Tips For Traveling To The Big Island Of Hawaii With Little Ones

How we survived with our 5-year-old non-swimming triplets

At Hapuna Beach State Park playing with spoons and stacking cups.

At Hapuna Beach State Park playing with spoons and stacking cups.

Condo Hotel


1. Instead of staying at a traditional hotel, stay at a condo with concierge service. This way you can do all the laundry you need to without the hassle. For someone who does a lot of laundry, like it or not, this was a g-dsend! We had a number of accidents. This would have gotten really complicated without this service. You can keep eating cheap (well, for Hawaii at least) by cooking, or ordering take-out at the condo if you want. This can be helpful for little ones that can’t sit still at a restaurant, as well as for inconsistently picky eaters. (We have both.) Another great part is you still get some cleaning service to clean your bathroom and make your bed everyday. Also you have available a concierge service to help you book and plan your outings, and find deals. We grilled one night on the beach. The kids are still talking about it!!! Of course the kids could not get enough of the pool. I had no idea that my kids that were scared of the beach on our last vacation would want to spend all day and night in the water this year. Keep in mind this is coming from my non- swimmers. I have heard from several sources the pool is a loved place for little ones on vacation.

The view from our condo

The view from our condo


Check the weather for your side of the island and pack for varied weather


Warming ourselves in a steam vent at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Warming ourselves in a steam vent at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

2. Make sure to check the weather for the section of the island you will be on. One side of the island can be at least 20 degrees different from the other side, and much wetter or drier. We stayed on the Kona side. This side is very dry. It may get rain but it does not last long. It also is much warmer. While we were visiting it was 80 degrees on average while the other side of the Island was in the 60’s. If you plan to go back and forth between sides make sure you dress and pack accordingly. Even though I packed our luggage for this, the day we went to the Hilo side I totally forgot all our warm clothes, and rain gear. We were lucky to be able to buy rain ponchos but that did not deal with the cold. My kids were miserable. I know everyone would have been much happier if we had dressed properly and been more prepared. In all the excitement it is very easy to forget. Also think about what side of the island you want to spend the most time on. It can take 2-3 hours to drive from one side to the other. When booking places this is something to think about. If I had realized my family would want to see the other side as much as they did, I would have booked part of our trip on one side and part of our trip on the other side. I would do this because who wants to spend so much time driving on a trip? I had no idea this is what my family would want to do. I thought we were just going to spend time on one side of the island. Keep in mind even when you stop a lot, the kids get sick of being in the car eventually, and driving for hours on unfamiliar roads does not feel like vacation for the driver.


This meal brought to you by Costco

This meal brought to you by Costco


Bring Your Costco Card


3. Make sure to bring your Costco card. This was a lifesaver. This is where the locals go to do their shopping because of the deals. We were told about this from several people before the trip and were so glad we brought it. Remember everything has to be shipped here for the most part, so food even at the super market is not cheap. On our first family trip my father was astounded (and not in a good way) about the prices at the supermarket. He had mistakenly thought that relying on the neighborhood grocery store would make eating cheap. Your Costco Card will help keep cooking for yourself an affordable option. 


Don't want to leave Dad for a second

Don't want to leave Dad for a second


Make sure your seats are together on the airplane


4. One of our flights got moved, and on that flight we were not seated together. We had only 2 seats together. I begged people to move and for the most part people were awesome and moved. But even with that I ended up with 2 kids by themselves. That did not go well. The travel-weary kids cried relentlessly, until finally the flight attendants were willing to step in and help. I felt awful making people play musical chairs on a jam-packed plane for us. I am not sure how when they changed our flight they did not make sure to keep us together. It is worth the extra expense to make sure you are seated together. It is unlikely your children will be okay sitting far away from you. 





Think about your kids when picking a luau


5. Some luaus are more set up for little kids than others. When I was a child I went to a luau that my parents picked because it had all kinds of cultural activities for the kids. They had you make lei. We got a chance to play with poi balls. They showed us dance moves and the pig roasting. They showed us how they made their te leaf skirts. To this day I remember all of the activities they showed us. I was blown away. 

