Oahu, Maui and the Big Island on a Budget
Okay let’s face it; you’re not going to whisk off to Hawaii for a cheap weekend getaway. The 50th State happens to be the most isolated landmass in the world, so getting there takes several hours in a plane seat and a healthy amount of cash in your wallet. But a winning lotto ticket is not a prerequisite to enjoying this dramatic destination. Here are some tips to help you avoid blowing the rest of your college fund.
First of all, where to? Technically there are eight Hawaiian islands, but only six of them are accessible to visitors. Each one offers a unique experience in Hawaiian history, culture, and ecology. Which one(s) you choose will depend on your interests, but don’t forget it takes extra time and money to hop around between them. (Vacation packages often include inter-island flights.)
For my first trip I spent three nights each on Oahu, the Big Island, and Maui. It was a busy schedule but an excellent overview that I highly recommend. For the skinny on each island, check out the state’s official tourism website.
Lodging: Skip the four-star ocean view suite. How much time are you going to spend in there anyway? Look for smaller hotels with fewer amenities, properties located a few blocks away from the beach, or alternatives like bed-and-breakfasts. Maui is full of “condotels”; converted condos that come equipped with things like laundry facilities and full kitchens. These are great if you plan to stay in one place for several days, especially because eating out tends be expensive around here. I tested a variety of accommodation options on my trip, including the modest Waikiki Circle Hotel on Oahu, Art and Orchids Bed and Breakfast on the Big Island, and a studio condo at Outrigger Royal Kahana on Maui. I would return to any of them in a heartbeat.
Activities: Chances are your time and budget are limited, so don’t waste a bit of either on an overrated tour or a lame luau. Prioritize your interests – what is it you simply must do? Then take the time to do a little research. Buy a guidebook, scour the Internet, and talk to people who have been there. You may just discover a secret snorkeling spot away from the crowds, or realize the renowned road to Hana won’t mix well with your motion sickness. Sketch out a loose itinerary to maximize your experience, but remember to leave a little wiggle room for spontaneous moments and relaxing on the beach with a mai tai.
Highlights from my time on Oahu include historical points of interest Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace (which housed the Hawaiian monarchy until its overthrow by the U.S. government in 1893). And a drive to the North Shore, with its legendary waves and laid-back surfer town of Haleiwa, is a welcome break from the commercialism of Honolulu.
On the Big Island, you simply cannot miss Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Plan to spend the better part of a day here exploring the many trails and lava fields. A helicopter tour is a pricey splurge, but the aerial views of Mt. Kilauea spilling into the Pacific are worth every penny.
Maui’s moon-like Haleakala Crater can be hiked, biked, and done on horseback. An ample array of snorkeling boats depart from quaint Lahaina harbor, where green sea turtles bob up and down in the waves. Want to experience a luau but are a little worried about the cheesiness factor? The Feast at Lele offers traditional Polynesian cuisine and entertainment in a breath-taking setting, without the feeling you’re starring in a National Lampoon movie.
Whatever you choose to do with your time in Hawaii, remember to stop and smell the hibiscus. This place is so much more than a cool spot to take a vacation. The warm people, their spirit of aloha, and the indescribable beauty of their land will remain with you for the rest of your life.
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By Allison Savage