How to travel long term: Tips and tricks from a tight-arse

I’m not good with money, never have been, probably never will be. I don’t understand the stock market, the housing market or any other market except the supermarket, where I blow my budget almost every week, so maybe I don’t understand that either. At one point my bank staged an intervention because I’d lost seven eftpos cards in two years, which was why I was pretty stoked with myself when my partner and I saved enough money to quit our jobs and travel around Europe and North Africa. We visited 22 countries and territories over nine months (280 days), and the one thing everyone asks when I tell them what we did is, “how did you afford it?”

Our trip was an even mix of living it up and it and barely living, we ate a lot and ate pretty well most of the time but we also lived in an abandoned beach hut until the local kids asked if we were homeless which, technically, we were. We spent around $50,000 NZD (including the purchase of a car) on our cross-continental journey, which you might think is incredible or pathetic depending on how frugal you are. Either way I’ve written some tips on what helped us reach our financial goal and what we would have done differently if we had a second go at it.

Before you leave

1. Lock that shit up


Alhambra, Grenada, Spain

It’s a cold, hard fact of life that your existence is going to be absolute misery in the lead up to any kind of big travel adventure. We saved for our trip for five years, and we went about it in a pretty half-arsed way until the last year, which was grim. No going out, no eating like a grown up. When you’re saving, the rule for leftover food is that if it’s not moving on its own, it’s good to go. This means that before left my job I had committed at least twelve unforgivable workplace lunch sins.

Remember that scene in the original Charlie and the Chocolate factory when Charlie Bucket’s mum is stirring that giant pot of boiled cabbage and they’re all very depressed about it? I ate like that, to the point brown rice and cabbage became my signature dish. Things really reached breaking point with my colleagues when I thought I could swing my leftover fish curry for one more day. I was wrong. Would I have preferred to toss that fish curry violently into the bin and go get Wishbone risotto? Hell yea I would have, but every payday I put practically every cent of extra cash into a locked account that would hit me with a $20 fee if I took anything out of it, and no Wishbone risotto is worth 25 bucks.

2. Embrace looking like crap

Unless you have a huge budget, your standards of personal beautification are going to drop dramatically once you are on the road, so you may as well get yourself used to it beforehand.


A self portrait after 9 months on the road

Here is a detailed but by no means exhaustive list of things that you do not need to spend your money on:

Hair cuts/colours
Any hair products other than shampoo and conditioner
Fancy clothes
Fancy make-up

You are beautiful and flawless and also fuck the patriarchy. Your face will look the best it’s ever looked after a few weeks of not slathering flesh-toned goo all over it. It’s a win all round.

3. Sell your stuff


Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It’s amazing how much I don’t miss having stuff. Carrying everything you own on your back is a great incentive to not buy a bunch of useless things, so trust me, you won’t be wishing you’d kept that decorative cardboard stag head when you finally return home. Fortunately, there are hundreds of Kiwis on Trademe who would all love to take your pointless DVD collection off your hands, and pay you for the privilege. Recycle Boutique will sell your good quality clothes and give you 50% of the profit back. Or you could take it all to your local secular charity shop of choice and hope that good karma will mean you find a $20 note on the ground.

4. Sort your money out


London – home of the Monzo card (and some other weird stuff)

Unless you want to find yourself breaking out in fee-induced stress hives at a foreign ATM, it’s best to get your cash cards properly sorted before you leave. If you’re planning on travelling around Europe like us, Westpac is the New Zealand bank to go with. Westpac is part of the Global ATM Alliance, which means you can get money out in the U.K, Spain, Italy, France, Poland and Germany and only pay the 3% transaction fee instead of the often hefty ATM withdrawal fee. They’ve also got you covered in large chunks of Africa, Asia, the US and Canada. If you’re starting in the U.K or visiting early on in your trip, you can also get a Monzo card, which will cover you for the countries not included in the Global ATM Alliance. You can get the equivalent of £200 cash out for free at any foreign ATM per month, with a 3% charge thereafter. Although free cash withdrawals were unlimited when we joined Monzo, this is still a pretty good deal. In countries where card machines at restaurants, hostels and supermarkets are plentiful, you can pay with your Monzo card and not pay a cent in fees.

