Hawaii – land of the ukulele, birthplace of surfing and known generally for being a sunny paradise. But is this really accurate? Well, it is and it isn’t.
The scenery is stunning and the weather near perfect, but the islands are certainly not paradise for your wallet. Getting that idyllic moment of sitting on the beach, sipping from a cocktail in a pineapple or coconut can alone set you back $22. The question is then, is it feasible to go backpacking in Hawaii?
First and foremost, flights to even get to Hawaii are expensive, given that there are no direct flights from the UK. Therefore a layover is required, usually somewhere in California. But suppose you managed to get a great deal on flights, what then?
The US doesn’t usually boast the best selection of hostels; in fact a lot of places only have a sporadic selection of motels. That being said, some parts of Hawaii are an exception to this rule and have a few hostels dotted about. Although expensive in comparison to somewhere like Thailand or Vietnam, this is definitely the cheaper option, with dorm rooms starting from around £20-£25 per night. Alternatively, an Air-BnB may work out reasonably well, if you’re travelling in a large group.
There is certainly no shortage of things to do on the islands, particularly in Oahu, but once again these activities come at a price. Even some of the museums and landmarks are expensive. Pearl Harbour for example, can end up costing $65+ per person. However, if you’re willing to do some research then there are still options out there.
If you’re in a larger group then heading over to one of the other islands and renting a car between you may be a good option. Take Kauai for example. The beaches are just as stunning and the restaurants are generally far cheaper than in Oahu. What’s more is that Kauai feels slightly more on the authentic side, with a more relaxed ‘country’ vibe away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. An afternoon can be spent just exploring the handful of quaint ‘old towns’, which feature independent book stores, cinemas, cafes, bars and so on.
Oahu on the other hand, is more Americanised and is heavily geared towards tourists, with larger urban city areas like Waikiki. The larger cities do have their advantages though. Oahu has plenty of reasonably priced public transport to get you around the island where as getting around in Kauai would be difficult without hiring a car.
The relaxed atmosphere and diverse landscapes makes this a very memorable place to visit.
Regardless of which island you choose to spend your time, there are things you can do to keep the costs down. Eating at smaller independent places during happy hour, or cooking for yourselves will help keep meals within budget. Talking to locals can also be a really good way of finding hidden gems you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. After speaking to the owner of a store for a while, she recommended a restaurant which offered great food, at half the price we had been paying at some other places.
In terms of activities, on pretty much every island there is an abundance of hiking trails through picturesque forests and canyons, some of which lead even to beautiful hidden waterfalls. The scenery would be worth paying top dollar for but the vast majority of trails are completely free.
State parks also offer some of the best scenery the island can offer, huge canyons and mountainous peaks can give you a real birds eye view of parts of the island you’re on. There may be a small price to pay at a few of these spots but it is still far cheaper than private companies.
Also make sure to make the most of the countless beaches, which vary from larger local hot spots with surfing, snorkelling and BBQ’s to more smaller and secluded spots, dotted around the coastline. Hunt around to see if you can find a good deal on a surf lesson or rental. The waves here are indeed as good as they are made out to be and depending on the area, can be suitable for beginners all the way up to the pros, this means that there are a lot of surf schools to choose from, so keep an eye out for the best price.
The best way to backpack Hawaii on the cheap is to go a little bit more off the beaten path and to do your research beyond the main tourist attractions. The relaxed atmosphere and diverse landscapes makes this a very memorable place to visit.
So, is it possible to backpack through Hawaii? The answer is yes, however, it is going to cost you far more than the more common backpacking hot-spots. You’ll be able to do a lot more and stay for a lot longer if you choose somewhere else. That being said, if you are desperate to visit this part of the world, then it can be done, at a price.
Image credit: Kate Marron Photography.