I love to travel more than anything else in this world! On our recent trip to Hawaii, we found some great new options to save more money on travel, so I thought I’d pass them on to you guys. Actually, I found some ways that I would recommend along with some ways I wouldn’t recommend so I’ll share them all!
I’m Now a Fan of Airbnb
I was initially very cautious in getting an Airbnb and with good reason. There are some security concerns, especially if you are traveling alone, so you do need to be cautious. Definitely research the neighborhood carefully because you don’t want to end up in some skeevy and unsafe neighborhood. That’s the drawback with these listings. Plenty of interior photographs, but you don’t know anything about the neighboring area. Plus you don’t know who all might have a key…
But compared to the hotel rates in downtown Honolulu, Airbnb is significantly cheaper. This makes it one of the best ways to save more money on travel. And I found a TON of fantastic options in our preferred price range on both Oahu and Maui. One ended up being an ultra-modern high rise condo 2 blocks off Waikiki Beach. The other was more like a grandma-style ground floor condo with a terrific lanai area that was 5 minutes from the beach.
One caveat – really pay close attention to the cleaning and security fees. Especially if you are staying less than a week, the fees can get pretty outrageous! Usually $100-$200 tacked on per stay. Plus things can get a little bit unpredictable compared to a typical hotel. If something isn’t working, you can’t just switch to another room. And there’s no security or front desk person, although your host can be helpful.
On our stay in Waikiki, the pool was closed for maintenance the whole time (with the beach so close, we didn’t care!), the TV didn’t work properly, and the A/C unit leaked. Also, the apartment was BRIGHT. It had floor-to-ceiling windows, so you could read the paper in bed by 6 AM. We are very laid back folks, so we didn’t care, and we were too busy to chase down the host about the TV, but for some people, this would be a deal-breaker.
BUT – we saved about $500 between the two stays, so for us, it was a total win-win!
I’m also a Fan of Turo for Car Rentals
We were on the fence about needing a car rental, so we didn’t book one until almost the last minute. A lot of our excursions included a shuttle or other transportation, so we weren’t sure if we actually needed a rental.
But my son and I crunched some numbers. We looked at traditional car rentals, the option of taking airport shuttles and Ubers or Lyfts to get around for four people, and the Turo.com option of renting private vehicles. Hands down, Turo was the sure-fire winner! It saved us $400 big ones between the two rentals we used.
However, again there are a few drawbacks with these person-to-person rentals. The first car was a cute little yellow Prius Compact. VERY COMPACT! For four people plus four small suitcases and a couple of backpacks, it was very SCRUNCHY. And we had to walk about a mile outside the airport with all our luggage to get the car and then go through a complicated routine to find a lockbox under the fender, put in a code, then find the ignition key in the trunk, etc. Took several texts and phone calls.
Not trying to scare you off from using Turo, but I want you to have a realistic picture of how this all works. We did have to pay $75 extra for the option to pickup and dropoff from the airport, but compared to the cost of a shuttle, Uber or taxi to get the car from the guy’s house, it was pretty reasonable.
Car #2 – we had a problem. We had a Kia Sportage all lined up, but the owner texted us that morning that he’d just been diagnosed with Covid and did we still want the car? I have to give him props for being honest, because most people wouldn’t have said anything and just let us take our chances. He lost a couple of hundred dollars when we cancelled, so we felt terrible, but we would’ve been screwed if one of us had gotten sick and couldn’t fly home on schedule.
So, now what to do? We had taken a taxi to our condo and now we had to find another Turo option in the same neighborhood for a similar price. But Turo was a champ! We found a guy just four blocks away with a Nissan (a bit bigger thankfully!) and was able to provide a car with just an hour’s notice. That would have been much more complicated with a traditional rent-a-car place.
So based on our experience, you definitely can save money while traveling, but you have to be a bit flexible and willing to think outside the box a bit to save more money on travel, and maybe you can take a trip you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.
Here’s the DON’T Option – Alaska Air. Avoid at all Costs!
Another area where we saved HUGE was on flights. We originally started with a travel agent, but her pricing was laughable. Even though we’d explicitly told her, we were budget travelers, the options she came up with for everything was SKY HIGH. But at least she gave us some good tips on what areas to choose – our first time in Hawaii and we had no idea where anything was or which islands to choose.
But we are good internet-savvy folks, so my son and I got our computers on the kitchen table and spent a good hour on Google Air, plus every travel site we could think of. We finally came up with an itinerary on Alaska Air that was a whopping $1600 LESS than Delta for our family of four. Caveat – if something is TOO CHEAP, there’s a reason for it. Alaska Air SUCKS!
There is a wait up to 10 HOURS to talk to an agent on the phone – not kidding! And they don’t pay their pilots well, so there were massive strikes and sick-outs going on all over the place. We lost half our first day of travel because they re-routed us to a United Flight that went through San Francisco rather than LAX. And coming home, we had a 12 HOUR layover in LAX and they changed our gate four times so we had to RUN to another terminal to catch our plane.
