Hawaii (Oahu) Travel Tips

Oahu is an incredibly beautiful island – completely conquerable in a car, and with lots of amazing and free/inexpensive (!!) activities. This is by no means a comprehensive list of things to do/tips, but a few things we learned along the way…

Rental vs. Hotel

If you are like us, and prefer the freedom of cooking your own meals, having more space and not being in the hustle and bustle of a city, rent an apartment or house! The hotels were beautiful, and many offer amenities such as pools, numerous restaurants and resort activities so it really is up to you. We rented an apartment on the eastern part of the island and it was the perfect location to get into the city when we needed, but away from the crowds and noise.

We rented through AirBnb and had an absolutely fantastic experience. Here’s where we stayed.


A rental also allowed us to save a ton of money on food. Groceries are definitely more expensive on the island than main land (for a weeks worth it was about $150), but most meals will run you $50 or more per person at a restaurant. We ate breakfast at home almost every day, packed lunches for hikes and even did a few dinners.

Shrimp trucks, Hawaiian food fast food joints and poke bowls are plentiful, delicious and much, much cheaper than most restaurants.  Helena’s for Hawaiian food knocked our socks off, and poke was so readily available, you could essentially get it anywhere. We could usually both eat for around $25 vs. $100.

We tried the famous Alan Wong’s – and it was good – but nothing earth shattering. I would recommend Sushi Sasabune instead – the experience alone was really cool, and if you like sushi, this place is VERY good. This was our one big splurge dinner.


Driving was by no means stressful, and the locals here are incredibly nice about letting you make that left hand turn, cutting into their lane when you realize the exit is a hundred feet away and generally just patient. We rented a car through Thrifty at the Honolulu airport for the week for about $250. Gas wasn’t too astronomical (it was a little under $3 a gallon), and getting around the island is much easier with your own transportation. We drove to the North shore, up along the coast, through the mountains, through eastern Oahu, Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. A GPS is an absolute must because the highways run out and then you are often confronted with having to chose your next move rather quickly. Listen to your GPS and ignore the signs, because many of those are not correct! However, if you do make a wrong turn, Oahu is not massive and you’ll easily be able to get back on track. It happened a few times to us. There are no tolls on the highway too (bonus!).

Which brings me to my next point… parking! We generally found parking wherever we went with the exception of Waikiki. So here are my suggestions for that – if you are going to a museum or a restaurant, ask them about parking. If they don’t offer it, or have limited spaces, ask where the closest garage is. Street parking is liquid gold. It only happened once to us – and you will need quarters! Be prepared to spend a pretty penny on parking lots and garages. Some restaurants, like the Mai Tai Bar, will validate your parking for up to four hours, if you use a specific garage. You’ll get a feel for it and where the best places are to park. We made a lot of reservations on King Street for dinners (coincidentally) and street parking is free and pretty available after 6 pm.

Traffic in Honolulu is insane during rush hour, but pretty easy to navigate at all other times of the day. Just keep in mind when you’re planning activities.

Free/Inexpensive Activities

The hiking! The beaches! They are all free or cheap and in my personal opinion, a thousand times better than time spent at a pool or shopping in Waikiki. We didn’t get to tackle every hike in our book, but here’s what we were able to conquer, with associated entrance or parking fees:

  • Pillbox Hike: Free! Parking is in a residential neighborhood (read up on it before you go). The trail definitely has an incline, and you can spend as much or as little time as you want on the trails. It did rain a bit when we went, and as a warning, the trails can get slippery.
  • Waimea Falls: $16/person entry fee. The falls are located in a botanical garden and this was the most expensive “hike” we did. I would categorize this as more of a walk. The gardens and falls are beautiful, but don’t expect to do this alone. We did the Pillbox and falls on the same day since the latter does not require significant energy.
  • Moana Falls Hike: $5 parking fee. There are a lot of signs that make it seem like there is no parking, but this is a lie. Just go all the way up until you pass a snack shack and there is a parking attendant at the end of the road.
  • ‘Aiea Loop Trail: Free! There are multiple lots to park at for this hike. The hike starts at the last parking lot, but my tip is to park in the first one (near the first bathroom “shed”) and walk up the hill in the beginning. This hike takes about 2 – 3 hours to complete and I can tell you from experience that walking up hill to the parking lot at the end was not fun. 
  • Diamond Head: $5 parking fee (if you walk in, they charge $1/person). Go early in the morning when the crowds are slightly less insane and it isn’t as hot. The hike is not difficult, though there are a few areas with incredibly steep stairs that will definitely get your heart racing! 
  • Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail: Free! The parking lot opens at 7 am, though some people park on the side of the road if they go before the park opens (note there is a lot of broken glass from break-ins, so I’d recommend against that). 
  • Koko Head: Free! This is a HARD hike. I am not going to sugar coat it. It was also probably my favorite hike. Go in the early morning to see the sunrise or end of the day at sunset. This is necessary from just a heat stand point. You will climb old tram tracks straight up this mountain. There is a parking lot, though we walked here from our AirBnb because it was so close by.

