How to Plan a Budget Trip to the South Pacific

Lagoon in Rarotonga
Lagoon in Rarotonga, the Cook Islands

Spoiler: it was an enormous pain in the ass. 

But so, so worth it.

I thought it would be easy. I had a month to spare in-between leaving New Zealand and arriving in Mexico, so spending that time island hopping my way across the South Pacific made perfect sense. It was the region I’d most wanted to explore back when I first made the decision to travel, and, well, y’know, these places could be underwater sometime in the near future, thanks to climate change.

Little did I know, this trip would end up being the trickiest I’ve ever had to plan.

I’ve been receiving an increasing number of emails from people wanting to know exactly how I plan trips, and especially how I plan trips to expensive places on a budget. The South Pacific seems like a good place to start because the planning process was complicated, time-consuming, and made me want to cry. If you’re planning a trip to the South Pacific, hopefully this post will eliminate some of the stress.

Or not, because it really is that frustrating.

But either way, here’s how I did it!


Step One: Start By Deciding Where You Want to Go

The South Pacific countries aren’t as well-known or visited as many other places around the world, so this step will likely involve a fair bit of research. There are a dozen-odd countries spread out across the ocean in the South Pacific, with some of them offering hundreds of islands to visit within them.

Take French Polynesia: Did you know the islands of this nation are spread out over an area of ocean the same size as Europe? There’s the Society Islands that comprise a dozen islands. There’s the Tuamotos, a string of 80 atolls stretching roughly over the size of Western Europe. The Marquesas, one of the most remote island groups in the world, 900 miles and a 3.5 hour flight from Tahiti. The Gambier Islands, which consist of 14 volcanic islands inside a large lagoon. And the Austral Islands, quiet land masses with a few guesthouses and the most authentic Polynesian culture.

You could spend a decade exploring French Polynesia and still end up seeing very little of it.

Making the decision about where to go, then, can be overwhelming.

To start, I recommend finding an enormous map of the region online, and then start to eliminate the places you can’t justify visiting, using the following criteria:

Lagoon in Rarotonga
Lagoon in Rarotonga, the Cook Islands

Do I Need a Visa to Visit?

I wasn’t going to have a huge amount of time to apply for a visa on this trip. I would be travelling reasonably quickly around Australia and New Zealand and it was over the holiday season, too, so embassies would be closed. Anywhere in the South Pacific that therefore had a complicated entry process was immediately knocked off my list in favour of an easier trip. In the case of the South Pacific, here are my results (with a U.K. passport):

Crossing off the list:

  • Nauru (reports suggest this is one of the hardest visas in the world to obtain, so that’s a no)

In the clear:

  • American Samoa (30 days on arrival);
  • Cook Islands (31 days on arrival)
  • Fiji (4 months on arrival);
  • French Polynesia (30 days on arrival);
  • Kiribati (30 days on arrival);
  • Marshall Islands (90 days on arrival);
  • Micronesia (30 days on arrival);
  • New Caledonia (90 days on arrival);
  • Palau (30 days on arrival);
  • Samoa (60 days on arrival);
  • Solomon Islands (90 days on arrival) ;
  • Tonga (31 days on arrival);
  • Tuvalu (30 days on arrival);
  • Vanuatu (30 days on arrival);

That didn’t help much with eliminating countries, but did prove to show me just how fortunate I am to have a British passport. North Americans, Europeans, and Antipodeans also won’t have many problems with obtaining visas for the South Pacific.

Beach on Huahine
The main beach on Huahine, French Polynesia

Can I Visit on a Budget?

I’m a budget traveller the vast majority of the time, and I specifically wanted this trip to be all about proving that luxury destinations can be done on the cheap. My next step, then, was to eliminate any countries that could only offer me expensive hotels and resorts. Given that you’re reading a guide about how to visit the South Pacific on a budget, I suspect you’re aiming to do exactly the same.

I usually start this research stage by googling, “[country name] on a budget” to see if any travel writers have visited before me and have any helpful advice to share. You can see my budget guides for the Cook Islands, Bora Bora, and Tonga as starting points for your research if any of those places appeal to you.

If nothing much comes up there, I next head to WikiTravel to see what’s written about the country and how much you should budget for a trip there. There’s usually a few sections to give you a good estimate of how much you can expect to spend on accommodation, transportation, and food.

Finally, I take matters into my own hands and start searching for affordable accommodation options online. To find cheap places to stay, I go to HostelWorld and search for the country name to see if there are any hostels listed. If nothing comes up there, I open Booking, search for the specific country, and sort the hotel results by price.

