Hawaii Mountains

My Hawaii vacation last month was epic beyond words. I’d love to talk more about the sights and my adventures in another post once I’ve sorted out the photos. For now, I’ll start with a few helpful tips that I’ve noted down during the actual trip itself. In fact, the initial draft of this post was done while waiting to board our flight to Maui.

Please note that although these tips are geared towards Hawaii as a destination, some are still pretty general and can apply to other similar trips.

1. Buy the bulk of your sun protection products in Hawaii

Sharing the Philippines’ tropical climate (only far less humid since the North East trade winds do regularly pass to provide breezy afternoons and evenings), sun exposure is an ultimate high. You will be spending most of your time outside; whether it be by the beach, taking on numerous hikes or simply heading towards your car parked outside. Bring sunscreen from home, but be comforted by the fact that in the likely event that you will run out (and you probably will unless you’re traveling for a short period!), you can just purchase one over there. Sun protection products (including tanning oils, aloe vera gels, etc.) are abundant and noticeably cheaper. Try to buy stuff in Walmart or the rather well-known large grocery/department stores in America to get better deals.

2. Stop by Walmart and do some grocery shopping.

Eating out and constantly buying snacks could take its toll financially. Food in Hawaii is generally expensive, especially if you’re staying in Waikiki or in the more well-known tourist spots. If you are fortunate to book a condo/apartment/Airbnb that has its own kitchen (which I highly suggest you do), you will be saving some money if you buy a few groceries instead. Try to cook your own breakfast or brunch and stock up on snacks which you can bring in your beach trip or along the road. It could also be a healthier choice. Note that several public beaches have picnic benches or spots to lounge either in the sand or under a tree. Make sure to research beforehand.

ADDED TIP: Buy your macadamia nuts pasalubong at Walmart too. Good prices and with a large selection. It’s also open 24 hours, so you can stay as long as you want.

3. Wake up early and plan major activities in the morning

Unlike trips to bustling cities that appear a lot busier in the evenings, Hawaii is worthy of getting up before 7 am. For the majority of my two-week holiday, we woke up between 5:30 to 7:30 am on most days (perhaps there was only a day or two when we woke up past 8 am). This is due to the fact that there are likely a lot of tourists in the major attractions you will be visiting. There’s a risk of losing parking, being held in traffic (especially in Honolulu), and even closure due to the max amount of people. Besides, mornings in a tropical island are precious on their own. Some tourist attractions that necessitate waking up early depending on your location are the following: Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head State Mountain, and USS Arizona Memorial (unless you have reserved your slot online). Try to plan your itineraries in such a way that these attractions are done first thing in the morning. Use Google Maps to know the travel time from your hotel.

4. Download and use the right apps

If you’re traveling as a group, the Splitwise app is a must download. Ideally, everyone in your group should have the app, so that any expense that is paid by one or two persons can immediately be added and automatically “split” or divided into the persons involved. However, even if only one or two persons from the group has the app, the group could still utilize it. It also keeps a running total over time, so you can pay each other back in one big payment, instead of small payments. Hence, there’s no need to divide every expense at the exact moment you needed to pay. The app is free and just works so well while traveling. This saves a lot of time and hassle when one is about to pay.

Additionally, if you’re traveling to the United States, I find that the pre-installed Maps app from Apple is much handier than Google Maps at times. The UI is just so much more user-friendly and handy for those times when you just want to figure out what to do or eat next. I don’t use the Maps app for navigation, but primarily for searching restaurants, gas stations, and even parking areas. Our main source of GPS navigation would still be Waze.

5. Learn some interesting shopping tips

A trip to the US is just not the same without doing some shopping. There are just so many options at such good prices that it is incredibly difficult to restrain yourself from swiping that credit card. Fortunately, Hawaii is a great shopping destination because of the low sales tax as compared to the other US states like California or New York (both very high in comparison BTW). I also learned that the different islands impose a minor difference in the sales tax. While on Maui, I learned that they have a lower sales tax at around 4.1% while Oahu is around 4.7%.

To those who are outlet freaks, Oahu’s Waikele Premium Outlets and Maui’s Outlets at Lahaina are must-visits. Not as good as the ones in Las Vegas, California, or even New York, but the discounts are absolutely worth it! It even feels like they have more stock. Make sure to sign up for the VIP newsletter and coupon offers prior to visiting these outlets. Get a plan of action and look around first, and just come back to the store again once you have decided.

International Market Place - Waikiki Hawaii

This is the International Market Place, an open-air mall, which was near our fourth hotel in Waikiki, with a beautiful 100-year old Banyan tree at the very center.

For those who are into luxury items, an interesting shopping bit I discovered was that some luxury brands are cheaper in Hawaii than in the mainland US by as much as 25%! I was not surprised to find a lot of Asians inside these luxury stores carrying several bags under their belt. Department stores such as Bloomingdales and Macy’s also have additional 10% (or more at times) discounts for tourists for some of their items. Besides shopping in Hawaii feels so laid-back and leisurely. The malls are usually open-air with lots of sun, trees, and al fresco dining areas.

Souvenir shopping varies. I suggest visiting swap meets (Hawaii’s flea markets) for interesting trinkets, keepsakes, and whatnots that could make interesting gifts for yourself or loved ones. We visited the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet in Oahu after visiting the USS Arizona Memorial and spent a decent amount of time around. Buy your refrigerator magnets and Hawaii T-shirts there too as there will be good deals.

Aloha Stadium Swap Meet - Honolulu, Hawaii

Some random shots of the stalls inside the Aloha Swap Meet, Honolulu. The place is huge and you will find a lot of possible souvenirs at a cheap rate!

6. Pack strategically

Contrary to popular belief, there are so many things to do in Hawaii! Mountains and beaches provide numerous outdoor activities for all sorts of adventure seekers. The facilities are great; food is awesome; the Aloha atmosphere is intoxicating. There will be days where you will be hiking in the morning, swimming in the afternoon, possibly hitting on a store or two after and ending your day with some refreshing nightcap drinks. All without having the chance to come back and change or while enduring a long drive in a shower-less state. Although there are several well-maintained and beautiful public beaches in Hawaii’s islands, some do not have the facilities you would ideally want. Showers are mostly outdoors for you to rinse off without using any shampoo or body wash as these are prohibited. Changing rooms are scarce. My tip is to compartmentalize and segregate your stuff specifically for the type of activity you will be doing that day. Have a beach bag and a hiking bag packed with the corresponding separate essentials. Always have a towel with you and an extra set of clothes.

I had a total of four accommodations during my two-week stay, including inter-island flights. It’s not easy having to pack and repack. Using packing cubes is always the way to go. I had one for beachwear, hiking/outdoor wear, evening wear, and casual ones. Not to mention toiletries, makeup, and lingerie. Lastly, always leave room for things you will be buying in Hawaii (trust me, there’s a lot!). Those macadamia nuts are extremely bulky!

Image Credits: Dave Poore, Rickmon Albert Alcantara, Pearl Margaret Ganzon