On this trip I wanted my children to have a similar experience. The one we went to did not do as many of these activities. They only did lei making, gave the kids fake tattoos and briefly showed them the pig roast. I was a little disappointed. Our travel agent assured us our luau had much more for young travelers, but it did not. So it is worth getting a full list of kids’ activities if this is a focus of yours, asking detailed questions, and comparison shopping for luaus if you have time. Each one has its own unique flavor, and not all are particularly kid-friendly. None of them are cheap. 

Another thing to consider is how your kids will react to loud music or fire dancing. My kids were very excited to go. All of them pretended to do the dances. But then in mid-luau my daughter got scared. She was terrified of the loud drumming, stomping, and shouting involved in the native dances of the Pacific islands. She was not used to seeing fearsome warrior costumes, twirling weapons, and all of the fire. She was so frightened that my husband took her and walked her around the hotel and nearby town until it was over. My other kids were fine. She still remembers it fondly, but I was not expecting this reaction. I wish I had talked to them about how much of an assault on the senses these dance performances would be, while reassuring them no one would really be assaulted. I think with a little front loading, I could have prevented her from being so scared. So be prepared that the cultural performances featured at a luau might be shockingly foreign to your children, and think about how you might ease those worries ahead of time if you can. The luau is best done at the end of the trip because it is an excellent closure to your trip. No matter where you go, your kids will remember it forever. 


You can travel without checking your luggage

Packing to Leave

Packing to Leave


6. Each one of you can have one purse sized carry-on and one small bag in the cabin with you. So my husband and I each had a backpack with our clothes and things. Then I had one backpack where we packed all the kids clothing. We brought 2 other backpacks that I packed with activities and toys for the plane. So we had 5 backpacks in all. I also had a large purse where I put snacks and wipes, my computer, five pairs of earbuds, and our documents, in other words, the things I'd want to have within easy reach at all times.

I also put a small emergency supply of snacks, wipes, plastic bags, and pull ups in each of the other bags. We put my son in pull ups from door to door in both directions, because he still has accidents when he is deep asleep. We also brought a couple of extra small bags for items to bring back. We did not bring Swimmies flotation devices. We bought them there, and the kids loved them so much we were able to bring them back, because we ended up under-budget for bag space, or payload, if you will. 

My son would not part with his toy parrot that he sewed himself but if lost would be irreplaceable. He wanted to bring a play backpack with him to hold his parrot. I tried every tactic to try to convince him to not bring this parrot doll. I knew if it got lost he would be devastated and this would cast a very dark shadow on his trip. So I ended up convincing him to allow me to safety pin it to his bag. I told him he could only have parrot when he slept and then he would have to pin it back onto his bag in the morning. He was okay with this. In the end parrot never left his bag. He forgot all about him once we were in Hawaii. I have heard horror stories where stuffed animals got left in bedding when laundry was done at the hotels and stuffed animals ended up lost or mangled. So I always make sure to not let the kids leave their toys in their beds in the mornings. 

If you can get backpacks with wheels for the kids it will be a life saver. Even those ones they can ride on would be worth it. My husband thought I was nuts for wanting this, but after him and me carrying all the luggage he finally agreed that next time it would be great if they could pull their own luggage. 

I was so glad I brought those extra bags because we did bring things back with us. On some of the flights my carry-on was considered too large even though it fit inside the clear plastic box the airline placed in its waiting area without a problem. Fortunately I was able to quickly transfer some things to our extra bags and voilà, no more problems with bag size. 

We brought twice as many toys as clothes. Why, do you ask? Because we washed a small load of clothes every night, but toys required no similar upkeep, and kept them happy. When we were making meals or wanted to take naps the kids were happy to be playing with their toys. They were seldom bored or asking us to entertain them, so we could just sit back on our balcony and watch the waves. The toys are as much for your sanity as for theirs. So take half the clothes, and twice the toys, you originally planned on bringing. You will thank me!!!!





Things I brought on the trip for the kids: 

Water bottles – we filled them once we past security 


Plastic bags 

Pull ups 


Legos - (Lego Classic Quad Pack) 

Wikki sticks 

Coloing books 



Jack and Annie – The Magic Tree House books – long chapter books that we read through out the trips. I bought brand new ones so they were so excited to read them. We read them wherever we went. It helped that they're adventure stories, so that even the less action-packed moments of the trip felt fun.

