Traveling on a Budget: A Review of my Vacation to Maui
I never realized the value of a vacation until I started working full time. You could even say I took my travels to Thailand, Hungary & Turkey for granted. My trips during college were an awesome experience that I would recommend to anyone at any age. But for working professionals, who get anywhere from 2-4 weeks off a year, vacation time becomes a precious commodity. I get two weeks a year but I think I would be a lot happier with four
The most expensive and crowded time of the year in Hawaii is from Dec. 15 to Jan. 10. While most of the country is immersed in snow, Hawaii stays relatively tropical: 80 degrees and sunny. During this time, you’ll find hotels are completely booked, parking is scarce, restaurants are full, and the beaches are packed. During the offseason, Maui seems like a different place. You won’t find it completely devoid of tourists, but the beaches will be less crowded, restaurants have more availability and best of all, prices for airfare and hotel can be up to 50% off.
No matter where you travel, getting there is usually one of the biggest expenses. Airfare pricing is cyclical; there is really no secret to getting the best prices. Obviously, you want to book 2-3 months in advance, but the main factor will be the time of year you intend to travel. The easiest way to reduce your airfare cost is to travel in the offseason. Many tropical destinations have stable weather year long round and for the others, try to go in the transition times like Spring or Autumn. You don’t want to travel to Russia in the middle of the winter even if the flight is only $500, trust me.
If you have flexibility in your schedule, there are some good sites online that offer last minute travel at huge discounts. I use Travelzoo and Kayak whenever I need to search for flights. Travelzoo has a top 20 list they send out every week with some great deals on travel. I haven’t bought any of them, but there are some that seem very tempting. This can be a great option for the extremely budget conscious traveler.
For travel within the US, I almost always try to fly Southwest. In my opinion, they are the best budget carrier around, key word being budget. You won’t get the amenities or options of other carriers, but they get the job done. Southwest won’t charge you outrageous fees to change flights and you can even cancel your reservation up until the day of your flight and receive credit for your next flight.
After airfare, hotels and lodging are usually the next biggest expense. For this trip, we stayed in a condominium hotel called the Honua Kai. About 70% of the units are owned by private owners and the hotel owns the other 30%. Our ocean front studio was about $200 a night less than a comparable room in the Westin or Hyatt down the road. Our 900 sq. ft. studio had been recently renovated, so it was in immaculate shape with brand new stainless steel appliances and granite counters in the kitchen and bath.
I’ve used Vacation Rentals By Owner(VRBO) for my last few trips and saved a ton of money, while staying in some beautiful rentals. They have what seems like an infinite directory of vacation rentals, from condos to houses all across the world. Some of the units are managed by the actual owner while others are managed by management properties. For large families or groups of friends this should be your first choice.
One of the benefits about staying in a vacation rental or condo is there is usually a full kitchen available. When I’m on vacation, I don’t need to eat out for every meal. Our lanai view above, was a great setting for breakfast every day. But if you want to eat out, try going for happy hours and look for reasonably priced local restaurants. The best meal we had in Hawaii was out of a school bus called Bruddah’s BBQ on the side of the road that we found on Yelp!
We used Yelp and Trip Advisor to figure out which activities and restaurants we wanted to try. Since we were only there for 5 days, I didn’t feel the need to do many paid activities. Maui has some of the best shore snorkeling in the world and with a little research you can find out the best spots on the island. We drove 15 minutes to Honolua Bay on our second day, and by noon there were 3 chartered catamarans(all departed from near our hotel) anchored offshore. Each person on these boats paid $75 to be taken to this amazing bay and I’m sure they thought it was worth it(I came within 3 ft. of 2 giant sea turtles!), while we drove and parked nearby for free!
I’ve given you some great ways to save so far, but remember you are on vacation. Don’t forget to splurge on one or two things while you’re there, whether it’s a nice dinner or an awesome activity. Our splurge was the Old Lahaina Luau, at $100/person. Was it worth it? Probably not, but we had a great time, ate and drank all we could, and sat beachside during sunset for dinner and a show.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of the costs of our 4 night/5 day trip to Maui for two people:
Do you like these suggestions or do you prefer to splurge and pamper yourself on vacation? Is there anything you do on vacation to save money that I missed?
-PF ProTags: Maui, VRBO