Hawaii travel tips
- 1 About
- 2 Tips for a Hawaii Trip
- 3 Advice From My Maui Trip
- 3.1 Big Shopping Trip First
- 3.2 Bring or Buy Your Own Snorkeling Set
- 3.3 Diving Tips
- 3.4 Prep Your Car for The Beach
- 3.5 Drive Around the Whole Island (for your wholistic lay of the land) with Narration
- 3.6 Drive Safe, Don't Speed - Especially On Windy Roads
- 3.7 Be Careful of Theft
- 3.8 Be Cool With The Locals
- 3.9 Learning to Surf
- 3.10 Follow your Own Path
- 4 Advice From My Oahu Trip
- 5 Packing for Hawaii
- 6 What to Wear
- 7 What Else to Pack
- 8 Hawaii Wildlife
- 9 See Also
- 10 Links
I had never visited Hawaii before, but always wanted to go. I was an Australian living in San Francisco and in Nov 2020 (during the pandemic) I finally decided I should try to visit Hawaii. Here's all the notes and advice I've compiled from others, plus some of my own hot tips at the end.
Tips for a Hawaii Trip
Traveling During Covid
From early 2020 until Oct 15, visitors had to register their flight with travel.hawaii.gov AND quarantine in a hotel (never leaving) for 2 weeks else face a ($5000 + 2 years in jail) fine. Yes they take it seriously! After Oct 15 2020, you can register and show up with a Negative COVID test result (to skip the 2 week quarantine) *BUT* it's not quite all that simple... the test has to be by an approved testing partner and within a certain time (72 hours) of your departure (they expect to see a QR code at the arrival AND departure now I believe), and skipping quarantine isn't supported by all islands. Details here:
- hawaiicovid19.com - Getting to Hawai‘i ... I think this the most official one, although gohawaii.com/travel-requirements also appears official.
- hawaii-guide.com - Things to know about visiting a reopening Hawaii ... less official, but good info.
- To find Wallgreens test sites: No-Cost COVID-19 Testing at Walgreens.. but I prefer "color".
Decide on an Island (or two)
I created this graphic to summarize what you need to know:
- More articles:
- Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia: Feel good videos which cover most islands:
- Honolulu (Oahu Island) - big city, popular Waikiki beach, downtown, barracks, Pearl Harbor, the zoo and more.
- Maui - the "most beautiful island" with watersports, galleries, rent a car to drive to Hana.
- Hawaii's Big Island - feel good overview of the main island, and attractions like the volcanos, painted church, captain cook monument and more. They also have videos for:
- Kauai island - 30 minutes from Honolulu, the garden island with stunning waterfalls and scenery. No building can be taller than a coconut tree.
- Matt's Travel Tips: Great guide including places to visit and general tourist tips but only for Oahu:
- 13 Tips for a Fantastic Trip to Oahu: Includes food recommendations and great footage.
Decide On Your Experience: (a) Resort Only or (b) Experience The Island
Accommodation in Hawaii is expensive, the fancy resorts on most islands are easily $200-400 a night (plus resort fees) so unless you are privileged level rich, you'll only be able to afford a few days and won't actually export the island - which sounds like a wasted trip to me - but to each their own. During covid there are deals for $100 on certain islands which means you can stay twice as long plus easily afford a hire car and at that point it doesn't matter what part of any island you are at (unless it's the rainy side and it rains all week), you can drive to fantastic beaches and waterfall hikes each day of your visit. Score!
Car Rental (you definitely want one)
You can use Lyft to drive you about 20 miles for $20 on most islands, but it doesn't give you the flexibility of a rental car to easily explore beaches and hikes each day. It appears there are pretty resonable car rentals on most islands. You can use a service like Expedia to look across multiple rental agencies and might get a base rate as good as ~$20 a day (without insurance) for a gas efficient sedan or ~$30 a day for a midsize SUV if you book a few days (sadly the fees and taxes added will increase this a lot). You'll probably want a pickup and drop-off from the airport... so for instance for Maui you'd probably want Kahului Airport (OGG). Don't forget to ask about their sand policy... depending on your insurance you'll probably want to stop by a Shell to vacuum up sand because it's pretty much impossible to keep the beautiful beach sand out of your car.
