Vacation scope creep - embrace or avoid?
January 22, 2018 11:21 AM   Subscribe

I am in the planning stages of a summer vacation, and am stressing about scope creep. We are flying from the east to the Big Island of Hawaii. Direct flights aren’t an option, and most flights have layovers, generally in California. It got me thinking…and then over thinking. Should we stop in ie. San Francisio on the way there for a couple of days, and maybe L.A. for a couple of ways on the way back? I have not been to either city. Or is that silly, and we should just extend our stay in Hawaii from a week to say 10-12 days ?

I have never taken a vacation longer than a week….nor ever tried to cram multiple cities/destinations into one trip. I’m overwhelmed. I’m worried about the overall cost creeping up, but also worried I’ll regret not taking advantage of travelling all that way. I don’t know if/when we’ll get back out to the West Coast. Should we go big? How do you think through these sorts of decisions ?
posted by walkinginsunshine to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (13 answers total)
What is your main goal for the vacation? Exploration and seeing interesting things, or just plain out relaxation? Will there be kids along? Do you generally like cities?

If it were me, and my main goal was relaxation, and if I didn't expect to find Hawaii too boring, I'd go ahead and enjoy the 10-12 days, especially with the expected jet lag. However, loading in and out of a hotel is a bigger hassle for me than for other people.
posted by amtho at 11:39 AM on January 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh man am I the #1 scope-creep person. I ALWAYS take the stopover, even if it's just for a day or two.

Will it cost more to have a stopover? If so, maybe not worth it.

If it's the same fare (or negligible difference), I would do it on the outbound side. Especially if you don't normally take big long trips, you might be exhausted by the end and you'll just want to get home, not tool around in California for a few days. But totally do it! You will get to see a new place and split up a big long flight, and those are both big perks.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 11:52 AM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I actually just traveled to the Big Island (and Maui) from the US east coast last month. We considered staying a day or two on the west coast before or after Hawaii, but the fares were more expensive and we did not have the vacation time to be away from our jobs longer than a week (and definitely wanted to be in Hawaii for a full week). However, I wish we were able to do that because I had issues adjusting to the time change, and got up too early and wanted to go to bed too early for most of the week we were in Hawaii. It would have been nice to spend a night or two on the west coast on the way there so it wasn't such a drastic time change. I was also just tired from a full day of flying there with two layovers- we left NC at 8am EST and arrived in Hawaii at 12am EST, for a total of 16 hours of travel- so it would have been nice to divide that up!

We had two layovers on the way back too, but they were red-eyes so we were able to sleep on the planes better than we did on the way there. I also recommend just going straight home on the way back.

So, if you can afford to take the time and spend a little extra, I would definitely recommend staying somewhere on the west coast for 2 nights on the way to Hawaii.
posted by Katie8709 at 12:11 PM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Have you checked to see how much more it would cost for the layover? You might end up paying the equivalent cost of three one-way flights (or 4 if you have a multi-day layover both ways) instead of a round-trip, especially if the layover pushes your intermediate leg from a cheaper mid-week day to a prime travel weekend.

If you still want to do this, pick SF over LA. Easier to see in a couple of days, unless there's one single part of Los Angeles you'd like to visit (i.e., just the beach, or just Hollywood, or just Disney, etc.)
posted by hwyengr at 12:31 PM on January 22, 2018

Time spent getting out of the airport and traveling from the airport to the city, checking in to a new hotel, and then getting out to where you want to be.... plus time spent packing up, getting back to the airport, going through security etc, all while navigating flight times and especially check-out times make these side trips not really worth it - especially considering you're burning vacation time that could have been spent on the beach in Hawaii. Imagine that you spend 2 days and 1 night in LA - and that second day is checkout at Noon and flight home at 6.... you already did that in Hawaii a day and a half ago and now you're doing it again? Could've spent another quality day in Hawaii!
posted by everythings_interrelated at 12:33 PM on January 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

I really like going two places on a 10+ day trip. I don't get to travel that often, so being able to do two trips for just a bit more than the price of one is really appealing. I wouldn't tack on a third city in just 10-12 days, though.

