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Is It Possible to Backpack in Hawaii?

When you go backpacking, Hawaii is not an island you immediately think of, although there is a good chance that it is on your bucket list. Rick proves that Hawaii is indeed a backpacking destination and that you really can’t just travel here in uber-deluxe. Curious about what it’s like to backpack in Hawaii? You can read everything about planning your trip below!

Why Is Backpacking in Hawaii So Great?

Going to Hawaii is a dream for many and it was for me too. It seemed very unattainable because of the expensive airline tickets, until I came across a very good deal via WeFlyCheap. For 430 euros return… I couldn’t pass this up! Hawaii may not initially seem like a backpacking destination par excellence. However, it is possible to travel there with a limited budget. The wonderful climate, palm-lined beaches, rugged mountains, surfing, beautiful waterfalls and the relaxed people make it very interesting.

Tips for a Backpacking Route in Hawaii

What Our Route Through Hawaii Looked Like?

Unfortunately I only had 15 days for Hawaii, so of course I had to skip things. In total I visited 3 islands: Oahu, Kauai and Maui. Honolulu on Oahu was the arrival and departure point, I stayed here twice for two days. I had set aside four days for Kauai and five for Maui. This was not enough for each island, but I was still able to get a good picture of the islands and see enough cool things. Because of the short time you have to plan a lot to get the most out of your time. It is not Asia where you can arrange everything last minute, you really have to take that into account. Hostels and tours are often fully booked and for a rental car you pay the top price at the last minute. Transport between the islands is by air, there are no ferry services available.

Oahu, The Island Where You Arrive When You Go Backpacking In Hawaii

Oahu is the busiest island in the Hawaiian archipelago and Honolulu is the capital. At first glance, Waikiki seems to be a kind of Benidorm with high-rise hotels and many shops. But surprisingly I found it more fun than expected. There are many restaurants, free activities including hula performances and lessons and a beautiful beach where you can rent surfboards. It may not be really authentic Hawaiian, but give it a chance and don’t be put off by the many tourists.

On the other side of Honolulu is Pearl Harbor, which was bombed by the Japanese in World War II, resulting in the United States getting involved in the war. A historically important place and actually a must if you are on Oahu. If you register 24 hours in advance for your visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, you are assured of a free tour (1.50 dollars administration fee, that is) with a movie and boat trip to the memorial.

Renting a car for 1 day and going to the North Shore is a must. Via the Pali Lookout where you have a beautiful view over a valley on the north side of the island, to Temple Valley where there is a large Japanese temple and cemetery. Then on to Kualoa Regional Park for a beach picnic with green mountains in the background. To the super famous and delicious garlic shrimp from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. And finish on one of the many beautiful beaches where there is a lot of surfing such as Bonzai Pipeline.

At the end of Waikiki is Diamond Head, a mountain with a crater where you can hike up for a nice view of Honolulu. Chinatown is located in the middle of Honolulu , the name says it all. Nice to walk through and to browse the market and see typical Chinese delicacies, otherwise not very special.

Transport within the Honolulu region and from the airport is easy to do by bus (The Bus), for $5.50 you already have a day ticket.

Kauai, Hawaii’s Greenest Island?

Kauai is also called the garden island and that is not surprising. Nature is beautifully green with high mountains, deep ravines, colorful flowers, blue sea and the rugged coast of Na Pali . On this island you really need a car in a short time. Buses run every hour and only reach the villages.

Be sure to walk the Kalalau trail to the waterfall. It’s a tough full day hike, up and down mountains, over rivers and along muddy trails, but it’s more than worth it. The impressive coastline and the jungle through which you walk are beautiful. You can swim under the waterfall, it is freezing cold but that can also be refreshing after such a long hike.

Another fun day is a road trip to Waimea Canyon. The Grand Canyon of the Pacific is a huge deep canyon of red rock with bright green vegetation. Along the route there are several viewpoints where you can stop for a while. A little further drive is the Kalalau lookout , where you have a beautiful view over a valley along the Na Pali coast. On the way back you can eat a delicious Kalua pulled pork and sausage sandwich in the village of Waimea at Porky’s Cart. Or head to Ishihara Market for fresh raw tuna poke. Further on you pass several beautiful beaches including Poi’pu beach . Beautiful golden sand with blue water and palm trees, ideal.

On the north coast near the town of Princeville you have Queens Bath along the rocky coast, a natural swimming pool with clear blue water. When the sea is calm you can swim in it. When I was there the sea was so wild that it wasn’t really safe to swim unfortunately. A little further is Hanalei , a quiet village on the beach in a bay with few hotels and a few nice restaurants.

I did a helicopter tour of the island myself. Not really backpack budget friendly at 260 dollars, but this was well worth the money! One of the most beautiful and impressive views I have ever seen. You fly over the Waimea Canyon, see dozens of waterfalls, places you can’t reach on foot, the Na Pali Coast and the wettest place on earth.

