Travel to New Zealand
Katie and Jake stand on Roy’s Peak Pike in New Zealand.
Katie McBroom’s experience in New Zealand can be summarized through a single story. Ten days into her epic outdoor adventure with her husband Jake, they decided to embark on a hike through the Tongariro Alpine Crossing — an all-day trek through a notoriously treacherous volcanic mountain pass.
In November 2018, the weather was unseasonably cold for springtime. For a week and a half Katie and Jake had been huddled together in their rented camper van trying to stay warm. Katie had been wearing the same utilitarian thermals every day — the cute outfits she planned to wear lay crumpled up in the suitcase, never to be touched. By the time they arrived at the drop-off point, Katie was tired and cold and discouraged. The trail head parking lot was plastered with posters that warned hikers to turn back — that unprepared trekkers die on this pass every year due to the rapidly changing severe weather and the lack of cover along the pass.
“My husband was the champion of pushing me. It was cold and I didn’t want to go, so I asked the shuttle driver whether or not we should do it. He said — deadpan — ‘You can go if you want. Someone died last week. If your car is still in the parking lot in the morning, we will send a search crew out for you,” Katie recalls.
Yet, despite the harsh warning, Katie and Jake forged ahead. That day it was 24 degrees with 30 mph winds and a 90 percent chance of rain. The weather deterred most hikers from the trail, so Katie and Jake were the only humans they saw that day. “It felt so surreal, like we were discovering this land for the first time.”
The couple rented this camper to stay in for their trip.
Katie said the terrain, a rocky wasteland peppered with geothermal pools and covered in low-hanging clouds, was the setting for the Mr. Doom scene in Lord of the Rings. This dangerous, remote wasteland became her favorite part of the trip. “This trip was about learning how to deal when things go awry. Nothing on this trip went as planned. A few days before this, I hiked Roy’s Peak Pike in a sports bra — people kept coming down the trail in full snow gear. I didn’t know what we were getting into — it was hot and sunny at the bottom, and when we got to the top it was covered in snow. Apparently there is a hole in the ozone above Roy’s Peak, so the next day my face was bright red and swelled up so much I looked like Tim Allen in a fat suit!”
In addition to sunburn and deadly glacier hikes, Katie also endured two weeks of frigid sleeping in camper vans and the challenge of “freedom camping,” the controversial idea that land is free for people to use and that anyone can pull over anywhere to camp. Most nights, the couple slept in remote areas or on the side of the road, and would pull into a proper campground every three days for a shower. “It was a bonding experience for us as a couple. It didn’t always feel like a vacation and was never glamorous, but I walked away from this trip feeling like I proved myself. It was a real accomplishment to make it to the top of several peaks, to make dinner in the back of a van with a sterno, and to swap sweaty socks in order to finish the last leg of a hike.”
Katie may have not experienced the luxury of New Zealand that she was expecting, but she walked away from this epic adventure with some newfound confidence and resiliency — her travel-inspired superpowers.
Katie, 27, began traveling internationally just two years ago. Since then, she has taken two trips abroad each year. She says traveling abroad is like getting a tattoo: once you have one, you will probably become addicted. International travel is her way of acquiring context of the world and inspires her to see her own life more clearly.
This senior art director and freelance photographer believes that the first step in taking the leap to travel abroad is in buying the flight ticket. “Once you buy the ticket, you can figure out the rest. You just have to jump in and do it — buying the ticket removes the barrier.” Here are her travel tips for New Zealand (or elsewhere) on a budget:
- Stay away from the big cities: Katie likes to explore smaller towns and outdoor adventures, as she says that is where you learn most about a country’s culture and how you save money. Jake and she flew in and out of Christchurch and Ackland but immediately hit the open road for smaller towns.
- Use Roadtrippers to map out your international road trips: the app calculates distance and time between stops, allowing you to generate a comprehensive itinerary.
- Use Scott’s Cheap Flights or TravelPirates for budget airfare. Katie recommends you clear the browsing history in your cookies and open an incognito tab when searching for budget airfare. Your search history will be used to create an algorithm that prevents you from finding cheaper fare. For instance, if you find a trip to Scotland for $1,000, this price point will be stored by your computer and new searches will continue to find flights around that price. Katie was able to find flights from Los Angeles to Ackland for $650 round-trip.
- Use credit card points for connecting flights (from Louisville to international hubs like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and New York).
- Look into renting a camper van — it counts as your hotel and car rental. Katie’s camper vans cost $2,000 for her two-week trip.
- Use airbnb and bookings.com to reserve your accommodations. Katie, who frequently rents out the lower level of her home on airbnb, claims that rentals abroad are more affordable than domestic rentals by owner.