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First Time Going to Maui? Here Are 12 Travel Tips from a (Former) First Timer.

Are you headed to Maui? Exciting!

I’m sitting in the airport like a sad sack, on the way home from our first-but-definitely-not-our-last trip, and I thought I’d write up some suggestions for other first-timers. Hopefully you’ll find this list helpful and, even if Maui isn’t in your future right now, you can use many of these tips when heading to other destinations as well. With that, here we go, in random order:

1. Book your flights early. When we first started checking out our options many months ago, we found some that were only two flights: Knoxville to Dallas or LA, and then right to Maui. Because we waited too long to book, we ended up with three flights each way and hours of layovers. Don’t be like me: get your trip booked ASAP.

2. Overpack. Seriously. Normally I try to travel on the light side, figuring that if I forget something I need or don’t bring enough of something, I can buy it when I get there. Maui is very expensive in general terms, not only because it’s a tourist destination but also because it’s an island and it costs a lot to have things brought there…that raises prices for consumers. Bring more than what you think you’ll need; better to have some unused stuff than to spend souvenir and activity money to buy necessities. Also, call your hotel to see if they provide towels for the pool and the beach: they probably do!

3. Speaking of saving money, here are a few other things we did to save a few bucks so we could splurge on other things:

A. Our plane landed at 9:30pm local time (2:30am ET) and we stayed at a much cheaper hotel near the airport that night, rather than having to drive the 50 minutes to our resort right away and “wasting” that first night. We also took the free hotel shuttle back to the airport in the morning to pick up our rental car, rather than start the rental period late at night.

B. Before driving to West Maui, we stopped at Target near the airport to pick up some bottled water, Diet Coke, and snack bars for the hotel room (Walmart and Costco are there too!).

C. Instead of doing sit-down breakfasts, we bought bagels, muffins, and other stuff from a coffee shop in our lobby. This way a typical breakfast bill was about $25 instead of $50+.

D. On a couple of the days, we had a big lunch OR dinner and for the other meal, we just bought small plates or snacks on the go. We shared one dessert a few times, too.

E. This one takes some advanced planning: we bought our plane tickets with airline miles and covered almost half of our hotel stay with credit card points. We also bought Shell gas gift cards with credit card points so we didn’t pay out of pocket for gas while on Maui. (Gas prices range from $4.19-$4.70 per gallon right now.)

F. Pick up food souvenirs (macadamia nuts, coconut, and other Hawaiian exclusives) at a grocery store (there’s a Safeway in West Maui), Target, or Walmart rather than at the resort or the airport: much cheaper!

G. Take advantage of Happy Hours for food and drinks!

4. Plan your days strategically. Maui isn’t a big island but because roads are limited, you’ll be taking the long way around quite a lot. At the beginning of our trip I made a list of what we wanted to do and grouped the activities by island area so we weren’t zig-zagging the days away. It was so much more efficient to take a little time to plan!

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5. Wear the bikini. If you’re the type of person who, like me, hasn’t worn a bikini in your entire adult life (or ever!) and you think you miiiiight want to try it out? Do it in Hawaii. I wore bikinis all week and also saw other women of all sizes wearing them, too. Nobody cared and nobody stared. Do I look like a swimsuit model? Not even close. Am I self-conscious about certain parts of my body? Absolutely. Did I ask my husband to take pictures of me in a bikini? HARD NOPE. That said, I was inexplicably comfortable on the beach in a two-piece, and I loved that feeling of just going about my business jumping through the waves, stretching out to read my book, and standing at the water’s edge watching for sea turtles without being bothered about how I looked or who might be looking at me. Try it. (In fact, try other things on vacation you normally wouldn’t do!)

6. Bundle up for sunrise. If you’re going to enjoy the sunrise at the summit of Haleakala (highly recommend!), dress really warmly. All of the travel guides mention this but I ALSO brought those hand warmers that heat up when you open the package. I had one in each glove and two under my shirt. Not ashamed to admit it: it helped so very much!

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7. Eat local. I mean, you can do what you want but I never understand why people go to national chains like Bubba Gump’s or Cheeseburger in Paradise when they can have a delightfully local meal at places like Aloha Mixed Plate (OMG SO GOOD), Honu, food trucks, and many others. Use travel book recommendations, Yelp, and ask locals when you can!

8. Splurge all the way on spa services or don’t bother at all. My one regret for this trip is that I scheduled a couple’s massage for us at the hotel spa, and because it was so expensive I didn’t add the extra cost of a feature we can’t get at home, like Lomi Lomi (a Hawaiian style massage) or having the massage on the beach. The massages were fine, but they were “regular” and frankly I could have spent a lot less if I scheduled this treat for us in the middle of the holiday season at home.

9. Speaking of splurging, if you can swing a convertible for the week, you won’t regret it. My husband said, “Renting that convertible was the best decision of my life!” Then he looked at me and said, “Wait. It was the SECOND best decision of my life.” (Aww!)

10. Driving the Road to Hana? Download the Shaka Guide app and purchase the Road to Hana tour. (They have others to choose from but this is the only one we bought.) I was so worried I’d have to keep my face in one of my travel books all day long (and then getting totally motion-sick from it) so I could figure out where we wanted to pull off the road for waterfalls and such, but this tour, which uses GPS for timing, played through the car stereo and was extremely informative and helpful. He even gave us plenty of time before we arrived at each pull-off point, which was nice. By the way, though you can drive the Road to Hana in about 4 hours there and back, plan for 8-12 depending on how much you want to see, and leave early! One more note: we loved the Road to Hana and didn’t feel sick at all. Of course we have lots of curvy roads in Tennessee (not as clustered but still) so maybe that’s partly why we were okay, but my point is that it wasn’t the terror-filled ride we had been led to believe it was. It was fun!

11. Ship stuff home. If you bought a bunch of souvenirs and your luggage was already teetering on the 50-pound limit on the way TO Maui, stop by the post office or UPS store before you fly home to ship yourself a package. We kept the souvenirs in our suitcase and shipped home 20 pounds of water shoes, hiking sticks, dirty clothes, and other items. And guess what? Our luggage was STILL right at the limit.

12. Lastly, don’t expect to do everything. I kept reminding myself that the perfect vacation is all about alternating between doing things and doing nothing (preferably on the beach). We actually only hit about half of what I highlighted in the two travel guides I purchased (Fodor’s Maui and Maui Revealed, which was recommended by a friend and proved invaluable as it was extremely detailed and written by a local), and that was okay. I ended up just crossing all of what I wanted to see in southwestern Maui off of the list because we just couldn’t get to it. NEXT TIME.

For us this trip was a great combination of being a little frugal on some things in order to feel okay about spending more on others, and balancing lots of activity with relaxing near the water. It was a dream vacation, for sure, and I hope it’s a recurring dream! The great thing about next time will be using what we learned this week.

Ahh, next time. I’d better start planning.