Simply New Zealand 2016

When: February 3 – March 16, 2016 (6 weeks)

Where: New Zealand’s south island

Who: 10-11 participants (ages 14-19) plus trip leaders Blake Boles, Ingmar Nilsen, and Kina Wolfenstein
A minimum of 10 participants is required to run this trip

How Much: $5,000 includes housing, group activities, ground transportation, breakfasts, and dinners
International group airfare from SFO ($1,644) and lunches not included
How can I fundraise for this trip?

Airports: San Francisco, CA / Christchurch, NZ

Application Status: FULL

(Applications originally opened on May 29th, 2015, and the priority application deadline was July 4th.)

An Adventure in Simplicity

Do you feel burnt out by our world of constantly buzzing phones, pop-up notifications, and advertisements? Do you seek more connection with the outdoors, more time for creative projects, a chance to more authentically connect with people, and an excuse to put your phone or laptop on the shelf? Do you crave “the simple life” and want to rediscover a more basic sense of happiness—but you’re not sure where to start?

If so, then we invite you to join Unschool Adventures as we travel across New Zealand to answer the question: How little do we need to be happy?

For six sunny weeks on New Zealand’s gorgeous south island, you’ll:

  • carry only a small lightweight backpack that holds all of your possessions
  • sleep under the stars most nights
  • hike, walk, and swim often
  • optionally join a 30-minute group sitting meditation session every morning
  • read (real paper books!), journal (by hand!), and work on a creative project of your choice
  • learn to prepare simple and nutritious dinners for our group
  • perform random acts of kindness and service for strangers
  • actively discuss the meaning of simplicity, happiness, and well-being

At the end of this adventure, you’ll take home a renewed zest for life, a stronger ability to connect with people off-line, and a set of a daily habits that will help you find (or create) simplicity wherever life takes you. Oh, and a nice tan.

Daily Schedule

Each day will be different and flexible, but here’s a general idea of what to expect:

  • 8:00am: Optional 30-minute sitting circle
  • 9:00am: Breakfast (prepared by staff)
  • 10:00am: Group outing (e.g. hike, city exploration, mini-service-project)
  • 1:00pm: Do lunch on your own (usually with other students)
  • 2:00pm: Afternoon free time for solo activities (e.g. reading, creative projects) or small group activities (e.g. swimming, city exploration, grocery shopping)
  • 6:00pm: Dinner (prepared by students) with evening check-in & group meeting
  • 7:00pm: Journaling exercise and/or themed group discussion
  • 8:00pm: Evening flex-time for campfire, group games, or extended discussion
  • ?:??pm: Go to bed at a time of your choice


Our destinations will include both urban and rural areas of New Zealand’s south island. We’ll stay on the sunnier east side of the island, and we’ll start in the south and move slowly northward to follow the best weather patterns.

(Because we cannot book our bus tickets until 6 weeks before to the trip, the specific itinerary remains tentative. We may also change our itinerary as we go to follow better weather or new opportunities.)

Abel Tasman National Park

A gorgeous National Park with sandy beaches.

Lake Tekapo

A tiny hamlet situated next to a stunningly blue lake and a renowned astronomy observatory.


A small, beautiful, cultured city by the seaside.


The self-proclaimed “adventure capital of the world”, located next to gorgeous Lake Wakatipu, with lots of trails to explore.


The quieter version of Queenstown will even more lakeside beauty and trails.


A big city that we’ll primarily use for arrival and departure.


In rural and small town area, we’ll typically stay at campgrounds (or “holiday parks”, as they’re called) where you’ll have space to pitch your tent and enjoy access to communal bathrooms, showers, and kitchens with food storage space.

In more urban areas, we’ll typically stay at a youth hostel, either renting entire dorm rooms for our group or camping out in the back. Hostels also offer communal bathrooms, showers, and kitchens with food storage space.

Laundry is available at most locations; you’ll get a chance to do it once a week (paid for by U.A.). Wi-fi is typically available at hostels and cafes in town and not available at campgrounds and holiday parks.

Creative Projects

We’re asking every participant to bring a creative project that he or she can develop over the course of 6 weeks. Examples might include a writing project, art project, musical piece, dance piece, or martial arts sequence.

