Denver to Kona, Budget vs Convenience: Would You Rather Save Time or $1000?

This year, I took two trips to the Big Island. In January, we flew to Kona to attend a wedding and spend time with friends from California. In March, I found myself booking another flight to Kona after my brother announced he was getting married in April.

Unlike my friends and family on the West Coast, booking a Hawaiian vacation from the middle of the country has its disadvantages. Denver is far and way more expensive. I have found ways to be creative with saving money, but sometimes convenience exceeds a budget. This year, I was able to try both ways to get to Hawaii. It was saving money versus saving time! So which way won? I’ll let you decide.

Birthday girl!

Separate Flights: Less Money, More Anxiety

In January, I was able to save over $1000 on our flights combined by booking a direct flight to Kona from LAX, and booking flights to LAX from Denver through a budget airline.

I had looked through Google flights and third party sites for several weeks. After constant searching and looking at price prediction graphs, the cheapest flight I could find from Denver to Kona was $759 roundtrip. This “cheap” price included layovers in Seattle or San Francisco, totaling 18 hours of travel time. For the 3 of us, we were looking at spending $2,277 for tickets plus a long layover. That did not sound like a deal to me, so I decided to get creative.

I ended up booking flights from LAX to Kona for $345 roundtrip. I then booked tickets from Denver to LAX for $66 roundtrip through Frontier Airlines. A total of $411 roundtrip from Denver to Kona, and an overall total of $1,233 for our 3 tickets. By booking separate tickets to Los Angeles, I was able to save $1,044!

Although the savings were phenomenal, there was definitely a downside. On our way back, we had a red-eye to Los Angeles from Kona and when we arrived, we were exhausted. We then had the task of finding our flight to Denver in this massive airport which consisted of taking a bus to another terminal and going through security again.

We also had another problem; Clayton lost his wallet in Hawaii and had to undergo additional screening through airport security. At the airport in Kona, they told us it would be the same procedure at LAX, but that was not our experience. When we got to the front of the security line, we explained that Clayton did not have his ID and that we needed additional screening. They made us wait for over 20 minutes and when a TSA agent finally spoke to us, she said we would not be able to go through without identification. My response was “so you’re saying we’re stuck in Los Angeles? We were able to board our plane in Kona.” And her response was, “we do things differently than Hawaii.” I wanted to respond that TSA should be consistent, but instead, I replied, “I understand. Can I speak to a supervisor?” And so, a supervisor came, checked our boarding passes, saw our last names matched, looked at a credit card with Clayton’s name and proceeded with the additional screening that was similar to Kona.

My point in that story, if anything goes awry.. a lost wallet, a delayed flight, long security line or even getting lost looking for your other terminal, things could go south. Also, discount airlines like Frontier are not forgiving about missed flights so initially when the TSA woman wouldn’t let us through, I was already thinking we’d have to purchase new flights to Denver. My anxiety during the ordeal made me wonder if going the cheaper route was even worth it.

Big savings on our family trip!

Direct Flight: More Expensive, Less Travel Time

When my brother announced his April wedding in Kona, the thought of our trip in January with long layovers and lost IDs sent me into a panic. Clayton opted out since there was no way we were spending money on 3 roundtrip tickets to a destination we went to 3 months prior. And the wedding date was set on my birthday… meaning I had to cancel travel plans my husband made for my 31st and I had to travel alone. I refused to experience the same trouble as January. I just wanted to go and get home ASAP so I found the only direct flight from Denver to Kona.

United is the only airlines with routes directly from DIA to KOA, and even though I booked an “economy fare”, the total came to slightly over $650 roundtrip. For kicks, I googled flights from the West Coast and felt uneasy as I saw flights for barely over $300, but I continued to reassure myself that this was the best option. I was technically saving money for traveling alone so justifying the more expensive flight was easy.

The Pros: Everything was so easy and smooth. I got on a plane in Denver and I got off the plane in Kona. Even though it was a 7-hour flight, it passed by quickly. This trip was significantly easier than the one in January.

