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Kauai on a budget – How to save money in Hawaii

Kauai – the little garden isle in the North-West of Oahu – is the most beautiful of all Hawaiian islands. Believe me: You will fall in love with this paradise! It is as if the spirit of Kauai puts a spell on every visitor but in a good way. However, Hawai’i is generally known for its expensiveness. So many people probably cannot afford a stay. We have been there for short trips twice and collected some money-saving hacks to travel Kauai on budget.

A flight from Honolulu (HNL) to Kauai Lihue (LIH) is already expensive – considering that it’s a 45min flight. You will get a roundtrip for $100-200. It just depends on the timing – holiday season and at what time you fly. If you find a better deal: Book it right away! In the meanwhile, there are also nonstop flights from the west coast of the U.S.

Travel Kauai on budget

Car rentals

If you wanna see as much as possible of the island, you should get an SUV or Jeep, because this way you don’t get stuck somewhere in the middle of the jungle or are restricted to main roads. Not being free to explore makes it not as much fun! The bad side of an SUV or Jeep is the gas consumption… If you get a very small car you might get through multiple days without stopping at a gas station. So it is your choice, how you want to save.

I am a huge fan of comparing prices before I book a rental car at all. So I check Rentalcars.com or Kayak and choose the best offer.

Sleeping

The main reason, why we chose a bigger car for our second visit, was to sleep in the car as well.

Seriously, it was the best decision we could have made!! So if you are fine with sleeping in the car, do it! It will save you a lot of money because Hotels or Airbnbs are still expensive on Kauai.

Rental car parked in the dunes of a beach for an over-night stay to do Kauai on a budget
Perfect spot with a view of the ocean

By sleeping in the car, we had the best vacation! We purchased a cheap air-mattress at Walmart, turned down the back seats and placed the mattress in the back. Then we parked our car every night at a different beach so that we could see the beautiful sunrise over the ocean every single morning. The sound of the waves will give you a peaceful sleep.

Please note that it’s apparently not legal to sleep in the car (a commenter pointed it out to me).

Sunrise view over the ocean from inside the car
Waking up like this is so much better!

If you are active the whole day, you may wanna shower. Most beach parks have public showers, so it is not that difficult to stay clean.

However, I know this won’t be for everyone. If you wanna enjoy hot showers and some local company, definitely try out Couchsurfing. We did it the first time and it was awesome! We met great people and we had a place to hang out, with a couch and shower.

Another option would be camping. Bring a tent and get some camping permits at the campsites – that’s cheap as well.

It just depends on, how you like to travel. Sometimes it’s also worth comparing prizes in order to travel Kauai on a budget: The cost of SUV & gas vs. hotel/Airbnb/Couchsurfing & small car.

Food

The first thing we did: Shopping at Walmart. It is conveniently located nearby the airport. In order to do Kauai on a budget, we wanted to get food supplies for breakfast and lunch snacks. Therefore, we purchased: water, nuts, fruits/dry fruits and other snacks (granola bars, thin crisps, chips, etc.). This way we could eat breakfast on the go and have a snack for lunch. Therefore, you basically just dine out once a day.

When you dine somewhere, it is kinda expensive on Kauai. Fish tacos are pretty much everywhere, but they also cost an arm and a leg. You can easily pay $16 for 2 fish tacos with rice. However, you can get it cheaper at some food trucks in e.g. Kapaa – super delicious!

Looking for more things to do on Kauai? Check out this article!

Free attractions

Lots of things are for free or at least cheap – so you can easily do Kauai on a budget. There is something for everyone! You can go hiking, snorkeling, surfing, diving, cliff jumping, beach hopping, and I could continue forever! I have compiled all activities on Kauai in a list – check it out!

The two major attractions in Kauai are the Na Pali Coast and the Waimea Canyon. Both are accessible for free – although you will need a camping permit for the Kalalau Trail if you choose to hike the whole 11mi trail (one way).

Coffee Farm

The Kauai Coffee Farm serves free coffee samples and, in addition, you can check out the coffee plantation. It’s a very lovely place to increase your caffeine level and learn about coffee. I went there every time to taste dozens of different coffee flavors.

Coffee cans at the Coffee Farm, which offers free samples
For the coffee-addicts

Macadamia nuts for “free”

In the Old Town of Koloa, there is a shop that offers “free” macadamia nut samples. I put the free in “ ”, because you mostly feel obligated to buy something, when you try a lot of different flavors. In addition, they are utterly delicious, so you’d like to buy a barrel of them – believe me! Koloa itself is a pretty town to check out. Stroll through the old town and check out the cute little shops.

Polihale Beach

The westernmost beach on the island is my favorite beach. It is calm, not too many people and the view is amazing! You can reach it only by a dirt road. We stayed one night right at the beach. The camping site of the State Park is right at the beach. There also are beach park facilities.

Polehale beach in Kauai - wide beach, blue water and mountains
Most beautiful beach on the island

We parked our car in the dunes because people already build some camping spots. Some even have fire rings. For me, it was the best night of all! After sunset, millions of stars came out, because this place is very very far from any light pollution. So you see many stars that can keep you busy for hours. I love watching stars! Lying in the sand on the beach, looking up and just getting lost in the wideness of the sky… it’s like a dream! And when you wake up, you’ll have the most amazing view on the ocean. Great, now I want to go back…

Traveling Kauai on budget has benefits: View from the car onto the ocean and beach at sunrise
For this view, I could sleep in the car for weeks!

Waterfalls

Hiking to waterfalls is of course for free as well. We went to the Ho’opi’i falls and it was fantastic. A short hike with two waterfalls, where you can jump in. So it’s a perfect little adventure.

There are also many others, where you can just stop by like the Wailua Falls or Opaekaa Falls.

Viewing waterfalls for free to do Kauai on budget
Nice little stop at the famous Wailua Falls

Online booking & Deals in magazines to plan Kauai on budget

If you want to do a helicopter flight or boat cruise to see the popular Na Pali Coast, check the websites of the tour companies. They will offer early bird deals or other special promotions so that you can keep your budget for Kauai.

At the car rental place and coffee farm, we got these typical magazines and flyer for tourists. This way we could check out some deals. Sometimes they have great offerings or it shows you at least some options for activities. So make sure you browse through them when you see them.  However, often the “deals” are extremely overpriced, like $100 for a Luau dinner show, which is ridiculous.

In the end, money should not be the reason to stop you from visiting this unique tropical island. You can always travel Kauai on budget and still have a spectacular vacation.

What is your best money-saving tip for traveling? Tell me by leaving a comment!

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Curious who writes here?

Curious who writes here?

Adventurer, digital nomad, and freedom seeker - that's me, Nate the Nomad!
In October 2016, I packed my bags in Berlin and been roaming the world with my husband ever since.
We are slow travelers, who enjoy the freedom of the location-independent life! We love to go on little adventures and to learn about new cultures everywhere we go.

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