Traveling to Maui? Here's how to save money and have more fun!
So much has been made of the tourists who are overrunning and overwhelming Maui, it’s almost become trendy to write articles on “hidden” or “undiscovered” Maui. In fact, National Geographic Traveler had an entire cover story on it a few years ago. And while Maui does indeed have many under-explored, off the beaten track destinations, you can still enjoy its most popular destinations as well – cheap n’ calm in peak season.
Meet Maui's Budget Accommodations
Our lovely ohana was the perfect size for us and included a full, but tiny, kitchen, a small patio area with a BBQ, and included wi-fi, flat screen TV, and DVDs – including Anne of Green Gables!! We were in the heart of Lahaina, and just a few blocks from the beach. While it would have been nicer to be right on the beach, it was worth the short walk to save hundreds of dollars.
If you see a rental home with an attached ohana that doesn't have a separate listing, it’s worth your while to contact the owners directly to see if they will rent the smaller section to you. If you are staying for a week or more, they might just take you up on the offer.
Getting Around Town
What To Eat
The many tourists of Maui can also work to your advantage to save money. If you just want a basic drink, there should be many happy hour options every night of the week. The endless touristy magazines and brochures at the airport offer tons of coupons for discount drinks, 2-for-1 breakfasts, and plate lunch specials. We also found great discount breakfast specials at local diners and terrific deals at plate lunch shacks – provided you buy the more economical “small” size.
We’re big appetite folks and we never came close to finishing the regular size plate lunches, with all that rice and macaroni salad. But to save about 40% we ordered the small version and still got a generous serving of stir fry or stew over a scoop of rice. Better to save the rest of your money for other treats!
Farm Stands? Tell Me More!
When it comes to fruit stands on the side of the road and at the end of driveways, I suggest you drive by a few to get a firm idea of prices before you buy. Often the first stand or two at the beginning of the scenic drive have greatly inflated prices. Still, I always have small bills on stand so I can stop at the smaller stands with an “honor system” jar for payment. This is a great way to pick up pineapple, mango, papaya, and avocado.
Vanessa's Biggest Budget Temptation
For me, it was money well spent! For everyone else I would recommend asking for mini-sizes and, if you like fancy flavors, save your money for a well reviewed shop. You really can taste the difference quality makes. If you just want some sweet refreshment in a basic flavor like pineapple, you can save a few bucks and go to any shave ice stand or truck.
Fun In The Sun!
Before we traveled, we knew about Maui traffic jams – gee, just like at home, folks need to get to work! We judged our travels accordingly and this gave us an extra incentive to hit the road early. Using the extreme time difference to our advantage, we woke up super-early on our first few days.
We had no problem getting up at 4am to drive to the top of Haleakala National Park to see the sunrise. On the way back down, we by-passed several hiking trails before settling on one of the less “fancy” trails. Featuring exotic trees from around the world, we enjoyed a gentle nature walk entirely on our own – not a single tourist in site. Instead of making a beeline for the beach later that day, we took advantage of our location to visit the nearby Surfing Goat dairy, picking up some delicious goat cheese for later that day.
Make A Splash!
What made the most sense for me is that we ultimately wanted a snorkel trip, not a boat trip. The allure of a BBQ lunch or free booze on board wasn't enough to tempt my queasy stomach – and none of it would have enhanced our snorkeling experience. In order to save my stomach and save some money, we bypassed the endless outfitters operating out of Maalaea and instead drove an extra 30 minutes to Makena. (We went with Kai Kanani Charters.)
The boat ride was a blissful 15 minutes and our super early start ensured that we had only a dozen passengers on our boat – and we were the very first to arrive. In fact, it wasn't until we were getting to leave that we saw the first other boats arrive! Crowds? Tourists? Not on your life, here at Maui’s most popular tourist destination. And since no one else had been there to stir up the water, we had crystal clear views and a great experience. Our boat offered low-key fruit and muffins – all we needed – and we were thrilled with the personal attention.
Tourist Traps Pay Off!
Looking back, boat Y was more expensive than boat X, and he earned more money. Maybe he even got special kickbacks from boat Y. We were very swept up in his “I’m looking out for you, I don’t use shoddy companies” line. But he did! He had all their prices advertised! So I guess we learned a lesson and paid an extra $15 for it. It was a 60 minute boat ride – unless you are getting a private tour, you will likely not hear or care about the on board naturalist – a title that actually carries no real regulation. Believe it or not, there may be times when it pays to go for the bottom of the tourist barrel!
Be The Early Bird!
Snorkeling at a local beach – it was just us and some young families. Flexibility helped too. Getting beach parking mid-day can be tricky and, at first, was frustrating. But our track record improved once we realized there are a few limited beach parking spots at each hotel lot and that you can get validated parking at many lots associated with local shopping plazas. When we couldn't find parking at a popular snorkeling beach, we just went to the next one on our list. We knew the beaches were busiest on the weekends when locals go to hangout, so we concentrated on weekdays for the most popular locations.
Head Away From The Beach
We loved every minute in Maui. I can’t claim it to be a budget destination, and there are endless temptations to spend your money – and then some. Every experience you desire, from relaxation to adventure, is available for a hefty price. But we managed to incur reasonable costs and never once felt like we were stuck in a tourist trap, even while participating in some very touristy activities With some hearty pre-trip research and a bit of ingenuity, Maui was everything we dream of.
And best of all: it was cheap n’ calm, even during peak season!
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. How do you find good deals in places known for being "touristy"?
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