Hawaii – On a Budget Pt 1

These are a few tips I discovered in the planning process for our recent trip to the Hawaiian islands.  Just an fyi, Hawaii CAN be visited for less than many people think.  🙂

oahu sunset~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hawaii is certainly not an inexpensive vacation destination. It’s going to cost some money (flight, accommodations and food is more expensive than we pay on the Mainland, but the trip can be done for less than you might think…certainly for less than a travel agent will quote.

How do I know this?  We went to AAA for a quote.  The agent planned a trip for us, 10 days on 3 islands,  airfare from the Mainland, 3 inter-island flights, accommodations on 3 islands and rental cars on 2 islands (no car on Oahu). Her quote was $7000 and that didn’t include any food, fuel, activities, baggage fees (FIVE flights) or souvenirs. We tried to contain our shock…but failed…   🙂  She made some modifications and gave us another quote.  It was still $4000…and still without any of the above mentioned things. The cost for the TOTAL trip, doing it her way, would have been $6000-7000. (and that’s a conservative estimate)  I realized I’d better try my own hand at it. I did and we just returned home from that trip. I keep a record of everything we spend…down to quarters for coin-operated laundry. ha! Our total expense for the trip, (for two) start to finish, including airfare, 3 inter-island flights, accommodations on 3 islands (we have some accommodations with our timeshare), THREE rental cars and fuel, all food, activities, baggage fees and souvenirs was $3926.41 (Side Note:  This includes the purchase of 2 MORE airline tickets + airport booking fees when one of our inter-island flights was cancelled.)   Even with that debacle, it’s still less than the amount the travel agent quoted just for airfare, accommodations and rental car!!!   Of course, planning it myself meant I did all the work….but the savings was worth it.

My ONE disclaimer:   As I mentioned above, we used our timeshare on 2 of the islands for accommodations.  Now…we PAID dearly for that timeshare through the annual maintenance fees…so it wasn’t really free  (ugh!!) but those costs aren’t included in the $3900 cost.  We DID rent our accommodations on Oahu, and we did that through my favorite site – VRBO!!!

Accommodations:  VRBO!!!  VRBO.com This is the best site for rentals to just about ANY vacation destination.  Read more about VRBO in Frugal Accommodations Part 2    HomeAway.com is a ‘sister company’ to VRBO and runs much the same way.

When choosing where to stay, units with cooking facilities (even limited cooking facilities) can save a lot of money.   (Prices for everything…including food…are highly inflated in Hawaii)  There are units in Honolulu and Waikiki Beach area with kitchens or kitchenettes, if that’s where your heaKitchen in condort is set on going, however, staying out of the metro area means much less congestion (not to mention parking fees) so it’s worth consideration.  We  stayed in Kailua on the east (other) side of Oahu.  It’s only a 20-25 min. drive to the airport and areas in Honolulu…a little further to Waikiki.  Kailua is a quaint little town with everything you would need as far as dining, groceries and a beautiful beach.  🙂  There’s a beautifully landscaped shopping area in the historic town that draws a lot of tourists. The particular vrbo rental that we selected had a kitchenette, private porch area outside our unit


Through those double doors is a reading or relaxing room available to guests. On the other side is the pool, which unfortunately, I did not get a picture of 😦

back door, and a pool in a landscaped garden complete with tables, chairs and a large gas grill. The owner had grilling tools and we grilled steaks one night and hamburgers another night. We were the only ones staying there so we had the pool et al to ourselves for a romantic poolside meal…   It was wonderful!!!

Meals:  When we landed in Oahu, we were tired and hungry so before checking into our accommodations we stopped by a Burger King.  The price on their basic #1 combo meal (Whopper) was over $10 (2013).  That was quite an introduction into “Hawaiian prices” and served to encourage a trip to the grocery store that evening. 🙂  At the grocery store on all the islands, we purchased things for sandwiches (lunch each day) as well as items to prepare simple meals in the evenings (the hamburger and steak we grilled).  I brought a few easily packable things from home that I would NEVER want to purchase – seasonings, salt/pepper, etc… or items that I only wanted a small amount of and knew would be REALLY expensive in Hawaii. Being able to prepare simple things, especially in a full-sized kitchen, is MARVELOUS and such a great way to save some money!!!!  I had a ‘plan’ for food before we left, (to know what seasonings to bring) then made my grocery list(s).  Of course, I brought grocery coupons for those items.

