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25 Top Hawai’i Travel Tips (According to Locals)

hawaii travel tips from locals
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Aloha! Asher and I love Hawai’i and we call Maui our home. Unlike the continental 48 states (or, as Hawaiians call it, the “Mainland”), Hawai’i can be tricky for first-time travelers. Not only is the state spread out over many islands, but Hawai’i can also be quite expensive. The sticker shock and transportation costs may deter some travelers, but there are many ways to have an amazing trip.

Here are our top tips for visitors from a few friendly locals!

Our family at home in Hawaii
Our family at home in Hawaii

Getting Around Hawai'i

Hawai’i is comprised of eight main islands: The Big Island (“Hawai’i”), O’ahu, Maui, Kaua’i, Lānaʻi, Moloka’i, Ni’ihau, and Kaho’olawe. Most tourists only visit one or two per holiday, as each island has plenty to do for the average tourist. For complicated reasons, two Hawaiian islands are prohibited for tourists: Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe.

  1. Rent a car — Hawai’i may be a small state, but it’s still recommended to rent a car to see the sites, as ride-sharing and taxis can be very scarce or non-existent and/or extremely expensive over the course of an entire vacation. (More on how to hack this cost below)
  2. Don’t plan to drive between islands — Okay, this might seem obvious to most, but we do get this question occasionally so we felt it was important to include. There are currently no dedicated bridges between the islands, so driving between them will be… well, impossible unless you somehow get an amphibious vehicle. 😉
  3. Hop on a plane — If you want to travel between islands, you must take a plane or a boat. Thankfully, flights between the islands are frequent, relatively quick and quite cheap. Getting between the islands is rarely a hassle for locals or visitors. Hawaiian Airlines is our #1 choice for dashing between the different gorgeous Hawaiian islands.

Saving Money While Visiting Hawaii

Hawai’i can feel expensive because in general, IT IS! Everything that you see on the shelves had to either come in on a boat or a plane. The food here, even in the grocery stores, can be almost double the price of most mainland retailers. Yikes. But have no fear! Some great hacks can make your trip stay within your means, and you will still have an amazing time.

  1. Getting Around Hawai'i Bring everything you need — While Hawai’i does have major stores and retailers, including Walmart and Target, expect inflated prices due to remote shipping. We suggest you bring all the essentials you’ll need for your trip so you don’t have to pay inflated prices. One hack is to ship things via Amazon or another online retailer in advance and have them waiting for you at your destination. Many hotels will hold packages for their guests. This is a bit riskier if you’re staying at a condo or BNB.
  2. Load up at Costco — Costco has been a lifesaver for our family and is a favorite amongst tourists. Prices are always affordable and if you have access to a kitchen or kitchenette, you’ll be able to make breakfast and snacks at a minimum which will save on costs.
  3. Get Deals Off Get Your Guide — Find amazing discount opportunities for activities on websites like Get Your Guide. Book in advance or last minute. Skip the lines and pay less. Who could ask for more?
  4. Saving Money While Visiting Hawai'iGo for Food Trucks Over Restaurants — Restaurants are not cheap in Hawai’i and they are often slow with long lines. Save time and moola by googling food trucks in your area. There are some killer trucks on the islands serving up traditional burgers to farm-to-table vegan eats.
  5. Picnic — Have picnics at the beach or in any of Hawai’i’s amazing parks to save on restaurants. Plus, the vibes are way better on the beach. Splurging occasionally is great, but making a sandwich and taking your meal to the sand and sun will save you money.
  6. Check out “Budget” Rental Car Companies — Besides being impractical if you are planning any hikes, waterfalls, or remote excursions, Uber, Lyft, and taxis can get quite expensive! Plus, if you aren’t staying in a busy touristy part of the island, Ubers are shockingly non-existent. I tried to get an Uber from busy Paia Town on Maui a couple of times and it was impossible. I also wouldn’t suggest taking a bus as Hawaiian public transport is painfully slow. The best mode of transport in Hawai’i is a rental car, and one good way to save money is to check out budget rental car companies. They give you beater cars but who cares! You are going to be getting them full of sand and you’ll look more like a local. 😉 If you are on Maui check out Kimos Rent A Car.
  7. Plan in Advance — Because of the high price of accommodations, particularly on the less populated islands, definitely plan your trip well in advance. Waiting until the last minute to book anything in Hawai’i can mean paying an outrageous premium.
  8. Travel in the off-season — Off-season means when kids are in school. School breaks, holidays, and summer are the busiest times in the Hawaiian Islands. If you can take off work or pull your kiddos out of school in May, October, or February — the beaches are the least crowded and accommodations are lower. And remember, Hawaiian beaches are fantastic year-round!