- Expedia - Car Rentals - Kahului, HI, OGG - ~$30 a night for a sedan.
Accommodation (try vrbo/airbnb over any resorts)
Think about what experience you want. Depending on how long you stay, there can be a few good deals floating around. Instead of just using AirBnB, you should also try VRBO for Hawaii.
- VRBO Hawaii
- AirBnB Maui
- Other interesting options:
- outdoorsy.com - you might be able to get a campavan for a good deal, but depending on the island you still pay extra to park it and there might be very few places to actually park it, which would suck, so do your research.
- furnishedfinder.com - if you plan to stay a whole month one of these might work.
Weather (pick your part of the island wisely)
Always remember to check the forecast ahead of your trip. Weather in the Hawaiian Islands very consistent and warm throughout the year. There are only two seasons in Hawaii: summer (kau) from May to Oct and winter (hooilo) from November to April. The average daytime temperature at sea level is 85° F (29.4° C) during summer and 78° (25.6° C) during winter. Temperatures at night are ~10° F lower than daytime. The wettest months are from Nov to Mar, but winter rains do not generally disrupt vacation plans, since the weather is very localized. This means that if it is raining where you are, there is almost always a sunny spot to be found around the coast. Most of the rain falls in the mountains and valleys on the windward (northeastern) side of the islands. It is this weather phenomenon that creates Hawaii’s rich, green, tropical environment. Wind can vary throughout the day. Wind and rainfall varies hugely between different part of each island, and obviously the vegetation is most lush in the rainy areas. Using Google Maps Satellite Mode to see the dark green areas helps indicate vegetation and rainfall.
- timeanddate.com - Maui 14 Day Extended Forecast - check before you go.
- gohawaii.com - Climate in The Hawaiian Islands - includes more info about the wind, surf and climate zones.
Advice From My Maui Trip
I went on a solo trip to visit Maui in Nov 2020. The flight had some turbulence, but the real suck was at the airport. It was a massive line to get past security (and to baggage claim), it took 1.5 hours and at the end I showed my QR code and they let me in. Phew. Hopefully they have smoothed out the process since. I was afraid that somehow my QR code wouldn't work, so not until I was in, did I book my rental car (the rental car pickup area is not far from arrivals via a quaint and easy little free tram)... I went with Budget for a $18 a day electra - which was more than enough to handle Maui - it's not like jurassic park so 4WD seemed overkill. I booked a beautiful one bedroom in Kihei where I heard the weather was always pretty nice, and indeed it was. I would have been more comfortable booking all this way beforehand, but COVID makes it kind of necessary to be more spontaneous. The following is advice I have if you've committed at least a few days to explore the island !
Big Shopping Trip First
It's tempting to explore immediately, but first think about going shopping for some food for your stay (breakfast, fruit, snacks, etc). Get one big shop out of the way now, and then you can easily buy little extras as you need. If you're smart you'll decide to buy some snorkeling gear too! On Oahu, you'll see ABC stores everywhere and they are actually terrific! The beach mat is <$4 and fantastic, then they have lots of fun floating toys (donuts, air mattresses, and more) already inflated ($4-8 each), and everybody loves buying the poke bowls or the little spam musubi treats.
Bring or Buy Your Own Snorkeling Set
There's some magnificent fish just off the beaches of Hawaii - and a great probability you'll see green turtles in the water. You'd be crazy not to snorkel! Oh sure, you can rent gear in some places, but half-decent snorkel and googles sets are as low as $15 in many stores (ABC or even Safeway) so that's the better option for sure! Each day you can drive to different places, and you'll be pretty frustrated if you don't have snorkeling gear with you. If you don't have baggage room on your return you can write a little note to leave it as a gift for housekeepers or the next guest (being generous will make you feel awesome also). Snorkeling fins help you go fast (~$30 for an okay set), but are not really critical if you are an okay swimmer already.
