Hawaii was somewhere I’ve wanted to go for years- ever since I saw Blue Crush actually (I might have even harboured secret dreams about being a surfer girl but, sadly, my surf lesson in Ireland proved that will never happen). Throughout high school I doodled hibiscus flowers on all of my binders and notebooks, gazed longingly at internet photos of Hawaii’s lush islands and beaches, and daydreamed about swimming with dolphins, manta rays, and hundreds of colourful fish. Fast-forward to 2018 and, thanks to a seat sale and some strategic planning, I finally got my chance to visit Hawaii for myself in combination with Fiji and Tonga. However, as excited as I was for my South Pacific adventures, I did wonder about solo travel in Hawaii. Would I love it? Or would it be awkward since Hawaii is known as a romantic honeymoon destination?
For my solo travel in Hawaii, I chose Oahu. This was mainly because it was the cheapest island to fly in and out of from Canada. But also because Oahu had direct flights once a week to Fiji- which was where I was headed. I spent 3 days in Hawaii at the beginning of my trip; enough time to conquer a bit of jetlag and break up the lengthy flight then another 3 days on the way back. It was a ton of fun, and the island was just as beautiful as I had hoped. As for solo travel in Hawaii? Well, I can only speak for Oahu but it was ok. Not amazing, but doable and I did enjoy myself. With that being said, I do have some tips and advice to pass on to others.
Tips for Solo Travel in Hawaii: Oahu for Solo Travellers
Public Transit Around the Island is Definitely Lacking
I think this was my biggest disappointment when it came to solo travel in Oahu. While I could easily get around Waikiki and Honolulu with the local bus service, travelling around the Island itself was much more difficult- bordering on impossible. Maybe if I had more time and could afford to spend hours on small buses stopping at each town across the way but let’s be honest, no one comes to Hawaii to spend hours sitting (or standing) on a bus.
Renting a car is clearly the best choice when it comes to the Hawaiian Islands but that wasn’t an option for me so I felt pretty stuck in Honolulu. Which wasn’t awful, I found things to do, but Honolulu wasn’t exactly the Hawaii I wanted to see. I wanted rainforest and mountains and secluded beaches. Not skyscrapers and shopping malls and crowds.
Thankfully, there are plenty of day tour options from Waikiki area that will take you to explore more of the island. I did a full day circle island tour one day which was perfect for seeing the countryside or, in my mind, the real Hawaii. I also splurged on a half day trip out to the west coast of the island to go swimming with wild dolphins. While neither experience was cheap, I was grateful for all the tour options available that meant I could get out of the city.
Hawaii is Expensive
This really isn’t a surprise as Hawaii has a reputation for coming with a price tag, but I think I felt it more as a solo traveller than I would have if I was travelling with someone else and could have split costs on things like a hotel and maybe even renting a car. Everything in Hawaii was expensive from food and drink to tours to accommodation. While I tried to explore on the cheap, sometimes I just needed to say ‘fuck it’ and fork out the money to make sure I had the Hawaii experience that I wanted. After all, I didn’t fly for 15 hours just to sit on Waikiki Beach and watch the surfers. I would say the expense is the biggest downside of solo travel in Hawaii. Based on my experience, I recommend budgeting for more than you expect.
Hostels in Hawaii Are Great for Meeting People…But That’s About it
Hostels were one of the biggest disappointment for me in terms of solo travel in Hawaii. Normally, I love hostels. Sure sharing bathrooms with strangers can be awkward and you’ll probably end up sharing a dorm with some inconsiderate jerk who flips the lights on at 4am to pack but, they are also awesome for meeting people and usually are affordable and often can be pretty nice as well.
Not so much in Hawaii.
I was discouraged from the get-go when I read the less than stellar reviews of the hostels in Waikiki. I finally settled on Waikiki Beachside hostel as it seemed to be my best bet. While the location was awesome (just a block from the beach and a bus stop) the hostel itself was not as great as I hoped. Dorms were hot and stuffy and really, really loud at night (from the street, not from the hostel) so I barely slept at all during my stay and while I’m sure part of it was jet lag, part of it was just because I was really uncomfortable. It also wasn’t the cleanest and the staff weren’t exactly the warm and welcoming type. Maybe I’m spoiled from boutique hostels in Europe and friendly staff in Asia, but as far as my hostel experiences go, this definitely wasn’t a great one.
What I can say is that I did manage to meet some pretty cool people who I really enjoyed hanging out with. Since Hawaii is such a pricey destination, it seemed that most solo travellers picked this hostel as well which was great for making friends.
That being said, the hostel sleeping situation was bad enough that, when I returned to Hawaii in October for a couple of days before heading back to Canada, I splurged (and I do mean splurged) on a private room at the Surf Jack Hotel. While it was clean, comfortable, and perfect for sleeping I didn’t meet anyone. The crowd here was mostly couples which meant that while I slept amazingly well at night, things did get a bit lonely during the day.
For more on where to stay on Hawaii, check out this post.
The Locals are Really Friendly
The good thing about solo travel in Hawaii is that I found the locals to be really friendly. As in they kindly took a couple minutes out of their day to chat to lonely little me when I was desperate for conversation. Granted I was also normally buying something from their shop (Waikiki’s adorable shops did not help with staying on budget, but they did help me get some Christmas shopping done early!), but it still made a difference. In fact, I found it kind of funny that Hawaii is technically the USA because the friendliness factor didn’t really reflect that at all. It kind of felt more like being at home in Canada.
Aside from just having someone to have a quick chat with, the locals were pretty good with recommendations as well. A young woman at a shop told me where to get delicious (and cheap) poke bowls. A middle aged lady at one of the ABC convenient stores happily told me where to go to catch the bus (after the girl at the hostel told me ‘down by the beach’) and the bus driver on the way to Hanauma Bay told me everything that I wanted to know about anything in Hawaii. She was a total sweetheart.
So, if you are travelling solo in Hawaii don’t be shy to strike up a conversation whether it be the bus driver, shop attendant, or cute surfer boy on the beach… the one with neon beach shorts, shiny aviators, shaggy dark hair covered by a black ball cap and a very tanned six pack. If you see him stay away him he’s mine say hi.
Hawaii Feels Very Safe for Solo Travellers
My favourite part of solo travel in Hawaii is how safe I felt. In fairness, I didn’t go out to any bars or clubs (jet lag and lack of sleep does not make for a party girl) but from walking around Waikiki alone during the day and evenings I never had an issue. No cat calls or snide comments, nothing. I’m sure part of that had to do with the fact that I was also in busy tourist areas but it felt pretty good to feel safe wandering around as a young woman alone.
So, Do I recommend Solo Travel in Hawaii?
I absolutely do. Despite a couple of the above frustrations, I did have a great time and would definitely go back. I think the key thing to keep in mind when it comes to solo travel in Hawaii is to have a bigger budget so you won’t be limited by the lack of transit around the island. Or, if like me, you end up wanting to splurge on a hotel room instead of staying in a crappy hostel dorm. It’s definitely worth spending the extra money to ensure that you get the Hawaii experience that you want.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Hawaii
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.