I start with accommodation options first, because that’s the easiest and fastest way to see if budget travel is a possibility — if there are no cheap hotels, I can’t visit inexpensively.

For my South Pacific trip in 2018, I found the following places to be tough to visit on a budget, so eliminated them from my list:

  • American Samoa has no hostels listed online and my Booking search didn’t bring up anything for less than $110 a night, so that’s off the cards.
  • Marshall Islands: I could only find one accommodation option in the entire country for under $100 a night, and it didn’t sound very nice, so that’s them out of the picture.
  • Micronesia has no hostels, and just one hotel. It wasn’t under $100 a night, so that eliminated it from my search.
  • Tuvalu has one guesthouse listed, and while it receives great reviews, I’m a little concerned about travelling to somewhere that only has one option for accommodation so I’ll be eliminating that, too.

Here’s where I have left: Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu.

Now it’s time to try to get these 10 down to a more manageable list.

The lagoon in Aitutaki, the Cook Islands. It definitely has to be the prettiest place I've ever visited
Aitutaki, the Cook Islands. Yeah, you should definitely go there.

Are They Nice, Though?

The next criteria I use to see if I want to visit somewhere is to check that the places actually look nice. As a Brit who assumed every South Pacific island was stunningly beautiful, for example, I was shocked when, back in 2011, I stumbled upon a photo of Nauru.

Spoiler: it’s not pretty.

It’s also home to some pretty horrific examples of human rights abuse, so it definitely isn’t an island you should be setting sail for.

I think it’s important to research which island you’ll be visiting. There might be some incredible islands in a particular South Pacific country, but if the only affordable accommodation is in the capital on an ugly island, you’re not going to have the dream trip you’ve been imagining.

Fortunately, all of the islands I had left on my list were gorgeous, so this didn’t help me eliminate anywhere else. In fact, all it did was make me want to go to a dozen islands in every single country over the space of a month.

Bora Bora from above
Flying over Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Are They Easy to Get To?

Finally, it’s time to start checking out the logistics. Palau is way up near the Philippines, for example, which makes it expensive to get to and hard to include in a sensible itinerary. Kiribati is also fairly expensive to reach from New Zealand, as is the Solomon Islands. Everywhere else on my list is reasonably easy to get to and between (famous last words), so they’ll stay on the list of possibles.

After all of this elimination, I’ve ended up with Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu as destinations I could potentially visit on this trip.

With a full month in the region, I decided I’d most likely try to visit three different countries over that time, so I definitely have some further eliminating to do.

It’s time to form a route!

Taking off in Bora Bora
Taking off from Bora Bora

Step Two: How to Find Cheap Flights in the South Pacific

This was the worst thing ever.

I spent well over 100 hours looking at flights and trying to form a route that made sense for my trip.

And just when I thought I found the perfect route? Something would screw it all up. Usually the discovery that it would cost $2,000 and 48 hours to get from my final island destination to Mexico, where I needed to be next.

The South Pacific is a popular destination for honeymooners and round-the-world-trippers, but it’s pretty under-visited by independent travellers — most likely because it’s a pain in the ass to get from place to place. But it’s also most likely a pain in the ass to get from place to place because not many travellers are trying to do exactly that.

What that means is that it’s hard to find direct flights from one island country to another. You’ll frequently find that to get from Samoa to Vanuatu, you’ll have to fly from Samoa back to New Zealand and then onwards to Vanuatu because so few people are actually island-hopping around the Pacific. Sometimes you’ll discover that the cheapest and easiest way to get from Vanuatu to the Cook Islands is via a 48-hour journey with a layover in China.

Yes, really.

Flights are rarely direct, and if you do happen to find a direct flight, you’ll most likely discover that it only runs once a week and doesn’t in any way fit into your itinerary.

This is what it’s like to plan a trip to multiple countries in the South Pacific.

The main road in Rarotonga
The main road in Rarotonga, the Cook Islands

So, let’s take a look at my specific trip and I’ll run you through how I decided where to go.

I’ll be leaving from New Zealand, so my first step is to head to Skyscanner and search for one-way flights from Auckland to [country name] over the week I’m planning to fly out. I want to see which country is cheapest to fly to from New Zealand.

It turns out that the most inexpensive flight from Auckland is to Tonga for $239. Other affordable starting destinations are Samoa ($255), Fiji ($273), the Cook Islands ($293), and Vanuatu ($321). Kiribati and French Polynesia are out of the question at $600 and $800 respectively.