The Cons: When traveling alone on the economy fare, I was given the aisle seat on both flights. Turns out, the area under the seat where you store your bag is significantly smaller on the aisle compared to the window and middle seat. I found this very surprising. The only bag I had was my “Never Full” Louis Vuitton bag. This bag fits perfectly fine under the seat on budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit, but on United, it was a tight squeeze. On my return flight, it was even worse. I got the aisle seat in the very last row! A 7-hour flight in the most uncomfortable seat on the plane was a nightmare.

Solo trip on a faster flight.

In all, it depends on what your priority is. My priorities were different for both trips. When I was with the family, saving over $1000 was significant. We were able to use that money on food and activities while staying under budget. But, if money isn’t an issue, definitely go with the direct flight. Although there are downsides, keeping your travel plans uncomplicated makes flying over 3,000 miles seem really easy.

Which way would you choose?


Hawaiian Vacation and a Missile Threat: Reflecting on life when faced with death

If you would have asked me two weeks ago about my biggest fears, I’d quickly list 3 things that have always scared me: the dark, deep water, and death. Death has always been at the top of that list. My own death, the death of loved ones, even the death of strangers freaked me out.

Although I feared it, I was always confronted with my own mortality. In my previous life as a social worker, I was faced with crisis and death on a weekly basis. The lack of warning for most of these people frightened me and ultimately pushed me to make changes in my life. I quit my career, sold my belongings and decided that I needed to dedicate my time to the things that really matter.

I created a life that I am happy with. One that is simple and focused on my family. I figured in the end, I would face death with grace and no regrets, even if it came unexpectedly.




On Saturday, January 13th, I faced the reality of death. Granted, it was only for about 20 minutes, but it was 20 minutes too long. I went through a rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions that I never thought I would experience. So did I handle it with grace? Slightly. And did I have regrets? Well… read on.

That Saturday morning was a beautiful morning. We rented a house in Waikoloa Village with a group of our closest and oldest friends. My biggest concern for the morning was getting the wrinkles out of my dress for a wedding we were attending that evening, and Riley woke up eager to head to the beach and play all day. I can still picture that day so clearly. The weather was amazing and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I looked outside and thought about how perfect the day was.

I got Riley and I ready for the beach then went into the kitchen to help Clayton with breakfast. All of our phones were on a nearby table connected to chargers. We were talking and laughing when we were suddenly interrupted by the blaring alarm coming from all of our phones. I immediately thought it was an Amber Alert. The sound was so familiar that I calmly walked over to my phone to check the message. As soon as I read it, I felt my heart drop into my stomach. “Wait… what?” I just stared at my phone and all I could mutter was “what?” Everyone else grabbed their phones and we just stared at each other bewildered.


We immediately sat down with our phones still in our hands. I started to feel my chest tighten and my hand began shaking uncontrollably as I panicked. I looked at my husband and asked, “this can’t be real, right?” But the fear on his face made me realize, this wasn’t a joke. After a few seconds of initial shock, we went into action. We needed information before making our next move.

One friend announced he would check Twitter. Surprisingly, it’s one of the fastest ways to get news plus we were hoping Trump had something to say. The rest of us quickly searched Google and turned on the TV. There was nothing. All I could find were old articles from November about preparing for possible attacks. I got desperate and posted the alerts on Facebook and Instagram hoping someone on the mainland had heard anything on the news. Once again, nothing!

Soon my fear turned into anger. Why in the hell is there no information about this? Does no one in our country care about Hawaii?! Are they hoping no one finds out?! What the hell is happening!! All I needed was for someone to confirm that this was real, where it was coming from and how much time we had left. I needed to know exactly how much time I had left.

I put my phone down and walked over to the window. It was still beautiful out. It was still bright, colorful and calm. Not what I pictured the end of the world would look like.

I walked back over to the couch and looked at my son. He giggled as he played on the floor with one of our friends, a former Marine, who kept Riley distracted the entire time. I sat there paralyzed watching them play. I just wanted to save my little boy. As Riley continued to roll on the floor and laugh, my friend looked over at me and said, “there’s nothing we can do.” I nodded and accepted our fate. We were all going to die.

