Can you travel to Hawaii as a single parent with your family? Um, YES!! And you don't have to ship your kids in cargo either to do it! (but it will save money, it's just frowned upon). Read on...you can even find ways to go to Hawaii for FREE!!!
The original plan was a cruise to Mexico but I found at the last minute before making the last payment that I needed notarizing from the ex to approve my taking them. It didn't happen in time before the last payment had to be made so I opted for plan B: Hawaii. At first glance it was going to be a ton more money on paper but utilizing some of the tips below helped to save a ton of money and made it more affordable than we thought!
The purpose of the trip was for graduation. I've been in school for seven years and wanted to thank the kids for putting up with me so long. It was also a kind of last trip for my daughter before she graduates in two years. (Although we've got her senior trip) We've never done any trip like this before but had always talked about it so I knew this would be a fun surprise.
On the morning of the trip the kids got gift bags with neck pillows inside (I found similar ones to this one on eBay for $2 shipped directly from China), an envelope with an itinerary of what we would be doing where we would be staying for the week, and some treats and activities for the plane ride. And then we were off to the airport!!
But before we talk about what we did, here is all the background information on how we were able to afford to go to Hawaii as a single parent:
Bring a Friend if Possible
One of the great ways to save money on any trip as a single parent is to find another travelling single parent with kids your same age if possible. It reduces money immediately because you can split gas, rental car, food, parking and lodging costs in half. I opted to travel with my boyfriend and his little girl who is my youngest child's age but we had also invited some of our other friends who on short notice couldn't make it work (we had six weeks to change plans from Mexico to Hawaii) but are dying to go with us next time--especially when they heard how much we actually spent on the trip!
Traveling Alone to Hawaii as a Single Parent Safe?
Yes! A lot of forums I read through to find information on traveling to Hawaii as a single parent asked about how safe it was to travel alone with kids there. I felt completely safe. Some of the higher traffic tourist areas do have higher vehicle theft rates so be safe when storing your valuables. But islanders were so friendly and we got a lot of help on our excursions too. You know as a single parent it's exhausting (understatement) to travel alone so expect that same level of exhaustion. I suggest some post-vacation sanity breaks afterward. 🙂 While in future posts we'll talk about some of the excursions we took that appealed to all ages, really look into some of the excursions and decide how much "hands on" you'll need to do and if you can manage it on your own. You might want to splurge alittle and stay at a resort that offers some day camps for the kids so you can have a break or take out the older kids on an excursion and leave the younger kids at the camp during that time. Other friends have hired sitters on sites like Care.com to come help on excursions to the beach so they have extra hands to watch the kids. On my last trip to Hawaii we found families that had brought along a niece or nephew to help and some just hired a babysitter so they could go out once or twice for a dinner, etc. while they were there. We found very few places that offered babysitting through the resorts but heard rumors that there are.
Plan Your Trip
I knew I was taking a trip once I got my tax return. I immediately took my tax return and dumped it into a high yield savings account which by the time I left for our trip had yielded me some additional money. That extra money became the kids souvenir money.
Consider one of these accounts:
Marcus by Goldman Sachs offers 1.8%-3.0%
Citizens Access offers 2.0%
PurePoint Financial offers 1.9%
We also googled "best savings accounts (month) (year)" to see which accounts offered the best interest. Sites like Hustler Money Blog came up with reviews of a lot of these accounts which were coming in google searches as having the highest interest rates which was helpful. Some people I know throw it into a 3 month CD but I needed to draw off of it to pay deposits so I opted for the savings route.
Shop Your Credit Card Companies
There are a lot of websites that offer information for traveling to Hawaii on a discount and we definetely did our reading as our goal was to keep our trip costs to what we had budgeted for Mexico originally. One of the themes that seemed to come up over and over on websites was the strategic use of credit cards. I struggled with this one at first because I don't like credit cards or using them as I've had some issues with them in the past but I had also been looking to change credit cards too so figured this was as good a time as any to switch.
