What do you give someone turning 80? Well, if she is your mother, you give her whatever she wants (within reason). My mom chose Hawaii. But not just Hawaii: Hawaii with her daughter and grandchildren for a week. She’s never been there. I’ve never been there and of course the kids have never been there. But we wanted to make it memorable for all of us.
And is it really as incredible as everyone says?
Well, in a word . . .Yes. Paradise is paradise. Now, we are not tourists and we didn’t stay on Waikiki. We are cultural anthropologists. So we rented a house (what’s new?) and stayed on the North Shore. We like to experience a place like the people who live there experience it. And . . . it was still paradise.
In planning the trip, the focus was on my mom’s birthday but she didn’t have too many ideas of what she wanted to do. So, I asked everyone to choose one activity that they wanted to do while in Hawaii–apart from just being in the most beautiful place you can imagine.
- My mom chose the Polynesian Cultural Center and a helicopter ride
- Alex chose surfing
- Anna chose night paddle boarding the Polynesian Cultural Center
- I chose snorkeling with wild dolphins
But we are not independently wealthy. The trip to Hawaii cost 3 times as much as our trip to London and Denmark (thanks to Skymiles, a rewards card, and good planning). How did we do all this and not break the bank?
- Stay local and off the beach. We used Airbnb and found a great house. We could have stayed on the beach too if we were willing to pack in like sardines, but a house further away worked fine. We paid about $1200 for 7 nights in paradise in a 3 bedroom house with a beautiful back yard and a great kitchen–about $170 a day. Thanks Kalani. If you haven’t created an Airbnb account, use this link to create one.
- Use Groupons. When you are traveling, look for deals in the place you are going. We got the helicopter rides and dolphin dives at a discount of 50% off the price.
- Be targeted and selective about the activities you want to do. We had the must-do list (above) and then we had the nice-to-do list. Those things came and went from our activity list based on timing and on cost. Sometimes we were just too tired and other times, we were enjoying a must-do too much to get distracted.
- Find out the Free Stuff. In Hawaii, there are amazing places to swim and snorkel (duh). Unlike California, there are no private beaches so every beach is open. Knowing where to go is important and taking advantage local knowledge and guide books. I read a lot, talked to family that have been therebefore, and even talked to the locals over breakfast. This conversation scored us a private place to swim with Sea Turtles (Righteous–like Crush says).
Also, don’t undercut the the power of a sunrise at the beach (the chickens had us up early anyway). One of my favorite experiences was watching my son and his grandmother wait for the sun to rise.
- Look for things that matter. Perl Harbor was a wonderful way to get up close with history. Actually, Perl Harbor is the only thing we saw up-close-and-personal in Honolulu. The rest of our view of the city was from the window of a helicopter.
- Cook your own meals and scout restaurants before you leave. Paradise has a big price tag. You can’t look at a hamburger for less than $12. Breakfast the first day set us back $80 for eggs and bacon for 4 people. We went only because the birthday girl wanted to go. But, after that bill, her interest in paying that much ended. The bonus to having a house is you can prep the easy meals at home and keep snacks and to-go food fresh.
We ate breakfast every morning and my kids would say, “That’s the best $80 breakfast I ever tasted.” We planned the places we might want to eat based on reviews and locations. This helped us know where we wanted to go and what to expect. No expensive surprises (Ok there was one–a local suggested an island-style restaurant that none of us liked but that may be just because we aren’t into poly food). We also found an amazing restaurant this way: Maui Mike’s Chicken. Highly recommend it.
- Spend Time Just Being Together. All the activities were great but I loved just laying on the bed and listening to my mom tell me stories about her I had never heard. Make sure you plan time to have these moments.
- Experience the Local Motion. Our house came complete with it’s own crazy Hawaiian rooster and his hens/chicks. I had heard about the wild chickens, but there was nothing to prep me for the 4am wake-up call. Now that we are back, we always refer to the chickens and laugh. It will be a lasting memory.
- Sometimes, the things that just happen along the way can be the most fun. Stopping for Dole Whip was a real treat.
- Be flexible. I am General Patton and love to plan the movement of my troops and our attack plan. But, having an 80-year old and kids means you have to be flexible. I only planned one must-do each day and then we flexed around it with other things.
What was the Best?
There was not enough time to do all the things we thought we wanted to do. Seven days seemed to go by in a blink. Of all the things we did, here are the things each person liked best:
- According to Alex: swimming with wild dolphins
- According to Anna: riding in a helicopter
- According to Grandma: being with her grandkids
- According to Nancy: watching my kids enjoy the beach and the water (we are divers).