Hi there. By way of introduction, I’m a massage therapist set to soon start graduate work in sport psychology across Greece and Germany, and I cannot wait to get that adventure rolling. Until then, I’m living out here in BC, working hard and traveling as much as possible.
This post is about how I did Hawaii for cheap, replete with tips and tricks to get you there too. First, some background. It had been a long, loooooong year of hard work that saw me move from my native Hamilton, Ontario, to Yellowknife in northern Canada, and then out to Vancouver before finally settling in Burnaby, BC, to work out of four locations: three clinics plus the local massage college. Curtly put, I was pooped. After close to a year of being in pure hectic mode, I needed to get out to a place where clothing was much more optional and sunshine much more available.
It was at this time that I read a post by a great mutual friend (and Gzowski Club co-founder). Somewhere in there he challenged me: “But remember, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. Are you happy about it?” No, Kacper. I wasn’t. I mean, I was—I was saving up money for school as planned—but my skin had been too long without colour. And, as Tom deftly points out, if you want it, you’ll find a way; if not, you’ll find an excuse. Plus, I had challenged my sister to see who could join the Traveler’s Century Club first a few years back and she had close to twice my tally of 10… and yep, you guessed it, Hawaii counts as a “country” on the official list. Everything pointed to the land of leis and luaus, so off I went!
Some quick notes: all prices below are in Canadian currency, which at the time of writing was pretty much the same as American dolladollabillzyo. And I travel light, quick, and cheap: my focus is checking things off and “me time”, in that order.
So at 2AM, April 6th, I booked a non-refundable ticket for two weeks distant. I’m extremely lucky in that work caters to my schedule so booking time off was a cinch (but of course, no vacation pay as a subcontractor). Unfortunately, $426.10 in the hole only got me a return flight from Bellingham, WA to Honolulu (already a savings of around $200 had I booked straight from Vancity; Alaska Air is a clear win over my preferred WestJet here—Allegiant is a good choice too). I still needed to get to Bellingham though. No fret, BoltBus to the rescue: for just over $7.00 you can make the 3-hour trek; return, this was $14.55. There were two downsides to this: first, since my bus left at 6AM I had to taxi from Burnaby to the terminal. That was $20. Two, BoltBus goes not to the airport, no. Once in Bellingham you must take a taxi or do what I did and take two local buses ($1.00 each—“Transfers? Oh we don’t do that here.”), and even then you have to walk about a mile to the airport. Total time this way is 2-3 hours depending on bus availability. Bellingham has a quaint downtown where you can grab a coffee but, were I to do this again, I’d probably fly out of Seattle instead to enjoy the cityscape more. As it was, I had 4 hours to lounge in Bellingham so I ended up buying a hot chocolate ($3.00) and a lunch from PitaPit ($6.00), which I was told is the cheapest food available near the central bus terminal.
Transportation covered, I did a quick search for hostels a few days after booking flights (so way before the pita mentioned above). HostelBookers was a great help, where I snagged three nights for $70.64 at the Polynesian Hostel Beach Club, easily the cheapest hostel in Honolulu (and a $15.00 30m direct shuttle away, or a $2.50, 40m bus ride that drops you off a short walk from the hostel, if you can carry your baggage). Book early though—it’s right on Waikiki so booking too late gets you nowhere. There is the Hokondo Waikiki, literally two buildings away—where I ended up getting an extra night, but at $32.52 it was definitely a shoddier deal.
Cash and food: I had $300 USD with me for the 5 days I was there and it was all spent by the time I was through. On a really tight budget, I’d still recommend having $100 USD when you land for your first 1-2 nights. Food: there’s a Safeway twenty minutes’ walk from the PHBC where prices are as high as they normally are at Safeway (except for the cheap fruits in Hawaii!), which is still cheaper than most of the local food places. Five days saw me buy buns, meat, and cheese for sandwiches, some oranges and some juice every second day for a total of $40.00. The hostel had more than enough fridge space to accommodate and there is an ABC grocery store just beside it where you can get necessities quickly (I got food there one day: dry soups, some juice, razors… all for around $15.00. Ouch).
The first thing that hit upon landing me was the humidity (fresh though—even pleasant, not invasive like what I was used to in the Hammer), the geckos on the sidewalks further in the residential areas, all the floral scents everywhere, and the fact that, despite it feeling like you had just walked into a butterfly conservatory, there are no bugs in Hawaii. The second thing that hit me was just how incredibly small the place was. With only about 400,000 residents and 30,000 tourists in peak season, it’s tiny. Nothing like small town Canada or rural Europe, but definitely no Toronto or even Vancouver. Just to give you a taste of what I mean: I ran into Andreas from the hostel thrice in the morning of my first day, just walking around Waikiki. The second day when I went for my lomilomi massage course, it turned out the girl I was massaging was not only staying in the same hostel as me but in the same room. And when, on my final day, I was heading out to the airport, who do I run into but my seatmate from the flight in, also returning to the continent!