We opted for two different credit cards:
Chase Sapphire Preferred: You can earn up to $625 dollars cash back with $4000 in qualifying purchases your first three months. The interest isn't great on this card but keep reading! We bought the six plane tickets on this card. I earned the $625 cash back which I applied toward my statement credit. I also earned more points for the purchase (purchases towards travel offer bonus points so I earned another few hundred dollars through utilizing this plan). So all together I got about $1000 back-- so it worked out that essentially at least one person flew FREE and another for close to it.
Delta SkyMiles Card: My boyfriend opted for the Delta SkyMiles card. We loved the card because we got to check all six of our bags for FREE! That saved us $300 in checked bagged fees to and from Hawaii. He had to purchase $1000 in the first three months in order to get 60,000 miles which was easy because he could book several of our activities on that card. We then rolled all of our flights to his SkyMiles number so we will essentially get a free flight for him and I for our "vacation from our vacation" flight down the road. By making three Delta purchases in the first three months he also earns a $100 statement credit. We opted for in flight Pringles purchases to meet our three Delta purchases.
Get Airfare Discounts
We found this to be nearly IMPOSSIBLE!! Airfare discounts are so difficult to find but we had a great travel agent who let us in on a little secret that could've saved us a little bit of money.
- If you, or you and your ex can be flexible on dates, traveling at off peak times can definetely save some money. You can also travel on different days of the week to save money. That wasn't possible due to some of the kids summer obligations and my work schedule so we went with plan B.
- Some sites like Orbitz offer Orbitz Rewards which is a great website for deals on flights, but also gives you deals on your travel purchases which could lead to free trips and free hotel stays! Definetely worth looking into linking your credit card or travel miles numbers too so you can earn points.
- If those sites don't save you money, than buying bulk airfare can. Our travel agent Scott, from Andara Cruise and Travel let us in on this secret. Often airlines sell these to travel agents at a bulk cost which equals savings for you. Just know that while bulk airfare can save you money and is often cheaper than some of the "discount" travel websites you go to, dates are not often flexible and you can't change your travel dates once booked. For us the savings was enough to book because our vacation dates weren't flexible to begin with so we just opted with the parental "pack a pharmacy" route. We had EVERY medication the kids would need if they got sick. But they were getting on that flight if they were sick or not.
- JUST to make sure we were getting a good deal on airfare I used the app Hopper.com This app checks the cheapest days to fly and let's me know if I should book my flight then or wait a little so I get a cheaper flight.
- Use those miles! Cash in your airline miles to use on your trip. That also helps A LOT! The first time I went to Hawaii my then father in law sent 10 of us there on a combination of miles and utilizing credit cards. He ended up only having to purchase a couple of tickets.
Military Friendly Discounts
Hawaii treats military families very well and some of our activities came at a very reduced cost. Every activity we booked we asked about military discounts since my boyfriend is a veteran. Some offered several dollars off activities while others let the military personnel in for free, and some reduced our total costs for the activity for all family members by 50% or more! We were so grateful and appreciative to the companies that offered discounts. At many of the facilities and activities you visit you will see a sticker in the window that indicates if there is a discount for military available. Most of our major activities we booked before we left the mainland so we called ahead and paid for those. This allowed us to do some fantastic activities with the kids that we otherwise might not have been able to afford to do, so THANK YOU!!
Consider Your Accomodations
My last trip to Oahu I loved and was one of the main reasons I wanted to bring the kids back, but the place that we stayed was in the middle of the resort and I just hated all the people and the crowds. This time I knew I wanted to stay along North Shore.
Here are our pros and cons when considering your accomodations:
- The first time I stayed in Oahu I loved it but being a beach girl knew the second time I came out to Hawaii I wanted to stay away from the busy resorts. We opted for North Shore and LOVED it because we spent a lot of time at the beach. We went into the city for our excursions. Many of the excursions were anywhere from 10 minutes away from our rental home to an hour away. Location needs to be the first thing you consider when you decide where you will stay in Hawaii. Make sure to map directions from some of the hotels/AirBNB's you are considering going to and some of the destinations you are considering to see and then decide if it's really a good deal to stay there or not.
