A Hawaiian vacation requires a lot of planning, and there are plenty of things to know before you go. If Hawaii is a destination on your bucket list, and you're poking around the internet to become inspired, or if your flight is already booked and your bags are packed, reading our list of tips you need to know before visiting Hawaii will help you a great deal!
So before your plane lands, and before you slurp down your first Mai-tai with Hawaiian sand in between your toes, keep on reading to learn about some of our highly recommended tips for traveling.
— article continued below —
Updated 2023 Hawaii Visitor Guides
If you're visiting Hawaii soon, be sure to download a copy of one of our updated 2023 Hawaii Visitor Guides. We've updated the packets with a lot of new great information for potential visitors (and for those who've been a time or two as well).
Aloha Is a Way of Life
Aloha is not only a popular way to say hello and goodbye in Hawaiian. Aloha is also very much an ongoing lifestyle. Aloha as a way of life is characterized by easygoingness, friendliness, and feeling welcomed.
The Aloha lifestyle is one of the many reasons why visitors to Hawaii love it so much. They are able to feel welcomed, relaxed, and completely unwind during their stay. When you visit Hawaii, try to embody the Aloha way of life.
Learn to Speak Hawaiian
Learning and using a few simple words and phrases in the local Hawaiian language is considered a sign of respect. It shows that you've taken the time to learn about the culture and are interested in interacting thoughtfully with the locals during your time on the Island.
Locals tend to enjoy speaking and teaching Hawaiian to intrigued travelers. But don't worry, English is widely spoken, so being fluent in Hawaiian is not required.
Visit the Local Cultural Centers
Another fantastic way to learn about the culture attached to the geographic location you are visiting is to visit local museums and cultural centers. Traveling to Hawaii isn't just about surfing and sunbathing.
There is also immense amounts of intriguing information related to the history of the Hawaiian islands. Spending some time to inform yourself about local Hawaiian culture is also a good idea before arriving.
Eat the Local Food
Local food is one of those irreplaceable components that every good trip abroad contains. Unfortunately, sometimes, we get caught eating in restaurants or ordering room service that serves food similar to ours.
Sure, some comfort food is nice if you are feeling homesick. But delving into the rich array of Hawaiian cuisine is guaranteed to make your trip more delicious. If you are nervous about trying new foods, start small and simple.
Remember, it's that act of trying something new that is important. Chances are, you won't be disappointed!
Remember, Not Every Local Person is Hawaiian
It is believed that the Island of Hawaii has been inhabited since 124 AD and was first settled by the Polynesians. The descendants that came afterward are those who claim native ancestry to the land and who many would consider being Hawaiian.
However, not every local on the Island is Hawaiian. During the 1800s, Hawaii received an influx of immigrants, resulting in today's rich diversity of people all across the islands. So to be respectful, be careful not to mix up Hawaiian with long-time locals.
Lei Etiquette is Important
Leis are one of the most popular and colorful symbols we think of when we imagine Hawaiian culture. In fact, each Hawaiian Island has its own traditional lei. To this day, leis are very important and even possess their own etiquette.
When you arrive or leave Hawaii, for example, at your hotel, you may be given a lei. It's a symbol of aloha and affection. A closed (tied) lei should rest on our shoulders, half in the front and half in the back.
An open (untied) lei should be worn around the neck, with each end draped in front.
However, one should never give themselves a lei. And it's considered disrespectful to refuse a lei. Finally, when your lei begins to wilt, never just throw it away. Instead, leave it outside in the garden so it can return to the earth.
Bring your Own Bags
Single-use plastic bags are banned in many places across the Hawaiian islands. The reason for this is to try and decrease the amount of plastic trash that winds up in the surrounding ocean.
If you plan to do any grocery shopping or shopping in general, it is highly recommended to bring your own reusable bags. Supplying your own reusable bags is a sign that you're trying to be part of the solution and not the problem.