All beaches on Hawaii are public – so even if they are part of a resort, or seem to be part of someone’s backyard, you can go on them. There are some signs that try and prohibit you from trespassing, but you aren’t. Because it was slightly overcast most days we were in Hawaii, we didn’t spend too much time at the beach. But here are the few we did go to:

  • Kailua Beach: Parking is free, and there are numerous lots. There are facilities with bathrooms and showers. The sand here is SUPER soft, which James loved, but got into literally everything! The current is a bit stronger here so not great for swimming, but would be fun to boogie board at.
  • Hanauma Bay: $7.50/person + $1 parking fee. Make sure you get here early (before 9 am) to secure a parking spot. You will have to watch a brief video on preserving the bay before you are able to go down. Here you can snorkel or swim. I chose to swim because the water was actually calm enough, and had the benefit of still checking out the beautiful ocean life below. Snorkel equipment can be rented onsite – though our AirBnb provided everything we needed.
  • Fort DeRussy Beach: Free! I checked out this beach before James’ surf lesson. It wasn’t crowded at 9 am, though there is a ton of coral here. I brought a pair of goggles and did some swimming, though I can’t say it was very easy. Great views of Diamond Head, and a lot of little shops on the beach that can provide you with chairs and umbrellas if you’re spending the day.
  • We also walked along beaches in the North Shore – great for watching surfers, not great to swim in (current is VERY strong here), as well a picnicked at Kualoa Point. A sunset was watched from Waikiki beach one evening at the Mai Tai Bar (which goes right up to the sand).

Other affordable activities? Drive up to Waialua (North Shore) and walk around the surf town. Grab a coffee at the Coffee Gallery, and hang out in their outdoor shaded patio area. Alternatively, you can go to Kailua, hit up Morning Brew, and walk around the town.

Visit Pearl Harbor – this is technically free, but I opted to pay $3 to reserve a space on one of the tours to the USS Arizona. Definitely worth it, as these tours tend to be “sold out” every day.

If you have a museum membership, see if they offer reciprocity memberships elsewhere. We were able to get free admission to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

The Shangri la tour comes with free admission to the Honolulu Art Museum, and Iolani palace was surprisingly affordable as far as palace admissions go.

Bring Cash! 

If you have to pay for parking or admittance fees, make sure you bring cash, because almost all of these are cash only. We brought $100 in cash with us and spent about half.

And some of my favorite photos… 

Dublin & Vienna Travel Tips

Sign up for a Walking Tour

As I suggested for Paris, the same goes for Dublin and Vienna. Sign up for a free walking tour with a local to learn about the city and its history. We did walking tours at the start of our time in each city and it definitely helped from a navigation standpoint, as well as having ideas of what to do during our time there.

For Dublin, we booked through Sandeman and for Vienna Prime Tours. A reminder that the tour is technically free, but the guides aren’t paid and live for the tips, so bring euros. We tipped about 15 – 20 euros per person.

Public Transportation


If you like taking buses, there are many in Dublin. We found it pretty easy to walk around the city, though we didn’t venture too far. A car would be absolutely nightmarish to drive – especially because they are on the opposite sides of the road and the streets are narrow and winding and often one way. To get from the airport to the city center, we took the AirCoach which picked us up immediately after we gathered our checked baggage and dropped us off near the hotel. Because our flight was so early out of Dublin, we opted to take a cab, which ran us 27 euros.


In Vienna, the metro system does not seem to align with Google – so if you use Google Maps for directions, keep this in mind. The stations are listed (it’s the blue square with the U) and when you click on one of the stations in Google Maps, the entire line is highlighted, which we found immensely helpful. The subway is fast, efficient and clean. It also runs on the honor system. The train from the airport to downtown was 4.60 euros for two tickets, and the 3-day subway pass was around 16 euros each. Not too shabby, and definitely allowed us to book an AirBnb that was slightly outside of the city.

