Two words you would never think to put together are: Hawaii and affordable. Even on this site, we’re guilty of promoting flying to distant places like Southeast Asia to vacation on a budget instead of breaking the bank in Hawaii.
But that changes now. Let’s explore how you can have an affordable flip flop adventure in Hawaii, with a few brilliant, creative tips.
Choose Your Island Wisely
The first step in visiting Hawaii is to choose which of the more than 100 islands to visit. Although there are eight major islands, only six are accessible to the public due to private ownership and restricted access.
This is Hawaii’s second-biggest island. It is known as the Valley Isle because of all of the valleys and mountains that cover the island.
As the second most visited Hawaiian island, Maui is not the best choice for budget travelers. In fact, the island’s nickname, “playground of the wealthy,” may discourage you from visiting at all.
Waterfalls and lush vegetation thrive in Kauai’s tropical climate, which is why it’s also known as “Garden Island.” In addition to being the fourth largest island, Kauai is also the fourth most popular.
Kauai boasts more beachfront than any other Hawaiian island, making it an ideal destination for beachgoers on a budget. Intriguing, right?
There are so many beaches, and fewer people, that it’s probable you’ll be the first person to leave footprints on the sand.
- Big Island of Hawaii
Big Island is what comes to mind when most people think of Hawaii. It is the ideal island to visit if you want to view lava, and although it is the largest island, it is just the third most popular choice for tourists.
Big Island is great for budget travelers because there is little to do there that doesn’t cost very little, if anything at all.
The island of Molokai is the fifth largest in Hawaii. The majority of the about 8,000 total inhabitants live in or around Kaunakakai, the largest city. Molokai has been dubbed “The Most Hawaiian Island” since about 40% of its population are of Hawaiian ancestry.
The Kalaupapa Peninsula, where some of the highest sea cliffs in the world can be found, is also located here.
Molokai is not the place to go if you are searching for resorts and sightseeing excursions. There is only one hotel on the island (plus a few condos that can be rented out for vacations), and only a small number of bars and restaurants provide alcohol.
Lanai was previously known as “The Pineapple Island” because of the abundance of pineapple plantations that covered practically the entire island.
Even though most of the island is still undeveloped, it is now the sixth most visited of the Hawaiian Islands thanks to its many resorts and golf courses.
Last but not least, it’s understandable if Oahu is the only Hawaiian island, you’re familiar with because it’s where you’ll find Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and Waikiki beach. Oahu receives the most visitors each year among the Hawaiian Islands, with about 4.7 million people coming to see the sights.
Oahu is the best island to visit if you’re on a tight budget because of the wide variety of inexpensive lodging options and the abundance of free things to do.
Oahu has the most hostels in Hawaii, making it one of the top islands for budget travelers.
Make the Most of the Island’s Free Activities
The cost of traveling to Hawaii is high, but once you get there, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the abundance of free things to do.
- Plan a hiking trip!
Hawaii is a world-class hiking destination. The islands are a hiker’s paradise, with terrain ranging from lush jungles to rocky summits.
Here are just a few hiking trails you can explore:
- Kaui’s Kalalau Trail – this breathtaking 11-mile trail provides hikers incredible ocean vistas and passes through verdant valleys as it winds along the island’s gorgeous Na Pali Coast.
- Maui’s Pipiwai Trail – a scenic 4-mile round trip through bamboo groves and up to Waimoku Fall.
- Oahu’s Diamond Head Crater – a must-see landmark known for its breathtaking vistas of Waikiki Beach from its peak.
- Big Island’s Pololu Valley – a short but steep trek rewards visitors with a breathtaking panorama of the valley and its surrounding coastline.
- Chill out on Hawaii’s best beaches
Hawaii is paradise for most people because it has some of the world’s most beautiful (and interesting!) beaches. Here are some you shouldn’t miss:
- Sunset Beach on Oahu – famous for its beautiful sunsets and good surfing in the winter.
- Hanalei Bay in Kauai – a beautiful crescent-shaped bay surrounded by verdant mountains, perfect for water sports like swimming, snorkeling, and paddleboarding.
