The Price of Paradise: a budget report from my Hawaii trip

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The Price of Paradise: a budget report from my Hawaii trip


I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I wasn’t exactly financially ready when I started traveling. While having more in the bank would’ve been nice, it also would’ve meant putting off the trip and postponing adventure. I decided I would work with the budget I did have so I could see as much as possible. This became a bit of a personal challenge as well, seeing how frugal I could be without being cheap and feeling like I missed out on too much in the name of saving money. Some people do this for fun, but with a destination like Hawaii paired with my budget, my thriftiness arose out of necessity. I decided to track my expenses on my trip, putting whatever I spent into six categories: Food & Drink, Accommodation, Transportation, Shopping, Entertainment/Recreation, and Other.

Couple things I should mention:

  • Airfare into and out of the state of Hawaii is not included in my report, but the flights I took to travel between islands are.
  • I stayed with a family friend the last five days of my trip, so the free accommodation there lowered my average daily cost a bit.

Expenses for 34 days in Hawai’i, from October 5 to November 7, 2016:

  • Food & Drink: $753.54
  • Accommodation: $990.96
  • Transportation: $571.61
  • Shopping: $62.46
  • Entertainment/Recreation: $77.79 (take advantage of free activities!)
  • Other: $86.24

Grand Total: $2542.60

Average Daily Cost: $74.78

I was a bit shocked seeing the total, but unless you’re hitchhiking, dumpster diving, and camping your way through Hawaii it’s not reasonable to expect too much less. Lonely Planet’s Hawaii page considers any daily cost below $100 as “budget” and travel blogger Nomadic Matt says to aim for a daily cost of $70-$90, so I would say I did pretty good.

Budget Breakdowns

Food & Drink

Most of the time I ate out, but I did make the occasional grocery store run to cook my own stuff back at the hostel.  I almost always opted for water when eating out, and I would eat more during lunch when prices are cheaper so I wouldn’t spend as much for dinner. And what’s travel without a little drinking? I took advantage of cheaper domestic offerings and happy hour specials (hello $3.50 Mai Tais!). Average daily food cost: $22.16.

What would I recommend? Be a smart shopper and pick up cheap staple ingredients to cook some basic meals at the hostel. At restaurants, opt for water, split an entree with a friend, and ask for a takeout box for whatever you don’t finish. Take advantage of any discounts and lunch/dinner specials. And look for cheaper domestic alcohol – it’ll have the same effect.


This is usually any traveler’s biggest expense, and I was no exception. I initially hoped to Couchsurf my way around Hawaii but I had zero luck and ended up settling for $30-$40 hostel beds throughout my travels. Housesitting would’ve been cool too, but with Hawaii being the size it is, none of the few listings that I did see were available. Average daily accommodation cost: $29.15.

What would I recommend? Definitely make use of hospitality exchanges like Couchsurfing, saving you money and getting you a more authentic experience. Locals also know the cheapest spots/things to do, so that’s a bonus. If you’re the outdoorsy type, Hawaii has plenty of parks/natural areas with gorgeous scenery that you can camp at for a small fee. And skip the resorts and oceanview suites – backpacker hostels are so much cheaper and are a great way to meet and make plans with other travelers.


The biggest expenses in this category were the four flights I took to explore the other islands, each one costing me right around $100. Car rentals on Maui and Kauai, an Uber, a couple shuttle rides, and bus fares make up the remaining amount. (I also spent 60 unnecessary dollars on a bus pass for Oahu that I only used 5 times or so before I flew over to Maui. Yikes.) Average daily transportation cost: $16.81.

What would I recommend? Don’t try to visit all the islands, and keep unnecessary island-hopping to a minimum. Keep an eye out for flight deals. For ground transportation, use public transit or hitchhike! Hawaii as a whole is quite safe, and I actually had my first hitchhiking experience on the Big Island, where the hostel staff themselves recommended it for getting around.

Shopping, Recreation, and Other

I’m grouping these together because I spent very little in these three categories. My biggest expenses were a kayak rental for $36, a surfboard rental for $21, and a pair of board shorts that I snagged for $30.

What would I recommend? Hawaii is a jewel of natural beauty, and many of the most beautiful sights can be enjoyed sometimes for a small entrance fee, but most of the time are completely free. Take advantage of all the free sights and activities, but make sure to set aside some funds for equipment rentals, certain excursions, or special activities like diving – this will obviously depend on what interests you most.

The low travel season in Hawaii runs from mid-April to mid-June and mid-September to mid-December (I went in October!) so prices will be cheaper during these times. Keep that in mind in addition to the tips I listed above.

So while most people understandably don’t see Hawaii as a “budget” destination, there’s plenty you can do to cut some costs here and there. I hope my report will help you think outside the box a little and realize that some of the world’s more expensive places can still be within your reach if you get creative. Being financially wise in the four main expense categories (food/drink, accommodation, transportation, and recreation) means more money in your pocket for more days of adventure down the road. But don’t forget to enjoy yourself every once in a while.



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