This time our travel tips are a bit different, because in addition to the usual travel tips we would also like to talk about budget. How to organize your Hawaii trip in a manner, that saves budget for great experiences such as diving, snorkeling or helicopters flights. Hawaii is very expensive. For accommodation, restaurants and groceries, expect about three times the amount of money you would pay in Central Europe. Therefore, we want to help you keep the costs of your Hawaii vacation within limits.
Health precautions for Hawaii Island Hopping
You don't need any special vaccinations for Hawaii. Make sure that your standard vaccinations are up to date and consider on current information on the website of your Federal Foreign Office. If you are unsure, consult a travel medic or at least your doctor in advance of any trip. As a health precaution for each of our trips, we always have our medical kit with us.
From January 1st, 2021, only sunscreen without reef-damaging chemicals may be used/sold/imported in/to Hawaii.
Reef-damaging chemicals are oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate and nanoparticles. Reef-proof sunscreens contain ingredients such as zinc, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Many sunscreens are advertised as reef safe, but are not. Make sure to buy the right sunscreens even now, because many tour operators only allow the good sunscreens by now. Often tour operators supply their guests with reef safe sunscreen during tours in Hawaii. The Hawaiians take good care of their reefs, as they are their greatest asset.
It is relatively difficult to buy these such sunscreen elsewhere or online, so it's best to buy them directly on Hawaii.
Not only the Hawaiian reefs will thank you using reef-friendly sunscreen. No matter where you go, protect the reefs by keeping the chemicals oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate or nanoparticles out of the sea.
Entry, Visa and Exiting Hawaii
For most people travelling to Hawaii means arriving at Honolulu International Airport and departing from almost every major city in North America. The cheapest way is of course from the west coast. If you are traveling from the west coast of the US, you can also fly directly to Maui, Kauai or Big Island. This is often a little cheaper than flying to Oahu. If you're flying in overseas internationally from Asia, Australia, New Zealand or the South Pacific, pick a direct flight to Honolulu.
If you go for Hawaii Island hopping, think about arriving at Lihue on Kauai and leaving Hawaii via Kona Airport on Big Island. Take a direct flight from here to the west coast of the USA. These flights depart on a daily basis. This saves you the time and costs of the return trip to Honolulu. It works just as well with Kahului on Maui or Lihue on Kauai. If you plan your trip accordingly, you can save a lot here.
Hawaii is a state of the United States of America and therefore the entry requirements of the USA are decisive.
As a citizen of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, you can enter the USA and thus Hawaii without a visa. All you need is an ESTA registration, which you can apply for online. You should apply at least 72 hours before your arrival. ESTA applies when arriving by plane or ship. There are some exceptions, which make ESTA impossible, such as previous trips to US enemy countries. ESTA costs $ 14 per person and is valid for two years.
Also, make sure that you enter your first, last, middle or second names as they appear in your passport when booking your flight.
Basically, an approved ESTA is not a guarantee of entry into the United States. The Immigration Officer makes the final decision. We never had any problems.
For current and official information on ESTA, click here.
If you are not traveling directly to Hawaii - we flew from Fiji to Honolulu - but are traveling through another American city, then you have to go through immigration at the first American airport, collect your luggage, check in your luggage again and fly on then. A bit complex, but that is the way it is in America.
Getting around - Hawaii Island Hopping
If you want to do island hopping in Hawaii, you have to fly between the Hawaiian Islands. To our knowledge, there are no reasonable ferry connections between the Hawaiian Islands.
The first choice for flights is Hawaiian Airlines. In our case, we found the best flights on the airline's website itself. We always booked our flights there, because they were cheaper than on the booking portals. However, definitely compare. Attention, all shown prices are always without luggage. The baggage is to be paid extra. This is where one of our Hawaii travel tips comes into play. Sign up for Hawaiian Miles for free to benefit from member luggage rates. That Hawaii travel tips makes you pay $ 15 instead of $ 25 each time you fly for your first piece of luggage on inter island flights. So you save yourself 40 dollars per person when island hopping on four Hawaiian Islands. Save that money for your adventures during your Hawaii Islands Hopping.
Hand luggage up to 11.5 kg is free. You can also take a “personal item” into the cabin. This item should fit under the seat.
We always had a small trolley as hand luggage and a backpack as a personal item. That was never a problem.
As it is common for a low-cost airline, you have to check in online and also pay for your luggage online. You'll find terminals at the airport where you have to print out your boarding cards and luggage tags. After that, hand in your luggage to an employee. Except for Honolulu, the Hawaiian airports are rather very small airports. The flights between the islands take between 20 and 40 minutes. You get a small drink (water or juice) and an island guide for free.
