How To Take a Vacation to Hawaii for Cheap
I have traveled to Hawaii so many times that I have lost count. It is a beautiful paradise that is so very worth visiting! However, it can be expensive! Here we will give tips on how to take a vacation to Hawaii for cheap. Not only that, we'll give you free tips on how to make the most of your stay, each day, and all for not much money.
When someone is going to the islands, they simply say they are going to Hawaii. People who know, which I think is most, usually ask "Which island?" The answer, as often as not is Honolulu, or Waikiki, neither of which is an island. Honolulu is on the island of Oahu, and Waikiki is a section of beach in Honolulu. Each island is a county in and of itself, each making up the state of Hawaii. Some islands incorporate some of their smaller neighbors in them as counties.
Although Hawaii is made of many islands, some pretty small, there are 7 states smaller in overall size, and 10 states smaller in population. Also, let this blow your mind, Hawaii beats both California and New York in median household income, coming between #4 and #8 out of 50! Ya gotta make money to live there, because it is expensive!
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Introducing The Islands Themselves
These are the islands people generally travel to when vacationing.
- Oahu, the best known
- Maui, bigger than Oahu, smaller than Hawaii
- Hawaii, the Big Island
- Kauai - the garden island
Oahu is the best known island by a long shot. Usually when some says the are going on vacation to Hawaii, they mean Oahu, generally, and Honolulu specifically. As a matter of fact, I'd venture that fully 70% of of the people who have visited Hawaii only once stayed the whole time on 3rd largest island, Oahu, and maybe half of those never left Honolulu. Why? This is the city, beach (Waikiki), island, to DO THINGS!
Overlooking Waikiki from Diamond Head - Author photo
The Big Island - Hawaii
The Big Island is aptly named: it's HUGE in relation to the rest. And it's still growing! On this island you'll find not only black sand beaches, but also green sand beaches. Furthermore, if you love volcanos, there two from which to choose to visit. Or visit both, the island's not that big.
There's a fair amount to do here, but if you want action, Hilo may be your kind of town. The whole island has less than 200,000 people, so the Big Island is not so crowded.
I'll admit it, I have not been to Maui in decades. I hear it has changed. A Lot. Maui vacations back in my day were all about relaxing, going out to eat, relaxing, beach time, rinse, repeat. Kaanapali and Lahaina were the places to be, and go, and that was about it. I'm told that Maui has built up a lot, and it is more like the Oahu of my youth. The modern equivalent to what I remember about Maui is now...
Kauai, the 2nd old oldest, and 4th largest island, is called "The Garden Island." I've never been there. Back in the day only the hardy adventurist went to Kauai. Plantations, sugar cane, mostly, and ranches ruled the island. Now tourism is the #1 money maker.
- Niihau - you can visit, but your visit is pretty controlled. Also known as The Forbidden Island, Niihau has been owned by the Robinson family since 1864, when Elizabeth Sinclair (a Robinson ancestor) bought it from the Kingdom of Hawaii.
- Molokai, the 5th largest island. Not a big tourist stop, but if you had Leprosy back in the day, you might have ended up at Kalaupapa, separated from people by the ocean and sheer cliffs.
- Lanai, once a huge pineapple plantation owned by Jim Dole. You know, Dole, the pineapple and fruit people? Tourism is a new thing on this island, so if you want to relax, not shop, not fight traffic, then Lanai is your choice.
- Kahookawe - yeah, you're not going there, buster. This is the smallest of the 8 main islands, and was used as a bombing range by the U.S. Navy for 53 years, starting in 1941. There are still unexploded bombs and stuff there, but the military is cleaning it up! Once done, the island as a whole reverts to the Hawaiian people.
The Hawaiian Islands are incredibly diverse. The island, or islands, you visit is entirely dependent on what your goal is. Note that I did not say itinerary. I may be wrong, but I perhaps the word itinerary is an ancient Hawaiian word for "Plans Too Much."
Good isn't Cheap and Cheap isn't Good?
Balderdash. Yes, I said it. Utter rubbish, that. Sorry, lapsed into UK talk, On some things the saying that good isn't cheap in spot on, however, that is not always the case. I can cite examples, but this article is about taking a vacation to Hawaii, so I'll pass on examples. That is a blog for another time.
The way I see it, anything you do is about the quality of the experience, not about how much money you spent on it. Sure, 5 star (subjective, by the way) accommodations are nice. First class seats on a wide body plane is nice, no question. Each, however, is only a piece of the puzzle, a part of the whole. I know that going first class all the way IS all that it's cracked up to be, I've lived it. Yet, with careful thought, planning, and budgeting, you can have a first class experience for way less money. I've lived that, too!
