The gorgeous islands of Hawaii are a bucket list destination for many, but they’re also one of the most expensive places to vacation in the U.S. Looking at the expensive airfares and high-priced luxury resorts, you might think your dreams of sunning yourself on Waikiki or exploring the Na Pali Coast are destined to remain just that. But we have good news. It’s possible to plan a trip to Hawaii without breaking the bank, especially when some of the main attractions in the world’s most remote archipelago cost absolutely nothing.
Here are eight ways to afford your Hawaii dream vacation on a budget.
1. Score cheap(er) airfare
Kalalau trail in Kauai, Hawaii | iStock.com/Maximkabb
Increased competition means that 2017 could finally be the year your Hawaiian vacation is within reach. United Airlines is adding more direct flights to destinations Honolulu, Hilo, Lihue, and Kona from Chicago, Denver, L.A., and San Francisco. With airlines like American and Delta also adding flights to Hawaii from other cities, prices for a round trip ticket could be heading downward, noted Thrillist.
Being strategic about when you travel will also help you score the best deal on plane tickets. As with any trip, flexibility on travel days is the key to savings, as is a willingness to plan your vacation when others aren’t. Christmas, spring break, and the summer months are prime time for Hawaii vacations, while the late spring and the fall are the off-season, according to Frommer’s.
Next: The perils of island hopping
2. Don’t island hop
Waipio valley lookout on Hawaii’s Big Island | iStock.com/Vacclav
You’re on the trip of a lifetime, so it’s understandable that you want to see all Hawaii has to offer. But if you’re trying to save money, resist the urge to hop between the state’s main islands – O’ahu, Maui, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, and Hawaii (the Big Island). Inter-island flights will run you hundreds of dollars, especially if you’re paying extra for baggage. Plus, you’ll lose valuable vacation time getting from place to place. Instead, choose an island that fits your vacation vision, whether it’s seeing an active volcano on Hawaii, enjoying sparsely populated (and relatively tourist-free) Molokai, or experiencing the beaches and big-city bustle of Oahu, and take your time to explore it in-depth.
Next: Score a hotel room for less.
3. Sleep for cheap
Hotel rooms in Hawaii can be expensive. | iStock.com/DragonImages
Spending the night in paradise isn’t cheap. In 2015, the average daily rate for a Honolulu hotel room was $240, according to research by ShareBetter. The average Airbnb rental in Hawaii’s capital was 53% cheaper at $157 a night. While your house or condo rental might not come with resort-style amenities, the savings may be worth it, especially when it comes with a kitchen where you can cook some of your own meals, which can help keep your food budget under control.
Not ready to give up hotel perks? Settling for a room that doesn’t have an ocean view or a hotel that’s a bit farther from the beach can result in some significant savings. Booking a flight and hotel package deal could also save you hundreds of dollars, according to Kiplinger.
Next: Don’t blow your budget on a rental car.
4. Save on a rental car
You may not need a car for your entire Hawaiian vacation. | iStock.com/AdrianHancu
With a limited supply of vehicles and high demand, renting a car on any of Hawaii’s islands is usually pricey. During the high season, you may not be able to rent a car at all if you don’t book ahead of time. To save, comparison shop and make sure you’re getting all possible discounts, like those available to AAA or Costco members. Also, check out sites like Discount Hawaii Car Rental to find cheap rates. Since many agencies will let you book well in advance and cancel for free, try reserving a vehicle early but keeping an eye out for better deals as your departure date approaches.
Depending on your travel plans, you may also want to rent a car for only part of your trip. You can take the bus, walk, or bike to get around Honolulu and Waikiki, then rent a car on the days you want to explore the rest of the island. This will also save you money on gas and hotel parking fees.
Next: See the sights for free.
5. Take in the scenery
Morning light on the Road to Hana | Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson
Hawaii’s stunning scenery is second-to-none, and you can enjoy much of it for free. The state is home to some of the best beaches in the country, and they’re generally free and open to the public. But gorgeous stretches of sand are just the beginning.
You can visit Waimea Canyon – the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” – on Kauai and many other state parks for free, while you’ll pay $25 per vehicle to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Other only-in-Hawaii sights, like the Hālona Blowhole on Oaho and Maui’s famously hair-raising Road to Hana, won’t cost you a penny.
Next: Get a budget-friendly peek into Hawaiian history.
6. Discover Hawaiian history
The USS Arizona Memorial | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Hawaii offers much more than a chance to lounge on the beach while sipping a tropical drink. You’d be missing out if you didn’t spend some time learning more about the islands’ history and culture. The Iolani Palace in Honolulu, the only royal residence in the U.S., was home to King Kalakaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani. A self-guided audio tour is $14.75 and offers a glimpse into Hawaii’s history.
Another must-see sight for many visitors is the USS Arizona Memorial and the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center. The boat trip to the memorial itself is free, though you’ll pay a small fee to reserve your tickets online in advance.
Next: Get a free hula lesson.
7. Get cultured
Hula dancers | Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson
Hawaii has a culture all its own, and getting a taste of it is easy. It may be a mall, but the Royal Hawaiian Center in Honolulu offers more than just high-end shops like Fendi, Cartier, and Valentino. There’s also a full slate of complimentary cultural programming. Classes in hula, lei-making, ukulele, and Hawaiian massage are completely free, as is the nightly entertainment that’s on show Tuesday through Saturday. The Kuhio Beach Torchlighting and Hula Show in Waikiki is also free. Shows are held Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. If you’re on the Big Island, visit the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, a traditional Hawaiian temple, or heiau. Admission is free.
Next: Dine on island favorites cheaply.
8. Eat for less
Plate lunches for sale at a farmers market | Hawaii Tourism Authority
The remoteness that makes Hawaii appealing to visitors also means that some things cost more – and we mean a lot more – than they do on the mainland. That’s especially true for food. A gallon of milk is $5.95 on average and a dozen eggs are $4.11, according to Numbeo.
While you’ll definitely spend more on certain things, it’s still possible to eat well in Hawaii cheaply. Farmers markets have good prices on locally grown produce, and you can get lunch for around $10 from food trucks like Tuk Tuk Thai. For more ideas for cheap eats, check out this list from Eater of the best places to find your Hawaiian favorites, from poke to plate lunches.