You probably think you’ve paid for the bulk of your trip before you even show up with your airfare and accommodations already paid for, but you’d be surprised how quickly the other stuff adds up. You’ll be bombarded with activities and excursion opportunities from the minute you arrive at the airport plus I’m sure you’ve heard rumors about how expensive food is in Hawaii. So once you’ve go the big stuff paid for, how do you save money once you get there? And how do you know where to save and where to splurge? Listen up, here’s what you need to know:
Things to Do in Hawaii for Free
There’s plenty to do for free. Don’t worry, I’m not just going to tell you that you can save money by only doing free stuff. Who couldn’t figure that gem of a tip out? We’ll get to how you can save money on paid activities and excursions later, but first…there really is a lot you can do for free in Hawaii and thankfully, the free stuff is some of the best stuff!
Beach bumming: Everybody comes to Hawaii for the beaches right? Well get out there and see them! If you’re staying at a beachfront hotel or condo, the temptation is to just hag out on “your” beach, but the awesome ting about Hawaii beaches is that each one looks a little different, especially on different parts of the island. One of my favorite things to do is go “beach hopping.” Plan to visit a different beach each day (or a couple each day) until you find your favorite. You’ll soon realize that different beaches are good for different things. Some are great for swimming and boogie boarding, some for snorkeling, and some for beach combing. Do some research before you get there and make a list of all the beaches you want to check out. Here’s a tip: You’ll have a much more comfortable day at the beach if you have the right gear. Many surf or gear shops will rent chairs, umbrellas, coolers, boogie boards, etc. to you for the week. Trust me, you’ll have so much more fun if you have the right gear instead of just sitting on a towel in the sand the whole time. But if you are going to rent, I would price check it first as it may be cheaper to buy your own gear at Costco and leave it behind at the end of your trip.
Snorkeling: Another great Hawaii pastime is snorkeling and many of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii can be accessed right off the beach. If you have your own gear at home, bring it along. If not, there are plenty of places where you can rent by the day or the week (always rent from a gear/surf shop and not your resort as they’ll really gouge you!), but I would suggest picking up a set at Costco when you arrive. You’ll get a nice set for close to the weekly rental price at a gear shop plus you know you’re the first person who’s used it. FYI: Many gear rental places advertise snorkeling gear for $1.99/day but once you get to the shop you realize it’s for kind of a crappy snorkel set and they end up “upselling” you on a more expensive rental. You usually come out ahead just renting your own.
Hiking: If you really want to see the best of the Hawaiian Islands, you’ll usually have to get a little off the beaten path. Hiking is free and this is how you’ll see some of the best scenery in Hawaii. Do some research in advance to know which hikes you want to do (or ask a local!). I recommend getting a copy of the Hawaii Revealed guidebook series. You’ll be able to find them places once you get there but I would order it from Amazon in advance (you’ll save a lot of money!).
Sight seeing: Besides gorgeous beaches and hikes, each island has a number of sights (historic, cultural, and natural) that are must sees. On Oahu, you’ve got to see Pearl Harbor, the sights of Waikiki (including the Iolani Palace), Hanauma Bay, and the famous north shore. On Maui, don’t miss the Road to Hana and the summit of Haleakala. The Big Island has Hawaii Volcano National Park plus four other historic and cultural sites ran by the National Park Service. On Kauai, you’ve got to see the Waimea Canyon, fern grotto, and tree tunnel that leads to historic Koloa town.
How to Save Money on Excursions and Tours
There are plenty of things to do in Hawaii that are free, but there are also a few experiences that you can only get through an excursion or tour. How can you save money on them? The best way is to do your research ahead of time (before you arrive in Hawaii) and book directly through the tour operator. If you wait until you arrive on the island, many activities will be booked up and they’re less likely to offer discounts when the tour is almost full and people who waited until the last minute are competing over a few remaining spots. Many companies offer a discount if you book online directly through them. This is because most tours rely heavily on resort concierge desks to promote their tours to the guests. The concierge get a commission for referring guests to the tour company (sometimes up to 40%) so tour companies have to keep their prices high so they walk away with a decent profit on the tour after paying out commissions. So if you go directly to the tour company, they’re often willing to cut you a deal because they don’t have to pay a commission to a concierge for your spot. For example, if a company pays a 40% commission for concierge recommendations, they’ll still come out ahead if they offer you a 20% discount for booking directly. But this way, you also come out ahead.
Also, if you go this route, you can do your research on companies ahead of time (I recommend Trip Advisor) and read honest reviews about the tours and pick which one you feel is best for you. If you go with a concierge recommendation, not only are you usually paying more, but 99% of the time, you’re just being recommended the tour provider who pays out the biggest concierge commissions, not necessarily the best one. If the tour provider’s website doesn’t advertise a direct booking special, I would still call and ask for their best price. You never know until you ask!