When you’re there

1. Set a daily budget


Italy’s Cinque Terre – pricey but worth it


Feasting on the cheap in Kalamata, Greece


Paris, France

If you’ve been living like a hermit with bad eyebrows who only drinks Double Browns on their occasional ventures out of the house, you’ll be wanting to spend up large the second you step off home soil. “I fucking deserve this” you’ll say as you spend $80 on dumplings at Shanghai airport, “this is totally reasonable” you think, handing over 10 pounds for a vodka soda at a London bar, “I bloody love wax figures of the worlds hottest celebrities and political figures” you chant in your head as you weep into your dwindling pile of cash. I am a big fan of the treat yo’self mentality, but it’s easy to get carried away at the start of any trip. Try to set your daily spend at a reasonable half way point between point A) making it rain and point B) eating anything that involves boiled cabbage. We had a daily budget which we altered depending on the priciness of each country, and did an OK job of sticking to it. The less you spend, the longer you’ll be able to travel, which brings me to my next point.

2.The best things in life are free


Sunset at Poulithra, Greece


The Highlands, Scotland


The Rif Mountains, Morocco

I hate most quotes, I especially hate travel quotes. Seeing empty platitudes in swirly writing posted against a desert island backdrop sends me into a fit of completely irrational rage, but if there’s one idea I do believe in, it’s that you don’t have to pay to see beautiful things. Even the greatest museums pale in comparison to a stunning view, and when I think of the best times I’ve had overseas so far, all of them have involved being in the wonderfully cost-effective outdoors.

Keep this in mind when you’re considering joining the queue to see a castle, church or gallery. You will come across literally thousands of paid tourist attractions and half of them will leave you feeling extremely ripped off ( I’m looking at you Sistine Chapel), so try to pick just a couple that you want to see in any given country.

Half an hour on good old Google can also save you heaps, as you can often get into otherwise expensive attractions for free at certain times or on certain days of the week. Barcelona’s Parc Guell for example would have cost the two of us an outrageous €30 ($47NZD) during the day time, but if you visit before official opening or after it closes (hours vary depending on the time of year) it’s completely free.

In London, we were desperate to see a West End show, but didn’t have a West End budget. We entered the Monday night raffle for Book of Mormon (just show up at the theatre and put your name down) and won front row seats for £25. Score.

3. Buy a car


Brasov, Romania


Theth, Albania


Saorge, France

If you’re travelling for more than a few months, and you don’t mind roughing it, buy your own set of wheels. While car rental is cheap in some countries, it’s borderline daylight robbery in others, and the rental companies might give you a silly list of rules like “don’t take this Fiat Punto off-roading in the mountains” or “don’t use your coal barbecue in the boot”. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

While using public transport is usually cheaper than paying for gas, it’s boring, time-consuming, and you have to smell the farts of 50 other people. Having a vehicle is not only quicker and more scenic, but it also cuts out other major expenses. Having a car big enough to sleep in or camp out of meant we only paid for accommodation for about two out of seven days of the week, and having a boot full of food meant we only ate out when we couldn’t find a place to pull over and cook a bowl of pasta. We would have saved thousands on food and accommodation in the six months we were travelling in the car and that was despite spending way too much on its purchase and upkeep. (See next point)

