10 tips for exploring Hawaii on a shoestring budget

The Aloha spirit, ideal temperatures year round, great beaches, and incredible scenery…it’s no wonder Hawaii is known as a vacationer’s paradise.

There’s only one problem: Paradise doesn’t come cheap. So, how can you do Hawaii on a shoestring budget? These 10 tips are a good place to start.

Think Hawaii; think Honolulu

Waikiki Beach in Honolulu (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

Waikiki Beach in Honolulu (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

It’s hands down the most developed and visited place on the islands, making it the cheapest and most accessible too. Although it’s a popular choice among travelers, there are still plenty of hidden gems on the island.

Go off-peak to save

Hawaii may be a year-round vacation destination, but there are one or two ‘off-peak’ periods throughout the year. Lookout for cheaper flights and discounted hotel rooms in January (last two weeks), February, May, September and October. More good news: February happens to be the best time of year to see humpback whales and September is Aloha Festival time.

Consider a condo

A ferry docked in Hawaii (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

A ferry docked in Hawaii (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

A condo rental is much cheaper than a resort stay. A weeklong hotel stay in Waikiki in May is around $200 a night. A nice one-bedroom condo on the other hand can be secured for as little as half that.

Or a hostel

Of course, accommodation costs are best kept down by staying at a hostel. Our pick in Oahu is the Hostelling International Waikiki – it’s right by the beach! If you’re staying in Maui, try Northshore Hostel for an alternative to pricey hotel stays.

Search for flights to Hawaii

Stick to one island

Surfers stroll a Honolulu street (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

Surfers stroll a Honolulu street (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

Sticking to one island or two at most can cut costs. Island hopping is expensive (they’re farther apart than you might think). Most travelers and residents fly between islands. If you want to island hop, but can’t afford air tickets, then you have two options. The Maui–Lanai Ferry ($30 each way) and the Molokai–Maui Ferry ($67 each way).

Check out free local events

It’s a pain we know, but it really does pay to research local listings for free events and monitor daily deal websites.

Eat a hearty lunch and light dinner

You can't beat a Hawaiian beach! (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

You can’t beat a Hawaiian beach! (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

Lunch is heavily discounted compared to dinner at many restaurants (this is, of course, the case in pretty much every vacation spot around the world). Another cheap way to eat out is to catch up with a food truck. Check out this list of the top 10 food trucks in Hawaii. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is highly rated too.

Take the bus

Renting a car is really the only way to freely explore the islands on your own terms. Sadly, hire charges, insurance and fuel bills make it prohibitive for those on a tight budget. The Bus service on Oahu – imaginatively named The Bus – gives shoestring travelers access to many parts of the island. A four-day unlimited pass costs $25, and can be picked up at any ABC store in Waikiki.

Pass up the luau

Hula on the beach (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

Hula on the beach (Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

Often far from authentic, these highly staged affairs are usually massively overpriced. Instead, pack a picnic of poke, lomi lomi, and poi (all readily available from local markets) and seek out a free evening hula show on the beach.

Become a regular

One for regular visitors: Many tourist attractions (including golf clubs) have different prices for local residents (known as Kamaʻāina). Repeat out-of-state (and foreign) visitors can access these rates by securing a Hawaii State Identification Card.

Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…

(Main image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson)

Article by Brett Ackroyd (1166 posts)

Brett hopes to one day reach the shores of far-flung Tristan da Cunha, the most remote of all the inhabited archipelagos on Earth…as to what he’ll do when he gets there, he hasn’t a clue. Over the last 10 years, London, New York, Cape Town and Pondicherry have all proudly been referred to as home. Now it’s Copenhagen’s turn, where he lends his travel expertise to momondo.com.