Tonga sounds amazing, so I settle with that for my first destination. Next, on Skyscanner, I search for all flights from within Tonga to all flights within [every country remaining on my list].

Tonga to the French Polynesia involves a 28 hour layover in Auckland and costs $600.
Tonga to Kiribati involves a 37 hour layover in Fiji and costs $900.
But Samoa is just $200. Bingo!

Then it’s time to look at flights from Samoa to every country in the South Pacific, using Skyscanner once more.

There are no flights from Samoa to the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, or Kiribati.
But you can get to Vanuatu for just $185.

That’s my three flights sorted! I’ll go to Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, and then… oh, damn it. To get to Mexico involves 50 hours of flying and $1600.

Matafonua Lodge
The absolutely incredible Matafonua Lodge in Tonga.


I try again. This time I plan to fly to Vanuatu first. From there, the cheapest place to fly to is Samoa for $279. The only affordable flights from Samoa are to French Polynesia. From French Polynesia, the only affordable place I can get to is the Cook Islands, but that flight runs only once a week and doesn’t tie in with my travel plans. And then, it’s just as expensive and time-consuming to get from the Cook Islands to Mexico as it is from Vanuatu.

It was at this point that I thought about giving up and just going to Fiji for a month. 

I tried again. Auckland to Fiji. Fiji to Kiribati. Kiribati to… I can fly to both Tonga and Vanuatu from Kiribati, but both flights only leave once a week, take 27 hours, and involve a layover back in Fiji.

I spent an entire week wrestling with Skyscanner until I found two options that weren’t crazy expensive and worked for my dates:

New Zealand – Tonga – Samoa – Vanuatu – Fiji – Mexico
New Zealand – The Cook Islands – French Polynesia – Fiji – Mexico

It was then time to figure out which itinerary would work best for me, and I did that by looking at specific accommodation options for each place.

my guesthouse in bora bora
An affordable guesthouse in Bora Bora

Step Three: Finding Cheap Accommodation in the South Pacific

The last thing I want to happen is for me to book my flights and find out all the accommodation I’d looked at isn’t available any more.

That’s happened to me way more frequently than I’d like to admit.

So, my next step is to open up Booking and enter in my specific travel dates to see what’s available in my potential destinations. I want to check that I won’t find myself in a situation where all of the cheap accommodation is fully-booked, leaving me to pay out for a luxury hotel instead.

I work quickly here, because I have also managed to book all of my accommodation for a place before and then found the cheap flights I had been planning to take have disappeared.

All of this means you can’t spend weeks or even days dithering over your options. Book everything as soon as you’ve made your decision.

In this situation, this didn’t help me make a decision. Every place I looked at had available accommodation for my stay that had great reviews and was within my budget of $30-70 a night.

Muri Lagoon, in the Cook Islands
Muri Lagoon, in Rarotonga

Step Four: Where Interests Me the Most

This had to be my deciding factor.

Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu: they all looked amazing, but I struggled to find as much information about them online as I could the other destinations. They didn’t look as beautiful, and they sounded trickier to travel around.

Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Fiji: Fiji is popular with backpackers who often island hop around the Yasawa Islands, which I’d always wanted to do, the Cook Islands is often a stopover on round-the-world trips, and French Polynesia has Bora Bora and I knew a guide about visiting it on the cheap would do well. Not only did these islands look more beautiful, but I knew that writing about them here would be more beneficial to you guys, too.

My decision had been made.

Sea at Matafonua Lodge Tonga
How beautiful is Tonga?

Step Five: Buy Travel Insurance

If you’ve read any other posts on Never Ending Footsteps, you’ll know that I’m a great believer in travelling with travel insurance. I’ve seen far too many Go Fund Me campaigns from destitute backpackers that are unexpectedly stranded in a foreign country after a scooter accident/being attacked/breaking a leg with no way of getting home or paying for their healthcare. These costs can quickly land you with a six-figure bill to pay at the end of it.

In short, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.

Travel insurance will cover you if your flight is cancelled and you need to book a new one, if your luggage gets lost and you need to replace your belongings, if you suddenly get struck down by appendicitis and have to be hospitalised, or discover a family member has died and you need to get home immediately. If you fall seriously ill, your insurance will cover the costs to fly you home to receive medical treatment.

