The Local’s Guide To Hawaii Travel

Amy and Daisy hiking.

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A trip to Hawaii requires a lot of planning. Your Hawaii vacation is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it would be great if everything went perfect, right? Whether this is a family trip or a romantic escape, here is everything you need to know about traveling to Hawaii (from a local’s point of view!).

Aloha with love,
Amy

A map of the Hawaiian Islands. How do you choose the best Hawaiian Island to visit?
A map of the Hawaiian Islands. How do you choose the best Hawaiian Island to visit?

Choosing the right Hawaiian Island

Which Hawaiian Islands can you visit?

There are over 100 islands in the Hawaiian Island chain. 8 of those are called the major Hawaiian Islands, and 6 of those are easily visitable by plane. So the first thing you’ll want to decide is which of the 6 islands you plan to visit for your trip to Hawaii. In order of popularity in my opinion:

  • Oahu: The most crowded, but it has everything from an exciting nightlife to secluded beaches.
  • Maui: A popular favorite for repeat visitors to Hawaii. Slower than Oahu, but still has a nightlife.
  • Big Island: A huge variety of outdoor activities to do such as volcanoes, waterfalls, hikes, and farms.
  • Kauai: Slow, country-pace with plenty of hiking and outdoor adventures.
  • Lanai: Small and slow island that markets itself as a playground for the wealthy by the Four Seasons.
  • Molokai: Another slow-paced island with just one “downtown” and one traffic light.

Flying into or out of Hawaii

Most visitors will fly into Hawaii via the Honolulu International Airport on Oahu, even if your final destination is another island. Currently, Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines take up most of the competition of island-to-island flights. But, there are smaller airlines that can help you out if you’re on a budget and don’t mind riding small planes.

Book Now >> Airport transfers and services

Hawaii transportation

Transportation varies from island to island. Oahu has the most options when it comes to getting around. Maui is decent, Big Island and Kauai are a hit-and-miss, while Molokai and Lanai most definitely requires a vehicle. I’ve written several transportation guides for each of the major Hawaiian Islands:

Transportation guides

Oahu transportation: In general, if you want to travel by bus, Oahu is the only island that makes sense to do so. The other islands for the most part do have their own bus systems, but the schedules are spotty and usually aren’t frequent enough to justify Hawaii travel by bus. If you want more rental car options on the other islands, read my Oahu car rentals post as I have some app suggestions that might work for you.

Read More >> Oahu Car Rentals: Budget, Transportation, And How To Save

Maui transportation: Maui has a decent bus system, but the main attractions you’ll most certainly need a car for is when you explore Mt. Haleakala and the Road to Hana. I’ve actually written two transportation guides for Maui. Traveling Maui without a car is a common question I get so check that post out if you’re wondering what it’s like. For additional information on rental cars and rules, the regular transportation guide will answer any questions you may have.

Read More >> How To Get Around Maui Without A Car
Read More >> Getting Around Maui And Transportation Tips

Big Island transportation: The Big Island is best with a rental car, but there are buses, shuttles, and bikesharing opportunities in certain towns. You’ll find that most alternative transportation options can be found in Kailua-Kona or Hilo.

Read More >> How To Get Around The Big Island

Kauai transportation: Kauai is another island that’s best explored with a car. But if you’re on a budget, there are a couple of free shuttles and ridesharing options available to you.

Read More >> Getting Around Kauai And Transportation Tips

Molokai and Lanai transportation: I’ve decided to not write a transportation guide for Molokai and Lanai because you need a car here in order to explore. I spent my summers growing up on Molokai and we used a car to go out to eat, visit “downtown”, shop for groceries, go to the beach, or visit someone’s house. Both islands don’t have public transportation and there are no ridesharing or carsharing services. You might be able to find somebody who’s renting out their vehicle on Craigslist or Turo, but don’t hold your breath. There are car rental services near the airport, so getting a rental shouldn’t be difficult.

Safety in Hawaii

Safety articles are usually ignored when doing research for a trip, but they’re equally important since they highlight dangerous situations and signs you need to be aware of while on vacation. Here are a few safety articles to help you navigate your way in Hawaii while avoiding danger.

Hawaii accommodation

At some point you’ll have to decide on accommodation and it’s better that you get this done as soon as possible so that you can reserve a great place without scrambling last minute.

Hotels and resorts

Every island except for Molokai has at least one large hotel or resort. You’ll recognize the big players such as Hilton, Four Seasons, Marriott, Hyatt, and even Disney. These large hotels are like playgrounds complete with pools, shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and beach access. Yes, they’re more expensive, but you get what you pay for: service, convenience, and more often that not an ocean view.

Read More: A Local’s Guide To Waikiki Hotels And Why You’ll Love It (Or Hate It)

Hostels

Compared to traveling in Japan, China, South Korea and Thailand (which I have a lot of experience in), Hawaii doesn’t have a lot of hostels, but they do exist! So if you plan on saving money by booking a hostel, book early! I mean several months in advance early. Because space runs out quick and once they’re gone you’ll have a hard time finding anything cheaper.