Rental Car:  The best website I found for rental cars in HI was http://hawaiidiscountcarrental.com/.  At first I was skeptical of them as their rates were FAR below other published rates.  (that’s usually an alarm for me) However, both  TripAdvisor.com  and AAA magazines gave them raving reviews (I trust those sources).  The reservations were with reputable companies (Avis, Enterprise, Budget, etc… ) so I took the risk.  Before we left, just to set my mind at ease, I called the companies where our reservations were (Avis and Enterprise)  and they confirmed my reservation at the price I was quoted. It was legitimate!! The savings was WORTH IT!!! Our Maui rental car was previously $217 through AirportRentalCars.com (formerly Breezenet) and it never came down over a month’s time as I checked (I was accustomed to rates coming down).  Through  hawaiidiscountcarrental.com, I paid $160 for those days with Avis.  I saved $56 with a few clicks!!!

Coupon Books are in displays at every airport.  These contain discounts for shopping and activities. When you first arrive at the airport, collect the books from all islands/locations you’ll be visiting. This gives you a chance to look through them BEFORE you get to a particular island. WORD OF CAUTION: A coupon only saves you money if you planned to do the activity/make the purchase anyway. If you go somewhere or buy something BECAUSE you have a coupon, you haven’t saved money…you’ve spent it.  🙂

Wal-Mart Stores are not as plentiful on the islands as they are in the continental U.S., but they ARE there.  Go to Walmart.com  to find locations. Groceries are expensive in Hawaii but you’ll find “better” prices at Wal-Mart than Safeway or Foodland.  Now…the Walmarts on the islands are NOT SuperCenters i.e. full grocery stores.  They have ‘limited’ groceries….with ‘no’ or ‘limited’ produce.  We found, however, that with the fruit/veggie stands along the roads, we were able to get what we wanted.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Smith on Flickr CC Lic.

Hawaiian Fruit:  There are roadside fruit stands set up by the locals outside of town. You’ll also find Farmer’s Markets in Honolulu, et al., on certain days (check online for schedule).  These are DEFINITELY worth the stop, however prices vary (greatly sometimes) so shop around.  Some stand owners are willing to negotiate; others aren’t.

The fruit grown and ripened on the vine is markedly better tasting than the grocery store variety so take advantage of this if you can. Be sure to get some Hawaiian bananas. They’re very different from what we get at home. They’re only 4″ long and not particularly attractive on the outside.  They will have black spots if they’re ripe….but when you peel them (I mean, seriously….do we eat the peeling anyway??) they are the sweetest things you’ve ever tasted. Don’t be deterred by their looks;  just try them!!!  As far as the pineapples, someone told us that the pineapples grown on the islands are ONLY for the locals and tourists there. They are NOT shipped to the Mainland stores. They taste so much sweeter!!! Be sure to try one while you’re there!!!

After a day in the heat, nothing hits the spot quite like a fruit salad – made from ‘ripened on the vine’ fruit from a local fruit stand.  We put in pineapple, mango, papaya, Hawaiian bananas, and slivers of coconut as well as 1-2 tablespoons of the coconut water (from a fresh coconut).  It was a PERFECT meal for us.  Now, if we’d had children with us, we might have needed something a little more IMG_2946substantial, but for just us, it was perfect!   I’d never had a fresh coconut/coconut water before….we tried it this time for the ‘experience’.  I don’t know that I’ll ever drink coconut water again…but I DID like the shaved coconut in our fruit salad.


Other News About Fruit: 

  • Oahu pineapples and Maui pineapples are different. If you go to both islands, try them both.
  • Banana bread stand on Road to Hana

    One of the many banana bread ‘stands’ along the road to Hana

    On the Road to Hana (Maui) there are multiple stands that sell banana bread made from the wonderful Hawaiian bananas.  If you’re on the road early, the bread will be hot – just out of the oven!!  Honestly, you haven’t tasted banana bread until you’ve tasted THIS banana bread! 🙂

Other Articles in this Hawaii Series:


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