Planning a trip or vacation to Hawaii can sometimes feel overwhelming.
There are so many questions you may have; Where should you go? How do you start? Which island should you visit? What shouldn’t you miss? When is the best time to travel? How can I travel ethically to support local people? and How can I make sure I am taking care of the islands that I visit?
Think about it this way, you’ve already started in the right direction by reading this! Planning a trip, although difficult, can be fun, exciting and easy.
It takes some planning and research (That's why we've created this ultimate ethical Hawaii travel guide) but can be incredibly fulfilling to find what calls to you, how you can help Hawaii become sustainable, and see what is best for yourself or family. So even if this is a once in a lifetime trip or one of many trips to Hawaii, following these easy steps will help you to create the a trip to Hawaii that is perfect for you!
Before you travel
Find out what to pack, what the current Covid Restrictions and guidelines are, which important documents you need to bring and what to expect at airport security.
See our guide here on How To Prepare For Your Trip To Hawaii
1. Choosing the dates for your vacation to Hawaii
Hawaii not only has a few seasons of weather, but also has a busy season and a slow season. Most people like to visit Hawaii when their own weather at home is not so fun (think snowstorms, hail, freezing temps). Typically, December to April are Hawaii’s busiest times.
ETT: Traveling during down times may help the local supply of food, water, and resources to catch up in anticipation of the very busy season.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan your vacation in the winter months, just do so with research. Hawaii is usually crowded all the time, regardless of the busy or slow seasons. These dates just might make it a little more difficult to book rentals, flights, cars, and activities (or you may need to book in much more advanced notice) And, unfortunately, some companies may raise prices during these times because they’re known to be so busy. HTT: There also may be more local resident hostility during very busy seasons, when tourism fills local beaches, hospitals, roads, and can dwindle natural supplies like water and food for local residents. Take all this into mind when planning your dates.
Picking a date for your Hawaii vacation is a personal thing for you and for your needs. You may need to plan around work, meetings, college, or around children’s school and activities so make sure you take all things into account before choosing your dates.
Choosing your ideal Hawaii vacation dates usually come down to these questions:
What is most convenient for me?
What works with my schedule?
Do the prices look reasonable for me right now?
Am I able to travel right now and still be able to be respectful of others and of the ‘aina (land)?
Here are some basic things to know when choosing your dates :
Overall June is the driest month in Hawaii, while December is the wettest month.
November to May is when the whales migrate, with Mid December-March considered full swing whale-watching season (so many amazing tours and activities to see the whales)
The best time to visit Hawaii for the best rates are April, May, September, and October
2. How long should I plan my Hawaii Vacation? How many days?
My husband has family who visits us often. We also have friends who visit often and some who have visited only once. I also run other tourism based businesses. After many years of helping plan trips and vacations, we’ve came to the conclusion that 5-7 days is, generally, the perfect amount of time.
It gives you enough time to explore beautiful spots, chill at the beach, find yummy local restaurants, and do other fun activities like horseback riding in valleys, waterfall tours, snorkeling with the dolphins, going to a native ran luau and more.
Of course, depending on your needs, this may be too long or too short. There are many successful and fun vacations that are 3 days long and 22 days long.
*a note, if you a choosing to island hop, we do suggest at least 4 days on each island to enjoy what each island holds and pay it respect without rushing too much.
3. Which island should I visit? How many?
There are 8 islands in The Hawaii chain (only 6 islands are available for tourism). However when planning a Hawaii vacation, 4 of the 8 islands are the most popular and are most able to support tourism: Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and Big Island. The other 2 islands, Lanai and Molokai , are beautiful islands full of history and culture but with a limited population, extremely limited resources and little no no activities for tourism, a short day trip or two may be sufficient.
If it is your very first time visiting Hawaii, I suggest starting with the Big Island or Oahu, as they contain most of Hawaii’s iconic attractions, can be packed full of activities or be full of relaxation, and currently are still accepting tourism without requests by the mayors to halt.
*ETT An important note updated as of May 2022: Maui is beautiful but is in a huge water crisis due to lack of water for local residents. The mayor of Maui has been requesting that tourism slow down to the local population can recuperate.
Learn more about Maui’s Water Crisis
Check out: Top 5 things to do on each island
Here is a quick list of ideas and activities that you can do on each island:
Kauai: Take a trip to the “Eigth Wonder Of The World” during the Na Pali Coast Snorkel Tour, kayak along the Hanalei Bay, featured in the movie The Descendants with George Clooney, and explore Waimea Canyon, affectionately nicknames the Grand Canyon Of The Pacific.