I looked around the house wondering where we should take shelter. I then began to worry about how it would happen. Will the Big Island be hit directly and we just explode? Will we burn or be instantly demolished? Will it hurt? If we shield Riley with our bodies, will it hurt less for him? At that moment, I didn’t care about me, but I still felt the need to protect my child.

As our friends began to call their parents to say goodbye, my mind went straight to home where I wished I could see the mountains one last time. I picked up my phone to call my mom then hesitated. “I can’t call my mom, this will destroy her.” I stared at my text messages and wondered what I should do. I didn’t want to hear my mom cry, but I have to say goodbye and tell her that I love her. She needs to hear Riley’s voice one last time. I decided to wait 5 minutes. “We for sure have 5 minutes”, I thought to myself.

It was then that my mind began to slow down. I was still shaking, but my thoughts stopped racing. I said a quick prayer. Surprisingly, I prayed like I always do. I always imagined that if I faced death, I’d be on my knees reciting the entire rosary asking for forgiveness, but that wasn’t the case.  I have always wondered about my faith and spirituality… like do I really believe in the things I say I believe in? And it turns out, I do. I looked around at everyone in that room and truly believed that if we didn’t survive, we would all meet somewhere else.

And finally, I reflected on my own life. I always assumed that at the end of my life, I would have regrets about the things I didn’t do or the places I never got to see. But there wasn’t a single regret that crossed my mind. Instead, I was filled with gratitude. I was so thankful for the 30 years I was given on this Earth. It was a short life, but it was a beautiful one. I’ve had many hardships, but I’ve also had many blessings. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my husband and my son, for our amazing experiences and for the love they always showed me. In the midst of being in an unlucky situation, I felt very lucky to have lived my life.

I looked back at Riley, still giggling and playing with our friend. I picked up my phone, ready to call my mom and asked the room, “how much time do you think we have left?” Our friend, the Marine said, “we would hear the alarms.” It was then that I took a deep breath. He’s right! Where are the alarms? Suddenly, our other friend starts yelling from his room, “Motherfuckers! It’s a mistake! It’s a fucking mistake!” And those were the sweetest words I have ever heard.

Thanks to Twitter, we were able to breathe. Twitter told us it was a mistake.


It wasn’t until the 38-minute mark that we received new messages on our phone. I went into our room, pacing like a zombie. We needed to eat and head to the beach, business as usual, but I couldn’t stop that aching feeling in my chest… and that lasted an entire week.

I find myself randomly crying when I look out the window or getting really emotional when I kiss my son goodnight. When I’m with my husband, I find myself focusing on the warmth of his hand and of his kiss. Every little day to day thing that I used to take for granted has consumed me. I can’t even explain how grateful I am to be alive.


We made it to the beach that day!


With every hardship and trauma I have encountered in my life, I always look at the silver lining. What exactly did I learn from this situation and what message do I want to share with others?

It was almost 3 years ago that The Valiant Life began. I can still remember when I was depressed and anxious as my life was centered around work and creating that “American dream” that wasn’t mine. My husband and I worked opposite schedules, I only saw my son when I picked him up from daycare and tucked him in at night, and I hated what I was doing Monday through Friday. I was sitting in a cemetery near my office during my lunch break (I knew I had hit a low when I was spending lunch there) and I remember looking around and thinking, “I’m going to be in one of these someday.” And that’s when I asked myself, “if I die tomorrow, will I be happy with the life I lived?” My answer was no, and that’s when I knew I had to change it.

Every single one of us has a death day. For most of us, we will have no warning. We will plan out that day like it is any other and suddenly, it will end. I want you to ask yourself the same question, “if I die tomorrow, will I be happy with the life I lived?” If your answer is no, then do what you need to do to create a life you love.

Death is inevitable. None of us will live forever. I find comfort in knowing that when my time comes, I truly will have no regrets. And that realization feels amazing. I encourage you to reflect on what is important to you, be true to yourself and what you truly love, and live your life the way it’s meant to be lived. When you take control of your life, the possibilities are endless and the happiness that comes will be overwhelming.

So go on! Find your calling, be happy, and live life valiantly!


Grateful for my husband!


Hawaii on a budget


Here’s a story for the budget conscious traveler. I wanted to share this because I am also very budget conscious… or as some call it, cheap!

