Planning some Hawaii travel during COVID and want to find out some tips and insider information for dealing with the restrictions from someone who’s already done it? You’ve come to the right place.
The Short Version
- Make sure to go through a trusted travel partner of Hawaii; nothing else will get you in without quarantining.
- You can’t rely on mail-in tests if they have to be sent in over the weekend.
- Inter-island flights require the 72 hour testing window as well.
- Plan any inter-island connecting flights around the 72 hour requirement; you’ll most likely have to take a test on the island and that’s completely fine.
- Tests taken on arrival at the airport for certain islands don’t work for your next inter-island flight. If you are doing an inter-island flight immediately upon landing in Hawaii, plan ahead. Try to have your COVID test taken no more than 48 hours prior instead of 72 in case inter-island flight(s) get canceled.
- Restrictions are changing on seemingly an hourly basis. Read every email from your airline/lodging/excursion companies, and keep up with Hawaiian news for more announcements.
- Have a printed off version of your test results in your carry-on.
- Save your QR code to your Favorites album on your phone for easy access.
- Check restaurant websites and social media presences before heading there. You’ll see if they’ve reopened and in what capacity to save yourself from driving to closed locations.
- Do those super touristy things you might consider skipping; they’re way less touristy right now (looking at you Road to Hana).
- No complaining about mask and/or distancing rules.
- Everyone is incredibly understanding regarding plans changing last minute right now. If something happens, call your lodging/flight/tour companies. See how you can rework your schedule instead of outright canceling. They get it.
- If you’re going to Maui and want to do the Haleakalā sunrise, you have to sign up and tickets are VERY limited. No tickets required for sunset or regular daytime park attendance.
- Verbally acknowledge when chatting with locals about restrictions that you understand, agree with, and respect the need for them.
- Be safe. If you feel sick, stay home. Keep distance in public, wear your mask, and don’t make Hawaii regret opening up to tourists.
The Long Version
If you’re like me, you’ve been dying to see a beach probably all of 2020 but haven’t been able to. I have been doing my best to keep myself and those I love safe by staying pretty much at home. If I do travel anywhere, I do so by road trip to do outdoor activities. No one’s perfect, but I’ve successfully avoided getting or giving COVID this year. Go me!
My brother and I decided that we would do something over Thanksgiving. We found cheap tickets to the Big Island, and that made our decision for us. The Hawaii travel COVID restrictions were going to be a challenge. They were doable though, so we said to ourselves “let’s do this” and tackled them one by one. Restrictions were, as of November 2020, the following:
- Must have a negative test taken no more than 72 hours prior to your Hawaii departure time
- COVID test must be from one of Hawaii’s trusted travel partners
- Required documents must be uploaded into the travel portal prior to flight
- Masks on everywhere
Some things went smoothly, some things did not go smoothly, and I learned a shit ton along the way. So, here are my 15 tips for Hawaii travel during COVID based on the restrictions they had at the time of my travel (November 2020):
1: Find the Right Test Provider – Not Every Lab is a Hawaii Travel COVID Lab
This sounds easier than it is, but I assure you depending on your home base this can be difficult. You MUST get a test through one of Hawaii’s trusted travel partners, a list that is constantly updating but does not include every test provider available. If you test with someone who is not on this list, you will have to quarantine upon arrival and you will not get around it.
Basically, I recommend scouring this list and seeing what locations are near you and if you can’t get on their schedule via website signup, call the location (except for Walgreens and CVS who will not take COVID testing related calls at individual stores). For example, everything around me seemed impossible to get in based on the online schedulers, so I called GoHealth and they had some openings and got me in the next day.
If you have access to the 15 minute PCR rapid test, I highly recommend getting that. I got swabbed and found out in the room I was good to go. This allows you to get tested the day before, or the day of, your departure and extends your travel window should anything pop up.
2: Mail In Tests Are Great *ONLY* If You’re Not Shipping Them On the Weekend
You just read about my last minute scramble and GoHealth getting me in the next day? Well that’s because I had bought a Hawaiian Airlines mail-in test and turns out, my local UPS wouldn’t take the package. I needed to send it on a Saturday. They provided me with a list of UPS dropboxes, and those do not get picked up on Saturday. That means it wouldn’t have been picked up and sent to the lab until Monday, and my flight was Tuesday at noon. There is no way it would have made it in time, per the testing and shipping schedule provided.
The short version of that is if you are looking to get a mail-in test, make sure you do not have to send it out any time between Friday evening through Sunday. So basically if your flight is between Thursday and Monday, a mail-in test is great. If not, I would find an in-person testing location locally.
3: Inter-island Flights Require 72 Hour Tests As Well
Yes, if you’re flying from the Big Island to Maui, for example, you have to have the same documentation as you had flying from the mainland into Hawaii.
4: Plan Your Island Hopping Around 72 Hour Test Requirements
We knew we were going to visit Maui and Big Island, but our flight deal was into the Big Island. COVID tests aren’t guaranteed to be free on either island, so try and maximize your time – and minimize burden to your wallet – by planning test days into your trip. If you’ve only got a few days total, see if you can overlap your inter-island flight into your original Hawaii arrival 72 hours. If you’ve got more time, this is probably not as much of a concern.
