Boasting palm-fringed beaches, crystal-clear waters, and forest-covered cliffs, Hawaii is undeniably one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Not to mention, there are eight major islands (along with 100+ small islands) to explore.
Unfortunately, the Aloha State is also one of the most expensive places to visit.
From accommodation fees to activities, you can end up spending thousands of dollars on your dream trip to Hawaii.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. While traveling around Hawaii, there are plenty of ways to cut costs so you don’t have to worry too much about the expenses.
This guide is going to outline how to travel on a budget in Hawaii so you can make the most of your money. So let’s dive right in!
The best ways to travel on a budget in Hawaii
1. Avoid peak travel times
The main way to save money while traveling to Hawaii is by avoiding the peak season. This typically falls between mid-December to March, so you’ll want to avoid this time of year if you can.
Christmas and New Year can be especially expensive, and you’ll be paying a lot more when it comes to airfare, accommodation, and likely, even activities.
The other thing to consider is the school holidays. Naturally, when the children are off school, many families flock to Hawaii for a tropical retreat. Not only will this island state be busier, but you’ll find that prices are again, much more expensive.
Hawaii’s off-season runs between April-June and September-November. This is often the best time to visit as you’ll find that airline tickets tend to be much cheaper, as do hotels.
Attractions and activities during this time of year tend to have lower prices too. Just keep in mind that some of the local businesses and restaurants may be shut.
2. Hire a car
If you’ve got a driving license, then you’ll want to hire a car to get around Hawaii. For starters, this allows you complete flexibility when it comes to planning your own itinerary.
Although public transport is pretty great on the major islands, there are some destinations that you just can’t reach without a vehicle. In this case, some people opt for a taxi but these tend to be very expensive!
If you don’t need a hire car for the whole trip then that’s something to think about as well. It may be wise to plan out a rough itinerary in advance, and then see which areas public transport won’t reach.
This way, you’ll be able to work out how many hire days you’ll need. If you’re traveling out of peak season, then rental prices can be much cheaper.
You’ll also want to shop around to ensure you get the best deal and check out some of the carshare services that are available such as Turo.
Here’s everything you need to know about driving in Hawaii.
3. Use public transport and ride-sharing services
If you don’t have a license or you don’t feel confident hiring a car, then you could choose to use Uber or public transport.
Now, this will depend on the island you visit so you’ll have to do a bit of research regarding this first. If you’re heading to the major islands including O‘ahu, Kauai, and Maui, then public transport tends to be pretty great.
Considering how expensive Hawaii is in general, fares tend to be very affordable. Not only that, but many islands offer several service routes.
4. Stay in self-contained accommodation
Hawaii is full of luxury hotels and fancy resorts, but this will set you back an extraordinary amount of cash. To really make the most of your money, you’ll want to go for self-contained accommodation.
These can be found throughout the island, and come in a variety of forms. Whether you go for a charming cottage or a cozy cabin is completely up to you, but just ensure there’s a kitchen available to use.
This will allow you to cook your own meals rather than dine out all the time. Restaurants in Hawaii don’t tend to be cheap, and you can lose a lot of money this way.
A cottage or house is a great option for friends and families traveling together as you can split the cost. However, if there’s only one or two of you, then it may be best to stay in a hostel that offers shared facilities instead (including a kitchen).
5. Take advantage of free activities
Surprisingly, you’ll find plenty of free things to do in Hawaii. The options available will differ depending on when and where you’re visiting, but you’ll still have tons of choices.
Although this may sound like an obvious one, make sure you visit some of Hawaii’s beaches. Many of them are free and accessible all year round, so it doesn’t matter when you go.
While we’re on the same topic, snorkeling in many places is also a free activity! If you’ve already got the gear, then you can simply head to one of the local beaches.
You’ll also find that many places offer free hula shows to give travelers the chance to appreciate the Aloha state’s culture. This goes for resorts, hotels, malls, and cultural centers, so just make sure you do some research depending on where you are.
Some places will even offer FREE cultural classes and these can include hula lessons, ukulele-playing, navigational techniques, and languages.
6. Opt for the local dishes
Even if you stay in self-contained accommodation or somewhere with a shared kitchen, you’re going to want to dine out at some point.
Unfortunately, there’s no denying that dining out in Hawaii is expensive. This is especially the case if you’re staying in a popular area with lots of resorts. From fine dining to farm-to-table eateries, you’ll come across some costly restaurants.
However, no matter where you stay, there will always be less expensive options. To lower the cost even more, you’re best off going for local cuisine such as poke bowls and typical Hawaiian plates.
Not only are these dishes mouth-watering, but they tend to be much more affordable. You’ll also find that many of the drive-in options offer more budget-friendly meals, so that’s another thing to think about.
Lastly, you’ll find that lots of Hawaiian supermarkets offer affordable and filling meals. These are a great option if you’re on the go or need to pack a picnic.
7. Hit up some of the local hiking trails
No trip to Hawaii is complete without hitting up some of the hiking trails. Even better, many of them are free so you won’t even need to pay for the privilege (in most cases).
If you’re heading to O‘ahu, then some of the best free hikes include the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, Kaena Point, and Koko Head Crater.
For those who are staying on Kauai, you’ll want to check out the Kalalau Trail, the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, and Ke Ala Hele Makalae.
No matter where you stay in Hawaii, there’s an abundance of fantastic hiking trails waiting for you. They allow you to appreciate the breathtaking scenery all around you, and you might even get to spot marine life from the coastal routes.
The one thing to keep in mind is that you’ll likely need to pay for parking. Some of the trails also require a small fee (usually a couple of dollars) but this certainly won’t break the bank.
8. Find cheap inter-island transport
Now, this will all depend on whether you’re going to stay on the one island, or you’re looking to explore different destinations.
Island hopping in Hawaii can be expensive as you’ll need to pay for additional airfare, accommodation, and transport once you actually get there. This is why many people choose to base themselves on one island as they can keep the costs lower.
However, if you’re not from the United States then chances are you’re going to want to explore more of Hawaii. Especially, if you’ve had a long flight to get here!
There are both interisland airlines and ferries available, and some of these can be very affordable (depending on when you’re visiting Hawaii).
In terms of flying, Southwest Airlines offer budget-friendly prices so make sure you check them out. In particular, look out for their ‘Wanna Get Away’ deals!
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to travel on a budget in Hawaii. From cooking your own meals to hitting the local hiking trails, you can still make the most of your visit without splashing the cash!
Just make sure you plan your trip carefully and try to avoid popular resort areas. You’ll also want to have a rough daily budget in mind so you’ve got an idea of what you can spend.
Cora & Helen sold everything they had to travel the world in 2017, got married in Orlando, FL in 2019, and discovered family travel in 2021. They run Inside Our Suitcase.