I use SafetyWing as my travel insurance provider, and recommend them for trips to the South Pacific. Firstly, they’re one of the few companies out there who will actually cover you if you contract COVID-19. On top of that, they provide worldwide coverage, don’t require you to have a return ticket, and even allow you to buy coverage after you’ve left home. If you’re on a long-term trip, you can pay monthly instead of up-front, and can cancel at any time. Finally, they’re more affordable than the competition, and have a clear, easy-to-understand pricing structure, which is always appreciated.

With SafetyWing, you’ll pay $1.50 a day for travel insurance.

Raiatea view
View from my $65 a night apartment in Raiatea

Would I Have Done Anything Differently?

Overall, I believe I made the right decision and I rank my time in the South Pacific as one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. You’ve seen the photos in this post: I spent an entire month in paradise!

My one concern about this trip was that the destinations I’d chosen might be too touristy and busy, and therefore expensive, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. The great thing about the budget travel scene in these countries is that most of the luxury travellers hide away in their resorts all day, leaving the islands free for the budget travellers to play on. Even on Bora Bora, I was surprised by how quiet the island was.

The only thing I didn’t plan for on this trip (and should have done) was travel burnout. Three days on Rarotonga; four days on Aitutaki; one day on Rarotonga; one day on Tahiti; three days on Maupiti; three days on Raiatea; three days on Huahine; three days on Bora Bora.


Lagoon cruise views in Aitutaki, the Cook Islands
I don’t think I’ll ever visit anywhere as beautiful as Aitutaki

I found it tough to slow down in the South Pacific when there were so many thousands of beautiful islands to see and I had such a short amount of time in which to visit as many as possible.

I should have aimed for two countries over the space of a month, rather than three. When I returned to the South Pacific for two weeks a couple of years later, I decided to spend the entire fortnight in Tonga and it gave me a greater insight into the country.

That’s something I’ll be taking on board at the end of 2023, because I’ll be heading back to the South Pacific once more! Part of me wants to return to the Cook Islands and French Polynesia to check out some of the lesser-visited islands; another part of me wants to return to Fiji and spend an entire month island-hopping; and another part of me is desperate to check out some new countries and head to Samoa and Vanuatu.

I can’t tell you where I’ll be going yet, but I can tell you that, man, I’m not looking forward to the planning process.

And that’s how you plan an island hopping adventure in the South Pacific! What’s the trickiest trip you’ve ever had to plan?

Related Articles on Travel in French Polynesia

🇵🇫 What’s it Like to Travel in French Polynesia?
🏖 How to Travel Bora Bora on a Budget: It’s Possible!
🛫 Flying in French Polynesia is Spectacular
Meet Maupiti: the Bora Bora of 50 Years Ago
🙈 Stranded and Afraid in Maupiti
🏝 How Not to Travel Raiatea
💗 Huahine Travel Guide: My Favourite Island in the South Pacific

Related Articles on the Cook Islands

🇨🇰 What’s it Like to Travel in the Cook Islands?
💰 How to Travel the Cook Islands on a Budget (2023): It’s Possible!
🏝 You Have to Take a Lagoon Cruise in Aitutaki

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If you're planning a trip to the South Pacific, hopefully this post will eliminate some of the stress. Or not, because it really is that frustrating. But either way, here's how I did it!
About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.


  1. February 24, 2017

    Lauren! Your photos are stunning! And thank you so much for the breakout information!

    • February 25, 2017

      Thank you so much, RJ! :-)

  2. February 24, 2017

    Wow! Thank you for sharing how much work goes into planning a budget trip! I’m so sick of people telling me “just go online and you’ll find deals.” These islands look incredible!

    • February 27, 2017

      Yeah, that definitely works in some parts of the world, but not in all of them. And especially not in the South Pacific!

  3. February 24, 2017

    I vote for Samoa and Tonga! To be candid, I loved all your South Pacific posts so much, I don’t care where you go, I just want to see the pictures!

    And yeah, Nauru doesn’t look as gorgeous as the rest. I had no idea, either!

    • March 6, 2017

      Ah, thank you! It’s not hard to take nice photos in such a beautiful part of the world.

  4. February 25, 2017

    Nauru is such an ugly looking place. When I first saw a photo I was so shocked, because I just thought everywhere in the South
    Pacific would be magical.

    The South Pacific has always been the region I wanted to visit the most!

  5. February 25, 2017

    Very similar to how I plan. I just did a 6.5 week trip island hopping in the Caribbean and airbnb was was a massive part of finding cheap accommodation. We went to three islands – Barbados, Guadeloupe and Dominica – and two weeks on each was a good amount of time.