4. Buy a good car


Friendly Albanian mechanic


Somewhere in Greece

While this point may seem like straight-up common sense, I’m going to explain it anyway. We bought Monty the Monterey and his rusty trailer in Spain for a cool €2,500. If we were smart, we would have bought another car, not because we don’t love Monty, but because buying a car in a country where you don’t speak the language is a special kind of hell. After being passed around dozens of different council offices in three different Spanish cities, we were able to legally buy the car. Within three months of buying Monty, he had broken down in a pretty serious fashion on three separate occasions in three separate countries, something that would have been covered by the car dealers warranty if we had insisted he translated the entire contract from Spanish to English instead of a few select bits. Don’t buy a car that is massively uncommon in most of the areas you are travelling to, unless you want to be stuck in Albania for a month while you get parts shipped by a grumpy old man in Leeds. (Side note, Albania is actually wonderful and I wouldn’t mind being stuck there for six months, you can read more about it here)

5. Camp everywhere


Borsh, Albania


Botev Peak, Bulgaria


Shack, Nea Kios, Greece

I have never understood the idea of luxury hotels. Why hand over your hard earned cash for a room you’ve got your eyes closed in 90% of the time? You’re travelling to see the world, not a nicely painted ceiling, so harden up that wimpy back and get used to sleeping on any and all surfaces. Searching for camping spots is a great way to get deep into the boondocks, and you’ll inevitably get woken up early by the dew, the sun or an Italian cop pointing a gun at you, so you’re bound to get the most out of your day. Apps like iOverlander and park4night have thousands of free camping spots submitted by fellow travellers complete with co-ordinates and details about amenities. We also used the furgovw website which lists heaps of free camping spots in Spain and other parts of Western Europe (just translate it from Spanish).

6. Get yo’self a side gig


Reporting on the Barcelona terror attack for TVNZ

If you want to indulge in the occasional cheesy fridge magnet or novelty tea towel you might want to get yourself a bit of freelance work. This may be a little tricky if you’re a bricklayer, but super easy if you’re trained in something you can do on your laptop. I earned around $7000 from freelance journalism work while we were on the road, and given it was all up to me whether I did it or not, I really enjoyed it. Hours of stoned chit chat at hostels will turn your brain to mush if you’ve got nothing else to think about, so it’s good for your noggin. What’s extra great is that if you do your work for New Zealand companies, you can apply for a special tax rate, meaning you pay zero dollars and zero cents of tax while you’re overseas. Sites like Upwork post thousands of jobs a day for professions from computer programming to lawyering. If I’m honest, the writing jobs on Upwork are mostly ridiculous – “I need a ghost writer for a 10,000 word Mormon erotic thriller and my budget is $15” – but if you’re a web developer you could make some decent money, or if you’re simply desperate, you can dig around to find ok jobs that require nothing more than a reasonable understanding of the English language.

7. Cheap countries are the best countries


Legzira Beach, Morocco


Krakow, Poland


Lake Koman, Albania

Maybe it’s the tight arse in me, but I find that spending excessively on food/accommodation/fun just for the sake of being in a trendy part of the world diminishes the enjoyability factor by a minimum of 85%, by which point you may as well be somewhere else. We visited a good chunk of the European capital hotspots  but were still more awe-struck by the rugged beauty of rural Morocco , the time-warp paradise of Albania, the delicious food of Bulgaria and the fairytale castles and villages of Romania.  Your money will go twice or three times as far in those countries, and the relative lack of tourism means people will treat you better too. Want to make your money last longer? Go where the tourists aren’t.


Monemvasia, Greece


Lisbon, Portugal


Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Side note: It goes without saying that I wouldn’t have been able to do all this if I didn’t lead an incredibly privileged life in New Zealand. I had a good job, I didn’t have to financially support my family and I didn’t have any costly mental or physical illnesses to deal with while I was saving. I also haven’t spent any money on proper grown-up things like a house, a wedding, or paying back my student loan (sorry IRD). You will see people living in all sorts of dire situations on your travels, so, to quote whoever makes up all those annoying travel quotes, always remember that you are #blessed.





