8 Tips for Visiting Hawaii on a Budget

Now that I’ve finished sharing all of our fun adventures in Hawaii I thought I’d do a quick round up of tips for those who might be planning a trip to this great destination.

1. Book early or late for the best rates, but also shop around.
The hubs did most of the planning for this trip and scored some great rates on both the hotel and rental car because we reserved them several months in advance.  It wasn’t until after the reservations were made that we realized the weekend we were in Honolulu coincided with the ProBowl, which significantly increased prices due to demand but because we had our reservation in so early the hotel hadn’t yet adjusted the rate and we got a better deal than most of the folks staying there during the same days.  The hubs also found an awesome deal on the rental car by going with a lesser known brand and searching the travel search sites for the lowest price.

2.  Research and read reviews to prioritize what you want to see and do.
We did a lot of research ahead of time to make sure we hit all the things we really wanted to.  I started with a list of things in each area that sounded interesting and ranked them to decide which made the must-do list and which were “if we have time” items.  Online travel reviews were a huge help in weeding out the tourist traps and finding lesser known but more interesting places or activities.

3. Decide what’s worth paying for and where you can save.
Although we’re always on the hunt for a bargain, sometimes its worth paying for an experience.  Don’t skip the once in a lifetime option just because it’s pricey.  Swimming with the rays and the submarine tour were expensive compared to other activities, but both are something we couldn’t do anywhere else we were traveling, so it made the price reasonable.  To balance those costs we opted to enjoy the hotel’s free entertainment options like fireworks on the beach and the garden tour.  Choosing the hotel’s luau saved us additional admission and parking fees required at some of the other local luau shows.  We also found free activities around town such as hiking to the ruins, enjoying public beaches on the North Shore and on the big island, strolling the Swap Meet and the Chinese New Year celebrations – although the last two did lead to a couple of additional well-priced purchases. 😉  And getting up early got us free tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial.  While on the big island we made the most of our minimal park admission fee visiting the lava tunnels, driving the park’s scenic roads, touring the art gallery and museum, attending a volcano presentation and a couple nights of volcano watching.

4.  Don’t over schedule.
Thanks to our research, we were able to plan out what activities we wanted to do each day, but we only planned one or two things for each day so we didn’t feel rushed or stressed to maintain the schedule. We also had a couple of “no plans” days in case weather didn’t cooperate or we just didn’t feel like doing what we’d planned that day which gave us flexibility to be spontaneous.  Having a flexible plan allowed us to be relaxed but still see everything we wanted to.

5.  Plan for traffic.
This is a critical tip if you want to make the most of your time in Hawaii.   Honolulu traffic can be intense and we weren’t interested in spending any of our vacation stuck in traffic so we opted to schedule our plans opposite of the traffic patterns.  Since we stayed downtown we would be heading out of town as the morning rush hour wrapped up and timed our trip back to the hotel to be opposite of the afternoon exodus from Honolulu.  While we still encountered traffic in both directions it was nothing compared to what we saw heading the other direction!


6. Shop around for souvenirs.
We all end up buying some type of souvenirs on vacation, but you don’t want to pay more than you need to.  We found great deals on some of the same items we’d seen in shops around town at the Swap Meet and the Exchange (PX) at the joint military base had the same food gifts for a third of what the Dole Plantation was charging.  However, that doesn’t mean they have the best price on everything. The Exchange had the same shirt the hubs bought at a hotel shop for twice what he paid! So take your time and don’t feel like you have to buy something right away.

7.  Eat where the locals eat.
Restaurants in the trendy shipping districts are considerably more expensive than some of the local favorites that might be off the beaten path. While we enjoyed Buho, the rooftop Mexican cantina we found in downtown Waikiki, they were definitely priced for tourists visiting the high-end retailers nearby. In comparison, our visits to Nico’s, Teddy’s Bigger Burger and Fatboy’s were just as pleasing to our bellies but did less damage to our wallets. Each of these eateries were in areas where the locals live and work so we had to seek them out but it was worth the little bit of effort.

8. Bring home Costco pineapples.
One of the best parts of visiting Hawaii is bringing home a fresh pineapple. We originally planned to purchase some at the Dole Plantation but their prices seemed excessive so we started searching online to see if there was a cheaper choice. The hubs was concerned that dealing with agricultural customs at the airport would be difficult and wanted to buy pineapples once we got through security (where they check carry on agriculture items) but we heard they were just as expensive there as they were at Dole. Several online sources said the inspection was minimal and as long as your items were free of bugs or rotten spots there shouldn’t be an issue. So we bought 4 pineapples with Dole tags at Costco for less than what we would have paid for 2 at Dole, put them in the branded boxes we bought at Dole for a few bucks each and hand carried them on the plane. At the airport the boxes went through the x-ray machines without issue and even when I asked the agriculture inspectors if they wanted us to open the boxes they said there was no need. Making that stop at Costco saved us more than $60 and gave us a convenient opportunity to fill up the rental car’s gas tank at another discount while we were there so it was well worth the little bit of extra effort.

I hope these tips help you plan a fun and budget-friendly trip to the Aloha state!


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