Some tips on your mask. (1) Whatever quality mask you have, they all have a film on the inside of the glass you'll want to remove else it will fog like crazy.. you can rub toothpaste on it with your finger, or burn it off carefully with a lighter.. the first is easier. (2) You should be able to hold it to your face by sucking in through your nose (without fingers), and the silicon makes the mask... the stuff in the ABC stores you can't try on beforehand (they come sealed) and the rubber around the edge is only good for a few days, so if want something that lasts go to a dive shop and pay $50 to $100 for a proper silicon mask.
Now another hot tip. Always respect the wildlife. You must keep 30 feet from turtles that you see on the beach or in the water. I always respect "do not feed the wildlife" signs, but nobody mentions feeding fish, cuz with fish it doesn't matter. So try this... put a few of slices of bread in a ziplock bag to put in your back pocket when you go snorkeling for even more fun snorkeling!
I'm not a diver, but I met so many people that enjoyed the diving. There's many spots that are "once in a lifetime", but unfortunately the reason they say that is that diving in Hawaii can be three times more expensive than anywhere else! Check prices and maybe think of saving your diving money for Mexico.
Prep Your Car for The Beach
Put that car to good use! You've already unloaded all your bags into accommodation, but now take anything you'll possibly want for the beach and hiking and put it into your car. If you are lucky your accommodation might provide more than just towels, they might have fun things like beach umbrellas, boogie boards and portable chairs! :)
Here's some things you'll want in your car:
- MANY towels!! - I'm talking 3 per person... the sand is really fine, so you can easily use one to lay on the beach, one to dry off, one as a pillow, one to clean your feet, one to sit on in the car... you get the idea.
- Sunscreen, sunglasses - Very important. Apply sunscreen early and every couple of hours (it will wash off in the water sadly).
- Rain jackets, umbrella - In case or rain.. probably it will pass quickly, but if it doesn't a rain jacket is still good to keep you warm as night falls.
- Dry / warm clothes for night - As it becomes night you will get cold - especially if you're wet.
- Flip-flop / boots - These would seem pretty useless in your room right? You can walk everywhere around your accommodation barefoot anyway.
- Snorkeling gear / swimmers - As mentioned above... bring or buy them on the first day and always leave them in your car!
- Lots to drink - I think one-time use drinking bottles are bad for the environment, but since you don't have room in luggage for 50 reusable containers, it's a good option to buy a big set of green teas or whatever to help keep hydrated wherever you go. Just reuse as much as you can and pick up litter to help balance out your (my) naughtiness.
- Car chargers - Duh.
- Binoculars - If you're serious about bird or whale watching.
Drive Around the Whole Island (for your wholistic lay of the land) with Narration
Driving around the whole island gives you an amazing feel for what there is!
I consider this getting a "lay of the land". In a new place I feel like it's fantastic to quickly survey the whole area to work out what areas you might want to avoid (eg: where the expensive resorts are - the ones with the big fat white guys on their mobile phones while their fish lip wives take selfies) and what areas you want to explore more (eg: farmers markets, amazing looking rainforest or bamboo hikes, specific snorkeling beaches etc). Sadly with COVID some of the amazing activities like boat/helicopter rides are going to be closed... but talk to the locals wherever you go to ask for tips about what might be open and fun to do. I got tips about places for live music in restaurants and events where people dance on the beach.
Now if you really want to 2x enhance your drive, I highly recommend downloading the appropriate GyPWy Guide Audio Tour onto your phone before you leave! On Maui I did the Road to Hana narration and it was absolutely worth the $7, including really detailed tips from the beginning to fuel the car and which were the must see stops. So much great history is given along the drive too... and once downloaded it works without reception. Hopefully you've also already downloaded the whole island offline on Google Maps also.
