Earlier this month, my husband and I went to Kauai for four days to support our friends who were competing in a basketball championship. We were planning to go to a neighbor island for our first year wedding anniversary last month but we decided to celebrate our anniversary with a Kauai trip with our friends. This was our first trip to Kauai and we weren’t disappointed. Even though many guidebooks and online articles provided a lot of information on beaches to go to, snorkeling spots, and hiking trails, we couldn’t really fit it into our itinerary because our schedule was centered around our tubing timeslot, dinner cruise schedule, and the basketball championship. It also rained on the last day of our trip so we spent the day packing and going on a mini food tour: Hamura Saimin for the lilikoi chiffon cake, Wailua Shave Ice for the lava flow shave ice, Fish Express for the spicy lobster poke, and Chicken in a Barrel for their tender bbq chicken and beef.
We tried our best to save money with our friends on this trip since several of our friends were in college. We could’ve saved more money by skipping the tubing and the dinner sail but these were experiences that we didn’t want to pass up because we don’t plan to come back to Kauai for a long time (we have a long list of new places to visit!).
Unfortunately, we were told that our boat tour was not going north to see the Na Pali Coast due to the high surf. They were going to cruise the south side of the island instead. We decided to continue with our reservation since it was already paid for and we already blocked out a chunk of time for the cruise. It was still a great experience thanks to the great customer service, all the dolphins and turtles that visited us, and, since many cancelled their reservations, our boat was half full, giving us plenty of room to nap and relax on the trampoline! We also wanted to do the tubing adventure because Kauai is the only place in the world that has it. We have been wanting to go to Kauai just to go tubing and it was worth the cost. Our guides were experienced and funny while the ride was long, relaxing, and fun especially when we bumped into our friends in the dark.
Below is the breakdown of what me and my husband spent on our portion of the trip:
Round-Trip Tickets from Island Air: $248
Car Rental and Gas: $90
Dinner Sail: $203.10
Meals and Incidentals: ~$300
Total Cost: ~$1117.77
Some of the ways we saved money include:
- Picked a date near a holiday or planned the trip for the weekend: This will save your vacation hours that you can use for future trips. If you do a weekend trip, you can leave Friday night and come back Sunday night. Unfortunately/fortunately for us, the date of the basketball championship was what determined when we needed to be in Kauai but we had Election Day near the same weekend, which meant we had one less work day to worry about (for only 2 of us! Oops!). We left Thursday night and came back Monday night leaving us Tuesday to rest (Sorry to everyone else who had to work on Election Day!). Lesson of the day: Make sure to confirm that you (and your friends) have the holiday off because some places don’t count certain holidays as a paid vacation for their employees.
- Looked for discounts and savings wherever possible: Before our trip, I regularly researched various places online for the cheapest hotels, car rentals, things to do, where to eat, and which gave the best Kama’aina discounts for a Na Pali boat tour. Most of us were Hawaii residents so we were able to get Kama’aina discounts for Captain Andy’s Na Pali Dinner Sail and Kauai Backcountry Mountain Tubing Adventure. They gave us between 20-25% off and included dinner and lunch, respectively. One of our friends also works in the hotel industry and was able to get some deep discounts for hotel and car rental (look at our portion for hotel and car rental above!). Moreover, when we got back from the trip, I was randomly browsing discounts through my union and found out that I could’ve gotten an additional 15% off our airfare since we booked online! I was so mad at myself for not checking this sooner.
- Rented a car: I know this is an optional expense and we could’ve taken the bus but it did save us a lot of time and money especially since we were traveling with a group of 10 and were on a limited time schedule. Our hotel was in Princeville so it took us at least 30 minutes to an hour to get to many of the main tourist spots with our rental car.
- Split costs: Since my husband and I were traveling with friends, we were able to save money by splitting the cost of hotel, car rental, gas, and some meals. We paid each other through the Venmo app, which made it very easy to give the correct amount of money to the people we owed. It was also easy for us to collect money from our friends when, for example, the restaurant only gave us one check for dinner. My husband paid for the bill and we just had our friends Venmo us their share, which we could then send to our bank accounts.
- Bought breakfast and snacks from Walmart:
I knew we needed to go to a grocery store to pick up water and snacks so we don’t spend too much on food, but one of our friends thought we should also cook breakfast at our hotel since we had a full kitchen. Since we were on vacation and on a limited schedule, I didn’t want to bother with cooking and cleaning and would rather buy breakfast at a bakery or at 7/11. However, my husband thought it was a good idea and woke up early to cook us breakfast everyday. We bought the ingredients and utensils (less things to clean!) at Walmart along with a case of water, gatorade (for the basketball championships), and snacks. We had rice, eggs, turkey bacon, regular bacon, and sausage. My husband cooked the eggs and meals, two of our friends cooked rice every day, and the rest of us just helped to set up the table and clean up afterwards. We spent a total of ~$100 but it fed 8-10 people breakfast for four days (~$3/meal). The guys also decided to catch crabs at Queen’s Bath at 5am one morning so we also had some crab and prawns with our breakfast.
- Found free but fun things to do and see: We couldn’t leave Kauai without visiting Waimea Canyon and Wailua Falls which were both free and easy places to access even though it took us 1-2 hours to get there! Near our hotel, we visited Hanalei Pier, Kilauea Lighthouse, and Queen’s Bath. We were so sad that we couldn’t swim at Queen’s Bath after seeing all these amazing pictures and videos online but the surf was crazy and it is better to be safe than sorry. At one point during our hike around Queen’s Bath, my husband and I got really scared and held onto each other and the rocks because a huge wave hit us even though we initially thought we were safe because we were more inland! (Note: Whenever you are near water, make sure to check the weather, surf conditions, lifeguards on duty, and possible riptides that you should avoid.) We also went to the Hanapepe Art Night and walked on the swinging bridge in semi-darkness (reminds me of the Capilano Bridge!) after our sunset sail. The Hanapepe Art Night was a relaxing and down-to-earth event compared to the huge crowds at local food, art, and music events on Oahu. I loved the music, the cheerful teenage hatmaker who gave free fishing stores, the Western-most bookstore in the U.S., and looking up at the clear night sky with a Venus brighter than I’ve ever seen it on Oahu.
- Avoided miscellaneous travel expenses: My husband and I were going to catch an Uber (use my code: cherryl929ue) from our place to the airport but Uber doesn’t pick up at the airport so our friend said we can park at her house since she lived close to the airport and we could catch a ride back to her house when we returned. We took an Uber from her house to the airport and, since she never used Uber before, I gave her my referral code for our Uber ride to the airport. She got $15 off her first ride as a new uber rider (which made our trip free) and I got $15 for my next Uber trip. My husband and I also do not want to pay to check-in our luggage so we used carry-on luggage. Unfortunately, I didn’t look at the details of Island Air’s carry-on luggage requirements so we were overweight and had to carry our excess clothing in our bags, but we saved $100 in luggage fees! Since we knew we were going to pack light, I also double checked our hotel to see if they had laundry facilities. It turns out that they had a washer and dryer in our room so a bunch of us were able to do a load of laundry each before we left (one less load to do at home!).
If you have other budget tips for Kauai, please comment below! 🙂