Planning a trip to Hawaii is a dream for many people. It’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve visited, but also the most expensive, due to its breathtaking beaches, dramatic volcanic landscapes, and lush green hills.
Although we believe the islands are worth the high cost, it is essential to plan ahead to make the most of your stay.
In this article, we share our top Hawaii travel tips to help you plan the perfect trip to Hawaii.
We will discuss how many days are required in Hawaii, which island to visit, where to stay, the best activities, what must be reserved in advance, and everything else you need to know.
Exist Travel Restrictions to Hawaii in 2023?
No, the Safe Travels program ended in March 2022, and there are no longer any entry requirements for Hawaii.
Domestic US visitors to Hawaii are no longer required to complete an online form or present vaccination documentation or a negative test result.
Masks are no longer required, but certain businesses may require them. Please be courteous.
Due to high demand, I advise booking hotels, car rentals, restaurants, and tours as far in advance as possible. At airports, security lines are typically lengthy, so plan accordingly.
Visitors from abroad to Hawaii
To enter the United States, all non-citizens must still present vaccination documentation.
Since June 2022, the majority of international visitors are exempt from the Covid test.
With the exception of Chinese, Hong Kong, and Macau visitors over the age of 2 traveling to the United States beginning in January 2023, a negative test taken within two days of departure is required.
In the United States, where healthcare is so expensive, travel insurance is always essential, but it’s even more important now.
SafetyWing is a good budget policy that we have utilized. It is available worldwide, includes coverage for COVID-19, and is an excellent value for families as two children under the age of 10 are free.
Heymondo, which insured our most recent U.S. trip, is an additional excellent choice for cancellation coverage.
How Long to Stay in Hawaii
The average length of stay in Hawaii is seven days. This is a good minimum amount of time for a trip, but 10-14 days is preferable if you wish to visit multiple islands.
Some tourists do visit Hawaii for four to five days, but it’s a long way from the United States mainland (or anywhere!) for such a short trip, and you’ll spend the first few days adjusting to the time zone change. However, if it’s all you can manage, it’s preferable to spending no time in Hawaii!
If you only have a week for your Hawaii vacation, I suggest visiting a single island. Consult the list below to determine which Hawaiian island is best for you.
If you have 10 days in Hawaii, I recommend spending three days on Oahu followed by a week on Maui or Kauai.
Best Hawaii Island to Visit
Choosing the best island to visit is among the most difficult aspects of trip planning to Hawaii. They are all diverse and have a great deal to offer, so it depends on what you are seeking.
The majority of Hawaii’s visitors visit one of these four islands:
ahu is the most visited and developed Hawaiian island by a wide margin. It is the location of the large city of Honolulu, which includes the renowned and extremely crowded Waikiki Beach (where most visitor accommodation is located).
If you want to combine city life with beach life, Oahu is the best island for you. It has the most options for shopping, dining, and nightlife.
It is also the easiest location to navigate without renting a car (although I still recommend it). If you stay in Waikiki, you can walk to the beach, as well as to a variety of shops, restaurants, and activities.
The Pearl Harbour memorial can be reached via tours, Uber, or the Trolley Bus.
The North Shore of Oahu offers a much more laid-back atmosphere with its beautiful beaches and enormous winter surfing waves.
Oahu is simple to incorporate into Hawaii vacations because Honolulu International Airport offers the most flights from the continental United States and international locations.
Our favourite activities in Oahu are:
Taking a helicopter tour of the island for the breathtaking views. We recommend Rainbow Helicopters’ one-hour doors-off tour from Honolulu.
Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay.
Windward Coast beaches, especially Waimnalo and Kailua, are ideal for relaxation.
See our 7-day Oahu itinerary for additional information.
The Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu is our favorite place we’ve stayed in all of Hawaii. There are breathtaking ocean views, secluded beaches (with turtles! ), stylish rooms, and plenty of activities. It feels distant from Waikiki.
Maui is the second most frequented island and a popular destination for honeymoons.
It has beautiful beaches, world-class whale watching, and the Road to Hana, where you can view waterfalls, bamboo forests, and black sand beaches.
In Upcountry, you can also observe the sun rise above a volcanic crater and visit wineries and lavender farms.
There are numerous resorts, restaurants, shops, and activities in addition to natural attractions.