    • February 27, 2017

      Oooh, I’d love to do something similar in the Caribbean. From what I’ve read it sounds like it’s also pretty tough to get from island to island there as well?

  6. Trace
    February 25, 2017

    Nauru is also the Immigration Detention Centre for Australia where refugees are held, sometimes for years without being processed. There are continual issues with poor facilities, mistreatment, assaults and poor medical access. In 2015, several staff members from the detention centre wrote an open letter claiming that multiple instances of sexual abuse against women and children had occurred. Not a place that in any way should be associated with a holiday.

    • February 25, 2017

      I agree. It’s horrifying to read about what’s been happening there and on Christmas Island.

  7. Advika @kullu manali honeymoon
    February 27, 2017

    Beautiful places! I really enjoyed your post.

  8. Mary Brown
    February 27, 2017

    If you ever consider coming back this way – to the MID-Pacific Region, please contact me – between myself and my friends, we can show you around Kwajalein, Marshall Islands (lots of WWII history), and other islands, such as Chuuk, Kosrae Palau …. if you are a scuba or snorkeler, you are missing out.

    Check out United’s Island Hopper flight for an insight into the region …

    This is really a forgotten region because your average tourist doesn’t know how to travel in this area. Let my friends and I show you the wonders above and below sea level here. AND show you that climate control DOES exist and it’s evident in the Marshall Islands!

    • March 6, 2017

      That sounds amazing! That you so much for the kind and generous offer, and I’d love to take you up on it when I finally make it over there. The Marshall Islands sound fascinating, and I’m a huge fan of visiting places that don’t attract many tourists.

  9. unbeleivavble pics and great tips. How expensive were the visas?

    I would love to go to the cook islands and tonga for sure, they are both on my bucket list! But get to them seems tricky. I bookmarked this to help for sure

    • February 27, 2017

      All visas are free on arrival.

  10. jonny
    February 28, 2017

    So interesting that you say people don’t read your ‘obscure’ destination posts – i find those by far the most interesting. I can read about Thailand or Vietnam on countless other blogs, but you’re the only blogger i’ve found with posts about The Cook Islands and Mozambique! And you seem to have started a trend with the Maldives post! :-)

    Looking forward to reading more about your obscure travels!

    • February 28, 2017

      Oh, that’s good to know that someone does! ;-) Yeah, I much prefer heading to those destinations, but it just doesn’t seem to click with many people. My Mozambique posts have been some of my least read in years, for example. But then I could write my 40th post about Thailand and it’ll become one of my most popular!

    March 3, 2017

    Great post… Really Enjoyed it… informative too…had a great time reading this…. Pictures are stunning….. Cook Island and Fiji are always on top of my list….

    • March 6, 2017

      Great choice! The Cook Islands are spectacular :-)

  12. Sue
    March 7, 2017

    Awesome work Lauren. Loved this post . I definitely love to read about more obscure destinations.

    • March 30, 2017

      Glad to hear that, Sue! I like going to them, so it’s good to know that not everyone will stop reading when I start writing up about them.

  13. Globetrotter
    April 24, 2017

    Hi Lauren,
    I stumbled upon your blog as I’m in the middle of planning my own monstrous 3.5 month South Pacific backpacking trip! I’ve decided to take a much needed career break, leaving my husband at home (he’s not keen on backpacking or beaches) and I’ve always dreamed of the South Pacific. I was left chuckling about some of your itinerary planning as my experiences have been exactly the same. The flights were a logistical nightmare! I’ve had about 5 different websites open at any one time, tablet going and currency conversion on my mobile. No one else seems to understand that these tiny little places are pretty much in no way connected! It was a relief to read I’m not the only one who puts myself through this! It’ll be brilliant but a lot of work. Once you pull the map out you realise that you’ve got to eliminate many places and that no one could possibly see it all. I hope you get to them as I know I won’t.
    I’m looking at my accommodation options for French Polynesia. I’ve got 3 weeks and like you, don’t want to (and can’t afford) to stay in resorts. Are there some places you could recommend? Thanks

  14. Rachitha
    July 7, 2017

    Great post..! Thanks for sharing… Really amazing… These tips and guides are really helpful. Going backpacking in Tonga and Vanuatu next year. The pictures are stunning too.

    • July 18, 2017

      Have a great trip! I’m hoping to visit Tonga at the start of 2018 :-)

      • Sara
        November 29, 2017

        Hi Lauren
        I loved your post! I could see myself whilst reading through.
        I’ve been to Fiji a while ago (one of the best places I’ve ever been) and planning to go back to explore more islands in the pacific yet my only time available would now be from December til April. You mentioned you are planning to get back there at the end of 2017 beginning of 2018.. how about the weather? Are you going to risk it? I would love to jump on a plane too but I also know that’s not the best time at all.. what can you suggest me? What are your plans?