Between LA and San Francisco, I'd pick LA unless you have specific stuff you're looking forward to doing in San Francisco. Even though my personality and preferences would lead me to think that I'd enjoy San Francisco more, I've actually had much more fun in LA (on similar business trips and vacations in each city). But, both are great and will help you need to spend less time acclimating to the time difference in Hawaii if you stop on your way there.
posted by snaw at 12:42 PM on January 22, 2018

Here are some things I consider.
Stopovers make more sense if:
* The city is easy to get to from the airport (including airport security) - you lose a lot of potential holiday time in the transition.
* The stopover location is much cheaper than the main destination, so you save money.
* There is a small limited set of things you want to do in the stopover location so the stopover obviates the need for another trip; e.g. if a flight somehow connected in Niagara Falls, that would be a great stopover candidate - spend a day, see the falls, check it off, move on - versus New York where a stopover barely gets you a taste of the place.
* Similar to the above, there is a specific event that you want to do in the city (e.g. attend a concert or sports event that you can't do at home.
* The additional time you would spend at the stopover doesn't "cost" a lot in terms of work holiday time, missed events, etc.
* You're travelling light and don't need to spend a lot of time packing, unpacking etc.
* You have a good sense of direction and good research skills so you don't waste a lot of time lost or confused.
* The stopover city provides an interesting contrast to the main destination in some way .

They make less sense if:
* They add logistical difficulties, like additional border crossings, clothing for different weather conditions, etc.
* You don't have a lot of time to spend, and you could better spend it at your main destination.
* It's not difficult to get to the city you're stopping over in from your home city another time; particularly if it's a feasible long weekend destination.
* It's a place that you strongly want to visit.
* They add a lot of cost, either due to being more expensive, more expensive flights, etc.
* The flight schedule really breaks up the time in the stopover destination - eg. arrive at 4 PM, spend two nights leave at 10 AM - you're using two days and paying for two hotel nights and getting an evening and one day.

Stopovers I've taken:
* I had remarkably cheap flights to South America via LA, but with the flight deal, the return had me coming back Friday - I stayed in LA instead for a couple of days and came back on Sunday.
* I needed to be in California on a Monday for business, but there was a music festival on the weekend in Seattle - I went down on Friday night, caught the festival.
* I was supposed to be travelling along the Adriatic, but it was much cheaper to fly into Munich, spend the day seeing the sights (it was during Oktoberfest), and take a night train to Venice. No disrespect intended to Munich, but I'm (or was at the time) less interested in northern European cities than in southern ones, so it was less likely I'd take a dedicated trip to see Germany otherwise.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:40 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

If I was in your position, I'd be tempted to take a day or two on the way to visit Disneyland and/or Knott's Berry Farm.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:43 PM on January 22, 2018

I just spent 10 days on the Big Island. I've also spent time in San Francisco and LA. Honestly...just spend your jet lag recovery on the beach or on your balcony looking at the beach. It'll be great. I still feel like I could have spent more time at the volcanoes park than what I did, and I know I didn't do all the hikes to remote waterfalls that I wanted. I would have loved another couple of days. If those are things that interest you, then definitely spend the whole time in Hawaii! And if you find yourself getting cabin fever, you could always catch a quick flight to Oahu and do Pearl Harbor or the Dole Plantation or something. I love San Fran and LA, but I think if I were to try to squeeze it with my Hawaii trip, I would have been lamenting what all I didn't get to see in each location.
posted by BlueBear at 2:03 PM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am a person who dislikes travel, but does it a lot for work anyhow. Earlier this year I spent about a week on the road doing Hawaii travel for work -- three-ish days on Oahu, and five-ish days on the Big Island. I ended up taking a day off on the Big Island so I could get at least a bit of sight-seeing in.

Hawaii is beautiful all over. I personally think the Big Island is a better deal than Oahu, so I'm on the same page as you there -- Waikiki felt like a more congested version of the Vegas Strip with a beach, to me.

