Travelling alone can seem daunting, above all when it’s to really far away countries. How safe is it, specially for women? Susana, a university friend of mine, tells us about her experience travelling solo around New Zealand for a month.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello everyone! My name is Susana, I’m from southern Spain and I’m a biologist currently finishing a master’s in Aquaculture.
2. What made you travel to NZ?
I’ve always wanted to travel to the other side of the world, to our antipodeans. I was curious about what’s exactly on the other side of where I live, and in my case that’s New Zealand.
New Zealand is known for its amazing landscapes and the haka, and I wanted to see everything! Besides, I wanted to see wild kakapo. The kakapo, from Māori: kākāpō (night parrot), is a species of large, flightless, nocturnal parrot. I also wanted to learn more about the Maori culture. I think it’s an impressive culture, I love their way of understanding nature and how they’re linked to it.
Last year everything worked out, I had both money and time, so I didn’t think about it twice and booked my 1-month trip to New Zealand.
3. How did you plan your trip?
I searched for all the information online. I found some videos shot by a group of travellers who had gone on the same trip I was planning and they were really helpful. Also, a couple I follow on Instagram had actually gone on a trip by campervan similar to my idea. They helped me a lot with some details like apps to find campsites, how to drive around, what’s allowed or not in the country, prices for tourist attractions and transport,…
With all this information, I made a map with all the sites I wanted to visit during my trip and designed my itinerary. It wasn’t a fixed one, since I was going to drive and sleep in campsites. I could change it if I wanted to stay somewhere for a longer time or visit something not included beforehand. I did lots of planned things but I also visited new places I discovered while being there. You have to be flexible!
My flights had a 20-hour stopover in Beijing so I also planned an express visit around the city.
Planning long trips takes a lot of time, but it is really important to do it if you want to make the most of it.
4. Did you have a budget?
Of course. As I planned the trip I got an idea of how much I’d need. I wrote down how much it would be to rent a car, how much I’d roughly spend on petrol, food, leisure,… My final budget was €3,000. It sounds like a lot of money, but I was travelling alone so I couldn’t share car and petrol expenses with anybody.
5. Why did you decide to travel alone?
Before booking my flights I asked some friends of mine to join me, but they didn’t either have money or time. I couldn’t wait for anyone to go on my dream trip so I went alone. It felt like the perfect time to do it. If I had waited for anyone to join me, I’d have never gone. Life is to be lived, not spent waiting for the perfect circumstances.
6. Did you have any preconceived notions?
I had always heard New Zealanders are very kind and friendly, and I can confirm that. They’re incredible! I felt safe from the very first second I was there. In fact, lots of people helped me along my journey without asking for anything in exchange and always smiling. They even helped me when I didn’t ask for help! Ha ha.
Besides, they’re known for being strict when it comes to letting tourists into their country. They check all your luggage. On the plane, they give you a questionnaire to ask you if you carry any drugs, if you have worked with animals or plants, how you’ll be travelling around the country,…
They take extreme care of their nature and make sure you’re not carrying any invading species. They checked my shoes and clothes because I had been working with plants. I also had to pass by the drugs section because I declared I had drugs with me. They were normal things like paracetamol and ibuprofen so I didn’t have any problems.
7. Did any aspect of NZ disappoint you?
Not at all! Everything was great. The only thing that worried me was driving on the left side of the road. It was my first time and I was afraid of not getting used to it quickly. However, it was the easiest thing ever! In two hours I was already used to it
8. Did you feel safe travelling alone?
100%. New Zealand is super safe. I think it’s considered as one of the safest countries in the world. This must be the question everyone asked me the most before leaving! Ha ha. Lots of people told me I was crazy for travelling alone so far away, but I was sure it was safe.
Two weeks after my arrival, the Christchurch’s terrorist attack took place. Not even in that moment felt I in danger. Not only because it happened far away from where I was, but also because both politicians and the police managed the situation really well. Besides, the whole population united against the attack. After all, the perpetrator wasn’t a New Zealander, but a radical and racist Australian. This can happen in any country.
9. How did locals treat you?
They couldn’t have treated me better. They were always nice and helpful. I remember stopping by a hard shoulder on my second day there to gaze at the landscapes and take some pictures. I used the four indicators to let the other drivers know my car was there. After five minutes, a car stopped to ask me if I needed help. They told me not to use the indicators because that means I have a problem. You can stop by the hard shoulders without any problem!
10. What did you like the most about travelling around New Zealand? Is there anything overrated?
NZ is a wonderful country. It has everything: idyllic beaches, breathtaking cliffs, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, forests, geothermal areas,…Its nature is simply astonishing. One of the things I liked the most was driving around the whole country. The landscapes are amazing. You can be driving along a narrow road in the middle of a forest, go up a hill, and all of a sudden find the sea, a glacier or a steppe in front of you. The feeling of driving and not knowing what you’ll find next is sooo addictive.
11. What memories will you never forget?
I’ll never forget the Maori village in Rotorua. I joined a guided tour around the village to learn more about it. The guide explained their culture, their dances (like the well-known haka), the meaning of their tattoos, how they cook using geothermal energy, how they arrived on the island,….After the tour there was a dancing show. We all have the haka in mind, but there are other dances and songs too! Seeing them was really emotional. Their voices make you feel alive. It’s really difficult to put into words what you feel being there.
12. How well did you get by in English?
Much better than expected! Ha ha. New Zealanders have a good accent. If they see you don’t really understand them, they do their best to talk to you. It was very easy in general, I never had problems speaking with them. The only thing I regret is not having a higher level of English to get to know them better and go in depth in their culture.
13. What advice would you give to people thinking of visiting New Zealand?
Plan everything thoroughly, have a plan B just in case and get appropriate travel medical insurance. I didn’t have any issues, and I was informed in case anything happened so I wasn’t worried. Above all enjoy the journey, don’t rush anything, live the moment. It’s ok if you don’t see everything you planned to, what matters is how this experience makes you feel.
14. Any advice regarding cultural differences to avoid misunderstandings?
New Zealanders are really kind, they won’t make you feel bad about anything. Their culture is similar to that in Europe so there’s really no place for misunderstandings. I don’t remember having any!
15. What about prices?
Travelling around New Zealand is like travelling around Europe. Prices are similar when we take into account the exchange rate. The price of petrol, food and accommodation is similar to that in Spain. The most beautiful part of New Zealand is its landscapes and natural parks, and they’re free!
16. How was the New Zealander food? Did you try any traditional dish? Anything unusual?
The population of New Zealand is very multicultural so they have dishes from different places like China, Thailand, India,…I tried typical things like venison burgers and pies. I also tried Maori-style meat and vegetables (hangi). They steam the food underground using the geothermal energy.
Thank you so much Susana for sharing your amazing experience with us! And remember, folks: don’t postpone your dreams. Life’s just too short! Which country are you planning to visit next?