Letter beads for making necklaces

Plastic canvases and yarn for sewing

Small loom


Crayons and paper – These crayons won’t roll all over the plane and help with developing grip.

Play-Doh and small Play-Doh tools

Small easy-readers – This gave us lots of books that did not take up lots of room


Earphone Splitter so more than one person can share a device

Kid friendly DVDs 

Foil – kids would wrap things and pretend they were giving gifts 


Magnetic blocks

Water Reusable Painting Book

Tiny animal dolls (safely tethered by their safety-pin leashes)




Beach and Pool Toys


7. We brought plastic spoons and stacking cups for beach and pool toys. They were perfect for playing at the beach and the pool. They were total hits! On the plane you can 

have them use them to pretend they are cooking and baking cakes. You don’t need a lot of beach toys. The kids really don’t need much to be entertained. Leave the big, complicated toys at home. This way you don’t have to lug so much stuff. Save the beach toys for the beach at home. You can an always buy them there if necessary, but I assure you you won’t need them. People will often give you these kind of things for free when their vacation is over, and their luggage has thickened a bit in Hawaii. We were bequeathed an inflatable raft, unsolicited. The kids loved it. When we left we passed it on to another family.


Snack Time

Snack Time




8. Food, food, food and more foood! This is the answer to happy kids on a big trip like this. Make sure to have tasty (preferably heavy and filling) snacks and fresh cool water close at hand at all times. There may be time to catch a bite between flights. Maybe not. We found this to be difficult at a number of our transfers. Trying to get food between flights was very stressful, because we always were cutting it close. It was a mile walk or more, plus or minus a short shuttle ride or two, to make a connecting flight in three of the major airports we traveled through. So have food with you -- maybe even something as substantial as sandwiches -- so you don’t have the added stress of hunger on top of travel weariness. You will have to buy nearly all food and drinks on an airplane now, making any food acquired between one airport parking lot and another very expensive. Well-fed kids are happier than hungry kids any day. Well-fed adults are much better suited to handle the surprise problems that any seasoned traveler has learned to expect regularly.


Who needs earphones

Who needs earphones




9. Do bring a computer with WiFi capacity and a DVD player. Our kids did enjoy watching movies. This is something we do not do except on vacation, so this was a huge splurge for the kids. On our plane on the way back, you had to rent the entertainment equipment. My husband and I were not used to seeing this. I was happy I had my computer, but of course I had problems and could not get it to work. My seats power was out. I wish the airline had been a bit more in-my-face that I needed to download their free media-watching app onto my computer or smartphone ahead of boarding the plane, if I didn't want to rent anything onboard. I did get some nice vouchers though. I look forward to using them this year!!! But I will make sure to bring it in the future because of this flight. It was expensive to rent the equipment. I was glad I did bring the ear phone connectors so the kid could share devices. Funny enough, my kids found the earphones uncomfortable and enjoyed more just watching the movies without sound. 

This still blows my mind, and is testament to how much of a treat motion pictures still are for my children. Do check what your airline's entertainment options are online before you even buy tickets. Ask about any software you'll need to download before you switch on Airplane Mode, so as to keep your trip as cheap and low-maintenance as possible.


Engrossed in Toys

Engrossed in Toys


Take the toys for your trip out of rotation


10. A few weeks before our trip I took the toys for the trip out of rotation, that is, unavailable for take-out from the toy bank. This made those toys fresher and more exciting on the trip. The kids could not wait to play with them, and didn't tire of them mid-trip. 


Lei Making

Lei Making


Bonus: Easy Fine Motor Activity to do before you leave. 

Make lei 

• Get a needle and thread 

• Go outside and collect flowers (you can also buy silk flowers or buy some from the store) 

• String the flowers using the needle and thread 

• Place around the neck, then tie in back. 

• Put on some Hawaiian music and get into the mood to the packing mood for you vacation. My husband discovered that Maui's KNUQ FM broadcasts online; I'll let you be the judge of whether ukulele belongs in reggae.