This post is by Betsy and Pete Wuebker. Betsy and Pete are full-time RTW travelers whose last permanent address was Hanalei, on the island of Kaua’i in Hawaii. Find them on their blog, PassingThru, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
If you are interested in seeing what it costs to live in more cities, or interested in doing a guest post yourself see: “What Does it Cost to Live in?”
The first time we visited Hanalei, we were smitten. This infatuation led to scheming about how we were going to manage to live full time on the beautiful North Shore of Kaua’i. What would be the cost to live for a month in Hanalei?
Lovely Hanalei is situated on a gorgeous bay (you’ve seen it in movies like The Descendants and South Pacific). It’s a small town with an “Old Hawaii” atmosphere: one main street and no stop signs. And it’s the last major town before the road ends at the wilderness. For many, Hanalei seems like it could be the perfect place to make an “escape to paradise” fantasy come true.
Fantasy is as far as most people go with Hanalei. We’d see tourists talking themselves out of moving to Hanalei right in front of our eyes, intimidated by their impressions of Hawaii being an impossibly expensive place to live. And it can be. But we found the cost to live for a month in Hanalei to be similar to the life we left behind in mainland Minnesota; the money was just allocated differently.
Housing is easily the most challenging aspect of moving to Hanalei. It’s a very small town with few housing units. Many properties located close to the beach are for sale or rent at astronomical prices. You might need to adjust your expectations if you’re a normal mortal, but it is possible to find an affordable place. Many rentals are former vacation rentals, so you need not expense sending your stuff to Hawaii. Come with less, leave with less.
if you think living in Hanalei is out of your reach, you just might be pleasantly surprised
We found a lovely rental in the Wainiha Valley, about 10 minutes west of town: two bedrooms, one bathroom and an open concept living space. Below us was an “ohana” (the Hawaiian word for family) studio, which was a separate rental. Our house was down an unimproved dirt road about ½ mile along the Wainiha River from the ocean. Our world was a musical mix of jungle birds, babbling river and crashing surf sounds. For this, we paid all-inclusive rent of $1800 USD per month, month-to-month. Our only extra expense was high speed internet and cable TV, $120 per month. No heat, no air-con. You don’t need it.
Not everyone would love our jungle house as we did. Walls were a combination of screens and louvers. There was no dishwasher. I washed clothes in a little three-sided hut, and hung them to dry. But for us, it was a perfect setup. We put our home office in the guest bedroom, and the main floor layout was spacious and breezy.
For those who want a more sanitized life, look in nearby Princeville, a planned community with more traditional, mainland-style housing. Rents range from $1150 USD for a studio apartment all the way up to $5000+ USD for luxury villas. Finding a place here can be a matter of who you know, and with whom you might be willing to share.
Transportation: When you first get to Kaua’i, you’ll want to get acclimated. We suggest renting a car from a local company, not one of the agencies who cater to tourists. Tourist pricing can easily be $900 USD a week for an unexciting sedan. You can rent a comparable vehicle on Craigslist for one third of that.
It’s definitely possible to get around without a car in Hanalei. In-town is walkable, and if you need to go further, this might just be one of the few places left in the world where it’s safe to hitchhike. But most people who move to Kaua’i purchase a vehicle. Sending one from the mainland can be expensive (more than $1000) and impractical. We bought a used SUV for less than $10,000. Cars will seem more expensive. Again, this is a function of everything having to be brought in.
Gas prices on Kaua’i can be the highest in the nation. The good news: there are not very many places to drive, and distances are not far. Once you move to Hanalei, it seems you’ll do anything you can to avoid driving anywhere, even to Lihue for a shopping experience. We spent less on gas than we did in Minnesota.
Public transportation: the Kaua’i bus will cost you $5 USD and goes from one end of the island to the other on its perimeter highway.
Food can seem expensive to tourists. Again, we believe that’s because most of them are trying to duplicate a mainland lifestyle. This is where eating like a local saves a lot. Change your diet to include more fruits and vegetables, which can be purchased at the farmer’s markets. There are two in Hanalei – the big one on Saturdays at the Community Center, and the smaller one (our personal favorite) at Waipa Ranch on Tuesday afternoons.
Drink juices, fresh water, or coconut water instead of dairy. The Aloha Juice Bar in town is great for a smoothie or fresh fruit juice. Regular groceries can be purchased at Big Save Market in town, or up the hill in Princeville at Foodland. Both markets have a good selection of beer, wine and liquor, which isn’t that much more expensive than on the mainland.
Eating out is fun in Hanalei, but prices are higher than on the mainland. Still, if you favor where locals go, you can keep a lid on costs. The deli is a great place to grab a sandwich and a cocktail, and there are a couple of moderately priced bars where you can get grill food and pizza. Still, if you like a couple of drinks with your meal, budget about $50 USD for two, more for dinner entrees which will be between $20-$30 USD per person.
Entertainment: There is one movie theater on Kaua’i and that’s down in Lihue, so for us it was a special occasion that never happened. We downloaded movies or turned to cable TV for inside entertainment. Mother Nature puts on the best show imaginable in any season on the North Shore of Kaua’i. Beauty is palpable and intense here, and it will affect your mindset.
Household: Everything you need to set up a household is available, just maybe not in the depth and variety you’re used to. If you’re a warehouse store lover, there’s Costco and Cost-U-Less. Chain groceries and drugstores are in Kapa’a and Lihue, too. If your place was a former vacation rental like ours was, it comes with everything down to forks and towels. All told, we spent about $500 USD at Walmart getting our household set up the way we wanted it. This was far less than those who moved their household goods from the mainland at a cost of thousands of dollars. Why bother with that?
Overall, we found living in Hanalei was as close to paradise on U.S. soil as we could possibly come. But, as we were fond of saying, even paradise isn’t perfect. Modifying your expectations and your lifestyle to fit the “island way” will lead you to a more positive transition. And it’s true, living in Hawaii isn’t for everyone. If it were, everyone would live there, right? But if you think living in Hanalei is out of your reach, you just might be pleasantly surprised.