Flights, food, rental cars, baggage fees, accommodations… Traveling is super expensive. Although we like to scroll through our various social media accounts and dream about one day seeing the world, the reality is that the money isn’t always there. If you’re like me (poor) and want to see the inside of an airplane anytime soon, you’ll either need to shape up your budget travel strategies or kiss your wanderlust dreams goodbye.
Last week, I went to Maui with my lovely boyfriend Tyler. We both super wanted to go on a vacation but also needed to leave enough dollars in our bank accounts so we can purchase overpriced textbooks come fall. After much research about how to travel cheap, we went on a whim and chose Maui as our destination. Now, Maui is not the typical budget travel destination by any means (grocery store bagged salad cost SEVEN dollars😱) but we managed to do it on working student budgets. The whole trip cost us under $999 per person, shave ice included. Here’s how:
One of the most expensive parts of traveling (and why I always opt for road trips) is flights. I’m not a super go-with-the-flow experienced traveler and I don’t have any intriguing-yet-sketchy hacks to getting ridiculously cheap flights. My process is to use multiple airline/traveling sites and manipulate dates, airports, and times until I have a flight that’s within my budget and hopefully doesn’t involve a 20 hour layover. The sites I like to use the most are Skyscanner and Kayak, but I also recently downloaded the app Hopper and am really lovin’ it so far. I usually set up price alerts to know when flight prices change, and Hopper is really cool because it will tell you what the price will likely do. We flew from Oakland to Kahului for $436 each. This involved us waking up at 2:30AM in order to road trip to the airport in order to get through security in time to leave at 9:25AM, but hey! You do what you gotta do to get the dealzzzz!
p.s. Hawaiian airlines serves passion-orange-guava juice in flight. If the cheapest flight you found is on Hawaiian, do a happy dance for passion-orange-guava juice!!
!!Pro tip!! You’ve got some kind of skill and someone needs it. Trade your services for island accommodations!
I’m pretty lucky to have a stud boyfriend who knows his way around a camera and post-processing software. With his photography/videography skills and my persuasive letter writing, we were able to get in touch with two locals who own vacation properties and were in need of photos for their websites. After a little bit of communication, we came to a deal where we essentially exchanged work for free accommodation. Doing this, we were able to score six nights free. Without this leap of faith, there’s no way that we would have been able to afford our trip. On top of that, we would have been in hostels the whole time, and this way, we were oceanfront! Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who may be able to benefit from what you have to offer. Be real about your skills and show your value. You may just end up with an oceanfront condo in exchange!
Our next hurdle was how to get around the island. Tyler and I are both 19 so we figured that rental cars were out of the question. Hertz will let you rent a car at 20, but they charge underage fees so high (30$ per day) that it made the rental car idea not affordable even if we waited until after our 20th birthdays. We figured we would do our best to rely on Uber to get us around UNTIL Tyler made a discovery. If any of you out there are children, grandchildren, or even members yourselves of USAA and have car insurance through them, woohoo! You can rent a car starting at 18 years old without underage fees though Hertz. This discovery saved us $240 and allowed us to be able to do things like wake up at 3:30AM to drive to the summit of Haleakala to watch the sun rise from above the clouds🌅
Something that doesn’t fit well with traveling cheap is the cost of restaurant food in Hawaii. We tried to keep our food expenses cheaper than cheap which meant that we almost entirely skipped restaurants. Rice and beans, baby! It was important to us that our accommodations had kitchens so that we would be able to throw together our own meals. We checked one bag at the airport and in that bag we had things like snorkel gear and sunscreen but also things that we brought from home like Cheerios, granola bars, trail mix, nuts, and other non-perishable snacks. The first thing we did once we set our suitcases down at our condo was make a list and hit the grocery store! We planned our dinners to be meatless tacos, meatless burritos, pasta, and frozen pizza. We only bought sandwich stuff for lunches. In Hawaii, perishable = expensive because most produce, dairy and meat has to be imported. These meals cut down the amount of ingredients we would have to buy and therefore saved us money. We ate cheerios every morning for breakfast and packed ourselves sandwiches for lunch with granola bars and trail mix. It’s super simple and not very exciting or healthy, but we figured that splashing around the ocean and hiking in rainforests validated our mealtime sacrifices.
(Our 4 year anniversary fell during our trip so we went out for fish tacos that night. We also didn’t skimp on the shave ice, açai bowls, or fresh-caught poke bowls. Gotta live it up a little, right?)
The bad news: Traveling while being poor means skipping the fun advertised tourist traps such as snorkel boat rides, guided road to Hana tours, and ziplining.
The good news: Maui is a picture perfect amazing piece of Earth that can be enjoyed for F-R-E-E!! The beach is free, the rainforests are free, the warm water and the sea turtles that live there can be seen for free, and even the road to Hana is free. You’ll have plenty of things to do without blowing your college savings account to bike down a volcano. Tyler and I brought snorkel gear from home and went almost every day. We swam in the water, soaked up the tropical sun and drove around the entire island, seeing a new beach every day. The only activity we paid for was entrance into Haleakala National Park in order to see the sun rise — it was $15 and definitely worth it. Here’s some photos of what kept us busy:
This whole trip made me realize that traveling dreams can be realized by just saving your pennies for plane tickets and then living off of cheerios and guava juice. One day I’ll make it big and will be able to actually stay at the beachfront resorts with hot tubs instead of sneaking in, but in the meantime this style of traveling works just as well😉
Let me know if anyone out there has any exciting traveling-cheap hacks and where you’ve been! The only way for me to recover from post-vacation depression is to plan another one. I wanna hear your stories too!