One of the best vacations I have ever taken was when I went to Kauai, Hawaii. Due to circumstances in my life at the time, I had to take the trip solo and on somewhat of a budget. I believe it may have been my first solo vacation I have ever taken.
The total cost from the mainland to Kauai including airfare, lodging, rental car, food/drink, excursions, etc. was around $2,000. For Hawaii, this is pretty cheap.
If you would like to know all of my tips and tricks on how you can travel to Kauai on a budget, keep reading and I’ll cover as much as I can. If you need specific advice for your upcoming trip, please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help.
Getting to Kauai
The biggest expense for your trip to Kauai will likely be the airfare. But, this all depends on where you are departing from. From the USA, you will be very pleased at the airfares from California. When I went the best city to depart from was San Diego. Many other cities along the west coast had low fares as well – including flights from Alaska. The further east in the US you live, the more you will likely pay. But, if you live near NYC, Boston or other major cities you may still be able to find a good fare – but prepared to do a lot of searching.
How to Find the Best Airfares to Kauai – I had the best luck using Google Flights – https://www.google.com/flights. I was able to get a round trip ticket from the Midwest for less than $800. If you do a search on Google Flights, you can click on the “Price Graph” after doing your initial search to show a graph of prices in the future. You may be able to save hundreds on you flight by adjusting your departure/arrival dates.
Eventually I had the best luck finding the lowest fare by using the map view on Google Flights. I began my search in reverse by selecting Honolulu as my departure city and seeing what cities showed up with the cheapest fares. This doesn’t always work, but is worth a try – sometimes you can find a really cheap departure city like the one below that shows Portland, Oregon at $255 round trip.
Once you find a good price like this then you can see if there are any flights from your town to that city. If you end up getting separate tickets from different airlines, make sure you allow plenty of time when you arrive in Honolulu to get your luggage and check in again. Or, consider the idea of traveling light and only bringing a carry on.
Lihue Airport, Kauai, Hawaii (Airport code LIH) Also, the name of the airport in Kauai is Lihue Airport (LIH). Helpful to know when searching for fares. Their web site is at http://airports.hawaii.gov/lih/
Honolulu and Lihue Airport Terminal Maps – You should print off terminal maps of both Honolulu and Lihue airports or bookmark the pages on your smartphone. Here they are for your convenience:
Honolulu International Airport Terminal Map: http://airports.hawaii.gov/hnl/terminal-maps/
Lihue Airport Terminal Map – http://terminalmaps.hawaii.gov:8080/hmaps/lih
Getting to Kauai by Boat – Can you take a cruise to Kauai? Are there boats that go to Kauai from Honolulu? There are cruises that go to Hawaii, but the odds are you will not be on a budget trip at that point.
Are there ferries or other boats that go from Honolulu to Kauai? This seemed like an obvious question when I first started researching my trip, but after I arrived in Kauai and spent some time there I understand why they did not exist. Hawaiians take great pride in their environment, sea life and maintaining a healthy balance in Kauai. A ferry between all of the islands would likely upset everything and you’d end up with too much traffic, damage to the environment, humpback whales, spread of invasive species and an over commercialized vibe.
They tried with the Hawaii Superferry, but it ended up going bankrupt. As of this writing, there is one ferry that goes between Maui and Lanai at http://go-lanai.com.
Budget Lodging in Kauai
Your best bang for your buck to stay in Kauai on a budget is to use Airbnb.com.
There are many lodging options but from my research, Airbnb was the best. There are condos, motels, hotels and more but with some properties it may be difficult to trust the accuracy of reviews you read online. With Airbnb it may be harder to find properties that have a swimming pool, but that’s really not too big of a deal if you plan on spending most of your time on the beach. Why travel thousands of miles to spend your time in a cement swimming pool?
The nice thing about Airbnb is you can find really low budget options – such as tiny homes, camping on the beach or even staying in a room of a house. If you don’t have luck with Airbnb I would suggest starting with Google Maps and just be sure to read all of the reviews carefully.
I did not camp during my trip, but would love to do so sometime. For information on camping in Kauai, see https://www.kauai.gov/Camping . Also keep an eye out for “glamping” on Airbnb – which is an upgraded version of regular camping.
Internet Access/Wifi – If you will need Internet access while on vacation, make sure to read the description of any place you are considering staying at. Try contacting them to double check to make sure Internet is available. Worst case scenario, there are several coffee shops as well as Starbucks on the island if you need to get some work done or catch up on email.
If you are still not sure where to stay, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to offer a recommendation.
Make sure you have a full kitchen – You can save quite a bit of money if you book a house, condo, etc. that includes a full kitchen. Once you arrive take a trip to the grocery store or Wal-Mart in Lihue and you’ll save money instead of eating out all the time. Personally, I enjoyed the island so much the first day the only thing I had to eat was a bowl of pineapple and some chicken from a food truck.
