Aloha from Hawaii: Big Island Expense Report

We originally planned to spend the summer of 2021 traveling to a few countries in Central and South America after our big 2020 Latin America trip was cancelled. Our plans were up in the air due to continued Covid concerns throughout the region though. This left us with no set plans for the summer once we returned from Mexico in April. We also thought about staying at home in VA and working PRN for a bit longer, but as luck would have it, right as we were deciding what to do, Whitney’s Hawaii PT license finally got approved. This license was the biggest hassle by far of all the state licenses we’ve had, and we’d pretty much given up on it. But after 9 months for following up, it was finally issued. Out of curiosity, we reached out to a few recruiters to see if they had any open outpatient contracts in Hawaii. I did not get my license in Hawaii due to the hassle, and we figured we would only plan for Whitney to work anyway since I’m essentially retired at this point. Whitney had an additional stipulation that she only wanted a part time contract (20-30 hours per week) in Hawaii due to having to spend a significant amount of time on the websites each week, and we only had about 8 weeks to commit to working due to us wanting to visit the other islands after the contract, and get back to VA in time to leave on our road trip in September. With those stipulations, we weren’t optimistic on finding anything. But to our surprise, within 24 hours of reaching out to our recruiters, Whitney had been put in contact with a manager at an outpatient PT facility in Kona on the Big Island, and he was fine with her start date, with the part time request, and with a shorter than normal contract. Within 48 hours, we were looking at housing and planning out how we’d go about moving to the Big Island for 2 months, followed by spending another month traveling around to the other islands!

We knew that due to Covid, short term housing is limited and expensive, but we quickly found out car rentals are even worse. During our initial searches and looking at the prices for housing and cars, we thought we’d made a big mistake choosing to go to Hawaii. There are several one bedroom condos renting for $3,000/month or more and rental cars through an agency or on Turo are going for a minimum of $1,200/month on the island. With Whitney only working part time and me not working at all, at these prices, the housing and car alone would just about equal her entire pay for the month. Hawaii travel contracts are always in high demand and therefore usually pay pretty low compared to contracts in other areas of the country, and this contract was no exception. Despite the cost of living being at least 2x higher than what we’re used to at our prior contracts, Whitney’s pay for this contract was near the lowest she’d ever taken, plus she was only going to be working part time.

We reached out to some other therapists that we knew were already working on the Big Island or had in the past to get their advice on finding housing and a car that was more affordable. After a lot of headache, we got it all figured out. Although far from ideal, we found a place to stay and a car that were more reasonable for the two months on the island. In total we ended up spending about 9 weeks on the island after getting there a few days early and staying a few days after her contract ended.

Below are my expenses for these 9 weeks broken down into categories. Stay tuned for Whitney’s post about all the fun things we did on this portion of the trip, but for now I’ll focus on the expenses incurred while on the Big Island. Keep in mind that all of the expenses that I’ll talk about below are my expenses only, since Whitney and I have quite different spending habits at times. We split all shared expenses evenly, so I calculate the numbers below with my half of the shared expenses and then my individual expenses.

Accommodation: We eventually found an Ohana suite about 15 minutes from where Whitney would be working. We learned that an Ohana suite is essentially the Hawaiian term for an in-law suite. They are common in Hawaii and come in all different styles, but this one was basically an efficiency (around 300 square feet) with a very small kitchen (mini-fridge) attached but separate from the main house of an older couple. We would have much rather had a place with a bigger kitchen to be able to cook at home more often, but this was by far the least expensive place we could find ($1800/mo, furnished with utilities included)– putting it at over $600/month less than any other available space! Since we were there slightly more than two months, the hosts ended up charging us $60/day for two additional days, along with a $175 cleaning fee. Prior to this assignment, the most we’d ever paid for short term housing was $900/month and for a much bigger space, but short term housing in Hawaii is competitive and expensive!

  • Total for my expenses: $1,948

Food and drink: Since our kitchen space was very minimal, we ended up eating out way more often than we normally would on a travel assignment. Food is expensive in Hawaii, not only at restaurants but also in the grocery store. We were shocked when we saw milk for $8/gallon, bread for $8/loaf, bacon for $11/pound, and eggs for $6/dozen! In addition to the much higher than normal prices for our day to day meals, we also splurged quite a bit on meals and drinks out while exploring the island. Even though we were there for a contract, it was also basically a long vacation! With Whitney working only three days each week, we spent the majority of the days of the week out exploring the island, hiking, swimming, and hanging out at the beach. We tried to keep costs lower when possible, but often it just wasn’t possible while out and about all day in different areas.

  • Total for my expenses: $1,632

Transportation: We eventually found a guy on the island that rented cars privately to traveling healthcare workers on the Big Island. He charged a significantly lower rate than anyone else we could find since he could rent the car monthly instead of daily, and knew he’d have less issues with healthcare travelers there for work instead of the general public there for vacation. He charged us $600/month for a 2015 Nissan Versa sedan, which we were very happy with after seeing what other cars were renting for. Gas on the island is expensive as well, but actually not as bad as we thought it might be compared to prices on the west coast currently. The average was about $4.29/gallon, and we drove over 2,500 miles while exploring the island so we definitely ran up the gas bill. Additionally, one of the biggest transportation costs we had was our flight to Hawaii. After looking at several options, we decided to spend a little more for a more direct flight, so that the already long day of travel wouldn’t be even longer. We thought about using some airline miles to get there, but when considering the travel time and number of miles required, we decided to save them and pay out of pocket. The one-way flight from Virginia to Hawaii cost us $788/each.

  • Total for my expenses: $1,610

Activities: Luckily we didn’t have to pay much at all for activities on the island. Hiking, snorkeling, swimming, and hanging out on the beaches were all free, so there really wasn’t much we wanted to do that we had to pay for. The two activities that we did end up paying for were a really cool night snorkeling experience where we got to swim with and watch manta rays, as well as a coffee farm tour. Both of these were highly recommended by other travelers who had been to the island as well as locals there, and both of them were worth the cost!

  • Total for my expenses: $153

My total expenses for 63 days on the Big Island of Hawaii including accommodations, transportation, activities, and food/drink were approximately $5,343! This comes out to an average of $84.81/day!*

*Keep in mind this is only my half of the expenses, and does not include Whitney’s expenses.

The Big Island is an amazing and extremely ecologically diverse place, and we really enjoyed our time there. We did tons of hiking including summiting both of the tallest mountains (volcanoes) on the island. We saw some of the most beautiful views of our lives in the luscious valleys on the north side of the island. We ate plenty of the fruit that grows all over the island. We also got our fill of the ocean while exploring many of the different beaches all over the island.

Before going, we knew the prices would be high in Hawaii, but they were even higher than we’d imagined. Despite the cost, our time there was well worth it and we’d definitely consider returning in the future if another good opportunity arises!

Next we headed from the Big Island to Oahu, Maui, and Kauai for purely vacation time! In the next post, I’ll cover the costs from that portion of the trip. If you want to see more pictures of our Hawaii adventures, check out our Facebook page and our Instagram where we were regularly posting some of our best ones (be sure to check our “Hawaii Highlights” on Instagram). Whitney will also include more photos in her summary blog post of our trip to Hawaii!

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