Vacation to Hawaii - Now vs. Then
The last trip we took to Hawaii was a vast departure from that which I had taken many times with my parents. Growing up, we were very middle class, but traveled like upper class folks. Dad made good money working for a defense contractor (what else in southern California back then?). Mom did okay too, she worked for Continental Airlines as a travel agent at the Disneyland Hotel lobby. So we got the defense benefits, not talking about those here, flight benefits, and Disneyland benefits. What a childhood!
As far as travel, we went all over the planet. All we paid for the tickets were the taxes that would have been levied on paid tickets. For the three of us to fly to Hawaii, first class, about $60. Then there's the rental car (Tropical Rent A Car), travel agent discount, hotel rooms (Usually the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu, or elsewhere, such as the Ilikai if the Hilton was full), travel agent discount, etc. See, if they knew you were the key to recommending people, you got a discount. Mom was an early influencer. We went to Hawaii maybe 13 times. Sometimes for a week, other times just for the weekend.
After High School
When I graduated high school, a bunch of us flew to Hawaii. I saved all year for this trip. Within maybe 4 days I had spent most of my money. We were at the Polynesian cultural center when someone tapped me on the shoulder, "Hey, these old folks over there want to talk to you." It was my mom and dad. They flew over just to say hi. I got got a little more scratch for the trip too.
Our Last Vacation to Hawaii
We came into a few bucks a few years back, and while that that amount was dwindling, our boy graduated high school. I wanted him to have that vacation to Hawaii that would stick with him the rest of his life. We wanted the daughter to go too, she having graduated a couple years earlier, but she could not get off work.
Since money was, not tight, but getting there, I wanted to get as much bang for the buck as I could. I would hunt down a flight, accommodations, and rental car for as little as possible. I wanted to spend on the things that mattered most. That was the logic, anyway.
We chose Oahu, Honolulu, Waikiki. I had been everywhere, my wife had been there, and Maui, but the boy? I firmly believe that your first vacation to Hawaii deserves at least 3 days, and more like a week, on Oahu. It will take you more than a week to see it all.
Time of Year Barely Matters
The climate in Hawaii is so very consistent. In Hawaii, especially Oahu, rare is the day you get no rain at all. Also rare is the day you get no breeze off the ocean. Avoid Christmas and New Years, everything is at it's priciest! November, however, Hawaii is at its cheapest, and quietest. This trip was in July. I recommend it! It was wonderful, save for the last day there. It was about 85 degrees out, 85% humidity, and ZERO ocean breeze. I was miserable!
Accommodations Came First
If you have nowhere to stay, what is the point? I even considered beach camping, because it's free, but if you have ever camped, you know it's actually expensive. The food prep, can't leave your stuff anywhere, and, well, ya gotta shower, right?
I browsed the Internet like mad, even considering buying a timeshare. That's how I ended up on Ebay. There I found a timeshare that was going to be unused for the guy's week, in my favorite spot, the Hilton Hawaiian Village! I bought the week for $350. For! The! Whole! Week!
Growing up we had stayed in the Rainbow Tower nearly every trip. I had swam in the lagoon a few times growing up. The timeshare was next to the Rainbow Tower, and right on the lagoon. what's not to love? Well, the new tower being built next door was uncool, but $350 a week at the Hilton, in Hawaii?!?
So check timeshares out! Check all the hotels. Check the ratings and the reviews!
Scanning all the websites that sell plane tickets is a chore! I think I spent more time scanning for plane tickets than anything else. The prices were always changing, departure airports were myriad, LAX, Ontario, John Wayne Airport. We could leave about any time of the day or night.
Have a criteria or five
- Outgoing airport
- Arrival time
We flew out of Lax, the three of us round trip, for $660. That puts us at $1010 for the trip so far.
I did not want to arrive in the middle of the night, because then we'd have to chill, with our baggage, tired, until the 10AM or 11AM check in time.
Comfort, what is that? Flying nowadays is a lot like boarding a city bus. People are rowdy. They act entitled. More on the entitles later, but when I was a kid, it cost REAL money to fly anywhere, and you didn't waste the privileged to act as if the stew-staff owed you something, that was reserved for the uber rich. Shoot, even the networks stars acted civil.
