How to do Hawaii on less than $5,000

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I’ve been a bit MIA this summer.  It has been a wonderful, busy, crazy summer!  The highlight has been our trip to Hawaii!  When I say, “our” I mean, my husband and I.  That’s it.  Not the 4 kids!  It was so nice to get away just the two of us and spend some time alone in paradise.  It was so good, because we had to remember how to be just us again.

We were married for four years before we had our first child and we made a great time for those four years.  We were best friends and talked all the time.  We still make a great team now that we have kids, but sometimes it feels more like a relay team.  We are still best friends and we talk all the time, but our topic is usually around scheduling, to do lists, finances and other boring adult stuff.  We don’t always find time to have deep conversations with all the business and interruptions that go on around here.  So it was fabulous to get away and just be us again.

Our trip was so wonderful that I decided it might make a good post to share how we did Hawaii for 6 days and under $5,000, so that maybe you and your lover can get away and enjoy this kind of vacation as well!

Tickets, tickets and tickets:


The first step is buying all sorts of tickets.  I searched all of the different sites to buy airline tickets: Priceline, Kayak, Expedia, and I also looked into Costco travel packages.  If you don’t want to to plan the details and you don’t mind where you stay then this is a great option.  I wanted to have more control, so I chose to not use the Costco package.  We got our airline tickets for $1,558.  This was for three flights (SLC to Oahu, Oahu to Maui, Maui to SLC).  We bought our tickets about 6 weeks before our trip.  I’m sure that if you chose an off season or booked the flights more in advance that you could get a better deal.

Rental Car:

This is a must.  I was hesitant at first, thinking that I could get around using busses or Uber.  But don’t even try it!  It was so nice to get in the car and go where we wanted when we wanted.  I know that we would not have been able to do half of what we did if we were having to wait around for a ride.  Get a car for each island.  We chose the cheapest one possible.  We spent $432.9 for a car on Oahu and Maui combined.  I also learned not to buy the insurance, because you can add rental car insurance to your regular insurance for just a few dollars a day.


We decided to go with an Airbnb over a hotel for a few reasons: 1. they often offer extra amenities like snorkel gear, boogie boards, beach chairs, beach towels, etc.;  2. they are usually cheaper because you don’t have the extra hotel fees or parking fee; 3. most hotels these days do not offer continental breakfast, so this way we could make our own breakfast and save some $$.  The Airbnb we stayed at on Oahu was AMAZING.  It was a private studio apartment just a walk away from a private beach.  The mornings on this beach will forever be one of my most favorite memories of Hawaii.  We spent $909.52 on the two Airbnb rooms for each island.

Sunrise on the beach at our Airbnb.

We tried to pay for our excursions before we left for our vacation.  We bought our tickets for the Polynesian Cultural Center, zipline, canoe/snorkel trip, and Dole plantation before we left.  We spent $716 on these tickets.

Food and Souvenirs:

Our initial budget was $5,000.  After we paid for these tickets and a few other “supplies” we were left with $1,387 to use for food, gas, and souvenirs.  We try to budget wisely and I had no idea if this would be enough, so we kept track of all our expenses to make sure we stayed within our budget.  We came home with $158.96 left over!  We spent a total of $1228.86 on food, gifts and souvenirs.  I did not feel like we sacrificed and were overly careful, so for us, $1300 was plenty to plan for these extras.










Day 1: Oahu (Polynesian Cultural Center)

Our flight into Oahu landed late Tuesday night.  We drove not quite an hour to our amazing Airbnb (email me if you want the recommendation on where to stay. This was THE best place).  Wednesday morning we took a walk on our private beach during sunrise then went shopping for breakfast and snack foods.  We took our time eating breakfast and getting ready for the day.

We first went to the LDS temple grounds because the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) does not open until 11 and we were ready before then.  The temple is located very close to the Cultural Center.







After a walk around the Temple grounds and watching the short video in the visitors center which explains how the Polynesian Cultural Center and BYU Hawaii began, we headed over to the PCC.

There are a few stores that open before 11, so we did some shopping and had an early lunch.  We should have realized that our luau dinner was at 4:00, so we would have eaten a lighter lunch.

