Hawaii truly is a paradise. Floating in the bright blue Pacific, our island state draws in millions of tourists every year for the sunshine, tropical scenery, and relaxing yet exciting attractions. Few destinations have as much international appeal as Hawaii, which is partly why its capital, Honolulu, is so expensive to visit. It may be right up there with San Francisco and New York City, but there are ways to make your student budget work for a trip to sunny Honolulu.
Hotels are going to be your toughest challenge in Honolulu. Lodging prices have, of late, lowered to a more reasonable range but they are more than likely still overpriced for your student budget. There are, however, ways around it. While the average price of discount hotel rooms in Honolulu hover around the $120-140 mark, you can stay in budget accommodations through the local YMCA for as low as $45 a night. The lodgings are set up like a hostel with community bathrooms for the budget rooms but if you splurge a little more, you can have a private room and your own bathroom for only $55. Some floors are women/men only while others allow for double occupancy and are co-ed.
If you don't feel comfortable with this option, or you have too many people in your group for it to be feasible, you can always rent a condo or a house. This works well for extended stays of a week or more as you can split the cost of the rental between all the occupants and then buy groceries and cook for the meals, cutting down on the food budget.
Actually getting to the island of Oahu is going to be a challenge with your budget, too. If you're able to travel in the fall or winter seasons, you'll find cheaper flights as it's the low season - just stay away from holidays, though. Also, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the least popular days to travel so seats tend to be less expensive. We suggest you book your trip at least a month in advance, probably closer to two or three, so that you can find good deals. Last-minute bookings will always be more expensive.
When you're on the island, touring Honolulu, use your feet. Don't ever pay for a taxi. Honolulu is extremely walkable but in case you do need to be transported further than you're comfortable hiking, there is always TheBus which offers one-way fare of $2.50. They do offer four-day passes but, for the price, you'd have to use the bus roughly ten times a day to make it worth your while. TheBus is helpful when you're going out to sites like the Dole Pineapple Plantation and you don't want to spend the money on a rental car (which is also a bad idea, budget-wise). Hilo Hattie's Trolley is a free transportation alternative that will chauffeur your group around to all the most popular shopping attractions and the Waikiki Trolley can get you where you want to go for only $2 - they have different color lines for the type of destination (pink for shopping, green for scenic, etc).
Free Attractions: Surprisingly, there are many free attractions in this expensive city. You don't have to spend a lot of money in Hawaii to have fun. Chances are you're here mainly for the scenery and beaches anyway.
- Beaches: Waikiki and Ala Moana beaches are the most popular and are always free. Hang out here for a day, play beach volleyball, swim in the ocean, build a sandcastle, or just relax and sunbathe.
- Diamond Head: That giant, ancient volcano caldera is perfect for hiking and a super popular attraction for visitors.
- Free hula lessons at the Royal Hawaiian Center
- Fireworks every Friday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village
- International Market Place: It's not free to shop but it's free to explore. It's also a great place to experience the vibrancy of Honolulu.
Cheap Attractions: What you can't get for free, you can still enjoy for a small fee.
- Tiki Taco Tuesdays at Tiki's Grill: This popular restaurant offers $2 fish tacos every Tuesday, which goes over well with basically everyone in Honolulu.
- Snorkeling: If you brought your own snorkel and mask, then it's free. Otherwise, you can pick one up for only around $6 and snorkel to your heart's content.
- Hanauma Bay: This beautiful nature preserve is a hot spot for visitors. It only costs $5 for a day pass and you get to enjoy the colorful fish, friendly marine life, and the stunning scenery.
- Dole Pineapple Plantation: You can take a guided tour of the entire plantation for $6 a person, touring the maze is another $7. Just don't buy merchandise here. You can get the same stuff for way cheaper elsewhere in the city.
Admission Attractions Worth the Price:
- 'Iolani Palace: The last royal residence of the Kamehameha dynasty, 'Iolani Palace is the only palace in the United States. As a national treasure, it costs admission. The various tours cost different admission but you can enjoy a self-guided audio tour for $14.75 for adults, and cheaper for just seeing the basement exhibits.
- Bishop Museum: One of the best natural history museums in the country, and home to the most extensive collection of Polynesian historical artifacts, the Bishop Museum is a must-see in Honolulu. Admission is a base price of $22.95 for adults.
- Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo: These two attractions are in separate locations but they are equally enjoyable. Both have an array of rare and endangered animals, and both are relatively the same price for admission, $12-14.
- Pearl Harbor: Each of Pearl Harbor's sites (USS Arizona Memorial, USS Battleship Missouri, Pacific Aviation Museum, etc.) cost their own admission price for entry. However, there are package tours and discounts available for those wishing to see it all, which is highly recommended. Not only is it a valuable educational stop, but Pearl Harbor is also a national landmark and deserves to be experienced in full.
- Pack really lightly. You don't need to take more than a carry on, which will help you save money on checked bag fees. You're going to Hawaii! Take a swimsuit, some shorts, and some lightweight shirts and tank tops, and you're good to go.
- Check at your hotel's front desk for coupon booklets. Also, constantly check on coupon sites like Groupon or Living Social for deals.