Gary Collins and Mary Ann Mobley
I flew next to Gary Collins on one flight. First class, front row. He seemed like a good egg. Smoked Dunhills. His wife, actress and former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, and their daughter, I think, were a few rows back. Cheryl Ladd was up there somewhere too. Not one of them acted like a cretin!
We flew on a 737
When we walked up to the gate, I think I had forgotten the type of plane we were flying on. I had previously flown to Hawaii on 747's, and DC-10s. Paragons of endurance, endless spaciousness! At at the gate? A tiny little twin engine 737. I was astonished! No WAY it had the legs to get there! 2400 miles! There must be a mistake! I'm getting on a plane that is flying maybe to Phoenix, or Albuquerque?
Well, no, it had the legs, although I'm certain that the danged plane was running on fumes when we landed both times. That's my belief, and I'm sticking to it.
This plane had two seating classes, First Class, and Coach. I chose coach, but almost reconsidered at the last minute. I would maybe re-do that if I could. The first class seats looked soooo good! I don't much care about free food and drinks, the seat space, yeah. Leg room, yeah. I'm, 6'2" tall, I need this stuff.
And our seatmates in front were all sorts of rowdy. Pillow fights, loud, obnoxious. Entitled.
But the price is the price.
We Arrived In One Piece
We arrived in Honolulu to start our vacation to Hawaii in one piece! The plane didn't go down, landed superbly, and we were in a place of paradise! Sans the whole, you know, dying thing. The flight back though, that landing was ROUGH!
Things to do
First, things NOT to do: don't act like an entitled jerk. When you visit Hawaii, be mindful that you are entering someone else's home, in a way. Be polite. Obey the laws and rules. No one owes you anything. You are a guest, yes, but how many guests would you permit to stay in your home that acted badly?
The people of Hawaii are loving and proud people. Treat them with respect, it is their home. Treat your fellow visitors, with respect too. Oz has spoken.
We treated everyone with respect, and received respect right back. Several times locals said, "You're not locals? We thought you were locals" with nodding approval. high praise, as far as I'm concerned.
Definitely visit the tourists spots. Many are free, so go wild. Visit the famed North Shore. Hike Diamond Head. Those 99 stairs though, they can be tough if you're in poor shape. Some locals use this hike as their daily exercise routine.
99 Stairs Up diamond head - author photo.
Author of Vacation to Hawaii cheap in Hawaii
Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. Attend a luau. Pearl Harbor, lots to see and learn here. If the USS Arizona Memorial is open again, go!
My shot of the Flag over USS Arizona Memorial
Turret of USS Arizona, - Pearl Harbor Hawaii - author photo
Rent a car and see the island at your own pace. While doing so, respect that the locals drive on Hawaiian Time. There's no hurry, brah. Travel to the Pali, and learn it's history.
Board the USS Missouri and stand in the place the documents of surrender were signed ending WWII.
Picture of USS Missouri by author
The Big Guns of the Mighty Mo - author photo
Folks, this stuff is all cheap and memorable. Tour the USS Bowfin, a WWII submarine at Pearl Harbor.
USS Bowfin - Author photo
A Must Go
Five stars: Hanauma Bay - you gotta go! It's like eight bucks to get in! Check it, all sorts of wildlife, just swimming right up to you! You can walk down, or up, or take the shuttle. The shuttle costs money. but after snorkeling all day, you will want to pay the price to go up.
We rented a car and took in the island at our own pace. And you know what we used to navigate the whole island? One of those little cartoon maps the car rental company gives you.
ABC Stores are your Friend. You will find them everywhere, and they will have what you need, and at a fair price. As a result, you will want for nothing.
We ate most of our dinners at the Round Table Pizza in the Hilton Hawaiian Village. $30 pop. but remember, everything costs more in Hawaii. We ate out nice only one night, at Benihana's. After which we sat by the pool and sipped adult beverages.
Lunch was whatever, usually McDonalds. The point is, stick with places that you have an idea of the pricing in order to save money. Remember, that hoity toity cuisine place may sound nice, however, it WILL be pricey.
Stick to your budget.
My only regrets
On this vacation to Hawaii I have so very few regrets. However, some are:
Not flying first class, but seriously, flying first class on a 737 is like sitting at the cool kid table in a mental hospital cafeteria.
Staying only a week.
No one tapping me on the shoulder and telling me, "Hey, some old folks over there want to talk to you." My folks had died a few years prior, and I suppose, this trip would sort of pay homage to them. However, in the dark recesses of my mind, again I suppose, I thought that perhaps I'd see their spirits walking though Honolulu, hand in hand, as I had seen them do so many times before in my life.
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