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Notes from Seattle Times travel writer Brian Cantwell.

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Travel staffer Brian Cantwell, his wife and their two cats are traversing the Oregon shore in a rented motorhome.

October 15, 2008 1:00 PM

Hawaii for $50 a day (the final tally, and more tips)

Posted by Brian Cantwell

King Kamehameha's statue in downtown
Honolulu: Come visit, it doesn't have to cost an
arm and a leg.

The total for my Waikiki trip: less than $1,500. And if you don't count airfare or lodging, I spent $334 in seven days on Oahu. Less than $50 a day in Hawaii isn't bad (and that included a week's bike rental).

Here's the final total, and a few hindsight tips:

(To read the complete blog, scroll down to the bottom to "More from this blog" and click on "4." Then scroll down to the entry titled "Penny-pinching in Paradise" and read from the bottom up.)

Airfare: $476 with tax and fees (Northwest)
Condo rental, one week: $666 with tax

Day 1 expenses: $122.45 (including week's bike rental, groceries, airport shuttle, etc.)
Day 2: $16.62 (yes, that's no typo)
Day 3: $54.58 (including Hanauma Bay expenses and that fancy Moana mai tai)
Day 4: $34.02 (including $8 bug spray)
Day 5: $62 (Oops, couple of restaurant meals added up)

Day 6:

-- Breakfast at Farmer's Market, $5.50 (fried rice with Portuguese sausage)
-- Fruit and flowers from Farmer's Market: $8.47
-- Dinner at Sunset on the Beach, Vietnamese food from stand: $8.50

Day 6 total: $22.47

Day 7:

-- Bus to North Shore, $4 round-trip
-- Brunch, banana pancakes and coffee, Cafe Haleiwa, $9.62
--Dinner, Ramen Ezogiku restaurant, Waikiki (yakisoba and gyoza), $9.13

Day 7 total: $22.75

Grand total: $1476.89

Note: This covers airfare and what I spent in Hawaii, not including travel day expenses in Seattle or on the plane, since those expenses vary considerably depending on whether you have someone drop you off and pick you up at the airport, whether you bring your own food on the plane, etc.

Airfares have dropped recently; If you time it right, you could trim up to $150 off what I spent on airfare. Avoid holiday periods if you want good fares.

What might I do differently? Not a lot. Finding the condo was a good deal, in a good location. See, my favorite Web site to search for by-owner rentals, which can be a bargain (if you're a careful shopper). Ask for references, including proof that the rental agent has rights to rent the property. The Web site includes good tips on consumer protection.

Some penny-pincher advantages to the condo, besides the $85/night price tag: It came with a well-stocked kitchen (so I cooked a few meals), and it came stocked with beach mats, beach towels, ice chests, beach chairs, even a beach umbrella -- all stuff you might end up buying if you stay in a hotel.

If you prefer a hotel, shop around. (For an excellent interactive map with details and comments on many Waikiki hotels and condos, click here.) See what's offered on the Web, but also call the hotel directly (not just an 800 reservation line) and ask for their best deal. We chose Waikiki for our bargain-hunting trip, because there is so much competition to fill so many hotel rooms and condos. But there are still loads of honeymooners and anniversary-celebrating couples on Oahu this fall. We were told that the other islands -- Kauai, especially -- are hurting most in this year when Hawaii tourism has taken a big dip. So if you can afford the extra airfare, maybe you'll find sweet deals.

For dining, it's always cheaper a block or two off the beach. Splurge once or twice at beachfront bars (bar food costs less than in the main restaurant), but otherwise enjoy affordable meals from the many hole-in-the-wall eateries between Kalakaua Avenue (the beach's main drag) and Kuhio Avenue, three blocks back. I chowed down on Chinese, Japanese and Korean food -- never paid more than $9 and never got a bad meal. And you can always ask for takeout and have a sunset picnic on the beach.

You don't need a car if you stay around Waikiki. The $20+ parking will blow your budget, and you won't use a car much. Use the public bus ("The Bus"), which costs $2 per ride (and you can circle the whole island for that if you like). A four-day pass for unlimited rides is $20, sold at all Waikiki ABC stores (they're all over). Or rent a car for a day when you want one for an island tour; I just checked and found a car from Enterprise for $35 for one day from its Waikiki outlet on Seaside Avenue. For a week, a Travelocity search finds a car for $123, with tax, from the airport (Thrifty car rental). (Rates will vary by when you visit and when you book.)

Or you can rely on the Waikiki Trolley (a diesel-powered bus), which runs very frequently to most popular tourist destinations (not including Pearl Harbor). A four-day pass is $48, with discounts online.

Also check for bargains offered through the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's Web site.

Everybody's worried about the economy, and most of us have taken a hit in our retirement savings or investments. But life goes on, and if you need to recharge, you can shave the costs of a visit to Hawaii -- and still have a great vacation.

Lighthouse seen from the summit of Diamond Head. If you bike or
walk to the trailhead, the hike costs just a buck.

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