Our favourite activities in Maui are:
Staying overnight in Hana (we love Hana Kai Condos) to visit popular attractions such as Waianapanapa without crowds.
observing whales from Lahaina. On our small-group boat trip with Makai Adventures, we saw an incredible number of humpbacks.
Unwinding on the West Maui beaches (with turtle sightings!).
Refer to our itinerary for Maui for more tips.
On the west coast of Maui, Kahana Reef offers oceanfront condos at an affordable price. From our lanai, we observed whales, turtles, and incredible sunsets.
The Big Island (officially known as Hawaii) is the youngest Hawaiian island, so it is less green and has more lava landscapes than the other islands.
This is the island to visit in order to observe an active volcano.
It is the largest island with a variety of landscapes, including white-sand beaches and snow-capped volcanoes.
Our favorite Big Island activities include:
Snorkeling with manta rays at night. During our manta excursion with Sea Quest, we got incredibly close to these majestic and enormous creatures.
Snorkelling at Kealakekua Bay and Two Step.
Kilauea Iki Trail – Hiking into a caldera of a volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Refer to our guide to the best activities on the Big Island for more information.
On this expansive island, you should split your time between the west and east. Our favorite region was Volcano, where we cherished this tranquil cabin in the rainforest. It differs greatly from the rest of Hawaii.
Kauai, also known as The Garden Isle, is the most verdant and green of the islands.
Kauai’s popularity has increased, but it is not as developed as Maui or Oahu.
The spectacular green cliffs of the Napali Coast are the main attraction, but there are also beautiful beaches, waterfalls, hiking trails, and colorful canyons.
Our favourite activities in Kauai are:
Observing Kauai from above – Our doors-off Kauai helicopter ride was breathtaking.
Sailing along the Napali Coast, we witnessed whales, dolphins, and turtles along with the breathtaking sea cliffs.
Observing seals and turtles on Poipu Beach.
See our post on the top things to do on Kauai for additional suggestions.
Where to stay on Kauai: Our condo at Kiahuna Plantation on Poipu’s beautiful beach was fantastic.
Less Visited Hawaiian Islands
If you want to get off the beaten path, you might want to consider visiting one of these smaller, less frequented islands:
Molokai – Known as The Friendly Isle, Molokai features a slower pace of life, more native Hawaiians, but fewer options for lodging and activities. I became fascinated with the leper colony of Kalaupapa after reading a couple of these Hawaii-related books.
Lanai – Lanai was a pineapple plantation for many years and is now home to several luxury resorts. The ferry from Lahaina on Maui to Lanai takes only one hour, so a day trip is possible if you wish to visit the secluded beaches without paying a premium.
On What Side of the Island?
The character of each island also varies depending on which part of the island you visit.
Every island has a rainy side where the landscape is lush and green, and a dry side where there is typically more sun.
Both are worthy of a visit, so we split our island stays between two or three destinations.
Hawaii Visited Locations
We divided our three-and-a-half-week first Hawaiian vacation between Kauai and Maui, with one night in Honolulu before our departure.
There is so much to do on each island that we’re glad we didn’t add another.
We spent one week on Oahu (but could have stayed longer) and two weeks on the Big Island during our second three-week trip to Hawaii.
Kauai is our favorite of the four major Hawaiian islands, but we adore them all.
Before You Arrive in Hawaii: Planning Your Trip
Hawaii is expensive, and you’ll enjoy it more if you’re not constantly concerned about money. We spent $267 per person per day (as a couple) for everything except flights from the United States’s mainland. You could save money by traveling during the off-season, staying away from the beach, and skipping pricey tours. You could also spend significantly more by staying at luxury resorts and eating every meal outside.
Visit Maui during the winter to see humpback whales – we were astounded by how many we saw in February. The best months are January to March, but you may see a few from November to May. Winter weather can be colder and wetter, but we still had a majority of sunny days, and the ocean is always swimmable.
Visit during the shoulder season to save money – In the spring (April and May) and fall (September through mid-November), the islands are less crowded, prices are lower, and the weather is typically pleasant. April can be a very rainy month on Kauai. The water was clearer and warmer in October than in February, when we went snorkeling.