For Maui you need one day for the northern half, one very full day for the southern half (waking up early) if you want time to stop at various beaches along the way. Tune into a local FM station like 103.9 (the tunes of the island) to drop into a nice relaxed mood pretty quick!.. but yes, an audio tour will really be incredible, and probably just as good if not better quality than you get for booking some of the $150 bus tours you see advertised. Ick... better to go at your own pace.
Drive Safe, Don't Speed - Especially On Windy Roads
If your drive takes you around cliffs or mountains all those turns it can be scary. Wake up early so that you don't have to night drive - avoid any situation where you have to drive fast. Most island will have cows and or dear that can just show up on the road after a sharp turn or at night... and yes, it could kill you. The locals drive really fast, but don't feel pressure to match their speed.... they know the roads you don't. If there's a group of cars all doing 10 over the limit you might try to keep case, but it's when your car is by itself that suddenly you realize there's a cop on the road with a speed gun. Happened to one of the guys I met... $160 fine.
Be Careful of Theft
Most island young or homeless locals breaking into cars is a huge issue. Everyone I talked to suggests carrying all the valuables (phones, keys, wallets) with you even for short hikes else you might return to a broken window. Putting stuff in the trunk doesn't ensure safety. It's safer to keep that kind of stuff like your suitcase in your hotel or even hostel.
Be Cool With The Locals
Some of the locals tolerate tourists... others do not! Some locals realize that tourists are half the reason why they can barely afford to live on their island anymore. Indeed there are many homeless and big issues with drugs. Locals have a very nasty word assigned just for tourists, and so if you can try your best not to look or behave like an idiot - that's a good start.
One place this starts is on the roads. Lots of the locals speed, so if you see a car in your rear view mirrors, pull onto the shoulder and let them pass... often they appreciate this so much they will wave, but if you wait too long you'll get the finger instead.
Be a good human, be friendly to everyone. Even at the cash register, ask them how their day was, and their favorite thing to do after work. Drop you big city "gotta-run-everywhere-cuz-I-hustle" or "I-am-a-big-shot-at-my-company-on-the-mainland" attitude off at the airport, because locals will spot that from a mile away and hate you before you even open your mouth. Embrace flip flops. It's okay to admit you are visiting for the first time and would hugely appreciate advice, just do it from a genuine place. Give away compliments to locals and smile. Notice the difference between what locals wear and what idiot tourists wear and try to look as much like a tourist as you can manage. :)
Learning to Surf
Learning to surf is so fun!
If you're a first time surfer, like I was, playing for lessons is kind of a necessity. That will save you lots of time with bad technique, not knowing which waves to catch, not knowing the right board for your body, not knowing the correct way to stand up, not knowing the right beach/area for beginner waves, not knowing surf etiquette, having no idea which waves to try catching and when to paddle and all the other pitfalls that maybe your friend-who-kind-of-knows-how-to-surf won't know or will forget to tell you. In most lessons they'll teach you the basic paddling and standing up technique on the beach, then they'll paddle out with you and tell you when to paddle - they'll push you onto the waves (which is pretty necessary your first time) and yell out when to stand up and correct your technique ("lean forward", "look up", etc). I paid $70 for a two hour surf lesson in Maui from "Maui Surf and Cultural Adventures" in Lahaina, and it was totally worth it - I highly recommend these guys! I was standing up on my first lesson, and catching waves without the push on my second. A good tip is to write down their advice on the best beaches for beginners and your best board... when I went to Waikiki, I forgot what board they put me on (it was a 12 foot longboard), so wasted an hour of time on a board that was too small for me and therefore "tippy". I think the most valuable thing to know is your arms will get very tired and you should hydrate a TONNE before you go out. Actually even leave a gallon water bottle for yourself on the beach (the only thing that has zero chance of getting stolen). Everything else leave with the surf place to keep safe. I also realized I wish I'd taken a waterproof watch out with me so you know how long you've been out (for when you are due back). Your first time you will get exhausted and probably not last more than two hours of trying and trying again.
