Are you trying to figure out how many days you need for a great visit to Hawaii?
There’s a lot that goes into planning a trip to Hawaii but there are a few key considerations you want to think about when planning the minimum amount of days needed for your trip.
Below, I’ve broken down some of the big things you want to think about and provided some tips to help you better estimate how much time you may need.
Travel days versus vacation days
When thinking about how much time you need for Hawaii, it’s helpful to think about the days in terms of travel days versus vacation days.
We will talk more about island hopping below but at a minimum you are going to have two travel days when you visit Hawaii (assuming you come back home of course).
Depending on your flight schedule and level of exhaustion, you may not be able to really do any kind of vacation activities (or relaxing) on these travel days so it’s often helpful to just remove them from your trip day count.
As a general rule of thumb, I would try to give myself at least five vacation days when visiting a single island on Hawaii. But let’s explore how some other factors affect this.
Where are you coming from?
Where you are coming from can make a big impact on how long you should stay.
Consider that in Hawaii, it’s a six hour time difference from the East Coast and three hour time difference from the West Coast.
When traveling from east to west, it’s expected that you will need one day for each one and a half time zones crossed. When heading back east, you may need one day for each time zone.
That would mean when traveling from the East Coast to Hawaii you would need about three to four days to completely get over jet lag.
Of course, you can still get out and enjoy yourself when dealing with some jet lag (and everybody’s different) but it’s good to think about this when planning the length of your stay.
In particular, you want to be careful about those first 24 to 48 hours. It’s often recommended to avoid certain activities like scuba diving during the first 24 hours of jet lag.
Also, it’s not always about jet lag.
If you’re not someone who can sleep on a flight, a long flight can tire you out and make you borderline useless for a good 24 hours or so.
The nonstop flight from New York to Honolulu is around 11 hours so think about the effect that a flight like that might have on you. And then just imagine what a connecting flight or two would do to you.
Lots of times, because you are so pumped about visiting Hawaii, it may be difficult to get good sleep before your trip. So your sleepless time can add up really quickly and before you know it, you’ve gone 36 hours with virtually no sleep.
If traveling from the East Coast to Hawaii, I would recommend planning for at least eight vacation days. That way, at least half of your vacation days should be free of jet lag.
Because the jump over from the West Coast is only a three hour time zone difference and flights can get you there in under six hours, taking short trips of a few days makes a lot more sense. I know quite a few people who take three day weekend trips from the West Coast to Hawaii like it’s nothing.
Of course, one of the ways that you can enhance the comfort of your flight and hopefully get more rest is by flying first class. Check out our guide on flying first class on Hawaiian Airlines for more details on how we did it for very cheap.
Odds of going back?
Another question to ask yourself is what are the odds of you going back anytime soon? For some people, Hawaii is literally a once in a lifetime trip.
If you think it’s highly unlikely that you will be going back anytime soon, I’d strive for a 10 days of vacation. I’d also probably try to split time between two islands: Oahu and Kauai/Maui/or the Big Island.
Just don’t try to do too much island hopping which I’ll talk about below.
Are you going to be island hopping?
One of the biggest factors that will impact how much time you need is whether or not you plan on island hopping.
A common temptation is to want to island hop to two or even three different islands on your first trip to Hawaii.
And I get it. Each island has its own unique beauty with plenty of bucket list things to see and inter-island flights are very cheap.
This temptation is made worse by folks throwing out how “it’s only a 35 minute plane ride” to get to “X” island.
But you have to consider all of the true travel time involved with island hopping.
Even though the flights between the islands can be very short and easily under one hour, you still have to think about the time spent packing up, getting to the airport, waiting for your flight, arriving, checking in a rental car, getting to your hotel, etc.
And don’t forget about unexpected issues.
We just experienced this on our last trip to Hawaii where one of our flights had apparently been refunded without us even realizing it! That ended up eating a few more hours out of our day.
So island hopping can easily burn up the bulk of one day unless you’re flying out pretty early.