The best project for this trip will be something that:

  • you choose for totally personal reasons (not because it’s required)
  • you can work on outside without constant access to electricity
  • doesn’t require anyone else’s help (especially professional or technical help) for you to work on
  • challenges you and contributes to a sense of mastery

We’re not concerned whether you finish your project or not—it’s simply important to us that you have a personally meaningful activity that promotes a sense of learning and growth throughout the trip.


Part of every Unschool Adventures trip is learning how to take care of yourself in a new landscape, and a big part of that challenge includes feeding yourself. You, the students, will do much of the shopping and cooking for our daily dinners! Trip leaders will split you into teams of two, help you plan and shop for your dinners, and then let you prepare the meal for the entire group (available to assist if necessary). Get ready to cook 1-2 times a week and learn how to make simple, delicious, nutritious meals for a variety of dietary preferences.

Staff will prepare breakfast for you every day, so you won’t have to worry about that. Lunches will be on your own, which typically looks like everyone going into town together and then splitting into smaller groups to find restaurants or cafes that meet your preferences. At some locations, we won’t be within easy walking distance to town; in those cases, we’ll do a group shopping trip at a supermarket beforehand to stock up on lunch foods.

Sitting Sessions and Random Acts of Kindness

Sitting and watching one’s breath is perhaps the most simple and time-tested activity for generating internal peace and calm. We’ll start each of our days with a half-hour sitting session that you may optionally attend. (We won’t follow or promote any particular religious doctrine in these sessions—we’ll just do basic sitting meditation.)

Another one of life’s most simple joys is the act of helping others. Throughout the trip we’ll seek out brief volunteering gigs, perform random acts of kindness for strangers, and generally conspire as a group to brighten other peoples’ days.

Journaling Exercises and Discussions

The goals of this trip are to both experience simplicity first-hand and discuss it from a theoretical perspective.

To achieve that second goal, we’ll dedicate time each day (usually in the evening) to doing some simple journaling exercises. These will help you cultivate a practice of reflection that will benefit our daily check-ins.

Staff will also lead evening discussions about what it means to live a “simple” life. To inform these discussions, we’ll ask everyone to bring one book about simplicity, happiness, well-being, or mental health that they find interesting. It will be your mission to read and take notes on this book before the trip starts, and then be prepared to share a few insights from the book in one of our discussions. You’ll then have the chance to swap books and read what others brought.

It’s Simple

If you’re looking for a reflective, outdoorsy, self-directed adventure that helps you reconnect to the most important parts of life—and get to know an awesome group of fellow teen travelers along the way—then this is the trip for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the extra costs on this trip?

International group airfare from SFO ($1,644), lunches ($5-$10/day), and personal spending money (recommended: $200) are not included in the program fee. We recommend bringing an ATM card for your lunch and personal spending money.

I’ve never meditated before—how will I learn?

Check out Headspace: they offer a free 10-day introduction to meditation. That’s a great way to prepare for the half-hour sitting sessions.

Will we do any overnight backpacking?

At this point we have no plans for doing an overnight backpacking trip, which requires a certain level of comfort and technical skills in the outdoors. But if our group turns out to have the interest and skills necessary for a short overnight trip, then we will consider it!

What special gear do I need?

You’ll need a comfortable backpack that can carry all of your possessions, a tent, a sleeping bag, and a ground pad. (If you’re joining the trip with a friend, you two may share a tent.) Staff will provide guidance via e-mail in how to pack lightly before the trip starts.

Will I be able to keep in touch with my family?

Yes! You’ll have access to wi-fi often, though you might have to walk into town for it. Plan to bring a wi-fi enabled smartphone—unless you want to go so “simple” that you disconnect from the internet entirely! (We’ll support you in doing that.)

Can you accommodate my special dietary needs?

Probably! New Zealand has a wide variety of food choices, similar to most large grocery stores in the United States. We’ve accommodated vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and people with specific food allergies before. And remember: you’ll be doing some of the dinner cooking, so you’ll play an active part in this process!

When are the interviews, and when is the full payment due?

Skype interviews start shortly after the priority application deadline (see top). After the interviews are complete, if we offer you a spot on the trip, you’ll have two weeks to submit the trip paperwork and a $1500 nonrefundable security deposit to secure your place on the trip. The rest of the program fee is due 3 months prior to trip departure (Nov 2015).

Am I prepared for this trip?

Great question! Read our How to Prepare and Interview for an Unschool Adventures Trip page for the answer. And feel free to write us anytime with questions about this or anything else:

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