PS: A couple of YouTube videos on how to surf can't hurt either!
PSS: Buying a surfboard is expensive... *unless* you take the only cheap option - they sell $115 foam surfboards in some Cosco shops in Hawaii! Only in Hawaii. :)
Follow your Own Path
Okay, once you have a lay of the land and talked to a few locals, hopefully something has tempted you.
Oh, and once again - don't get sunburnt on your first day! Hahaha.
Advice From My Oahu Trip
After a month in Maui I decided I wanted to check out Oahu - the one with the big city of Honolulu. I heard that it doesn't have the same charm of Maui, but I really wanted to see Pearl Harbor and if you're a foodie the food in Oahu is really quite good. The best selling point was that, at the time, you didn't need to get retested if you were flying from any other island into Oahu (any other inter-island travel requires a test, and that might be costly!). I arrived on December 24th 2021 - almost forgetting to register my trip on travel.hawaii.gov, but I got the QR code instantly (because it doesn't require a test). This trip isn't vacation just as an FYI... I work for Google Maps, so I need to code, and while I did a fun stay in a hostel in Maui and made lots of friends, you can't work in a hostel, so I went with the Coconut Waikiki Hotel (which I recommend) for ~$100 a night - knowing that I could easily work from my room, and also had a great view. I decided not to get a car though, since I'd be working Mon-Fri.
Although I broke this up into a Maui and Oahu, most of the advice from Maui applies here to Oahu too.
Beware Honolulu Big City Traffic and Parking
Coming from Maui to Honolulu is almost a shock... you suddenly see eight lane highways. Make no mistake, this is a big city. There are almost a million people on Oahu, mostly in Honolulu. Parking can be tricky, just as with any city... another reason I decided to try avoiding a rental car - for the start at least. Car theft is also a worry here too apparently, but most of my friends had no issues touch wood.
Waikiki - Tourist Central
My hotel is in Waikiki, which is basically a whole suburb for tourists just west of Honolulu downtown and separated from the "local" parts by a slightly smelly artificial canal, the Ala Wai canal. Imagine Venice beach shoved up against Beverly Hills... so insanely expensive designer bag stores along the esplanade. The beach is magnificent though. It's crowded, but beautiful to relax on, or learn surfing in one of the most forgiving gentle surfs you'll ever see. You can walk almost a hundreds of meters and still be standing on the sand. Actually different areas of Waikiki's shore are for different levels, so you'll have to ask someone, and to rent a board they'll probably send you to "Moku" for the cheapest deal (~$5 an hour).. it's one block from the beach and they'll look after your stuff, but if you want a better or bigger board you'll have to try one of the surf board rentals next door.
Exploring Oahu - Biki Bike riding and Epic Hiking
If you're doing a week definitely pay $25 on your first day to get 5 hours work of "Biki" - a ride service with bike stations all around Honolulu. After a long walk along the beach you'll often just want to "Biki" home. Although most people stay in Waikiki, it's not a huge walk or bike ride to get to quieter beaches or a beach like Queens beach with often has surprisingly good snorkeling against the walls. I saw my first Hawksbill turtle there! But to visit Oahu and not see the other parts of the island, like the famous "North Shore" (with its huge surf in winter) is sightly sinful. I was lucky to find some lovely people to travel with, but there are good bus tours around the whole island, and the rainforest hiking around the island is incredible! Oahu might just have better hiking than Maui I think, but I haven't done enough honestly!