Europe, Travel

England: 7 stellar spots less than 7 hours drive from London

Every year, as is Kiwi tradition dating back to whenever New Zealanders realised they could leave, thousands of spritely young Kiwis escape to the other side of the world to experience the few things New Zealand doesn’t have – reliable public transport, things that are very old, and tikka masala on chips. But what if I told you you could go to England and visit somewhere other than London? What if I told you that you could go for a wee without having to pay £2 at Greggs for a pack of expired Easter cornflake cups just so you can use the bathroom in which someone definitely shat on the floor very recently but the guy at the counter gets paid minimum wage to sell expired Easter cornflake cups so only put the most miniscule of efforts into the mopping? What about that?

London is big, trendy and exciting. You can drink ciders by the litre in the park and the cops don’t care because of all the stabbings that are usually distracting them. All that uninhibited cider drinking is enough to make many bright eyed New Zealand sproutlets never want to leave, using London as a base to fly to such exotic locations as Ibiza, which is essentially a tropical Britain where the people are presumably more likely to yell things like “let’s get mortal” while having a matador tattooed on their arse cheek to commemorate their authentic Spanish experience.

But let’s be honest, going to England and only visiting London would be like flying 26 hours to New Zealand and only visiting Auckland with the occasional visit to tropical Cairns, which would be incredibly shit.

Here are my 7 places less than 7 hours drive from London that you might like very much (or not at all but at least you gave it a go)

  1.  Brighton 


For the less intrepid traveller, Brighton is less than 2 hours drive from London on a good day. Like all good English seaside towns, it’s a bit tacky, but that’s half the fun. It’s another prime location for uninhibited cider drinking, but you’re on a beach, with seagulls dive-bombing your fish and chips and the Royal Palace Pier to explore once you’ve finished trying unsuccessfully to get the seagulls to also eat your mushy peas. Brighton’s a go-to spot for Hen’ nights and stag dos, so get an icecream and watch a Pink Lady with her tit out trying to throw penis confetti in the general direction of her friends instagram shot. It’s hours of fun. Fans of Timezone are also bound to enjoy the arcade, AKA amusements for cheapskates (the roller coaster is way too expensive). If you’ve ever wanted to play on a Coronation street themed coin machine or feverishly bash little plastic minions in the head while half-cut, Brighton Pier is the place for you. If you stay long enough you might win a souvenir tea towel or a pencil, which is very exciting.



2. Corfe Castle


Corfe Castle is a tiny village of just over 1000 people, and given their castle is that many years old, it’s a bit buggered, but the combination of the two, with the ruins over looking the slate roofs and tangled vines, is what I assume people are talking about when they say inanimate objects are charming. It appears that people were quite malnourished in the Middle Ages because the doors look like they were built for elves. Maybe they were because the houses, like elves, are extremely cute and you may want to squeeze them (yes I’m aware my architectural analysis is outstanding pleas give me a job on Grand Designs). On bank holidays you might get lucky and be treated to a large scale Saxon vs Vikings war re-enactment, the sort of event in which you outwardly go “haha look at the nerds” but you’re actually thinking how fun it would be to bash someone with a blunt sword.


3. Durdle Door


Durdle Door has got to be the most enjoyable place name to say out loud in England, I stand by this statement and am willing to fight people with a blunt sword over the matter, in period costume if necessary. It’s sort of like England’s version of Cathedral Cove, which means on a sunny afternoon it’s absolutely packed with tourists doing dorky jumping poses in the arch. For the best, most zen experience, get up at a ridiculous hour and be there for sunrise. It’s more majestic when you’re the only one there, and it’s also less embarrassing when you’re trying to nail your own dorky jumping shot but you just look like one of those floppy inflatable men they have outside car dealerships. It’s bit of a hike down to the beach, and a further hike if you want to see the view from the cliff tops, but if you want to start your day with a scene so perfect it looks like a back drop in a movie, Durdle Door is the spot. Go on say it, Durdle Door. So satisfying. Durdle Door Durdle Door Durdle Door.

