When I tell people I’m cheap, they’re quick to correct me. “Oh, you’re not cheap. You’re careful with your money.” “You’re economical.” But I don’t see “cheap” as an insult. Being cheap is what allowed me to take a trip to Hawaii last year, a year where I was mostly out of work. Here’s how I did it.
I get this nifty little email every week from a travel website called travelzoo.com. Every Wednesday—the day of the week that the airlines typically announce their sales—Travel Zoo sends me This Week’s Top 20. A lot of these deals are for all-inclusive holidays, the very idea of which gives me a rash, so I skip these and look for cheap airfares. Last March I found airfare to Hawaii from Vancouver for $235 Canadian. That’s for both ways, and included all taxes and fees. It was so cheap, we couldn’t afford not to go, so we booked our tickets to Honolulu and started looking for a place to stay.
Everyone knows that accommodations in Hawaii are notoriously expensive. So what we did is visit the vacation rentals Craigslist page for Honolulu. There we found people renting condos in these high rises called condo hotels. Each suite is separately owned and the owner can do what he pleases with it. We found a condo, right at Waikiki Beach for $45 U.S. a night. That is a huge deal. The only better deal might be the hostel down the lane, but I’m way past my hostel days and putting up with drunken backpackers (I prefer to get drunk with M, just the two of us). The condo was clean, everything was new-looking and it had a small fridge, coffee maker and microwave. The only downside was it didn’t have a balcony, but when you’re just steps from the beach, it really negates the necessity of one.
Having the mini kitchen also made our stay way cheaper. In Hawaii restaurants are expensive, and supermarket food is astronomically expensive (case in point: a pound of tomatoes at Safeway cost something like $3.89—and they weren’t even organic.) We bought cereal, yogurt and macadamia nuts (found in the baking section) from Safeway, but bought our produce—bananas, papayas and pineapples—in Chinatown. In Chinatown the prices are way more reasonable (plus Chinatown is just a cool place to hang out). Voila: that was our breakfast every day. Delicious, nutritious and inexpensive.
The other great, cheap thing about Hawaii, at least on Oahu, is the public bus system. Not only are the drivers super chill and helpful, you can ride the bus around the entire island for a mere 2 bucks. You can even hop off the bus to check out a place, or have a bite to eat, and get on again with the same ticket, providing you don’t stay off for too long. Cheap sightseeing at its best.
SUMMARY: Cost of trip to Oahu, 6 days 7 nights, including airfare, accommodations, meals and other monies spent: $500 per person!
On a different, non-cheap related note, I wouldn’t recommend Oahu to many travellers. It’s way overdeveloped, with three quarters of the population of Hawaii living on this one island. Waikiki is a glitzy tourist trap that looks exactly like glitzy tourist traps in other tropical resort areas. Think Cabo San Lucas—ugh—or Cancun. If you do go, I highly recommend renting a car (it’s cheap! Like $18/day!) and going to the west part of the island (the bus doesn’t go to this area). A lot of people and guidebooks warned us to avoid this part of Oahu: it’s where the “real” Hawaiians live.
This is also where Oahu’s homeless live, in tent villages strung along the beaches. I would not recommend visiting these places and nosing around (we heard a photographer was beaten to death for doing that), but that’s just common sense. All the people we talked to in the towns along the coast were cool and friendly. And when you get to the end of the road, you’re at Ka’ena Point State Park, a stunning place and protected nesting area of the shearwater. You’ll also see albatross and, if you’re lucky, the endangered monk seal. We saw just one or two other people the whole time we were there. The beaches just south of the park are gorgeous, too, and the best part is they’re not overrun with tourists. Just a few locals and even fewer intrepid haoles.