One last thing on lodging – make sure your lodging dates are available and match up with your airfare dates. With Airbnb it is probably best to make sure lodging is available. I’ll have to think about it, but pretty sure I made my airline reservations first, then booked lodging. Just make sure there are a few options in case one lodging option gets filled up.
Driving in Kauai on a Budget
It is recommended that you rent a car while in Kauai as taxis are pretty much non existent or rare. It appears that Uber and Lyft have services in Kauai, but expect to pay more than you would if you simply rented a car. The only exception I would make is if you want to go out to Hanalei or similar town for a few drinks and not have to worry about driving back. Good idea to check average fares in advance though.
Check with your current car insurance company as you may be able to avoid buying rental insurance which usually ends up costing just as much as the rental car.
Car Rental Agencies in Kauai – The most convenient place to rent a car is right at the airport. More than likely you will have taken a very long flight and will be worn out by the time you get to Kauai. The last thing you want to do is have an over complicated plan getting your car. Rent from one of the many companies at the airport such as Avis, Budget, Dollar, Herts, Thrifty, Alamo, Advantage and more.
You can also rent cars from local companies and on a site called Turo.com.
Consider choosing a more “local” looking vehicle if you can such as a Jeep or truck. My rental car stuck out like sore thumb – white four door sedan. A local looking vehicle will likely have a lower chance of getting broken into.
Driving Safety in Kauai – Kauai is considered to be a little more dangerous to drive around in, but, you may be use to crazy driving depending on where you are from. What I noticed when driving there is most of the roads are two lanes and you will likely have a local tailgating you if you are driving too slow. If this makes you nervous, simply find the next available spot to pull over, then let a few cars by so you can relax and have a little more breathing room.
IMPORTANT: One Lane Bridges – How to Cross and Proper Etiquette – Probably the most difficult thing about driving in Kauai is there are at least a couple one lane bridges that may be very confusing to cross. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. I have read accounts that some locals have become so angry because someone didn’t cross correctly that it resulted in a fist fight.
Here’s a link to Google Street View of the hardest to cross one lane bridge on Hwy 560 over the Wainiha River. The tough part about this one is if you are heading west you have to look carefully to see if cars are coming on the far side of the bridge.
The proper way to cross is to go in groups of around 5-7 cars. If you are on one side of the bridge you stop at the white line and look on the other end of the bridge to see if a group of around one to five cars are crossing. Once that group has crossed you can now proceed. Hopefully you won’t be at the front of the line, but if so consider it an initiation test for you. One thing you don’t want to do is try to speed up to a group that is already crossing. If there is a gap between the crossing group and you, it is best to stop at the white line and let the next group on the other side of the bridge have their turn.
Confused yet? Just watch this video and it will give you a better idea 🙂
One more tip on driving – Google Street View is a great way to get familiar with where everything is on Kauai before you arrive. This way you can maximize your time enjoying the sights and activities instead of getting lost. Just search for Kauai, Hawaii on Google Maps and drag the little yellow person icon to the map. If there are street views available, the streets will turn blue. Also helpful is Google Earth – a great way to research everything and will save you a ton of time when you get there.
Cheap Food in Kauai
The best way to save money on your food bill in Kauai is to buy groceries. I recommend stocking up early. The same or next day after you arrive. If you have always wanted to go on a diet and lose some weight, this is a great opportunity. Buy pineapple at one of the many fruit stands in place of one of your regular meals.
Food trucks are another good way to save some money. The Kauai Food Trucks Directory can help you find something affordable to eat in just about every town including Kapaa, Kealia, Kilauea, Hanalei, Lihue, Koloa, Lawai and more.
One of my personal favorites is Chicken In a Barrel. Currently there are three locations on the island.
Also, you must stop at Banana Joe’s Fruit Stand in Kilauea and have a banana frosty. They are absolutely amazing! Tastes like ice cream but is mostly frozen banana. You have to try it to believe it.
There are so many things to do in Kauai, there’s a good chance that eating will turn into a low priority, so do not worry. You could eat pineapple every day and be satisfied.
Cell Phone Service
Be sure to call your cell phone company and ask about coverage in Kauai. When I visited, I used Verizon and had no problems. A little research shows that AT&T has good service. Sprint and T-Mobile also have towers. You may have spotty service in more remote areas such as Waimea Canyon.
Despite the extreme beauty in Hawaii, it can be dangerous so you should always believe any advice you read or hear. If you go to Queen’s Bath in Kauai you will see warning signs showing how many drownings there have been. Believe it. Research every beach you go to. Some you will not want to swim in unless you are an experienced swimmer.
If you are going solo, you should email, call, text 2 or more friends/relatives any time you are going somewhere such as hiking or to a beach. In general it is not recommended to go hiking, swimming, snorkeling, etc. alone. You can always check a site like Meetup.com to see if there are other people you can hike with (check out the Kauai Adventure Club). I actually hiked solo and went to beaches solo and did other things solo.. but I always let at least 2 people know exactly where I was going, when I departed and when I came back.
