A post from the Reddit sub forum r/solotravel a community I have become involved with, and like to contribute what I can. It’s all words, but hang on and I’ll be putting out my complete report with pictures soon.
I landed in a drizzly Maui, messed up the buses, and hopped in an Uber to my Hostel – the cheapest I could find (although I now know that the Banana Bungalow is a much better choice as they run free tours all around the island). The hostel was nothing special, but I did manage to meet some people, and eventually got a crew together to go road-tripping, but not before some fun on the buses!
In general, the people were friendly and chatty (except the French Canadians who are kinda difficult to talk to when chatting away in French) so I met a couple guys the first night – one of which drove me and the other guy around a bit. However after saying goodbye to go hiking I really got to experience Hawaii. First up, hitchhiking is a pain in the ass. There’s so many cars, but most of them are tourists or rich american retirees who are paranoid of hitchers. I understand that the homelessness and drug issues are pretty bad, but I’d like to think I don’t look with a meth addict. Secondly – check every bus is going where you want it too, the drivers are (mostly) friendly, but not that helpful and there’s no LED screens or anything fancy at all to say what the next stop is or anything. I got on the 5PM bus, but didn’t realise that it was actually the 4.30 half an hour late, and the next stop was a half hour away in the wrong direction.
The next couple days we rented a car, thankfully I made enough friends to make this a nice cheap option working out about $15 a day per person. With a car the island is a dream, so easy to navigate and nicely slow paced with the thousand other tourists all in identical cars. Lots of places to stop, but the road to Hana is a must, plus all the beaches and waterfalls along the way. The south east side edge of the island gets very tricky to drive though, so make sure you’ve got a confident driver, especially if it’s getting dark. The Volcano is another great stop, easy to drive but try to take it easy on the brakes on the way back down, it’s easy to cook them, and as we learnt the rental companies don’t check them very well (thank you Thrifty).
I stayed with a Couch Surfer for the first couple days here, who picked me up, drove me and around and generally kept me busy for a few days, and after I left I got more and more grateful for his assistance. Without a car it’s very difficult to get around the island. The bus from Ocean View where I was staying leaves once a day, at 6.45AM, to Hilo. From there there are a few places you can walk to, I managed a good couple of waterfalls and some lava caves, plus the seaside walk, but after two days I was out of sites to see and had to get a car again. This time I hadn’t managed to meet anyone in the hostel in Hilo, there were only a few people around, and they all seemed to be doing the things I had just done. It made it a bit lonely and depressing, but worst of all for my wallet – expensive. The car was around $100 a day in total but it was the only way to see what I needed to see. I had tried hitching back from the lava tubes as it was a straight road back to Hilo, but after 45 minutes of walking with my thumb out I made it back into town myself. It would be pretty much impossible to get around without either a car, or booking a tour. Due to the lovely one-way fees I ended up dropping the car back to Hilo and then bussing all the way back around the island to Kona.
As far as places to see, the Volcano is another obvious choice, and for you hikers there’s Mauna Kea summit to climb (although you can drive it if you have a 4×4). There’s plenty of beaches and loads of alien planet style volcanic areas to see, plus some pretty epic waterfalls. I did the Manta night dive, but it wasn’t quite the experience I was hoping for, the rays never came up to feed at our float station, they stayed deep down with the divers. If they’d come up closer then it would be an amazing experience, but I think I got unlucky.
Overall, with the costs of the hostels, car rental and the awkwardness of getting around, I do not recommend Hawaii for a solo trip. There wasn’t enough people around to meet, and it got pretty lonely after a while, although I did get a lot of reading done. North America is way too focused on cars to really open up to solo travelers, and when you can get nice hotel rooms and AirBnBs at great prices (for 2) I really think it would be best to go with a good friend or two, or a significant other. Perhaps it would be better in peak season, but I don’t think I’d want even more people around!
Fun, beautiful, but not easy as a solo traveler.