The Official Budget-Friendly Hawaii Travel Guide

by - 8:00 AM

The people of Hawaii have a saying: malama Hawaii or malama aina. It means to take care of Hawaii or to take care of the land. From my understanding, this is a philosophy that pays homage and respect to the land because the land provides us with food, shelter, water and life. Meaning: we should take care of the land because the land takes care of us. And it’s not just a beautiful philosophy but a way of life for them.

As outsiders to the Hawaiian islands, we must defer to the people of Hawaii for their guidance. They have a connection with the islands that is sacred, their ancestors have been a part of this ecosystem for hundreds of years. At a minimum, we should leave nothing behind but footprints and take nothing but pictures. At a spiritual level, we have to let our intentions be known and wait for a response.

When arriving on the island of Oahu, Drew and I let our hearts ask for permission to visit and the island responded in such a beautiful way. It was time to experience Hawaii's beautiful food, culture, land; while crossing some items off of our bucket list as well. All in a budget-friendly way. We only explored the island of Oahu, but Hawaii encompasses many islands! 

While we aimed for a budget trip, we did splurge on one category: excursions. Drew and I have this thing where we each pick one excursion each, or bucket list item to cross off, in a new place. He picked a helicopter tour and I picked surfing. 


Day 1
  • Travel Day
  • 7:15pm - Arrival
  • 8:00pm - Turo Car Rental
  • 9:00pm - Check into the Beach Waikiki Hostel 
Day 2

  • 5:00am - Wake Up
  • 6:00am - Breakfast
  • 6:30am - Diamond Head Crater / Hiking
  • 10:00am - Post-hike snacks including a Pineapple Dole Whip from Honolulu Pineapple Co. just outside the visitor center 
  • 12:00pm - Lunch 
  • 4:00pm - Open Door Helicopter Tour
  • 6:00pm - Ko'Olina Lagoon 4 for sunset
  • 8:00pm - Late night eats 

Day 3
  • 8:30am - Breakfast
  • 11:00am - Check out of hostel
  • 11:30am - Lunch 
  • 1:30pm - Turo Car Rental
  • 2:00pm - Uber to pick up camper van
  • 3:00pm - Pick up camper
  • 4:00pm - Grocery store to buy snacks and dinner
  • 5:00pm - Head to campsite 
  • 6:00pm - Set up campsite
  • 6:30pm - Sunset and dinner in the van
Day 4
  • Beach hopping
    • Turtle Bay
    • Kaaawa Beach 
    • Exploring and driving around, stopping at places that pique our interest
    • Hiking
    • Maili Pillbox
  • Lunch @ Huli Huli Chicken 
  • Sunset on the beach in the van
Day 5
  • Breakfast @ Sunrise Shack at Shark's Cove
  • Snorkeling at Shark's Cove or Pillbox North Shore Hike
  • Waimea Bay or Beach hopping  
  • Dinner in North Shore
  • Clean out van and pack up
Day 6
  • 10:00am - Check out of camp site 
  • 11:00am - Return camper van
  • 11:30am - Uber to the Vive Hotel in Waikiki
  • 1:00pm - Check into the Vive, get ready for beach
  • 2:00pm - Lunch @ Ono Seafood or Musubi Cafe Iyasume 
  • 3:00pm - Stop at ABC store for drinks, snacks for the beach and any final souvenirs
  • 3:30pm - Waikiki Beach
  • 6:30pm - Dinner
Day 7
  • Departure day 


When we landed we picked up our car rental, a Jeep Wrangler. Bucket list item #139: Drive a Jeep with the doors off/top down in Hawaii - CHECKED!


We rented the Jeep through Turo, which is very similar to AirBnB, but for vehicles. You rent a car from a local person, which is much cheaper than an airport car rental and you get to make a friend with a local who can help you out or give you recommendations, if needed. You'll have to find transportation to meet the owner and pick up the vehicle (we did Uber or Lyft) but the entire transaction, including the inspection of the vehicle, is done through the app so rest assured it's on record. Some Turo listings even let you rent beach gear, beach chairs, snorkel gear, etc. with the car! My only tip is to beware of listings that do not allow sand in their car, some people don't allow it and will charge you a cleaning fee. Other than that it's great!



We stayed in Honolulu first to get our bearings and adjust to the time difference. It's nice to stay put and acclimate for a little bit if you have time. Our choice: The Beach Waikiki Hostel. First time staying at a hostel and this one sets the bar high. We stayed two nights, 3 days. The hostel sits on a very narrow street that resembles an alleyway. But it added to the vibe, there are even some hidden gem food trucks on one end of the narrow street. Check-in created a great first impression, we felt immediately welcomed after a long day of traveling. The team did a great job explaining all of the amenities included, showed us the common areas, WIFI password and invited us to group hangs on the rooftop later. The hostel is comprised of several buildings on the street but the common areas are at the building with the check-in desk. You can rent a bunk which is the cheapest route or a private room. 