Try not to leave valuables in your car, or minimize the times you do. Car break ins are unfortunately frequent in Hawaii and not something you will be thrilled about if it happens to you. At least try to hide your belongings – put everything in the trunk. Overall, if you are leaving your car parked at a trail head for instance you should assume the worst that it will get broken into and anything you have in the car stolen. It’s not really that bad – but this is just the mindset you should have. Best to keep as much as you can at your rental house.
Off Season is the Cheapest Time to Travel
Staying on the subject of saving money, the best time to travel to Hawaii is when everyone else isn’t – which will likely be in the Spring and Summer months. Only exception is July and August when local activity may be higher due to school being out. Overall you should find better airfares and lodging if you can arrange to travel in the off season.
Other Tips to Consider
The main goal of this article is to focus on saving money and doing a budget trip to Kauai, so I won’t go into too much detail on what excursions to take, landmarks to see, best beaches, etc. Perhaps I’ll save that for another post.
For some people travelling to Hawaii is a big deal – and could be a trip they won’t be able to do again for many years. If this is the case you may find yourself stressing out making an itinerary with every hour of every day planned out. I can assure you that this is not necessary. The main reason is because there is not much that will disappoint you in Kauai because it is stunningly beautiful. Jaw dropping scenery, beaches and scenic views await you around every corner. Just when you think you’ve seen it all – another treasure will await you.
That said, I’d like to wrap this article up – but will leave you with a few more suggestions…
Travel Insurance – you may want to consider buying supplemental travel insurance in case of injury. If you plan to hike, this can give you peace of mind in case the need of a medivac occurs. Who is the best and who is the worst company to go with? Well, this will change from time to time, so I suggest starting with this article at Forbes: The Best And Worst Travel Insurance Companies.
Hurricanes – When I went to Kauai in August, I lucked out as two hurricanes went by Hawaii and both missed. Had there been a hit, this would have likely completely altered my travel plans. So, keep this in mind when planning your trip. June through November is hurricane season there, so keep that in mind. Take a look at this article on Wikipedia which provides a list of hurricanes in Hawaii. A quick review shows that August seems to be the most likely month to encounter a hurricane. On a related note, the rainy season in Hawaii is in the winter from November to March.
Best Kauai Guidebook – I highly recommend you buy a copy of The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed by Andrew Doughty. It was very helpful – especially the companion app for Android and iPhone. I will say it was an absolute must. Make sure you download it before you leave for your trip as you can read up on your long flight, etc. Can’t say enough good things about both the book and the app. Get it.
Excursions – Many of the excursions are great and depending on how long you are staying, I recommend trying a few. Just remember though, that one excursion can potentially eat up an entire day. Even if an excursion says it lasts 2 or 4 hours, you will need to take into account driving time, getting ready, etc. So, just keep that in mind.
Camera Recommendations – Instead of lugging around a giant DSLR, you will be happier to bring a GoPro. Or, if you do bring your DSLR, make sure you have a wide angle lens so you don’t miss out on some of the amazing landscape photo opportunities. Nice thing about the GoPro is you can take photos while hiking or if you are swimming with the sea turtles. Many people use them in Kauai, and you will probably wish you had one too. Of course, when I went it was 2014, so smartphones have changed since then – so you may be satisfied with only your phone. If you have the budget for it, get a drone and you will have stunning shots and videos that will blow all of your land based shots out of the water. I recommend a DJI Spark. Be sure to look up local flying regulations as you can’t fly everywhere.
Get in Shape Before Your Trip – If you plan to do some hiking or other physical activities, it’s a good idea to try to get in shape before you leave. You don’t have to get really crazy, but it won’t hurt to try walking 1 to 2 miles a day so you’re not out of breath while on vacation.
Snorkeling – You can snorkel in Kauai, but just remember it will never be as amazing as some other places on Earth such as Cozumel. The reason is Kauai is an island with a lot of mud. So if it has rained recently, that water has gone into the ocean, so you should expect at least a little bit of cloudy water. It’s not bad – but it’s just not like some of the really clear snorkeling spots in other parts of the world. I had the best luck on Tunnels Beach – water fairly safe, sea turtles and other fish.
Helicopter Tours – If you have the budget for it, make sure you take a helicopter tour. It is best to do this on the first or second day of your trip. This helps you get a good overview of the entire island. You’ll be blown away. I took Jack Harter Helicopters and recommend them. Their web site is at https://www.helicopters-kauai.com.
Beaches – Be sure to check out Secret Beach…
Chickens – Chickens are everywhere on the island… you will love em’.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and the advice in it well help you save money on your trip to Kauai. If you can get a good deal on your airfare, buy groceries, diet a little and eat street food you will probably pay half what you would for a typical vacation at a touristy resort.
And remember, don’t worry too much about trying to see and do everything in Kauai on your trip as it’s pretty hard to do unless you stayed for a month. You could go with no itinerary at all and be totally satisfied. 🙂
If you have any specific questions or need help or advice, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll update this post with the latest information.