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Hawaii on a Shoestring Budget

The Deal Detective is’s resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She’s always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.

Cindy writes, “I am planning a trip to Maui leaving March 2, 2010, until March 9, 2010; then onto Kaua’i for five nights. I am looking to do this on a shoestring budget.”

Though the words “expensive” and “luxury” may come to mind when you think about Hawaii, it may be time to redefine the way you look at the Islands of Aloha.

With fewer people flying, the airlines are now offering a slew of deals and promotions to Hawaii, especially if you travel mid-week. Tuesday and Wednesday are typically the cheapest days to fly, and traveling mid-week also offers savings on hotel rates, which are usually higher for weekend stays. Companies like Pleasant Holidays are offering packages to Hawaii starting at $699 including round-trip airfare from San Francisco to Maui and three nights’ lodging. Hotels are also offering extra incentives such as free nights, breakfast, and additional discounts when you book through a provider like Expedia.

These deals don’t apply to Cindy’s travel dates, but they are examples of what kinds of savings are available and provide a good starting point when comparing overall prices. Plus, the economy doesn’t seem to be turning around too quickly, meaning that deals like these should be fairly plentiful closer to Cindy’s travel dates.

Many all-inclusive resorts may wow you with all the added perks that come along with the price tag such as activities, lessons, and meals, but staying at a vacation rental is another great way to save. You can rent cottages that sleep two people for as little as $50 per night on Maui. This is a steal, especially when compared to other lodging types. For comparison’s sake, B&Bs start around $150 per night.

The other major perk of renting is that you can also save on dining out by eating in. One of the best ways to experience a destination’s local culture is through its farmers’ markets, and Hawaii has its fair share. You can buy seasonal and fresh produce typically for less than at grocery stores and then cook your own meal back at your rental’s kitchen. Also, it’s wise to carry water and snacks with you, as many places charge hefty prices for each.

Other ways to save on food is to skip the big name restaurants, and instead look for the hole in wall places serving plate lunches. Eat a hearty lunch and a light dinner. This trick is used all over the world when it comes to sticking to a budget, since most restaurants offer a discounted menu during lunchtime. Also, don’t be shy about asking the locals where to eat and save, as this is often the best way to find those secret spots off the beaten path. You can also pack a picnic and find your own spot to enjoy your meal. This option typically guarantees the best seat in the house.

As for activities, Hawaii offers a smorgasbord of things to do that are either free or nearly free. Boasting some of the world’s most coveted beaches, the islands make it easy to enjoy soft sand and ocean waves without spending a dime. Do your research beforehand and then keep an eye out for free entertainment guides when you land, which typically list all the events taking place during your stay. Oftentimes, you can catch a performance, find a walking tour, or take a cultural lesson for free. It just takes a little more legwork to discover when and where.

Also, the islands are filled with historical and natural landmarks that you can visit and explore cheaply. For instance, you can take a drive along the Hana Highway (if you’re already renting a car), considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the world, for the price of a tank of gas. It is possible to also hike, bike, surf, or see museums without stretching your budget.

One thing you’ve got, Cindy, is plenty of time to plan. Use the time wisely by first contacting the Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau to receive free maps, guides, and tips on ways to save. You can also check for deals on the tourism board’s website.

I have faith that with a little prior planning, you can make your Hawaii vacation an affordable trip of a lifetime.

As for my other readers: Do you have an insider’s way to save on the islands? Can you offer Cindy tips on the best free attractions or activities? Please share any and all suggestions below.

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