In May 2021, I traveled to the island of Maui, Hawaii for a landscape and nature photography trip. Visiting Maui this year was quite different from my previous trips and I thought it would be helpful to write up a blog article about my experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has made travel to Hawaii more complicated, especially with all of the changing rules and requirements. If you are interested in planning a trip to Hawaii (Maui, Oahu, Hawaii Island, Kauai) from the USA mainland (Trans-Pacific), this article will guide you through a simple step-by-step process so you can avoid the 10 quarantine. You may be asking yourself if it’s worth it to visit Maui in 2021 and I would say, “absolutely!”
Step 1 - Create a Hawaii Safe Travels Account
All adult travelers must register on the Hawaii Safe Travels website prior to arrival. This is a mandatory requirement even for those who plan to quarantine upon arrival to Hawaii. Minors can be added to the profile of their parent/guardian. Setting up an account was very easy and we had no issues with the website.
Step 2 - Arrange a Pre-Travel COVID Test with a Trusted Testing Partner
To avoid a mandatory 10 day quarantine, Hawaii requires a negative COVID NAAT/PCR test no earlier than 72 hours prior to departure of the last leg to Maui. This test must be completed at one of Hawaii's Trusted Testing Partners. If you don't have the negative test, you must quarantine for 10 days at a hotel at your expense (vacation rentals are not available for quarantine). COVID-19 vaccination is not currently a substitute for the pre-travel testing, but Hawaii says they are evaluating the science and may revise this requirement in the future (hopefully during summer 2021). We did our COVID NAAT tests (Rapid Diagnostic Test) at a local Walgreens store about 72 hours prior to our departure. Walgreens has an online booking system where appointments can be booked up to 4 days in the future. You will need to figure out which day you want to do your test (within 72 hours of departure) and then watch the Walgreens website for appointments (new appointments were released daily at approximately 5:00 PM).
Step 3 - Upload your Documents to the Safe Travels Website
After you receive your COVID test results, the PDF file must be uploaded to the Hawaii Safe Travels Website. After the result is verified, you receive a QR code that can be used to travel to Hawaii. Also print out a copy of the test result, just in case the system goes down. Official COVID-19 Vaccination Cards can also be uploaded to the system. You should also bring the physical vaccination card to Hawaii, since you may have to show it at the airport.
Step 4 - Secondary (Post Arrival) COVID Testing at Kahului Airport
Starting May 11, 2021, arriving passengers over the age of 5 will be required to complete a secondary (post arrival) COVID-19 test at the Kahului Airport. This rapid test is in addition to the Pre-Travel COVID testing. If a test returns positive, you will be required to return to take confirmatory PCR test. Positive confirmation or failure to return for the confirmatory test will result in a 10 day quarantine. Fully vaccinated (14 days after final dose) travelers can avoid the post arrival testing by showing their vaccination card or Certificate of Vaccination downloaded from the CDCs Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). This testing was implemented after my arrival, so I don't have any first hand experience with the process.
Step 5 - Get the Hawaii Pre-Clear Wristband at the departure gate
As of late May 2021, it appears that all of the major airlines flying to Hawaii are now offering the Hawaii Pre-Clear wristband at the departure gate. The Hawaii Pre-Clear wristband allows travelers to "pre-clear" at the departure gate and then bypass the airport screening in Kahului. To get a wristband, you must show the gate agent your QR code from the Hawaii Safe Travels Program and also show proof of your negative COVID test. We did this for our trip and avoided waiting in the hour long screening line at the Kahului Airport. Highly recommended!
Step 6 - Book a Rental Car ASAP!
Rental cars are currently very expensive due to limited supply. During the pandemic, all of the rental car companies sold off a significant portion of their fleets, which has impacted the supply of vehicles available to rent. As demand for the cars has increased this spring, the prices have increased dramatically due to simple supply and demand. I recommend shopping around on the websites for all of the big carriers and consider using a local company. Get ready for sticker shock and potentially lots of "sold out" messages! The best deal for our trip was on a sports car (Chevy Camaro) through Enterprise. I have no idea why, but this vehicle was several hundred dollars less than even the smallest compact cars.
It's important to acknowledge these travel restrictions were put in place to help protect the current residents of the islands, since healthcare services and infrastructure are quite limited in Hawaii. I'm really happy Hawaii has reopened for travel and feel lucky to have been able to visit before widespread travel resumed. The traffic on the island was great even during rush hour and most of the places I wanted to photography had very few people around. Although traveling to Maui was much more complicated than normal this year, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip!
Please note, this information is accurate as of June 2021, but the requirements can change at any time. I plan to keep this article up to date with the current travel requirements, but consider visiting the Hawaii COVID-19 website for the most up to date information. I also found the airlines and vacation rental companies/hotels to be very good sources of information about traveling to Hawaii.
Not ready to travel to Hawaii yet? Consider purchasing a Hawaii Fine Art Print from Scott Smorra Photography's Hawaiian Paradise - Hawaii Landscape Photography Gallery. These Hawaii prints look amazing on the wall and will bring a touch of the tropics into your home or office! When I look at these prints, my mind instantly takes me back to Hawaii and I can almost smell the tropical air and feel the warm trade wind breezes on my skin.
If you have any questions about travel to Hawaii, you can leave a comment below or contact me directly though this website. I will respond to all questions! Have you recently traveled to Hawaii? How did everything go? Please share your experiences in the comments below.