Has Hawaii Become a Budget Traveler’s Dream?

Highway 30 - North/North West Maui
Highway 30 - North/North West Maui

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.

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14 Replies to “Has Hawaii Become a Budget Traveler’s Dream?”

  1. Jeff,

    This was amazing to read, I really want to go to Hawaii now! It looks absolutely beautiful and I’ve heard such wonderful things about peoples vacations there. I always thought Hawaii was out of the question because it is so expensive, but you shed some new light on that. Guess I’ll have to start convincing Mike that we should go!
    Keep writing, I enjoy reading it!


    1. Hi Rachel,

      If you guys enjoy getting out and enjoying nature, you’ll absolutely love it! I think Peyton would have a good time too as long as he doesn’t get car sick. The roads are pretty wild! :)

      Thanks for reading. I appreciate it!

  2. Here’s my take. Getting out in nature is free and if you play your cards right you can reserve a cheap bungalow out in Hana. The place is called Wainapanapa State Park and the stand alone cottages are perched right on the ocean bluff. We were lucky and snagged a cancellation. All the info is online and rates are so cheap. They are not fancy. The Maui Revealed guide turned so many outings into a fiasco. Two freebies we liked: 101 Things To Do and skinny Maui Gold guides which are both available in the brochure holders at the airport. Walking around Paia was worth an afternoon and so was a stop at their health food store and there’s a nice beach across the street.

  3. Hi Kent,

    I spent a little while at Wainapanapa and if I could do it over, I would have camped there for a night, definitely! That way you can explore all the way up to that point on the Hana Highway one day, and the rest the next.

    Curious why Maui Revealed turned things into a fiasco for you? The free guides I saw people at my hostel with were junk and only listed the major tourist places. Not saying the ones you mentioned are bad, I just know about the ones I saw.

    Paia is definitely a great place to spend an hour or two window shopping. The beach had the best surf I have EVER seen (and I live in a great surf town)!

  4. Jeff you forgot to mention Suzy’s fabulous Maui tours!!!! I cannot believe it:) Just joking it was so fun to have you visit! Glad you had such a positive experience. Talk to you soon! Suzy

    1. Hi Suzy,

      I was going to mention your amazing tour company but my lawyer recommended I don’t since you don’t have the necessary business licenses and insurance.

      Seriously though, you rock and really helped make my trip. You should go into the tourism business! ;)

  5. Great post! My husband and I visited Maui a couple years ago. We enjoyed staying in Hana for a couple nights and exploring the area. Found a deserted cove that was a little hard to reach, but absolutely gorgeous, and only one other person on the whole trail. There’s some great scenery on the North side of the island, too — keep going past Napili, pretty much until the road ends.

    Here’s one of my favorite photos, taken on the road to Hana:

  6. So glad you enjoyed your time in Maui! I have been dozens of times, my family has a house in Kaanapali and I spend many a summer exploring that island!

    Want my advice for a great airfare to a place you might have never considered, Belize! For under $350 right now you can find tickets to the mainland. A boat out to the island is about $10, and I can tell you great hostels/cheap hotels from there! If you are into scuba diving at all or snorkling, it is amazing, even compared to Maui…

  7. Hi
    I read your bloggers guide with interest and then found the link to your Hawaii report. I am from the UK where Hawaii is even more distant and expensive to reach. I first visited 34 years ago when I worked for Pan Am and could get a good deal on flights. I returned last year and managed to cover 5 islands in two weeks courtesey of the new low cost airline ‘I Fly Go’. Its the same model we have in Europe with EasyJet et al but with better, friendlier and more helpfull personnel.
    So my message to any Europeans making the journey – don’t just stay on Oahu, make the effort to visit the islands – they all have something different to offer.
    Enjoy your travels! Sally

  8. Maui has always been a budget vacationers dream. There are so many options for going cheap on Maui from the plenty of beach camping spots to a plethora of B&B, hostels or small hotel/motels. Remember that people here in Hawaii don’t make all that much but still need to live. So getting out of the areas directly around the hotels you will find inexpensive places to shop and eat. Also, try going car-less and using the public transportation. That will save you a lot of money as well and open yourself up for a bit of adventure too!

  9. […] always make it a deal. I receive hundreds of messages daily about amazing prices on hotels in Hawaii or New York. Since I recently visited Maui, I looked into a few of them. I never found any of […]

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