Backpacking is a way of life, a culture – if you will – that incorporates minimalism with resourcefulness, survival with flexibility. It's traveling with just the bare essentials (literally) on your back, in a backpack, wherever you go. And we're not just talking about hippies and gypsies; backpackers can be anyone who wants to travel on a budget or experience the destination in the most authentic way possible by immersing themselves into the local culture.
We met tons of backpackers in Australia, all of whom agreed that their travels aren't really considered vacations but rather an opportunity to learn about different worldly cultures and about themselves. They'd spend weeks in one town before moving on to the next, doing a little bit of sightseeing but nothing nearly as hardcore as most tourists on holiday. Backpackers take their time.
So what's the backpacking scene like in Hawai‘i? Unfortunately, it's as bare minimum as the pack on your back. Because hotels often play on the fact that Hawai‘i's a popular travel destination, finding inexpensive lodging or hostels can be slim to none. You might have to stay at a bed and breakfast or resort to camping instead.
But there's still some hope, backpackers. A handful of cheap and lively hostels can be found scattered throughout the islands; they won't necessarily be called "hostels," so do your research. Arnott's Lodge in Hilo offers guided walking tours at the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park; in Kona, Manago Hotel is known for its affordable lodging. Many backpackers that go to Kaua‘i usually end up camping on the beach (make sure that it's allowed first), but there are some bed and breakfasts. If you're backpacking on Maui, you could stay in the Wailuku North Shore Hostel or at a bed and breakfast; otherwise, camping is always an option, like in Hana. Lastly, on O‘ahu, there are two on the North Shore called Plantation Village and Paumalu Hale Hostel. There's also one in Waikīkī called Waikiki Beach Hostel.
While Hawai‘i's public transportation is expanding, the bus system on the Big Island, Kaua‘i and Maui are not as equipped as the one on O‘ahu. You could also look for shared ride taxi programs, such as the ones in Hilo and Kona; however, travel is limited to nine miles. If you can get a ride, you'll discover that there is still plenty of outdoor adventures to be had – from hiking to surfing to snorkeling.
Overall, be open-minded when backpacking in Hawai‘i, and don't expect to have all the "luxuries" of other backpacking-friendly places. You will definitely meet some cool people, though, and learn about a unique Pacific culture that's still deeply rooted to its island home; not to mention, you'll be hanging out in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, so hopefully that will make up for the lack of backpacking amenities. Happy Trails!
November 9th, 2012