Planning an affordable family adventure in New Zealand: A comprehensive guide

A family holiday in New Zealand promises wonderful experiences and lasting memories. And while exploring this beautiful country with your whānau is exciting, the costs can quickly add up. So, if you’re planning a family holiday but the funds are tight, don’t panic. There are ways to make your hard-earned cash go further and keep you and your kids happy. All you need is a little planning and some creativity. To help you get there, we’ve put together 8 tips for budget-friendly family holidays. So, read on.

1. Time it wisely

Travelling during the off-peak seasons is a quick way to save. Going away during shoulder seasons like autumn and spring may mean the weather is a little less predictable but lower tourist demand can mean cheaper prices for flights, accommodation and activities and fewer crowds. If at all possible, consider planning your trip outside of school holiday dates to avoid those inflated prices.

2. Plan ahead and book in advance

Planning is key to a budget-friendly family holiday. It also ensures a less stressful lead-up to your trip. By booking major expenses like transport, accommodation, and experiences well in advance, you’re likely to get cheaper deals and lower prices. You can try taking advantage of celebratory and seasonal sales by airlines. For example, by booking well ahead you can secure fares at $50 per adult, or lower, during the Christmas holiday period rather than inflated last-minute rates, which are often three or four times more expensive.

If you want to avoid racking up dollars you hadn’t accounted for while you travel, you also need to brainstorm all of those other and sometimes hidden costs before you commit to booking. Things like experiences, parking, road tolls and food.

Not sure where to go? Use the collective wisdom of your community. Quiz friends, family and fellow parents about trips they’ve taken, how much they cost and what they would do differently to save money next time. In the online world, there are plenty of forums and family travel bloggers who share budget tips on places they have visited. Go online and ask on forums and Facebook pages, and don’t forget to take a look at what TripAdvisor recommends.

3. Agree on extras ahead of time

Even after having painstakingly planned an affordable trip, many families still blow their holiday budget. How? Through unnecessary purchases during their trip. Avoid those by thinking ahead and planning alternatives. Pack water bottles, buy sweets, muesli bars, fruit and ice cream packs from supermarkets. If you want to give everyone a chance to treat themselves while away, agree on a set amount, for example, $25.00 they can each spend on whatever they want.

4. Take your family off the beaten track

Venture beyond the tourist hotspots and explore some less famous destinations. New Zealand offers an abundance of coastal, country, and urban environments suitable for every type of holidaymaker. You don’t need to visit expensive theme parks and tourist attractions for entertainment. Research and discover hidden gems that promise both fun and adventure. You’ll find things to do with the kids and enjoy the luxury of not having to battle through masses of other people to get those ice-creams.

5. Embrace the great outdoors

New Zealand’s natural beauty provides ample opportunities for affordable family activities. Plan day trips that involve nature walks, outdoor adventures, picnics and visits to local playgrounds. Take advantage of free events by checking out local community Facebook pages, websites, newspapers, and tourist information centres.

6. Turn the journey into an adventure

Transport can be a significant part of your budget. Save by opting for alternative and more adventurous forms of transport, such as overnight trains, ferries, or buses. Check out a city’s public transport system before booking a rental car. Yes, these options are available in New Zealand. A train, ferry or even a bus can be a huge adventure for kids. Alternatively, a possibly shorter family road trip using your own vehicle avoids the cost of airfares and rental cars.

7. Cook your own meals

Eating out three times a day can quickly add up to become one of the biggest expenses while on holiday. However, that also means it can be one of the areas where you can save the most money. Buying groceries and cooking your own food will save big dollars. Stocking up on provisions at local markets and roadside stalls can also be a fun travel experience all on its own.

Choose accommodation with kitchen facilities so you eat breakfast at home, prepare packed lunches, or make dinner together.

Bring plastic containers, beeswax wraps or ziplock bags with you so you can make sandwiches for day trips or take leftovers from restaurants home with you.

If you do want to eat out, why not plan ahead and use First Tables? It offers 50% off lunches and dinners if you are seated before certain times. You could also check out the deal websites, such as Bookme and GrabOne. Both offer dining deals.

8. Try a house swap or campground

A house swap with friends or relatives in a different city can provide a fun, affordable family holiday. If both families have children of a similar age, it is the perfect solution as the home is already set up for smaller humans.

Why not stay at a holiday park? These are no longer just unpowered camping sites. Most have cabins, cottages and safari tents and are a cheaper alternative to motels. Many campgrounds have playgrounds where children will often find their own friends and lounges and BBQ areas where parents can congregate for a drink and a chat, too.

If you travel in a larger group, accommodation is cheaper if you book with DOC or stay in regional parks. Local City Councils offers affordable accommodation for larger groups in baches and lodges in their parks and reserves. You just have to be organised and book well in advance.

Manage your expectations

The essence of family travel lies in the quality time spent together, which really is priceless. If luxury resorts or extravagant trips are beyond your budget, then redefine what constitutes an incredible experience for your family. Swap pricey accommodation and tourist-trap activities for more budget-friendly options and focus more on the joy of shared adventures together.