Staying in a trailer, driving a 2003 Nissan Sentra, and eating tacos from a roadside truck may not be the first visual that comes to mind when you think “Maui vacation,” but budget travel does exist on this expensive island. Most would-be visitors think the words “Maui” and “budget” are somewhat of an oxymoron, and for the most part, they’re right. But in this land of expensive lunches and overpriced trinkets there are buried bargains to be discovered. The island is a haven for rich retirees, and this culture drives the cost of just about everything with a price tag. If it’s expensive dining, golf, and shopping you want, Maui will surely please. But for those who can barely afford the plane ticket from the mainland, here are a few tips that might make your Maui dream vacation seem a little more like an affordable mainland getaway.
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user adam*b)
Each of the main towns has its own affordable eateries that can keep you on track with your food budget. Hawaiian tourists know that there is phenomenal cuisine to be had on the islands, but sometimes you just need a quick bite while on the go that won’t bite back at your wallet. Fast food staples like Taco Bell, Subway, and McDonald’s can be found in all the more populated areas. Prices are close to that of the mainland and these less-than-par culinary stops can save you, since a typical lunch at a local cafe could run you $15-$20 per person.
If fast food isn’t your style there are local joints that offer alternatives to cardboard burgers and mass-produced tacos. In south Maui, try Cinnamon Roll Fair in Kihei. A cup of joe and a gargantuan sticky cinnamon roll will only set you back a matter of dollars and start your day off right. For lunch, swing down to the Big Beach area and look for the food trucks. The Jawz Tacos van will satisfy your Mexican food fix, and they even serve alcohol if you’re in the mood for a mid-day cocktail. If you’re in west Maui head to Star Noodle in Lahaina. Grab a bowl of Udon for just seven bucks and get your belly filled for the entire afternoon.Dining in – Costco
As soon as you sit down to your first meal on Maui you realize that eating can be one of the most expensive things you do here. An age-old budget strategy is to load up on groceries and eat in the room when on vacation. While this is certainly the way to go for saving you some coin, groceries on the island will cost more than elsewhere in the U.S. The thing to remember is that most everything needs to be imported from the mainland, whether that be Asia or North America. A long ocean journey means that you pay a premium so things can be transported to the islands.
Costco saves the day when it comes to budget grub. The wholesale grocer somehow gets things to the island with minimal up-charge. They also buy local when possible so seafood is not only affordable but of amazing quality and taste. If stocking up for a two week stay, or a family to eat on, this warehouse of food can save a bundle. When leaving the airport in Kahului, Costco will be on your left as you exit.
Maui, and Hawaii in general, are expensive places to live. But not everyone who plants their flag on this remote island chain drives a Land Rover and eats lobster every night. Much of the population is made up of transplants from the mainland U.S. and other countries around the pacific rim. These people are the ones who make this island tick by working in the restaurants, guiding the tourists, and harvesting the sugar cane. Where do these people go out to dinner if they don’t have a platinum Diners Club card?
Many restaurants offer two-for-one deals that are quite popular. Some restaurants run these specials on certain nights of the week and pack the place with locals and tourists alike hunting for an affordable meal. Some hotels even pass out coupon booklets to guests that feature the local two-for-ones. There are also twofers that go unadvertised. Residents ask for them by name. If you find yourself in a restaurant, have already been seated, and are smacked with sticker shock when you open the menu, simply ask what their two-for-one special is. If they have one, you’ll be glad you inquired.
Economy car rentals
Put simply, taxis are not economical on Maui, and public transit buses offer little flexibility. When visiting the island for more than a day, just rent a car. Shopping around for online coupons is one way to cut your rental expense, but if you aren’t picky about what you drive there are other ways. Local renters like Kihei Rent A Car, for instance, will rent an older model car for less than $150 a week. If you don’t mind rolling in a 2003 Nissan Sentra, you can save some serious cash.
Choosing a rental car that gets good mpg will also help you stretch your island dollar even further. Gas on Maui is expensive and pump prices are often $1-$2 higher per gallon than they are on the mainland. Choosing an economy or compact car will keep you on track with your budget, not to mention give you an advantage with parking since the island is filled with compact spaces.
When renting a car on Maui, the rental agency will most likely try to scare the living crap out of you. We endured a five minute lecture on how our first-born child would be confiscated if we brought the car back with dings or scratches. Your best strategy here is to listen politely and then scan the car for all existing damage. Use the crude automobile sketch the company provides and make sure you find a scratch on all sides of the car. This will prove priceless when you bring the car back and the person who checks you in finds a gash in the fender that wasn’t recorded by previous attendants.
Condos and resorts dominate the lodging landscape of Maui. But don’t reel too hard at the sticker shock you’ll experience at these high-end hotels. Consider mainland staples like the Days Inn. Directly on the beach in Kihei and convenient to shopping and eating, this clean hotel is a hidden gem. Catching a room for $100 a night is not unheard of here.
If you want to go even cheaper and create a unique experience for yourself, check out Maui Bamboo Beach Cabanas. It may be a mouthful but it will save you a pocketful. These trailer-like beach huts are tucked into a private setting near Makena Beach. You won’t be beach side or have an on site masseuse, but you will be looking at $65 per night, which is as cheap as it gets on Maui.
When planning your Maui vacation, budget travel is not impossible. Spending a few hours delving into the web for bargains and taking the time to research your local restaurant options could keep you from breaking the bank. Reading through travel guides like Maui Revealed and website like AndHawaii.com will help you prepare for your budget trip to Maui ahead of time and allow you to avoid some of the expensive spending pitfalls to be had on the island.