4. Porthcurno


Porthcurno is in the county that invented pasties, so obviously it’s pretty great from the outset, but it’s the beaches that are the real surprise. With yellow sands and that Bahamas-esque turquoise sea, you get the feeling Captain Jack Sparrow could be in a rum-induced coma around the next bend. At least it looks like that way. All the locals staring at the sea and taking photos of the sea but not getting in the sea is a giveaway. Don’t let this put you off, it is my solemn belief that the English evaporate in water colder than 25 degrees, which is why they spend so much time in Ibiza. Us Kiwis are made of hardier stuff, so jump in, feel your heart stop for an exhilarating few seconds and celebrate with more cider. At Porthcurno’s Beach there’s a bay with a little waterfall just a few rock hops around to the left which you’re almost guaranteed to have to yourself minus a small mound of semi-evaporated English people. It’s recommended that you do this at low tide, but if you don’t particularly value your life you can do it whenever.


5. Tintagel


Another Cornwall stunner, most people go to Tintagel for the excessively tourist-y King Arthur attractions. Such attractions claim that if King Arthur was real, he was conceived in a castle in Tintagel, or at least stayed in it, or maybe he didn’t. As such everything in Tintagel is named after King Arthur, including the pub, the hotel, and probably all the local children. But the best thing in Tintagel is a bit less populated and a lot more likely to have witches there. Cornwall, for reasons unknown, has long attracted people who believe they have special powers (there’s a witchcraft museum in neighbouring Boscastle with foetuses and the like in it) and some of these people end up at St Nectins Glen. It’s a waterfall, but for more spiritually connected folk it’s probably better described as an ethereal experience. A 15 minute wander through the wood leads you to trees adorned with charms and ribbons, and eventually, some witchy-looking types splashing about in the water and murmuring or making rock towers. Whether you’re into all that or not, the waterfall is quite beautiful. Evenings are best spent watching the sunset at Rocky Valley and hoping that the witch whose shoe you stepped on in the pub won’t turn you unto a foetus and put you in a museum.


6. The Lake District


You can’t really name one village to visit in the Lake District, because they’re all pretty wonderful. It’s the place that inspired both Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth to write about woodland creatures in little jackets and the majesty of nature respectively. The District National Park spans 2,300 square kilometres, so it’s best explored by car. Accommodation isn’t that cheap, so you can either take a tent or sleep in your car, which isn’t that Wordsworthian but definitely cost effective. Much like Cornwall, at most times of the year it’s likely you’ll have whichever lake you choose all to yourself (I recommend Conniston Water and Buttermere) minus a few intrepids who appear to be dressed for some sort of Arctic plunge. Aside from its cracking good looks, the Lake District’s appeal is that much of it feels like the land that time forgot, especially when you’re taking an afternoon stroll and a group of elderly men collectively doff their caps at you. It’s very Downton Abbey.


7. The Cotswolds


The houses in the Cotswolds are beautiful and infuriating at the same time. Beautiful because that’s the way they look, and infuriating because some of them are 400 years old and they’re still in better condition than your shitty Wellington flat that was built in the 80s. They’re the sorts of houses 1997 Hugh Grant would have lived in while playing a struggling author living with his stern but kind-hearted grandma. So, if you can stop thinking about the sluggy carpets you paid $250 a week for, the Cotswolds is very enjoyable. Like the Lake District, it’s best explored by car, but the wing mirror- tickling width of the roads ensures you can take your time, which is the name of the game here. Think of all the whimsical types of walking you’ve wanted to do in your life: ambling, meandering, a light frolic perhaps, all are perfectly feasible in the Cotswolds, it just puts you in that sort of mood. My favourite was Lower Slaughter which was much less murder-y than the name suggests.

So Kiwi Londoners, next time you’re stuck next to a masturbator on the tube or have to pay £8 for a vodka soda and think you just can’t hack it anymore, escape for a bit. Eat a scone, watch the ducks, and take a nice deep breath, you deserve it.