        • December 3, 2017

          Yep! It’s the only time of the year when I can make it to the South Pacific, so I take the risk. When I was last in the South Pacific, I went in January and had about three days of rain, although there were cyclones in the area while I was travelling. I definitely lucked out, but will be taking the risk again because I love this part of the world so much!

  15. Jesse
    July 12, 2017

    Hi Lauren,

    Just discovered your blog and I really love it.
    I was just wondering how you travelled inter-islands of the same country? Because on your pictures I see quite a lot of ‘abandoned’ islands which I’m pretty sure don’t have an airport haha. Did you travel between these little islands by boat, and if yes, is it expensive?

    Keep up your work, I’m definitely going to ready some more stuff on your website!

    • July 12, 2017

      Every island actually did have an airport! It was rare to find boats in most places.

  16. Anny
    July 16, 2017

    Thank you so much for the detailed, incredible article Lauren! Currently trying to plan an island-hopping trip in the South Pacific and this is the most helpful guide I’ve found.

    • July 18, 2017

      No problem! Hope you have a fantastic trip!

  17. Ramon
    July 25, 2017

    Amazing. Simply amazing. So much detail in this guide. It’s thanks to this that I’m now going to try to visit the Cook Islands in January next year. Your photos are so nice.

    • August 16, 2017

      Wow! Thank you so much, Ramon!

    July 29, 2017

    Love your blog! I always use it for my travel addiction! haha. Thanks !!!!

  19. Steve Pierce
    August 6, 2017

    My first time reading you blog. It’s given me a lot to think about. I’m trying to plan a 3 week South Pacific trip. Maybe I need more time or fewer destinations

    • August 7, 2017

      More time is always good :-) But yeah, you’ll find yourself losing days of travel just through the inconvenient flight schedules.

  20. September 18, 2017


    Thanks so much for your advice! I am looking at going to the South Pacific next summer and this article helped me to see how visiting each country will take a couple of well-planned trips!
    Thanks for your good work!

    • October 9, 2017

      Thanks for the compliment, Brian! I’m glad you found the post helpful :-)

  21. Katelyn
    November 3, 2017

    Thankyou so much Lauren! This is exactly what I needed to read as I’m planning my holiday to the South Pacific soon. Do you remember how much it cost though? Just trying to get a ball park figure so I know what to expect, thanks!

    • November 7, 2017

      I have posts on the site detailing how much I spent in the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, so check those out for a fairly accurate idea :-) I think it was typically about $50-70 a day on average.

  22. Vibeke
    November 19, 2017

    This is such an amazing post!:) Before reading this I thought the South Pacific Islands were just for honeymoons and super rich people but your blog has shown me that it is possible to go there if you’re a backpacker. I love reading about places off the beaten track and I am inspired to plan my own trip to the South Pacific. I hope to go to Vanuatu and Tonga because they both look amazing!:) thanks for the tips, I’ll be sure to use this page again:)


    • November 23, 2017

      Yay! Funnily enough, Tonga and Vanuatu are where I want to go on my next trip to the South Pacific in a couple of months :-)

  23. January 26, 2018

    Hi! This was great, super comprehensive post on travelling to the south pacific on a budget!
    Just in case you didn’t know, there’s a new airline flying to Tahiti starting this year called French Blue, it’s a budget airline so If you’ll be flying back here from the states it’s defs something to look into!
    Just wondering if you got any good deals flying around the French polynesian islands at all?

    • March 21, 2018

      Ah, amazing! Thanks so much for sharing, Tiare. I used the island-hopping pass that Air Tahiti has and saved quite a lot compared to what I would have paid for the individual flights.

  24. Sharon
    March 11, 2018

    island hopping my way across the South Pacific makes perfect sense.

    Thanks for the tips and guidance.

    I think I’ll dive in and get my feet wet now.

    Cheers Sharon…

  25. Charlotte
    April 16, 2018

    Great post! Out of interest, why didn’t you include New Caledonia on your initial list?

    • April 19, 2018

      Whoops! No reason — just forgot to include it.

