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Hawaii Prep, Pack & Plan Travel Guide

Hawaii Travel and Packing Guide

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Visiting Hawaii for the first time is akin to stumbling upon the Garden of Eden or Jurassic Park. It feels like another time period entirely, like you’re the first human to see the waterfalls, lush rainforests and crystal beaches.

Hawaii Travel Expenses Tips

Visiting Hawaii doesn’t have to break the bank if you know how to save in certain ways. Flights will eat up the largest part of your budget, but food trucks and cooking meals will save a bit. It’s easy to splurge on five star resorts, but it’s not necessary by any means. Traveling in the low season is one easy way to eliminate some costs. Here are just a few ways to save.

Getting Around the Islands

Most international flights will arrive in Honolulu, so it’s easy to make the city a base for further adventures to the other islands. The entire state of Hawaii is made up of over 100 islands, but only seven of them are inhabited, each with their own unique qualities to offer.

The majority of your budget will be eaten up by getting around, even if you’re only sticking to one island. There are buses on many islands, but they are sporadic, so it is common for people to rent vehicles. Rentals start at around $30 USD per day and are mostly found at airports. You must have a valid driver’s license to rent a car.

Flying is by far the most popular option for getting between islands. Hawaiian Airlines and Mokulele Airlines are your choices, but there are also a few ferries. One runs between Maui and Lanai and the other between Molokai and Maui.

Save on Meals

Eating out at restaurants every meal certainly adds up, especially on the islands. Thankfully, you can save money by staying in a place with a kitchen, which will allow you to make your own breakfasts and some other budget meals- but be sure to incorporate some local fresh produce in order to get the true Hawaiian feel. Look for groceries at local farmers markets instead of big box grocery stores. Food trucks are a cheap lunch option and the pastries, like malasadas, are a quick, affordable breakfast.

Cinnamon malasada from Leonard's
Cinnamon malasada from Leonard’s

Skip the Resorts

Hawaii is home to some of the world’s most luxurious resorts, but they’re very expensive, especially in the high season. You can still access many of the amenities, namely the restaurants and beach access, even if you’re not staying onsite. Condos and rentals from websites like VRBO and AirBnb allow you to have self catering options. Hostels are another option, with private rooms for those who don’t want to bunk up.

Word to the wise: Book early, especially in the high season. You don’t want to get stuck paying for an expensive hotel in Honolulu when all the budget hostels have booked out!

Search for Hawaii budget accommodation options on Booking.com.

Don’t Check a Bag

Island hopping is part of the Hawaii experience, so go carry on only. You don’t want to have to pay for bag charges every single time. You don’t need much, especially if you’ll be hanging at the beach. You also want to make sure that your bag is small enough to go into one of the small planes that flies between smaller islands, so do some research before you head off.

If you need help packing smaller and lighter, check out our ebook for help!

Rainbow from Diamond Head
Rainbow from Diamond Head over Honolulu

Essential Gear to Bring

Packing for Hawaii is a low-key affair, so keep it simple, as it’s the beach. You won’t need too many dressy outfits, so leave them, the high heels and the expensive jewelry pieces, at home. Shorts and sundresses (or a good maxi dress) are all you need. Sunscreen should also be a necessity, but to avoid liquid issues, it’s best to buy once you arrive. Just be prepared for a little price increase.

Swimsuits– Two suits should do well, as you can wash one and wear one. It’s also good to have one sturdy swimsuit that will stay on during activities like snorkeling or surfing. Also pack a sarong or cover up of some sort.

Rain jacket– The rain comes out of nowhere and disappears as quickly as it arrived. Throw a light, fold-up rain jacket into your purse for those situations.

Sandals– Instead of bringing heels and boots, bring a pair of dressy sandals and a pair of outdoorsy sandals like Teva Tirras or Chacos. You can wear them on hikes to waterfalls or walking around town.

Books– I went through a lot of books during my trip to Hawaii (they make a great addition to beach and outdoor lounging), so come prepared with a number of options! A Kindle is a great item to bring.

