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If you're planning a trip to Hawaii, then you're likely looking for all the information you can gather to make the most of your time and money. Having traveled there several times, there are a few lessons I've learned and plenty of pointers I've compiled. Here is what I wish I had known before our Hawaii vacation and some handy tips you'll hopefully find useful.

Hawaii Tips: Planning Your Hawaii Vacation

Snorkeling

Snorkeling will likely be a part of your Hawaii vacation. (If you've read my 103 Free Things to Do in Oahu article, it's one of my favorite things to do in Hawaii.) Whether it's a fun boat tour or doing it on your own, snorkeling is just plain awesome.

The first time we went, we didn't take snorkel gear with the intent to rent. Sure, it saved room in our luggage, but for the amount we paid to rent, we could have just checked an extra bag. The second year we went, we heard great things about the full face snorkel masks, and after reading reviews for several hours, we ended up getting these and taking them with us. GAME CHANGER!

full-face snorkeling mask
A full-face snorkeling mask is less cumbersome than old-school mask-and-snorkel combos.
ocean reef face mask snorkel
The Ocean Reef face mask snorkel from Amazon may be a bit pricy, but it's totally worth every penny.

These things are amazing, and everyone in our group agreed they were the best money spent onour whole trip. No fogging, no water in your mouth or snorkel, and effortless breathing since you can breathe normally with them. My mom didn't have one, and refused to go snorkeling unless she was using one of our masks. She was a beginner, so the mask really put her at ease.

Footwear

While we are on the topic of snorkeling, I need to add a little tip on footwear. Please take some water shoes with good grip on the sole! Especially if you are going to travel around to different snorkel spots on the island.

All the best snorkel spots are in rocky, coral areas, which means you can really scratch yourself up if you are trying to get into the water and waves are knocking you over onto the rocks. Or if you step on sea urchins … or something worse.

I also wore my water shoes and Chacos on all the hikes, so I was wearing them ALL THE TIME and putting them to good use.

*Keep in mind that if you choose to do something like a Zipline adventure, you must have closed-toed shoes.

Clothing

Bring a rashguard. In fact, bring TWO rashguards — one short-sleeve and one long-sleeve. This is one of my best Hawaii tips. I don't sunburn very easily, and when I do it's not bad, so I have never owned a rash guard in my life. But for Hawaii, they are a must. I now own three rash guards.

The sun is different in Hawaii — it's right on the equator, so the sun is direct. And since it's humid, you might not think you are burning, but you really are. Plus, if you plan on snorkeling, that's a lot of direct sun right on your back, which is my least favorite spot to get a sunburn!

Even if you plan on coming back with a nice tan (always my plan), you should pack a rash guard. If you don't want to peel, you'll want to give your skin a break for a day or so after it's been in the sun a long time. Even on your hikes there will almost always be water, waterfalls, or cliffs to jump off.

Rash guard
You can buy a stand-alone rash guard, or you can get a rashguard that's part of a complete swim set, like this one.

Photography and Video

Burglary can be an issue in Hawaii, so think twice before bringing a pro-grade camera. Of course, these days, everyone has a cellphone with a. camera that shoots incredible photos and videos. But one option you may want to consider is bringing a GoPro. Not only are newer models waterproof, but they also can be strapped on, freeing up your hands for more important things — like throwing your arms in the air as you soar along the zipline!

Visit Multiple Islands

If you are going to fly all the way to Hawaii, you might as well visit multiple islands, as inter-island flights aren't that expensive. Also, with inexpensive airlines like Southwest flying to Hawaii, it shouldn't be too hard to pay for your flight to Hawaii entirely with points. See my post on how to fly to Hawaii for free for more info on this.

The “Blue Bible”

The NUMBER ONE thing I wish I had done before our trip to Hawaii was to buy the Hawaii Revealed guidebooks at least a month before our trip. Several people had recommended them to me for great Hawaii tips, but I didn’t pay too much attention until a couple of weeks beforehand.

I had no idea how thorough these books are. What I love about the guidebooks is that all of the Hawaii tips are completely unbiased. He does all of his reviews anonymously, and he pays for everything that he does. These books are SO DETAILED — he has done it all.

I had a hard time putting down the books because they were so well put together, and the author is pretty funny too. The sad thing is that even after all my months of planning, there were so many things he mentioned that I wish I had done differently. Many of his recommendations were golden, and as such were already booked out when I called to make reservations. If you get the books at least a month in advance (ideally a couple of months), you can make sure you get in with all the best activities before they sell out.

When I called to make reservations for the very best, most authentic luau (The Old Lahaina Luau), they had been sold out for a month already. The next year that I went, I made reservations well in advance and had a wonderful evening!

Depending on where you are going, there is a guidebook for each island: Maui Revealed, Kauai Revealed, The Big Island, and Oahu Revealed. The one caution I would give you is to call ahead on some things. Some of the restaurants have since been shut down, so we drove to get food and sometimes the place didn't exist anymore.

Enjoy your travels to Hawaii, and put these tips to good use to make the most of your time and money! Find more great family-friendly travel ideas in our family travel archives.