The flights between the islands cost around $ 100 per person, so you have to expect around $ 400 to $ 500 in flight costs including luggage for your Hawaii Island hopping.
In order to minimize airfares during island hopping, you should always fly short distances. Keep the cost of your Hawaii vacation low by only flying to the neighboring island. The best way to travel to Hawaii is from southeast to northwest or vice versa.
Southwest Airlines could serve as an alternative for flights in the course of your island hopping in Hawaii. However, they do not fly so regularly and we did not use it either.
On the respective islands, you should take a rental car. However, here you can really save money. We had a small car for € 156 on Oahu for three days, a SUV without 4WD for € 235 for six days on Kauai, a SUV without 4WD for € 235 for five days on Maui and a Jeep Wrangler with 4WD for six days on Big Island for € 314. In total, we spent almost € 1.000 on rental cars for 22 days in Hawaii.
If you can, do your Hawaii Island hopping as a group of four. Sharing the price for a rental car with three other people is a lot cheaper than paying for it on your own. In our opinion, a SUV or even 4WD is not necessary at all. With very few exceptions, we would have gotten along with a normal compact class car very well. Maybe go for a Jeep on Big Island for fun.
Read our blogpost about Hawaii highlights to know where you need 4WD. If your plans allow making it with smaller cars, this will keep the cost of your Hawaii Island hopping within limits. Therefore, if you have to save, maybe that is an option.
Book the rental car well in advance and do it without expensive bells and whistles such as GPS. Use Google Maps or Maps.Me for navigation.
Especially when arriving in Hawaii, note that the car rental companies do not open until five o'clock in the morning. This can be important if you have a night flight.
Public transport in the form of buses or taxis does exist, but is far from being as common as anywhere else. There is the Waikiki Trolley in Honolulu, but Hawaii is more of a rental car destination where time independence is required.
There is a speed limit of 25 to 35 miles in urban areas, 45 to 55 miles per hour is allowed outside of town and on highways.
Gasoline cost between $ 3.75 and $ 4.05 per Gallon (~3.8 litre) in November 2019.
The five-lane highways, especially around Honolulu, were often congested. Everyone wants to go to Honolulu in the morning and out again in the afternoon. Try to be countercyclical here.
ATMS, Money and Tipping - Hawaii Travel Tips
You can find ATMs in every small town in Hawaii, so it shouldn't be a problem to get cash. Payment by credit card is also very common.
When paying, note that taxes will be added to the displayed prices. In the restaurant, you also have to prepare for tips. Sometimes service charges of 10 percent or more are included on the final invoice amount - sometimes not. Then you are expected to tip. We know this is common in the United States, but we hate that. Almost everywhere else in the world, the owners of restaurants or tour operators pay their employees reasonable wages and do not pass it on to their customers.
For a dive provider, the website said that a 20 percent tip was appropriate for the crew. At a price of an unbelievable $ 200 per dive, the diver should also tip $ 40. That's a nightmare.
SIM card and internet during Hawaii Island hopping
Free WiFi was available at all commercial airports in Hawaii that we visited.
Otherwise, simply get a SIM card with sufficient data volume. We got a SIM card with 5 gigabytes of high-speed Internet from Lycamobile. We bought that in an ABC store for $ 30. You can find ABC stores all over Hawaii. When your 5 GB is used up, recharging is expensive, so a new card may be more useful. The reception was fine on all four islands we visited.
Hawaii Island Hopping Activities
Hawaii is all about nature. That is why so many people come here. The wonderful Pacific Ocean, beautiful beaches, volcanoes and breathtaking animals.
You get a lot of it for free or for little money. With only three exceptions, all national parks in Hawaii grant free entry. The three exceptions are Haleakalā National Park on Maui, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island and Puʻuhonua ʻO Hōnaunau National Historical Park Hawaii on Big Island. The three national parks raised their prices to $ 30, $ 30 and $ 15 on January 1, 2020. If you want to visit all three, then the Tri-Pass is worth it, which you can buy for $ 55 at all three park entrances.
One thing, which will be very expensive during your island hopping in Hawaii, is going on guided tours. An example: A four-hour snorkeling trip on a big catamaran including lunch, will be about $ 120 plus taxes and fees. Also going on a dive boat is quite expensive.
For these tours, it is advisable to look at the coupon booklets that you can find at the airport exit or in hotel lobbies. You'll often find discounts for tour operators in these booklets.
If you want to know what to see and visit in Hawaii or how to make the best of your time during Island Hopping, take a look at our Hawaii highlights. We had some of our most brilliant experiences on the Hawaiian Islands. Let yourself be surprised.
