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Hawaii on the cheap – My budget 2 island – 5 day whirlwind tour

From my recent Americas trip, the part that most people keep asking about is Hawaii. Perhaps it’s because even after listing off an impressive and eccentric list of places – Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Niagara, Detroit, Phoenix, Washington DC and NYC it stands out. Or more likely people are just entranced with the exotic and faraway.

Hawaii Whirlwind Trip

Truth be told, Hawaii has never made it to the top of my to-visit list. Mainly as it is so far away. We’re talking easily over a day’s travel time coming directly from the UK. Additionally, I had assumed Hawaii was all beaches and just a warm year-round resort holiday.

But I realised that there is more to these Pacific Islands. In addition to the beaches, there are awesome volcanos. And scenery to die to for. Sunsets and sunrises to take your breath away and waterfalls galore. And that most people used Airmiles to get there.

And then I got the email that my Avios were due to expire and I had 46k of them. I immediately started trying to see where this would get me. And it turns out, I just had enough to get to Hawaii if I took one route, via Phoenix. Driven by my existing commitments and plan I managed to find some rewards flights that would give me 5 days on the Islands. And immediately booked them going into the Big Island and departing from Oahu.

The Cost

Let’s get the money stuff out of the way first before I spam you with pictures. While Hawaii is not a budget basement destination by any stretch, you don’t have to spend an absolute fortune on holiday there. So here is everything I spent on one person as a budget solo traveller.

Flights

  • Mainland US to and from the Islands: 45k Avios and £13
  • InterIsland £59

Accommodation

  • Big Island – 3 nights (cabana) – £88
  • Oahu – 1 night (hostel)  – £31

Transportation

  • Big Island – Hire Car – £100
  • Big Island – Petrol – $67 = £53
  • Oahu Bus – $6 = £5

Food & Drinks

  • $153 = £122

Other Stuff too dull to list

  • $20 = £16

5 day Hawaii Total

  • £487

So yes, at first glance, this is a lot more than I’d usually spend on a 5-day trip. And I didn’t even pay to fly there!

But it was worth the cost

Even though Hawaii had never made it to my must-see destinations, once I got there I was so happy I went.  Everything was just so different from my normal life. Hawaii was my first taste of a Pacific Island – and my first trip out there into the ocean.

Naturally, I don’t spend too much money and love holidaying on the cheap. But even I thought it was worth spending money on Hawaii. The volcanos and lava were breathtaking – something I’ve never seen before in real life. And you have to see them with your own eyes.

And let’s be clear – everything is expensive in Hawaii. We’re talking the land of $5 milk and $5 bread of the plain standard type at the supermarket. And travelling solo means you are on the hook for all expenses alone – I had the full car to pay for myself. But it was still worth it.

I did everything I wanted to

As Hawaii is such a long way from home, I wanted to make the most of this trip. I planned to do everything I wanted to – without being limited by costs. And given the short timeline I was working with; this was going to be a whirlwind trip. Not much lazing on the beach for me.

On the Big Island you have to drive. However, it is not an ordinary drive by any means. The scenery is breathtaking everywhere and if you love scenic drives you will be in heaven. Between the sea, beaches, mountains, palms, waterfalls and sugar cane you didn’t know where to look.

And more

After driving a lot on the Big Island, I then went on public transport on Oahu. While the bus was functional, it wasn’t exactly the nicest bus I’ve been on. And given I had just come from Detroit, that was saying a lot. Nonetheless, it got me from the airport to my accommodation.

I was staying a block from the beach, so I just walked everywhere in Waikiki. It was so relaxing and a chilled vibe there, with most people tourists on their holidays. I didn’t expect to love it; but for one night I’m happy to chill, drink cocktails and enjoy the evening. I joined the crowds hiking up the crater for the view below, which was busy even at 8 am.

Beaches

The beaches in Hawaii are A-game. Picture perfect and then some. Sand comes in all colours and fringed with beautiful palm trees. My personal highlights were the black sand and green sand beaches. So much fun to marvel at in real life and just wander across the sand into the sea. Not to mention the sea is just that perfect temperature for swimming. As I didn’t have snorkelling kit or too much reef-safe sunscreen I didn’t hit up the reefs on this trip. But next time I shall be prepared.

Cocktails

I’m a firm believer of applying the when in Rome when on holiday. Hence when in Waikiki, I partook of a MaiTai or two. And you know what? The Happy Hours were very reasonable price-wise.

You could get a cocktail at a place with a beach view for well under $10, tips included. And so I sampled a few of the local bars, picking myself seating with a view.

Sunrises and Sunsets

A major pastime on the islands is watching the sunrise and sunsets, and I now understand why. They are both just so stunning and easy to see from the respectively correct side of the Island.

As I was basically still on Eastern Time, I adopted and early to rise routine on the Islands. This had the benefit of allowing me to watch the sunrise each morning from dawn to full daylight.

Such a relaxing start to each morning, sipping my French Press coffee and just admiring the view from my accommodation. It certainly made me think I made the right choice accommodation wise on the Big Island. I also got a fair few photos of the scenes unfolding in front of my eyes.