We chose not to do a guided tour of the PCC and I am good with that decision.  We might have been able to see more, but we stayed plenty busy and were able to see tons of great stuff.  We mostly hopped from village to village to watch the different shows.  There is an app for the PCC, which helped us know what shows were going on near us.  I think my only regret here, was not getting a pineapple smoothie… those looked pretty awesome.  So make sure you bring some cash (at least $10 for one of those) and get one even if you are not hungry!


We spent the entire day here.  There is plenty to do and they feed you diner.  This was a great way to start off our Hawaiian vacation.

Day 2: Oahu (Dole Plantation, Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head)

Day 2 started with another sunrise walk along our beach.  This was our last day on Oahu, so we we packed up our stuff since we would not be returning to that airbnb.  We made a loop around the island to finish seeing the touristy stuff.  We started by going to Turtle Bay on the North side of the island.  There were no turtles to be found, but it was a fun beach to walk along and we saw hundreds of crabs.  We then made our way to the Dole Plantation, which opens at 10:00.  It was good to get there early before the lines were too long.  We had bought a ticket for the train ride.  There is also a maze and a few other things we could have done, but the train ride was plenty for us.  We did the train ride then sat down to enjoy an AMAZING Dole Whip.  That was plenty for us here.

We then made our way to Pearl Harbor.  The memorial was shut down due to structural damage, so we were not able to go out on that, which was a bummer.  Also,  when we got there (about noon) we were told that the tickets for the show and ferry (which are free) were out.  We found out that they have standby, so we were still able to do those things.  So don’t panic if they are out of tickets.





After Pearl Harbor we headed to Waikiki Beach for some lunch.  I must warn you… it is a busy, crowed place.  Parking was hard to find and it is not a place I would want to spend very much time at.  I am glad we went, but I’m glad we didn’t plan on spending much time there.  We went and had lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise and it was amazing!  I usually don’t get hamburgers, but I had to here and it did not disappoint!





After lunch we had to hurry to Diamond Head National Park to hike to the top of the mountain.  The last hike is at 4:00, so we barely made it, but I’m glad we did.  It was a good hard hike, but easy enough that anyone can do it.  We saw so many people who looked miserable in flip flops or even platforms!  Wear good shoes!






After getting hot and sweaty from all those dang stairs, we found a beach to cool off and swim in before we needed to head to the airport.  We always booked our flights at night, which was nice because we had all day to spend on that island and pack in as much as possible.

Day 3: Maui (zipline, bamboo forest, Paia, Big Beach)

Our first day in Maui started off with the Jungle Zipline, which is located near the beginning of the Road to Hana.  This was our first zipline experience and it was awesome.  It was so beautiful to go through the trees and feel like we were right in the middle of a jungle.





Our guide at the zipline told us to try out a hike to the Bamboo Forest.  It is located at mile marker 6.5 on the Road to Hana.  We did that right after our zipline experience was over.  This was my most favorite hike.  It is completely surrounded by the most amazing bamboo trees.  The hike is wet, slippery, muddy and worth every bit of it.  The trail leads to two beautiful waterfalls where many people were jumping off the waterfalls or swimming in the pool below.

A friend of mine recommended that we buy good hiking waterproof shoes.  I can’t tell you how many times we thanked her for that recommendation!  We loved our shoes and found them so helpful in several situations.  This is what we each bought and I highly recommend both.

After our amazing hike to the waterfalls we went to Paia for lunch.  We ate at the Paia Fish Market for lunch and I think this fish salad may have been my favorite meal of the trip.







After leaving Paia we stopped at Target to buy food for breakfast and lunch for the next few days.  We took a little time getting settled into our new Airbnb and coming up with a plan of how to spend the next few days in Maui.  We then went to Big Beach for sunset, which seemed like a local beach because it was very quite and low key.  We played in the ocean here and got knocked around by the waves!  I had the hardest time figuring out how to NOT get pushed ashore by the big waves.  I’m sure it was hilarious to watch this 30 something lady from Wyoming rolling onto shore… I was laughing pretty hard anyways!  We did eventually figure out that if you swim further out past where the wave breaks onto shore it was much easier to enjoy the ocean!





Day 4: Maui (Canoe and Snorkeling adventure, shopping, laundry, snow cone, and Haleakala National Park)

We booked a tour where we left from Wailea Beach on a Canoe (similar to Moana’s) and paddled out to a great spot to snorkel.  This was a great way for us to start since we were new to snorkeling.  It helped having a guide there who knew good places to snorkel.  We had such an amazing time swimming with turtles that came right up to us!  We also go to see and hold different sea urchins.  It was well worth the money for the first time, but after that trip we were able to snorkel and find turtles on our own.