Maui, Go Whale Watching and Enjoy the Amazingly Beautiful Nature in Hawaii

On Maui I had a car for 3 days, because I prefer to go out on my own than with a tour. The first few days you can do well by bus, if you want to go to the beach at Kihei and to the town of Lahaina it’s easy. A day ticket costs you 4 dollars here.

Road to Hana is a must do on this island. Via a winding road to the village of Hana along all kinds of sights. Rainbow eucalyptus trees, several waterfalls, bamboo forests, black and red beach, fruit stands and food trucks. Very nice to decide for yourself where you want to stop and what you want to see.

Haleakala National Park is an impressive crater, a lunar landscape of red black rock with conical hills. Admission is $25 per car. It seems to be beautiful with sunrise, but I thought that I got up too early. When I arrived at the top later in the day, it turned out to be cloudy for a few days and it stayed that way for a while. Unfortunately I couldn’t see any of this myself.

In the winter months you can spot whales very well on Maui. Humpback whales come this way from Alaska and you can see them jumping and spraying from the beach. I did a 2 hour boat trip from Maalaea for only 20 dollars.

Awesome Hostel to Sleep in Hawaii While Backpacking

There is little choice when it comes to hostels in Hawaii. On Oahu I had booked a hostel in Waikiki: Seaside Hawaiian Hostel. A relaxed hostel with dorms and free basic breakfast of toast with jam and peanut butter. You can buy oatmeal, eggs and muffins for a small price. The hostel is close to the beach and several restaurants and supermarkets.

I stayed on Kauai in a hostel right on the coast in Ka’pa, in a dorm with a veranda by the sea: Kauai Beach House Hostel. Waking up early every morning to the crowing roosters with the rising sun was no punishment. This didn’t include breakfast, but there are plenty of supermarkets to stock up on some food. You actually need a car on this island. The bus is an option if you have a lot of time, but that was not the case for me. There is a sign in the hostel where other backpackers with a car can set up their schedule to find other people who want to join and share costs.

I also stayed in a hostel on Maui. Since the hostel I actually wanted to book was fully booked for the first two nights, I had to book two different ones. First I stayed at Banana Bungalow Hostel in Wailuku. Then Aloha Surf Hostel in Paia. It turns out this one is the same owner, but it’s a world of difference in atmosphere. Both hostels have free pancake breakfast, a jacuzzi in the garden and free tours. The tours are given by locals and a tip is expected at the end of the day. Banana Bungelow is a party hostel, there is a lot of drinking every day and you notice that, even if you don’t want to. Aloha Surf is a lot more relaxed and more of a surf atmosphere. The village of Paia is also nicer than Wailuku, which is less atmospheric and feels like a suburb.

Every hostel has a kitchen for cooking yourself, but often quick and simple food outside the door is cheaper than making a meal yourself.

How Much Does It Cost to Backpack in Hawaii?

It’s hard to say exactly how much I spent per day. Due to limited time, I had to make more expensive choices to get the most out of my trip.

Eating should be possible for about 30/40 dollars a day, this is for a simple breakfast, small lunch/dinner, some snacks and lunch/dinner at a food truck, supermarket, fast food or small local restaurant.

The most expensive is the trip to Hawaii. I was very lucky with this cheap ticket otherwise the cost would look totally different. The flights between the islands cost me about 70 euros per flight, plus your luggage. It is useful to travel with hand luggage only.

Traveling by bus is cheap, but it takes a lot of time. Everything outside of Honolulu is almost impossible to do in a short time frame. If you want to rent a car, the cheapest by far is This is cheaper than with the landlord companies themselves.

Do You Easily Meet Other Backpackers in Hawaii?

In the hostels there is always someone up for a chat. Many other backpackers are alone and will want to eat with you or do something else. All the staff in the hostels were very friendly and helpful.

Is Backpacking in Hawaii Safe?

Hawaii is very safe. Especially on Kauai and Maui, the atmosphere is very casual and people will chat with you in the street if they see you looking for you. Oahu is very busy, but here I have never felt unsafe. Of course you always have to watch out and watch your stuff, but I think that’s logical thinking.

What Were You Looking Forward to & What Were You Dreading When You Went Backpacking in Hawaii?

When you think of Hawaii, you naturally think of beach, surf, sun, palm trees and tropical flowers. All this it really is. The clichés are true, maybe even better. The rugged landscape and untouched stretches are breathtaking. Hawaii has something of its own, but it is also real America with all the fast food, big cars and the like. I can appreciate it.

I couldn’t find much about backpacking in Hawaii on the internet. I was curious what the atmosphere would be like, but it wasn’t too bad. After all, there are a certain kind of people in hostels who are a bit more open.

What Should Other Backpackers Definitely Bring?

I always take a travel guide with me on holiday because I like to look something up in a book. Of course you can also get all the information from the internet. Downloading offline maps in, for example, Google Maps or is ideal, then you always have a map at hand or navigation system in your car. A lock for the lockers in your dorm so that your important things are safe. A world plug for US sockets, so easy to charge your phone. Also, don’t take too much with you. You can wash and dry in every hostel.

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