Books to Read Before Visiting

Most books about Hawaii are novels, but the islands have long influenced writers. Here are a few of our favorite books written about the state.

The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings– One of Hawaii’s most well-known writers crafted this story, later made into a film starring George Clooney, about a man who is a descendant of Hawaiian royalty. He returns to the land of his ancestors with his children as they take his wife off life support. Grab on Amazon.

Molokai, O.A. Bushnell– The smaller of the islands was once a leper colony and this story is a work of fiction based on the real life of Father Damien, who preached to the victims there. Grab on Amazon.

Hawaii, James A. Michener– The saga originally published in 1959 tells of the arrival of the Polynesians to the beautiful land, followed by the Americans. It’s an extensive history of the island chain. Grab on Amazon.

From Here to Eternity, James Jones– A soldier is hesitant to join the Army boxing team after threats from his colleagues. He risks his life and career by having an affair with his commanding officer’s wife. It’s set in Pearl Harbor in World War II. Grab on Amazon.

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, Tony Horwitz– Over two centuries after the Captain made his mark on the Pacific, the writer visits Hawaii, among other places, to learn more about Cook’s legacy. Grab on Amazon.

Movies to Watch Before Visiting

Hawaii has been used as a backdrop for the Amazon and for futuristic worlds, like Jurassic Park, but it’s the films that use the islands as an additional character that are the most memorable.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall– The comedy starring Jason Segel, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand and Kristen Bell is about a man brutally dumped by his famous girlfriend. He goes on vacation to get over her and promptly runs into her and her new boyfriend. Grab on Amazon.

Fifty First Dates– Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore star in a movie about a man who falls for a woman who forgets everything that happened the minute she falls asleep. He must get her to fall in love with him again and again. Grab on Amazon.

Blue Hawaii– In Elvis Presley’s most memorable movie role, he plays a soldier just out of the service who goes to work for his girlfriend’s agency as a tour guide rather than working with his father at a fruit company. Grab on Amazon.

Blue Crush– Surfer girls compete to be the best, despite a traumatic injury and falling for a football player. Kate Bosworth and Michelle Rodriguez star. Grab on Amazon.

Lilo and Stitch– This Disney cartoon isn’t just for kids! Lilo is a young Hawaiian girl who befriends Stich, an alien, and must protect him from the men in black chasing him. Grab on Amazon.

Hawaiian leis

Top Things to Do in Hawaii

There is no shortage of things to do in Hawaii, especially tours and outdoors activities. Each island has something unique to offer, so we’ve listed just a few options below.

If you’re looking to book a tour, Viator is a site where you can search through thousands of tour options, and book, all in one place. Yes, we are an affiliate, and at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase. And yes, we’ve also used Viator on numerous occasions while traveling and have found it a very useful resource.

Oahu

Oahu is home to Honolulu and the majority of Hawaii’s major attractions. If you’re flying in through HNL, give yourself a few days to see the city and Oahu’s North Shore.

Pearl Harbor– Give yourself a few hours to visit this hallowed ground where the Japanese attacked the harbor. The site includes a documentary on the tragedy, museum exhibits and a boat ride out to the USS Arizona wreckage.

Diamond Head Crater– Even if you’re not a hiker, it’s well worth the climb to the top of the volcanic crater, which has the best views in Honolulu. There’s even an old military bunker up there.

Waikiki Beach– The island’s most famous beach has sweeping views of the bay and of the Diamond Head crater.

Iolani Palace– The only royal palace in America is where the Hawaiian Royal Family lived until the islands joined the United States.

Kualoa Ranch– Tour the massive property where Lost, Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates and many others were filmed. It has animals, a zip line and tours by horse, bus and ATV.

Valley of the Temples– The memorial park on the North Shore includes the Byodo-In Temple, which looks straight out of Japan. It was featured on Lost.

Polynesian Cultural Center– Known for its luaus, the center focuses on the history and culture of the Polynesian tribes in Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga and others.

