Okay so first thing is first… YES Hawaii is an expensive place, there is no denying it BUT if I can make it happen then so can you.
I think it was probably the day that Adam and I met that we decided we were going to travel together, when you know, you know right? Soon after we started dating we decided we were going to go on an epic trip together and we were sold on a month in South East Asia. We wanted to backpack Vietnam for two weeks and then hop over to Cambodia and finish in Myanmar. As we were planning this trip we slowly started to panic… there was way too much to do in South East Asia to cram it into a measly little month and if we were going to go all the way there we wanted to hit up as many countries as we could, which probably meant spending more than a month and spending more money than we had planned… so we cancelled it. After humming and hawing about possibly Europe or Central America we randomly decided on Hawaii. I think we both were hesitant at first because I had been to Hawaii previously and Adam didn’t know if I wanted to go back to the same place and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that either. The truth is, the first time I was in Hawaii was when I was an Au Pair and I was nannying for the family I worked for. We stayed in Maui but mainly just at a resort excluding a few dinners out and a whale watching tour. When we got to Oahu we stayed in Waikiki at a hotel and I did a tour with my Canadian family who met us there. I had barely scratched the surface of this incredible place so that’s how I decided I wanted to go back and do it right. Our South East Asia savings turned into Hawaii savings and we booked a 16 day trip, which consisted of the Big Island (Hawaii), Kauai, and Oahu.
If you’re reading this blog and you’re Canadian then you can totally relate to how awfully horrible the Canadian dollar is compared to the American dollar. The dollar alone is enough to make Canadians avoid the United States at all costs (literally) and I will admit this was the shittiest part (excuse my language) of the trip BUT it wasn’t as bad as you probably think. The only time I felt it was when I took a few hundred dollars out of the ATM ($300.00 US came out to $440.00 CAD) or when I bought the most fabulous quilt in Kauai on my MasterCard and later saw the statement ($94.00 US came out to $140.00 CAD).
Anyways, heres the good stuff… here is how we did Hawaii on a budget and still came home with a little bit of cash.
Flights – We landed an amazing deal booking multi-city flights online and found a round trip flight including flying between the islands for $1100.00 CAD. I think my parents paid $1200 CAD round trip Toronto to Honolulu few years ago and that didn’t include flying between the islands. So we got Toronto – Vancouver – Kona – Maui – Lihue – Honolulu – Chicago – Toronto all for $1100.00 CAD each.
Accommodations – To be honest, I can’t really remember what we paid total for our accommodation but if I had to guess I would say it was roughly $2000.00 CAD split two ways so about $1000.00 CAD each for 16 days in Hawaii… How did we pull this off? The first night we did a hotel because we landed late in Kona and we knew we would be exhausted so that was about $200.00 CAD (most expensive night we had, thanks Adam for splurging). The rest of our stay was all Airbnb! Adam has used Airbnb before but this was my first time and it was an awesome experience minus one place but overall it was awesome. Hotels in Waikiki (Oahu) were going for $300.00 US a night and we were spending about $120.00 CAD in Oahu per night at an Airbnb (just an example of the price difference). Not only is Airbnb a much more affordable way to see the world, it’s also a great way to see how locals live, see different housing styles, get local knowledge, and meet people. One place we stayed was a restored Buddhist temple in the jungle with the coolest kitchen, bathroom, and overall decor. One place was sort of like a shack in the jungle, it wasn’t the greatest setup but the guy we stayed with was super knowledgeable and made us the freshest Kona coffee every morning. Our favourite place was an adorable historic house on the North Shore of Kauai in a super cute town called Kailua. We had a great setup with a very private room and bathroom. Our host provided us with local knowledge on a wine bar called Palate which ended up being one of our favourite places to eat and drink. At the last place we stayed, we were greeted by a musician host who serenaded us with a song about the ocean on his guitar, which might sound weird but was a cool start to Oahu. I totally recommend Airbnb if you’re a budget traveller but also if you’re into a more interesting stay than just a hotel… they offer a much more authentic feel to the location and save you a ton of money.
Car Rentals – We thought this was going to be the most killer part of the trip financially… we thought gas would run us hundreds of dollars and we wanted a jeep, cliche Hawaiian car rental… I know. When we went to reserve our cars and we saw how much cheaper it was to just go with the economy car we totally changed our minds. Would it have been cool to ride around the Hawaiian islands in a badass jeep? Yes, yes it would have. Did it break our hearts to drive a Nissan Versa or a Hyundai Accent? No, no it didn’t. It was half the price of the jeep and we took that money and put it towards an unforgettable helicopter tour of Kauai… a serious highlight of our trip. In total we paid $1259.00 CAD split in half… so $629.50 CAD each for three rental cars on three islands. The most expensive car we rented was in Kona (Big Island) because we decided to rent a GPS as well. This was a total waste of money for us and we kind of regret paying the extra $100.00 for it because we used it maybe twice… who knew I could use an old fashioned paper map? I must say, I was a great navigator (I should be since I majored in Geography and studied maps…). If you want to save money and you’re going in a pair (ie. you have someone to look at the map while you drive) then you can definitely save your money and buy a paper map instead. Oh and guess how much we spent on gas for 16 days driving ALL over the islands? We spent just under $100.00 US. Yes you’re reading that correctly… gas was SO cheap in Hawaii. We maybe filled up four times and each time was only about $20.00. It seriously baffled our minds but we obviously weren’t complaining. Oh and if you’re going to Hawaii and you want to do it right then renting a car is 100000% necessary. If you have a car you can go anywhere and everywhere you want and trust me… you want to see and do everything humanly possible in Hawaii. It isn’t lacking scenic view points with all of it’s volcanoes, beaches, mountains, coastlines, hippie bohemian towns, waterfalls, fruit stands, juice bars… I could go on forever but I will stop here and let you see it for yourself.
