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What do I do for Transportation in Hawaii?

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A travel therapy or nursing assignment in Hawaii can be a dream come true for any traveling healthcare professional.  But, it does come with a lot of moving and logistical challenges. Specifically – what do you do for transportation in Hawaii?

I’ve worked travel assignments, and lived in Hawaii, for 7 years. I’ve moved cars to and from the mainland and survived without a car for over a year. Here are my tips for finding transportation in Hawaii.

Ship Your Car From the Mainland

Shipping your car may be a good option if you will be staying in Hawaii for more than 3 months. If you’re only coming for a 3-month assignment, I think it’s most cost-effective to leave your car on the mainland at home or with a friend.

Shipping your car to Hawaii is time-consuming. The cars have to be in port several days before they are loaded onto the boat to traverse the Pacific. Then, the Pacific crossing takes 3-5 days. The last time I shipped my car to Hawaii, in total, I was without it for 3 weeks. In that time, I needed to use rental cars to get by, which added extra money to the overall cost of car shipping to Hawaii.

The cost to ship a car from the west coast varies. On average, it may be around $900-$1200 one way for the boat passage. Plus, if you need any ground transportation for your car to another city, that would be extra.

There are 2 cargo boats that ship cars to Hawaii. They are

You can either book directly with Pasha and Matson, or through a third-party broker. I only recommend using a third-party broker if you need extra ground transportation for your car. Otherwise, it’s cheapest to book directly with the cargo ships.

Buy a Car/Moped and Sell When you Leave

“Island Cars” refer to the beat up, older cars that run for hundreds of thousands of miles on the islands.  They get passed around from owner to owner as people come and go off of the islands. You can buy an island car for as little as $3,000 or a moped for as little as a couple of hundred dollars.  

The issue with island cars is that they are what they are.  They are older cars with a lot of miles. You could have to deal with any number of maintenance issues while you are driving them.

The great thing about island cars is that they really do not depreciate in price.  If you buy a car for $3,000, you will probably be able to sell it for $3,000 when you leave.  The problem is that selling the car when you leave takes time and you may be on a time crunch to leave the island.  

Places to buy a car: Facebook Marketplace and groups specific to each island have a constant sale of cars. You can also ask any travelers leaving your facility if they are selling a car. Be cautious of scams and never buy sight unseen. Most buyers will want cash only.

My first car in Hawaii

Take Public Transit (Honolulu)

Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, is the medical hub of Hawaii.  The city has a wonderful public transit bus system that connects the city to most of the hospitals.  

Queens Medical Center, Straub Clinic, Kuakini Medical Center, and Kapiolani Medical Center are all on major Honolulu bus routes.  If you are working in one of those medical centers, consider finding housing on a bus route. You can buy monthly bus passes from 7-11 and ABC stores.  The passes do sell out, so try to buy a couple of days before the first of the month.

The Bus running through Honolulu


Walk or Ride a Bike (Honolulu)

In Honolulu, it is also possible to walk or ride your bike to work, depending on your location.  If you are living and working in the city, consider getting your steps by walking to and from work.

a women in scrubs walking on the payment

Rent a Car

There are many options for renting cars in Hawaii. This may be something that you want to negotiate into your contract with your agency. Many travelers choose to rent a car while on the islands.  Coordinate with your staffing agency to see if they can find you any deals on car rentals.  A car rental may cost upward of $800/month depending on the island. I like searching for rentals on Turo, which is like an Airbnb for cars. If you are lucky, you may find a local who rents island cars to travelers as part of a housing package, or at a lower rate (more like $450/month).  Check Craiglist, Facebook, etc for local deals.

If you decided to take public transit to work and still want the island experience of having a car, you can easily rent cars on your days off.  Enterprise Car Share & Hui Car Share allow rentals by the hour. These services are perfect if you need to run some errands or do a half-day excursion.

Grab a cab, Uber or Lyft

Popular ride-sharing services, Uber and Lyft, are available on Oahu, The Big Island, Maui, and Kauai. However, the smaller towns definitely have fewer drivers available. You may have 2 drivers covering a whole town of 20,000 people. If you need a ride to and from work, make sure to specify your pick-up location. In the mazes of hospitals, drivers can easily get lost trying to pick up riders.

Conclusions on Transportation in Hawaii

Transportation in Hawaii can seem overwhelming but with proper planning, it can be a breeze. Determine what your needs are and what makes sense for your schedule and budget.  From shipping your car to buying, renting, or taking the bus, there are many options to get around on the islands.

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4 thoughts on “What do I do for Transportation in Hawaii?”

  1. Bought a car for $3200 and sold it for $3000. I listed it two weeks before I left and had 45 replies… so probably could have got the full amount but the buyer waited the two weeks to get the car. Thanks for your article – I otherwise wouldn’t have know this was possible!

    1. That’s incredible! Thank you so much for reporting this success story! It’s great to hear travelers using this blog to help them save money!

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