15 Ways to Save the Most During a Hawaii Vacation
Hawaii is a magical place that draws people from around the world.
Nearly 8 million visitors came to the Hawaiian Islands in 2012, with close to 5 million from the U.S. alone! As more and more people visit, there are more and more hospitality businesses offering their services to travelers. Which means sometimes just getting started can be overwhelming, not to mention costly. (See also: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)
To help you save the most in your next Hawaii vacation, here are the top 15 tips from a Hawaii resident.
Think Beyond Resorts
If you restrict yourself to resorts, you're imposing a major "beach tax" upon yourself.
1. Explore Other Hospitality Search Engines
Research shows that hotels have a financial incentive to rig the reviews from sites, such as TripAdvisor.com and Expedia.com. By increasing a single point on TripAdvisor's five-point scale, a hotel could increase its price by 11.2% and still maintain the same occupancy. This means that you end up paying an extra premium.
Here are some cheaper options to consider:
- Airbnb: Just for Honolulu, the site offers over 1,000 possible accommodations. A great advantage of Airbnb is that hosts often are willing to act as your guide, provide complimentary parking (most places charge for this!), and give freebies.
- HawaiiHostels.com: Young travelers (and young at heart!) may enjoy the option to interact with travelers from all over the world, while saving a buck. This directory includes hostels, such as Hilo Bay Hostel, Banana Bungalow Maui Hostel, and Kauai Beach House. Read the fine print and verify that you qualify for a stay before booking.
- Bed and Breakfast: There are several B&B's across the Hawaiian Islands, however these smaller operations cannot afford to advertise as much as others. Start your search for the perfect B&B with directories, such as Bnb.com, and the B&B Hawaii Island Association.
Tip: Clear your browser cookies every single time that you visit any hotel booking engine, so that prices don't "suddenly" start going up, forcing you to book ASAP.
2. Dine, Shop, and Use Services Outside Resort Areas
Don't do this:
- Chowing on a burger at Aulani Disney Resorts costs you a cool $21, and that's before tax and tip, and parking (sorry, Mickey doesn't give parking validations).
- Learning to surf right on Waikiki with starts at $60 per hour (with a group) and goes up to $110 per hour (with a private instructor).
- Renting a snorkel set from a hotel is a double whammy: a poor fit that diminishes your enjoyment and a $12-$20 hit every rental.
Do this instead:
- Eat a Flintstones-sized burger at local chains, such as Kua Aina Burger or Teddy's Bigger Burgers, starting at $5.99.
- Rent a surfboard at local businesses outside the Waikiki area, such as Blue Planet, for about $19 for a whole day or $149 for a whole month.
- Invest in a new snorkel set that fits you well at a local Walmart or Costco. In just two dives you'll make your money back, have a great experience, and may even be able to return the gear.
Enjoy Free Activities
The Hawaiian Islands offer unique experiences, and the best part is, many of them are free. (See also: For Amazing Affordable Vacations, Travel Slowly)
Hawaii has lots of hiking trails. For example, in the Hawaii Kai area you can find the Kuliouou Ridge Trail, the Koko Head Steps (a.k.a. Nature's Stairmaster), and the Dead Man's Catwalk. Most hiking trails in Hawaii have no admissions fee and provide free street parking.
- Explore a full listing of hiking trails and select a trail that matches your fitness level.
- Bookmark sites that provide visual guides, such as Unreal Hawaii and EveryTrail.com, on your smartphone for your reference throughout the hike.
- Be prepared and follow the hiking safety guidelines from the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
- Among the very few trails that charge an admissions fee, the ones that are worth every penny are: Diamond Head Crater for its historic importance, and Haleakala National Park for its unique landscape.
There is plenty of surf around the island. Locals stay on top of the latest surf forecast through the Surf News Network. Keep in mind the difference between regular height and Hawaii height of waves. In Hawaii, surf measurements are always in feet and scaled so the actual height on the face is roughly twice what's quoted.
- All beaches have public access by law, no one can charge you for surfing on the ocean.
- Avoid leaving valuables in your car, they are safer at home.
- Never surf alone in a beach that you've never been before.
- Oahu is chock full of opportunities to catch a wave.
- Pick a surf spot for your skill level; there are spots even for beginners.
- Wear plenty of sunscreen, and a rash guard (think wetsuit T-shirt) is always recommended for long sessions.
Do What Locals Do
When in Hawaii, follow the locals for the most fun and affordable activities.
Skip the flyers handed to tourists full of overcharged events, and read the TGIF section from the local newspaper, which comes out every Friday and is also available online.
6. First Friday and Last Friday
7. Block Parties
Honolulu offers free-admission block parties or celebrations in the Chinatown and Waikiki areas around the year, some examples are:
- Honolulu Festival: Marvel at the eclectic cultural mix that Hawaii offers.
- Waikiki Spam Jam: Celebrating Hawaii's official "meat."
- Lantern Floating Hawaii: Beautiful tradition to remember our loved ones in May.
- Halloween's Hallowbaloo: A major block party with costumed partygoers in October.
8. Important Landmarks
- Visit important landmarks for great photo opportunities, such as the King Kamehameha Statue (both in Oahu and Big Island), and the Duke Kahanamoku Statue.
- Invest in visiting the Iolani Palace, the only real palace in the entire U.S. (admission starting at $14.75 for adults and $6 for children)
9. Eat the Street
A family friendly food truck event that takes place on the last Friday of every month in Kakaako. Eat the Street Hawaii gathers 40 food trucks and vendors from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. View the full calendar of upcoming events and check if one takes place during your visit to Oahu.
10. Yelp Bash
Attention Yelp fans and elites: the local community is very active and has several free bashes throughout the year. While the event is by invitation only, it doesn't hurt to submit your RSVP and see if you qualify. RSVP confirmations are usually emailed out 48 hours before the event. The events offer free food, drinks, and entertainment. Plus, you have the chance to meet new local friends during your stay.
Avoid Big Fines
While local culture has a pretty relaxed attitude, Hawaii still has laws that everybody needs to follow. If you don't, then be ready to pay up.
11. Don't Use Cell Phone While Driving
Using your cellphone while driving is fined with $207, and $307 in school or construction zones.
12. Respect Local Animals
Hawaii offers great opportunities to spot beautiful wildlife. For example, in Oahu you can get close to green sea turtles in the North Shore's Laniakea Beach and to dolphins out in the ocean in Waikiki. However, you need to keep your distance and observe the suggested viewing guidelines. If not, then there are fines for disturbing animals in Hawaii, ranging from $500 all the way up to $100,000.
13. Use Your Seatbelt
Click it or ticket! If you don't and are caught, then you can be fined $102 on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii, and $112 on Kauai. Repeat offenders may get additional fines up to $500 and be required to take a four-hour class.
14. No Jaywalking
Be careful when crossing the street and wait until you have the right of way. In Honolulu, the top two spots that tourists get fined for jaywalking are Waikiki and Chinatown. The fine for not using the crosswalk or ignoring the "don't walk" sign is $130.
15. Agricultural Inspection
And before you leave back to the mainland, don't forget to let airport staff do the agricultural inspection for all your checked-in baggage bound. Otherwise, you may get a fine.
How do you save during your Hawaii vacation?
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