Travel to Hawaii: The Ultimate Guide

Samuel Clennett

Hawaii’s 6 major islands offer iconic experiences from surfing and snorkeling to immersing yourself in the culture and learning the art of hula. Choose a beach break or get more active with outdoor activities, trekking and exploring - Hawaii has it all.

Hawaii is a fantastic tourist destination, but it’s not cheap. This guide will look at the practicalities of arranging your trip, and also touch on a smart way to cut costs - the Wise borderless account and linked Mastercard. More on that later.

Do your research

You have a few decisions to make when planning a break in Hawaii - and some research is essential to make sure you get the perfect holiday you deserve.

The official Hawaii tourism website has helpful inspiration, arranged into themes and location guides. There’s also a great FAQ section aimed at Australians covering many of the practical questions you may have about your visit¹.

Make sure you look at the specifics for your trip when researching - such as the best way to get from the airport to your accommodation, and the most suitable tour operators for the activities you choose.

You’ll also want to look at general safety and travel advice for your destination. Hawaii is the 50th state of the US, and a relatively safe and straightforward place to visit. However, you’ll need to take normal safety precautions when there, including avoiding protests and looking after your belongings.

Check out official travel information for the US, on the Smart Traveller website - an Australian government supported resource to help travellers before, during and after trips overseas².

How to get the most for your money

Hawaii has plenty of opportunities for travellers - but it’s not a cheap destination. Make sure you have a budget to match your plans - and save money on bank fees and currency conversion with the following smart tips.

Know your exchange rate

You’ll need to exchange your Australian dollars for US dollars when you head to Hawaii. That means getting to grips with the exchange rate to make sure you get a fair deal.

Exchange rates change all the time, but you can easily find current information with an online currency converter or app. This gives you the mid-market exchange rate, which is the benchmark you’ll want to use when comparing providers.

Banks and currency services buy US dollars at the mid-market rate, but they may add a markup to the rate they then pass on to their customers. This is an extra fee and can make currency conversion more expensive than you expect.

Avoid paying this extra margin with the Wise borderless account and card. More on that later.

Look for hidden costs

All major credit and debit cards are likely to be accepted in Hawaii - but you’ll want to check your account and card terms and conditions for foreign currency charges when you spend or make cash withdrawals overseas. You may be charged a flat fee, a percentage charge - or both. These costs are often in the region of 2% to 3% of the transaction value and can quickly mount up.

Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)

If you’re asked if you want to pay in your home currency instead of the local one when spending on a card abroad, that’s DCC.

Banks sell DCC as a handy service which means you don’t have to do the currency conversion yourself. However, choosing to pay in Australian dollars when abroad will come at a high cost. Always opt to pay in the local currency wherever you are to get the best exchange rate and lowest fees.

Get a specialist account for your travels

Manage your money as you travel cheaply and easily with a Wise borderless account.

Open your account online before you leave, and hold, send and receive dozens of different currencies. You can manage your balances using the Wise app, and spend easily using the Wise borderless Mastercard.

Just top up from your home bank account, and convert to the currency you need to avoid foreign transaction fees. All currency conversion is done using the mid-market exchange rate with no markup, which can mean it’s far cheaper than relying on your regular bank.

Things to be aware of

Hawaii is part of the US, but has a unique culture and history. Learn a bit about this before you travel to make the most of your visit.

Beyond that, visitors just need to exercise normal caution and common sense when in Hawaii. There are dangers associated with the sea - including rip tides and strong currents, and even inland flash flooding and fast moving rivers can be a problem. You’ll need to follow local advice, and avoid areas which are out of bounds - the word Kapu indicates you should stay away from a certain area.

Be respectful of the local wildlife - on land you need to worry more about centipedes than large predators. And don’t eat the interesting looking fruits you see - unless you’re sure they’re not poisonous³.

The main issue for visitors is far more likely to be the sun as UV is high year round. Use sunscreen to make sure you can actually enjoy your holiday, rather than spending it nursing burns. And make sure the sunscreen you pick is reef safe.

If you find yourself in trouble when overseas, the Australian consular service may be able to offer support. You can Learn more on the Smart Traveller website⁴.

Get to know the Visa situation

To visit Hawaii, you’ll usually need to get an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) visa waiver, the same as any other state in the USA. Apply online in advance of travel⁵.

If you plan on staying in the US for more than 90 days, or if your ESTA application is turned down for any reason, you’ll need to complete the fuller application for a tourist visa instead.

Accommodation in Hawaii

Hawaii welcomes an astonishing 7 million visitors a year. There’s no shortage of accommodation, although you’ll want to book in advance to find the best options for your visit.

Your options will include all inclusive packages at beachside resorts, through to cheaper places which may come with more basic facilities. There are no end of places to search online for accommodation - with some sites offering helpful search tools to let you narrow down your options by location, star rating or feature⁶.

If you’re on a budget, there are homestays throughout the islands, and backpacker hostels are available in many towns and tourist destinations. Check out reviews online to find the right one for you⁷. Camping is a popular option, too, in any of Hawaii’s 53 state parks. You’ll need a permit to stay, which should be arranged online before you set off⁸.

Getting around in Hawaii

The options you have for getting around will depend which of the islands you choose to visit and what your plans are. You may be able to join a scheduled tour to see the things that interest you, and for travel in more urban areas there are taxis, buses, and rideshare options like Uber⁹.

However, most visitors to Hawaii choose to drive a hire car if they can, for the best possible flexibility and independence. Hire a car from the airport on arrival or arrange via your accommodation.

Sights to see

Hawaii has something for everyone. Although probably best known for its beaches, there’s also fine dining, culture and a range of natural beauty to be found in the interior of the islands, too. Here are a few ideas:

  • Had your fill of surfing and snorkeling? Get on the water in a different way with mountain tubing in Kauai¹⁰
  • No matter where you head in Hawaii, the food is a treat. Eat your way around Hawaian food culture taking in the local specialities¹¹
  • Learn more about where you are in the Bishop Museum, Hawaii’s state museum of natural and cultural history on Oahu¹²
  • Hawaii has a growing eco-tourism industry. Depending on where you are you can get involved in farm tours, whale watching, bird spotting and more¹³

Tips for a great trip

We’re sure you’re excited to go and book your trip to Hawaii. Just a few more tips before you do, to make sure it all goes well.

  • Get a SIM card to make it easy to stay in touch while you’re in Hawaii - there are plenty of places to pick one up either in the airport or once you arrive at your destination¹⁴
  • Medical costs are very high in the US - get adequate travel insurance to cover any issues
  • Some US states allow you to drive on your Australian license - but others require an International Driving Permit. You should be able to hire a car in Hawaii with your Australian documents - however, you’ll need to check the details if you’re travelling more broadly in the US¹⁵
  • Use the government’s Smart Traveller website for up to date travel information for Hawaii, as well as a wide range of travel support and resources¹⁶

Hawaii is a world class destination for good reason. You’ll have an amazing time there - and you’ll be able to do more with your time if you cut your currency costs and avoid excessive bank fees. Grab a Wise borderless account and linked Mastercard before you travel to make sure you don’t pay high fees to spend your own money when you travel.


  1. Go Hawaii
  2. Smartraveller
  3. Stay Safe In Hawaii
  4. Smartraveller - Urgent Help
  5. Visa Waiver
  6. Accommodation
  7. Best Hostels
  8. Camping
  9. Transportation
  10. Adventure Tubing
  11. Hawaiian Food
  12. Bishop Museum
  13. Eco-Tourism
  14. Getting a Simcard
  15. Go Hawaii FAQs
  16. Smartraveller

All sources accurate as of Jan 17 2020

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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