With big advertising budgets, packaged deals, and oceanfront locations, hotels and resorts have seemingly cornered the market on accommodations in Hawaii. However, this is far from the case. There are thousands of vacation rentals across the islands that afford the luxury of a home away from home—think full kitchen, living room, multiple bedrooms, and laundry facilities—in many desired locales, sometimes where hotels just can’t be.
If you don’t have a word-of-mouth reference for a particular vacation rental, start with the one of the trusted vacation rental websites, like vrbo.com and vacationrentals.com. Vacation rentals can take the form of stand-alone single-family homes, attached additions to homes, bungalows, condominiums, or apartments. They range in size from simple studios to multiple-bedroom mansions. They can be tucked away in a residential neighborhood or a cluster of privately owned bungalows and cabanas on a verdant slice of paradise—or they can form part of a condominium community, or a high-rise apartment tower. Like all accommodations, rentals with more bedrooms command a higher price. The décor of these properties can sway from modern, luxurious, and spectacular to outdated, cramped, and dirty. Vacation rentals are usually booked in weeklong increments. They speak to the Hawaii visitor that likes to stay in a particular locale and set up camp for an extended period of time. They are also great for families, as the full kitchen and laundry options afford the opportunity to entertain a family with ease.
So how do you navigate the myriad listings to find the right vacation rental for your stay? Research is the key. If you don’t have a word-of-mouth reference for a particular vacation rental, start with the one of the trusted vacation rental websites, like vrbo.com and vacationrentals.com. On these sites you’ll find full descriptions, reviews, photos, availability, and nightly rates. If you’re like me, scrolling through the pictures of the rentals in your locale and price range will narrow down the options quickly. Most vacation rentals require a minimum stay of three nights, though some will only rent by the week. Some vacation rentals will include amenities like beach chairs, snorkel gear, bodyboards, umbrellas, and other beach accessories. There is also a one-time, non-negotiable cleaning fee, which varies from property to property.
Often in Hawaii, your destination will dictate the type of vacation rental available. If you’re considering staying on O‘ahu’s North Shore, most likely you’ll be looking for a stand-alone single family home or an attached structure to a home. The same goes for Kailua town on O‘ahu. In the upscale hamlet of Princeville on Kauaii’s north shore the majority of vacation rentals are luxury condos. Maui and the Big Island also have many condos available. And you’ll even find vacation rental apartments in Waikiki. For your search, select your destination first, then be flexible about what type of vacation rental is available, because you’re not going to find a bungalow in Princeville.
If you’re on a budget, yet would still like to take advantage of a the comfort and accessibility of a vacation rental, there are deals to be had—but expect the living situation to be a bit “funky.” Maybe the Hawaiiana décor will be faded from thirty years of afternoon sun. Perhaps the rental unit will be a converted garage and you’ll be running into the owners quite often during your stay. Or the unit might only have an electric burner and a microwave for cooking. Another way to save money with vacation rentals is to go in together on a big unit with several parties. That five-bedroom condo might seem pricey, but split between three families, the price can really even out.
It is illegal in Hawaii to rent out vacation rentals without the proper license, but this doesn’t mean that illegal vacation rentals are not available. Be aware that an unlicensed vacation rental owner could double book the unit, change the terms or not provide what is promised and there is little to no recourse for the traveler. If you’re searching for a vacation rental through a reputable vacation rental website or a licensed property manager, you probably are in the clear to find a great, legitimate rental for the going rate. On-island property managers ensure that the owner is fully licensed and that your deposit, credit card information, and other vitals are safe throughout the transaction. That being said, just because a vacation rental is not licensed does not mean you’re going to get ripped off, so once again, research is the key.