  26. Leonore Doucette
    May 14, 2018

    Hello Lauren,
    I just read your information about your travels, wow it sounds incredible the experience you did it is great. And the pictures are beautiful. It is just what I imagine what it would be like to travel there. I always wanted to go that way but always thought it would be a expense trip. Now I am retired and planning on a budget excotic trip, that I might be able to travel. And I say to myself that I have to do it. Cause I say you only live once, and the time is now before som Comes up and you cannot do it. Myself I am a budget traveller and always looking for great deals. You gave me the inspiration to do it. And I have to thank you very much. I am from Canada and If there is any information you want about this country just let me know. I know a lot about what to experience along the way in Canada. You know the saying: you help me I help you.

  27. Karen
    July 25, 2018

    Just stumbled across your post and do glad I have! We’re taking a year (or so..) off in Nov and thought this region might be too pricey. You’ve made my mind up that we should definitely go for it. Really useful, thanks ??

    • July 26, 2018

      Yay! Hope you have an incredible time :-)

  28. Beth
    September 18, 2018

    Thank you so much. Don’t know if I left a comment but I am planning an island hopping backpack trip to that area and it has a ton of info for me.

  29. Louieco
    September 24, 2018

    Traveling island to island in the Caribbean is easy just fly LIAT they used to have a plan where you could fly to every island within 30 days. Things have changed buy see how Liat flys now.

  30. David White
    September 28, 2018

    Your post is brilliant, Lauren. I’m hoping to do something similar. Your research gives useful ground rules about how to proceed.

    Incidentally I agree that travelling between different countries in the Caribbean is easy. It’s more expensive than normal budget travel but not excessively so. My wife and I visited Grenada, Barbados, St Lucia, Guadeloupe and Antigua in 3 weeks. We travelled by air between these islands and the flights were arranged by Trailfinders. Not long enough to get to know any of them in depth obviously but it gives a good flavour of these countries, all of which are so different.

  31. October 21, 2018

    Thanks for this. Your Pacific articles are helping to confirm to me that, in order to prepare for exploring the Pacific islands, an essential step is to let go most of it!! In favour of giving enough time to travel slow.

    • January 8, 2019

      Yes, that’s definitely the case! If you don’t have a time limit, it really is the best way to enjoy the islands :-)

  32. Sarah
    November 13, 2018

    Amazing article, exactly what i’d been looking for, thank you for such interesting detail as well! Looking at the flights from NZ to Cook Islands then French Polynesia, then Fiji- which airports did you fly in/out of please? Struggling to find the route! Thank you!

    • November 13, 2018

      Hi! I flew from Auckland to Rarotonga, Rarotonga to Papeete, then Papeete to Nadi. All were direct flights.

  33. November 27, 2018

    Hi Lauren! I quit my job in May and have been traveling since June 1. My next stop is the South Pacific and I found this article SO helpful in planning my trip. Mind if I share a link to this in my travel blog?

    • November 28, 2018

      I’m so happy to hear that! And yes, you can share a link on your site :-) Hope you have an incredible time in the South Pacific!

  34. Richard
    January 8, 2019

    Hi Lauren
    I’m taking my family traveling and will be in the pacific region in November. We are going to the Cook Islands for 10 days. How long would you spent in rarotunga and how long should we be in AItukati. We have boys of 5 and 13.

    • January 8, 2019

      Hi Richard.

      I’d go with six days on Rarotonga and four on Aitutaki. Honestly, though, both islands are so wonderful that you can’t really go wrong. I’d just spend more time in Rarotonga as it’s much larger and has more activities to keep you all busy. Have a lovely trip!

  35. Mark Reimer
    January 27, 2019

    Hi Lauren,
    I can’t find how you can get from Tahiti (French Polynesia) to Fiji directly without going through New Zealand. Do you have any insight on this?
    Thanks, Mark

    • January 29, 2019

      Ah, the joys of South Pacific travel! I think you have to fly via New Zealand, unfortunately. I think that’s what I did.

  36. Alex
    February 26, 2019

    Hi Lauren

    First article I’ve read by you and found it super interesting – thanks!

    I was wondering what kind of food you ate while you were away and if it was expensive?


  37. Andrea
    March 6, 2019

    Aloha Lauren! I was researching trips to the South Pacific and came across your blog…very interesting and helpful and I was chuckling while reading it because I was going crazy trying to plan this trip!! Trying actually to narrow it down a bit.
    We live in Hawaii and my husband and I would love to take 10 days to go to one of the islands to do water sports (mainly snorkel). We really want to be able to relax by the beach, have a drink, go snorkeling and swimming and read. Yes, I know, we live on another tropical island, but as you know Hawaii is way too busy and hard to find the amazing coral reefs I see on your photos. Was thinking about Fiji but maybe too expensive? Should we stick with Rarotonga or Aitutaki??