Book your accommodations well in advance, especially if you are traveling during the peak season, if you desire an ocean view, or if you are visiting limited-accommodation areas such as Hana or Upcountry on Maui. You can search Booking for resorts and hotels and Vrbo for vacation rentals.
Consider a condo instead of a resort – For families, stays of at least a week, and those on a budget, renting a condo with a kitchen is an excellent way to save money. There are numerous to choose from, and some offer resort-style amenities such as swimming pools and beachfront locations. Kiahuna Plantation on Poipu Beach in Kauai is one of our favorite condominium complexes. Vrbo is an excellent way to locate condos.
If you want the classic Hawaiian resort experience but can’t afford it for the entire trip, split your stay between a condo and a resort. This is what we did on Oahu, staying in a condo in Waikiki for four nights while exploring the south, and then relaxing at the beautiful Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore for three nights.
Camp if your finances are tight – Camping is the least expensive way to experience Hawaii, if you don’t mind roughing it. Beautiful campsites are available at beaches and state parks, though permits are typically required in advance. Check out this camping guide for Hawaii for more information.
Utilize Kiwi or Skyscanner to discover the best flight deals – You must board a plane to reach Hawaii. Los Angeles and other West Coast cities will offer the most affordable rates. Southwest now offers affordable flights to Hawaii. There are also affordable flights to Honolulu from Canada and Japan.
Fly into one island (such as Kauai) and out of another (such as Oahu) to maximize your time on the islands (such as Maui). I was surprised by the number of affordable direct flights from the United States’ mainland to destinations other than Honolulu.
Rent a car – It’s the best way to explore Hawaii, and sometimes the only way to reach certain islands. Availability of rental cars may be limited during peak travel periods; therefore, it is advisable to book far in advance. We utilize Rental Cars to find the best deal and reserve the most affordable economy car.
There are no ferries between islands (with the exception of Maui to Lanai), so you must take an interisland flight. Most flights are operated by Hawaiian Airlines and are reasonably priced and brief (20 to 50 minutes).
Consider dividing your time between two or three locations on each island. This will help you avoid long drives to attractions if you plan to do a lot of exploring. This has been accomplished on all four major islands with positive results.
Book the Haleakala sunrise in advance – If you wish to witness the most popular sunrise on Maui, you must book up to 60 days in advance. Try again two days prior, when additional tickets will be released.
Non-Hawaii residents must make reservations and pay an entrance and parking fee for certain state parks. Among them are Haena State Park on Kauai, Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana in Maui, and Diamond Head on Oahu. Time slots are made available thirty days in advance. As soon as you can, as they do sell out quickly.
In the winter, it can get chilly on early morning boat trips or at higher elevations (such as Upcountry in Maui or Waimea Canyon in Kauai). At sunrise on Haleakala, Maui, and sunset on Mauna Kea, Big Island, it is extremely cold, so you should bring as many layers as possible. See the conclusion of this post for more information on what to bring to Hawaii.
Even if it’s just Aloha (hello and goodbye, but also love and compassion) and Mahalo (thank you), learn a few Hawaiian words (thank you). I picked up vocabulary by reading the astounding novel Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport (which I highly recommend every visitor reads) (which I highly recommend every visitor reads).
Make reservations in advance – Fine dining establishments are often full, so make a reservation at any eatery where you intend to dine (including at resorts). A few weeks in advance should be fine but places like Duke’s on Waikiki Beach book up months ahead. People tend to eat early (around 6 p.m.) in Hawaii, making later reservations easier.
Bring cash for tipping – While you can add a tip to your credit card bill at restaurants, it’s important to have cash on hand for tour guides, valets, and resort employees. If you are not an American, you should familiarize yourself with tipping customs. We tipped 20% in restaurants and sit-down bars, $10 to $20 per person for tours (including helicopter pilots), $5 for valet attendants (when we returned the car), and $2 to $3 per day for hotel housekeeping.
Plan to visit multiple islands each week. Too much of your Hawaii vacation will be spent traveling, and there is so much to do on each island. While flight times between islands are short, airport security lines can be lengthy (especially when departing from Honolulu) and flights can be delayed.
Forget about hidden fees; hotel and resort prices are rarely what they appear to be. There may also be a resort fee, cleaning fee (for condominiums), and parking fee. Examine the final total cost when comparing lodging options.
