How can the average person afford a trip to Hawaii? Is Hawaii travel affordable for the average family?
Ten thousand dollars. That's how much a friend told me they thought it would cost to go to Hawaii. Ten thousand dollars - EACH.
This breaks my heart. Hawaii is one of my favourite destinations. We've just returned from our third trip and I don't think we've spent ten thousand dollars on all three excursions combined. And we're not slumming it either - no illegal camping on the beach, no stealing fruit from private gardens!
Is Hawaii a bargain-basement priced destination? No. Are there plenty of expensive temptations at every turn? Yes.Is Hawaii travel affordable? YES. Can the average person, on a modest budget, still afford to go there? YES. YES. YES! Here's how Ryan and I travel in Hawaii without breaking the bank.
Timing is everything
Traveling in the low season is a great way to save money and this is especially true for Hawaii. Prices soar during peak times, especially for airfare. We saw a ONE WAY ticket from Lihue to Ottawa which cost $1000 during March break, but it was $500 less just a few days later!
And it's not just the Christmas and March break holidays that are expensive. The Iron Man World Championship in Kona means every hotel room on the Big Island is marked up and sold out in early October. If you're traveling to Hawaii to escape winter (and most of us are), the end of January and beginning of February are some of the most affordable times to go.
No matter where you are in the world, chances are you will spend a lot of money to fly to Hawaii - even in off-peak season. Airfare Watchdog and SkyScanner are two great apps I use to track flight prices and do comparative research to see if the "bargain" I found really IS a bargain.
Getting a great deal on a flight to Hawaii may involve some creative accounting. It might be cheaper to buy two or three tickets than to fly direct. It might cost less to fly to Hawaii with one airline and then use another for your return. A little bit of flexibility and a willingness to accept a bit of inconvenience can result in huge savings.
Remember: the cost of a trip is so much more than just the advertised price of a flight. In my experience, there is no one island is the cheapest or the most expensive. Each island has its own character and style and its own financial pros and cons. Saving on a flight is fantastic, but only if those savings aren't negated by your expenses on the ground.
The secrets to cheap sleeps
If your budget is more modest, take heart. Hawaii has just as many options as anywhere else in the United States. You can chose from campgrounds and hostels and couchsurfing. There are inns, bed and breakfasts, motels, and non-resort hotels.
If you're a passionate advance planner like me (of course you are!), you'll find huge value in timeshare resales when booked well in advance and, if you can be flexible with your dates, you'll do even better. Timeshares and vacation rental properties are clean, comfortable, convenient, and safe. They include everything from cozy, low key studios to hotel-esque suites to designer luxury mansions and include perks that make your vacation feel even more relaxing, like access to laundry and great kitchens and beautiful homey touches.
I have seen some truly spectacular rental homes but my favourite spot will always be the studio style 'ohana' we rented in Lahaina, Maui. It was three blocks from the water (and one block from my favourite shave ice shop!) It had a full bedroom and bathroom, a wee kitchen and sitting area, and our own tiny private front patio. And it was just $100 a night - not too bad for a place where resort rooms can cost thousands. (PS-If you're willing to forgo ocean view accommodations, you can easily save $50 or much, much more to add to your daily budget).
If it's free, we go and see....
My value-focused travel philosophy has enabled me see some of the world's best beaches, trails, parks, gardens, museums, galleries, and attractions for little to no cost; and Hawaii was no exception. Those gorgeous beaches are always free. Touring the coffee farms - with unlimited samples of the best coffee in the world - that's free too!
All state parks are free and National Parks and National Historic Sites are either free or charge a very reasonable rate. It's just $10 for a 7 day pass to Volcanoes National Park! I truly believe a family could set an entertainment budget of just $25 a day in Hawaii and do fine.
If you do want to indulge and splurge, you will find plenty of temptation in Hawaii. Helicopter tours, dive tours, surf lessons, zip lines, spas, sailing - the list goes on and on! And while you might not be able to do it all, you can likely afford a few choice splurges.
Like with any other major financial decision, comparison shop and do your research. Buy a respected guidebook, like Lonely Planet, and use their resources to book activities yourself. Resale centres like hotel activity desks or tour booking centers occasionally have good deals but nine times out of ten, your best deal is to book directly with the provider.
I always ask myself what I'd be willing to give up so I can include a few splurges in my budget. You can afford a helicopter tour if you're willing to stay in a hotel that's not on the beach. Your activity budget will soar if you stay in a rental property where you can do your own cooking.
I think a good balance is to do two or three days of no-cost fun for every splurge. Travelers on a moderate budget can't have it all -there are always choices to be made. But most of those choices are painless and the rewards can be fantastic!
Local food is more than a trend
People often comment that Hawaii is an expensive destination - and they often cite food as an example. And they aren't wrong. A high percentage of Hawaiian food is brought in from out of state and the prices reflect that. But there is delicious, gourmet food grown locally and the costs are very reasonable. Pineapple, coconut, mango, papaya, oranges, avocado, banana, sweet potato, taro, mushrooms, onions, every kind of seafood imaginable- all are local to Hawaii and all are irresistible.
Eating local is the key to great value in Hawaii. The prices aren't always cheap but you'll be assured of getting the best bang for your buck. And eating your local food in the local style will help too.
Step away from the hotels and eat like Hawaiians do - indulge in generously heaped "plate lunches" from food trucks. Order local style take out, like seaweed salad and ahi poke, from the deli counters in grocery stores. And hit up farmers' markets for produce, snacks, and hot lunch items.
There's no "all inclusives" in Hawaii... or is there?
There are no all inclusive properties in Hawaii like you'll find in the Caribbean - but we found something even better! During our last trip to Hawaii's Big Island, Ryan and I were fortunate to have lunch at one of the most special properties we've ever seen, the Kalani retreat centre.
Don't make my mistake and assume the word "retreat" refers to either a corporate retreat or hippie enclave. Think of it instead as a gorgeous retreat from the world, a place where you can soak in the beauty of Hawaii, whether you are on your own or with a group.
A retreat environment isn't everyone's idea of a dream Hawaiian vacation. There's no tiki bar or happy hour! But if your travel tastes favour nature over nightlife, this might be your ideal spot. With prices starting at $140 a day for an all-inclusive package of accommodations, food, and classes - everything from yoga, dance, and writing - Kalani may just represent the best value in all of Hawaii. (And best of all: it's a registered education non-profit, so every dollar you spend is reinvested in the region.)
Paradise is closer than you think
Will we ever be able to realistically do a $200 Challenge in Hawaii? Watch and see! I would argue that Hawaii is closer than the $200 Challenge mark than the ten thousand dollar mark. We found prices and budget travel opportunities on par with many mainland destinations, like New York, Montreal, and Chicago. I think flexible, open minded travelers will find Hawaii much more affordable than they originally thought.
Is Hawaii your idea of a dream destination?
Check out our other articles about Hawaii!
Visiting Kauai's Glass Beach
Driving Maui's Hana Highway
Coffee Beans and Hawaiian Dreams
Our most recent trip to Hawaii was supported in part by Go Hawaii. As always, all writing, research, and opinions are our own.
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