I get a lot of questions about living in and visiting Hawaii. I mean, it’s only natural, right? I think that planning a trip to Hawaii can be overwhelming, but not impossible. I also think that it’s possible to plan a trip to Hawaii on a budget. I got a suggestion from a reader to do a post on how to plan a vacation to Oahu on a budget and I thought it was such a good idea, especially given the recent decline in airfare. Seriously friends, if you’ve been considering a trip to Hawaii, now is the time to book. Airfare is as cheap as $330 roundtrip – no joke! (8 Tips For Finding Cheap Flights to Hawaii) Anyway, today I’m sharing ways to explore and enjoy the islands on the cheap!
Cheap Hawaii: How To Visit Oahu On A Budget
First, let’s talk flights. Of course living here I don’t book it to Hawaii very often, but I have lots of friends and family who ask about fare prices, so I do keep my eyes peeled. Services like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Pomelo Travel are good about alerting you to airfare drops, but I will warn you – sometimes if you book through sites like Momondo.com or third-party type of sites, the fare class for the ticket is lower, which means it won’t be eligible for upgrade. If this is something that is important to you – consider this your warning!
Then I cross check those flight prices in a private search window in Google Flights. Be warned – sometimes if your browser starts to recognize that you’re searching for specific airfare, the rates will go up, so always be sure to browse in a private tab. Before booking, clear your search history! I know I linked it above, but here are 8 tips for finding cheap flights to Hawaii if you are having any issues. Don’t forget to use sites like Swagbucks or Ebates for cash back! They often feature travel services. Priceline + Expedia also offer package deals from time to time so keep your eyes peeled there if you want to combine airfare/hotel, airfare/car rental, etc.
Where To Stay
Let’s be honest – some of the most expensive portions of traveling can be accommodations. It’s majorly tempting to get to Hawaii and want to stay in a beach front property so you can stare at the turquoise water from bed – I get it. That said, it doesn’t mean you have to book an expensive hotel room. There are plenty of home rental options that cost significantly less than a hotel. If you’ve never done a home rental before, consider reading my post on what to expect — Vacation Planning: Home Rental vs. Hotel or Resort. Right now, Oahu is in the process of reviewing the legality of vacation rentals, so that is one thing to keep in mind when choosing which one is the right fit for your trip 🙂
If a hotel or resort is the only way for you, there are plenty of more affordable options. Additionally, consider splitting time in a fancier hotel to get that oceanfront view for part of your visit and then moving hotels halfway through. Don’t miss The Ultimate Hotel Guide To Oahu to help you narrow down some choices.
This one can be the most difficult, in my opinion, because the cost of food in Hawaii gives most people sticker shock. This can be hard to navigate, but there are a few ways to save some cash. First things first, if you have a home rental property, consider stocking up at Costco for your food. It’s the most affordable way to get groceries (even if it’s only 2 of you!) on the island and you can make easy breakfasts, lunches and dinners in your own kitchen.
This is particularly great if you splurged on an oceanfront rental! Alternately, even in a hotel you have options. Stocking up on snacks, easy items to make breakfast or lunch (fresh fruit, yogurt, granola bars, sandwiches, etc) can save some serious money. When you start to tally up 3 meals per day at a restaurant – it gets EXPENSIVE. Being able to save on smaller meals and snacks can help save in a big way over the course of an entire vacation. (My Go-To Travel Snacks)
Another great idea is to grab a bottle of your favorite alcoholic drink and make mixed drinks in your room. Dane and I do this when we travel and it helps with consistently buying expensive pool bar drinks. We keep them in one of these and they stay cold by the beach or pool all day long!
Of course when you come to Hawaii, you want to actually go out and do stuff, right? Right. Thankfully things like hiking and going to the beach are free, or cost a minimal amount (think $5 or so for parking). Here are 15 Oahu Activities for $5 Or Less! These are awesome things to do, but I also recommend going to a luau, taking a drive up to the North Shore on Oahu and walking around Haleiwa, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay and enjoying a catamaran ride. All of these things cost money! The best way to save is by checking out what Groupon has to offer. They have a full list of their Honolulu + Oahu activities! The catamaran ride we love is always on Groupon and I cannot say enough good things about it! You can buy tickets here.
If Groupon doesn’t have what you’re looking for, try to narrow down the top activities you want to do and budget for them. You have come all the way to Hawaii after all! Some posts you might enjoy for activities include The Ultimate Activity Guide to Oahu, 6 Easy Hikes On Oahu, or The Insider’s Guide to Oahu. If you’re staying close to Waikiki, here are 10 Must Do Activities in Waikiki.
I mentioned above about taking a drive up to the North Shore to walk around Haleiwa (10 Best Things To Do In Haleiwa) and there are definitely amazing areas of Oahu to see that will require a car, regardless of where you might be staying on the island. That said, not only are you going to have to pay for a daily rental car, but you’re also going to have to pay to park it. Save money by setting up an itinerary and figuring out what activities require a vehicle. This way, you can push all the things you want to do that require a car to one chunk of time and then turn the car in, so you aren’t paying for it to sit in a parking garage!
There A LOT of pricier souvenir shops on the island, but some of the best gifts I’ve found for friends + family have been from The Swap Meet at Aloha Stadium + wait for it…COSTCO! Costco has an awesome selection of food items that make great gifts to take back to the mainland. MY favorites are coffee, chocolate covered mac nuts and Maui Green Onion mac nuts. Mmm – so tasty and they all pack really well in a suitcase!
Hawaii is a beautiful place that most people save up for a very long time to visit, but a trip doesn’t have to be out of reach if you plan ahead, make a list of trip priorities (hotel, food, activities, etc) and do a bit of research. I hope this post was helpful for those that are trying to visit Hawaii on a budget or make the most of their dollars while planning an Oahu vacation!