My poor son ended up getting locked out of the airport at one point. We’d checked a bag and he had to go out of security to retrieve it. That’s when we discovered that they won’t let you in the airport until 6 hours prior to your flight. My daughter-in-law went to bring him some dinner and the two of them had to sit on a cold concrete floor until 4:00 in the morning when they could come back in. #miserable
Was it worth the $1600 savings? Yes, but just barely and we could easily have ended up stranded at any point in the journey, so we felt lucky that we at least made it through. So, think long and hard before you go with the cheapest flight option! It may not be worth it, if you can’t get to your destination or get home.
Speaking of travel for cheap – I’ve found a new source for finding the best flights. This is a subscription service that sends you an Email every day with terrific travel bargains to different areas of the country and sometimes Internationally. I’m pretty sure it’s just a guy with a computer, but I’ve seen him come up with some pretty amazing deals. Just this week, he’s sent us a Seattle flight for $128 roundtrip and an LA flight for $78. So eventually, you’ll find a terrific deal to a city you’d like to travel to.
It’s only $97 per year, but I’ve got a discount code to make it $50 a year, if you’d like to give it a try. www.mattsflights.com/discount97
Viator is not necessarily a great way to save more money on travel, but it is definitely the way to put more adventure into your vacation plans. We’ve used them to book excursions in both Alaska and Hawaii, which enabled us to do all sorts of things. We were able to:
- Go whitewater rafting
- Horse drawn wagon to an amazing private restaurant tucked into the Alaskan wilderness
- Ride a paddlewheeler
- Helicopter to land on a glacier (had to cancel this one because I hurt my knee, but it would’ve been Ahhh-mazing)
- Snorkel with turtles on a private beach
- Dive with sharks (no cage!) in Oahu
- Visit the Arizona memorial and Missouri Battleship
- Half Circle scenic tour and visit a macadamia nut farm and a shrimp truck (yum!) plus the Dole Planation
- Visit a bee farm. I love bees, so that was one of my favorite activities.
- Snorkel in Molokini Crater with turtles and lots of wildlife
I’ll admit, these tours aren’t cheap in the least, but they are safe, they are reliable, and the tour operators work hard to make sure you have a great experience. Yes, you can probably book similar tours cheaper from some guy holding a sign on the wharf, but you know nothing about him or if it is safe and some things, like the Arizona, sell out early. We saw a huge line of people waiting for standby tickets and walked right past them.
With Viator, you have tons of Amazon style reviews so you can see what people liked or didn’t like about the tours. And they have different tours in just about any city you care to visit. Check them out at Viator.com.
OK, I’ve got one last way to save more money on travel. Unless you get a rental car straight from the airport, or if you have a friend or relative to pick you up, you’re going to need to get from the airport to where you are staying and back. I know that Uber and Lyft are super popular right now, but they’re hardly options to travel for cheap. They’re very slightly cheaper than a private taxi, but not much, plus it’s usually some college kid or someone who can be somewhat unreliable.
Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I prefer just the plain old airport shuttle. It’s usually about $10 cheaper than any type of taxi service. Yes, it takes a bit longer because they have to drop off other folks, but I’m down with that to save a few bucks. Coming into Maui, we were wiped out, so we took a private taxi for $55 plus tip. We priced an Uber – it was $48 plus tip. Airport shuttle $42 for four of us from Kihei to the airport – about 20 minutes. Wasn’t a big savings, but it helped.
Save on Food
I think everyone knows that everything in Hawaii is EXPENSIVE. The food is no exception, so we wanted to do what we could to minimize our food costs while still enjoying some of the local food and drinks. Everyone kept telling us to go to Costco to get groceries for the condos, but I thought that was ridiculous advice. We wanted teeny, tiny portions of things that we could use up in 3-4 days, not huge economy sized packages of things that we’d have to leave behind.
So we were smart about it. We packed some snacks in our bags because travel is unpredictable and sometimes you literally CAN’T get food for long periods of time. We had granola bars, cookies, some packs of nuts, a few packets of oatmeal, and some tea bags. Those all came in handy and took up very little space. Most of it was gone by the end of the trip.
Then we schlepped out to the ABC Stores (brilliant stores – they are on nearly every corner in Hawaii!) and got milk and little individual cups of cereal, sandwich fixings, and jugs of iced tea, plus a couple of frozen entrees from the grocery store and we were set. Both condos had kitchens and we ate about 1/3rd of our meals on our own and ate out the rest of the time. That worked nicely.
Here was our view from the Mexican restaurant we found right across from the beach in Honolulu. This was such a wonderful vacation and because of our many budgeting options, our son and daughter-in-law could afford to tag along too. That made it an even better trip for all of us even if there were a few minor inconveniences.
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