It seems like yesterday we were lounging in the sun on Kauai, Hawaii.
Alas, it’s been… oh, almost three months since then, and our bronzed skin has long since faded.
Much has transpired in our lives since our island adventure. We’ve moved to Big Sky, Montana for the winter season and besides working hard, we’ve kept busy exploring the mountains. Now, mid-way through the season, we are finding some solidity in our routine and I am finally sitting down to reflect on our last big adventure with a longing for more. . .
During our Canadian road trip, we bounced back and forth between whether we should go to Kauai or not. “It’ll be expensive”, we thought. “How will we get around?”, we questioned. “Where will we stay?”, we wondered.
A month later, we found ourselves boarding a plane to Lihue, all of our questions still unanswered.
Throughout our time on Kauai, we had to figure a lot of things out as we went along. At times the spontaneity was freeing, but at others it was a bit stressful.
A few specific matters would have been great to know about beforehand. For the sake of others facing the same situation, I’m going to share those things we learned.
Timing is everything.
As with any desirable place to visit, there are better times to go than others.
The most popular tourist season anywhere, basically, is summertime. It’s when the kids are out of school, the weather is nicest, etc. But because of this, it’s also when prices are most expensive and destinations are most crowded.
We took our trip in late October-November, and more than once got enjoy expansive beaches all to ourselves. Taking advantage of the off-seasons, springtime and autumn, is one of the most game changing travel decisions you can make. Airfare will be cheaper, lodging will be plentiful, hiking trails will open up and beaches will be spacious. Most importantly, without the bustle of the high tourist season, you’ll get to witness the authentic unrushed nature of island life.
Both hitchhiking and public busses are common means of inexpensive transportation on Kauai. Though those are viable options, they don’t offer the utmost freedom. For optimal personalization, you’ll probably want your own ride. We decided that we didn’t want to rely on chance or schedules in order to get places we wanted to go, so renting a car was our best option.
We did, however, run into some unforeseen issues upon pickup of our car. Since Larry and I are mere babies (under 25, that is) the commercial rental place we booked with planned to charge us an insane amount for insurance. So, in a pinch, we had to figure something else out. And this is what we learned:
If you rent, go local.
Local rental companies are already significantly cheaper than the larger corporations, plus they won’t charge you extra for “young-person” insurance.
Downside: the car you get might have might have some flaws. Ours came complete with a family of cockroaches (don’t worry, you’ll get used to bugs quickly here), air conditioning that didn’t work unless cranked to full blast, and speakers partial to the driver’s side.
Upside: you’ll look local! Basically every other tourist rents a jeep. You’ll start to see them everywhere, and they stick out like a sore thumb. In your local rental, nobody will bat an eye at you.
Plus, you don’t have to worry as much about a few bumps or scrapes on your muddy-roading adventures.
Where to stay.
If you’re planning on bumming around the island for a few weeks like we did, night after night of rental fees really add up. There are decent Airbnb and VRBO deals all over the island if you look far enough in advance, but, honestly, it’s totally doable to go weeks on the island without spending that kind of cash.
Here’s the best way to affordably and legally rest your head while on Kauai:
Kauai is the kind of place that makes you want to be outside. The average temperature of October and November is around 82 degrees, and the south shore of the island is mostly always dry, even if it’s rainy everywhere else.
On Kauai, there are two types of parks to camp in: county and state campgrounds. For both, you need permits which can be reserved online (and yes, rangers do come around and check to make sure you’ve paid… so do it).
County Campground permits are $3 per adult a night for non-residents.
You kinda can’t beat that deal… A lot of backpackers set up camp in these parks. They sort of become tent cities for the cool worldly traveler type. Oh, and they’re all beachfront.
Note: County Park camping is free/unlimited for locals, so you might find some “establishments” of local Hawaiians who seem to enjoy partying until the wee hours. If you feel like sleeping through the night, maybe buy some earplugs and you’re set!
State Campgrounds permits are $18 a night per site (which hold up to 6 people) for non-residents.
Still, not expensive. And if you go to these parks during the weekdays, you’re sure to find more peace and quiet than the county options.
Also, both county and state campgrounds (as well as mostly every public beach on the island) have pretty nice bathroom facilities with actual toilets and free outdoor showers.
There are some truly paradisiacal spots on the island to call home for a couple nights at a time. Plus, you will save a lot of money.
Good news, guys. You don’t have to live off of peanut butter and crackers on this trip.
Kauai isn’t called the Garden Isle for nothing. Here, the freshest, wildest, most mind-blowingly delicious tropical fruits you could dream of grow in abundance.
Every day, farmers markets happen around the island. Here, you can find fresh produce for great deals and more often than not bargain for better. You can check http://realkauai.com/FarmersMarkets/ for a weekly schedule of markets, their locations and specific tips for each one. If you can’t make it to a local farmer’s market, you can still find freshies at the supermarket. Grocery stores around the island keep a variety of native fruits in stock, too, still equally delicious, just a little more expensive.
We powered our adventures with starfruit, rambutans, giant avocados, coconuts, mango, lychee, lilikoi, breadfruit, dragon fruit, omg. I could go on for days.
So, that’s it. Those are the basics of how we survived on the island for a month. What I didn’t include is how many incredibly generous and welcoming people we encountered on the island and their contributions to our Kauaian lifestyle.
For all the factors we addressed independently, these were the best decisions we could come up. We always found a way to suit our needs of fulfilling an inexpensive yet adventurous trip. Maybe, hopefully, some of these tips come in handy when planning your own island experience.