Many people come to Hawaii for the very first time not knowing much about it. That’s where we come in. Since we are not a cookie cutter, automated travel website, we can give you the best tips to get the most out of your vacation and how to be safe when you visit. From knowing local customs to local laws, coming prepared to Hawaii will not only help you get the most out of your trip, but it will also contribute to keeping you safe.
To get you started, I’ve got a list of 12 common mistakes that people make in Hawaii, and how you can avoid them:
Not leaving Waikiki (or your resort)
Yes, there is plenty to do in Waikiki, and many resorts can keep you busy for weeks. I’ve lived on Oahu for years, and I still haven’t tried all of the restaurants I want to try in Waikiki.
And, I know that many people come to Hawaii for relaxation. But there is so much more to explore on Oahu besides Waikiki, and there are so many places to eat and see beyond the resorts. Go to the North shore and find a secluded beach. Drive up to Waimea and swim in a waterfall. Take a Jeep Tour of Hawaii’s cultural sights. Explore Pearl Harbor, museums, and other historical sights. Get out of Waikiki – you will be glad that you did!
Not trying local food
Sometimes I crave a good burger or pizza no matter where I am, but I always encourage people to get outside their comfort zones a bit and try new foods. There is a huge push towards local farming and sustainability happening in Hawaii. Restaurants pride themselves on using ingredients from local farmers and work hard to infuse Hawaiian flavors into their dishes. Try some local comfort food at Side Street Inn. Go to a farmer’s market. Check out Eat the Street – where 40+ food trucks gather and you can try lots of local favorites. Maybe try one of my favorite restaurants with views that emphasize local farms and local flavors.
Some Hawaiian foods to try include poke, shrimp trucks, spam musubi, malasadas, acai bowls, or shave ice. Go to the farmer’s markets and try fruit like lilikoi and apple bananas. Try fish like Ono, Opah, and Mahi Mahi. A luau is a great way to try traditional Hawaiian food, too!
Touching a sea turtle (or other wildlife)
It’s illegal to harass or touch both Hawaiian green sea turtles and monk seals. You can be fined up to $10,000.
These two animals are extremely endangered. There are a few beaches where turtles are known to hang out. Volunteers from Malama na Honu take turns watching over the sea turtles to make sure no one gets too close, both on land and in the water. If a sea turtle is resting on the beach, they will often rope off the area around them. They do the same for monk seals.
For more information about how to keep these animals safe, click here.
Taking lava rock
Lava rock is so cool! It’s going to be tempting, but whatever you do, do not take the lava rock! Walk on it, touch it, and photograph it instead.
The Hawaiian goddess Pele does not like it when you take lava rock. Pele is angry and vengeful. According to legend, she will get so mad if you take lava rock that she will make sure you have bad luck for the rest of your life.
And, like many Hawaiian legends, this might not just be a legend. Every year, people mail lava rocks that they took back to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hoping that Pele will forgive them and their bad luck will end!
Aside from that, it is illegal to take anything from any national park, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is where much of the lava rock is.
To that effect, please do not remove sand from Hawaii’s beaches. There is only so much of it. Enjoy the beauty and make sure that it remains for future generations.
Not wearing sunscreen
You might get away with not wearing sunscreen back home, but since we are close to the equator in Hawaii, the sun is much stronger. Make it a habit to put sunscreen on first thing in the morning and regularly reapply it throughout the day. I would hate it for you to get a terrible burn on your first day in Hawaii and then to be miserable throughout your entire vacation. Trust me, later up and reapply even if you don’t think you need to.
Also, you should ease into the sun here. During your first day in Hawaii, don’t spend the entire day in the sun. This will also help avoid a potentially serious burn.
Not learning about the culture
Learn a few simple words before you come here. Visit Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace to learn about the important historical events that happened here. Check out the Bishop Museum, the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. These places can help you learn about Hawaiian culture and the history of the islands.
I believe that learning about the culture enables you to have a deeper appreciation for any place that you visit. And, it will mean a lot to people who were born and raised here.
It is customary – and expected – for customers in restaurants, bars, and cafes to tip. Hawaii is an expensive place to live. Also, if you go on a tour and you feel that your tour guide went above and beyond for you, tips are always appreciated.
Not taking your shoes off when entering a home
If you are invited to someone’s house in Hawaii, it is expected for you to remove your shoes before entering. If you rent a condo, make sure you take your shoes off before entering as well.
Rushing to see too much in one day
Hawaii is paradise! Don’t leave more exhausted then when you came! Enjoy leisurely mornings drinking your coffee, long drives along the coastline, and make sure to enjoy plenty of beach time. Watch the sunrise or sunset. Go on long hikes. Choose a few things that you absolutely must do, and enjoy being on “island time” (yes, that is a real thing!).
And remember that traffic in Hawaii is notoriously terrible, so it does take longer than you might think to get different places.
Rental cars have stickers that make them easy to spot from a mile away. Unfortunately, people target rental cars and break into them pretty often. Don’t leave anything in your car, no matter where you are in Hawaii.
Not learning Hawaii’s laws, especially traffic/driving laws.
The police will pull you over for speeding, and fines can be up to hundreds of dollars. You can also be ticketed for jaywalking.
In addition, there is a new law that prohibits you from being on your phone while crossing the street. And you will be pulled over for touching your phone while driving – even if you are at a red life. Avoid a fine – and stay safe – by keeping your eyes on the road and off your phone!
Speaking of driving, here in Hawaii, we “drive with aloha.” Do not honk your horn unless there is a real danger. People just don’t honk here, so it will be jarring, and people will get annoyed. Of course, it is completely acceptable and important to honk if there is danger.
When we talk about driving with aloha, we talk about things like letting each other switch lanes or turn left in front of them. Trust me, being from New York, this was hard for me to get used to, but it’s so much better. Drive with aloha, and you will be surprised how much better your driving experience is!
Swimming or snorkeling alone
Sadly, many people drown each year snorkeling in Hawaii. Your chances of drowning are higher if you are swimming alone. Even if a lifeguard is present, make sure that you swim with a buddy.
Note that certain areas can be dangerous in the winter months. Certain areas are dangerous all of the time because of currents and rip tides. To be safe, swim only at lifeguard protected beaches and take note of any warning signs telling you to keep out of the water. Only trust licensed snorkel or scuba diving tour companies.
There are a lot of things that you will want to have pre-planned. Tickets to top events and seats at the best restaurants might sell out if you do not book them in advance. I would hate for you to miss out on a luau or cultural experience because you did not book ahead. And, since you don’t want to do too much in one day, it’s best to plan out the key things that you want to accomplish.
And that’s where we at Hawaii Aloha Travel come in. Utilize our blog, where we post things like Your Hawaii Packing List and always keep you posted about upcoming events.
And, of course, use our team of local travel agents ready to help you. Call us today to get planning!