Note if you buy a train ticket at the airport, there is a ticket desk right by the entrance that usually has a long line. There are self serve kiosks on the platform, and you can change the language to English. You are buying a ticket from OBB for the S7 line. When you change at a metro station (many of the lines meet with S7), you’ll need to buy a different ticket to continue on your journey.

Museums & Attractions 

I highly recommend purchasing tickets to museums ahead of time. The Belvedere in Vienna has a flex ticket, and you can purchase it for use any day over a certain time period. Others, like Kilmain Gaol require an exact date and time commitment. But ultimately you’ll spend less time in lines and happier for it.

Furthermore, if you want to participate in activities like the Austrian Opera or Spanish Riding school, you will definitely need to secure tickets beforehand as these are often sold out day of, or have limited selection.

Aer Lingus

Lounge Access 

We flew Aer Lingus and they offer access to their Lounge when you check in online (pay $25 or whatever fee they set and receive access to the lounge). The Aer Lingus / Jet Blue lounge in Boston is modern, and definitely quieter than the rest of the airport, but unless you plan to drink heavily at their bar, you likely won’t get your moneys worth. I personally love to escape the hustle and bustle of the airport, so I never mind paying the fee. The lounge in Dublin (after you go through US Pre-clearance) is fabulous. We were upgraded to Business Class for the return trip, and so we received access to their new lounge, but you can also purchase a day pass (I believe it was around 40 euros). The food is fantastic, the views stunning and they had the best luxury shower available for guests.

Bidding for Business Class

Speaking of lounge access and Business Class, Aer Lingus allows you to bid for business class tickets. Traveling on a holiday, we were definitely fortunate to not compete with actual business travelers, and so our $400 upgrade bid was accepted. It was the best $400 I’ve spent in 2017 thus far. The seats recline completely flat, the food is fairly decent for an airplane and it is overall a far more comfortable experience. You will receive an email from Aer Lingus about a week prior to give you the opportunity to bid if your ticket is eligible.

Flying through Dublin 

As you may have heard, US Customs is in Dublin, which means when you land in the US there is no need to go through Customs (which is great, but because I have Global Entry this doesn’t make too much of an impact). The boarding time on your ticket notifies you when you need to be through Customs, not the actual time you need to be by the gate (for example, ours was 2:35 pm and our flight left at 4:20). If you have Global Entry, there is a line to the left. Like home it is significantly quicker and far less people. Once you pass through though, there is no turning around. So if you want to buy Duty Free, do so on the other side of the airport and then follow the signs to US flights.


Dublin weather felt comparable to Boston. We were perfectly comfortable in our wool coats and sweaters. Vienna is cold – icy, biting wind cold. I wish we had packed long johns, heavier coats (like my ski parka!) and cozier socks. I wouldn’t have said no to hand/feet warmers either! If you are moving quickly from the train station to a museum or restaurant, you’ll likely be fine. But if you do a walking tour, or plan to be outside for a long period of time, and you want to be comfortable, forgo fashion.



Its customary to leave a small tip when eating in a restaurant in Austria. However, unlike America, you don’t have the check delivered to you and then the opportunity to ponder the waiter’s tip. Rather, when you receive the check, the waiter is standing by to immediately take your credit card. When you hand them the card, state the how much you’d like them to charge. So if your bill is 36 euros, say 40 euros and hand over your card. If you are paying in cash, same rules apply. Never leave money on the table.


There is not a huge push to tip in Ireland, but rule of thumb is if you want to leave a tip, it’s about 10%. Unlike Germany, there is no issue if you want to leave some money on the table, but if you’re paying by card you’ll need to ask them to include the tip (you’ll have the opportunity to punch it in yourself, rather than the waiter doing so). There isn’t any need to tip cab drivers either, but we did so as someone picked us up at 4:30 am, and that in of itself deserves a little extra money.

Cafes in Vienna

One of the most magical things to do in Vienna is sit in a Viennese cafe and order something warm and delicious. When you walk in, it’s likely a madhouse. No one will seat you, simply find an empty table or booth and sit down. A waiter will come by to take your order. Viennese coffee is very good, and they have a wide range of options. They will usually serve it on a silver platter with a small glass of water. Most menus list allergens too, so be sure to check out the last page for the list. (A = gluten) While the cafes do usually take cards, they prefer cash, and I even witnessed them refuse cards for those who didn’t have a “high enough bill.” What constitutes a “high enough bill” seems to be at the discretion of the server. The waiters we interacted with all spoke English and wanted us to just tell them what we were interested in vs. trying to point things out on the menu. When you’re ready for your bill, make sure you tell your waiter. They won’t be back to check on you until they clear away your plates.