Updated January 2017
For the Openhearted (& Frugal) Traveler
You travel with an open mind and open heart.
You are willing to experience a place as it is.
You think all inclusive travel packages are for wussies.
You are annoyed by hordes of tourists demanding to have a good time while tromping over local culture.
You prefer the side roads and local foods to tourist traps.
You aren’t made of money and low budget / high experience is your ideal travel plan.
You have respect for the people and places you visit.
This guide is written for you.
Aloha! Maui is called The Valley Isle and it’s verdant beauty and relaxed atmosphere make it a wonderful place for both respite and adventure. Maui has plenty of beach, jungle and volcanoes so be ready to spend most of your time outside. People are generally, warm and friendly – they live in paradise after all and community is at the center of life on the islands. If you are invited by a local to their home or an event, consider this a great compliment and go! Embrace aloha and you will enjoy your stay for sure.
The rest of this post is mostly practical but I do recommend reading this as well: Dear travelers to Hawaii: Please don’t come until you’ve understood these 6 things
I originally traveled from the Bay Area which is on the high end of expensive so if you are used to cheap prices, you are in for some serious sticker shock for most things. This guide is for those who spend money on their travels but don’t go crazy with over-priced tourist stuff. That said, the islands thrive on tourist dollars so plan on being a good consumer and dropping some scrill for good stuff on your visit. Tip well and feel good about your local purchases.
What To Pack
You don’t need much and most things can be purchased locally (ok so it could be more expensive, but not always).
Take the basics and keep in mind that you’ll want room in your luggage for goodies to take home with you. My first visit was 6 weeks and swear I only used a third of what I packed. Maui is very casual. No shirt, no shoes – no problem! If you have a tendency to over-pack , then take out half of what you packed, then take out a little bit more and you will be fine. Maui is super chill, not fancy.
Besides shorts, t-shirts & swimwear consider bringing these:
- Flip-flops or as they are called here ‘slippahs’. If you forget yours you can get Locals brand slippahs for like $5 at Longs.
- Closed-toed sneakers/trainers – if you plan on hiking or going zip-lining
- Eco friendly biodegradable / reef-safe sunscreen. There are some listed here and for the love of all that is good, please don’t get the spray-on sunscreen! I was shocked and saddened to learn that these sprays are the worst because people shellac themselves with the stuff at the beach and most of it ends up in the air and water – killing the coral and making sea creatures sad (or dead) If like me, you had some already, spray it on before you go to the beach and spray it on your hands and rub it in to help prevent it from polluting the air/water. Most commercial tour / sailing companies provide reef-safe sunscreen while aboard their boats so just use theirs if you will be swimming during your trip.
- You might need a light long sleeved shirt (for hiking amongst the jungle areas), and lightweight long pants (again for the hiking). Non-toxic bug repellent is a good idea if you plan on spending time on the windward side of the island (Paia, Haiku, Hana etc.) Badger and Burt’s Bees make great bug spray.
Everything else you might need – like a hat, towel, boogie board, chair etc. can easily be purchased on the island. Most condos already have tons of beach stuff.
Much of Hawaii is wild and nothing more so than the ocean. I believe there is a tendency for visitors to assume that they are in Disneyland and that they can’t get hurt while here. There are visitor deaths every year and nearly all could have been prevented with some common sense and caution. Obey signs, stay on paths and be mindful of your surroundings.
Watch this video before swimming and if you aren’t a strong swimmer take a flotation device out with you.
Tours and attractions
I’m lucky enough to have been on quite a few boat trips and toured around the island a lot on my own as well as in groups. As far as snorkel / sail trips my favorite by far is Sail Trilogy. Check out my Yelp review here for details. They are my go-to for boat trip excursions. For whale watching do I prefer a smaller / faster boat though. It’s just easier to zip out and around on the smaller Zodiac boats.
I’ve flown Alaska, Hawaiian and Virgin America into Kahului, Maui and all were great. If you go off season you can get very reasonable airfares. If you are flexible on dates I highly recommend visiting off season, it will be cheaper and less crowded. September through Mid-November as well as April / May are decent low seasons. I use airfare alerts from AirfareWatchDog.com to get notices for the cheapest flights.
I DO NOT recommend getting a package deal through an airline or outlet like Orbitz. There are so many restrictions and fine print that it’s just not worth it. If you need to change anything after purchase you either can’t or you pay a crazy fee. Not cool. Also you’ll get stuck with giant corporate behemoths and will miss the cool local places.
You will need a car.
Maui has a bus system but it’s fairly limited and it could easily take you a half day to make what would be a 30 minute drive. Gas prices are high but it’s a pretty small island so you will probably spend less than you thought on gas. Go local and rent from Maui Car Rentals in Kahului. They are locally owned, family operated and have a range of cars and great prices. I got a 2004 Toyota for a great price and had the added bonus of looking like a local. Car break-ins and theft are a serious reality on Maui so skip the fancy convertible Mustang and get a beater. Don’t leave stuff visible in your car or lock anything in the trunk that you can’t replace easily. A car with working AC that will get you from point A to point B is just perfect. Tell the folks at Maui Car Rental that Jules sent you. 🙂 1-800-567-4659
The pace is slow on Maui and the highway speed limit is 45 mph in most places. (For real!) It’s an island – what’s the hurry? Drive the speed limit and enjoy the view. Pull to the side of the road when there is an ambulance or other emergency vehicle on the road and I mean on either side of traffic. It’s just what’s done. Pay attention to pedestrians esp on the beach roads and DO yield for folks trying to turn. It’s the Aloha way.
The Google Maps app on my phone did quite well getting around and surprisingly did ok pronouncing the street names (which are nearly all Hawaiian). It did send me in loops driving around Haiku, but the map itself was accurate so I was able to reconnoiter on my own.
I booked a flight with a car with Hawaiian Airlines to visit the Big Island and they were a total nightmare. If you want to hop to another island I recommend Mokulele or Island Air. These are generally small prop planes so be prepared for no frills and a bit of turbulence. But also – no TSA! You can’t beat the views though as you fly lower and get to see more of the islands from the skies. TIP: If you follow Mokulele on Twitter they announce super good deals on flights for the next day.
Where to Stay
There are tons of options and most are *not* large hotels. I only stayed in Kihei (and now I live there) so my recommendations are limited to the South side of Maui.
I recommend renting a condo or maybe an Air B&B. I did AirB&B and won the lottery with the place I got. The host called it “glamping” in their post but I call it a hidden gem with everything I needed for a long stay living and working. I had my very own bungalow hidden in a non-touristy neighborhood of Kihei. A 10-15 minute walk down the hill and I was at the beach. There was a shared shower and bathroom that were always clean and in 6 weeks I never once waited in line. The hosts have the “aloha” spirit and the other denizens of the property were all friendly. I had an efficiency kitchen (mini-fridge, microwave, kettle & dishes) which made it easy to have breakfast and lunch “at home” and save my $ for dinner. There is wifi all over the property too and loads of things to borrow from boogie boards to swim fins, beach chairs etc. The bungalows have screens for windows and fans but no air conditioning. Also the price was very reasonable. Photos below. You can find one of the several available bungalows here.
If you want a condo near the beach with all of the modern conveniences, my friend Robin has a sweet one bedroom with an ocean view in Kihei. Check it out at VRBO and tell her Jules sent u.
Glamping in Kihei, Maui:
I hope to post about my favorite places to eat and hike but for now check out my list of food places on Yelp.