How to Travel to Hawaii on a Budget

by | Dec 5, 2019

As far as favorite vacation destinations go, Hawaii ranks right up there in my top three alongside Norway and Copenhagen. I’ve been traveling to the Rainbow State with my family since I was a teen. And having visited several islands — Oahu, Maui and the Big Island — a handful of times in the last few decades, I’ve learned a thing or two on how to travel on the cheap.

As we’re planning another trip to Hawaii to celebrate my mom’s milestone birthday next year, my older brother, mom and I have been drumming up ways to enjoy a fun, adventurous trip on limited funds.

Here’s how to travel to Hawaii on a budget:

Seek package deals 

When I was growing up, my mom would scout deals through Chinese travel agencies. These all-in-one travel packages typically included flights, hotels, an island tour, and a Polynesian luau. While we ended up on a tour bus with a Chinese-speaking tour guide (we’re Vietnamese, by the way), it was only $550 a person for six days, five nights for the whole kit and caboodle.

Travel during the off-season 

Peak tourist season to Hawaii is from mid-December through mid-April. So if you want to save money on airfare, accommodations, and the like, then consider traveling during the off-season. The good news is there are only really two seasons in Hawaii — summer, which is from May to October; and winter, which is from November to April.

The average temperature during the summer is 85 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average temperature during the winter months dips to a comfortable 75 degrees. Unlike traveling to say, Iceland, the odds are good that you’ll be enjoying temperate climes when you visit.

You’ll want to check to see if any major tourist attractions are closed. For the most part, National Parks seem to be open year-round, except in the case of a volcanic eruption or severe weather conditions.

Shop at farmers’ markets and grocery stores 

To get a taste of regional cuisine, shop at farmers’ markets and grocers. There’s no shortage of amazing farmers’ markets with tropical fruit and veggies, local dishes and one-of-a-kind snacks. My favorites are the Haleiwa Farmers Market in the breathtaking Waimea Valley in Oahu, and the King’s Village Farmers Market in Honolulu.

If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen, you can whip up a meal by scrounging together groceries at a local supermarket. When visited Oahu last year with my partner, we stopped by Tamashiro fish market for some local catch, and regional delicacies such as poke and seaweed salad. And while we were on the Big Island, we stayed in a condo with a full-sized kitchen, and cooked up toro burgers one night.

Of course, you’ll want to enjoy dining at sit-down restaurants and not-to-miss eateries. These establishments ran the gamut in price points. When I travel to Hawaii, I’ll pick a few fancier spots to eat and pepper it with cooking a few budget-friendly meals.

Dine where the locals go 

Zagat-rated and Michelin-starred cuisine is definitely something to consider partaking in while you’re traveling, but let’s not dismiss local dives and eateries. Scour Yelp reviews or local sites to see where the locals like to grab their fare. While in Oahu last year my partner and I dined at a handful of traditional restaurants. And during our stay on the Big Island, we found an amazing burger joint nestled in a strip mall. Those kinds of gems can be easily discovered by doing some online research.

Get a national park pass 

As Hawaii is known for its breathtaking natural beauty, consider getting a national park pass. Doing a bit of island-hopping? Then consider getting a tri-park pass, which grants you unlimited admittance to Haleakal? National Park on Maui, and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and Pu‘uhonua o H?naunau National Historical Park, which are both on the Big Island for a full year. It’s $50.

Or if you plan on visiting other national parks in the U.S. it’s $80 for an entire year. As my partner and I visit national parks throughout the year, this is well worth it. Another way you can save? Camp instead of paying for an Airbnb or hotel.

Scoop up daily deals 

As a former daily deal addict, I can attest to the fact that trying to use vouchers in your day-to-day life can feel like a burdensome task, especially if there are eateries or attractions that are a bit out of your way. However, I’ve found that it’s far easier to use a daily deal while your  on vacation. Why’s that? Well, for starters, you have gobs more leisure time.

Plus, since you’re only at a certain locale for a given duration, as you’re most likely plotting your itinerary, there’s a greater chance you’ll use that daily deal. I’ve used daily deal vouchers for circle island tours, snorkeling excursions, and to see manta ray sharks.

Make the most of credit card perks 

Have a travel credit card that gives you a higher-than-average redemption value? By all means redeem those points toward airfare, hotel, or car rental. For instance, my business credit card offers three points per dollar spent on travel and some business-related expenses. The average is about one point per dollar. And while you’re on vacation, be sure to use that same travel credit card. That way you’ll maximize them rewards.

What’s more, take advantage of any travel-related perks your credit card might offer. For instance, trip delay reimbursement, car rental insurance, baggage insurance, and access to VIP travel lounges. The top perk I’ve used during my travels is car rental insurance. If you’re using your credit card to pay for the rental, your car rental insurance might be covered.

Ease up on the souvenirs 

Last I checked, nobody is counting the days until you return from your amazing island getaway to be gifted a pineapple-shaped keychain. Or that tacky sculpture of a faux Hawaiian idol. Unless you have a friend, co-worker or relation who has a deep love of kitsch, you can probably drop souvenir shopping altogether. But if you’re feeling intense guilt or obligation to bring something back for loved ones, consider something lightweight and edible. For instance, a package of regional spices or a chocolate bar.

When traveling on Hawaii on a budget, you certainly don’t have to skimp on the fun. It’s about knowing what’s important to you, and spending money on that. So before you say “aloha!” and get lei’d, consider these money-saving tips during your vacay.

Looking for more budget travel tips? Check out our post about seeing Europe on the cheap.

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