Hawaii is one of the most popular tropical vacation destinations in the world, but paradise doesn’t come without a price. Hawaii’s popularity — driven by its postcard worthy beauty and unmatchable island vibe — has driven prices higher and higher over the years. From plane flights to vacation rentals in Hawaii, the costs can add up quickly, and they may make you start considering another vacation destination.
But before you go canceling your bucket-list trip to the Hawaiian islands, there remains hope for those who want to visit paradise on a budget. The following are a few simple yet effective ways to take your dream trip come true without depleting your vacation fund for years to come.
1. Visit During the Off-Season
You may be limited by your own schedule, and many times, that means traveling while most other vacationers from the U.S. and Canada are escaping the cold of winter. However, taking some time off work or school during an off-peak time of year can greatly reduce the amount you spend when visiting Hawaii. The peak travel times on the islands are from December through February and during the end of the summer in August. Flights on Friday through Sunday are also more expensive than those coming and going during less popular weekdays, like Tuesday and Wednesday.
Spring, early summer and fall are considered the shoulder and off-seasons in Hawaii. This is when you’ll find much cheaper flights, less expensive lodging, and often get good deals on other aspects of your vacation, like tours and restaurant meals. Since you’re going during an off-peak time, you’ll also get to enjoy Hawaii without all the crowds, which is better for snapping photos, taking surf lessons, and enjoying some of the most picture-perfect beaches.
2. Do Your Own Cooking
Hawaii does offer some inexpensive spots for grabbing local bites — think Ahi Assassins in Honolulu — but it’s best to limit yourself to one (or fewer) restaurant meals per day to maintain your budget. The grocery prices in Hawaii tend to be more expensive than the mainland, as most of the foods are imported, so that carries over into restaurant prices as well. Head to the grocery store upon arrival and stock up on breakfast and lunch foods that you can easily prepare in your hotel room or villa. This will help you stress less over the restaurant meal prices that tend to be slightly higher than most other U.S. states.
Save even more money by eating like a local. The local shops and farmers markets tend to be more wallet-friendly than the massive tourism enterprises. This is an ideal way to try fresh new foods without busting your budget.
3. Use Public Transportation
Renting a car is often the most convenient way to get around a new destination, but using the local transportation options can introduce you to the true daily life on the islands. Hawaii’s local bus systems are also the most cost-effective ways to get around. Oahu’s bus service only costs $2.75 per trip or $5.50 for unlimited all-day use, and it travels to many of the island’s most popular destinations, like the North Shore and Diamond Head.
Riding the bus may not be as convenient as having your own wheels, but it removes all of the stresses and costs associated with renting and driving a vehicle in a new destination. If you do choose to rent a car, be sure to limit the rental period to only the days you’ll really need it.
4. Find Hawaii’s Free Activities
Many travelers visit Hawaii with the idea that nothing is free on the islands, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Hawaii has a huge number of free or low-cost activities available to visitors. You won’t feel like you’re skipping out on anything fun if you opt for free activities over the ultra-touristy (and expensive) ones.
In fact, even iconic destinations like Pearl Harbor can be visited for free. In this case, there are a limited number of free tickets available, so you’ll want to arrive early, but the memorial is a must for history buffs and everyday visitors alike. Even more, beaches like Waikiki Beach are free to enter and enjoy. Lounge on the beach, swim in the water, and enjoy live music or other entertainment that’s common in this ultra popular area. Hawaii’s hiking trails are also a great low-cost activity. Some parks do have entrance fees but they’re extremely inexpensive and well-worth the unforgettable mountain and sea views.
5. Limit Your Island Hopping
Many travel guides recommend visiting multiple islands on a single trip to Hawaii, but you’ll quickly find that traveling between islands can be extremely expensive. Limit your travel to one or two Hawaiian islands, and you’ll experience more of the islands’ individual cultures while saving a lot of money on flights, airport transfers, and more.
6. Shop Smart
You don’t need to pack your bags with souvenirs to remember your bucket-list vacation to Hawaii. However, limiting yourself isn’t a requirement, and there are some great ways to save money on fun island trinkets and other native Hawaiian goods. Skip the high-end shops in Honolulu and opt for smaller local shops that are more likely to offer deals and greatly appreciate your business.
Hawaii’s famous ABC Stores are also known for offering a variety of reasonably priced souvenirs, or you can visit the open-air markets, which are loaded with local products made by Hawaiian craftsmen and artists. These tend to be more unique than traditional souvenirs, and they’re less expensive too.
Ultimately, traveling to Hawaii on a budget is all about planning and priorities. Want to spend more money dining out? Limit your travel between islands and skip shopping days. But if you’re aching to take home some Hawaiian souvenirs for your home, try stocking up on groceries and skipping the rental car. Keep the above tips in mind, and you can enjoy the ultimate Hawaiian vacation without breaking the bank.