Hawaii is a bucket list destination for many people – one that you may think you will never be able to afford. And though the cost of living is high in Hawaii, it is more than possible to visit the Aloha State on a budget. Below I have compiled 6 tips to help you save hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars on your dream vacation to Hawaii!
1. Be flexible with your dates
I love working as a teacher because school breaks allow me to travel often and spend nearly three months in Europe with my family each summer. But because I am limited to school holidays, prices can be quite high. By being flexible with your dates, you will be able to get much better deals. For example, we saved nearly $400 and scored $129 direct flights from Kahului (Maui) to DFW by leaving on a Monday instead of a Sunday. When looking for flights, check different dates or select anytime and make sure to sign up for alerts. Skyscanner is great to search for flights as it allows you to select an entire month and find the cheapest flights. Make sure to apply your search in an incognito window, so cookies don’t cause your flight prices to soar.
2. Start planning early
I began planning our Hawaii trip 2 months in advance, and I do not recommend starting any later than 6 weeks in advance. I was able to book all the accommodations and activities on our wish list, but I was waitlisted for several weeks before getting a table at the Old Lahaina luau of Maui. Most state park tickets and activities book up fast, so you need to plan ahead if you don’t want to miss out on experiences. How is that saving me money you may ask? Well, several companies offer tours and bundles, and the longer you wait, the more your options will dwindle, leaving you with little to no choice to book cheaper accommodations or experiences. It goes without saying that accomodations book up quickly as well, so you may be left having to book an expensive hotel in order to have a place to stay.
See also: The Perfect 5-Day Maui Itinerary
3. Stay in Hostels
I know what you’re thinking: a stuffy dorm room full of snoring strangers? No, thanks! Before you scroll past this tip, make sure to keep reading. Hostels get a bad reputation because of the popular belief that they are either unsanitary or unsafe, and based on my experience neither one of those is true. Most people also ignore that a majority of hostels offer private rooms at a great price. Staying at a hostels will save you money in SO many ways.
First off, hostels are less luxurious than hotels and therefore only charge about 50% of what regular hotels charge for a private room. This is especially interesting if you are traveling with children. Some private rooms can accommodate up to 4-5 people and only cost about $100 per night. Single beds in a dorm usually cost 25% of the price you would be charged for a queen bed at a hotel.
Secondly, hostels provide guests with a full kitchen, so it isn’t necessary to eat out every single day of your trip, which can save you big bucks! Many travelers often leave behind food items they cannot take with them, potentially saving you money on groceries, too. Some hostels also provide free breakfast for their guests. Just make sure to check opening hours as some kitchens can be closed during the night and early mornings. Our hostel on Kauai (now closed) had a free table where previous guests left items they no longer needed or could not take with them. I scored sunscreen and sunglasses left by previous guests on the island.
A third way to save money at hostels is by taking advantage of the guided tours. Our hostel on Maui, the North Shore Hostel, provided free guided tours daily. Tipping your guide is strongly encouraged, but you are likely to save a nice chunk of money as you may not even need to rent a car! Local guides have the ability to take you places you won’t find on Pinterest or Instagram. Another thing to keep in mind is that all non-Hawaii residents must pay $10 to park at a state park on top of the $5 per person entrance fee. This new fee was put in place in the Spring of 2021 in an effort to reduce traffic on the islands and in the state parks. Some even require early reservations like Wai’napanapa State Park, the black sand beach on the Road to Hana. By driving with a local (with a Hawaiian drivers license) you can avoid paying the extra parking fee.
In conclusion, spending a week in a hostel on Maui could save thousands of dollars by avoiding overpriced hotel stays, rental car fees, gas, eating out, and costly activities. It is important to note that many Hawaiian hostels also allow guests to rent out recreational gear for free. We were able to save dozens of dollars by using free snorkeling gear loaned to us by the hostel.
If you want to take advantage of the guided excursions and kitchen but still want your privacy, know that many hostels offer private suites with a private bathroom attached.
See also: Kauai – 25 Best Things to See and Do
4. Rent a car on Turo
Turo is the Air BNB of rental car companies. Instead of renting a vehicle from a company with a customer service that can sometimes be painfully slow and difficult to reach, you rent someone’s private vehicle and can interact with him or her directly. Turo usually offers much cheaper prices than regular rental car companies; however, if you rely on your credit card company to cover the costs of rental car insurance, know that most credit card companies unfortunately do not cover Turo’s car sharing.
Though large rental car companies often only let you select a class of vehicles rather than an actual model, Turo lets you select the exact make and model and comes complete with reviews, so you know the owner can be trusted. Since the vehicle is often someone’s personal vehicle, you can also be sure that it is maintained and regularly checked for any malfunctions.
My favorite Turo feature is the ability to search for green vehicles: either full electric or hybrid. With current gas prices skyrocketing worldwide, this is not a negligible advantage! Keep in mind that Hawaii is way ahead of the mainland when it comes to implementing sustainability; charging stations for electric vehicles can be found throughout all of the Hawaiian islands.
5. Eat at food trucks
I was warned that everything in Hawaii can be expensive, and though I wanted to taste the local cuisine, I did not want to spend a lot of my budget on food. Growing up on the French border, I always boast that I grew up eating the best food in the world. I have a really hard time spending money on food when I know I can spend 20 euros for a 3-course meal in many quaint French establishments. But, I digress. If you, too, would like to taste Hawaiian dishes without breaking the piggy bank, consider giving the food trucks a try. Before my trip, everyone told me this is where the locals eat, and after trying out a bunch of them on several islands, I understand why. Food truck foods are THE BEST! Click here for my complete Hawaiian Foods Bucket List and location recommendations. Most food trucks offer outdoor seating options, so you can enjoy the fresh air while eating a bowl of poke in the sunshine. We ate at most food trucks for less than $15 per meal. Keep in mind that portions are fairly large, so if you don’t have much of an appetite, consider sharing a plate. After all, you can always stop for shave ice later!
6. Enjoy the beach
This is a given, but spending time on the beach is usually free. Some beaches may also be the starting point for coastal trails, which are free to walk and provide you with breathtaking views of the Hawaiian shore lines. If you are staying in a hostel, remember you may even be able to rent free snorkeling gear, boogie boards, and surfs. Sunbathing, swimming, surfing, or snorkeling could then be entirely free! And if you’re anything like me, the first sight of tropical fish will have you hooked on snorkeling for the entire stay!
There is a Hawaiian vacation for every budget! From the luxurious resorts of Kona to the hostels of Wailuku, anyone can enjoy a slice of paradise. We personally chose to save on accommodations, so we could splurge on experiences, and I am so glad we did. If you are on a very tight budget and follow all of the tips above, you should be able to plan a 10-day Hawaiian vacation for less than $1,000! I hope you found these tips useful and now feel confident you can afford your dream vacation to the Aloha state! Let me know which island(s) you would like to visit in the comments below, and make sure to check my other Hawaii articles!
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