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How to Have a Cheap Hawaii Vacation

Can Hawaii be a Cheap Travel Destination?

For decades, Hawaiian travel agents and resorts have been repeating one common theme to tourists: “You have to reach far into your pocketbook if you want to travel to Hawaii. That’s just how it is – it’s expensive here.”

This notion allows a kind of collective acceptance of the high lodging rates and convinces most tourists not to look too hard for quality budget options – because they are led to believe there are none. Budget-oriented travelers like backpackers often skip Hawaii altogether in their around-the-world or Pacific island travel – due to these common misconceptions.

So how can you have a cheap Hawaii vacation? Here’s the basic Do’s & Don’ts.

1. Do look for seasonal airline deals directly from the airline carrier.
How? Simply figure out which airlines will get you from where you are to Hawaii. Go directly to their websites and sign up for their newsletter. Then they will email you when the deals are announced rather than you having to continuously check. Now-a-days it seems most major carriers offer seasonal specials to Hawaii a few times a year. If you are lucky enough to live in a city Aloha or Hawaiian Airlines flies from, these deals run at least 2-3 timer per year. Be ready with dates, how flexible those dates are, and your credit card when the deals are announced. You won’t be the only one trying to take advantage of them.

2. Do stay away from resorts.
If you want to only lay on the beach in front of a resort for your vacation, there are many cheaper locations to do this than Hawaii. Hawaii is somewhat unique in its abundance of cute, quality vacation rentals – so take advantage of this opportunity for adventure and save your wallet in the process. Not only are room prices expensive at resorts but the whole idea is designed to also get you to pay a premium for the drinks at the resort, the food at the resort, the tours the resort offers, etc.etc. No matter how stubborn you are, I guarantee you’ll catch yourself paying 3-5 times the price for something the resort sells instead of walking down the road a quarter mile to the local convenience store.

3. Don’t buy a package deal.
These deals are designed to look cheap but when you consider that they are just about always PER PERSON, it usually adds up to paying double what you have to for Hawaii lodging if you are a couple or even more than that if you are a larger group. For single travelers, they may make a little more sense. Also, make sure to check on blackout dates, extra fees for peak dates, general lack of flexibility, and fine print add-ons that spring up last minute only when you are ready to purchase (or even after).

4. Do consider paying a little more for accommodation that you can cook in.
Eating and drinking out in Hawaii will drain your budget before you know it. Even the cheapest and unhealthiest of food options – eating 3 meals at fast food establishments – can run a couple almost $60 per day. Making one of those meals a sit down in a middle-priced restaurant will easily double that number. Why not just pay an extra $20 for a vacation rental with a kitchenette/kitchen/BBQ area and cook most meals in your rental? You’ll be healthier, have the opportunity to explore local grocery store delicacies, be ready to have a picnic on the beach while watching the sunset, and even have a few extra bucks to spring on a fun activity.

5. Do research your trip yourself.
Be your own travel agent. If you can use a computer at all, you’ll be able to do the majority of the research online at your convenience. Budget accommodations generally can’t afford to pay travel agent commissions and do not heavily advertise. Thus, travel agents rarely have budget places in their offerings (plus they get more commission selling you a higher priced place anyway). So think of it as a fun learning experience to use a guidebook or two along with your Internet connection to figure out how to purchase your perfect cheap Hawaii vacation – all on your own!

6. Do book budget accommodations early.
The budget-friendly quality accommodations in Hawaii book up extremely early. If you're looking at peak season travel, you should book at least 6 months in advance (probably more like 9 months to be safe). If it's off-peak, then 3-4 months in advance is good. There's a lot of demand for the few places that have managed to cut costs enough to offer something of value for a very low price. Hawaii hostels, which are some of the lowest cost options, do not fall into this category. Booking 1 month in advance should be fine for this lodging category. Make sure to use GLAD Travel to find all these budget Hawaii vacation rentals quickly and easily!

7. Do reserve a rental car.
You may not find it in the first place you look, but a basic rental car in Hawaii should run you no more than $30 per day plus tax. Usually they are more like $20-$25. You will not get that price if you wait until you arrive in Hawaii to book it (or even if you book it way far in advance or with a package). Only the island of Oahu has an organized bus system, and although clean, friendly, reliable, & on-time – it can be fairly difficult & time consuming to figure how to get from point A to point B from a tourist perspective. The ability to freely buy groceries away from high-priced tourist areas, provide your own adventurous (and free) driving tours of the islands, and follow your Hawaii guidebook for free activities (rather than a paid tour guide) – is certainly worth $30 a day. Not to mention, it’s just more fun and relaxing to experience your own Hawaii vacation on your own terms, rather than sitting on a tour bus or following group schedules.

8. Do look for happy hours.
If you must go out to eat or drink (nothing wrong with that – but be aware this is when most tourists spend un-planned-on-money in Hawaii), do like the locals do, and find the happy hours. Not all, but many bars and restaurants offer either daily or weekly happy hour specials on food and drinks. This gives the budget traveler to Hawaii the opportunity to eat and drink for $15 what could normally cost $50+. Many of these happy hours are not heavily advertising to tourists (for reasons easily guessed) so asked around and you’re sure to turn up some good food and drink for cheap.

9. Don’t pay a tour company to take you on a tour of something you can get to on your own for free.
Notice: All beaches in Hawaii are free public property. Nice, huh? Actually, most tourist destinations in Hawaii are accessible for free via a personal vehicle. Only the larger tourist attractions like Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and some aquariums and water parks charge admission prices. Only a few of the larger beaches may charge a parking fee but the creative can always park further away and walk. If you want to pay a guide to take you to a beach or on a hike because you think the extra information or social nature of a group is worth it – then by all means go for it. But just know that you don’t have to. A Hawaii guidebook will usually provide the same, or more, information.

10. Don’t travel peak season.
Hawaii’s busiest months are December and January, with the holiday weeks in December usually booking up all major hotels (particularly budget-oriented places) even half a year in advance. If you have to travel to Hawaii during these months, you can still be ok if you book 6-12 months in advance. Prices for everything can increase 10-30% during this peak season. A secondary peak season occurs in the summer, June-August, when families off from school put a little higher demand on Hawaii vacations than normal. This period is not so busy that everything books up but booking many months in advance is still highly recommended to secure the best deals. Airline specials for the summer period are offered but usually are sold out fairly quickly.

11. Do buy a good Hawaii guidebook.
Just about every guidebook company out there makes at least a general Hawaii guidebook. Many companies make a guide for each island. These individual island guides will obviously provide more in-depth information and are worth it if you are staying on one island for a while. Look online and at the book store to find a guide that suits your needs. A bad guidebook can be frustrating but a good one can add great value and fun to your trip.

12. Do get the 7 day discounts.
Car rentals and many Hawaii accommodation options offer a nice discount for a 7 day reservation. Given there are so many islands to visit, and competing things to do, most tourists don’t have the time to stay still at one place for 7 days. But if you can, it’ll save you some descent money and allow you to really explore one place more in-depth. It is possible on all the islands to stay in one location and take day trips out to explore the different areas if you are willing to do a little backtracking.

So can Hawaii be a cheap travel destination?
Follow these tips and the answer will be YES!

Please keep this information free and growing by booking your Hawaii budget accommodation online at GLAD Travel!

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