Happy Aloha Friday, everyone!
Earlier this month my wife and I got back from a 10 day Hawaii trip, and I’m just sitting down to tally up all the travel expenses. This being a personal finance blog and all, I thought I’d share the numbers and costs.
It’s not like we’re extreme frugal travelers or anything, but we’re also not big spenders. We found a few ways to cut corners (free flights, avoided some tourist traps, stayed with friends a few nights) but spent heavily in other areas — intentionally. 😎
Here’s the summary of costs:
- Flights: $22.40
- VRBO hotel (7 days, including trip insurance): $1,615.60
- Rental car (10 days): $356.87
- Ubers (to/from airport): $149.70
- Gas: $48.08
- COVID tests: $400
- Food/Booze (incl friends): $1,487.25
Things we *didn’t* spend on:
- Dog sitter for Cooper: $0
- Time off work: $0
- Shopping/souvenirs/excursions: $0
- Parking in Waikiki: $0
Some Trip Highlights
It’s been ~5 years since we visited last, and almost 9 years since we lived in Hawaii. Most of our friends in HI have gotten married, had kids, bought houses, etc. so there was a lot of catching up to do. Here were some of the trip happenings:
- We caught up with 21 friends over 10 days. (My wife has mad scheduling skills!) Dinners, BBQs, happy hours — we ate very few meals alone.
- Went out to the sandbar in Kaneohe, snorkeling and paddleboarding.
- Surfed the North Shore (a very humbling experience)
- Sat poolside at the Elk’s club for an entire day drinking cocktails
- Fishing at One’ula Beach (🐟 caught = 0, 🍺 drank = 7)
- Poker night at friend’s house (only lost $7, not bad!)
- Pho, ramen, udon noodles, spam musubi, the best poke on the island, etc… My wife is a huge foodie (if you want any food recommendations, drop questions in the comments and wife will respond! *hopefully)
COVID, Vaccines, and Travelling to Hawaii
Quick update (as of April 2021) on the COVID situation as I know many people are still freaked out to travel by plane. My wife and I each got our first vaccine shot in early March, so we were traveling half-vaccinated. I realize 1 shot doesn’t give you full immunity, but given the safety measures at airports and on airlines etc, we felt pretty safe to travel. We also called our friends on the island to get the local pulse on how COVID was being handled. The week we traveled Hawaii was averaging about ~53 new COVID cases per day in the entire state, so we felt OK traveling.
At the time we flew, the state of Hawaii was enforcing either a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travelers, OR you could bypass quarantine if you could produce a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of your flight. This is why we paid $400 in COVID tests … Hawaii wouldn’t accept just any negative test, it had to come from one of their “trusted partners” — which turned out to be a real expensive pain in the ass to find. In Los Angeles there are only about 5 trusted testing partners, each with costs of $175-$300 PER rapid test — regardless of insurance.
As for social distancing, we flew out of Long Beach Airport which is mostly outdoors. Honolulu Airport was fairly empty. Our plane on the way there had 80 passengers out of 175 seats, so quite spacious. Plane on the way home we somehow scored Row 1 all to ourselves.
Pic taken from our plane window on the flight home right after takeoff!
Free Flights via Southwest ($22.40)
This is talked about a lot in the FIRE community, but for those that don’t know… Southwest Airlines offers some wicked credit card promotions that if combined correctly, let you earn a “companion pass” for a few calendar years. This means a selected partner can fly with you, for free, on any flights within a set time period.
In early 2019 I signed up for 2 credit cards (SW personal and SW business) and received the companion pass as well as 125,000 welcome SW points to cover flights. Our companion pass was supposed to expire last year, but Southwest extended this through 2021.
All in all, we paid $11.20 each for our flights, so $22.40 total. Crazy, isn’t it?
Couple other flying notes and savings:
- We brought breakfast to the airport (and drank coffee before we left home in the morning) so this saved us from buying expensive convenience food/coffee.
- My wife made salad and lunch wraps for the plane flight so we didn’t have to buy anything while flying and weren’t hungry when we landed.
- Free movies, text messaging, etc. on Southwest and we packed all our headsets/cables/technology stuff so we wouldn’t have to buy anything.
These might seem small and obvious, but tiny airport costs really add up. Planning in advance can shave hundreds off your total trip cost.
VRBO & Crashing With Friends ($1,615)
Lodging is one area we were happy to splurge on. We were invited to stay with a handful of friends (for free), but part of this vacation plan was for me and my wife to spend time together just the two of us. We ended up staying 3 nights with friends on the North Shore and got a rental condo for 7 nights in town (Ilikai Hotel).
A peek inside the condo
Sunset from our balcony
Even though this place was expensive (worked out over ~$220 per night after fees/taxes), we found a few ways to save money:
- Parking = $0. We always scoured and found free overnight parking at the Ala Wai Marina, right next to our hotel. This saved us a whopping $28 per night that our hotel charged.
- Home cooking: We chose a VRBO with a big kitchen so we could make our own convenience foods and snacks. This saved us hundreds by preparing our own food.
- BYO everywhere! Before checking into the hotel, we hit Walmart and bought about $300 of wine, champagne, hard seltzers and beer. Having our large hotel fridge stocked meant we had cold drinks to bring everywhere vs. buying at higher prices along the way.
Food and Booze ($1,487)
Approximately $600 of this was buying food and drinks for other people. My wife and I like to pick up the bar tab sometimes, buy drinks, and take friends out to say thank you. (Our friends also hosted us and treated for some meals, too!)
Half of the time we splurged — our most expensive dinner was $170 for 5 people at Moku Kitchen in Kaka’ako — and the other times we ate quite cheaply — homemade avocado toast or scrambled eggs for breakfast.
A cheap and delicious egg breakfast we made for probably under $5 of ingredients.
All in all, food is something we never regret spending money on while traveling. Especially meals with friends.
Coast FIRE and Blowing Our 2021 Travel Budget:
My wife and I budgeted about $10k for travel this year, and we’ve already blown about 5k of it on trips! Oops. 😬 And with a lot more travel planned this summer, it’s likely that we’ll go way past our anticipated amount.
But, this doesn’t concern us too much.
The beauty of Coast FIRE is that we no longer have to contribute to our investment accounts to grow our retirement nest egg. As long as we’re earning roughly the same amount we spend each year, our portfolio should naturally double in size every 10 years or so.
Even if we end up spending $2k, $3k, or even $10k over our travel budget this year, it only puts a small dent in our retirement timeline. We are prioritizing travel while we are young (and have no kids!) vs. trying to save as much as possible and retire early.
Do you have any “revenge travel” planned this year or next? Curious to hear if you think blowing $4k over 10 days in Hawaii is careless. What’s your average trip cost?
Joel is a 35 y/o Aussie living in Los Angeles and the guy behind 5amjoel.com. He loves waking up early, finding ways to be more efficient with time and money, and sharing what he learns with others. Rise Early | Retire Early!