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11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to Hawaii

Hawaii Insider Guides
by Jill Meinecke Dec 14, 2017

Hawaii is one of the best destinations to escape the winter blues, so for you to make the most of your time away from the mainland, we’ve compiled a short list of things you should know before heading that way. Here are 11 things you need to be aware of before visiting Hawaii.

1. It may be warm in Hawaii, but head to the mountains or volcanoes, and you’ll need some winter gear.

While it may be 85 degrees and sunny down at the beach, if you head up to Haleakalā on Maui in shorts and a tank top, you’re in for a rude awakening. Temperatures are at least 20 degrees cooler at the summit and often go below freezing. Pack a hat, fleece, and depending on the time of day or season, gloves and a scarf, too.

2. You can’t drive around Hawaii Island in one day.

Hawaii Island, or the Big Island, is so large, it would take you about 9 hours to drive around it with maybe one stop. You are doing a disservice to the island by trying to drive its circumference in one day. Split your time and stay overnight. Make time for Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Be sure to spend at least an afternoon in the sleepy bayside town of Hilo. Leave a day or two for Kona. Don’t try to do it all in a day.

3. Island hopping is great, but traveling slower and deeper is better.

I get it: Hawaii is, for some people, a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It might be tempting to spend a day on one island, two days on the next island, three on another, then loop back to your starting point to fly home. While you may be covering a lot of ground, the intentionality behind island life is rooted in a slower pace. Locals savor their experiences in a slow fashion. Do the same when you visit. Pick one island, one region, one town. Live there for a week. Chat with the neighbors. Shop at the local markets. Stay a while. Your Hawaii experience will be so much deeper.

4. You’ll pay higher for the essentials unless you’re savvy.

Depending on where you are in the islands, essentials like bread, milk, gasoline and even bottled water can be more expensive than you’re used to back home — in rural Maui, gas can go over $5/gallon. In order to save on these items, if you have a Costco Membership card, use it! You can stock up for your stay and avoid paying higher prices found in the tourist hubs of Waikiki, Lahaina, Kona, and Lihue. This will leave you more money for adventures.

5. If flags are up and warnings are issued, stay out of the water.

Since 2012, nearly one visitor per week on average has drowned in Hawaii. Others have sustained serious injuries, like spinal cord damage. These statistics aren’t meant to scare you away from enjoying the wonders of the ocean in Hawaii, but to remind you that the ocean is so powerful, even local watermen/women lose their lives. If waves are at an advisory level, or lifeguards have posted red flags, stay out of the water and stay away from the shoreline as well.

I once saw a family who got too close to the shoreline on the North Shore of Oahu. Their toddler daughter was nearly swept away by a rogue wave that broke on the shore. If you respect the land and ocean in Hawaii, you will be able to have a wonderful trip with cherished memories.

6. Groupon is a thing in Hawaii.

One of the most fun aspects of your vacation in Hawaii is indulging in all of the outdoor excursions — from sunset sailing, dinner cruises, parasailing, ATV riding and zip lining. Activities that require a booking or tour are pretty pricey, but most of those adventures and more can be found for a discount on Groupon. Don’t book before checking Groupon first.

7. Don’t forget your sunscreen — really.

At the risk of sounding like an overbearing mother, I’m going to warn you anyway: pack an SPF 50 sunscreen and apply it liberally — from day one. Too many travelers in Hawaii spend their time hiding from the sun after overindulging in sun worship without SPF on their first day. Practice sun worshipping in moderation, use SPF and cover up. This will allow you to soak up the Hawaiian rays throughout the duration of your trip.

8. Molokini Crater is great for snorkeling, but some of the best snorkel spots are free.

A common snorkeler’s experience is to board a boat to Molokini Crater, a half-moon crater off of Maui, to observe some sea life. Tours can be pricey, and unless it’s winter and there’s a chance of spotting a humpback whale from the boat, opt instead for some free snorkeling, which tends to be excellent. You can check out Black Rock off of Kaanapali Beach, or Honolua Bay on a calm day.

9. Pack a good raincoat.

Forget the poncho — on windward communities and hikes through the rainforest, you’re going to need a quality raincoat. Remember, Hawaii is the tropics, and it rains daily. Be prepared so you don’t have to go inside, but rather, continue to enjoy nature and her revelry from the safety of your raincoat.

10. If you’re lost, drive in the slow lane or let people pass.

Hawaii has seen an influx of visitors, and with the popularity of traveling like a local comes more tourists on the roadways in rental vehicles. This puts stress on the already-congested roadways. If you are lost and having a hard time finding your way, when it’s safe, pull over to let people pass. Also, on freeways, please drive in the slow lane. This will allow you to safely arrive to your destination while also keeping the peace with the local flow of traffic.

11. Eat food from fruit stands, food trucks, and pop-ups on the side of the road.

Don’t fall into the trap of eating at any old Cheeseburger in Paradise. Some of the best foods I’ve tasted in my life have been off-the-beaten-path, side of the road fruit stands, food trucks, and pop-up stands. There are some great fruit and banana bread stands in Maui, and Oahu’s north shore fruit stands are really great. The best Thai food I ate in my life wasn’t in Thailand (though I’ve visited), but on the side of the road in Hana on Maui. Make the stop.

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