Budget Travel: Last-Minute Trip to Hawaii

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Compared to all the other trips I’ve gone on in my life, my last big trip, to Hawaii was a very last-minute decision.  My husband and I had been planning a trip to Vietnam for nearly a year but we ended up having to cancel the trip less than a month before because he got a concussion and a busy trip to a bustling country speaking a foreign language was not the right thing for us at the time.  Since we had the time off from work anyways, we decided to see if we could find a nice quiet beach to lay on and give his head time to heal.

maui beach

Our vacation was in October, prime hurricane season in the Caribbean (there actually ended up being a very big storm in Mexico that week), but to be honest, we were looking for something quieter than an all-inclusive resort, we were looking for a small beach house to retreat to for 10 days. It being less than 2 weeks before our desired departure, we looked at the last minute flights leaving Montreal to see what our best option was.  Looking through various airlines’ at the last-minute flight offers, I found a round-trip flight to Maui, Hawaii for 650$ each with only one connection in Los Angeles.  I couldn’t imagine that Hawaii was the cheapest place to fly!  So I mentioned it to my husband and we were both shocked to think that we could spend 10 days in Hawaii on our budget!

hawaii flower

Once the tickets were booked, we had to look for accommodations.  Hotels were much too expensive and out of our price range of 100$/night and we could not find a good deal on AirBNB (I’m not sure if it’s because it was last minute or it’s not that popular in Maui).  We did however manage to rent a one-bedroom apartment a block away from the beach through Homeaway.  Our idea of a secluded beach house on a private beach may have been a bit optimistic, but this apartment had everything we were looking for.  It was a block away from a beautiful beach (but are there really any bad beaches in Hawaii??). We had a kitchen and BBQ so we could make our own meals instead of needing to eat out every day.  It had a pool for those times where we were lazy to walk to the beach or had enough of salt water.  It was walking distance from the town where we had access to surf shops and grocery stores. It was perfect and had everything we could possibly want. The apartment cost us 85$/night and we got one night free for staying over 7 days!

Maui sunset

The next detail to figure out was how to get to the apartment from the airport.  There was no public transit to easily get between the two so we looked into taxi fares and car rentals.  We found a good deal through priceline that came out to the same as taking a taxi and this way we had a car to get around the island.

All that was left was to pack our bags and bathing suits and head to the airport!

The flight was not nearly as long and painful as I had thought and I happened to have two free Air Canada lounge passes (from all my work travel) for our layover in LA which helped with a place to rest and stretch our legs and some snacks and food to fill us up!

View from our apartment's balcony
View from our apartment’s balcony

Once we arrived, we realized that our apartment was just as we had imagined, we could see the ocean from the balcony, hear the birds and smell the beautiful flowers.  However, after the mandatory first beach visit, we needed to go get some groceries.

We started by going to a farmers’ market for fruit .  The people were lovely and would let us sample all the fruits we had never even heard of like rambutan, apple bananas or strawberry papayas.  We bought all sorts of different varieties to taste and to make tropical smoothies with my smoothie blender I brought with us.  Once we had enough fruits to last us a long time, we searched for a grocery store and ended up at a Times Supermarket.  We quickly realized that although the local fruits were reasonably priced, all other foods were much more expensive than we’re used to at home.  Being an island, Hawaii needs to import everything which mostly needs to be shipped by air which costs much more than by ground as it is at home.  Even basics such as bread, eggs and milk were quite expensive.  Despite the prices, we were still saving a lot by making our own meals rather than eating out so we allowed ourselves to splurge on a few items.  We were on vacation after all!  Since we had access to a BBQ at our apartment, we mostly grilled our dinners which was quick and easy and also had minimal clean-up and dishes to deal with afterwards!

maui fruits
Fruit from the farmers market all ready to eat!

Once our grocery shopping was done, we were able to get into vacation mode and enjoy the beach.  Another advantage of renting an apartment rather than getting a hotel room is that there are often beach chairs and umbrellas as well as various beach accessories for you to use.  We took our chairs and umbrella and headed over to Charlie Young beach.  I had brought my snorkeling gear and was able to see some beautiful fish and even a sea turtle in the reef just off the right side of the beach.  Snorkeling is such a popular activity in Hawaii but you don’t need to spend a lot on a tour or excursion to see amazing sea creatures, a 15$ snorkel set is all you need and most beaches will provide you with some interesting rocks or reefs to discover for free.  There are many sites, like this one, that can point you to the best snorkeling sites ad beaches and save yourself lots of money on a tour!


While sunbathing and going swimming and snorkeling, I kept watching the surfers out on their boards riding the waves.  I had tried surfing once before in California with little success, so I decided this would be the trip I would finally stand up on a surf board!  I walked down the beach and checked out each surf shop to see what they offered in terms of courses and rentals.  Normally, I would have researched this type of thing before leaving home, but this being a last-minute trip, I had to do things a bit differently! I settled on the Surf Shack as they seemed to have the best prices and they were close to where we were staying and The Cove, the beginner surfing spot (important because surfboards are heavier than they look!).

maui surfing

I started with a group lesson at 8am the next morning (apparently early morning waves are the best!).  The course cost 49$ (originally 59$ but you can get a 10$ discount booking online) and we were 3 girls with the teacher.  After a brief theory lesson on land we went out in the water in The Cove, the perfect spot to learn to surf.  The teacher was great and we were all standing up in no time.  After the two-hour lesson we were all exhausted but we could stay out as long as we wanted to practice while the waves were still good.  We also had the board for the rest of the day should we wish to keep practicing.  An extra half hour was all my arms could take so I called it a day.

The energy rush from standing up being pushed by a wave was amazing and I ended up renting a surf board a few more times throughout our trip to feel that thrill.  At Surf Shack they have discounts on rentals after having taken a lesson and they were very flexible with the timing for bringing back the boards.  All the rentals also come with surfing booties and a rash guard shirt (which are very necessary with the rocks in the water and lying on the boards to paddle out!)  I must say that the 20$ to rent the board for half a day was well worth the money and definitely the highlight on the trip.

Charlie young beach

Other than the surfing, our trip was mostly sun and swim focused as it was meant to be healing and relaxing, and that it certainly was!  I’m sure that Vietnam would’ve been a beautiful and awe-inspiring destination, but I can’t say I regret having to cancel and going to Hawaii instead! Vietnam will always be there for next time!

Here is the breakdown of the cost of our trip to Maui for 10 days:

Category Amount ($/person)
Flight 651$
Accommodations 486$
Food 108$
Surfing 185$
Rental car 115$
Total 1545$

What was your best last-minute vacation?  What last minute travel deals have you scored? Leave your comments below!

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2 thoughts

  1. Nice story. Hawaii is spectacular and I would go back there is a minute. We rented a car and drove around the big island so we paid a bit more than you, but I admire your thriftiness on this occasion.

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