How to Travel Hawaii on a Budget

The tropical islands of Hawaii are known for outdoor adventures, memorable beaches, and luxury travel accommodations. This typically makes a Hawaiian vacation inaccessible for those who aren’t able to spend thousands of dollars on their trip.

Contrary to popular belief, a trip to Hawaii does not need to break the bank! This guide will show you all of the ways to save money on a Hawaii trip so you can live out your tropical paradise dreams free of stress. 

Ways to Save When Planning Your Trip

Choosing which Hawaiian island you should visit is important for saving money, and the most affordable Hawaiian island to visit is the Big Island, but Oahu may also be a great choice for your trip as it’s the most developed and has numerous hostels and public transportation options to choose from. 

Though these are the cheapest Hawaiian islands to visit, you can still apply these budget travel tips to whichever island you choose to explore.

The cheapest time to travel to Hawaii is during the off-season, which is April-May and September to mid-December. The cost of travel will be reduced outside of the high season, allowing you to see more of the islands for less. 

The green sand beach of Big Island, Hawaii on a sunny day
Luckily, weather in Hawaii is pristine year-round!

Flights typically make up the bulk of the costs of traveling to Hawaii, so saving on flight costs will be crucial in a budget trip to Hawaii, but there are tons of ways to do so:

  1. Search for flights using Skyscanner to find the best deals on airfare. You’ll likely find better deals with flexible dates and limited travel restrictions.
  2. Explore flying in/out of different islands; The cheapest Hawaiian island to fly to is typically Oahu at the HNL airport- but that’s not always the case, and it can sometimes be cheaper to fly into Honolulu and fly out of another island.
  3. The cost of travel between Hawaiian islands is low and it’s extremely easy to do, with Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest offering a multitude of inter-island flights that are typically $50-100. There’s also very little stress associated with island hopping in Hawaii, as you will only need to arrive at the airport about an hour before to board a flight that takes under an hour. 

Slow travel is not only the cheapest way to visit Hawaii but will help you be a conscious traveler and protect the natural environment of this tropical paradise. Traveling slowly means giving yourself time to fully appreciate a destination without the stress of constant plans and moving around quickly. 

A lot of slow travel happens simply by making basic and easily adjustable plans where you can choose what best fits your budget at a moments notice and take the slower, but more inexpensive route if needed.

Many travelers planning a trip to Hawaii on a budget allocate tons of money to car rentals for their trip, and while renting a car in Hawaii is often seen as essential, there are ways to get around without one.

Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background

Without a rental car, you’ll typically need to adhere to slow travel techniques and have more of a rough idea for exploring the island you visit. Ubers and Lyfts are readily available almost everywhere in Oahu, most places in Maui, and some more populated areas of the Big Island and Kauai. 

If you want to visit more remote areas of Hawaii, hitchhiking may be your best bet where rideshare services are not as reliable. Traveling slowly is your best option for visiting Hawaii without a rental car unless you’re in Honolulu, where there are more options.

The Waikiki Trolley is Honolulu’s public transportation method that will take you all around the south coast favorites of Oahu. The trolley is $65 for a 4-day pass, or $75 for a 7-day pass, awarding you access to all three transport lines during your trip.

For adventurers like me, the Blue Line will take you along the coast past many iconic scenic spots like Diamond Head, all the way to Hanauma Bay (considered one of the best places to snorkel in Hawaii). There is also a city and arts and shopping route to roam Honolulu, but walking around the city is also fairly simple and you can find a lot of popular areas near Waikiki Beach.

How to Save on Accommodation in Hawaii

Budget accommodation is not a term used often in Hawaii, but there are a few options for a budget vacation to Hawaii. The best hostels in Hawaii are:

The Beach Waikiki by ALOHA (Oahu)

  • Cheapest place to stay in Oahu at about $45 per night for a shared dorm, and $100+ per night for a private room
  • Close to the well-known area of Waikiki Beach
  • Stay includes wifi, coffee, boogie boards, and beach equipment (umbrellas, chairs, etc.) for a perfect Hawaiian beach vacation

Aloha Surf Hostel (Maui)

  • Offers shared dorms at $70 a night, including wifi, free pancake breakfast, daily tours of Maui, a fully equipped kitchen, and more!
  • Located in the surf-dominated town of Paia, with easy access to the [best surf spots in Maui]

My Hawaii Hostel (Big Island, Kailua-Kona)

  • Shared dorms available for $50/night, with privates available for $110/night
  • Stay includes wifi, fully equipped kitchen and BBQ area, free boogie boards and coolers, and snorkel gear available for rent
  • Close to downtown Kona, there are many popular areas of the big island to visit here.

