How to Plan a Road Trip in Hawaii from Start to Finish

plan road trip hawaii guide

Hawaii is one of the top travel destinations in the world. Many local and international tourists visit the state to enjoy its beaches, forests, and mountains. If this sounds like something you want to experience, you should know that Hawaii’s islands can be explored by car.

In fact, this is probably one of the best ways to get around Hawaii because you’ll get to appreciate the scenery and make stops at unique restaurants and shops on the way to your destinations.

If you’re interested in a road trip across Hawaii , here’s how to plan it from start to finish.

hawaii road trip

Beware of traffic during peak seasons

Hawaii is one of the smaller states in the country. Given this, roads can be a little more congested. This is especially true during peak tourist seasons, such as during “The Eddie” surf event, a one-day surfing contest dubbed as the world’s most prestigious. Such events are held during the peak surfing season: November through February. As such, expect moderate traffic since many tourists want to enjoy the waves and competition.

If you’re not going to Hawaii for such events, plan your road trip during the “off” season. April through mid-June and September to early November see the fewest tourists. By scheduling your road trip during these dates, you’ll likely have smoother and more traffic-free drives.

Make a road trip itinerary

A road trip isn’t complete without an itinerary. I’m sure you’re excited to see different Hawaiian sights, including the best places to snorkel in Kauai. Tunnels Beach and Nualolo Kai Beach are some of the top spots, thanks to their visible reefs being home to various fish. Upon arriving in Hawaii, however, you may be surprised to discover that the island of Kauai is inaccessible by car—unless you choose to land at Lihue Airport, which only accepts domestic flights.

To avoid sudden changes in plans, make an itinerary. Doing so ensures more efficient travel, so you don’t go back and forth between destinations. You can use a road trip planning program, like the Roadtrippers app. It has pre-made routes you can follow, or you can input the destinations you want to visit, and it creates a route for you. If you want to visit Hawaii’s smaller islands, do so at the end of your trip so you don’t have to fly in the middle of it.

Book an accommodation with parking

Before your road trip, you’ll likely book the hotels, resorts, or rental houses you’ll stay in. In doing so, remember to choose the ones with a parking space for your vehicle. Not all accommodations will have parking, and leaving your car on the side of the road can result in a fine.

As such, check if the hotels or resorts have parking areas by checking their website or inquiring via e-mail. For rental houses and similar lodging options, thoroughly read the place’s description or message the host to ask about the parking situation. If you cannot find any places with parking spots, book accommodation near paid or free parking areas. With this, you can be assured that you’ll leave your vehicle in a safe and proper spot.

Aim to rent a car at the airport

Securing your car immediately after landing in Hawaii is the best way to start your road trip. You can kick off your adventure right away or more conveniently prepare for it with your car in tow, such as when stocking up on groceries.

Fortunately, car rentals at Honolulu Airport are a convenient way to secure a vehicle right after landing. Being the largest airport in Hawaii, it offers several car rental options at its CONRAC Consolidated Car Rental Facility. This is accessible by taking a shuttle from Terminal 1 or a stroll from Terminal 2.

It houses different car rental companies, like Alamo, Dollar, and Enterprise. Moreover, these companies provide various types of cars. There are 4WD vehicles for more adventurous and off-road trips, vans for families and big groups, and convertibles for a more stylish ride. Remember to present your driver’s license or International Driving Permit and credit card to be eligible for rent.

Download a navigation app

Driving in Hawaii can be confusing, particularly for first-time tourists and road-trippers. Many one-way and two-lane roads in rural areas may trouble you. Turning into smaller streets and residential areas can also be difficult as you try to reach your destination.

Prevent getting lost and violating road laws by downloading a navigation app before your road trip. Doing this is essential, mainly if you rented an older car model that doesn’t have a built-in GPS. You can use popular ones like Google Maps, Waze, or Hawaii-centric apps. Some examples are the Shaka Guide and Map of Hawaii.

Get ready to pay for expensive gas

Gas is expensive in Hawaii because it has to be imported from the mainland. A gas price report by Maui News reveals that the average gas prices are already 45 cents lower than last year, specifically in Kahului. Even so, its gas price still sits at an average of $4.90 per gallon. You can observe a similar trend across other Hawaiian regions, with Hilo at $4.80, Honolulu at $4.70, and Lihue at $5.20. Statewide, the average gas price is $4.80 as of April 2023.

With that said, include gas expenses in your road trip budget. They will cost quite a lot, more so if you plan on taking a longer trip.

Prepare to return the rental car

After your road trip, you must return your car to its rental company. Before doing so, check that you haven’t left any belongings or trash inside. Additionally, you can fill up the tank to the same capacity as when you got the vehicle.

If not, you can pay a fee to the rental company upon returning the car. Finally, take a photo of the vehicle’s exterior and mileage, so you can bring them up if you’re charged for damages you’re not responsible for.

Final Thoughts

Maui Hawaii Snorkeling

Planning a Hawaiian road trip doesn’t have to be intimidating or troublesome. Remember the tips above before your next trip to the island for a more fun and efficient road trip!

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