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Hawaii is a tropical paradise you can visit without needing a passport, and it’s a dream vacation for many Los Angeles families. With some of the most gorgeous beaches and landscapes in the world, it’s no wonder that this Island Chain in the Pacific can sometimes come with a hefty price tag.
However, a Hawaiian vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, there are some simple ways to keep your trip to Hawaii within your budget. Here are our best tips and tricks to help you plan your family’s Hawaiian vacation on a budget.
MomsLA loves Hawaii. One of our founders grew up there, and all of us on the team have visited many times over the years, so we’re got tons of tips for you on Family Travel to Hawaii.
8 Ways to Have a Great Hawaiian Vacation on a Budget
1. Pick the Right Island
Hawaii is a chain of more than 130 islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but fewer than ten of them are inhabited. Of the ten, each island has its own unique vibe and experience – as well as its own price tag – so you’re probably wondering – which is the cheapest Hawaiian Island to visit?
Answer: Oahu is the most inexpensive Hawaiian island to visit. Direct flights from Los Angeles to Oahu are available on most major airlines, but many carriers do not fly direct to other islands, which increases the cost of your travel.
Because you can’t fly direct to Lanai, for example, you’ll have to Island-Hop and take a second flight from Honolulu to Lanai. It will be one of the shortest flights you’ll ever take, but that doesn’t mean it will be cheap.
Rental Cars Add Cost
While Hawaii has always been a very popular place to visit, the number of tourists visiting has grown exponentially over the past couple of years, and one of the consequences has been a steep increase in rental car prices. At one point in 2020, you couldn’t rent a car on Maui for less than $500 a day. Crazy!
Luckily, many of the things you’ll enjoy doing on Oahu won’t require renting a car, so you’ll be able to save a bunch of money. You can catch a Lyft or Uber easily around Waikiki, and if you want to visit the famous North Shore and Haleiwa, there are reasonably-priced tours you can take to get there just for the day.
Overall, Oahu has an abundance of activities and attractions, plus a multitude of hotels to choose from. You may be able to find some good deals on Kauai or even on the Big Island, but be sure to factor in your flight, food, and entertainment costs when comparing islands and deciding which one to visit.
Flights to Hawaii are priced at their highest from mid-December through mid-April – although some airlines have been known to offer special discount fares during the first week of January, which LAUSD parents refer to as “the dreaded 3rd week of Winter break.”
Related: Read our School Calendars article to find out when LA Schools have Winter Break, Spring Break and When Summer Vacation starts.
Other than a sale on flights like that, Winter is definitely the most expensive time to go. Some hotels raise their prices in December and even require a 10-day minimum stay at that time of year, increasing your costs. As an aside, Winter is also the rainy season in Hawaii, so bear in mind that your extra-expensive winter vacation may also be extra-wet.
There are some dates you’ll want to avoid entirely, unless you like the crowds and the festivities, like the last week of April, during Golden Week. The islands are packed with tourists from Japan and that always drives prices way up.
Check Travelocity (affiliate link) for the best prices on flights to Hawaii right now.
Off-Peak Is the Key to Budget Travel
Not to worry. There are a few times of the year when it’s less expensive to visit Hawaii. Usually, September through the first two weeks of December are considered “off-peak” and will therefore cost you less. Serious budget travel searchers can sometimes find deals at other times of the year as well, but these deals will require diligence and perseverance. Sign up with Travelocity via our affiliate link to get email alerts for cheap flights.
Costco is another great resource you can use to find great travel deals. Check online and in the store, usually close to the entrance or exits, and you may find some bargains, whether a cheaper flight or lower hotel fees.
They sometimes offer discounts on the entire travel package, including flight, hotel and rental car. Use all of your resources and plan ahead of time and you will have an amazing time that your co-workers and friends can only dream of.
Who needs multiple outfits when you’re going to be spending your vacation in your bathing suit anyway? Get your packing list down to the essentials and focus on the fun you’ll be having in Hawaii rather than packing all the extras you won’t need.
