Hawaii on a UCSB Budget

Ah, Hawaii. One of my personal top dream destinations, and from what I’ve gathered from my Snapchat and Instagram stories, it is a popular destination among UCSB students. However, Hawaii is not normally known for being budget-friendly, as a popular saying around the island goes: “Necessities are expensive, but luxuries are free”. That is, your hotel and food accommodation prices will be sky high in exchange for year-round ideal temperatures and gorgeous natural habitats and beaches. In fact, the average cost for one person to take a one week vacation in Hawaii is $1,864

While this could be daunting to any UCSB student or budget-conscious traveler, I’m here to show you how Hawaii can still be a budget-conscious vacation during the season of Summer 2021. 

COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

First, before I delve into my budget-friendly tips, we need to make sure we can actually go. Lucky for me (and my fellow UCSB students), the restrictions have loosened for U.S. travelers. 

Currently, there is a mandatory 10-day quarantine required for travelers entering Hawaii. However, this is waived for U.S. travelers if they provide a negative COVID-19 test that was taken within 72 hours of the flight time. That means, at least three days beforehand, you should take a COVID-19 test and bring proof that you are negative. But (and this is a big “but”), as of April 2021, you must also provide a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before your departing flight, which means you need to take a COVID-19 test three days before returning home. 

However, as vaccination distribution becomes more widespread, these restrictions are quickly opening up. Hawaii is working on a “vaccine passport” that will allow fully vaccinated travelers to travel to Hawaii without taking a COVID-19 test. When Hawaii’s vaccination rates has reached 60%, mainland U.S. travelers will not need a COVID-19 test to enter Hawaii, and travelers can upload their vaccination records prior to their flight in order to enter Hawaii.

For more information on travel restrictions to Hawaii, check out these links: 

Travel Advice from the State of Hawai’i 

COVID-19 Travel Updates to Hawaii

With that out of the way, let’s get into some of my researched tips…

Go during August and September!

One of the best ways to control costs is to go when people aren’t going. As you may expect, summer vacation months (June-July) means peak tourism season for Hawaii. And that makes sense — this is an ideal time for many families to take a vacation. But if you have tried to find a plane ticket from Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL) during June or July, you may find yourself heart sick over the $500 price point. 

But there may be hope for us college students, especially UCSB students. Traditionally, the cheapest month to fly to Hawaii during the summer vacation months is August and September. These dates would work for UCSB students because Fall 2021 is scheduled to start September 19th, 2021. With flight prices typically falling after the first week of August, this leaves plenty of time for UCSB students to book during the low season. 

To get an idea of average plane ticket costs, as of April 2021, a roundtrip flight from LAX to HNL during June/July can range from $350 – $495. This is in comparison to a roundtrip flight during August/September from LAX to HNL, which ranges from $279 – $305. 

Side Tip for UCSB students: If you don’t have a car or simply don’t want to drive to LAX, you can take the Santa Barbara Airbus to LAX. The shuttle has pick up locations both in Santa Barbara and Goleta and goes to LAX airport. A single roundtrip airbus ticket costs $110, but you can get discounts for paying for your ticket 48 hours in advance and by purchasing more than one ticket. So, get another friend or two to come with you to Hawaii! 

Of course, to get the best plane ticket prices, make sure to check out these tips for booking a cheap flight. Things like booking a few months’ in advance or planning to fly out on a Tuesday could give you some major deals. 

Soak it up in Oahu 

Hawaii is made up of eight major islands, and each island offers something unique and exciting. However, to get the lowest prices and best value, I suggest sticking to the island of Oahu and flying into Honolulu (HNL). While beautiful and popular islands to visit, Maui and Kaui have significantly higher prices on average and are therefore not as well-suited to the college student budget. Sticking to one island rather than island hopping allows you to save on inter-island flight costs, and many hotels in Hawaii offer discounted rates for those staying longer than a few days. Oahu is the most populated island and the most popular island to visit, meaning that you will find the best competitive prices for hotel accommodation, food, car rental, and activities. Don’t worry though, because this island has tons to offer. Check out this list for recommended activities to do in Oahu. It’s a long list! 

But again, some of the best things to do in Oahu are free. After all, if you’re paying to go to a place as luxurious and beautiful as Hawaii, you should spend some time on the beaches. Here are 10 free activities to do in Oahu, which outlines some of the best beaches, hiking trails, and snorkeling areas to explore, as well as other options off the beach! 

I truly love food and see it as one of the best parts of any destination. Hawaiian food is delicious and hearty, and many dishes are famous across the globe. If you’ve had PokeCeviche in Isla Vista, prepared to have your tastebuds sing when you first try authentic Hawaiian poke.

—> About the Author: During my time abroad in Japan, my dorm held a “school ball”, which was basically a party we threw for the school and spent a month preparing for. We had a committee for food and drinks, and I was in charge of making spam musubis, a staple Hawaiian food, to sell. Many of the international students at that university had never tried a spam musubi, yet we sold out of them within an hour!

For cheap, but delicious food and drink options, check out these links below: 

12 Must-Have Cheap Eats in Honolulu

Great Meals in Oahu for Under $20 

Your Guide to Cheap Meals in Oahu (some under $9!) 

Split Accommodation Fees with a Friend

Sharing hotel accommodations with friends is one of the best ways to cut down on costs, especially in Hawaii where hotels can get pricey. While solo travel has a special place in my heart, personally, after over a year of isolation, I want to go on trips with my close friends and family. Hawaii is a great place to do so if you’re looking for a destination to go with friends, because it’s normally so expensive otherwise. However, if you are looking for solo travel, there are cheap options if you don’t mind sharing rooms in hostels! You can expect shared dorm rooms to average $20 – $30 per night. 

You can expect the cheapest private accommodations in Oahu to range from $60 – $120 per night. Meaning, if you split with a friend or two, your costs would be lowered. Here’s a link for some of the cheapest accommodations in Oahu, with options for shared hostel dorms. 

Ready to say Aloha? 

Hopefully, I’ve shown you that while Hawaii is definitely not a cheap destination to visit, you can still find ways to cut down on costs! Personally, I have been saving up all during the COVID-19 pandemic to go out on a great vacation as a little graduation present to myself. And as I research more on where I’d like to go, Oahu is beckoning towards me…

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