Packing for Hawaii
What to Wear
So this should be pretty obvious. Pack several swim suit. I knew this, yet for some crazy reason I packed 2 jeans (plus the ones I wore on the plane) and only 2 swim suits and maybe 4 shorts. I should have just no jeans, and 4 swim suits - the ones with pockets - because you never know when you start with a "I'll just walk along the beach", but then want to jump in for sunset. Multiple swim suits mean you just dry one out at any time. Light t-shirts are good, plus a pair of flip-flops, *and* if you do hiking on Oahu, take a pair of comfortable hiking shoes that have good grip *but* which you are also okay being destroyed in the mud. They will be destroyed! I think a good hiking bag is a good idea... mine wasn't quite big enough!
What Else to Pack
... most of this I've actually already covered in the "Prep Your Car for The Beach" section, but let's do it again for what you might want to pack into your suitcase (versus buying in Hawaii):
- Big hiking bag and binoculars - for hiking.
- Snorkeling equipment - if you already own a good set of snorkeling goggles or fins, pack it!
- Surf shoes - the coral is sharp off many beaches
- Rash guard - for surfing and/or sun protection.
- Empty water bottles - for hiking.
- Rain jacket and umbrella - yes it can get really rainy.
I'll let you know anything else I think of... it's subtle things like bringing a wireless charger for your phone because there's a good chance you'll get sand in the charging slot of your phone. Bet you didn't think of that. Obviously you want lots of sunscreen - careful to put it in your checked in luggage or it will get confiscated. Now here's something you wouldn't think of... some of the mountains are high altitude and so suddenly, *yes*, some people have caught frostbite in Hawaii! It's rare, but if you plan on climbing a volcano/mountain, look up the temperature on Google and if you don't have room for a warm jacket, just wear jeans and layer up with your rain jacket and multiple shirts or a blanket! Don't get cold on one of the mountains like many idiot tourists that drive up and then suddenly start shivering. Yup, I was one of them on Mount Haleakala! :)
It's great to go into Hawaii knowing a little about the wildlife there. In Maui I was lucky enough to come across a wonderful turtle watch group, looking over a nest of Hawksbill sea turtle eggs. There are two types of turtle you might see... the Green Sea Turtle, and the Hawksbill Sea Turtle - but the Hawksbill is much less common because it is endangered and struggling to survive. The Hawaiian Monk Seal is also endangered.
How can you help? At a base level, make sure you keep 10-15 feet away from turtles, which can be seen basking. Maui is one of a few places where turtles regularly bask (nobody knows exactly why - but it's probably mostly to just rest in peace for a bit).... and there are many beaches you can walk where you might see the big green turtles just climbing onto the beach to bask (or at certain times lay eggs). This happens night and day - at night on the beaches of Kihei I saw a cluster of twelve beached turtles - but it's definitely more magical during the day because you can get a good look at these beautiful creates while still respecting distance.
You can also help by knowing:
- NOAA's 24-Hr Marine Mammal Emergency Hotline: (888)256-9840 ....... (to reported stranded, injured or entangled whales, dolphins, seals and turtles).
I actually ended up using this hotline on my 3rd day in Maui soon after I was snorkeling and I saw a small green turtle (length of my forearm) which had fishing line in it's mouth that had wrapped around its neck many times and then once around it's back. You are obviously not supposed to touch turtles, but in this case I tried to catch it to help, but I didn't have fins at the time, so the animal got away. Thanks to this hotline, they took down the time and location and are going to dispatch some volunteers to try to find him and try to save his life. If you want to support them check out Hawaii's Wildlife Fund at: www.WildHawaii.org.
I've already mentioned Hawaii has some amazing fish diversity when you snorkel, but it's not a bad idea to go out with others, as there can be occasional tiger sharks around certain beaches. Attacks are very rare, but in the unlikely even you see one, just stare it down - do not turn and try frantically swim away - that just signals that you are prey.
Hawaii has whale watching opportunities at certain times of year, and some fun colorful birds, so bringing binoculars with you is a great idea if you are hiking or trying to spot whales off the coast. :)
- hawaii-guide.com - Things to know about visiting a reopening Hawaii
- HuffPost - Which Hawaiian Island Is for Me?
- WF HNL - Document by a fellow Googler. It's really good.