Rentals

Vacation rentals and booking platforms like Airbnb have been growing in popularity and Hawaii is no different. Some common perks that sometimes come with vacation rentals in Hawaii are free snorkel gear and boogie boards stored in the house that you can use for free and bicycles you can ride to explore the neighborhood you’re in.

Where to stay on Maui: The Pioneer Inn. Things to do in Maui. Things to do in Hawaii.
The Pioneer Inn on the Lahaina, Maui waterfront. The Pioneer Inn was built in 1901 and for a long time, it was the only hotel in Lahaina. Editorial credit: Jeff Whyte / Shutterstock.com

Things to do in Hawaii

Hiking the Pipiwai Trail's bamboo forest on Maui's road to Hana.
Hiking the Pipiwai Trail’s bamboo forest on Maui’s road to Hana.

Beaches

Hiking

There is plenty of hiking to do in Hawaii and each island is a little different from the next. The type of hikes really depend on the island itself. Some islands are very wet (Kauai), some areas are really dry (Kona, Big Island), and some are great for waterfalls (Maui). To keep it short (in my opinion):

Tours and attractions

  • Budget travelers: Visit Hawaii Activities for over 600+ tours and activities in Hawaii. I especially like shopping on this website because they’ve always got some tours on sale (sometimes up to 50% off!).
  • Self-guided travelers: If you’d rather explore Hawaii at your own pace and not pay for a tour guide, check out the self-guided Shaka Guide audio tour apps that are downloadable for your iOS or Android device. The storytelling on the app is a lot of fun and I love that it’s a great budget option for a socially-distanced tour.
  • Recommended tours: Visit Aloha With Tours for a carefully curated selection of over 45+ tours and activities that I personally recommend.
  • Free things to do in Hawaii: If you need a list of free tours, shows, and activities to add to your Hawaii travel itinerary, sign up for updates so I can send you my checklist.

Things you shouldn’t miss

There are all kinds of boat tours in Oahu: snorkeling, cruises, sailing, dinner, and even booze cruises.
There are all kinds of boat tours in Oahu: snorkeling, cruises, sailing, dinner, and even booze cruises.

Seasonal events

You might think that Hawaii is warm all year round, but in reality we have all kinds of weather here besides “tropical and sunny.” Some places like Kona on the Big Island are hot and dry like a desert while Kauai is known as the wettest island. We even have a humpback whale watching season which officially runs from November thru May and plenty of cultural celebrations and events that happen once a year.

Climate

Many places around the world have 4 seasons, but Hawaii tends to have a longer summer and winter, and shorter spring and autumn. Keep in mind that this also depends on which island and where you are. To me, summer are those hot, hot days where I try to stay indoors, seek the shade, and wear lots of sunscreen. Winter on the other hand is when I close the windows all day and sleep with another blanket – and this is Central Oahu, which is relatively average in terms of temperature change.

Learn more about the weather will be like during your Hawaii travels:

Seasonal

Winter is a big month for seasonal events in nature. November thru May is officially whale watching season, but my favorite months for whale watching runs from December thru March, with February being the sweet spot in my experience.

Winter is also important for surfers. If you want to catch some surfing competitions, Oahu’s North Shore is where you’ll want to be in December. Maui’s Peahi Beach (aka Jaws) is also famous for its enormous waves and daredevil big wave riders. Don’t worry if you plan on taking surfing lessons during your Hawaii travels – surfing for beginners and other watersports is available all year round and your instructor will know the best place to take you.

Read More: Where The Monster Waves Roam

A crew member on a whale watching cruise snaps a photo of a curious humpback whale in Hawaii.
A crew member on a whale watching cruise snaps a photo of a curious humpback whale in Hawaii.

Eating and drinking on Hawaii

I love to eat when I travel. There’s no better way to explore a different culture than through their food. Here are some food guides that you can check out:

Farmers’ markets

Bakeries and desserts

Hawaii on a budget

Is it possible to travel Hawaii on a budget? I think so. Apart from your ticket and accommodation, it’s entirely possible to fill up your Hawaii travel itinerary with free or affordable activities that won’t empty your wallet. Hawaii has plenty of “cheap eats” especially if you’re a foodie and like trying different foods. Here are a few more things that will help you save some money:

  • Use your credit card points (or start collecting points). My personal favorite are the Chase credit cards as their point systems are very rewarding towards travelers. I recommend joining the FinanceBuzz Elite Travel & Points Facebook Group run by Brandon Neth – I’ve met him a couple of times at the TravelCon conferences and his knowledge about each of the point systems is mindblowing. The group is extremely active and you can get all your questions answered about which credit card and rewards system matches your spending, requirements, needs, etc.
  • Sign up for my free things to do in Hawaii checklist (my newsletter) for a list of fun and free activities. When I searched “free things to do in Hawaii” on the internet, I had to roll my eyes when most of the suggestions were things like “go to the beach,” or “go on a hike”. So I decided to build my own list of free tours and no-admission activities for you.

Read More: Oahu Budget – 7 Days At $50 A Day

Want to go on a free tour in Hawaii?

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