Whether you’re dreaming of traveling to Hawaii’s tropical paradise for the first time or you’re an old hand at visiting the islands, insider tips make the difference between the typical tourist trip to Hawaii and a truly amazing adventure. GOBankingRates talked to Hawaii natives and travel experts to uncover some of the top tips to keep in mind when planning your vacation.
Click through to find the best and worst deals in Hawaii that’ll make your vacation a trip to remember.
1. Think Outside the Hawaiian Resorts
Save money and connect with the real Hawaii with a glamping adventure. Born and raised in Hawaii, Mahealani Schuman, formerly with Glamping Hub, suggests an off-the-grid yurt with a king bed and a full bath near Volcanoes National Park.
“Less known to tourists, you can walk to the very tip of the island for an enjoyable day hike or pay the locals to drive you out in their trucks — you do not want to drive your rental here — to enjoy the beach and see the views.” For even more adventure, Schuman suggested trying the local Ka Lea Cliff jump.
Lodging can be one expense you spend the most on during your Hawaiian vacation, so it’s worth saving where you can.
2. Share a Vacation Rental With Friends
Don’t just sit around and talk about your Hawaii vacation dreams with friends; team up and do something about it. Businesswoman Jessica Tsukimura often shares a vacation rental with friends when visiting her husband’s family on the island where he grew up.
“We always find amazing condos and homes on Airbnb or VRBO for a fraction of the cost of hotels. And it gives us a more seamless and authentic experience,” said Tsukimura, the senior director of client services at Stag&Hare in New York City. The $250-a-night hilltop home they shared on Oahu came out to just $84 per couple per night.
3. Find a Free Bed
If meeting locals and immersing yourself in Hawaiian culture is on your agenda, save money with a free stay in a local home through Couchsurfing. The site lists over 6,000 hosts in Honolulu alone and it’s a great — and cheaper — alternative to staying at a hotel.
Although accommodations might include a home overlooking the ocean or a cosmopolitan condo in Honolulu, the real experience is getting a slice of life from the local perspective. The site lets you filter hosts to find those with comparable interests who might be interested in showing you around.
4. Rent the Perfect Car for Less
Download the Turo app or visit the website to find car choices that’ll save you money, up to 35 percent less than you would pay at a traditional car rental agency. See the sights in a 2017 Polaris Slingshot or zip around in a 1969 Volkswagen Dune Buggy. Some car rates are as little as $20 per day.
5. See the State in a Campervan
Ditch the touristy crowds and spend your time exploring an island by campervan. Explore Oahu and park for the night at Malaekahana Beach Campground on the North Shore, or get a different view of Maui up a 7,000-foot mountain at Haleakala National Park.
6. Discover Old Hawaii
Although Hawaii is a top U.S. tourist destination, its local cultural roots are older than the country. Discover the pre-U.S. history, culture and traditions with a trip to the island of Molokai.
The trip “will amaze you,” Schuman said. “Few tourists ever visit this island; it is not directed at tourists, and it will give you a great idea of what old Hawaii was like.” A one-way flight to the island costs $50 through Makani Kai Air.
More Island Dreaming: Check Out These Islands You Could Actually Own
7. Eat Like a Local
Skip touristy restaurants and their high price tags and go rub elbows with the locals. You’ll know you’re in a local restaurant when the menu doesn’t offer explanations of each dish. Do yourself — and the local customers — a favor and research menu items before you go.
In pricey Honolulu, Tsukimura recommends Yama’s Fish Market and Helena’s Hawaiian Food, both of which fill you up on authentic cuisine for less than $10 per person for lunch or $20 for a full dinner. This way, you can eat out and still save money.
8. Get Groupon Discounts for Tours and More
“Always check Groupon for deals on things to do in Hawaii at a much cheaper rate,” Schuman said. “Hawaiian companies have been using it a lot recently.” Listed bargains that have recently been on the site include a shark cage-diving encounter for $91 per person and parasailing for just $46. Groupon offers usually are available for a limited time, so buy them when you see them. There also are offers for food and drinks, hot yoga and more.
9. Head to Costco
Save money on food by prepping some of your own. With seven locations on the Hawaiian Islands — four on Oahu alone — it’s easy to get what you need to slash your food bill with sandwich fixings and snack foods. Six of the seven stores offer fuel, making it more affordable to tour the islands if you use a rental car.
10. Ride the Bus
When visiting Honolulu, avoid spending time looking for parking by hopping on board “The Bus,” the area’s public transit system. Download “Da Bus2” smartphone app to see real-time information about where the nearest bus is and take a virtual tour to understand what you’ll see on its route. Transfers aren’t available, so buy a one-day pass for $5.50 to hop on and off at your leisure. Discounts are available for senior citizens, youths and those with disabilities.
Don’t visit Honolulu over the holidays — it’s one of the least affordable places to spend your holiday vacation.
11. Have a Free Adventure
Not everything in Hawaii costs money. Some of the best things in life really are free. You might find yourself stargazing from the heights of Mauna Kea or marveling at breaching whales along the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline if you’re up for finding the lesser-known sightseeing spots that are free.
12. Smart Shoppers Know the ABCs
Grab Hawaiian souvenirs on the cheap when you shop at ABC Stores — just don’t make too many impulse purchases. The retailer has 73 locations worldwide, with most of them throughout the Hawaiian Islands, where you can pick up authentic aloha shirts, tiki statues, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and more at reasonable prices. You also can order online and have items delivered directly to your home so you don’t have to make room in your suitcase
13. Enjoy Free Entertainment
You don’t have to pay big bucks to experience Polynesian entertainment; malls, hotels and public spaces offer shows and classes. Head to the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound on Waikiki Beach to see hula dance troupes three evenings a week. The Shops at Mauna Lani on the Kohala Coast have nighttime hula shows on Mondays and Thursdays. Or head to the Royal Hawaiian Center in Honolulu to learn how to strum a ukulele or weave hala leaves into wearable art.
14. Get a Card
Buy a GO Oahu Card to visit up to 32 attractions on the island in one to seven days. One-day passes cost $74 for adults and $69 for children ages 3 to 12. Buying a multiday pass doesn’t mean you have to do a marathon sightseeing tour for several days in a row; you can use the pass for the additional days any time in the following two weeks.
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15. Check Out Travelzoo Deals
Before you finalize your arrangements, look at Travelzoo’s Hawaii Deals page. If you’re flexible on timing, you might find deals that include airfare and hotel for around $800 or less. Choose from dozens of hotels and get discounts on tours when you book your package. You also can find all-inclusive Hawaii lodging on the site.
More on Saving Money and Travel
- How to Book Last-Minute Travel Plans on the Cheap
- How to Travel Like a Millionaire — Without the Millionaire Budget
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Priscilla Aguilera contributed to the reporting for this article.