As a travel blogger, writer, and visitor to 58 countries, I am frequently approached by aspiring independent travelers wanting to get advice on where would be a good place for them to start their travels. While the ideal answer is simply”anywhere”, I nevertheless take this question very seriously because I understand that for many people the idea of international travel can be intimidating.
While experiencing different cultures and traipsing about the globe can be invigorating, it, too, can be absolutely terrifying. Maybe you don’t speak the language (Croatia) or the currency is funny (Indonesia). Maybe there is a high chance of getting pickpocketed (Costa Rica) or you’re concerned about contracting tropical diseases (Bolivia).
Although one of the greatest parts of international, independent travel is being forced to exist outside of your comfort zone, many first-time travelers would rather ease themselves out of their comfort zone than dive right in to a place like Tajikstan or the Congo.
So, with all of that considered, whenever I am asked the question of where should be the first country someone should travel to I always go back to the same answer time and time again:
As many of my readers know New Zealand is one of my favorite countries on the planet, but my personal preferences aside, here are some objective reasons why New Zealand should be the first country you ever travel to. Still hesitant? Here’s a bit of advice. If you’ve ever wanted to travel out of the country, just sit down, search for some flights to Christchurch or Auckland, and just do it.
1. No language barrier
If you’re reading this it means you speak English, which as chance would have it, is what they speak in New Zealand. Sure, there’s a bit of accent and some slang to be dealt with (chips vs. crisps, petrol vs. gas, jandals vs. sandals, etc), but right when you step off the plane you can approach any local with a question and begin conversing immediately. No translator dictionaries, no blank stares, no reaching for the right word, just speaking.
2. Favorable exchange rate
As of this writing, the New Zealand exchange rate is $.82 to the 1 US dollar. Not as good as it once was, but it’s still cheaper. Granted, many items in New Zealand are more expensive (petrol, alcohol, etc.) than in other parts of the world, and travelers are subject to paying the 15% GST tax which is levied on all goods, but nevertheless your money is going to go further than if you go to somewhere like say, Ireland, Australia, or England.
3. Friendly people, unbelievable scenery
Even though Auckland is a legitimately big city with over 1 million people, New Zealand is still a country where sheep outnumber humans by 40 to 1. Full of affable locals and jaw-dropping scenery, New Zealand has everything from the white sand beaches of the Bay of Islands to the glacially carved lakes of valleys of the Southern Alps. A land of vineyards, islands, volcanoes, and rainforests, every outdoor adventure you’ve ever dreamed of is yours for the taking while traveling through New Zealand.
4. If you get hurt, you don’t have to pay for it
Yes, you read that right. Under New Zealand’s Adventure Compensation Corporation (ACC), anyone in New Zealand who hurts themselves in any way is able to receive free medical treatment while traveling through the country. Of course, this is what a lot of that 15% GST tax goes towards, so you’re still paying for it one way or another, but if you break a wrist mountain biking the Marlborough Sounds or bump your head while bungy jumping in Queenstown, you can visit a doctor and not worry about dealing with international insurance carriers or travel insurance claims. Easy as!
5. Familiar food
When traveling through New Zealand you’re not going to have to eat hairy mystery meat (Ecuador) or chance it on poisonous blowfish (Japan), and much of the food that you enjoy back home can be found in nearly any town across New Zealand. That being said, the meat pies and kumara sweet potatoes are local flavors which should be amenable to any traveler’s palate.
6. Maori Heritage
One of the biggest reasons people want to travel is to experience cultures different than their own. While modern day New Zealand is, for the most part, quite similar to other Westernized societies, travelers to New Zealand are still able to experience the history and culture of the native Maori people who have inhabited the islands since 1100 AD. Te Papa Museum in Wellington and the Auckland Museum provide informative exhibits and displays relating to New Zealand’s Maori history, and for those wanting to get a live cultural show, a visit to a hangi (dinner/feast) and a marae (communal gathering place) in Rotorua is a must while traveling through New Zealand.
Granted, flights to Christchurch or Auckland can be lengthy plane ride from pretty much anywhere, but if you can accumulate some miles, pop for a flight, and get 2-4 weeks off to properly explore the country, New Zealand could be the country which jump starts your wanderlust to destinations far and wide.
Good luck, happy travels, and questions about New Zealand travel are always welcome.