Calling more than 22 flats home this year, Matheson Brown is not your average student.

The 21-year-old did not have a house to live in this year, instead challenging himself to live debt-free and spend no money on accommodation.

Mr Brown, who hails from New Plymouth, spent 2016 at Salmond College, using up his savings to pay for the hall and his course fees.

At the end of 2016, the Otago Polytechnic outdoor leadership and management student traded in his car for a van, planning to live in it for the year.

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"I didn't want to spend money that I didn't have or get a loan,'' Mr Brown said.

"So I thought buying a van and living in that would be my best bet.''

Mr Brown's van broke down on the way into Dunedin, so he parked it at a flat in North Dunedin.

Living on $54 dollars a week, and with a mould problem developing in the van, he decided to become a fulltime couch surfer.

"I asked around to see whether I would be able to survive and have enough friends and places to go.

"People seemed keen to have me, so I went for it.''

Student Melanie Wilson (20), whose Knox St flat was home to Mr Brown's defective van throughout the year, provided him with periodic overnight stays, though he was able to get away with couch surfing because of his charismatic personality.

"There's never a dull moment with him around,'' Miss Wilson said.

"He's incredibly entertaining and always has stories to tell. I think people love listening to him.''

Mr Brown said it was not always enjoyable.

"If I couldn't find a couch to stay on for the night I would go back to my van. That was not fun. Couches were always my best bet.

"I once slept in a tiny cupboard under a staircase. If I had a dollar for every Harry Potter joke I got I would have enough money to buy myself a flat.''

Mr Brown reckons the experience was well worth it given the money he saved.

"All I needed was somewhere to put my head and that was what I got.

"I also met some pretty cool people, so it is definitely not something I regret.''

Mr Brown graduated on Friday with a diploma in outdoor leadership and management. He was one of thousands of polytechnic students to graduate this month.

He plans to travel to work as an outdoor guide for the summer, then travel to the United States and walk the Appalachian Trail, which will involve sleeping in a tent.

His words of advice are simple.

"If you haven't been cold, you won't appreciate being warm. If you haven't been starving, you won't appreciate being full.

"It's been a great year for me and I think I appreciate everything a little bit more now.''