Things to do: the first day I walked around the city, went to Mass at St. Augustine-by-the-Sea (7AM daily plus Sunday services, complete with a lovable Filipino priest who says things like “In this parbar Christ is our seperd and we are his seep, his tsurts.”), hiked up Diamond Head ($1.00 entry fee), and then surfed the evening ($10 beginner board rental at PHBC). The second day I took an intro to lomilomi massage course ($80, but only because I have some experience) and then met Manuel at the hostel, a super cool German dude who came out with me surfing that evening (boom, $10). The third day, Manuel and I took the hour-long bus ride from just outside our hostel to Pearl Harbour ($2.50, but the driver was super laid back and gave us a 4-hour transfer that we used to get back later). Others told us to get there early so we were on the bus by 7:00AM and there by 8:00 that morning. This is because, though the tickets for the super neat US Navy tour to the USS Arizona Memorial are free, they dry up quickly and the place gets crowded by noon. There are three other tours you can take, but they’re not as neat nor as cheap ($10-20). That evening we surfed again ($10!) and I caught my first wave!
Protip: if you’re decently athletic (ie: your reaction is to catch a ball and not slap at it wildly like a girl), don’t bother with a surf lesson. I spent my first afternoon surfing floundering, then I watched a video that evening that taught me the trick: don’t just wait for the wave to come and then stand up; do paddle like a fiend once a decent wave is 5m behind you until you catch it and are riding it. Then it’s a quick hop to your legs and you’re up. Also, don’t be afraid of the rocks and corals below you. Ignore them and, like on a snowboard, look where it is you want to go. It took me three 2-3h sessions to finally catch a wave and mount the board, but I immediately hopped off once I looked into the water and saw all the jagged rocks down there. Ignore them! And when you fall (“when”, not “if”), do a spread-eagle belly flop so the wave doesn’t take you under too deep where the sharp rocks are, especially if it’s shallow (Wakiki is super shallow and has loads of rocks, but is a great place for noobs).
My last day, Manuel and I just lounged by the beach, found some great outlet deals at Ross‘ ($113.01 got me Tony Hawk pro elbow & knee guards, three pairs of sport casual shorts—including some sweet CKs and Nikes, three Nike belts, and 11 undershirts: Reebok, Nautica). This would easily have come up to over $250 in Canada, and way over $300 anywhere else on Kalakaua Avenue (the main street along Waikiki). We then made it to the International Marketplace (highly recommended!) where I bought around $40.00 worth of gifts for family and friends, including some epic postcards for only 25¢ a pop! If you do make it to the market, go further in to buy coconut bras, kukui nut leis, backpack patches, and the like. The stalls furthest back have the same merchandise for half the price of anything along Kalakaua Avenue. Yes, I actually compared. Add all these purchases to the $50.00 I doled out my first night on gifts for the family at the same place I bought my razor (pearl necklaces, silver earrings, a lot of postcards) and I’m still batting under $100 for gifts.
And that was that. $2.50 once more got me back to my plane—where lunches aren’t complimentary, by the way—and then twice $1.00 again in Bellingham got me to my prepaid BoltBus shuttle (on the walk back from the airport where I stopped by Jack in the Box’ to get two delicious burgers for a mere $4.00, right on the highway) which got me to Vancouver, from where I spent one $4.00, two-zone ticket (wisely tucked in my wallet for just this purpose) to get me home to Burnaby. A note on duties with bringing swag back to Canada: if you’ve been gone 24 hours, you can claim $200 exemption; 48 h = $800 max claim. Higher than this and you’re paying our lovely government its share of the moola.
Net Expenses? All travel (taxi, flight, bus): $472.15. All food: $77.6 (including taking friends out for smoothies twice, just to get rid of extra American bills). Hostel: $103.16 (could have been $94 had I managed to book my last night at the PBHC). Entertainment (surfing, Pearl Harbor, lomilomi course): $111. Shopping & gifts: $203.01. Grand total: $970.92. This of course doesn’t include money lost by virtue of not working during this time.
Things I would do if I were to go again: snorkeling in Hanauma Bay ($15) and rent a scooter ($25/day, $5 to fill the gas tank) and ride around the whole island of Oahu. Likely spend less time on Waikiki, except for attending at least one firework show on the beach (every Friday night) and go to a luau. Ideally, make it out to Maui or Hawaii (“The Big Island”) where there are fewer people and more nature, or Molokai where there once was a leper colony. Maybe some surfing on the north shore of Oahu, where the waves are bigger and the surfers more territorial. And probably go with someone (traveling alone leaves you with unsharable memories), likely stay in a hotel/motel where we’d have our own room and not have to share it with 7 strangers, and eat a lot more fruit!!!
Thing’s I’d bring: spray-on sunscreen to make sure I cover every part of my body, aloe vera or a similar moisturizer in case I get burned, and a combination lock for the hostel locker. And probably come out for closer to 10 days; five is just not enough to take it all in!
Things I learned: I should budget and plan better. I often do things last minute, trusting myself to figure it out when I’m there instead of fully researching everything. I always do figure it all out, only it proves unnecessarily costly both in terms of time and money. On the positive side, I learned the value of vacations. I’m able to put my nose to the grindstone as long as need be, but forcing this isn’t good. I’ll be taking more vacations regularly, with better planning and budgeting in the future. I’ll also try and actually come back with a tan. Sure, I came back darker, but it was nothing like the bodybuilder-verging-on-Oompa-Loompa-but-not-quite-Jersey-Shore that I was going for.
Next up: Alaska & the Yukon (you got it, one of these counts for the race). Now let’s see if I can’t do it all for under $800…