- if you do go the resort route consider a few things: The first time I stayed in Hawaii our resort had a "swap and share" where at any given time you might find pool noodles, snorkeling gear or boogie boards you could take and then return back to give to someone else when you were done using them. This saved us money on having to buy these items just to use for the week. You don't even know how much these "little" items add up in a trip over a couple of kids or more. Also consider a resort that offers lot's of freebies. A free full breakfast in the morning or a happy hour in the afternoon with snacks or cookies for the kids will save you some serious cash. To save even more money also consider a place with a kitchen or grills available outside. Just know that hauling your Costco purchase up 20 floors won't be ideal or fun. (but we did see lot's of families doing it!) Also decide if you will be hanging at the resort the whole time and utilizing the resort shuttles/buses to get you around Hawaii or if you will be having your own car and venturing out. A lot of the shuttles and buses are free to activities but the rental car could cost you in rental fees and the gas fees. Also know at the resort you may be spending more money because of meals and additional charges that may be incurred.
- Our choice was an AirBNB. I was FLOORED by the cost of staying in an AirBNB. It was CHEAPER to stay for 9 days in Hawaii than it was 4 days in LA last Thanksgiving break for me. Our home we rented had three bedrooms and two baths, a full kitchen, a VR gaming system for the kids, turtles, dogs, chickens and a bunny. We were even allowed to use the kayaks, paddleboards, boogie boards and other beach equipment with our rental. The furthest drive we had to take was a little over an hour. It was so nice to go "home" every night. PS If you go the AirBNB route here's $40 for you! We saved even more money on our AirBNB by utilizing some of my referral credits. (The credits were not used in my original comparison of LA versus Hawaii cost of stay).
- A less conventional way but a great way to get lodging in Hawaii for FREE is by utilizing some timeshare presentation strategies. We've had several friends go to Hawaii for a week for free (some of them just moved around hotels every couple of days while others scored a free week at one resort). We didn't have time for this with the short amount of time we had to book everything but could be a great way to go! This link goes to a person who went to Hawaii for free as a single person using the timeshare strategies.
Save Money on Activities and Souvenirs, etc.
Activities are the best part of Hawaii. We'll talk about it in another post but if you are taking your kids to Hawaii for the first time there are a lot of great activities that can add up in cost but will give your kids a once in a lifetime opportunity.
If you are heading to Oahu, make sure you stop at Aloha Swapmeet. We got a lot of our souvenirs for very inexpensive there. My daughter found the Lokai bracelet she had been "dying" to get for only $5 and it retails for $18 on the website! I LOVE saving money! We also had a great time getting our pictures taken for only $5 per person from the parrot guy. I don't know what his booth was called, the kids had a great time posing with parrots though.
If you aren't lucky enough to have a military discount like mentioned above, then look for the Hawaii Entertainment Book that offers discounts on food, shopping and activities. YOu'll want to order this before you go but they also have a mobile version. We also found LOT'S of places around town that offered coupon booklets. We also found that some of the local vendors posted great deals directly on their websites or on their Facebook pages. (The food trucks scored good deals using Facebook).
Another great way to save money if you want is also a little unconventional. When we went to the swapmeet there were several travel companies offering free activities just for sitting through one of their travel speals. They asked for anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half of our time and offered anything from free helicopter tours to free hotel stays in return for listening.
We opted to order our water shoes and snorkeling gear online prior to leaving since it was cheaper but we suggest the swapmeet or Walmart as great places to find decent deals on boogie boards, snorkeling gear, etc. if you opt to wait until you are out there. As mentioned above there are also the swap areas at your resort (if they have one) or some resorts let you rent some gear for free. Groupon offers some great deals to but you'll need to buy and book several weeks to months before you go as they can be busy!
Saving Money on Food
This is probably the easiest one to do depending on where you stay. There are plenty of coupons to help you save money on eating out available in coupon books you can find around the island. The above mentioned Entertainment Book also has food coupons. Plenty of facilities offer free kids meals. Honolulu Family has a great list of places.
You can save a lot of money by using Costco. We opted for Sam's Club because gas was LESS than what we paid on the mainland prior to leaving. Walmart, Sam's Club and gas are all together so we could duck in and get the little things we needed and run right down the road to Sam's Club to stock up on our drinks and bulk food items. We didn't find prices to be as bad on food as we thought. They were pretty comparable to the mainland for the most part. (I compared them to being similar to what I paid in California for groceries) Except for milk (over $5 a gallon ouch!) and some meats and fresh fruits that had to be imported. (A watermelon cost us over $9!--$4 on the mainland).
We suggest picking up water bottles and drinks like Gatorade, etc. We stocked up at Sam's Club. We froze our water bottles and threw them in our beach bags and backpacks to use while we were out so we had nice cold drinks and didn't have to pay expensive gas station or vending machine prices.
We also planned all of our meals for the week. Here are some of the meals we had while in Hawaii:
Salads--some ready made were available at Sam's Club which made it nice
Pizza--frozen pizzas are always a hit with hungry kids, We would have the kids hit the showers after the beach and the pizzas would be ready by the time everyone got out.
Pulled Pork or Chicken: This was a HIT with the kids. We made BBQ sandwiches with ready made shredded meat from the deli at Sam's Club or shredded pulled pork over rice.
Bacon, Eggs and Waffles; Ready made waffles make the morning easier
Sandwiches: We made these a lot, packed them up in our backpack with chips and fresh fruit from local stands and hit the beach with drinks we froze in the freezer.
Crockpot Chicken Ranch Tacos or Burritos: Ready when you walk in the door in the evening!
Grilled Doughnuts: Once you have one, you won't turn back. Top it with some ice cream or strawberries and cream.
Things to Bring With You From the Mainland
We suggest bringing a good pair of water shoes. They are so nice to have. Some of the beaches have reefs and rocks and if you go to Waimea Falls in Oahu they are also nice to have to hike and swim the waterfall in.
We brought 2-3 swimsuits each. There were days we went through two swimsuits (one for the beach and then we would switch into a dry one for driving to one of our excursions).
Chargers. Portable chargers are GREAT! We would throw them into our backpack and they got a lot of use on long days, especially if we were having to use them to navigate around the island alot.
Backpack: A MUST for your excursions, beach days, etc.
Tanks and Shorts: Hawaii is nice and warm so these layered well over swimsuits. They were also nice to have because we would stop in at the store on our way home from the beach so we would look "dressed."
Flip Flops or Sandals: A must in Hawaii but the best for beach days
Snorkeling Gear: We could order these off Amazon much much cheaper than finding them on the island.
Things to Buy On the Island:
Wet wipes: We suggest packing anti bacterial wipes. Some of the bathrooms on our excursions didn't have soap in them and the beach bathrooms don't always come stocked with soap so these were nice to have on hand.
Beach towels: We bought these cheaply at Walmart but then found them even cheaper at the swapmeet. We just left our towels for the next AirBNB guests when we left.
Other Great Resources If You're Looking to Single Parent Travel to Hawaii (Plus Keywords to Help You Navigate What You Need Easier)
Classy Simple Life: Budget travel, activities
Dallas Single Mom: Maui, travel agent
Trip Advisor: Babysitting services
Trip Savvy: Free activities, 101 free activities, activities under $15, oahu
USA Today: Camping, all-inclusive, cruises
Did we miss anything? Leave a comment below telling us what tips you have for traveling as a single parent to HAWAII!!
Images Courtesy of Tauck.com, Travelquaz.com, Kiplinger.com,
Disclosure: The opinions given in this article are my own. I am an affiliate for several of the products listed and was compensated.