Author Katrina Shanks, CEO Financial Advice NZ Article originally published in

After more than two years of Covid lockdowns and closed borders, Kiwis are travelling again – both domestically and overseas – with travel agents reporting a big increase in interest to book holidays and weekends away.

Air NZ says the strength of demand for air travel has “far exceeded” expectations, with demand for domestic leisure travel now higher than it was before the pandemic.

That’s backed up by a Southern Cross Travel Insurance survey showing 95% of Kiwis are looking to travel domestically or internationally over the next two years. What’s more, it found the top two benefits of travel selected were the opportunity to have a complete break from their daily routine (70%), and to create memories with family and friends (67%).

Are you one of those who’s keen to get travelling again, or at least get out of town for a few days, to recharge your batteries and refocus after a wet winter where everyone’s been feeling a bit frazzled?

If so, but cost is an issue, a weekend away is probably the best place to start. So, let’s look at some ways of keeping costs down.

I suggest the first thing you do – even before you decide where you’re going – is to set a budget.

Travel, accommodation, meals, and spending money needs vary a lot depending on where you go and how you get there, so working out what you can afford and setting a budget to suit will help you to narrow down destination ideas.

Just because you’re not spending a lot doesn’t mean less value. Driving two or three hours to somewhere you haven’t been before can be just as refreshing and rewarding as flying somewhere to a great beach.

The key is to plan your trip activities and finances, because setting a budget will help you get the fun and rest you need while keeping you within your means.

If you’re driving, work out the cost: how many kilometres it is there and back and how much driving will you be doing while you’re there. Then work out how many litres per 100 kilometres your car uses and multiply that by the cost of petrol, and right there will be a chunk of the cost of your weekend.

Accommodation will be the biggest cost, so get on the internet and see what’s available. The main thing is to shop around because there are usually lots of options.

If you want to staying in a hotel or motel, it’s often better to call them directly rather than booking through an online website. These can be useful for seeing what accommodation is available, but going directly will be cheaper.

Because you’re talking to the provider, you’re also doing them a favour – they don’t have to pay the online site – so the chances of getting the best room, an upgrade, a breakfast deal, or an early check-in or late check-out are much higher. They’re also more likely to help should you need to change your dates or even cancel, because they’re not tied to a third-party deal.

I know people who have called a hotel directly to see if they have any last-minute cancellations or available rooms they need to fill, and managed to score a great discount. But you need to be flexible, and be prepared to miss out and cancel your plans.

One of the main expenses is food. The cost of eating out can mount up, but if you get a motel room with a kitchen, you can prepare your own food and save a lot of money.

Airbnb is another option. They will often be cheaper and also usually come with a kitchen, meaning a double saving. But look out for the servicing and cleaning costs – they add up.

Or, you could take prepared meals and snacks to save even more.

For about the same rate, a cabin at a campground could be your thing. And they often come with a playground for kids, or a beach.

Rates vary, but I’ve seen some great self-contained cabins at a campground right on the beach for $145 per night off-season, sleeps up to five. That makes for a cheap weekend, particularly if it’s a family, but still way cheaper than a hotel or an Airbnb, even if there’s just two of you.

If you’re an outdoors type, a tramp to one of the Department of Conservation’s 950 huts could be for you.

They’re rudimentary, and you do need to take extras such as food and good clothing and other gear, but they’re cheap. A rough guide is $15 a night for adults, $7.50 for teenagers, and children free. Half the fun is getting there, half is staying there, and there’s no better way than to blow away those workday cobwebs.

If you really aren’t into driving far, and have your eyes on a more distant destination for your weekend, then flying it is.

But right now, with demand very high, airlines struggling to get staff, and the price of fuel soaring, fares are getting as high as the flight plan, so it pays to shop around, even though there are just three airlines going to most main centres and provincial cities.

To give you a chance at the cheapest fare, book as far in advance as possible. It’s quite the opposite the closer to the day you want to travel.

And always pick which days you fly, though this might mean changing your plans.

In the US it’s called “making your own weekend”, where you book to travel Saturday through Monday, rather than Friday through Sunday. Air fares will often be lower (as will hotel and motel rates). Or make it a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday break and look for an opportunity to overlap your stay a day before or a day after most people travel (Thursday and Monday).

Other tips to help keep costs down are avoid the school holidays (when rates for accommodation and flying are always higher), and pick your weekend. Avoid going somewhere when big events will push up accommodation rates – even if you can get an air ticket.

Or simply treat yourself to a firepit, a blow-up spa, or a paddling pool, turn off your mobile phone, and have a holiday in your backyard.

Our weekends away are now about where we can explore, which normally involves a walk or a bike ride somewhere new. Someone once said to me only take photos and leave footprints. Wise words.

As my financial adviser would say – value rather than cost is always the best guide.