Oahu: Visit the iconic Pearl Harbor National Memorial and learn important parts of Hawaiian and US history, have an adventure in Jurassic Park aka Kualoa Ranch, a background for over 70 films and a huge tourism destination, and learn and immerse yourself in rich history and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Maui: Visit the history rich city of Lahaina where historical sites and shops are all around, see lush tropical rainforests nestled in volcanic soil at the Kula Botanical Gardens, and snorkel around a marine life conservation district at Molokini Crater with over 250 species of marine life.
Big Island: Visit Hawaii Volcano National Park and watch at night while the lava glow lights up the night, walk through a sparkling green beach full of crystals, jump off the most southern tip of the United States, and see the snow on the caps of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
4. How much does it cost? How much should I spend on my Hawaii Vacation?
This truly does depend on each person’s individual budget and preference. BUT i’ll break down a bit on how to find out your possible budget needed:
1: Write down your main categories of one time purchase NEEDS. Flight, rental car, hotel or vacation rental, and MUST DO activities
2: Then Calculate the cost of each daily needs per person per day. EX: Food, daily local shopping, donating to island charities, unplanned or individual activities.
3: Multiply that number by how many people and how many days. Add that number to your one time needs budget. That should help create a rough estimate of your budget
Here are my best estimates using the steps above for planning a budget for your Hawaii Trip:
Usually flights from the mainland (continental U.S) range anywhere from $500-$1200 round trip per person/ticket. (Prices change based on the time of year)
The easiest way to know the average price of your flight to Hawaii is to do a search on Kayak, inserting your dates and then checking the box that says “flexible dates.” Kayak will highlight the cheapest rates for you.
If you are traveling interisland or prefer to travel with a local operation, try to use our only locally owned airlines, Mokulele Airlines. It is a small charter plane known for their affordable island hoping. They are family operated and based in Kailua Kona, HI, although they service all the islands and some areas in the mainland.
Hotels in Hawaii are expensive, with the starting price usually at around $150 a night for a small hotel or $400-600 a night for a nicer hotel. (or much more for something like a high end luxury resort) If you choose to stay at a hotel or motel, please stay at a locally owned and operated hotel. See our guide here of Locally Owned and Operated Hotels In Hawaii for each island
You can also think out of the box and do hotel adjacent, like Bed and Breakfasts, hostels, and similar small local accommodations!
Secondly, vacation rental homes can also be the most beautiful and luxurious place to stay. Make sure you use reputable sources when finding these homes and utilize the reviews! check out VRBO or AIRBNB. ETT: We suggest booking with locally owned resorts and hotels if you choose that route. If you prefer a vacation home, look for hosts who own the home and LIVE on island and preferably, live ON SITE or on a separate dwelling on the property. This means that the owner of that property is not displacing locals just to rent an "empty home" to travelers.
Rental homes owned by non-locals assist in creating incredibly inflated prices for homes and displace local people.
Learn more about the Hawaii Housing Crisis and how vacation rental homes owned by out-of-island people and corporations are fueling the problem.
**Keep in mind that bugs (cockroaches, mosquitoes, centipedes, etc) are a non-negotiable reality in Hawaii. It doesn’t matter how luxurious your hotel or room is, bugs can and usually do, find their way in. Just be prepared!
Rental Car/ Transport
The best place I have seen to rent a car commercially is through Discount Car Hawaii. They are a locally owned affiliate company that shows you all the big rental car companies and shows all the comparative prices so you can pick and choose the most affordable car during your trip. (it’s similar to Kayak when looking for flights).
Prices on rental cars vary depending on the season and month, so if you find prices that are not possible for you, keep browsing through the months until you find a price that works for you.
Another great option is to use Turo. This is like airbnb for cars. Local people put their cars on the Turo app for others to rent. Most times they’ll even pick you up from the airport without a fee, which is very convenient. No long lines at the rental car place, just one person working with another!
This is a great way to directly support local people who live on island by renting with them instead of large corporate rental car companies. *Just make sure you look at the hosts info and make sure it is a local person and not a mainland or corporate organization.
Another amazing benefit is that you can sometimes rent a car through Turo for half the cost our even less of a traditional car rental company! The prices are very reasonable. Even luxury vehicles can be discounted in comparison to rental car companies.
Think between $45-$200 a day depending on the vehicle you choose and the season.
