Budget, Travel

How to Visit Hawaii on a Serious Budget

hawaii budget pin

Hawaii doesn’t have to be an unattainable vacation dream. My husband and I recently traveled to Kauai, HI for 2 weeks on a teacher salary. If you want to learn more about our Kauai adventure then go read these related posts:

Epic Kauai Adventure: Part 1

Epic Kauai Adventure : Part 2

Once we returned, I was ready to start planning a return trip. Kauai is really that breathtaking. I started writing down ways that I saved money on this trip as well as how I can save MORE money when we return.

My Hawaii Packing List post has been my most popular post to date, and ranks very high on Pinterest. I decided, why not share more great tips about my favorite travel destination?!

*This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Book Directly Through Rental Owner

I loved the accommodation that we stayed in while in Kauai. I booked it through Airbnb. To receive $40 of travel credit then feel free to sign-up using my referral link.

I’m typically an avid user of Airbnb and Homeaway, however, due to recent changes these companies are adding a lot of extra fees that add up quickly. You probably won’t notice the fees unless you are staying in a particular accommodation for a long period of time (longer than a week).

What I found when I began searching for where we would stay in Kauai when we return, is that a lot of rental owners post a website link on their Homeaway profile so that you can rent directly through them. If you book directly through the owner then you will avoid HUNDREDS of dollars. Not every rental owner offer this option, but I found several who did.


Play Around with Flights

During our recent visit to Kauai, we spent too much on our flights. That was our biggest cost for our entire trip which is ridiculous. One important budget lesson that I learned is to play around with your flights. See if it is cheaper if you change your airport locations. Can you drive to a larger airport and leave from there? If so, that could save you hundreds of dollars.

Also, play around with the days of the week that you fly out on. It’s typically more expensive to fly from Saturday to Saturday or Sunday to Sunday. If you are able to change your flight to week days then you will save money.

If you have miles accumulated through a particular airline then use those miles as much as possible. You may only be able to pay for a one-way flight, but you can always change to a cheaper airline for the return trip.

The cheapest airline that I have found is Hawaiian Airlines. My plan for our return trip to Kauai is to make a road trip out to Oakland, CA or fly on Delta Skymiles one way and then continue our flight to Kauai via Hawaii Airlines. The flight is also a lot shorter from the west coast. 🙂

Take Carry-On Luggage Only

An easy way to save money on a visit to Hawaii is to travel with carry-on luggage only. One of my favorite things about Kauai is how laid back the people are and how chill the restaurant scene is. Sure there are resort type restaurants where people dress fancier, but even those restaurants have people sporting shorts and aloha shirts.

If you can travel this way then you will avoid a lot of added fees for checked baggage. Plus you will be simplifying your packing which decreases stress! It’s a win-win situation. 🙂 To learn how I traveled to Kauai for 2 weeks with only a small rolling duffel bag and a backpack go read this post!

Packing for 2 Weeks with Carry-On Only

Essential Tools for Stress-Free Travel


Avoid Expensive Tours and Attractions

Now I am only saying this because I’ve already experienced the expensive attractions. I wouldn’t take back our doors-off helicopter tour or Napali Coast boat tour for anything, but they are EXPENSIVE. If you want to save as much money as possible then avoid these high-dollar tours. Luaus are tons of fun but also expensive. If you have attended a luau before then I would skip it on your return visit.

There are other ways that you can see the Napali Coast and experience the culture for free. One of those ways is to hike the Kalalau Trail or drive to the top of Kokee State Park to view the Kalalau Valley. You can also go sit at a local hang out and “talk story” with people. That will engulf you with culture, and it is free of charge!

Kalalau Valley from Kokee State Park Lookouts

hawaii on a budget


Views of Napali Coast from Kalalau Trail


Do All the Free Things

Believe it or not, there are some super cool free activities that you can do in Hawaii. From free hula shows to craft fairs, it is definitely a good idea to take advantage of free things while in Hawaii. Some of my favorite free activities in Kauai include:

  • hike all the trails…or at least a few. 😉

  • visit craft fairs, art nights

  • attend free hula shows (Kapa’a Wednesdays at 5:00 and Saturdays at 1:00 at Coconut Marketplace)

  • spend the day at the beach

  • SUP or surf (free if you own your own equipment)

  • see a blow hole at Spouting Horn

  • visit one of the many farmers’ markets

  • go chasing waterfalls

  • explore the cutest beach towns (Hanalei is my fav!)

  • spend the day snorkeling and exploring an underwater world

  • tour a coffee plantation and try all the free samples!