But aside from time, it can also tire you out which is the opposite of what a lot of people visiting Hawaii want.
If you plan on visiting a second island, I would recommend staying at least 10 total days and even that’s on the lower side.
That’s because if you stayed for 10 days, three of those days will be travel days so that really only leaves you seven vacation days to explore two islands.
Most likely that would mean something like three days on one island and four days on the other. That’s pretty doable but again that’s still on the short side if you ask me. Giving yourself at least three to four vacation days on every island you visit is probably ideal when island hopping.
In a lot of cases, it could just make more sense to split your time up on one island which brings me to the next point.
Staying in multiple cities on one island
Another thing to think about is whether or not you plan on moving around to other places on the same island. Lots of the islands have two or three main hotspots where people like to stay and these different spots can offer a vastly different experience.
For example, Kona on the Big Island is extremely different from Hilo, which is on the wetter side of the island. Going from one to the other is almost like going to a different island.
By staying in vastly different places on the same island (which is often “dry” side vs “wet” side), you can get the feel of experiencing two different islands. But it has the added bonus of giving you more time to explore rather than waiting around in airports.
It’s also nice because Hawaii is one of those places where there is seemingly something interesting to check out at every corner. So there will be more than enough to see on one island.
While switching hotels does not take up as much time as island hopping, it still can eat up a good amount of time, so you don’t want to go too crazy with it.
On an island like the Big Island it can take you one to three hours to get to where you need to be depending on the route and traffic.
Even on a small island like Kauai, it can still take you two hours to get from one side of the island to the other.
Also, if you’re staying at some of the huge resorts in Hawaii, just getting in and out of those can eat up more time. The check-in lines can be a lot longer, getting to and from your room can be a small hike, etc.
They also don’t tend to offer early check-in so if you arrive early, you’ll find yourself waiting around for your room to get ready (and hoping that it’s ready on time).
So if you plan on staying on one island and bouncing around two different spots, I think at least six vacation days would be a good length of stay.
What do you plan on doing?
Another big consideration is what do you plan on doing?
If you plan on doing weather dependent things like a helicopter ride in Kauai or visiting the top of Mauna Kea, you want to have extra time in case the weather disrupts your plans.
Hawaii gets a lot of rain and sometimes it’s a bit unpredictable so having some alternate dates available can be key.
Each time we have visited Hawaii, we have ended up flipping around different itinerary items because the weather has impacted our plans.
A lot of interesting activities can also eat up a large portion of your day.
Some of the coolest places like the Green Sand Beach on the Big Island or the Jurassic Park gates filming location, take a lot of time to access. Plenty of other amazing waterfalls or beaches also require a good hike to get there and back.
Some places like Pearl Harbor can be a full day event if you really want to see everything and soak it all in.
Another really great thing about giving yourself extra days is that you can get an early start for different locations which will help you to avoid the crowds not to mention hotter temperatures.
If you have limited days that means you’ll be hitting more of the hotspots right in the middle of the afternoon when crowds can be really bad. This can quickly take a toll on your enjoyment.
Can your budget handle the expense?
While there are many reasons to go with a longer trip, the fact is not every budget allows for that.
While you can find some affordable hotels in Hawaii, it’s one of the most expensive places you can visit, especially islands like Maui.
If you find yourself on the lower end of some of the recommendations above, don’t worry. You can still have an amazing time in Hawaii.
In those cases, I’d recommend to strive for a minimum of four vacation days on a single island. Unless you’re coming from the western US, anything shorter than that may not be worth it.
Because of how remote Hawaii is, you want to give yourself enough time to enjoy these tropical islands before heading back home.
Exactly how much time that will require will depend on where you’re coming from, how much bouncing around you plan on doing, and the type of activities you’re interested in.
My general advice would be to give yourself at least five vacation days on a single island or at least four vacation days on each island when island hopping.
For people coming from the western US, they can probably shave a day or two off of those recommendations.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.