How to travel Hawaii on a budget

9th Jul 2018

O'ahu, Hawaii

Photo of How to travel Hawaii on a budget by Naman Kumar

With its white sand and pristine blue water beaches, active volcanoes, thundering waterfalls, vibrant culture and Mai Tais, Hawaii is a honeymooners paradise. But Paradise comes at a price.

Because of its isolation, Hawaii is not a cheap place to travel. Not only flights are expensive, but food and accommodation will make a hole in your wallet.

I have been planning to visit The Aloha State for a long time but neither I was rich nor I was going there on a honeymoon. I wanted to go solo and on a shoestring budget and after some research, I realized that it is totally possible.

Limited time and the desire to see the active volcanoes made me cover two islands in the span of seven days (not ideal!) : The Big Island and O’ahu.

I will not recommend trying to visit multiple islands if you have less than a week. Not only, it will be costly but you won’t be able to explore the island properly.

The Big Island

Being the biggest island in Hawaii, there are myriad of activities to do from Night scuba diving and snorkeling to viewing lava flowing from one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

For me, the main attraction was the Volcanoes National Park.


Although Hawaii is known for its luxurious, ocean facing hotels, it has lot of cheap options – Hostels, Camping spots and Airbnb.

I like to camp and it is always the cheapest option and Volcano National Park has 2 drive-in campgrounds : Namakanipaio and Kulanaokuaiki charging $15 and $10 per night respectively.

Since the weather predicted rain, I instead decided to go with Airbnb and was lucky enough to find a cheap place for $40 per night close to the Park. I love Airbnb, especially because of the fully-functional kitchen which helps in saving a lot of money.

Like most places, The Big Island too has good and cheap hostels for budget travelers : My Hawaii hostel being one of them. Checkout Tripadvisor for more options.

Barring few poke-bowls and shaved ice, I made a grocery list and mainly cooked at the airbnb which lowered the food budget significantly.


Although The Big Island has a bus service called Hele-On Bus, it is more frequent in the morning and the evening. It is not an efficient mode to get around. But you can definitely rely on it if you plan accordingly and have enough time.

I didn’t. I rented the cheapest car available for around $40 per day from the Kailua-Kona airport.


Having a car made exploring the Volcanoes National Park a lot easier. The entrance fee was $25 and was valid for a week.

From driving on the road with tall green trees on both sides to mountains with solidified lava on one side and the Pacific ocean on the other, Volcanoes National Park is a geographical masterpiece.

Photo of How to travel Hawaii on a budget 1/17 by Naman Kumar
Halema’uma’u Crater – The view from the Jagger Museum. A huge active volcano. Visit it during the night when it glows red as the lava comes out of the ground.
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The entrance of Nahuku – Thurston Lava tube. You can reach here after walking for around 20 minutes through a tree fern forest.
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Nahuku – Thurston Lava tube : Imagine walking through a tube where lava used to flow several hundred years ago.
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Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs : Ancient rock carvings. There is a pull out along the Chain of craters road. A 0.7 mile hike will take you to these petroglyphs.
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Somewhere along the Chain of craters road. It is a 19 mile paved road with numerous viewpoints.
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Almost at the end of the Chain of craters road. The sound of the waves crashing against the solidified lava mountains is captivating.
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Somewhere along the Chain of craters road. Lava fields!
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Kilauea Volcano! To see lava this close, you need to go to Kalapana Viewing area, close to Hilo. From there, it is 3 miles. You can walk or rent a bike. The bike rental places will give you instructions on how to find the lava. A pretty neat experience.

Ziplining above Akaka Falls

Photo of How to travel Hawaii on a budget 9/17 by Naman Kumar
Falling more than 440 feet, Akaka Falls is the tallest waterfall in Hawaii. I went for ziplining above these falls with Skyline Eco Adventures which is rated the #1 zipline tour company in Hawaii in 2017. It totally lived up to it and I had a thrilling experience!


Oahu, known as The Gathering Place has everything from the hustle-bustle of a metropolis to the calm of surf towns.


O’ahu has two-thirds of the Hawaii population and being the most densely populated Hawaiian island, O’ahu has a great bus service, TheBus with a fare of $2.50. There is also a pass available for $35 which is valid for 4 consecutive days.

Also, there are taxi services like Uber and Lyft in case you don’t want to take the bus.

I totally relied on the bus service with the exception of using Uber couple of times. I never felt the need of renting a car.


O’ahu has lot of cheap accommodation options from shared dorms to multiple campgrounds.

I had never done beach camping before and the idea of sleeping close to the beach and waking up to the sound of the waves intrigued me and hence, I decided to stay at Malaekahana Beach campground which has tent and vehicle camping options starting as low as $9.41 per night per person.

The other option is staying at one of the dorms : The Beach Waikiki boutique hostel is one of the good hostels in Oahu. Check out Tripadvisor for more options.

Last but definitely not the least – Airbnb will not disappoint you.

Food and Activities

There are myriad of activities to do here. You can chill on the beach sipping Mai Tais and soak in the sun or go out for a nice hike.

There are tons of water activities like surfing, scuba diving and snorkeling.

You can also immerse yourself in a traditional Hawaiian culture by going to one of the Luaus.

Or if you are a history buff, you would not like to miss USS Arizona Memorial where you get to learn more about the attack on the Pearl Harbor and entry of US into the World War II.

I am not a big foodie but it would have been a shame if I didn’t indulge myself in the local Hawaiian delicacies once in a while. If you are into food, Oahu is where you can calm your taste buds. From loco moco, poi, kalua pig, poke to shaved ice, malasadas and freshly grown hawaiian fruits like pineapple and passion fruit, it is every foodie’s paradise. Check this out for what to eat in Oahu.

Photo of How to travel Hawaii on a budget 10/17 by Naman Kumar

Lanikai Pillbox hike : It is a 1.6 mile out and back trail near Kailua, Hawaii. A great spot for both sunrise and sunset.

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Sunrise at the Koko Head trail : It is a 1.8 mile round trip trail near Honolulu, Hawaii with around 1000 stairs to climb.

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Makapuu lighthouse trail : A 3.3 mile long hike with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

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Makapuu Lighthouse
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Along the Pacific. Tall trees swaying in the cool breeze, aquamarine waters, white sand beaches, small brown huts and the waves crashing against the rocks. Stuff dreams are made of!

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Paradise Cove Luau: A traditional Hawaiian feast accompanied with Hawaiian food and customary music.

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ONO Shack because sometimes, you need to splurge : Tacos, Coconut Shrimp, Garlic Ahi and Papaya Mango salsa.
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Lanikai Beach to wrap things up.

Price Breakdown

What?                                     Where?                                      Price

Flight                        San Jose, CA to Kailua-Kona, HI       $220

Flight                        Kailua-Kona, HI to Honolulu, HI      $80

Flight                        Honolulu, HI to San Jose, CA            $197

Accommodation    Oahu Beach Camping, Oahu       $30 / 3 days

Accommodation    Airbnb, Big Island                          $80 / 2 days

Transportation      Car rental, Big Island                     $80 / 2 days

Transportation      Bus and Uber, Oahu                       ~ $100 / 4 days

Food                         Big Island                                           $40 / 2 days

Food                         Oahu                                                   ~$100 / 4 days

Outdoor Activities Volcano NP, Big Island                  $25

Outdoor Activities Akaka Falls ziplining, Big Island $180

Outdoor Activities Scuba diving, Oahu                        $150

Outdoor Activities Hikes                                                   Free

Paradise Cove Luau O’ahu                                               ~$125