Be a Respectful Driver
Have you ever heard of 'island time'? Well, in Hawaii, island time refers to the laid-back atmosphere of day-to-day events. In other words, things can run a bit slower in Hawaii than you are used to.
This is especially true when it comes to driving. Locals call this "driving with aloha." For example, you won't hear very many honking horns. You'll notice that pedestrians get the right-of-way and that not every driver is ready to accelerate off the line like a racecar driver when the light turns green.
If you plan to rent a car during your stay, remember to drive respectfully and not in a rush.
Leave Your Shoes at the Door
For many homeowners in Hawaii, it is common to have a shoe rack by the front door. This is so visitors can take off their shoes before entering into the home.
If you are able to visit someone's home during your stay in Hawaii, be prepared to take your shoes off at the door. This is a sign of respect and helps the host keep their home a little cleaner.
Be Respectful of Sacred Sites
Hawaiian culture has roots in royalty and religious practices. As such, there are still very many sacred sites all across the Hawaiian islands. For example, if you see a sign that says kapu, then you might be on a sacred burial ground or the past-home of royalty.
If you see a sign that says heiau, then you might be near an old Hawaiian temple. If you find yourself in these areas, don't walk on them, be respectful, don't leave trash behind.
Protect the Natural Environment
Similar to the respect held for various sacred sites amongst Hawaiians is a deep respect and love for the natural environment. Environmentalism and protecting the 'aina, or land, is very important to many Hawaiians.
That is why laws against plastic bags and unsafe sunscreen have been made. As you spend time in Hawaii, it is recommended to be as environmentally friendly as possible (and once you get home, for that matter).
- Keeping your distance from wildlife
- Not littering and picking up trash you see
- Not taking anything from beaches or parks
- Practice responsible picnicking. Not all areas permit food or drink
Volunteer Your Time
One of the best ways to give back to the place you are visiting is by participating in a volunteer activity. Volunteering is also a perfect way to meet locals and continue learning about the local culture. There are lots of different ways you can volunteer during your time in Hawaii.
Ocean and beach cleanups, working with the elderly, trail maintenance, and serving the homeless are just a few ideas to help get you brainstorming. If you have an extra day or even just a few hours, volunteering will help make your trip that much more rewarding.
Schedule Your Luau for the End of your Trip
Attending a local luau is a perfect way to observe Hawaiian culture and try out some delicious foods. However, Luau's are notorious for not ending until late at night. If the first activity you attend is a Luau, you may be too exhausted, not to mention jet-lagged, from your travels, to fully enjoy the entire experience.
If you want to attend a Luau, which we recommend that you do, schedule it at the end of your trip. You can use it as a celebration of your time in Hawaii and not as a celebration of just arriving. We think you will enjoy it better if you are not falling asleep during it.
There are tons of beaches all across the Hawaiian Islands. However, not every beach is ideal for every person. For example, some beaches might be more family-friendly than others, or have safer swimming, or be more accessible.
Before you set off for the day or schedule a tour, we recommend doing some research on your beach destination ahead of time to make sure you won't be disappointed when you arrive.
Check the Weather
Checking the forecast is an important first step when scheduling your activities in Hawaii. Because of their location, the Hawaiian islands can be susceptible to storms and bad weather.
So before you go on a hike, drive to a beach or even pick the week you want to arrive at the island, make sure to double-check the forecast and the best times of the year for traveling.
Ask for Directions
If you ask a local for directions, you may hear the terms "windward" or "leeward." What are these words? Well, the Hawaiian islands are smack-dab in the middle of a major trade wind path that blows from the Northeast all year long.
These winds impact the weather on the islands in specific ways. This is because the part of the island that faces the wind is windward, while the opposite side of the Island is leeward. The windward side of the Island is always wetter than the drier leeward side. Because of this, windward and leeward have become used as a way to talk about directions.
Similarly, locals may give directions, for example, when talking about where they live, by saying they live kai way, or closer to the ocean, or Mauna way, which is closer to the mountains.
Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen
If you plan to enter into the ocean at all, you will need to guarantee that the sunscreen you're using is considered reef-safe.
The reason for this being that some sunscreens contain harmful chemicals that can damage the marine life and coral reefs off the coast of the Islands. Sunscreens that are not reef-safe are actually considered illegal under Hawaiian law.
Don't Leave Valuables in your Rental
If you have rented a car and want to use it to access the beautiful beaches scattered all across the Island of Hawaii that you are visiting, remember not to leave any valuables in the car when you leave it parked to enjoy your day.
Unfortunately, car break-ins are notoriously common across the islands. If you have valuables, we recommend leaving them in the hotel room and only traveling with the bare minimum.
Practice Ocean Safety
The ocean is a majestic thing. But it can also be very dangerous. Unfortunately, the ocean surrounding Hawaii can sometimes be unsafe. Large waves, rip currents, and harmful wildlife can all put you at risk when you are in the ocean.
If you are planning activities in the water, like swimming, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, etc., then you will want to do your research. If you plan on swimming or surfing, check the conditions ahead of time, and make sure to do so on designated beaches with lifeguards.
If you want to snorkel or dive, do so as part of a tour, so a guide can help keep you safe.
Try a House or Condo Instead of Hotel
Hotels can be extremely pricey all across the Hawaiian islands. Booking a rental home or condo can be a good way to save money.
Not to mention that if you are traveling a group, splitting the cost multiple ways is great for saving money. Plus, with certain amenities like a kitchen, washer, dryer, you'll be able to save on cooking and laundry.
To Rent or Not to Rent?
Renting a car can help you save money by avoiding hiring transportation every time you want to go out. Plus you can move around freely and avoid having to travel in large tour groups.
However, it may not be completely necessary if you are staying in a walkable city like Waikiki or Honolulu. Rent a car only if it fits your travel style and if you're visiting a larger city.
Save Money on Food
Getting food transported to Hawaii is expensive. Those costs are then transferred to you as the consumer. As such, it's important to save money when you can when it comes to grocery shopping in Hawaii. If you want to save money on food, consider these tips:
- Buy snack foods for in between meals
- Prepare your own lunches
- Don't eat out every night
- Shop at larger chain stores
- Buy in bulk
Different coupons and discount codes can be found all over. Before your trip to Hawaii, we recommend searching out coupons and collecting discount codes for the different activities you want to do once you arrive. Websites like Groupon are perfect for saving money during your travels
Look for Free Activities
Paying for a service is often times the best way to guarantee that you have a good experience. There is something to say about hiring a professional tour guide or agency to ensure that you reap the most out of your investment.
Plus, you are supporting the local business and larger Hawaiian economy. However, there are also ways to search out free activities in order to save some money.
Be Strategic with Your Airfare
One of the best ways to save money on your visit to Hawaii is to be frugal with the money you are spending on airfare. There are some tried and true tips for saving money on flights and getting the lowest possible price:
- Book your flight well in advance
- Be flexible with travel days
- Set up price alerts
- Be careful about hidden fees
- Book your flight with travel points
- Research and compare costs across multiple website platforms
There’s No Such Thing as a Long Weekend Trip to Hawaii
Hawaii is quite a jaunt from anywhere, since it’s literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. That means jet lag is a real issue. You don’t want to waste any of your precious island time having to sleep off an airplane hangover, so make sure your trip is long enough to allow recovery time.
The flight itself is lengthy enough that travel time will take up the majority of your day (or night), so flying in on Friday afternoon and leaving on Sunday evening just isn’t an option. Make sure to allow yourself a solid week in paradise to maximize your time.
Check Out Japanese Holidays
Hawaii is a popular destination for those coming from Japan, as well as the US. There are a few holidays, “Golden Week” being one of them, when the islands are really crowded. This can make navigating the heavily trafficked areas very difficult, since space is so limited.
Times of high tourism are also likely to experience a hike in pricing, especially airfare and hotel stays. Prices on entertainment are also likely to go up during these times.