Hawaii on a Budget: A World-Class Island Paradise for Under $50 a Day

Dreaming of escaping to these exotic islands but thinking you could never afford it? Here's your guide to enjoying Hawaii on a budget of just $50 per day.

Paradise in the Pacific doesn’t have to be unattainable. After your airfare, accommodation, and car rental fees are covered, there’re plenty of things to do in Hawaii for less than $50 a day. Even so, here’s how to cut costs further on essentials, so your budget for fun and leisure will go even farther.

1. Get Affordable Lodgings

The park near Waikiki Beach with the city skyline of Oahu

A beachfront hotel room would be fantastic, and it’s a luxury you might want to treat yourself to on your last night or two. But if you’re staying in Hawaii for several days, and more so over a week, consider staying inland. Hotels away from the beach are much, much cheaper.

Another great way to save on accommodation especially if you’re traveling with friends or family is by getting a condominium or a vacation home. These are way bigger than hotel rooms, and usually have at least 2 bedrooms, 2 baths and a kitchen with amenities you can use. Many have washer-dryers, TVs and DVD players, WiFi, a sleeper sofa to accommodate yet another person, a lanai or balcony, outdoor grill and even a swimming pool.

Like any home, they’re well-stocked with linen and toiletries – some even offer ice chests, beach mats, chairs and umbrellas that you can take to the beach with you. The longer you stay in such places, the cheaper your day rate will be.

Check sites like HawaiiCondoExchange.com, Hawaii-beachhomes.com, HomeAway.com or vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner). Condo rates start at $75 per night depending on size and location while beachfront vacation homes start at $35 per night per person.

2. Plan Your Own Tours

Create a DIY tour and see the islands at your own pace, inclination, and budget. You’ll enjoy the freedom of exploring without being confined in a tour bus with 40 other people.

Assuming you’ve done all the necessary planning before your trip and have a guidebook with you, make sure to pick up free brochures at the airport as well – these have maps, coupons and more tips on what to do and new places to visit.

Once on the island of your choice, you can rent a car for $35-$50 a day (or $150-$250 a week) so you can go on scenic drives and stop wherever and whenever you want.

But to save on expensive parking fees and the ever-increasing cost of fuel, you can take “The Bus” – Hawaii’s main public transport system. A ride costs $2.50 ($1.25 for kids) with 1 free transfer, and for $5 you can circle the whole island of Oahu. You can also get a four-day, unlimited-ride pass for $25.

3. Grab Meals-To-Go or Make Your Own

pineapples and other fruits for sale at a roadside stand on maui hawaii

There’s at least a dozen ways to skimp on overpriced meals and drinks.

For starters, have breakfast or brunch at a farmer’s market. The Hilo Farmer’s Market in the Big Island is not to be missed – it was named by Huffington Post as one of the top ten farmers markets that every food lover should visit. If you’re on the go during the day, find small, local restaurants where lunch and dinner are easily affordable at $8-12.

Tip: Eat where the locals eat; they’re certain to know where the food is good and cheap.

You can splurge once or twice at a beachfront restaurant, but by all means hit the sand and go on a beachside picnic! Plan daytime or sunset “al fresco” meals. You can either fix your own or grab take-out from a restaurant.

Many supermarkets, corner stores and food stands also have picnic platters ready to go, with tasty bento meals, sushi, Chinese and Vietnamese shrimp rolls. Some stalls are even known to mark down prices by mid-afternoon once the noon rush is over.

Assuming you went ahead and rented a condo, you can easily grab what you need from the grocery store and prepare your meals “at home.” Those who love seafood will enjoy buying fresh fish at the market and grilling them to their own liking; those who relish tropical fruit drinks can buy fresh fruits and blend them right in the kitchen.

The balmy breeze on the lanai beats the stale, conditioned air in a restaurant; besides, it’s the perfect weather to go with a cool glass of beer. (Note, alcohol is prohibited on Hawaii’s beaches so if you’re thinking of picnicking at the beach with some beer, it can’t be done.)

4. Go for Nature’s Cheap (or Free) Thrills

Hawaii is a Shangri-la for hiking, surfing and snorkeling; you’ll never run out of places to do these things – for free or almost nothing. Depending on your fitness level, you could go for short hikes or two-day treks with camping and kayaking in between.

The Na Pali Coast in Kauai is one of the most beautiful and isolated places on the islands; you can do the easy Cliff Canyon and Black Pipe trails or the more challenging 11-mile Kalalau Trail. Camping permits are $20 per person.

In Maui, you could walk the Hoapili Trail (King’s Trail), which features a hike across lava fields, Hawaiian ruins. and secluded beaches.

In Maui, you can rent a surf or boogie board at any local surf shop. If you’re a beginner or an old-timer who needs to polish your skills, you can take professional lessons at low cost.

For snorkelling and scuba, each island has top places for these so get a hold of a snorkel or a dive map of the island you’re at and choose the reef that appeals most to you.

In Oahu, some of the best sites are Shark’s Cove on the north shore and Hanauma Bay, a protected nature reserve on the southeast coast around Honolulu. You can rent snorkeling gear and buy fish food to conduct a feeding session that that’ll get both the wildlife – and you – on a frenzy.

While you’re at it, see if you can spot Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa. Entrance is $5.In front of the Sheraton Waikiki, you can also spot and swim alongside Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) at Turtle Bay Resort or at many of Oahu’s 139 beaches.

5. Enjoy Ethnic Culture – Free

Hula girls on the beach with Hands raised

Aside from natural wonders, Hawaii is filled with lots of local color to see and discover. Stop by the lei stands at Maunakea Street to watch how intricate lei are fashioned.

Watch the Royal Hawaiian Band perform traditional Hawaiian music at the Kapiolani Park Bandstand. Learn about Princess Kaiulani, Hawaii’s last and dearly loved princess, on the Princess Kaiulani Historical tour at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel.

Take hula or yukelele lessons at the Royal Hawaiian Center. Or, see a torch-lighting ceremony and hula performances at the Kuhio Beach Park in Waikiki.

With careful planning and modest living, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy Hawaii on a budget of less than $50 per day. If you’re willing to swap some luxuries in exchange for more things to do, you just might find yourself with some extra dollars leftover to extend your vacation for a day or two. Aloha!


About the author

JD Lara

JD is a former travel writer-producer for TV. Now a work-from-home mom, she lives in a homestead with animals, fruit trees and a vegetable garden. She’d still love to travel but since family and farming have become priorities, she’s content with just armchair traveling via the internet.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment