2018 may be the year to travel to Kauai, especially if you’re on a budget (and who isn’t). Several airlines are adding routes, so flight prices are expected to drop in response to the greater supply. But what will everything else cost? Where should you stay? Do you need a car? How many cars? How much will food cost? And what about the ACTIVITIES! How much will THOSE COST!?? You don’t want to go to HAWAII, a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many, and miss something SUPER SPECIAL!!!! *breathes heavily*

So what’s the bottom line? Honestly, around $1,300 per person*, all in. That includes the plane ticket, accommodations for 7 nights, groceries, a rental car, tours, equipment rentals and a budget for eating out and souvenirs. That’s for a very comfortable, private, relaxing vacation that hits Kauai’s high points. Yes, there are ways to reduce that by more, and they’re discussed below. But, I wanted to provide a realistic idea of a conservative vacation. Including being able to afford a great shave ice and maybe a fresh-made bowl of poke while you’re out exploring the little towns.  Moreover, $1,300 is an amazing value when you consider that plane tickets alone often cost $1,000 or more.

*This assumes that you’re departing from and returning to the Dallas Fort Worth area. Flights from other places will vary in price. This also assumes an 8-person group.

Per Person, 7 Night Stay  
Accommodations $375
Plane Ticket $525
Transportation $50
Groceries $150
Souvenirs $50
Eating Out $50
Tours/Equipment Rental $125
Total: $1,325

Economies of Scale

Call your friends or family. Right now. Tell them about Kauai. There are A LOT of reasons why a vacation for 6 or 8 people is way less expensive per person than a vacation for one or two. For one, a place for 8 isn’t 8 times more expensive than a place for 1. Also, 7 people can fit into a rental car. And food is WAY cheaper in bulk – especially in Hawaii. Get a range of dates that will work for your friends, and start planning your dream vacation!

Accommodations & Flights

These are the two single most expensive parts of your trip. So how do you get the best possible combination of flight prices and accommodation prices? It’s a tricky proposition.

Rates for accommodations: Hele Hale (like most Airbnb’s and condos) sets rates based on seasonal demand, so the daily rate isn't always the same. We discount our rates for two reasons: First, there’s a 10% weekly discount. Second, we discount rates if we still have last minute availability. Our rates are drop by 10% if booked less than 30 days from your trip, and another 10% at 15 days.

Flight Prices: The conventional wisdom is that you need to buy your tickets at least a month in advance, which would make it impossible to capitalize on a last-minute booking discounts on accommodations. But things are different this year. I’m seeing bizarrely low prices, even on last-minute flights.

For example, Hele Hale is currently available from January 30-February 6. Our average nightly price for those dates is usually $490, but since it’s such short notice, our rates are marked down to an average of $444 per night (I’m writing this on January 14.). Then, since it’s 7 nights, an additional 10% discount is applied. The total, including cleaning and service fees is $3,045. The house sleeps 8 people, so that comes to about $55 per day per person. But what about flights, you ask? Here’s the incredible part: There are flights available on those dates from $504. Leaving from Dallas Love Field (DAL), going through LA and Honolulu on Virgin and Hawaiian Airlines - the flight times don’t even look too bad.

If a last-minute trip doesn’t work for you, there are still great options that’ll allow you to plan a month or more in advance.  Hele Hale has quite a bit of availability starting April 10 and going through May 24. If you choose a weeklong stay qualifying for the 10% discount, your stay will cost around $3,000 (average $54/day/person if you have 8 in your group). You’ll find an abundance of flights available from $587-$610 each. And who knows, if you wait a while you might see those prices decrease even more.

Transportation

The bad news is that you’re going to need to rent a car. There are Important Things that are impossible or impractical to get to without one. The good news is that you probably don’t need more than one, even if you have a large group.

If you go with a national company, you can get a 7-person minivan for around $350 for the week, around $50 per day. There are several local companies that specialize in local-style cars at a discount. These start at around $20 per day, and might be a good option if you don’t mind a car with cosmetic issues like a little sand and rust. These local companies also offer other benefits, like free extra drivers.

So, how do you safely fit your 8-person group and all of your luggage and groceries (read more about that below) into a 7-person minivan? Well, you don’t. Half of your group will take the car from the airport (with all of the luggage) straight to Costco for groceries (more about why that’s so cost effective below). The rest of the group will take the Kauai Bus from the airport to Princeville for $2.50 per person. The trip takes around 2.5 hours. Since the drive itself takes around an hour, the grocery/car group will have just enough time to shop at Costco, make the drive to the house, unload the groceries, and go pick up the bus group at the bus stop 1.5 miles away. If the timing doesn’t work out, the walk from the bus station to the house is beautiful, paved, flat, and easy.  (I know you're thinking it, and I was too: Surely there is a better way than the bus. A taxi is convenient, but it'll run you $100 each way before tip, almost as much as a discount rental for a week. Ouch!)

Once you’re in Princeville, sharing the car should be easy. Alternate days with the car so that everyone gets to see some of the attractions that are farther away. On days when you’re car-less, you can walk to beaches, shops, and restaurants, all within 1 - 1.5 miles from the house. And the Kauai Bus should offer great day trips to Hanalei and Kapa’a. On the way back to the airport, you may have to make two trips to transport everyone and all of their stuff. It is extra driving, but keep in mind that if people fly out on different flights, you may be making two trips anyway.

Kauai Bus Service

You can see routes and schedules at Kauai.gov. There are baggage limits, so make sure you're following the rules posted on their website. From the airport, you'll take the Kauai Shuttle to the stop at Eiwa Street. From there, transfer onto the 500 Lihue-Hanalei Line, which goes all the way to Princeville Public Library. 

Groceries

This is where you can really blow your budget. Food prices on the island are surprisingly high. Hands down the best way to save on meals is to get a place with a kitchen so that you can make them yourself. Eating out every meal will be murder on your budget. Another way to save hundreds of dollars is to buy in bulk. Plan on spending around 75% of your grocery budget on bulk items at Costco the day you arrive. (Going back later will waste hours of valuable vacation time on driving.) The local grocery stores are several times more expensive than mainland prices. Costco prices are similar for most things, but produce is still quite a bit more expensive than on the mainland.

The Costco on the island will have a slightly different assortment of goods from what you’re used to, so I like to stay flexible when making my list. I buy breakfast staples like coffee, milk, cereal, eggs, and sausage; and stuff for packed lunches like bread, cheese, sliced meat, chips, and snacks. For dinner, we usually go a traditional route with meat, starch, and fresh vegetables. Even though the fresh produce is more expensive than on the mainland, it is possible to make budget-friendly choices that are also fresh.  

When making your plan, be careful of quantities. People tend to over-estimate some things and under-estimate others. Let’s assume this is a group of 8 adults on this trip. If they drink 2 beers each every day, that’s 112 beers total – at least 5 cases. On the other hand, don’t assume everyone will eat 2 eggs for breakfast every day. Some may skip breakfast, be lighter eaters, or prefer cereal. For my group, 1 egg per day per person is plenty (56), so 2 packages of 24 it is! Also, when you’re counting how many meals you should buy for, don’t forget that you’ll be eating out some, and that people will probably want to graze on leftovers for others. I usually buy food for about 70% of the meals, and let the rest fall as they will.

Eating Out, Souvenirs, Tours & Adventures

Eating Out: $50 per person
The dining options on the island can vary wildly in terms of cost, but in general, I find that eating out is maybe 50% more expensive than where I live in Texas. If you’re careful, you should be able to eat out two or three times for $50. We can recommend Kalypso’s happy hour, Chicken in a Barrel (hint: get the chicken), Makai Sushi, Java Kai, and Kalaheo Café.

Souvenirs: $50 per person
Souvenirs are available at all price points, but you can get a few things, or one nicer item for $50. My husband and I bought wedding bands – titanium with Koa wood – for $20 each.

Tours & Adventures: $125 per person
We like the Secret Falls kayak adventure. This half-day guided kayak and hiking adventure doesn’t require prior kayak experience, and costs $60 per person, $80 after tip for your guide. We also recommend a bike rental in Kapa’a, which will run you $20 for a half day. If you’re interested in snorkeling, you may also want to rent a mask and fins for the week at around $15.