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Summer travel as a family can feel overwhelming and expensive — what to pack, where to stay, what to do, where to eat. Even though I’ve traveled a lot before motherhood, adding a child or two (or more!) into the mix makes everything more complicated. After a few years and a lot of trial and error, though, we’ve got travel down to an (almost) science, and i’d love to help new traveling families spend more time enjoying and less time stressing about Summer travel logistics. We’ve been traveling as a family to Hawaii for the last 3 years and Hawaii is a special place for us since this is where we said our I Do’s, so today I’m sharing the best Hawaii travel tips for moms, dads and kids for an awesome family vacation.
Best Hawaii Travel Tips for Moms: Smart Spending
Hawaiian family vacations can get costly if airfare and accommodations aren’t booked well in advance or if you choose to travel during peak season. So it’s important to be strategic about every purchase, and maximize the rewards or benefits from your credit cards and membership rewards cards.
For me, the Blue Cash Everyday Card by American Express gives me cash back for most of my Hawaii family vacation purchases, including 2% cash back on the gas refill on our rental car during our trip. This cash back benefit adds up for a trip like this, helps us afford our annual family travel adventures, and is an everyday benefit for our at home purchases from our local supermarkets, department stores, and more.
Best Hawaii Travel Tips for Moms: What to Pack
Packing for a family vacation is an adventure of its own. Here are my top travel tips when it comes to packing for a Hawaii family vacation.
- HANDS FREE CARRY-ONS: If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to be hands free when making your way to the gate. Trying to herd the kiddos with your hands is beyond impossible and a surefire way to have your stress levels shoot to the sky. Wherever we travel, we always wear a roomy, water resistant backpack with lots of accessible pockets, and if a second back is needed, its always a cross body bag, because shoulder bags tend to fall off when I’m reaching down to pick up whatever travel toy T has in his hands.
- BACKUP HOT WEATHER HAWAII OUTFIT: Depending on where you’re traveling from or what time you depart for Hawaii, shorts and tank tops might not be the most ideal traveling outfit. We fly from San Francisco, the city of year round 60 degree weather, so we always fly in comfy clothes like leggings, tees, and sweatshirts. But in our carry-ons are a backup outfit we change into immediately when we land, if the weather in Hawaii is unbearably hot — a lightweight jersey knit dress for me, and surf shorts for the hubs and T. These backup items take up minimal space in our backpacks and keep us from overheating as we make our way to our Hawaii accommodations.
- BEWARE OF THE 50 LB LUGGAGE LIMIT: Avoid the oversized baggage fee (can be up to $100 or more depending on the airline!) by weighing your check in suitcase at home with a digital luggage scale before you leave.
- SUN COVERAGE: Keep the littles protected from the tropical sun with rash guards, sun hats, swim cover ups, and frequent application of child friendly sunscreen. No matter how hot it is and how much they don’t want to wear their hats and rash guards, etc, keeping them covered is a must.
Best Hawaii Travel Tips for Moms: Where to Eat
Now let’s talk about family friendly food gems in Hawaii.
- BREAKFAST: Acai Bowls and Banana Pancakes are a few of our local Hawaiian breakfast favorites, regardless of the island. Banán has my favorite version of the Acai Bowl using tropical fruits — coconuts and papayas — as the bowl with a variety of tropical soft serve (banana, acai, passionfruit, matcha green tea, chocolate macadamia to name a few) and the best toppings (local dark chocolate, mac nut honey butter, bee pollen, shaved coconut, and all the fresh fruit). For the best Hawaiian pancakes on Oahu, Cinnamon’s is hands down my pick — their Guava Chiffon Pancake has earned them one of the top pancake spots in the U.S, and the rest of their pancake menu includes the Hawaiian iconic Banana, Pumpkin, Red Velvet, Cinnamon Apple, and classic Buttermilk. And for a major special treat for every kid, breakfast with the Disney characters at Disney’s Aulani Hotel will win parent of the year points, no doubt. Make a reservation EARLY because they book up fast, and be sure to try the Mickey Mouse waffles…..one of T’s faves!
- LUNCH: Since we tend to spend most of our days at the beach, we often seek out nearby local food trucks or pack our own beach picnic lunch. In my book, the best Hawaii food trucks on any island are the shrimp trucks — garlic white shrimp scampi served with rice and a lemon wedge is heaven on a plate. If there’s one Hawaii food truck to try for lunch, this is it. As for our beach picnic picks, we pack a cooler filled with organic tropical fruits, cucumber seaweed salad, island fresh tuna poke, chips and guacamole, and lots of spam musubi and hand roll sushi. All of these items can be picked up at a major Hawaiian market on any island.
- DINNER: Traveling with kids and the 3 hour time change (or more!) from the mainland means early dinners or else we had sleepy kids after the appetizers. We aim for 5-6pm dinners if we do choose to eat out, and family friendly yet local spots like Star Noodle on Maui or Side Street Inn on Oahu.
- DESSERT: Hawaiian shave ice and the famous hawaiian malasadas (aka Portuguese donuts) are the two tropical desserts we dream of when we’re not in paradise. The best Hawaiian shave ice in Oahu has arguably been Matsumoto’s for ages — shave ice with all the best extras like ice cream, mochi, azuki red beans, condensed milk, any syrup flavor under the sun. And the malasadas every Hawaiian traveler must try are the ones from Leonard’s Bakery — choose from regular sugar dusted, cinnamon sugar dusted, or li hing (salty dried plum) and fill it with custard, chocolate, or coconut.
Best Hawaii Travel Tips for Moms: What to Do
We realized that our best Hawaii days were the ones where we had a more open schedule with the kids. Trying to herd them into tours and schedules can be a challenge, especially if you have younger kids that still nap, like us. So beach days are the best Hawaii days for us, and we make sure we have lots of different ways to have fun throughout the day.
- FLOAT ON: For the smallest swimmers, we always pack T’s puddle jumper so he can stay afloat and swim happily in the pool. Lifeguards recommend life vests or puddle jumpers as the safest floating devices for kids, as water wings risk slipping off the arms and putting children in danger in the water.
- KINGS OF THE CASTLE: We always hit up the closest supermarket to pick up cheap and disposable beach toys for our stay. Multiple buckets, shovels, shapers, and other fun toys to help make some epic sandcastles.
- WAVE RIDERS: T loves to watch his papa and uncles surf the Hawaiian waves. I’m more of a paddle board, boogie board, and kayak girl, and we like to put T on the boogie board and float him along the water to give him the same feeling of “wave riding,” like his papa and uncles. We rent all our wave riding equipment for the day from the local shops by the beach, so we don’t have to lug it throughout our trip.
I’d love to hear your best Hawaii travel tips for moms — or any general travel tips for moms that help make your vacations less crazy. Share them in the comments below!