Try to avoid the busiest times of the year, especially Christmas and New Year’s, when prices and crowds soar. The week of Thanksgiving is another hectic period. Avoid special events such as Iron Man in October on the Big Island. If you must travel then, make your reservations well in advance.
If you are on a tight budget, you will save money by staying within a short walk or drive of the beach. However, we frequently splurge on beachfront accommodations and enjoy them.
If You’re in Hawaii
Read books about Hawaii – While relaxing on the beach, you can learn more about Hawaii’s fascinating culture and turbulent history by reading one of these books about Hawaii.
Schedule your most essential activities in advance – Make sure you have enough time to reschedule activities like boat trips and helicopter rides if the weather changes and cancels them.
Book Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve on Oahu two days in advance – If you wish to snorkel at this popular beach, you must make a reservation two days in advance at exactly 7am Hawaii Standard Time. Slots sell out in minutes. Tickets are $25. The business is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Utilize reef-safe sunscreen – Hawaii has prohibited the sale of sunscreens containing coral-damaging chemicals (oxybenzone and octinoxate). You require a product containing zinc oxide, such as this Ethical Zinc sunscreen. It’s a pain to apply, but surprisingly water-resistant, and protecting the reefs is worth the effort. Longs Drugs and ABC Stores are excellent locations for purchasing beach supplies.
Wear a rashguard – Even better than sunscreen is wearing a rashguard in the water, especially when snorkeling, to protect your skin.
Sign up for the Maui Snorkel Report – Each morning, you will receive an email with recommendations for the best beaches to visit that day. Additionally, they rent inexpensive snorkeling and beach equipment.
Consult the Hawaii Beach Safety website to determine which beaches are suitable for swimming and surfing.
Observing whales was one of our favorite activities in Hawaii. We chose a small boat excursion with Makai Adventures out of Lahaina, Maui, and enjoyed it so much that we did it twice. You can observe whales on the majority of Hawaii’s islands; search here for whale-watching excursions.
All the islands have beautiful hiking trails, ranging from easy coastal strolls to difficult multi-day treks. It is a wonderful and free way to appreciate the beauty of the islands.
Rent a Tommy Bahama beach chair and umbrella – These were included in our condos, but they can be rented cheaply on the islands. The backpack straps make beach hopping much more comfortable and facilitate transport.
Bring or rent snorkeling equipment – If your luggage allows, bring your own snorkel and mask. If not, rent one for the duration of your stay from Snorkel Bob’s (as we did on the Big Island). I enjoyed being able to observe the reef whenever we visited the beach.
Visit a farmer’s market – the fresh produce is typically less expensive and of higher quality than in supermarkets, and there are many tasty treats and foodie mementos to enjoy.
Cool off with shave ice – This delicious icy treat exceeded our expectations. Add a scoop of macadamia ice cream to the base for added flavor. Waikomo Shave Ice on Kauai and Original Big Island Shave Ice Co. on the Big Island are our favorites.
Enjoy a Mai Tai on the beach – yes, it’s touristy, but it’s a classic Hawaii activity, and these tasty rum cocktails are served in cool Tiki glasses.
The dried plum Li Hing Mui is sweet, salty, and sour. Originating in China, it is very popular in Hawaii, where you can find them whole for snacking (too much for me) or as a flavoring for many sweets. It is my new favorite flavor of shaved ice, especially when combined with lilikoi/passionfruit and pineapple.
Drive the Road to Hana on Maui – Most people do this in a single day, but we enjoyed spending a few nights in Hana to explore away from the crowds.
Consume all the banana bread – The homemade banana bread sold at farm stands in the Hana region is especially delicious.
Indulge in macadamia nuts covered in chocolate – We were addicted to Moana Loa’s works.
Let local drivers pass you – They are more familiar with the winding roads and drive more quickly, so pull over and let them pass.
See Kauai from above – Our doors-off helicopter ride on Kauai was mind-blowing, and the island is the best for scenic flights. Our helicopter tour of Oahu was also remarkable.
We saved a substantial amount of money by self-catering in our condo rather than dining in restaurants for every meal. Restaurants are expensive, and by preparing meals in our condo, we avoided incurring these costs. Even if you do not have a kitchen, you can purchase a premade picnic lunch from the grocery store and enjoy it on the beach. Some of our most delicious meals came from food trucks, which are significantly less expensive than restaurants. Hana, Maui, and Hanalei, Kauai, had the greatest variety of trucks.
