One of the best parts about going to school was the school vacations. Looking back, they felt like all the time! Sadly, Corporate America does not work the same way - instead, we are able to pick our own vacation schedule called PTO (paid time off). For my first big PTO vacation, my boyfriend and I decided to travel together to Kauai, Hawaii.
Located in the Pacific Ocean, Kauai is one of the oldest Hawaiian Islands. Kauai was AMAZING, and both my boyfriend and I thought the "Garden Island" exceeded our vacation expectations.
Since traveling from the East Coast AND staying in Hawaii can be pricey, we were able to find tricks to make it not hurt our bank accounts.
If you don't have time to read the whole post, check out our video from the trip with some of the highlights mentioned below!
Hotel & Travel
Growing up, my family went on a free vacation every February. My parents told us that they were free because they used hotel and airline points....so I thought to myself 'I need to do this one day'. When I started to work, I signed up for the Marriott Rewards Credit Card, and used it to book all my travel and personal expenses to get the points, and eventually had enough for our trip. Once I had enough points, I compared different Caribbean and Hawaiian destinations and noticed that Kauai was less points, so thought why not just go! We picked the Marriott Kauai Resort, and absolutely LOVED the hotel and location. The location was perfect for us because it was in the middle of everything, so day trips to Poipu and Princeville didn't take as long to drive to.
The hotel was gorgeous too, especially the pool area (yes under each gazebo was a hot tub). Tip for booking a room as a gold or platinum member: book the lowest rate room (with or without points) and call up 1-2 weeks ahead of time to see if you can get a free complimentary upgrade. We were able to upgrade from a garden view to a pool / ocean view.
When we decided we wanted to go to Hawaii, we looked online at the airline prices and WOW it was expensive. I didn't have enough points to do both flights and hotel, so we had to pay for airline tickets ourselves. We didn't buy right away and instead used the Hopper app. Hopper is an app that tells you when to fly and buy your plane tickets. When our tickets got as low as we could get them (around $750 each), we pulled the trigger and got them.
When my boyfriend and I went to school in Arizona, tickets (on average) cost $500-600 RT.
When we saw the airline ticket cost for Kauai, we felt it was a good deal compared to what we were used to paying when going from the East to West coast.
When I started out at my consulting job, I had to pick a car rental company that I wanted to build loyalty with, and this helped maximize my points. I picked Avis because I really liked the lady at the place I pick up my work rental and enjoyed how good the entire Avis' team customer service was. After a few months of renting from Avis and letting the points add up, I was able to get 3 free days to use towards our 9 day trip. Look how cute our red Jeep was!
Advice: If you're working a job with a ton of travel, pick one company to fly with, one to stay with (hotel) and one to rent with (car rentals). Once I picked mine, I got credit cards* for those companies to maximize the points I would get for each time I used them. Most companies let you keep the points, and those points add up if you travel a lot (like me).
Before going on the trip, we sat down together a month before and researched a lot. I wanted us to have everything planned out so we wouldn't have to spend our time in Kauai at the concierge or in our hotel room deciding what to do.
We used Pinterest, blog posts, Instagram and (of course) Google to research which places we wanted to go to.
Waterfall on the way to Queen's Bath!
Hike on the way to Queen's Bath!
When I first searched on Pinterest "Kauai", this was one of the first sights/hikes that popped up. To get there, we walked through the wet damp forest, climbed over rocks, and saw a few chickens (yes, chickens) along the way. This mystical place seems fitting for mermaids, and is one of those wonders that makes you want to jump into to be a part of the crystal blue "bath".
Waimea Canyon State Park
Known as the 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific', this State Park had some CRAZY VIEWS. It's also the perfect hike for someone who is lazy...like me. We drove all the way up to the top, along some spiraling roads, and found little stops along the way to park and let the drone go off to capture pictures and video. Also, we found this little, mini waterfall of red soil called Red Dirt Waterfall. It reminded us of the red soil in Sedona.
Going to see a luau was one of the first things we mentioned we wanted to do, so we checked out reviews of as many as we could find and thought the best one was Auli'i Luau....and it did not disappoint. The Luau was a little bit on the pricey side, but we chose to splurge here since it was an experience we couldn't get anywhere else but Hawaii. The Luau included a Hawaiian-style buffett, open bar, and hula dancing entertainment!
Since it was my birthday, they had me go on stage with the other October birthdays and they taught us how to hula dance.
Maniniholo Dry Cave
The best part about spontaneous travel are the spots along the way, and this cave was one of them. Maniniholo Dry Cave is located right across the street from Tunnels Beach. We were able to walk right into the cave, but not going to lie....it's a little spooky since it gets dark quickly, so we didn't go too far in. If you're going to Tunnels Beach, check out the cave and spend 10 minutes walking around this sandy floor and low ceiling cave.
Holo Holo Boat Charter
We priced out a couple of boat charters online, read blog post reviews on boat charters and felt Holo Holo Boat Charter was the best value for the price. We did the Napali Snorkel Sail and loved the experience. We saw families of dolphins, snorkeled, and learned some history of the Napali coast. They also, included breakfast & lunch - and it was very yummy!
One thing I really liked about this company was how friendly they were. Before we took off, they told us they didn't think we'd be able to snorkel because the water wasn't going be clear from the dirt run off (caused by the rain the day before). Instead, they offered anyone to reschedule their trip or get their money back. We took the chance and went anyway. Luckily, they decided the water was clear enough so we snorkeled (really liked how flexible the company was)!
Kauai Coffee Estate
This spot is perfect to hit on your way back from Waimea Canyon or a Holo Holo Boat Charter adventure. Their coffee is AMAZING and you can visit the museum as well as try out some of the coffees on their plantation (which btw is the LARGEST in the USA). Also, Kauai Coffee Estate is a great souvenir spot.
This was (by far) our favorite beach for everything. We learned how to surf here, great white sand, amazing sunsets, and a fun area to be in. We even saw a seal sleeping on the beach!
Not much parking, but really fun to play in the water here. We jumped in the waves and really enjoyed how crystal clear the blue water was. Very clean and not an overcrowded beach.
Convenient beach for us since we were staying at the hotel here. Beautiful, dramatic views of the mountains and calm waters.
Unreal Poke Bowls and Sushi Burritos. So fresh and we ate every. single. bite
We got (in photo order) the Furikake & Wasabi-Crusted Seared Ahi and the Madagascar Vanilla Bean Seared Mahi-Mahi. The presentation was beautiful and we loved the ambiance!
Aloha Aina Juice Cafe
If you love Acai bowls, you MUST go here. We went almost everyday for either breakfast or lunch and our favorite was the Pitaya Passion (first photo) and Chunky Monkey Acai Bowl (second photo). If you are allergic to nuts, they have great substitutes/alternatives to peanut butter and their house made granola.
Aloha Juice Bar
This place was adorable when we found it on the north side of the island. Their fruit tasted SO fresh and had great flavors in their bowls. We also got a coconut cracked open and drank the coconut water right out of the coconut!
Kukui's on Kalapaki Beach
We definitely ate waaaay to many Chicken Quesadillas here during the day, and loved having a great restaurant at our hotel. Nothing better than being served poolside in a bikini!
If you have any questions about our stay in Kauai, or want more information - please leave a comment down below!
*Disclaimer - Opinions expressed here are the author's alone and have not been endorsed by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, hotel chain or other business. Please spend wisely.