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Calling young sun-seekers, you CAN do Hawaii on a budget! Here’s how…

A budget-friendly sunset in Hawaii.

Hawaii is often referred to as “paradise on Earth” and with white sandy beaches as far as you can see, hours of sunshine every single day and some of the most delicious and unique food you’ll ever try, it’s easy to see why.

But this ‘rock in the middle of the ocean’ is also seen as an expensive destination to travel to; not to mention it’s at least 5 hours’ flight away from the nearest land mass.
But what if I told you that Hawaii doesn’t always have to be a costly vacation? After moving to Hawaii from New Zealand in 2014 (and a small stint in 2012), here are my tips for visiting Hawaii on a budget:

Stay away from the main tourist cities

I think this is an important point for budget travel to any country but it’s especially true for the islands of Hawaii.

Waikiki in Oahu, Kailua-Kona on the Big Island and Lahaina in Maui are the tourist hot spots, and while being beautiful and offering lots to see, you can easily overspend while checking out these areas.

I’m not saying avoid them completely, but limit the amount of time you spend here! I would suggest 1-2 days in each place so you can see what the fuss is about, and then move on to other places around the island.

Two women in bikinis enjoying a budget-friendly beach getaway in Hawaii.

Research AirBnBs and hostels for backpackers

The rise of AirBnB over the last few years means that hotels and resorts in Hawaii are not the only accommodation options anymore. While some AirBnB’s in the tourist areas may be the same price as hotels, it’s definitely worth researching them for less populated areas as they can be up to one quarter of the price of nearby accommodation. Be sure to include the cleaning fee and any other extra costs in your budget so you don’t get a surprise when checking out.

On the other hand, I’ve recently discovered that private rooms at hostels and backpackers can be a fraction of the price of a hotel room in the same area! My best friend and I travelled to Kauai in August and were struggling to find affordable accommodation in the areas we wanted to stay in. We also wanted a little bit of luxury and to have our own room (I used to be comfortable staying in the 16 bed dorm rooms when I was a little younger but am slightly over it now!) so I looked at private rooms at backpackers and found a great deal for exactly half the price of the hotels in the same area.

If you’re looking at staying in Waikiki, I absolutely LOVE the Waikiki Beachside Hostel; I actually spent 32 days there when I first moved to Hawaii, while looking for a permanent place to live. The hostel is only a block away from world famous Waikiki Beach – what more could you want?!

A wooden bridge in a lush green jungle, perfect for Hawaii-on-a-budget adventurers.

Rent a car using discount Hawaii car rental

I found this website when I was living in Oahu briefly in 2012 and is my favourite tip for visitors to Hawaii. Discount Hawaii Car Rental is a lot cheaper than other companies such as Avis, Budget etc. and almost every single time I’ve used them, I’ve paid for the smallest car and been given an upgrade to the largest vehicle for free!

The website runs by hiring out cars from rental companies but you don’t know what company you are going through until you have reserved it; meaning you’re often hiring cars from Avis, Budget and Enterprise but for a fraction of the price they usually offer. Tip: keep in mind that car insurance is added on at pick up (that’s how they make their money) so allow for that in your budget. Make sure you study your travel insurance as you may already be covered for car rental and therefore only need insurance for loss of keys, theft etc.

Find the locals favourite places to eat or use Yelp to find cheap eats

It’s well known that the locals’ favourite eateries in Hawaii are often the cheap but delicious places that you might not discover if you aren’t looking hard enough. But unless you know a local, how do you find these spots? One way I found was looking on Yelp. Yelp, rather than Trip Advisor, is the most popular review website used by Americans and you can search for nearby diners by price range. Select the lowest $ option and away you go. Tip: if you’re feeling like a specific type of food (e.g. Italian, Mexican, Indian), type that into your search also.

An affordable boat experience in Hawaii's scenic ocean.

Prioritise your costly ‘must-do’ tourist attractions

Majority of visitors to Hawaii come for the picturesque and serene beaches, along with the blue skies, sunny days and palm trees. And guess what? All of these are completely free! There are thousands of beaches to find around the Hawaiian islands so you’re never short on options, and on the off chance it is raining where you are, head to the other side of the island and you may find it’s the most beautiful weather you’ve ever seen.

If you do want to check out some tourist attractions, I would suggest using Yelp again to see what the highest rated attractions are and then you can prioritize them (and also see if you want to spend the money on visiting them). For example, the Polynesian Cultural Centre has been rated the number one tourist attraction on the island of Oahu for the last few years and although it does cost quite a bit to go to ($65 for a day of activities), I can personally tell you that it is completely worth the money and the time to experience this cultural attraction. Similar idea with seeing the lava flowing on the Big Island by boat; a costly expense ($200 USD per person) but the most amazing and incredible thing I’ve ever seen and my number one activity I tell friends to do when visiting Hawaii.
Tip: Not every tourist attraction or activity will appeal to you or fit in with your budget so I suggest doing a bit of research to see what suits your needs.

I hope this post was helpful to you and make you see that traveling to Hawaii doesn’t always have to be a super expensive vacation! Hawaii is my favourite place in the world and I hope everyone gets to visit at least once in their life.