Dole Plantation– Perhaps no fruit is as synonymous with Hawaii as the pineapple. Tour the plantation, where you can see where they’re grown and try the fruit in dozens of ways.

Hawaii

Known as “The Big Island,” Hawaii is known for its national parks and vast size. You’ll probably want to rent a car to drive between towns like Kona and Hilo.

Kona Brewing Company– Tour the brewery, which offers tastings, and dine at the seaside restaurant, which makes delicious sandwiches and pizzas from the yeast excess.

Akaka Falls– Go on an easy nature walk through the forest to one of the island’s most beautiful waterfalls.

Mauna Kea– Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano where large telescopes have been placed. It’s one of the highest points on the island.

Volcanoes National Park– While it’s difficult to see active lava flow unless you’re on a pricey helicopter tour, driving around the volcanic rocks is just as fascinating. The national park resembles the surface of another planet.

Black and Green Sand Beaches– The island boasts two unique beaches, one green, which is really a shade of brownish yellow, and a black sand beach.

Kauai

The Garden Isle is made up almost entirely of untouched forest, making it beautiful and not as overrun with tourists. Don’t expect as many big name hotels, but much more opportunities for adventure.

Waimea Canyon– Even if you’re not a hiker, you’ll appreciate the gorgeous scenery of this colorful canyon that rivals the Grand Canyon in central Kauai.

Na Pali Coast– Some of the most pinnable images on Pinterest are of the lush Na Pali Coast, which is best seen by boat or helicopter.

Maui

Hana Highway– The Road to Hana is one of the most harrowing, and breathtaking, drives you’ll take in the United States.

Molokai

Kalaupapa National Historic Park– When leprosy was brought by Europeans in the 1800s, those afflicted were banished by the king to live here. The residents of the original colonists still live here, although they’ve been treated for the disease.

Molokai Lighthouse– This lighthouse was built on the leprosy colony island to guide trading ships from other islands into the harbor. You must visit with a tour and can’t wander in on your own.

Lanai

There are no main roads or major stores in Lanai and your accommodations are mostly limited to the two Four Seasons properties. But if you happen to go, here are a few of the places worth seeing.

Kaunolo Village– This important site is where people lived since the 1400s, specifically fisherman families. It features rock art and petroglyphs from its original inhabitants.

Garden of the Gods– Described as an “otherworldly rock garden,” this section of Lanai is covered in red boulders. It is believed to have been the result of a duel between two ancient kahunas.

Lanai Culture and Heritage Center– Learn more about the island and its history at the local cultural center.

Hawaiian food - spicy shrimp

Food and Drink in Hawaii

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Hawaiian cuisine, but I was delightfully surprised. There’s an obvious Asian influence due to its proximity to the region, but it also has dishes all its own.

Spicy shrimp– Head to Oahu’s North Shore to wait in line for a plate of spicy shrimp and rice at Giovanni’s. Peel it with your hands and don’t worry about the mess.

Shave ice– It’s not like what you’ve had on the mainland and don’t dare call it a “slushie.” The desert can come with ice cream and in some unusual flavors. but is guaranteed to keep you cool.

Malasadas– The Portuguese doughnuts are little balls of heaven, lightly coated in sugar. Leonard’s in Honolulu is the best place to find them.

Poke– This fresh salad is made with raw fish, typically yellowfin tuna, and other ingredients, including seaweed, soy sauce and sea salt.

Spam– The World War II era canned meat has a special place in the heart of Hawaiian cooking, where you can find it in sushi and other dishes.

Asian food– This may be vague, but don’t hesitate to try Asian cuisine in Hawaii. The sushi is guaranteed to be fresh and the noodles crafted in the traditional style.

Hawaii Prep Pack Plan Travel Guide

Do you have any Hawaii travel and packing tips to share? Please share them below!

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Funlocity says

    What an awesome post! You are completely right about brining only the essentials! Less is more in Hawaii. P.s. Molokai by Bushnell is an awesome read. So glad you mentioned it!

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