Food - Driver for the Cost of a Hawaii Island Hopping
The United States in general and especially Hawaii are incredibly expensive when it comes to restaurants.
In our opinion, however, the greatest saving potential is in food. In Hawaii, expect at least $ 20 for a main course. Usually much more. Add some drinks, taxes and tips and you're at $ 100 for a reasonable dinner in a restaurant for two.
Food trucks are an alternative on Hawaii. There are a lot of them in Hawaii. The food is good everywhere. However, you will not get away under $ 15 dollars and the portions are small that a man only gets half full of them. The shave(d) ice, which is typical of Hawaii didn't give us anything. Frozen water with food coloring and syrup for seven dollars?! Mhh.
Fast food restaurants are definitely cheaper. But here you also don't get a burger for $ 5 like we do in Central Europe. The selection is huge, the price-performance ratio is much worse than ours.
We always made good deals when we used the latest deals on the websites of the fast food stores. Pizza Hut in particular has very good deals. We often got a family pizza for $ 10 instead of $ 30. Order online, pick it up and either take it with you or eat on site.
Nevertheless, for 3 weeks only fast food is no fun either.
Therefore, the Hawaii travel tip that you can probably save the most with is the following: Find accommodations with a kitchen and BBQ and cook yourself. The prices for groceries in the supermarkets are high, but the fact that there are four of you, puts that into perspective. Even cooking for two people makes the most sense. If you don't know how to cook or you don’t want to, because it's your holidays, we truly understand that, but for us it is the most effective way to enjoy and save in Hawaii at the same time.
In the large Hawaiian supermarket chains, there are free memberships, which you can get with your American cell phone number or email address. Decide on a supermarket that is well represented in Hawaii and on your travel route and get a membership card the first time you visit. We chose Foodland and their Makai Card. Therefore, you get great offers. They are often 2-for-1 offers or generous discounts. Plan your meals in advance for the three, four or five days. That sounds stuffy, but it is cheap and you'll eat healthy great dishes.
Some examples: A pack of cheese costs about seven dollars. With your membership card, you'll get two or three packs for seven dollars. Some cheese is always on offer. It is the same with vegetables, meat, fish, sausages or bread.
We mostly made our own breakfast at our AirBnB. We had sausage, cheese, eggs and baguettes. We usually prepared sandwiches for the day and took them with us. In the evening, we prepared great food in the accommodations. Pasta with seafood, grilled steaks, fresh salads and stuff like this.
Seafood and meat are relatively inexpensive in Hawaii. Get a nice steak for under $ 10. Just like tuna or shrimps.
If we did not feel like cooking and needed something to eat quickly, there is still poke. Poke is raw fish, seasoned with sauces. Raw tuna with seaweed, wasabi and roasted sesame oil. Incredibly delicious. There is a large selection of these pokes in every supermarket in Hawaii. A large mug is enough for two. Poke, a baguette or rice for ten dollars and the hunger is satisfied. Always works.
You can also buy delicious fruits and vegetables at street stalls or at the farmers' market. Just follow the signs or search for them online.
Accommodation during Hawaii island hopping
In Hawaii, you'll get very little for your money when it comes to accommodation compared to Europe or Asia.
Especially in hotels you pay $ 250 a night for a noisy 70s building with a musty carpet. You will usually pay a (phantasy) resort fee and a parking fee in hotels. The resort fee is for unique and incredible extras like Wi-Fi or safe box. In most cases, you will pay extra for breakfast.
The big American chains like Marriott, Hyatt, Westin or Hilton on Maui will charge you beyond $ 500 a night without breakfast.
Therefore, you should use Airbnb or alternative accommodations. Especially if you are travelling with four people (and the cost is divided by four), you can also stay in great accommodations right on the beach in Hawaii. Because the accommodations are often designed for families and therefore have two or more bedrooms. Make sure you have a well-equipped kitchen and a BBQ, so you can cook yourself and are not dependent on expensive restaurants or fast food.
Have a look at Maui Beachside on Maui or Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai. These are both accommodations with two bedrooms each. We loved both of them. Even if the prices are still high by European standards, you make the most of the trip in terms of accommodation.
Therefore, you are well below $ 100 a night per person if you are four and have great cooking facilities.
In our opinion, this is the only way to get comfort in Hawaii at an affordable price. Of course, you can sleep in cheap but bad Airbnbs, but that’s no fun either.
Be sure to check early enough so the best accommodations are still available.
Conclusion on Hawaii Island hopping
Hawaii is an absolute dream destination for beach fetishists, nature admirers and animal lovers. Of course, Hawaii is an expensive travel destination, but with our travel tips for Hawaii Island hopping, you will save in the right places to be able to spend your money on experiences that will remain in your heart forever.