If you plan to eat out at local restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a budget I would estimate this for the cost per person:
$20-$25 for breakfast
$25-$35 for lunch
Anywhere from $35-$60 (or much more) for dinner
You can cut some costs down by buying food at the local grocery stores to make your own meals, like breakfast foods, sandwiches, snacks at the beach, etc. (ONLY if you have room in your hotel fridge for these OR have the time and available space to prep, prepare, and bring snacks with you each day)
Even so, I definitely encourage you to support the small local businesses in Hawaii by eating at locally owned restaurants, food trucks, and farmers markets. These businesses usually heavily rely on the tourism industry.
And remember, you are coming to Hawaii for an experience. Food, taste and smell are huge parts of an experience in a place like Hawaii, where the local cuisine may be much more interesting and different than anything you’ve ever had.
You can spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on activities or nothing at all! There are many completely free experiences on the islands to check out and enjoy. But there are also many amazing tours, guides, and activities that you can adjust and add in your budget for.
Here are some examples of locally ran activities and price ranges so you can have a loose estimate before researching:
Surfing lessons: about $100/person
Whale watching tour: about $150/person
Dolphin snorkeling boat ride: about $150/person
Luau ticket cost: about $120/person
Private tour on any island( horseback riding, whale watching, volcano, whole island tour guide, hike, etc): about $500-800/person
Helicopter ride: $300-$600/person
And here are some free activity ideas:
Enjoying the beach
Hiking to a waterfall, down the coast, to the ocean
Visit public historical sites
Free hula or night shows at certain hotels or areas (do your research)
Snorkeling (buy or bring your own gear)
Driving around the island and exploring the city
Check out the Ultimate Hawaii Bucket List for more ideas!
5. Booking your flight, hotel/stay and car
I highly recommend using Kayak, again, to book your flights. It will give you the cheapest rates side by side and allow you to book them immediately.
For your rental vehicle, Hawaii Discount Car Rentals is always a good local company to book with (while also booking with the large rental car companies) You’ll find the best deals and be able to book directly.
For hotels or vacation rentals, it is island specific, but visit this guide to be best locally owned and operated Hotels and rental homes on each island.
6. Should I visit more than one Hawaiian island during my trip?
It really depends on your experience in Hawaii or your experience traveling, but when planning your Hawaii Vacation, I would likely just say nah.
However, there is an exception for this.
Exception: You’re planning a Hawaii vacation for a long time.
Let’s say you’ve decided to plan. trip to Hawaii for 10 days. That allows you to stay on one island for 5 days and on the other island for 5 days. That is plenty of time to easily island hop (just make sure you spend the least amount of time wasted at airports by booking flights for the evening when traveling)
Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to explore, learn, respect and enjoy each individual island.
7. What activities can I or should I do on my Hawaii vacation?
The amount of activities you could do is endless! But here is a list to help you see what is available and what you might want to plan for:
Go to a native-operated luau
Take a whale-watching tour (depending on the season)
Eat shave ice
Visit historic sites like the Iolani Palace, Pearl Harbor Memorial, Lahaina Town and the like
Take a hike to a waterfall or up in the mountains
Visit a botanical garden
Check out the Lava Flow (on the Big Island)
See a tour of the whole island from a Helicopter
Horseback riding in a valley
Ziplining through a forest
Here is a comprehensive list of 101 Activities In Hawaii to see more specifics and where to book these.
8. What you need to know before you go to Hawaii
HTT: The most important thing you can do during your trip to Hawaii, is to Malama 'Aina or take care of and respect the land. As a traveler, you are a guest of these beautiful and culturally rich islands. Please treat these islands as if you were visiting a friends home (because you are).
Leave each place you visit better then how you found it.
Pick up opala (rubbish) when you see it, don’t speed or rush while driving, say aloha to people walking by, treat resources as limited- because they are to those who live here, and respect the people who take care of the islands you love to visit.
Even simple research and preparation like learning basic Hawaiian words, knowing what to wear, and being aware of your environment will help you feel more like a part of the island, allow you to enjoy your time more, and help the local population not become burdened.
Check out these articles to help you prepare for your trip:
9. Check Covid Regulations
Domestic travelers from the US currently have no Covid restrictions for travel.
However, if you are traveling directly from an international location, you’ll need to follow the Covid Regulations for International Travel.
10. Visit Hawaii with respect, aloha, and a willingness to grow. And have fun!
Once you finally hit the hawaiian air, all the planning, research, packing, traveling and stressing will all be worth it.
The islands can welcome you like a long lost friend, just waiting to share it’s history, beauty, and culture with you.
Remember to visit Hawaii ethically and respectfully, so that there can be a Hawaii for you to come back to 🖤