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Traveling to Hawaii on a Budget

Author: Matthew Davis

The Hawaiian archipelago of 132 islands may seem like paradise on Earth, but is it possible to experience it without breaking the bank? The answer is yes, if you are ready to do some research and be flexible.

Travel

Flying to and from the islands is pretty much unavoidable, but there is a big difference between tourist season and off-season. Aim for September to November or April to May for the best deals. Check multiple travel sites such as Orbitz, Kayak, Travelocity and others well ahead of time. If the plan is to rent a car, it can be a good idea to inquire about flight/rental car package deals as these can save as much as 30% off the regular price.

Also remember that Hawaii has multiple airports scattered across the islands. Honolulu is the biggest airport, and travel sites may default to it, but if you plan to spend the vacation on another island, it may be cheaper and more efficient to fly straight to that island instead. Even if the airfare is slightly higher, the cost of intra-island transport can more than make up the difference.

Once you land, note there are significant differences between the islands in terms of public transit. Renting a car may be the only realistic option in some locations, while places such as the Big Island have a fairly expansive bus network that only charges $2 per ride. If you end up renting a car, look through the coupons and deals offered when picking up the car.

Lodging

As a rule, prices go down the further in from the water you get, typically dropping from the $200 to $300 range to under $100 for a standard room at a normal hotel. If the plan is to stay in one place for a week or more, a condo unit with a kitchen and a discounted weekly rate can offer good value for the money while saving a bundle as you prepare some meals "at home." Do not forget to check the cost of parking if you rent a car. Some places can charge as much as $15 extra per day.

For the more adventurous travelers, there are dozens of hostels that typically range from $20 per day for dorm-style beds to $75 for private accommodations. These vary greatly in quality, ranging from clean and safe to unsanitary, so be sure to read online reviews before deciding where to stay.

Another option is to take advantage of the Hawaiian climate by camping at the beach. Several beach parks, state parks and national parks on the islands offer free camping opportunities. These require a permit ahead of time. State campgrounds are only open Friday through Wednesday, meaning campers have to find alternate lodging two days per week.

Meals and Entertainment

As of December 2015, the Hawaii Entertainment Book costs only $19.95 but offers enough coupons and deals to cut several hundred dollars out of a normal family vacation budget on both meals and entertainment. Do not forget to grab brochures for everything that looks interesting at the airport; these typically contain free coupons and deals you may not find elsewhere.

Some restaurants have early-bird specials that can save a lot compared to regular dinner prices, and many places offer discounts for seniors and children. Another option is to spring for one of the growing number of buffets available. If you fill up at the hotel breakfast and make it stretch until early afternoon, a hearty late-lunch buffet can keep you going for the rest of the day with only a small evening snack.

For entertainment, Hawaii offers a bounty of free activities such as swimming, hiking, snorkeling and other outdoor-oriented activities. Pick up a copy of the local visitors magazine to get maps, tips and park hours, when applicable. Also, do not miss visiting the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor on Oahu. The free tour is two hours long and gives a nice history lesson, but tickets are first come, first served, so get there when it opens at 7 a.m. to be on the safe side.

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