Kauai: How We Saved Cash Renting a Car from a Local

kauai beachHey everybody!

I made sure to include the word “cheap” in the title of this blog because Nik swears it is one of my most outstanding attributes (although she doesn’t quite word it that way). and it’s something I take seriously as a compliment! If you can travel, live a life of adventure, and do it without blowing a lot of cash – why on earth wouldn’t you?

No matter where we go we always try to stay in cheap hotels or rental houses (a big THANKS to vrbo), eat locally on the cheap and talk our way into the best deals available. So when we began to schedule our trip to Kauai, we knew we had our work cut out for us.

Yes, Kauai is absolutely gorgeous. And – no surprise – incredibly expensive. And one of the many reasons it’s so expensive is the fact that you MUST have a car to get around. You just have to. The island is too big and too congested to comfortably bike around in a few days, but too small to have any kind of reliable public transportation system. But that’s all okay – because with all the great things to see and do around Kauai, it’s best to do it at your own pace, with your own set of wheels. You’ll appreciate that freedom.

There are plenty of rental car options available once you get there. All the major companies it seems are there on the island, and in the airport. And they’ll be quite happy to rent you a car, no doubt. Just get ready to shell out some serious cash to be able to do it.

Initially – like everyone I’m sure – we had dreams of cruising around Kauai in a convertible Camaro, a Jeep Wrangler or something of the sort – something that would allow us to experience the panorama of the drive with the top down and the wind in our hair. But to no one’s surprise those dreams died a quick nasty death with a couple of visits to the rental car companies’ websites. Crazy! Even the regular, economy to mid-size cars (not convertible, of course) were astoundingly expensive by our standards. Maybit was the time of year, I don’t know. But I doubt it.

So we did what we always do in these situations: we got creative.

We got on the phone and called a few of the local people on the island we had talked to during our “planning phase”, including the woman who agreed to rent us a room in her house. And she told us a nice, thrifty little secret: there are locals on the island – just regular folks – who will agree to rent you their own personal cars for your stay, for a fraction of the cost of the major companies.

So she gave us the number of a guy, who told us to call another lady, who then had us talk with her husband. And, long story short – here’s the killah ride we rented, and drove all over the island during our stay:

our-carSay hello to our little friend! A blue/white/gray/rust colored 1994 Mazda… something. Manual windows and door locks (that electric stuff is way overrated), plenty of space to install a car stereo (since there wasn’t one), five-speed manual transmission (the “check engine” light always goes off when you shift from second to third), and custom island rims (meaning three of the four tires didn’t actually have rims).

The guy who owns it – a BIG Hawaiian guy with a great island accent – actually picked us up at the aiport in it. And thankfully we weren’t expecting anything more. In fact, it was EXACTLY what we had been told by the locals to expect: a beater car – nothing fancy – just four wheels, four seats, a steering wheel and an engine. Perfect. All we need.

It was a total handshake deal. He agreed to let us use his car for five days, and we paid him a total of $100 cash, right there on the spot.

“Okay,” Nik was sure to ask him. “So what happens if something breaks down?”

“No problem,” he said with a shrug. “Just give me a call. I come pick you up.”

“And we just return it here to the airport?” I asked.

“Sure. Just leave it in the parking lot and call me when you do. That way I can come right over and get it and not have to pay the parking charge. You get fifteen minutes free in the lot before they charge you.”

Again, perfect.

We gave him a quick mahalo! and we were off.

We drove our little car all over Kauai for five days and absolutely loved it. Never had a problem (besides paying $4.99 a gallon for gas) and the air conditioner worked like a champ when we needed it. Best of all, we looked like locals, which is always a good thing (but especially so in Hawaii). And  as it turns out, that poor beat-up Mazda will always be one of our fondest memories from the entire trip. How cool. I miss it already.

When it came time to return it, we did exactly as the guy told us. Left it in the lot at the airport, put the parking lot ticket and the key in the ashtray, and gave him a call to let him know it was ready.

“Thanks so much,” I told him. “We had a great time on the island and the car was one of the best parts. We appreciate it!”

“Right on,” was his reply, followed by a very serious (and very sincere): “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”

Was it risky? Definitely. Were there any guarantees? Definitely not. Was it worth it? Most definitely. In fact, the money we saved on renting the car actually allowed us to afford the helicopter tour on our last day on the island, which otherwise wasn’t part of our plan.

So if you’re still willing to spend your life’s savings to drive that convertible Camaro, or that Jeep, or that fancy Suburban around the island, go for it. God bless. Nothing against it. Otherwise, try asking around. Find the guy who knows a guy. Chance are, they’ll find you a set of wheels to rent. Just don’t expect much, after all – except that fun feeling of looking and feeling like a local, and a really great lasting memory to go alongside all the others.

Aloha! See you next time…

~ Dusty

2 Comments

  1. Sound great! I do the same in Maui but i can’t find nobody in Kauai… U think you can give me his number??

    Thanks,
    Karl

    • Nikki Green

      Hey Karl! We have looked and looked for his number and can’t seem to find it 🙁 We got his number through the lady we rented a room from on VRBO. Her listing doesn’t seem to be there anymore either. Hmmmmm. We’ll keep investigating and let ya know. Happy New Year!

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