Accommodation was basic

On the Big Island, my accommodation was a hammock in my own cabana. It was so picturesque and immersed in nature. I had a great view and could lie in my hammock and just enjoy life. And it had wifi.

The setup was very camping-esque. Very nearby was the house with a lounge, full kitchen, outdoor kitchen and bathrooms. I’m not usually one to rave about bathrooms, but this outdoor shower as awesome. Such a great view as you had a refreshing shower.

But this sort of back to nature isn’t for everyone. You have to love wildlife, especially of the insect variety.  Nighttime was not exactly quiet – here is a short video from my hammock to demonstrate.

One day I will be back

My trip was definitely a whirlwind. I feel I scratched the surface of two of the Hawaiian Islands. I got to see some of their top attractions and get the idea of Island life. The natural beauty and the landscapes I saw all around all impressed me. It really was paradise.

Nonetheless, there is certainly a lot more to see and hopefully one day I’ll be able to make my way out to Hawaii again to explore more.

Over to you

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Have you been to Hawaii?
  • Do you like Island holidays?

Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.

10 comments on “Hawaii on the cheap – My budget 2 island – 5 day whirlwind tour

  1. Hi there, I visited Hawaii as part of a round-the-world flight about 15 years ago. Like you, I made it to Oahu and the Big Island (about 5 days on Oahu and a week on the Big Island, as I recall).

    Oahu did nothing at all for me; it was way too commercial. Mind you, the USS Arizona memorial was amazing (I remember standing in line behind a retired marine and his fiancée and being struck by just how much respect the armed forces get in the States compared to here. As word spread through the queue, people were going up to shake the guy’s hand and thank him for his years of service).

    I absolutely loved the Big Island; much more laid back and as you say, it does have the advantage of a whacking great volcano. A helicopter trip to see active parts – lava flowing over (closed!) roads and into the sea, bright red lava flowing through lava tubes etc was awesome.

    At the time, I figured I’d just do two more islands each time I passed that way (fully expecting I’d have seen all of them within five years or so). Ha, how time slips by – I still haven’t been back.

    1. Thanks Jo – great to hear your about your adventures there, and how you’ve not yet made it back to do the other islands! I suspect it’ll be a good many years before I also get back over there.

  2. Thanks for sharing this!

    Hawai’i is one of my favorite places to visit and I wish we had more opportunities to go. We can usually do some travel hacking to help with costs, but as you said, costs can still be really expensive even if the flights and lodging are taken care of with points. We have found some tricks to help defray some of the costs, especially with food but we always go knowing that some costs are hard to avoid. If everything works out we are hoping to go again in 2020!

    If you get a chance to go again, try Maui. To us it seems like a nice combination of the things we like from the Big Island and Oahu.

  3. I’m so glad you visited. I love Hawaii so much. It is so relaxing and comfortable there. It’s so different from the mainland especially as an Asian. Locals are very friendly toward me. I’d love to live there for a few years. The Big Island is still somewhat affordable.

    1. Thanks Joe – I do agree it would be magical to live there for a few years – and yes, the remote bits of the Big Island and those in the lava path did seem affordable, but perhaps a little too close to the action.

  4. Hi Ms ZiYou, thank you SO much for posting your Hawaii cost details, I’m one of those who was wondering so this is really helpful!! I’m quite sure I would not be as frugal as you (for one thing, I tend to avoid hostels and prefer Airbnb’s) but it only makes me want to go visit more. That recording of the nightlife is awesome!! How did you manage to sleep through that, did you have earplugs? Was sleeping in a hammock comfortable?

    1. Hi FF – as for the nightlife – I’m not sure if it quietened down a lot or I just got used to it, either way I managed to sleep through it no problem. And I found sleeping in the hammock very relaxing. The only awkward bit it getting out of the hammock!

  5. Hi Ms Z – looks like a great trip, I think a two island visit to Hawaii for under £500 is pretty amazing even if you were already in the USA. We have visited several times as a side trip when travelling to California in the past many years ago. We first went to Big Island and Kauai Island when my partner was working for a year in North California – she booked it as a surprise trip for one of my visits and we both loved it. On Big Island the active lava flow was incredible with steam rising from the sea where it reached the coast – we even drove out to watch it in the dark after dinner one night. We liked Kauai Island the most and travelled back there. I can really recommend Kauai such great scenery with the NaPali Coast, beaches, hiking trails, rivers and the Waimea Canyon which is like a mini Grand Canyon on this small island. We are hoping to get back soon, but it is so far from the UK! I like island holidays as you have the varied coastal scenery and quite often when you get rainy weather you can travel round the island and find a sunny place..unless a huge storm has come! Our other favourite island destination is Iceland.

    1. Hi Bill – a surprise Hawaii trip sounds awesome. Next time I do want to see Kauai – it sounds lovely. And I so agree, it is just so far from the UK, I don’t think I’d cope going direct without some time in the US to start sorting out that body clock.

What do you think?