I’ve been traveling as much as possible for nearly a decade and to be completely honest, Hawaii was never really on my mind as a place to visit.
I pictured big high-rise hotels and resorts, families, and overweight German tourists wearing speedos. And let’s not even bring up how expensive it all must have been.
I can admit that my ignorance clouded my judgment, but one thing I’m sure I had right was about how expensive Hawaii was. Then this little thing called an economic crisis came in to play. A year ago I briefly flirted with the idea and a round trip ticket from Los Angeles was $700. Today it is $235 round trip to Honolulu, or about $330 to Maui.
So we have our first requirement for a good budget destination; cheap airfare.
Next, we’ll need someplace to stay. The $200+ hotels on the beach in Lahaina probably won’t be feasible. Don’t worry too much though because Maui has three hostels that I was able to track down online.
There is Patey’s Place in Lahaina which had pretty poor reviews so I chose not to stay there. In Wailuku there is the Northshore Hostel and Banana Bungalows. Based off of Hostelworld’s reviews, I opted for Northshore but Banana Bungalows looked decent enough from the outside when I walked past. I had just read too many horror stories online about them which is why I continued to skip it. All three places cost about $25 per night which isn’t cheap, but affordable enough given that we are in Hawaii after all.
Wailuku is a sleepy little town with little to offer travelers other than good central point for exploring the island. It’s easy to get to from the airport and both the Hana Highway (37) and the amazing scenic route 30 are easily accessible.
In fact, my favorite thing to do in Maui was to simply drive those roads. Everybody has heard about the road to Hana, and it definitely lives up to the hype, but Highway 30 is an amazing drive along the north coast along a winding 1.5 lane road.
Both highways are literally littered with hikes. So many that you will have a difficult time deciding which ones to do and which ones to skip. You’ll want to consult your guidebook the night before so you don’t waste precious time that you could be using to be exploring this wonderful island.
Don’t forget the beaches. Kihei and Lahaina have great beaches for snorkeling or just relaxing and catching some rays. Both places have plenty of places to rent snorkel gear or surfboard and you’d be surprised how cheap it can be. A complete snorkel package should run you less than $10 for a 24 hour rental.
So we have our second and third important items for a budget destination; free or cheap things to do and beautiful nature.
Maui really surprised me by being so easily accessible for budget travel. You’ll spend your time exploring rather than paying money for tours or other types of entertainment. I heard horror stories about food and everything else being extremely overpriced but other than one overpriced breakfast wrap I had, everything was priced the same, or cheaper than back home in California.
I know what you are thinking: “there has to be a catch!” Right?
I suppose the only downside to visiting Hawaii is that you really need to have your own car. I rented a car through Thrifty which cost $179 for 5 days. I used DiscountHawaiiCarRental which saved me about 10% over using a larger travel search engine. Add in about $50 in gas and you have a pretty major expense. This is where it helps to have a friend traveling with you so you can split it.
Not counting food, I spent less than $30 on entertaining myself. It cost $10 to drive into Haleakala National Park, $6 to enter the Waihe’e Valley Trail and $4 for snorkel gear. One night I spent another $9.50 on going to see a movie. Not bad for five full days of never being bored.
I try to keep a fair balance between staying frugal and enjoying myself but I never attempted to be cheap on this trip. It just ended up that everything that I wanted to do was basically free.
I should thank my amazing guidebook, Maui Revealed.
I typically swear by Lonely Planet, but I picked up this book at the store and then read the reviews on Amazon. It is packed full of information that other books don’t have and every time I visited one of the more secret places in it, I was either alone, or with only a couple of other readers of the book. You can’t visit Maui without it.
There we have it. I deem Hawaii, and Maui in particular, a great budget traveler’s destination. Thanks to this economy for providing cheap airfare, you can now visit for less than half of what it would have cost last year. Assuming you like the sun and outdoors, you’ll have a great time exploring the island.
If you would like to see more photos from Jeff’s trip to Maui please check out the photoset on Flickr.