Hawaii on a Budget?!!!

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LIARS!

I bought this book when I was planning my honeymoon, and I’m pretty sure I bought it because of the “From $80 A Day” subtitle. I soon discovered that Hawaii was not totally affordable, and I wasn’t going to half-ass my honeymoon. I mean, most of the “value” accommodations are poorly reviewed and described as “need a deep/thorough cleaning.” So we went on a Southern Caribbean cruise instead- for half the money. We’ve dreamed of going to Hawaii since then, though. I even booked us a Maui hotel when Xander was a toddler. But then, the airfare suddenly skyrocketed and never went below $1200 per person, so we cancelled and went on a Western cruise for a quarter of the cost.

Is it really possible to visit Hawaii on $80 a day? HECK NO! Well……perhaps we factor in inflation since 2002. Is it really possible to visit Hawaii on $99 a day? Okay I just made that number up. My point is there’s NO WAY unless you seriously rough it. Finding a place to stay and eat for under 100 bucks a day is barely doable, really. Figure in a car, gas, and doing something other than sleeping, eating, and sitting by the pool or beach, well, we’ve way surpassed $99 per person now. That being said, I do think it is possible to see Hawaii on a budget. Even in 2014. But who wants to travel all to Hawaii and skimp on things?

Maybe the 3rd time is the charm? We are going to Hawaii!! First things first, though- finding a reasonable, affordable places to stay.   It’s not an easy task if you want but I think we finally did. Okay, I’ll admit there was a slight splurge…. We are easy going people when it comes to hotels or rentals. Yes, we enjoy the occasional splurge (ahem), but we have been known to camp, try Days Inn motels, or utilize Hotwire. When we book condos or houses, we always look for air conditioning and a prime location. Nick likes it to be cold at night, and I enjoy picturesque water views and close proximity to well-reviewed eateries, markets, and activities. Xander just wants a pool.

So, we looked all over Maui at multiple hotels. I really wanted that killer view but without the 500+ price tag. I finally found that million dollar view/well-reviewed/under $400 room at Napili Kai Beach Resort, but it didn’t have any air conditioning! DANGIT! Even with the trade-winds, I’m pretty sure Nick would have killed me.  I knew at that point it was time to head over to HomeAway.

Rentals are ideal for us on longer vacations because we can cook our own meals, bask in the larger space, and enjoy amenities that often don’t come with standard hotel rooms. The downside, obviously, is the lack of housekeeping, the hassle of dealing with a booking, and the slight risk that the place won’t be as advertised. To avoid that risk, I only rent from well-reviewed, well-photographed rentals. When searching for rentals, I prefer to use Homeaway.com instead of VRBO.com simply because I like the website layout better (though they are pretty interchangeable). It’s always best to research the area prior to searching, as you can be more specific with your search. For example, I knew I wanted to stay in the Kihei area of Maui. If I had not narrowed down my search, I would have been faced with 5,447 rental choices and 25 towns. I also like to filter my results by price and preferences like “air conditioning” and “waterfront.” Homeaway.com owners can pay to have their results show up first, so sometimes you can find a gem by scrolling through all the results.

I have had a wide variety of owner experiences. Some are better than others. I ended up finding one property that boasted $100 per night rates and an amazing view, but the owner was extremely vague in her 1 line email responses back to me. For example, she told me there was no need for a contract because she had the ‘aloha spirit.’ Then I noticed she had an AOL email address. I immediately had an ‘ahh-ha’ moment as a familiar, yet annoying electronic voice from the 1990’s sang ‘You’ve Got Mail’ in my head. RED FLAGS! I restarted my search and ultimately found the perfect spots.

During our extended stay in Hawaii next month, we will be staying at 3 different properties. Each are well-reviewed and well photographed. Two basically sit on top of the water, and of course, they have pristine pools and central air. The third is located in a dense fern forest near the National Volcano Park which will be ideal for driving at night to go see the lava glow. Two are very reasonably priced, and one is more than I would normally pay (not pictured below). My in-laws will be joining us for part of the trip, and after emailing the owner of the Kihei condo, I was referred to another stellar unit that was next door! All the units have multiple beds or bedrooms, full kitchen, outdoor balcony or deck, coolers, beach chairs/toys, free WIFI, and ample space for stretching out. AND they are all very affordable. We figure we can save additional money by buying groceries and eating some meals in. Though I am sure we’ll off set that by eating dinner at Mama’s Fish House. LOL!

Based on the $99 per person a day budget goal set by Frommers, our family of three only has less than $130 per day to spend on food, car, gas, and activities. Yikes. And let’s not even talk about airfare. Sorry, Frommer’s…. that AIN’T gonna happen.

Condo sneak peek. PROOF you can stay in a nice spot on Maui and Hawaii for under $500 per night:

Kihei, Maui ($183 per night including taxes/fees)

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Volcano Village treehouse, Big Island ($169 per night including taxes/fees):

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To Hostel or not to Hostel

Treks Backpackers in Rotorua

Treks Backpackers in Rotorua

I love traveling, but traveling can be expensive. Or does it? Normally I save money by shopping airline or cruiseline deals, traveling in the ‘shoulder’ season, or by cutting back on my food or shopping allowances when on my trip. In addition, I normally stay at 2 0r 3 star hotels unless I get an amazing deal on something better (like the 5 star hotel I stayed at during my trip to Cancun in 2006).  To save money on my most recent trip to New Zealand, I opted to try out the hostel scene.

The rumor on the block is that NZ has amazing hostels… nothing like the scary one depicted in the film ‘Hostel.’  However, I checked reviews on Tripadvisor.com just in case and of course, there were some hostels that I would NEVER recommend to my enemy. But for the most part, the hostels were more than fine. We had our own room and our own bathroom. The rooms were clean.  And safe. And EXTREMELY affordable.  Seven nights of accommodation in New Zealand cost me $167.79 US (tax included). Or approximately $23.97 per night.  Incredible!

Overall the hostel experience was positive. The people I met and saw in the hostels were mostly in their 20s. Though I did see some older people as well. Everyone was very friendly, especially at the hostel in Rotorua. Some people traveled together but it did seem that there were many people traveling solo (and thus were willing to strike up a conversation and share traveling experiences). Most of the people I met were either studying abroad, traveling around the world or traveling during a break from their work visa. I wish I had done one of those things in my 20s. Unfortunately, it isn’t an American thing to do. The pressure to graduate college fast and to get a job and start working is the norm. Taking a year off to travel or to work abroad in the hospitality industry is considered almost-irresponsible to some people. I disagree and wish I had taken advantage of the hostel scene in my younger years. The only complaint I have about my time in the hostel was the heat in Auckland (no AC meant 70 degree temps in the room at night) and the noise on a couple of occasions (thank goodness for my iPod) which made sleeping difficult. I was slightly sleep deprived on this trip.

I’ve written TripAdvisor.com reviews for the 2 hostels in New Zealand where I stayed.  The first place I stayed, YHA Treks Backpackers in Rotorua (read my review), deserves 5 stars in my opinion. The second place, City Lodge in Auckland, wasn’t as comfortable or nice (Read my review). I would definitely stay in a hostel again, especially if my purpose of the trip to to sightsee and experience the city and NOT to lounge in bed all day.