Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime type of deal, so you want to make the most of the time you are there. I thought it would be hard to travel, because I didn’t come here with a lot of money. I didn’t think I would make it to the South Island and experience the beauty that was waiting for me there. I guess that is why trivia contests were invented.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake

TEAN had a trivia contest before we all left The States. The prize was a travel pass from Stray Travel. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I knew I wanted to win it. Every week I answered the questions religiously, and I won. I got to travel with Stray this semester in New Zealand. Here are some pros and cons of traveling on an organized bus tour.

Pro: You Don’t Have to Stress about Planning

With the travel pass, you follow a specific route that runs in a loop. They take you everywhere you are set to go. You don’t need any maps, GPS, or WiFi to try to figure out where you are, because your bus driver knows exactly where he’s going. All you need to do is get on when it’s time to leave and you will be all set. If you want to stay anywhere longer it is possible to hop on the next bus. You just need to call ahead of time to be sure there is enough space.

Photo of me with the Stray bus
Photo of me with the Stray bus

Con: Less Flexibility for a Tight Schedule

In my experience, I wanted to stay in Queenstown another night, but the next bus was full and because I had a set flight from Christchurch, it didn’t work out. So it is not always the best for those with tight travel plans.

Pro: Guaranteed Place to Stay

Stray books accommodations ahead of time and you are guaranteed a hostel, which is super important. Though double rooms are available, be prepared to be bunking with strangers. I didn’t have a bad experience with this and overall it was interesting to hear their various travel plans and stories. Some travelers told me how hard it was to find a place in Queenstown, especially in the summer at its high season. If you decide to book a different hostel, they can drop you off there too.

View of Queenstown from the hostel
View of Queenstown from the hostel

Pro + Con: Lots of Driving

I will have to say there is a lot of time on the road. If you get motion sickness, it might not be the best option for you. One of the downsides for me was that I felt like I didn’t get to experience all of the nature, because we drove past it. On a positive note, the driver does photo stops when there is a particularly pretty view so keep your cameras handy. Otherwise take a mental picture with you, the whole country is beautiful to look at even while just driving past. And don’t worry about food stops and bathroom breaks, because those are plentiful and not far in between.

Mout Cook
Mout Cook

Pro: Fun Organized Activities

On the bus, the driver sends around a sheet of activities you can choose from in each place you visit. From there, he may book it for you and if not, the driver will show you where you need to go for the activity. Easy peasy.

Rafting in Rangitata
Rafting in Rangitata

Con: Unexpected Bad Weather

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t permit a few of the activities that were supposed to go on at various locations, whether it was rain or fog. Once again, it is disappointing if you have a tight travel plan, but with more flexibility you could probably just do it the next day and hop on a different bus.

Looking a little foggy on the South Island today
Looking a little foggy on the South Island today

Pro: Meeting New People

Most people on the Stray bus are in their twenties, so you are bound to find some common interests with different people. It is also super interesting to meet people from so many different places. To name a few, there were people from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Brazil, Israel, and Sweden. If you are into the night life scene, then you’ll get to know everyone a lot quicker and the bus almost becomes a family.

Group photo by Bluebird Stray
Group photo by Bluebird Stray

Overall, it is super easy and fun to travel with Stray. TEAN really emphasizes the fact that they don’t want you to rent cars and drive, just for our own safety. I found that traveling with Stray requires a lot less planning and more flexibility for you to really get the most out of your experience. So to me, it was worth it.  The pass I used was the Short Q for the South Island, but all of the pass options are explained on their website. The activities and itinerary on the site are accurate, so it gives you a good idea of what there is to do. Plus TEAN also gives you a 5% discount you can use. Sweet as!

Michelle Dukette is a student at University of Rhode Island and a TEAN Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with TEAN in Auckland, New Zealand