After our amazing snorkel trip we tried to rent mopeds, which I still think would have been fun, but the logistics just didn’t work out for that trip.  So we decided to catch up on some laundry and hang out in the pool while we waited on the laundry to finish.  We then headed up to Haleakala around 4:00pm to grab some dinner and be there in plenty of time to watch the sunset.   If you go here for sunrise, you must first make a reservation, so we preferred going at sunset when it was more laid back.  It was beautiful and I don’t think you can go wrong.  The best advice that I can give for this expedition is to DRESS WARM!  I brought a jacket and my winter coat, gloves, long pants, socks, and a blanket.  I stayed pretty warm, but it was still chilly!






Day 5: Maui (Church, see the island, snorkeling at different beaches)

We started Sunday by going to church.  We sang a hymn in Tongan, which was fun to try.  After church we rented some snorkel gear from Snorkel Bob’s and headed to a new part of the island to see the sights and snorkel along different beaches.

Our first stop was in Lahaina for lunch and to see the famous Banyon tree.  This tree is INCREDIBLE!  It is all one tree even though it looks like a group of 30 trees.  The roots grow from the branches down into the earth where it appears that a new trunk has grown.  I thought of all kinds of ways to relate this tree to different gospel topics for a future talk in church!





We had lunch at Captain Jacks in Lahaina and this enchilada was one of my most favorite meals!  It was a great atmosphere and a good food.  If you walk down that main street past Captain Jacks, you can find another place to buy a Dole Whip and don’t pass up that opportunity!





Lahaina was a cute little town and it would have been fun to spend more time there, but we had a lot on our list for that day.  Our first stop was Kaanapali Beach. This beach was slightly crowded, but we were able to snorkel with some cool fish. Unfortunately, this is when we broke our waterproof digital camera, so we didn’t get pictures underwater from here on our.  This was a great camera until we forgot to close the cap and water got in it.  If you are looking at options, I do recommend this one:

We then headed up the coast and stopped at Napili beach.  This one was smaller and still a bit crowded, but still a very nice beach.  It’s shaped like a C and has rocky edges that made for great snorkeling.  We had not found turtles and were about to leave, but just then, a huge turtle came right up to the shoreline.  It never came all the way out of the water, but it was about as close to shore as it could be without coming out.  We got our snorkel gear back on and hung out with that turtle for a long time and watched him eat plankton off the rocks.  Someone gave us a tip that there were more turtles around the bend, and sure enough! We found another 4 turtles.

Our final beach stop for the day was at Kapalua Bay.  This beach was nearly empty when we got there and we did have it to ourselves by the end.  I think that is what made it my favorite of the three.  It was beautiful and we swam with some awesome turtles again.  I seriously could watch them for hours!




Day 6: Maui (Road to Hana)

We saved the best for last.  You have to do the Road to Hana if you go to Maui.  It is a windy, narrow road through a jungle with lots of stops to see waterfalls, hikes, beaches and incredible scenery.  My friend gave me a document that served as our guide for knowing where and when to stop and what we were looking for.  There really aren’t signs or parking lots, so you just see a bunch of cars stopped along the road, but you don’t always know what they are looking at.  This guide had mile markers and what to expect at each mile markers.  There just isn’t time to see it all in one day, so that guide helped us know which stops we wanted to make and which ones were ok to skip.  We loved swimming in the waterfalls and seeing the black sand beaches.  I am so glad we made it to Hana.  It is a cute little town with the most incredible black sand beaches and the bluest water.






One important thing to remember about doing the Road to Hana is that you need to be back to Paia before it gets dark.  It would be a scary road to drive in the dark!  We make it to Ho’okipa Lookout in time for sunset.






There are showers at Ho’okipa beach that I wish we could have used, but they closed at 7:00pm and we just missed it.  But we found a place to change in Paia, grabbed one last snow cone and then headed to the airport to head home.

Our trip was over, but it was perfect.

I hope that this day by day guide might help you plan a trip to Hawaii.  I love the memories of this trip and am so grateful we could do it.  We came home with about $200 left over out of our $5,000 budget.  That included everything we spent for this trip.

An amazing vacation within our budget makes me nice and happy!