Additionally, make sure to look up testing locations on each island before you arrive if you have to test there. Keep tabs on their scheduling system, and try to get yourself signed up for a test as soon as you can so you can plan your itinerary around it. Rural Hawaii will probably have fewer locations, so plan test days around city days if you can.
5: Do Not Count On Testing Upon Arrival For Anything
We had an inter-island flight get canceled. The flight deal we found was from St. Louis to the Big Island, but we figured we’d start our trip in Maui to reduce total number of tests taken. So we found a cheap little puddle jumper flight over to Maui that we would get on once we landed in Big Island. Well, this flight got canceled and there were none later that night so we had to push to the next morning.
Inter-island flights between Hawaiian islands have the same COVID testing requirements as flying to Hawaii from anywhere else. Because of when my brother got tested, he was now going to be lapsed for this trip to Maui as it was pushed a day. At the time, the Hawaiian government site said that all flights landing on the Big Island would require a rapid test upon arrival, so we thought we were good.
Turns out, we were not. We didn’t get tested, and even if we did that test wouldn’t have worked for our flight the next morning. So basically if you have an immediate inter-island flight upon arrival, try and get your pre-travel test no more than 48 hours prior to Hawaiian flight departure.
6: Hawaii Travel COVID Rules Are Constantly Changing – Keep Tabs Before You Leave So You’re Not Surprised By Mandatory Quarantining At Your Gate
This seems super specific and that’s because it happened to people on our flight. Just days before we left, Hawaii announced that if you didn’t have your results uploaded to the portal before you got on your flight, it was mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Prior to this, you only had to quarantine until your test results came back negative.
This caught 10 or so people at our flight gate off guard and they all had to change their flights.
Do NOT get caught surprised like this, and keep tabs on restriction rules. Read every email from your airline, from your lodging and accommodations, and from any tour companies you’ve booked already. We received several emails informing us of this. Be a good steward of tourism and make sure you’re in the know. It will make everyone’s lives easier.
7: Print Off Your Test Results & Keep a Copy in Your Carry-on
This is pretty self explanatory. Some places ask for it, some don’t. Better to be safe than sorry here.
8: Save Your QR Code to Your Favorites Album in Your Phone
Also pretty straightforward, but when you’ve uploaded your documents successfully to the portal they give you a QR code. This is what gets scanned upon your arrival to make sure you’re allowed onto the island. Make sure you have this easily accessible on your phone, by adding it to your Favorites.
9: Check Restaurant Websites/Social Before Going for Closings and Operating Hours
Hawaii travel COVID requirements many restaurants are still closed, and those that are open are working at a limited capacity. Google and social media are your friend, so use them to help you determine if restaurants are open so you save yourself some driving.
10: Now is the Time to do Those Super Touristy Things
While tourists are starting to show up, there are nowhere near as many as non-COVID times. If there’s a thing you’d like to see or do, but are thinking of skipping it because you don’t want to be around people, now’s honestly a great time to go.
For example, the Road to Hana might be the most famous thing in Maui. Everyone does it, and the locals call it “Divorce Highway” due to the stress it causes drivers. We started the drive at probably 6:45am (early) and don’t think we saw more than one other person on the road until 1pm or later. We mostly saw locals (you can tell by how they drive, haha) and it was a great experience.
11: No Complaining About Safety Precautions
Just, don’t. Don’t be that person.
12: Plans Change? Call Your Bookings to Reschedule vs. Cancel Because They’re Super Understanding Right Now
We had to quite literally rearrange our entire stay in Hawaii, from flights to lodging to excursions due to our flight cancellation. Everyone from the last-minute hotel to VRBO hosts to airlines were BEYOND accommodating. Things really aren’t filled up right now, so you’re very likely to be able to shift plans around/ask for late checkouts/etc. without causing any disruption. Don’t just get mad and cancel plans. If we made it work, you can make it work!
13: Halakaleā Sunrise Requires Tickets Now
Yep, and they’re hard to get. Reservations go on sale for specific dates, so pay attention to the details on the website and set yourself an alarm if this is on your must do list.
We got reservations but when our flight cancelled we obviously lost them. Sunset doesn’t require reservations though, and for a backup plan it was STUNNING.
14: In Conversation, Thank the Hawaiians for Your Visit and Acknowledge Your Understanding of the Hawaii Travel COVID Restrictions in Place
Every local we talked to was happy to have us. They need tourism to survive, and the only way to safely have tourists is with the Hawaii COVID travel restrictions put in place. Let the locals know you understand why you had to jump through some hoops to get there, and that you appreciate being there at all.
15: Monitor Your Health & Stay In If You Feel Sick
More common sense here, but it’s imperative we keep Hawaiians safe as they welcome us back. If you don’t feel well, keep yourself and others safe by being smart. Go get a test even if you don’t need one to fly, keep your distance from others, wear your mask, and definitely avoid any indoor locations.
And there you have it, my top 15 things I learned from traveling to Hawaii during COVID times. If you want to see more of my trip, check me out on Instagram because I’ve got lots of content coming and story highlights for both Maui and the Big Island.
Additionally, if you’re wanting to go somewhere without hopping on a plane, I’ve got my best COVID road trip tips for you too!