and spend a few days in all your destinations and get to know what each place has to offer. By the time I leave, I will have spent two months here and I wouldn't have been satisfied with anything less.
5. rent or buy a car
If you're coming for a short-term trip, rent a car. If you do your research you can find extremely affordable rentals. (Feel free to reach out if you have questions on my experiences renting here in NZ!) If you're coming for more than a few months, buy a car. Travelers do it all the time, so it's really easy to find a reasonably priced car. Having a car makes traveling here a lot easier - you can do what you want on your own time, and you can experience all the spots that the bus systems doesn't get to (there are a lot of them). Full disclosure: the roads are narrow and windy, but if you go at your own pace you'll be A-OK. A little piece of advice: having a car will never hurt you in the making-friends-department. Ha!
Trademe is a great website if you're looking for a car, apartments, gear, etc.
6. bus it
If you don't want to rent or buy a car for whatever reason, the bus is a great way to go. If you read the InterCity bus reviews, you'll never want to take the bus. I've taken the InterCity numerous times and I've never had any issues. It can be pricey and the timetables are fairly limited, but there's usually free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, the coaches are clean, and you don't have to worry about navigating - you can just enjoy the ride. Plus, it's really easy to meet other travelers on the buses.
7. say yes to hitchhikers
I'll be honest, I haven't personally had the balls to hitchhike myself, but just last week I did pick up my first two hitchhikers. If I were to muster the courage, however, New Zealand would definitely be the place. Wherever you go, you'll see tons of people with cardboard signs and thumbs up - pick 'em up! And trust me, that's something I would NEVER attempt in the States - I've seen enough horror movies to know how that typically ends. But this is New Zealand, not the States. Needless to say, be safe, use your best judgement and again, trust your gut.
8. read the reviews
If you're going to stay in hostels, Hostel World is a great resource. Use it to check availability for accommodation, see what amenities the places have to offer, and read customer reviews. I've been really lucky in this department and have liked just about every hostel I've stayed in - no horror stories yet from this backpacker. Knock on wood...
If anyone's addicted to their phone/electronics, it's ME. I probably troll my Insta feed upwards of 15 times a day - I know, I know. But I'm getting better at stepping away from the tech to engage and enjoy, I swear. It's natural to want to text your friends, Skype the family, or to satisfy your Netflix addiction, but sometimes you need to disconnect to connect. If your face is glued to a screen, you'll miss out on the amazing people and places right before you. Just because there's free Wi-Fi or you have cell service doesn't mean you need to use it.
I'm starting to batch my tech use: an hour in the morning, 30 minutes around lunch, and an hour before bed.
10. don't forget about the north island
The stunning landscape of the South Island tends to get all the hype - and everything you hear about it is absolutely true - but the North Island has just as much to offer. I've spent most of my time on the South Island, but I've spent a fair amount up north as well - I wish I could spend more. Some of my favorite spots are: Taupo, The Coromandel Peninsula, and Wellington.
I downloaded Scott Cook's NZ Frenzy Guide to do some research on all the spots I needed to hit while here - there's a guide for the North Island and South Island. Totally worth the $10 bucks!