Hawaii may not technically be the most expensive place to travel in the US, but it’s certainly in the top ten. At the very least, it’s difficult to find flight deals across the Pacific and even harder to find the type of hotel you’d want on a tropical retreat without breaking the bank. However, there are ways to travel cheaply and still have your fun in Hawaii.
1. Climbing is practically free.
Some of the most popular climbing routes on Oahu are open to the public during all daylight hours and under $1. The Pillbox Hike overlooking Lanikai is easy for beginners and costs nothing. Diamond Head, with a decent view of Honolulu and Waikiki, is only $1.
2. Not carrying a bag.
The USS Arizona Memorial tour is free if you just show up at the gates, but often the crowds are so massive it’s better to reserve a place for $1.50 on the website. However, no visitors are allowed to carry bags on the property, and the staff charge $3 per bag for storage. It’s a similar story in Hanauma Bay State Park; bags are allowed, but lockers start at $8. Hawaii might be a good time to start the no baggage challenge.
3. Eating local.
It sounds cliché, but in Hawaii’s case it happens to be the only practical option. Imports from the mainland and Asia cost 3-4 times more than you’d expect, and this is reflected in grocery stores and restaurants… even Walmart. However, there are quite a few local brands that can sustain you during your trip: Kona Brewing Company on Oahu and The Big Island, Manoa Chocolate which offers factory tours for $10, Dole pineapples in central Oahu, and seafood like poke is substantially less than other fish (though you will find restaurants hiking up the price).
4. There actually is public transit.
There used to be a regular ferry between all six islands, but that doesn’t run anymore. Even so, Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island have bus services at reasonable prices, while you usually have to rent a vehicle or hire a service to explore Molokai and Lanai. Hawaii may still be paradise for some, but it’s far from the high prices of chartering a private plane to your island in the Maldives.
5. You can be a beach bum… minus the bum.
Most beaches are free, but free and cheap accommodations within reach of them aren’t always easy to find. Kauai and The Big Island require permits for camping anywhere. Oahu allows camping in state parks, but at a rate of $18/night with fees for each additional person. This is before we consider any parking charges. Fortunately, it doesn’t cost anything to lay down a towel on the beach, swim in the ocean, and soak up that Hawaiian sun. But if you’re thinking you can get away with just pitching a tent next to the beach for the duration of your stay on any island, you might be in for a rude awakening.
6. Travel in February.
Like almost any other place around the world, Hawaii is inundated with tourists around the holidays and summertime. As a result, already insanely overpriced hotels are beyond the reach of budget travelers, while the existing hostels are filled to the brim. However, things start slowing in late January and early February — better flight deals, cheaper rates on hotels — making Oahu a much easier escape. It doesn’t hurt that February is also the best time for whale watching.