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With a birthday coming up, the travel bug sinking its teeth in, and whale-watching in full swing, I was determined to get over to Maui from our home on Oahu to go on a tour in the best spot for seeing whales in Hawaii. The only problem was our commitment to stick to a tight budget of around $300.

A rental car alone was $60 a day and $100 per night was hard to come by for hotels – even at the most basic of accommodations. Plus, most highly rated whale-watching tours on Maui would be about $75 each. It was a challenge. But I was up for it. And just going for a day seemed like the best way to pack in some fun while staying committed to not spending more than we planned to.

The early February day trip to Maui was a fantastic success! It was absolutely everything we hoped for and, yes, we were exhausted when we got back. But, it was totally worth it!

Now that we had a successful day trip for a little over $300 all-in, we will be doing this all the time! So, I’m excited to share some tips for other Hawaiian residents who may be able to take advantage of this awesome opportunity to go on a mini-adventure somewhere new and exciting (or well-loved!). It really is easier than you may think if you plan it right!

Want to Go to Another Hawaiian Island for the Day? Here’s How…

Planning for a day trip is a lot different than going on a multi-day vacation. Timing really is everything and you have to give yourself plenty of buffer time, especially if booking tours or other activities.

maui island hop day trip drive

Here are our best tips for making it come together:

  • Take the Earliest & Latest Flights

    If you really want to make the most of your trip, it just makes sense to stay as long as you can. However, if you are taking the last flight you have to be really careful not to miss it or you will have an unexpected hotel bill when you end up having to stay the night. We love Hawaiian Airlines more than any other carrier, but Southwest was our best bet for this day trip because they had more flight options and we have a ton of points for free flights with them from our SW credit card.
  • Don’t Bring a Carry On

    Hopefully, you aren’t bringing a suitcase for one day. But if you thought of it, don’t do it! You will waste so much time having to check your bag and then pick it back up.
  • Get TSA Precheck

    This has been a game changer for our travel. It’s a little pricey, but lasts a few years and is totally worth it. Going through the precheck line allows you to keep your shoes on and everything in your bag. It also usually has a shorter line since not everyone signs up for this.
  • Book Tours/Activities Later

    Don’t stress yourself out by having to go straight to an activity. Sometimes the flight gets delayed or you have to ask for a different rental car or there is construction traffic. You don’t want to have just enough time to get to a tour right after landing. Ideally, book things later in the morning or mid-day because you also don’t want them to be too late and make you miss your flight home! We booked a 1p.m. whale watch tour that was perfect timing!
trilogy whale watch tour maui
  • Don’t Forget to Ask for Your Kama’aina Discount!

    With a Hawaii ID you can get a ton of great discounts on tours and activities. We got 25% off our tour with Trilogy – a savings of almost $40! Call around to find the best option for maximum savings. However, we did go with this company instead of another offering a 40% local discount because it seemed to be much better quality and included drinks and snacks with the price! No regrets at all because it was fantastic.
  • Plan Your Route with Flexibility

    The whale watch was our main activity for our trip, but we had 12 hours total so I wanted to make sure we made the most of that time. I used the ‘save’ feature on Google Maps to plot out some of the things I’d like to do along our route or close to our main point of interest. I used the star for the must-see spots, but had some optional ones as well in case we had more time. I also pre-researched where to eat or grab snacks and saved those to help avoid wasting time.
  • Pack the Night Before

    Especially if you have an early flight, getting everything ready the night before can save a lot of headaches. I even had my tea mug ready to go and just needed to boil water while I threw on my clothes (which were already set out). It is a good idea to go ahead and download your ticket to your phone as well, to avoid needing to wait at the counter.
  • Call Ahead for Food

    Hawaii restaurants and cafes, especially the popular ones, get busy and can take forever. Calling ahead – even if just for a smoothie – can really help save time and hassle. Of course, if part of your plan is to have a relaxing meal somewhere, then a reservation is your next best time-saving option.
  • Don’t Overdo It

    We booked one main thing and had a list of other things we’d like to do before and after. If we had multiple tours, we would have definitely needed a mid-day nap. Although we were exhausted at the end of this very long day, it was mainly because we stayed up late the night before and got a lot of sun.
maui day trip island hop

Quick Recap of Our One Day on Maui

We had a really full day and enjoyed every minute of it … even having to back up on the one-way section of the Kahekili Highway. Ha!

