1. Wear head-to-toe Aloha wear.
When I first moved to Hawai’i I’ll admit I REALLY wanted to wear all the Aloha wear. By “Aloha wear” I mean the bright floral print shirts, dresses, skirts, even shorts.
As soon as I got settled in Honolulu, I wanted to trade in my former uniform of “all black-all the time”, for the bright, tropical colors of the “Hawai’i in my head”. Then I woke up out of my Aloha Print Fever Dream and looked around.
Local Hawai’i people certainly wear Aloha print clothing for special occasions, “Aloha Fridays” at work, or just cuz. But nothing screams TOURIST more than head-to-toe Aloha wear all day, every day. There is a line between complementing your wardrobe with Aloha print shirts, and a costume.
During my days in retail, I always knew a tourist when a man would come into the store wearing matching Aloha print shirt and shorts with a coordinated plastic lei around his neck. His traveling companion might be in a equally matchy-matchy Aloha print dress and plastic lei with a plastic flower in her hair.
It’s like the Waikiki of the resort luau and hula girl-emblazoned postcard threw up on them.
You may also want to fight the urge to wear a colorfully printed pa’u, or traditional hula skirt, when you’re hanging out at the bar. Someone might ask you which hālau (hula school) you dance with, and when you say, “Uh…I don’t,” you’ll feel a little silly and disrespectful.
I know because I did, and I DID.
2. Discuss life “back in the US.”
I’ll stay it again: Hawai’i is part of the United States.
Okay, I never made this error while in my Hawai’i resident infancy. But again, while working retail, I met a shocking amount of visitors who talked about life “back in the US.”
Nothing will set off more eye-rolls or tight-lipped “smiles” than when a local asks a someone where they’re from and their reply is, “America.”
Is George Washington on the dollar bill you just used to pay for your malasada (a favorite pastry in Hawai’i) at Leonard’s Bakery? You may not be in Kansas anymore, but you’re still in America.
3. Act terrified of the ocean.
Going to the beach was a free, relaxing activity I loved taking advantage of in Hawai’i when I had the time. I’d grab a towel, some sunscreen, maybe a book, and drag my bikini-clad butt to the nearest seashore.
From my favorite vantage point in the water, bobbing around a ways out from shore, I’d sometimes entertain myself with a little game I’d call, “Spot the Tourist.”
Full grown adult tip-toeing into the water and shrieking every time a wave comes rolling in? ‘
Standing waist deep in the surf for 30 minutes while debating whether or not to take the plunge?
Pool toys, neon-colored snorkel masks, huge beach balls (that they’re afraid to chase after when they float out to the “deep end”), giant inflatable islands in tow?
From my view beyond the beach balls but not quite to the stand up paddlers, I’d giggle a little because many years ago that was me. It took me a while to really make friends with the ocean.
But the next time you’re heading out to one of Hawaii’s postcard-worthy beaches (so, any of them), consider keeping it simple and just diving right in. Without having to keep track of all your stuff, you’ll be able to look around and soak up paradise that much more.
4. Judge the locals for not conforming to the pace of life back home.
If you’re on vacation in Hawai’i, be on vacation IN HAWAI’I. That is, unclench a bit and enjoy the culture.
When I first moved to Honolulu, I made the mistake of comparing people, places, and things to my mainland US people, places, and things. I wasn’t open, and in retrospect I wasn’t being fair.
“Why can’t everyone and everything move faster? Why can’t people just say ‘north or south, east or west’ when giving directions? Why can’t they just be flip flops, not slippahs?”
I’ll say it for you: I was the worst.
But a lot of the tourists I encountered over the years were the same way. Rushing around, attempting to bully locals into doing things they way they do back home — that aggression just doesn’t fly in the “Aloha State”.
I once watched a woman and her companion (I kid you not, decked out in Aloha wear, fanny packs, and cameras) at 7-Eleven get all huffy and audibly annoyed when the cashier took a few extra seconds to ask a regular customer how his uncle was doing, and if he was done with work for the day. It was just a few seconds, really.
“Can you believe these people?” she muttered a little too loudly.
After she left the cashier and I exchanged commiserating chuckles as I paid for my butter mochi. What a relaxing vacation?
Part of the beauty of Hawai’i is that the culture often has a different pace, a different rhythm. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. Isn’t that why you decided to visit in the first place? (Okay fine, that and the beaches.)
And while local Hawai’i people are generally a friendly and kind bunch, dealing with a finicky or pushy tourist determined to make their vacation fit into “their Hawai’i” ideal can try the patience of even the most laidback local.
5. Refuse to embrace what you are: a tourist.
You are what you are — there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. In my opinion, it’s how you do it that counts.
It’s easy to get swept up in how movies and television portray “Hawai’i.” But the more people who visit the islands and are actually open to experiencing more than the “hotel Hawai’i,” the more the stereotype of the “bumbling tourist” can be put to rest. So many of the tourist traps and stereotypes stem from a place of misunderstanding, overdoing it, or even trying too hard.
So to anybody wanting to visit Hawai’i, but not wanting fall into tourist stereotypes I say this: Accept that you are a tourist.
You are a guest in Hawaii’s house. You don’t have to be like all the locals, you don’t have to make the locals be like you. Respect the differences that make Hawai’i such a fantastic vacation destination, but also remember that long after you fly away, Hawai’i is many people’s home.