In fact, make it your goal to get everyone’s clothes squeezed into carry-ons instead of checked bags, and you’ll save on luggage fees. Chances are, you’ll only need a few outfits and a swimsuit, and you can pick up any extras when you get there.
Food trucks are plentiful in Hawaii, and many times they’re cheaper than eating at a sit-down restaurant. A great way to eat on a budget in Hawaii is to steer clear of the tourist traps. If you visit them, do so during lunchtime so your meal will cost less.
There are also tons of Farmers’ Markets in Hawaii, and they offer a delicious way to stock up on food to bring back to your hotel or rental home. Supporting the locals and saving money is a win-win if you ask us.
If you have a large extended family or a group of friends to split lodging costs with, you’re going to save a nice chunk of change. Even if you aren’t all visiting for the same reasons or staying together the entire time, renting a home using VRBO (affiliate link) with others will be much cheaper than paying for it alone.
Here are a few places you could stay while in Hawaii:
- Oahu: Sweet Blue Hawaii! Ocean View! No resort Fee! — only a 2-minute walk from the beach.
- Maui: Stunning Views 1 Bdrm Beach Front Condo — on the beach, Pacific views, a pool, and more!
- Kauai: Upscale Town-House in Princeville; Close to Hanalei — 3 bedrooms, sleeps 6.
- Hawaii Island: Oceanfront Family Friendly with A/C at Sea Village — oceanfront and sleeps 5.
- Molokai: New! Kaunakakai Loft: Lanai, Pool + Walk to Beach! — access to beaches, whale watching.
Just because you’re staying in budget lodging doesn’t mean you can’t at least experience the fancy resort lifestyle. Rather than splurging on staying at an expensive resort, buy a Day Pass. Many resorts have these passes available for less than $50 a day, which gives you access to the facilities, pools, and dining options without having to pay for the entire stay.
Search sites like Hotels by Day, Groupon, and other coupon sites before you go, as they often have these passes cheaper than you can get at the resort. It’s all about saving money while still having the best vacation you can.
While it may seem like loads of fun to do tours and visit the sites listed in every brochure, try to limit these to one or two per vacation unless you’re getting a great deal on a bundle or package. Decide which tour or tourist spot you’re dying to see, then research all the possible deals on Groupon or other deal sites.
Another idea is to find some newer or less-touristy spots to visit. They’re going to be cooler because they’ll be less crowded and because you’ll probably be the first of your friends to visit! Taking the time to do this research can end up saving you 50% or more on many of the main and not-so-sought-after attractions!
You came to Hawaii for the natural beauty, right? Luckily, the beaches and many of the beautiful hikes in Hawaii are free. Use these to fill up the bulk of your exploration time if you’re on a tight budget. Pack a lunch (or split one from a food truck), and remember to bring your own reusable water bottles on your trip; it can save you as much as $5 per bottle, plus it cuts down on plastic waste caused by single-use bottles.
Related: Find water bottles for the kids via our Amazon Affiliate link.
If you know how to surf, the only cost you’ll have is renting a surfboard. If you don’t surf, rent a boogie board and you can still get out in the water and have some fun. Another low-cost and fun activity for the whole family is snorkeling. You can purchase or rent a snorkel and fins and dive into the Pacific in search of turtles!
You’re also sure to find tons of free events, including hula shows, concerts, and craft workshops at some of the hotels and Malls. Stumbling upon one when visiting beaches in the evening isn’t unusual, either!
9. Bonus tip: Relax, You’re Heading to Hawaii
Budgeting for a vacation can be stressful, but try to make it fun. Think about it this way: all the work you’re doing is going to result in a family vacation you will never forget.
Whether you print out a savings tracker and hang it on the fridge, or you hold yourself accountable by posting your progress on social media, the reward of a Hawaiian vacation is worth all the time you’ll spend budgeting for it. Aloha!
Sarah Auerswald is the co-Founder and Managing Editor of MomsLA.com. She grew up in Hawaii and thinks you should visit soon.
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