How awesome was New Zealand?
Ethan: It was THIS awesome! (Ethan opening his arms widely).
NZ was the best country I ever visited by far! It was mind-blowing. I think that if I was a good photographer, I could have made postcard of every shot I took.
Unlike other countries where you have to travel from one spot to another, in New Zealand the journey is what you enjoy.
But for me it was more than that. Taking a gap year was my way to look for myself, and I did find it thanks to all the various experience that I got: people, work, activities… I got what I needed out of New Zealand, not necessarily what I wanted out of it.
What did you forget to pack when leaving home?
Ethan: I actually packed too much. I packed so much camping gear that I used two nights only. It was a mistake but if I have to pick one thing, it would be my suit. I did not need to have any dressed clothes here in New Zealand.
Can you describe what is a Starter Pack?
Ethan: It was a core part of my working holiday. Their orientation and organisation tought me all about my gap year, gave me all I needed to be on my way, and then supported me along the way.
In short, it was my lifeline along my trip. If I ever felt I needed something or some help of any kind, I knew I could call my contact.
After a week I realised how “screwed” I would have been without them. Thanks to them, I was very comfortable with starting my trip, finding a job, living here and travelling the country.
What was the best thing that your agency did for you?
Ethan: Having only one contact was great! I talked to one person that I knew and knew me all the time. I talked to others that were just dropped off somewhere and that was it. No personal contact and always speaking to different people. For me, having one person going through the whole process and even staying with us at the bank, for instance, was the best thing.
Also, I’d say that the fact that their services include no fluff was good. All that was provided was actually useful.
You travelled around New Zealand with a Hop On Hop Off bus, how was it?
Ethan: I was kind of lost when arriving and they recommended it to me and it was really the best choice for me.
Most people I met were thanks to this bus. When staying in the cities I met a few people but not much. However, I really hit it off with people on the bus. There were so many different types of people. As I said, I was lost when arriving and you pointed me in the best direction possible.
Actually, all people that I am going to stay with in Europe now (Ethan is going to travel around Europe before going back to the USA) I met them on Stray. It was awesome. Despite what I thought, I felt not too forced to buy activities either. I only chose to do what I wanted. At the end, I did see all I wanted to see as I was not confined to what they stopped at. I hopped off often.
Tell me about one place that you really loved?
Ethan: After a long week in Auckland, I loved Raglan and its unique rolling Dr Seuss like hills. It was not the most impressive place, but it was really what I thought about when I was sitting at uni at home. When I arrived there I realised that I got what I wanted from this trip. I met a guy from the Netherlands and ended up WWOOFing at the Karori Lodge for 2 months in total. It was the coolest place ever. I hitchhiked to work every day – a thing that I never did before.
Before I came to New Zealand, I was on the Internet all the time, Without Internet there I used it only 30 minutes a week, and it was a great break. It changed my lifestyle and was a real 180 from the US.
What is the most memorable activity that you did in New Zealand?
Ethan: I did a lot. My favourite one was the Tongariro Crossing, but the most memorable one was a boat tour in Akaroa.
When I took the plane to New Zealand, I met a guy that told me he was a fisherman from New Zealand and told me to go to Akaroa. He could not stop talking about it so I told myself I had to go there.
What kind of jobs did you do here in New Zealand?
Ethan: I worked for a single mother that needed help with her garden. We went there with my friend from Netherlands after only a week in NZ. It felt really odd at the beginning to be living with a stranger but it was a “cool” experience, it opened my eyes to another way of life.
I also worked in a hostel in Raglan. I was ground keeping, so I was the garbage man. I worked with a really nice dude, Dave, that has done that for years. He definitely knew what he was doing. My job was to sort out garbage. It sounds awful but it kept the landscape clean. It was very humbling and, after all, not so bad as we got to surf and our living conditions were great. We also helped with the chickens and the garden, which was hilarious. It is so not something that I would do again, but I am so glad I have done it once.
Where did you stay most of your time?
Ethan: I stayed in a tent for two nights and it was terrible, so the rest of the time I stayed in hostels.
How was it to live in hostels?
Ethan: I did not love it, but I did not hate it either. I am used to more comfort, but I never really stayed in a bad hostel. I stuck with BBH hostels that were all pretty nice, especially The Last Resort in Queenstown where I spent Christmas. One guy got us some great food from his work and cooked for everybody an awesome 5 hour long BBQ.
Overall, hostels are good for saving money on the road. They served their purpose for my trip.
Was it easy to save money on the road?
Ethan: Yes, surprisingly easy. I have a funny story: a friend and I were sitting on the beach and decided not to go out that night to save money. After a few minutes a woman came and ask us if we did want to grab a free beer? We said yes and it turned out that we had to help them test their new boat. We ended up in a 2-hour party with 30 backpackers and an open bar. It was great!
What was the best dollar you spent in New Zealand?
Ethan: I lost quite a lot of weight in my first months, so I ended up buying a belt. It is made in New Zealand using “authentic vegetable stained leather” and it saved me from pulling my pants for the whole trip, haha.
What did this trip teach you?
Ethan: It helped me to figure out what I want to do with my life. I was paying $30000 a year studying things that I did not care about. Now I know what I want.
I tried things that I hated and things that I loved and it really helped me to figure out what I want to do in every aspect of my life. Taking this gap year was a very personal experience.
With the amount of entry-level jobs that I have done, I also became more humble and learned to appreciate the work that we all consider more meaningless. It was an ego-deflation of some sort.
What advice would you give to someone that is about to go in New Zealand on a working holiday visa?
Ethan: I would definitely say that you need to get a service like I did. I mean, it was a great value for money and helped me a lot. You have to be a bit more realistic than I was. Backpacking is not that “romantic”, so a bit of preparation may help.
Then look at the ultimate goal of your trip and go for it! My trip worked out the way it had to so it was great!
I would also say that: “It will be all right”. I was so stressed when I arrived before I met you, and now I look back and think it was a bit silly as it turned out great.
Finally, if you have any desire to do it at all, go for it! Don’t ponder.
So, what is your next step?
Ethan: I will spend 2 months in Europe visiting friends that I met in New Zealand. But I have not planned it much. I am landing in London and I will wing it.
Last question, would you recommend getting a Starter Pack to your friends?
Ethan: Yes definitely. They jump-started my whole trip, I am so thankful for that! Who knows how long it would have taken me to do everything they did for me.