Big Island Hostel (Big Island, Hilo)

  • Offers shared dorms at $60/night (privates for $115/night)
  • Similar accommodations to the rest of the hostels (wifi, fully equipped kitchen) but also an “International Clothing Swap Closet”, a bar with outlets, and space for working, making it a great spot for digital nomads
  • 15-20 minutes walking distance to downtown Hilo, with close proximity to nearby beaches and waterfalls

Outside of these hostel options, when looking for where to stay in Hawaii on a budget, it’s typically much easier to find cheap accommodation in the lesser-known parts of the island as opposed to the touristy hotspots, so it’s worth considering getting off the beaten path.

Rural Hawaii
Hawaii’s countryside is just as stunning

If you’re looking for how to stay in Hawaii for free, you can also consider using couchsurfing.com, a platform for generous hosts to connect with travelers looking for a place to stay (which typically extends to just a couch to sleep on, but I’ve met many hosts that have made me meals or given me rides through here).

You can also get closer to local culture and find free accommodation and meals with work exchanges through platforms like Worldpackers, Workaway, and Trusted Housesitters. These are not just free places to stay, but rather an exchange of accommodation for help from you from things like manning the reception at a hostel to building construction. 

Another great option for cheap travel to Hawaii that will help you save on transportation and accommodation is by renting a camper! Hawaii Surf Campers offers campers for $189/night (which is less than 99% of hotels in Hawaii) that provide customized maps with campsites and special recommendations around Oahu. They also include a kitchen for making your food on the go, and a road trip is a great option for how to do Hawaii for cheap.

Renting a condo through platforms like VRBO is not only a sustainable accommodation option but also gives you your own space to make your meals at home, which is a great way to reduce food costs during your vacation. 

How to Save on Food in Hawaii

Along with having access to a fully equipped kitchen, there are many ways to save on the expensive food costs of Hawaii. This is an important consideration as meals will typically cost about $20 per person if you choose to dine at the typical tourist-run restaurants. 

A Hawaiian food truck
Pick up some delectable island favorites at a local spot

Locally-owned shops and food trucks are popular for getting cheap meals in Hawaii. It’s easy to find local or family-owned places businesses by searching on Google Maps; places that have this detail mentioned in their reviews will pop up!

You can also find food truck parks on Google Maps, or simply just ask some locals where their favorite food truck is.

Eating out will always be the most expensive option for food, so consider booking a place with access to a kitchen to make your own meals. I’ve saved thousands on my trips just by cutting the costs of dining out.

There are Costcos on Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island (you can also find the cheapest gas in Hawaii here), and if you already have a membership, you’ll be able to save on groceries to fuel your Hawaii adventures. 

How to Save on Activities in Hawaii

Experiences can easily get very pricey in Hawaii, but luckily there are many cheap and even free things to do in Hawaii. 

Being the birthplace of modern surfing, hitting the waves or taking surf lessons should be a no-brainer for your itinerary. There are amazing surf spots in Hawaii on every island, and renting a board is cheap and easy to do in many of the coastal surf towns.

Boogie boarding is a great activity for enjoying the beaches of Hawaii, and you can also find boogie board rentals near popular beaches, but it may also be cheaper to buy a boogie board for your trip (they’re typically priced from $15-30), and donate it before you leave!

Snorkeling is also a must-do experience for Hawaii travel, and snorkel gear can be bought or rented to explore the vast marine life that exists around each of the tropical islands. You can find travel-friendly snorkel gear to bring with you on future trips!

A drone shot over one of the free beaches in Oahu, Lanikai Beach
Hawaiian beaches are free to visit and picturesque

These are some of the best options for adventurers visiting Hawaii, but relaxing and swimming at a breathtaking Hawaiian beach can always be done free of charge.

While Hawaiian beaches are remarkably stunning and offer a multitude of activities to enjoy, the hiking in Hawaii is also stellar. Most hikes are free here, and there are over fifty state parks and two national parks to be explored across the islands of Hawaii!

Some of these places have parking or entry fees, but they are typically budget-friendly and give you access to a multitude of things to see and do there. Some of my favorite parks include:

  • Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)
  • Waimea Canyon State Park (Kauai)
  • Iao Valley State Monument (Maui)
  • Napali Coast State Park (Kauai)
  • Akaka Falls State Park (Big Island)

Outside of state parks, it’s no secret that each island of Hawaii has a range of hikes that should be added to your adventure travel bucket list. 

Laynie hiking the Waihee Ridge Trail in Maui
Brave the trails of Hawaii for free!

Planning a trip to Hawaii doesn’t have to be stressful and expensive. These money-saving tips are all you need to know for traveling Hawaii on a budget. With everything from saving on flights to activities, you can still adventure throughout Hawaii without having to splurge on a resort or luxury experience.

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