- Kaanapali Beach, Maui – An amazing place to go snorkeling and see sea turtles.
- Hapuna Beach State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii – has powdery white sand and calm, turquoise sea, making it an ideal spot for a day at the beach.
- Hulopoe Beach on Lanai – a protected marine area teaming with tropical species and vibrant coral reefs, perfect for a day of snorkeling.
- Enjoy Free Activities in Waikiki
Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu boasts stunning views of the Diamond Head Crater, luxury resorts, stunning beaches… and lots of free activities if you know how to look!
- Ukulele, Hula Dance, and Lei Weaving Workshops – Visit the Royal Hawaiian Center to embrace Hawaiian culture and traditions for free!
- Street Art in Kaka’ako – Explore vibrant street art created by Pow! Wow! Hawaii in the Kaka’ako district.
- Sunset Cinema on the Beach – Enjoy outdoor film screenings on Waikiki Beach at sunset.
- Duke Kahanamoku statue – once a month, there is a free hula show and a traditional torch lighting ritual.
- Fireworks at The Hilton – enjoy a free fireworks spectacular every Friday night over Waikiki Beach.
- Enjoy Free Activities on the Big Island
Big Island is one of the best islands to choose as your backpacking base in Hawaii, in part because you won’t run out of things to do. Here are some fun stuff you can do for free:
- View Lava at Kilauea Volcano – Hike, bike, or take a shuttle to observe the aftermath of an eruption at Kilauea Volcano and see the lava shine.
- Stargazing at Mauna Kea – Enjoy incredible stargazing at the Mauna Kea visitor center, one of the best spots in Hawaii.
- Visit Waterfalls – The natural splendor of Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls should not be missed on a trip to Hawaii.
- Hilo Farmers Markets – Visit the bustling markets in Hilo for some fresh vegetables and local wares.
- Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo – Visit the only zoo in the United States that is located in a natural rainforest.
- Coffee, Chocolate & Macadamia Plantation Tours – Take free tours of coffee, chocolate, and macadamia plantations.
- Panalu’u (Black Sand) Beach – Enjoy the unique black sand and marvel at the native turtles that call this beach home.
- Instead visiting pricey hotels or resorts, consider staying at a hostel or a campsite.
Camping is one of the best ways to see the beautiful landscapes of Hawaii. It’s a fantastic way to get to know the island up close and personal.
Campsites range from those right on the shore to those in the middle of dense forests or even on active volcanoes. A camping trip with your family or friends will definitely leave you with unforgettable memories of Hawaii’s stunning landscapes.
- Cook your own food or eat at food trucks and markets
If you must eat out, save money by eating at food trucks or markets instead of restaurants. Save money on groceries by shopping at your neighborhood grocery store or farmers market.
What to Bring on a Hawaii Backpacking Trip
It is highly recommended that visitors to Hawaii pack as little as possible to maximize their time on the islands and save money on baggage fees charged by airlines. Here’s what you absolutely need to bring:
- A compact, padded bag for carrying items.
- Bug spray and sunscreen!
- Hiking boots or shoes that are both comfortable and have strong traction
- A waterproof coat for erratic weather
- Sun protection, including a hat and glasses
- A refillable water bottle
- Your favorite pair of flip flops!
Visiting Hawaii as a backpacker will leave you with unforgettable experiences. From its breathtaking hiking paths to its picture-perfect beaches, a trip to Hawaii is bound to be an unforgettable experience.
Contrary to what you might think, a Hawaiian getaway is not reserved just for the rich and famous. There’s plenty of activities for regular (and even budget) travelers! You can have a once-in-a-lifetime vacation without breaking the bank with some careful preparation and resourceful thinking.
It’s time to Do Life Right!
What are you waiting for? We hope these destinations inspire the spirit of adventure in you. Say goodbye to the city and hello to the open road!
Don’t forget to pack appropriately. You won’t need those stuffy business suits or constricting dress shoes. A comfy and stylish pair of flip flops will do.