Monday, March 8, 2010

0 Mailbag Monday: March 8, 2010

My boyfriend and I are spending two weeks touring the South Island of New Zealand this August and are spending an arm and a leg to get there. I know the New Zealand Dollar is a little weaker than the US Dollar but not enough to make things cheap. Do you have any recommendations for cutting costs while we are there?
-Melanie R., Bowie MD USA

Don't eat out. One of the great Kiwi preferences, and our biggest money saver while in New Zealand, is the "self-contained unit". You will see motels everywhere and they don't translate directly into American English--motels are a collection of rooms with their own kitchenettes. So we got in the habit of grocery shopping and cooking our own dinners (pasta is always a cheap and easy option that works in even the most basic kitchen setups) and carried the food supplies in our car between destinations. Since New Zealand cuisine isn't much different from American, you really won't be missing out on a cultural experience if you skip the restaurants.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you will be visiting in their winter, so the low season gives you more space to bargain for rooms. We were able to get $10-20 knocked off the rate a few times, and if you are willing to use one place as a home base for three or four days, you're sure to be able to negotiate a discounted price.

Or you could skip motels all together. A popular option in New Zealand is renting a camper van. We personally did not explore this, but Jucy, the discount rental company from which we got our car, also has RVs on offer.

I will be doing an itinerary similar to the one you guys did in Japan...basically just Tokyo and Kyoto with day trips from each. I know you have to buy the JR rail pass before you actually get to Japan and have already spent more time than I should have debating whether it would be cheaper to get the pass or to buy tickets individually there? What did you do and do you think it was the right decision?
-Mitch, Kingston ON Canada

Ah, the age old JR Rail Pass debate. We spent a lot of time thinking about this too, decided to buy the pass, but then forgot to buy the pass before we left Australia. Oops. So we took the pay-as-you-go route. And in the end, the cost was pretty much equal to the price of the JR Rail Pass.

The main cost is the train between Tokyo and Kyoto...especially if you choose to take the Shinkansen bullet trains (which we highly recommend at least one way for just the experience). If you want to save money on one direction, you can take an overnight bus that is a fraction of the cost. Other than that, regional trains are fairly inexpensive. Individual JR trains within Tokyo are cheap, and the separate city metro system is really comprehensive. In Kyoto, the metro and buses are vital for getting around and aren't included in the JR pass anyway.

And while you can't buy the national pass once in Japan, you can buy regional passes that are good for anywhere from one to four days. The JR Kansai Pass includes Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Osaka, and Himeji and is definitely a good value.

So all in all, we recommend skipping the national JR Rail Pass for this itinerary. Flexibility is key because you never know what's going to come up.

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