In my opinion, if your goal is to see cool stuff you're not going to see anywhere else, just spend the time enjoying Hawaii. On my day off, I started in Kona, drove up to the visitor's center part way up the big volcano, then drove back down to Hilo and around the southern tip of the island, with a few stops for (very brief) hikes, and then south of Hilo I rented a bike to head out to the lava flow viewing point, which was pretty damn cool. Exhausting day, though -- I wish I'd had two or three days to enjoy all of that, plus extra days for relaxing on the beach, given that there are several good ones handy.

That said, if you really don't expect to be back on the west coast any time, it might be worth trying to figure something out, but to me the extra stress would not be worth it. (NB: based out of LA, been to San Francisco a few times, so maybe my sense of "how cool would it be to see places in California" is too jaded; hard to say).
posted by Alterscape at 2:34 PM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Having lived in both areas, people don't realize how spread out the LA basin is, and how compact San Francisco is. You could easily waste an entire day just driving to, say, Disneyland, Santa Monica, the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, Getty Museum, and back to LAX. The distances are long and the traffic is horrific. I've spent over an hour just getting from one side of downtown LA to the other. Whereas downtown San Francisco is only about 35 minutes by train from the San Francisco (SFO) and Oakland (OAK) airports and you could easily visit several of the most-visited attractions within 24 hours. The only comparable LA experience I can think of would be visiting one of the theme parks, which are open long hours. But that's going to involve a Lyft or car rental and some traffic, unless you're arriving and leaving at night. Six hours of time change is nothing to sneeze at, so I would definitely take advantage of being outside, especially in the afternoon, to help you adjust.
posted by wnissen at 3:24 PM on January 22, 2018

San Francisco would work best for this, I think, if you didn't mind hitting the ground running and were willing to spend a night - the distance into the city is quite minimal from both Oakland and San Francisco airports on BART, around 35-40 minutes. There are also four flights to Kona a day from San Francisco on United and Virgin America and one a day from Oakland on Alaska. (Hilo is only served from Los Angeles on United if you're heading there from the Mainland; otherwise you've got to change on Maui or in Honolulu.)

Also, there's a lot to see right near the BART train in SF and in Oakland/Berkeley too, and the physical geography of the bay is just stunning. There's absolutely no need to rent a car.

Let's say you arrived midmorning - the first early-morning East-Coast flights get to the West Coast around 11:00 or 11:30 am. Take BART, which is cheap and very easy, to your hotel in the center of town somewhere, drop your bags, and explore. Hotels will be pricey, but as you won't be spending money on a car rental that may be a wash, and I think the physical setting of land and water is so much more stunning than LA's rather developed coastline in many ways for someone's first West Coast foray. The density of good food of every variety - and cleaner air than LA! - makes it a win, I think.

BART also runs quite early, helpful if you're waking up early for your Hawaii flight because of your east-coast body-clock. You'd easily be able to make the even the 08:10 Oakland flight to Kona on Alaska since the first train leaves the city (from Embarcadero station) at 04:24 and after a quick change at Coliseum, arrives at the airport at 04:59 on a weekday. (The first SFO-KOA flight of the day, on United, leaves at 09:10, so BART is obviously fine.)

If you're thinking about the daily nonstop from LAX to Hilo on United, spending a day or two in/around Santa Monica/the Westside would be beachy and fun and feel vacationy, and it's not too painful to get back to the airport if you don't want to rent a car, especially if you're OK with Uber/Lyft. The Expo Line will also get you into Downtown LA. That said: the Pacific can be cold to swim in, and if this trip is in May/June/early July, the coast of LA can be socked in with low clouds that only burn off in the afternoon; the Bahamas it is not. It might be 90F inland 10 miles and only 75F at the beach.
posted by mdonley at 8:30 PM on January 22, 2018

I spent 10 days on the big Island (and I've been to both LA and San Francisco) and if I were planning another 10 day trip I would do 6 days on the big Island, 4 days on either oahu or maui. you might even be able to get a non stop to honolulu. i would not stop in California. but it depends on what kind of things you like to do. I loved hawaii a lot.
posted by katieanne at 6:48 PM on January 23, 2018

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