  38. meag
    March 10, 2019

    Thank you for this, Lauren! We are kindred spirits. I like unique destinations too, and if I travel far I want to see a few destinations in one trip! And I go bananas on Skyscanner and booking trying to find the best deals! Thanks for showing how frustrating and complicated it is, but really helping us narrow the selection down in a smart way. I would also een interested to know which islands have more solo independent travelers. I don’t want to inadvertently vacation on a honeymooners paradise. Those would automatically cross off my list. And which have most activities going on. Which are easiest to move about if you do not drive. etc

    Pretty please do this for the Caribe. AND South America! I wonder why isnt much cheaper to travel among close countries THERE as it is in say, Europe. Any insight? And cruises don’t give enough time in each place, unfortunately.

  39. Stel
    May 1, 2019

    Hello. We are very interested in Tonga for a short visit.
    Did you find it worth the visit?
    Anything you would, or would not recommend?

    Thanking you kindly,

    • May 4, 2019

      Yes, definitely! It’s one of my favourite countries in the South Pacific. Check out my blog posts about Tonga on the site for some inspiration. I loved ‘Eua and Ha’apai, in particular. A lot of people love Vava’u, too, although it poured with rain when I was there so I didn’t get to see it at its best.

  40. My friends and I are planning to go to South Pacific area later this year and I was struggling for ideas when I found your lovely blog! Your pictures are so inviting! We want to visit so many different places, but our budget is limited, so your tips definitely help to plan our journey. Thank you so much!

  41. Nicole
    October 7, 2019

    Hi Lauren…we are massive budget backpacking travellers currently planning a 3 month trip to South Pacific islands..your blog was really insightful and interesting…Especially planning the flights😩I will look forward to further looking into your blog,foto’s etc..Thank you for putting this together!btw..our most “out there”trip is probably North Korea!😳

    • Sara
      September 6, 2023

      Hi! Have you managed to build an itinerary? I’m planning a trip to all independent Oceania countries in 2024 but I’m struggling with the flights! Thanks so much!

  42. Brenna
    November 25, 2019

    Hi Lauren! I have a question about when you booked your trip (apologies if I missed it in the post). It seems accomodations, especially how some of the smaller islands, can be a bit limited, even for off season. How early did you book this trip? Thanks!

  43. Coral colledge
    December 21, 2019

    Hey Lauren,

    Great blog, loved reading it, I was starting to think it was just me finding a trip around here hard to organise.

    I’m planning on going for 3 weeks, and have probably narrowed it down to Samoa and Vanuatu (currently in Melbourne). Just wondering if you heard which islands were best for diving and snorkeling around the SP, I case I’m missing a trick?

    Thanks heaps,

    • December 21, 2019

      Ah, fun! Keep an eye on the measles outbreak in Samoa, though — I was planning on heading there next month, but cancelled because of it.

      To be honest, I think there’s good snorkelling all over! I know it has been incredible on basically every island I’ve been to in the region. Nowhere specific comes to mind because of that. I haven’t been to Samoa or Vanuatu yet, although will probably head to the latter in January. Tonga gets the humpback whales, though, which would be so cool to see!

  44. January 12, 2020

    This is a really good post! When I went to the Pacific two years ago, I found it incredibly hard to organise my trip. It didn’t help that I had to end up in Santiago de Chile afterwards (or somewhere else in South America), which makes it very challenging. In the end, I planned my trip backwards, by looking for flights from the Pacific to Santiago first. And it turns out that there’s a connection from French Polynesia to Santiago, via Easter Island. But it took me hours and hours of research to find that connection, the most I’ve ever spent on planning a segment of my trip.

    I’d love to go back to the South Pacific one day and see more of the region, because your photos look stunning. It’s a shame that, as I’m based in Europe, it’s so far away for me.

  45. Julie
    March 9, 2020

    Thanks for the comprehensive article. Where can I find this map of the region you’ve shown. I’ve really looked and want to get a similar one to begin with.

  46. Inge von Roos
    March 18, 2022

    If you ever want to fly to Mexico from the Cook Islands just fly to LA. There are usually cheap flights from there. Rock bottom take a bus or train to San Diego and fly from Tijuana.

  47. Vanessa
    October 4, 2023

    This was so helpful! I appreciate the deep dive & how real you were about the entire experience. Thank you!

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