Underestimate the ocean – Conditions can be hazardous and rapidly change, and drownings do occur. If you are unsure of the safety of the water, you should not swim.
Turn your back on the ocean if you are swimming or walking along the shore, as large waves can appear out of nowhere.
Fight a rip current – If you become entangled in a current, remain calm, float, and signal for assistance. Follow the flow and preserve your energy.
Touch sea turtles or monk seals – Wildlife is likely to be found on beaches, but it is illegal to approach them or touch them.
Feed fish and other wildlife.
Please refrain from trespassing on private property. While all beaches are accessible to the public, not all have access points.
Litter – Do not discard any objects on beaches or hiking trails.
Do not park illegally – heed “no parking” signs and avoid stopping along the roadside. Specifically on Maui’s Road to Hana, this has become a significant issue.
Take all rocks and sand.
Touch or step on coral – When snorkeling, be mindful of where your fins are.
Leave your valuables in your vehicle, and store your luggage in the trunk. We discovered that compact cars did not have a trunk cover, so we recommend renting a mid-size vehicle.
The hula is not just a tourist dance; it is a serious part of Hawaiian culture.
Refuse a lei (flower garland) – it is a symbol of Aloha and affection, so wear it with gratitude and do not remove it in front of the person who gave it to you.
Wear footwear inside a home.
Do not feel compelled to accomplish everything. Make sure to schedule time to unwind by the pool or on the beach. Slow down and appreciate the beauty of these islands.
What to Bring to Hawaii
Pack lightweight summer attire, such as shorts, t-shirts, dresses, a few swimsuits, and a beach cover-up, as the climate in Hawaii is warm all year round.
PrAna is one of my favorite brands for summer dresses and swimwear.
There is no need to pack formal attire, as Hawaii is a casual destination.
I do recommend bringing one set of warmer clothing when traveling to higher elevations or taking a boat trip in the winter. In addition to jeans or leggings, a lightweight fleece or sweater should suffice.
If you plan to watch the sunrise at Haleakala in Maui or stargaze at Mauna Kea on the Big Island, it can be extremely cold; therefore, you should bring additional layers and a packable down jacket if you have one.
We spend the majority of our time in Hawaii wearing hiking sandals, which are ideal for both beaches and trails. Many beaches have rocky access paths, so you should wear footwear other than flip-flops.
Both of us adore Teva sandals, which are extremely comfortable for hiking and, because the majority of models are waterproof, are ideal for kayaking. Simon likes the Teva Fi Lite sandals and I have the Teva Verra sandals.
In addition, I had a pair of ballet flats for a dressier evening option. My current favorites are the incredibly comfortable Allbirds Tree Breezers; for details, see my Allbirds flats review.
I wear the lightweight and breathable Allbirds Tree Dashers for running.
Different Useful Items
Reef-safe sunscreen – Avoid Hawaii-banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.
On the islands, only reusable shopping bags are permitted; plastic bags are prohibited.
Spices – If you are self-catering, bringing a small amount of spices will save you money. We purchased some from the bulk-buy section of a mainland supermarket.
Water bottle – Pack a reusable water bottle to avoid producing plastic waste. We like the Vapur water bottle because it is compact and lightweight.
Packable daypack – These backpacks are useful for hiking and exploring and can fit in your luggage for the trip.
We swear by packing cubes because they keep your clothes organized and easy to find in your luggage.
Rapid-drying beach towel – These lightweight towels dry more quickly than traditional towels and shed sand more readily.
There is an abundance of wildlife to observe in Hawaii, such as whales, dolphins, seals, turtles, and birds. The tiny, waterproof Olympus 8 x 21 RCII binoculars were perfect for getting a closer look.
Is Hawaii Justifiable?
Yes, I believe it is worthwhile to visit Hawaii! Despite the fact that it can be expensive and crowded, many of us are drawn back by the breathtaking scenery and laid-back atmosphere.
I hope this blog post assists you in planning a trip to Hawaii. Please let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to share your Hawaii travel tips in the section below.
Topic: Planning a Trip to Hawaii: DOs and DON’Ts (2023)
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