Food – I was going to write a lot about how much money we saved by using our access to kitchens at our Airbnbs but I would be lying. We cooked six meals total and that includes breakfast. Our first Airbnb had the most seriously epic industrial style kitchen so we felt compelled to use it. We grabbed a little box of spaghetti, a jar of sauce, a head of lettuce, a tomato, and an avocado and did pasta and salad two nights in a row, oh beer and wine too. We did this again at our third Airbnb because we were feeling guilty about how much we were eating out. Then at our last Airbnb Adam bought granola, almond milk, and apples and did a little breakfast twice there. I definitely have no idea how much we spent on food but I know it was the most expensive portion of the trip or less than the flights but more than the rental cars?… ah I don’t know. We did buy chips and granola bars as snacks as well as bottles of water (I get crazy when I get hungry and Adam gets really quiet, which is even scarier so snacks were necessary for survival and staying in a relationship). We tried to keep lunch relatively cheap by sharing a wrap or grabbing salads at the salad bar at a Wholefoods (not actually that cheap if you’ve ever tried Wholefoods). I think if we would have been a little smarter about getting groceries and cooking more dinners ourselves we could have saved a few hundred dollars BUT we both love to eat and we were on holidays. Part of traveling for both of us is trying local cuisines and different restaurants so I don’t regret doing it the way we did, especially since we found some hidden gems. I tried to think about a total in my head but I really can’t come up with an estimate… we did keep it fairly even though with paying the bills by splitting and taking turns so I would say we spent the same.
Activities – We only did two expensive tourist activities during our trip and that was the helicopter ride over the entire island of Kauai and then a night snorkel with the giant manta rays in Kona (Big Island). Adam did some scuba diving both on Kauai and Oahu and I don’t really know what we spent on that. He did say the diving in Kauai wasn’t the greatest but Oahu was really good, something to keep in mind if you’re a diver. The helicopter is a must, sorry… I know it is expensive at about $300.00 CAD each but you seriously can’t not do it. I don’t even have words to explain it… when we flew out of a valley and over the Na Pali Coast I felt my eyes fill with tears because honestly it might be one of the most beautiful and incredible things I have ever seen… one of nature’s greatest feats with the ridges in the mountains and the colours, it was sheer perfection. You can also do a hike along the Na Pali Coast on the Kalalau Trail, which is free and also offers an epic view but the helicopter gives an entirely different perspective. So I cried when I saw the Na Pali Coat and I squealed with excitement when I saw the giant manta rays in Kona. We spent $150.00 CAD each to do the night snorkel and it was totally worth every penny (I forgot how much pennies weigh down your wallet, they still have those in America). You’re floating with your snorkel and mask, holding on to a board that is full of bright lights to attract plankton, which is what the mantas eat and then they appear. These massive, beautiful, and harmless creatures swim in circles below you and they’re so majestic. I was so mesmerized by them that I forgot that I was snorkelling in the ocean at night and I have a fear of sharks but don’t worry I am obviously still alive. Everything else we did was FREE, ah that beautiful, magic word. We did pay to rent snorkel gear on the Big Island for six days but it was only $45.00 US split between us and we got our money out of it and the locations we snorkelled were free. Our Na Pali Coast hike was free. Watching the sunset above the clouds at the Mauna Kea Observatory on the Big Island was free. Seeing whales, dolphins, and turtles was all free. Hanging out at the beach was free. You can definitely still do a ton of things in Hawaii that don’t cost money, you just need to do your research first or while you’re driving in the car, doesn’t really matter since there is always something around the next bend!
I think I covered everything? Flights, accommodation, rental cars, food, and activities… of course there are always the small miscellaneous things that can add up quickly like needing nail clippers or first aid stuff that you forgot to pack. Overall the fact that I still came home with money is a big deal, especially when you have a shopping problem. Ouuu that reminds me… if you have a shopping problem and don’t want to blow a ton of money on random stuff while you’re there… go all carryon. You can only bring so much home if you’re strictly carryon and don’t have a ton of space, which is a great way to avoid those random travel purchases. The only things I bought were a quilt (somehow I got it home carryon) and a water bottle. Sorry friends… that means I didn’t buy you anything, don’t hate me.
Hawaii doesn’t have to be that expensive trip that only honeymooners or retired people get to take, where there is a will there is a way! Don’t get me wrong, we saved and saved and saved for a few months but if we can do it then so can you. Really, for all of the things we got to do and see… it was nothing.