  • try lots of nutty goodies at Kauai Nut Roasters

  • find hidden gems-use a guide book (My favorite view of Hanalei Bay is found on a hidden trail that I read about in my guide book.)


Photos of my Favorite Free Activities in Kauai

Free Hula Show at Coconut Marketplace 

free hula show

Waimea Canyon

waimea canyon


Kalalau Trail


Sleeping Giant Trail


Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail


Spouting Horn

Spouting Horn


Wailua Falls

Favorite View of Hanalei Bay-Hidden trail


Hanalei Town

Find secret beaches


Choose a Rental with a Kitchen

I know that it sounds tempting to eat out for every meal while you are on vacation, but my oh my, that can add up quickly! Food in Hawaii is NOT cheap. Yes, even groceries are more expensive, but you can get more bang for your buck when you cook some of your own meals.

While we were in Kauai, we made breakfast in our condo each morning and packed our lunches on most days for the beach or a trail. It saved us quite a bit of money. We only spent $250 on groceries for 2 weeks.

Even if you want to stay in a resort, try to find a room with at least a kitchenette. If you only cook one meal a day then you will still save a lot of money for sure. Here are some of my favorite meals that we cooked while on vacay in Kauai:


banana pancakes

  • macnut pancakes with coconut syrup and fresh pineapple

  • fresh fruit smoothies

  • Spam and eggs


  • ham and cheese sandwiches on sweet Hawaiian bread

  • chicken salad sandwiches with Maui onion chips

  • fresh fruit

  • fried Spam sandwiches with chips


  • fresh caught grilled fish

  • Kauai beef steaks with purple sweet potatoes and salad

  • fresh fish tacos, local salsa, and guacomole

  • grilled chicken and chipotle sandwiches

Speaking of Groceries

Like I said above, groceries in Hawaii can be more expensive than you are used to on the main land. Sticker shock is a real thing. I spent over 2 hours trying to find the best deals on groceries at Safeway in Kapa’a. If you are traveling to Hawaii then I highly suggest signing up for the saver card through Safeway. You will save quite a bit!

If you have been around LDL long then you know that I plan meals out and purchase groceries for 2 weeks at a time. I try to save as much as possible on groceries. It took some adjusting, but I felt pretty happy with the $250 I spent on groceries and supplies for two weeks in Kauai. For some of my grocery hacks check out these posts:

$150 on Groceries for 2 Weeks or Longer

Cut Your Grocery Budget in Half


Utilize Farmers’ Markets

Make sure to purchase all of your produce from the local farmers’ markets. The produce is fresher and cheaper than the grocery stores. The only thing that I found that was cheaper in the grocery store was pineapples at Foodland, and that is because they weren’t grown on Kauai. Some of my favorite farmers’ market finds include:

  • lychees

  • mangoes

  • papayas

  • white pineapples (sugar loaf pineapples)

  • mountain apples

  • apple bananas

  • passion fruit

Next time, I will purchase ALL of my produce at the local markets.


Shop Around

So when I first arrived in Kauai, I had to find some Kauai Coffee. I had dreamt of it for a year. I made the mistake of running in the closest store to our condo, Long’s (Hawaii version of CVS, and your CVS card will work here), to purchase our coffee and other breakfast staples. Wow was it high!!! I paid $12 for a bag of coffee that I later found at Foodland for $6.

essential breakfast items

Believe it or not, Walmart had the best prices on a lot of the souvenir type items and local coffee. They had two bags for $11. Foodland is also a great place to find local goodies for a good price. We returned to Foodland a few times for butter mochi. 😉 They also has the various pancake/waffle mixes, mac nuts, Spam, coconut syrup, and all the other dreamy breakfast items.


Ship Souvenirs Home

If you are traveling light then you won’t have a lot of room for souvenirs (trust me on this one). Go to any post office, and you can purchase a large flat rate box for less than $20. Some souvenir shops actually sell the USPS flat rate boxes as well. You can fit quite a few souvenirs in these boxes. Just buy your favorite goodies, grab some bubble wrap, and ship it back home. It typically arrives home within 5 days.


Avoid Foodie Restaurants (if it’s not that big of a deal to you)

I love food, but I am not a “foodie”. I don’t have to go to the fancy restaurants with the teeny portions. Give me a good food truck and the ability to eat on the beach, and I am there! We had one expensive meal, and that was at Duke’s, and we loved our entire meal and the ambiance. The rest of our meals were eaten at food trucks and hole in the wall local joints.

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Have you traveled to Hawaii before? Do you have some brilliant budget tips that you want to share? Let me know in the comments below, and I would love to add them to my post and give you credit!

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