Food & Drink In Hawai'i

  1. Food & Drink In Hawaii Try Local Eats — Some classic Hawaiian favorites absolutely can’t be missed: spam musubi, Dole whip, poi, malasadas, and so much more!
  2. Chow on Plate Lunches — Make sure to try the famous Hawaiian “plate lunch.” It’s truly a Hawaiian experience that everyone must try. I suggest finding a truly local restaurant or food truck for this and not settling for the watered-down version in more touristy areas. And be sure to try Pioneer Saloon on Oahu!
  3. Skip the Chain Restaurants — The major cities will have your classic Outback Steakhouse and Mcdonald’s, but it would be a shame to miss out on all the stellar restaurants and foodie treats!
  4. Try Eating Vegan Try Eating Vegan — While many Hawaiian dishes feature fish and meat, there are plenty of vegetarian options to be found on Hawai’i’s islands. In fact, in 2022, Hawai’i was chosen as the #1 vegan destination in the US. Even if you aren’t vegan (raise hands!) there are some killer food trucks and dine-in restaurants on the islands that serve farm-to-table vegan goodness worth a try.
  5. Bring a Brita Waterbottle — Bring a water bottle with a built-in filter wherever you go and you will never have to buy overpriced water again.
  6. Dine in LuxuryDine in Luxury — You don’t have to stay at many of Hawai’i’s luxury hotels to dine and enjoy the grounds and the beach. This is one of our favorite things to do as locals!
  7. Visit the Farmers Market — Make sure to go to the local markets. Local markets have tons of fresh produce and local delicacies to enjoy at a reasonable price. Our family goes every Saturday to the Maui Market. We love the food they serve and get our week’s worth of groceries.

Accommodations In Hawai'i

  1. Hostel It — Hostels are a popular budget-friendly option for many Hawaiian visitors, especially on the smaller islands where hotels are less frequent and far more expensive.
  2. There are Bugs — Mentally prepare for bugs! Bugs, including mosquitos, ants, geckos, and large cockroaches, are part of island living, and your accommodation reviews may not even mention them because they’re everywhere. Don’t fret, embrace it.
  3. Be Creative — Check out Facebook Marketplace or Craiglist if you’re looking for longer-term rentals. You can save some money and avoid the high fees of other rental services by renting from owners directly. For budget accommodations, check out Couchsurfing or TrustedHousesitters.
  4. Camp! — Try an offbeat accommodation! There are many unique and interesting opportunities to stay at one of Hawai’i’s many camping spots. Not only would this be a memorable experience, but Hawai’i’s warm and temperate climate can also mean good camping weather for much of the year. Plus, you’ll likely save a ton of money!

Tips on Activities and Things To Do

  1. Protect Yourself from the Sun and Heat Protect Yourself from the Sun and Heat — Hawai’i is the land of outdoor activities. Be sure to hike, swim, waterfall jump, and lounge as much as your heart desires. Why come to a natural paradise and spend all your time indoors? However, keep in mind that the Hawaiian sun is a powerful force. Wearing sunscreen is more than just a recommendation here. It’s a lifestyle. Bring or buy reef-safe sunscreen, especially if you plan on snorkeling, swimming, or enjoying Hawai’i’s beaches. Rash guards, sarongs, and swim suit cover-ups are also an amazing and functional addition to any swimwear wardrobe.
  2. Know Where You are Going — Check the difficulty of your hikes before you embark. There are plenty of easy walks for all ages and skill levels, but some of the peaks in Hawai’i are for experienced hikers only. It’s better to be safe and check before you go. Plan for the weather, bringing plenty of water and sunscreen.
  3. Aloha, and welcome to Hawai'i!Buy Travel Insurance — You are paying so much for this trip, don’t skimp on travel insurance. It will protect you (and your belongings) from theft and delays; it will also cover hospital bills with minimal deductibles compared to your normal insurance coverage. We recommend Faye Travel Insurance because you can tailor it to your and your family’s needs.


We love Hawai’i! It’s one of the most beautiful and exotic places in the world. It’s the place we chose to make our home and raise our children for a reason — there are so many fantastic and adventurous things to do, activities to enjoy, and some of the most amazing food you’ve ever tasted.

Aloha, and welcome to Hawai’i!

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