Hawaii in a Heartbeat: 3 Ways to Cut Costs on Your Next Trip to the Islands

Hawaii is where my husband’s heart is, not because he has family there but because it’s a place that makes him feel relaxed, re-energized and renewed. We’ve spent many vacations there as a result, including a trip to Kauai earlier this month. Our feeling is that if you live on the West Coast of the U.S. like we do, or have easy access to it, there’s no excuse not to head to Hawaii — and to arrive there affordably at that. But when we tell family and friends that we’re off to Hawaii again, I’m almost positive they have no idea how we turn what many consider a luxury vacation into a budget stay at one of the most beautiful places on earth. Here’s how we do it:

The beautiful NaPali Coast is heaven on earth.

1) Time It Right: The way to get to Hawaii cost effectively is to go at the right time of year and right time of week. For example, the priciest times of the year to travel there are during Thanksgiving week, Christmas week and throughout the summer months, especially surrounding the major holiday weekends. But if you go during the “slow” season, which in my opinion takes place in October and the first two weeks in November, as well as mid-January through March, you might just find a travel bargain. On our last trip, we went two weeks before Thanksgiving and found the price to be quite affordable. Our mid-week round-trip flights on Alaska Air were $419 apiece — and that was direct from San Diego to Lihue. We’ve headed direct to Kauai three years in a row in the fall and the price continues to be in the $400 range for round trip tickets. I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. During the off-season, we’ve also consistently found ocean view condos and other lodging available for $100 a night or less, even in the most sought-after locations such as Princeville in Kauai.

A day at the beach is free and in Hawaii, it’s one of the best ways to spend an afternoon.

2) Live Like the Locals: It’s true that groceries are priced higher in Hawaii than most places. But buying a week’s worth of groceries for your trip is still going to be a lot less expensive than dining out for every meal. On our visits to the islands, we take a hybrid approach to dining, and tend to go out for a dinner a couple of nights, and then barbecue our other night-time meals, while also preparing our own breakfast and lunch each day. We’ve always stayed in condos or cottages where we have access to kitchens and cooking. A loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter can get you through a whole week of lunches, for example. Add in some of the tasty local fruit — star fruit, papaya, pineapple, monkey banana — and you have a perfect mid-day meal. Barbecuing is also popular in Hawaii, and you can find grills available for free use at many of the public parks — right on the beach. It makes for a more interesting trip, too, because barbecuing in public can be a very social experience as other like-minded travelers, along with locals, get into the spirit. This also gives you the opportunity to buy and try the local seafood, which is often different than what what you’ll find at home, and of course, it’s always fresh. Hawaiian beef is also very high in quality and never disappoints.

We like to rent a condo that offers a barbecue and a small kitchen, which allows us to save on dining costs and enjoy cooking the bounty of foods that Hawaii has to offer.

3) Outdoor Adventure and Entertainment: Hawaii is the land of outdoor entertainment. There’s no reason to spend your hard-earned cash on expensive tours. No matter where you stay, you won’t have to travel far to find paradise easily within reach. In Kauai, walking the trails is one of the best ways to see the island. Our favorite hikes are the Kalalau Trail, which lines the island’s breathtaking Na Pali Coast, as well as the Kuilau Trail, with views over lush mountains and valleys to the ocean beyond. There’s also Waimea Canyon — with its incredible trails through terrain that rivals the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

And the beaches, offering warm ocean temperatures year-round, are everyone’s destination of choice for entertainment and value. Bring a sandwich and some water along with a basket of fruit and you’re set for a day of sun and surf. Snorkeling can also open your eyes to a whole new world in Hawaii, and we often bring our own gear to save money. Read the signs that are posted along the beach, however, because not all coastal locations are ideal for snorkeling.

Kayaking and paddle boarding are popular and relatively inexpensive to do in Hawaii.

Among the paid activities that I’d consider worth your spend on Kauai are the boat tours. We’ve enjoyed NaPali Coast Hanalei Tours: they have a smaller boat than the other outfitters and will take you right into the sea caves. But there are plenty of operators that will treat you to an ocean adventure you won’t soon forget.

Another excellent way to take in the islands is to go kayaking or stand up paddle boarding, and on Kauai, both the Wailua and the Hanalei rivers offer peaceful waterways that even beginners can navigate without a problem. We’ve paid $50 – $80 for a variety of packages that include 24 hours of time with the equipment, and the tropical scenery and surrounding mountains will not disappoint. You can take it all in at your leisure as you glide along the winding rivers.

There might be a time and a place for luxury during your travels, but if you’re looking for an affordable getaway, there’s really no better place than Hawaii with its outstanding climate, outdoor activities and myriad of lodging options. Just plan ahead and set yourself up to spend your time — not your money — soaking in all that it has to offer.