To most people, traveling is a very big expense. Sometimes when I daydream about traveling to a faraway place, I’ll goggle it and come across sites with information from travelers who have gone to that location. In the beginning of 2013, I was itching to go to Hawaii, but after some research it felt like an unreachable dream. According to folks on the internet, a Hawaiian vacation for 3 would cost several thousand dollars, and that was money that we definitely did not have.

In February of 2013, I was stressed out and cold. I know most people think it never gets cold in Arizona, but it does. And the cold is bitter and dry. For 5 years, every winter my knuckles would bleed from the dry air. On this day in February, I was driving home from a stressful visit with a client. The dried blood on my cracked knuckles held onto the steering wheel when it suddenly started to snow… in central Phoenix. As cool and exciting as the sight was, I was once again reminded that I was cold and miserable. I was in serious need of a warm getaway before I became a full blown negative Nancy. I decided that we were going to Hawaii and I was going to figure out a way to do it.

Through yet another google search, I found airfare to Honolulu for $600 to $800 RT per person. There was no way in hell I was going to pay that, so I headed to my trusted and favorite site: Hotwire. For past vacations, I had used Hotwire to book 5 star hotels at a cheap rate. I always trusted booking a hotel based on location and ratings, without knowing the name. I’ve never been disappointed using that process and the awareness of how much money I save is always very fulfilling for me. I perused through Hotwire when a notification popped up. If I chose to book a flight without having the information on what time the flight was leaving or what airlines I was taking, I could book a RT flight to Honolulu for $275 per person. The only information provided was the departure and return date. I confirmed the dates with Clayton which happened to coincide with his spring break. I couldn’t pass up the deal so without talking to my manager ahead of time (the flight was 10 days out), I booked the flights. After booking, I got the flight details. We were on Delta and had a connecting flight in LAX. Our layover was approximately 1 hour and the day of the flight, we had no problems!

3 roundtrip tickers from Phoenix to Honolulu including taxes= $825


Next up was our accommodations. To stretch our dollar even further, I looked into renting out condos for our stay through several sites. Unfortunately, since we were booking so last minute, there was no availability anywhere. I also looked into campgrounds and once again, no availability. We had no choice but to settle for booking a hotel. I used Hotwire to book one 3 star hotel the night we arrived. It had terrible reviews, but it was the cheapest available at just under $100. For the next 5 days, I booked a 2 star hotel close to the beach which ended up being amazing compared to the 3 star from the previous night. The 2 star came out to $120/night.

6 nights in a hotel by Waikiki Beach= $700

When we found out that our hotel stay would be almost as expensive as airfare for 3 people, we realized our budget would be tight. We ate out a total of 6 times. Once at a food truck, twice at the International Market, once at a cafeteria style place right outside the beach and twice at a restaurant for dinner. 4 out of the 6 times, Clayton and I shared a plate. For the other meals, we went to the grocery store and got essentials. Having a kitchen in our hotel room helped with storing and cooking food. Our breakfast typically consisted of cereal and before we’d leave the hotel for an outing, I’d stuff my bag with snacks.

Here is the breakdown of what we spent during our trip:

Car rental for 2 days= $40

Parking for 2 nights= $20/night

Dole Pineapple Plantation= $40 spent

Pearl Harbor= $40 spent

Food and Gas= About $350

Total: Just under $2000


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Of course, there are downsides to watching your money very closely during a vacation. The main objective of a vacation is to let loose and not worry about those type of things, but we really didn’t have an option. Before we left for Hawaii everybody told us “you have to go to a luau!!” Well turns out luau’s cost around $100 per person and I couldn’t justify spending that much money on food and entertainment for a night. Another downside was the lack of alcohol. Drinks are expensive and once again, it was not worth it. Also, we had to be careful about what we spent at touristy spots. For example, at Pearl Harbor, we skipped several things because there was a separate admission fee. Overall, we spent most of our time at the beach and honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

Moral of the story: I love Hotwire and a Hawaiian vacation doesn’t have to cost several thousand dollars. If you’re willing make small sacrifices, you can save a couple dollars!

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