How to travel Hawai on a backpacker budget

I currently live in Japan and I've done most of South East Asia. Really want to be somewhere tropical in January and I'm considering Hawaii - for the sake of something different and considering it's relatively cheap from Tokyo.

I'm not sure what it's like on a budget/backpacker style budget. I could, for instance, give Vietnam a second go instead. Any impressions? Also, being surrounded by Americans on vacation... is that a plus or a con? (It might generally be annoying but on the other hand I could try to use my British accent on girls who speak English for a change).

Top Answer:


Born and raised local boy here, person brah. Hawaii has lots to do and a lot of different vibes. Kauai is a world away from Oahu for example. Same goes for Maui, Big Island, etc. Choose what sort of experience you want to have and go to that island, is my recommendation. Remember though, Only Oahu has anything resembling nightlife or a city. The other islands are all nature, beauty, and feeling like you're in the middle of nowhere. Which can be cool. Biking from the bottom of Haleakala to the summit was nuts, and the area around the summit is fresh as hell.

It is definitely expensive. Honolulu consistently vies with NYC and SF for most expensive city. Not gonna be easy if you're on a budget, but you can couch surf and eat cheap. If you're on Oahu, sleeping on the beach can be kind of a bitch. Cops get testy as hell and will mess with you.

Honestly it's an amazing place, but do NOT go if all you want to do is be in a general tropical-y, island-y atmosphere. Stay in Japan or go to some Chinese island. Go to Hawaii if the culture interests you. Hawaiian culture, hula, all the ancient stuff you can read about, going diving while looking for endemic fish or sea life with Hawaiian lore, all that makes it awesome. I swear with all the lore about Pele et al rolling through my mind as I looked at the stars on the summit of Mauna Kea, I felt distinctly as if I were at either the end of the world or the beginning of creation. I would get a kama'aina discount and go to luaus reserved for tourists because I loved eating out of traditional Hawaiian food and watching hula and everything's lighted by torches. Comfy af. But go for Hawaiian stuff, not for "island" stuff.

Also our waves are the best in the world, both surfing and body surfing. Go to Waimea Bay during the winter (or Sandys during summer) and get pounded in perfect barrels. Most fun I've had in my life.

Other Answers:

Yeah Hawaii is expensive as hell. Been living here for the last 3ys courtesy of Uncle Sam. Better get a tent and camp on the beach or some stuff. Cook as much as you can. Oahu is a dump except for Waikiki/Honolulu. N. Shore is pretty dope but you're gonna get tapped out real quick as far as money goes - hope you got a long bank roll.

Hawaii is US+Japan under palm trees. Not exactly the most exotic place, if you're coming from Japan.
I'd rather recommend Madagascar or Tahiti for tropical settings, but it's a bit further...

What's your budget per day?

Hawaii is expensive. Hostels are like $30 per day, and food will also be lots unless you only eat canned tuna every day.

Samoa and Fiji are much nicer than Hawaii.

How does Okinawa compare to Hawaii?

okinawa is cheaper. less touristy. fewer things a typical traveler is interested in such as volcanoes, malls, dance clubs, etc.+ less infrastructure. smaller. safer. more urban and kind of uglier inside the cities. the nature is equally beautiful, and empty off season.

hawaii is: more dangerous. expensive. prettier cities. more to "do." friendlier.

Problem with Okinawa is it's not going to be warm enough from November to February.
I think I'd save Okinawa for when I have a nice Japanese girlfriend to take.
Part of the appeal of Hawaii is, after being in Japan so long, actually wanting to be surrounded by some western standards. I still imagine staff at hotel desks in Okinawa barely being able to speak English and the quality of non-Japanese food/drink being below what you'd expect. (People rave about food in Japan but that's often the case... it's really only good for Japanese food!)

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