They gave us a free upgrade to a larger, private room. We’ve never gotten a random free upgrade before so this was unexpected and awesome of them. Our new room was basically a 1 BDR apartment with a private bath, kitchenette, balcony and parking spot! (Parking was an extra $18 a day but worth it). There was also coin laundry in our building. Air conditioning was a nice luxury too.

Lots of friendships being built at the hostel, there’s even a WhatsApp group chat for everyone to meet, coordinate, make friends. Nothing but good vibes and everyone looking out for each other. There’s also a free bin that has free items others left behind that you can use if you need it. We eventually added a bottle of detergent to the basket since we did laundry and didn’t use all of it. The sense of community here is really nice.

The rooms are simple, bare necessities with thoughtful touches added. The ceiling fan in our room was perfect. It had everything we needed in an unbeatable location with unique amenities for a budget friendly price. Food trucks were 100 ft from our room and we enjoyed them immensely every night. The beach and the main strip is about an 8 min walk.

The only cons if I had to say: Cleanliness isn’t 100% perfect but for the price, we didn’t care. And there aren’t any comforters or blankets on the beds, only flat sheets. Which makes sense from a housekeeping standpoint but we didn’t expect that!

100% recommend for the rooms, price, location, staff and good vibes! We would definitely stay here again.


The VIVE Hotel in Waikiki has been our go-to spot twice now. Typically after camping for a week, we want to acclimate back into society (and indoor plumbing) to freshen up before our long flight back home so we switch to a hotel for the last night or two. 

The VIVE is a great mid-level option as far as affordability with a luxe feel. We would highly recommend this hotel for anyone looking to stay in the Waikiki area - but not looking for luxury or a budget experience such as a hostel or a camping situation. 


We rented a converted camper van via AirBnb for 4 days, 3 nights. It was a fun and spontaneous way to see the island of Oahu. We were able to just keep all of our belongings in our camper van, which made going to the beach very easy and allowed us to drive all over the island with no game plan whatsoever! We beach hopped, napped pretty much anywhere we wanted, and were easily able to change or shower in our van. We didn't take many photos but we do have a mini-series on Youtube where you can see the van tour and our adventures in the van. 


A week in Oahu is not nearly enough to get the full experience but we developed a few favorites during our time there. If you're looking to save on time or money for your trip to Oahu, it's good to narrow down your list to some must-do items. If you decide to trust us, here's what we would do all over again! 


  • Ko'Olina Lagoon 4 (perfect for sunsets, very easy to swim)
  • Haleiwa Beach (also perfect for sunsets)
  • Ka’a’awa Beach (Small beach that’s usually empty, street parking)
  • Waimanolo Beach (large beach with shallow water)
  • Lanikai Beach (another large beach with shallow swimmable water and snorkeling)
  • Turtle Beach (family friendly, restrooms and resort nearby, very easy to swim, snorkeling here is good but bring flippers or water shoes if you go here cause it’s pretty rocky, Drew cut his foot here)


Breakfast places:
  • Sunrise Shack (multiple locations, my favorite was the Blue Dream Smoothie Bowl - see photo!) 
  • Farm to Barn in Haleiwa
  • Island Vintage Coffee (multiple locations) 
  • Mami's Empanadas in Honolulu on Cartwright Rd 
  • Leonard's Bakery for Malasadas 
  • Safeway on Kapahulu Ave, near Leonard's, for cheap eats (spam musubi, poke)
  • Musubi Cafe Iyasume
  • 7-11 Gas Stations!! 
Lunch/Dinner places: 
  • Yummy Huli Huli Chicken 
  • Haleiwa No. 7 Sushi truck 
  • North Shore Pizzas 
  • Loving Hut (vegan Asian


  • Get breakfast at Sunrise Shack and watch the surfers at Banzai Beach
  • Surf lessons on Waikiki Beach or DIY surf. Rent a surfboard from Uncle Tommy on the beach. Ask for him, someone will know. He'll also keep your stuff safe while you are surfing. 
  • Drive by Kualoa Ranch, where they filmed Jurassic park and other movies 
  • Green World Coffee Farm for pastries and coffee samples, enjoy them while walking through their garden 
  • Grab pizza from North Shore Pizzas and enjoy a picnic at Haleiwa Beach for sunset

Also be sure to check out our travel items for Hawaii! These came in handy for our trip and we love sharing our favorite things. 

Overall, we hope that you find this information helpful when planning your trip to Hawaii or Oahu! We fell in love the first time we went and ended up going back to Hawaii two years in a row. There's still so much to do and see even though we've been there twice. We hope to explore other islands outside of Oahu next time, especially Maui and Kauai. 

xoxo Vicky and Drew

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  1. What a great travel guide! I would love to visit Hawaii one day!

  2. Choosing to prioritize budget-friendly activities while still allowing yourselves to splurge on meaningful experiences, such as a helicopter tour and surfing, strikes a great balance between mindful spending and creating lasting memories. It sounds like you had a memorable and enriching journey while being mindful of the principles of malama Hawaii.


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