  • 4:45 a.m. – Woke-up, quickly got dressed and out the door. Parked our car in the airport lot and got to our gate a little early.
  • 6:40 a.m. – Hopped on the first flight out of Honolulu to Kahului, arrived a little after 7 a.m.
  • 7:30 a.m. – Picked up the car, called ahead for breakfast, got a jug of water on our way to grab food at Wailuku Coffee not far from the airport (highly recommend!).
  • 8:30 a.m. – We then set off to drive the Kahekili Highway over to Lahaina. (In retrospect, this was a bad idea on limited time and in a rental car because this road is a bit intense and we could have easily filled our day just hanging out within 45 mins of Lahaina. BUT – we still had fun, just not doing it again. hahaha).
  • 8:30 to 11:45 a.m. – Stopped at a few places along our route … strolled along beachy areas for a bit, enjoyed a lush forest walk, and stopped for a yummy smoothie to hold us over until boat snacks later. Then, we headed into town to find parking and sign-in for our whale watch.
  • 12:45 to 3:00 p.m. – Took an amazing whale watching tour with Trilogy and saw so.many.whales. – even a few babies!
  • 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. – Grabbed some pizza at Pi Artisan in town before going for a beer at a nearby brewery with a couple people we met on the boat (yay for travel friends).
  • 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. – Headed to the airport (I fell asleep on the way), stopped to watch sunset, grabbed dinner to go, returned our rental car, and got to our gate just in time for boarding.
  • 8:30 p.m. – Took the last flight back to Honolulu, grabbed our car, then went home and fell asleep after taking quick showers.

We were absolutely shattered … beyond exhausted. But, loved how much we packed in on our day trip and felt fine the next day.

Budget Breakdown for our Island Hop Day Trip

As for sticking to the budget, our total was $324 all-in for one amazing day for two people. This was including taxes and tips.

  • $22 for Flights: We had points, so just had to pay about $11 each in tax.
  • $18 Airport Parking: This was far cheaper than an Uber or Lyft and way more convenient!
  • $63 Rental Car: Buddy found a coupon, so this was pretty reasonable.
  • $137 Whale Watching Tour for Two: This is with the 25% off with Trilogy, plus a tip.
  • $12 Gas for the Car: For how much driving we did, this really wasn’t bad at all!
  • $72 for Food/Drinks: We grabbed breakfast sandwiches, a big thing of water, a smoothie, split a pizza, then ended the night with tacos. Our tour also came with two drinks each and some snacks, plus we were treated to beer by our new friends at the brewery!

We were pretty pleased with how close to our goal of sticking to $300 we came in at. There was no way that could have happened if we had stayed the night unless we chose to skip the tour or rental car- both things we really wanted to do!

Obviously, you could do this kind of island-hop day trip even cheaper as long as you have some flight points to use! Next time, we plan to pack a lunch and our snorkel gear for a ~$100 day away in Maui. (Since you can bring a personal item and carry-on with Southwest, it won’t be an issue to bring extra gear!) We are looking into day trip ideas on other islands, too.

This was a really fun travel and budget challenge for us that we are so happy we succeeded with! Vacations don’t have to look a certain way. just use what you have available to you and make the most of it. The fun is in the creativity of the planning, anyway!

Hope this inspires some other Hawaiian residents to take advantage of the many amazing opportunities for travel we have living in this stunning place. Some people have work commutes that take longer than a flight to another island in the chain. How lucky are we? Forever grateful that we made this long-term move to Hawaii!

How to Plan a Hawaii Island Hop Day Trip