The challenge for our Hawaii vacation is to do a  3 week vacation for the price of a 1 week vacation. I looked at many package deals but found that planning & booking each part of the vacation ourselves will save us many dollars and we will have a much richer experience.

7 Steps to planning an affordable vacation:

1.  Combine it with a Conference -  many people have stipends to pay for travel & accommodation. One plane ticket is paid for, conference fees (which usually include social functions), accommodation & food during the conference.

  • My husband, has a yearly stipend for continuing education & he can attend a conference anywhere in the USA. He is an ethical guy so the conference needs to be good, educational & worth his time to attend. It took him many years to find one that was worth his time in Hawaii.

2.  Buy some Travel Books – My first step was to go online to Amazon and look at all of the travel book options (you can read excerpts & look at the table of contents), order some good books & order good maps. You can order 2 travel books & a map for just over $25.00 & qualify for free shipping.

  • I am an off the beaten track kind of a person so I steered away from the typical Guides & went for Andrew Doughty’s; Oahu Revealed & Hawaii, The Big Island Revealed. I also picked up a Frommer’ s Day by Day guide to get an idea of  the recommended beaches, activities & travel time between places. One thing that I have found in my travels is that looking at the mileage means nothing, you need to find out the minutes or hours between locations to plan a good trip. Maps - I like a map with the topography & elevations  listed & one that will stand wear & tear and some water.

Important Info I learned to help plan the trip:

  • Rainfall amounts – you don’t want to stay at a resort where it rains. The Big Island has 10 of the 15 climatic zones in the world. Hilo is one of the wettest cities in the US but head across the Island to the west coast and the rainfall is a shower in the late afternoon &/or early evenings.
  • Where do the tourist hang out vs. the locals, best beaches, best snorkeling.
  • Finding out the basics – Bank hours, ATM availability, where to buy the cheapest groceries, best deals on accommodation.

3.  Do some Web Surfing

  • Find some blogs & read others comments, we have found some great “off the beaten trail” info – hidden beaches, great hikes & great places to eat & sleep. Stuff you can do for free.  Trip Advisor is also  a great resource -  travellers leave feedback about any aspect of their vacation, including prices they paid for various things, where they got the best deals etc.

4.  Do you want to Island Hop?

  • The answer for us is yes – more to see – more to do! But the price of the trip goes up, as now you have airfare to another Island.

5.  Booking your Plane Tickets – Do you have a Credit card that builds flier points? I have many friends that pay for their airfare, accommodation & car rental with flier points.

  • I am not using points for this trip so I spent  some time looking for the lowest price fare. For my search I went online to various sites like Priceline, Orbitz, ExpediaTravelocity, Hotwire & checked out  the Travel Zoo site for new deals. Once you put in your flight information, many of these sites will track your request & email you with prices changes.
  • I found that fares fluctuated over the month I searched,  going up & down by  few hundred dollars. Mid-week travel is often cheaper but most of us start our vacations after work on a Friday & we want to stay until the last minute, so our tickets were booked for weekend travel & we paid a bit of a premium for that. In the end I booked with Priceline, I didn’t ” name my own price” as my husband & I are traveling to Hawaii together but home separately & we needed control over our flights. The cost of the plane ticket was $618.00 return Portland, ME to Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.

6.  Booking your Rental Car - What type vehicle do you want? In Hawaii there are many treks that you need a 4 wheel drive for.

  • I usually use Expedia for rental cars. You can make your reservation & you don’t have to pay until you pickup the car. You have the option to cancel if you find a better deal later. If I have some flexibility I’ll use Priceline which lets you “name your own price” &  Hotwire which will give you greater discounts if you prepay & they choose the rental agency for you.

7.  Booking your Accommodation – Stay in a Condo with a full kitchen so you can prepare your own meals.

  • Looking for accommodation was by far the greatest consumer of my time. I look for accommodation with a 3 star or higher rating. I obsess about it – checking internet sites out daily for the best price. I’ll blog more later on this as choosing where we want to go & for how long took some major leg work.
  • The goal: to be on the ocean (so you can hear the waves at night),  have a lanai with  an ocean view, have a condo with full kitchen, bedroom and be in a good location for price of ~ $100.00 – $125.00/night. Not asking to much is it?? but I did it ! I meet all of the criteria for between $100.00 – $120.00. (Condo rentals often tack on a cleaning fee of ~ $100.00 for the week).

Where I found our accommodations:

  1. VBRO – Vacation rentals by Owner – great site.
  2. Rotarian Magazine – vacation home listing in the back.
  3. Hotel Club – great internet site but only does larger population areas, like Waikiki Beach.
  4. Trip Advisor – read what others were saying about locations & prices.

In Part 2 I’ll go into some more detail, share some of the activities that are on our list & in Part 3 I’ll compare the anticipated price of our trip with a package trip & look at the pro’s & con’s.

Let me know any tips that you have. This is our first time to Hawaii – any suggestions for our Itinerary? The 2 Islands we are visiting are Oahu & The Big Island.

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