I was born and raised in Hawaii, and tourists' missteps and poor behavior come with the territory.
Visitors shouldn't touch the wildlife, ignore signage, or rely on ride-hailing for transportation.
It's important to plan and pack accordingly, respect local culture, and give back to the community.
Many visitors choose the wrong island for their desired experience.
Tourists who haven't done proper research are often surprised to discover that every Hawaiian island is different. In fact, each of the main four - Hawaii Island (aka Big Island), Kauai, Maui, and Oahu - offers a unique adventure.
Visitors who want to see lava flows should travel to the Big Island, which has active volcanoes, rather than planning a trip to Maui, an island with a dormant volcano.
And those keen on exploring tropical rainforests should head to Kauai instead of Honolulu, which is more of an urban jungle.
Before you start planning a trip to Hawaii, I recommend narrowing down the type of environment you want to be in and the activities you want to do during your vacation. Then you can choose the right island and start building an idyllic itinerary.
Travelers don't always think about preserving the land.
It's important for visitors to help restore and maintain tourist destinations, leaving places in better shape than they were in upon arrival.
Malama Hawaii, a program that launched in late 2020, connects tourists with organizations that offer volunteer opportunities like beach cleanups and reforestation initiatives.
In return, volunteers can receive special deals, such as a free one-night stay at specific resorts, making it a win-win scenario for everyone involved.
Mispronouncing Hawaiian words and local phrases seems to be par for the course.
When tourists mispronounce Hawaiian words, it's often an innocent mistake.
I've noticed non-Hawaiian speakers commonly mispronounce mahalo ("thank you" in Hawaiian) as "ma-halo" instead of "ma-HAH-low" or say "shaved ice" instead of "shave ice."
Many local phrases derive from Pidgin, a creole language that's spoken in Hawaii, which is why some words are pronounced differently than they are in mainland English.
But some visitors purposely pronounce words incorrectly to make fun of the language.
One time, I heard someone mockingly attempt to say humuhumunukunukuapua'a, the name of Hawaii's state fish. And when my friend corrected a person's pronunciation of Maui, our home island, they doubled down and told her she was wrong.
Both of these situations were incredibly disrespectful.
That being said, it would be even worse for tourists to not try to learn any Hawaiian words at all. So when newcomers visit the islands, they shouldn't be afraid to ask a local for help.
Some people don't wear enough sunscreen, and others use the wrong kind.
I often see tourists using spray sunscreen, which can be damaging to the ozone layer and reefs.
Though the state of Hawaii officially banned the sale and distribution of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate in 2021, that hasn't stopped visitors from bringing their own.
Travelers should double-check that any sunscreen they purchase is reef-safe (bonus points if it's in a reusable or recyclable container).
And people should always remember to reapply. It pains me to see tourists who get sunburned within the first few days of their vacation.
Choosing to eat at fast-food chains over local restaurants is a missed opportunity to try a new cuisine.
I can't help cringing when I see tourists eat fast food that they can get at home. Of course, there are valid exceptions, like those who rely on certain foods for health reasons or have kids who are picky eaters.
Food is an incredible way to connect with any culture, and forgoing local dishes is a missed opportunity. Plate lunches from a local Hawaiian barbecue spot are guaranteed to be delicious and can be even cheaper than some fast-food meals.
If you really have to go to a chain restaurant, at least try something unique, such as the Hawaii-specific menu at McDonald's, which features a breakfast platter with Portuguese sausage and a traditional Hawaiian coconut dessert called haupia pie.
Relying on public transportation and ride-hailing is a mistake.
People seem to think that being on an island means everything will be within walking distance, but that's not always the case.
For a bit of perspective, driving from my home in Lahaina to the heart of Hana on the other side of Maui takes about two hours and 30 minutes, and that's without making any stops to sightsee. None of the bus routes go there, either.
Additionally, many places close pretty early, especially if you're staying in a smaller town. If you're out partying until the last call at a local bar, there's a high likelihood you won't be able to get a taxi or other ride-hailing option back to your accommodations.
Tourists should rent a car (and have a designated driver) to give themselves the freedom to explore at their leisure.
Many visitors underestimate the ocean's power.
People should always be aware of their surroundings, especially when they're at the beach.
They should opt for places that have lifeguards on duty, never turn their back on the ocean, and keep their distance from the shore break.
If someone is in the water and gets caught in a rip current, they shouldn't swim against it. Instead, they should swim parallel to the shore.
And if someone can't escape by swimming, they should float or tread water and signal for help if needed. Any onlookers who see someone in distress should find a lifeguard or call 9-1-1.
Tourists don't always understand the significance of the locations they're visiting.
I grew up in Lahaina, which was the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom before King Kamehameha III moved it to Honolulu in 1850.
Today, many tourists come to my hometown in Maui to visit the shops and restaurants in the downtown area. Many don't realize they're walking past significant landmarks, such as the United States' largest banyan tree or Queen Keōpūolani's grave.
Local tip: There's a walking tour in Lahaina that you can take on your own or with a guide to learn more about the location's history and culture.
Some visitors who are clearly not residents try to get local discounts.
Just because a person owns a timeshare in Hawaii doesn't mean they qualify for a local discount, which is meant to help offset the high cost of living here and incentivize residents to support local businesses.
To receive these discounts, residents are required to show proof of residence with a Hawaii ID and be able to pronounce "kama'āina."
And if you don't know what that word means without looking it up on the internet, you're not eligible.
Tourists often ignore important signage.
People should never go beyond signs that read "kapu," a warning that they may be encroaching on sacred land or putting themselves in danger by traversing into uncharted territory.
Regardless of what the signage says, ignoring it is disrespectful to local communities. Tourists should really make a point to adhere to them.
Because people assume the weather is always hot, many pack the wrong clothes.
Though Hawaii is a tropical paradise, visitors need more than just swimwear.
Many areas are prone to rain, and depending on the time of year temperatures on Mauna Kea have dipped as low as 12 degrees Fahrenheit.
Be prepared for all weather, because you never know where your island adventures might take you. For instance, the first time I ever saw snow was at Maui's Haleakalā National Park.
I've seen people spend money on overpriced souvenirs instead of local art.
On Hawaii's main islands, it's easy to fall into tourist traps. Countless souvenir shops sell overpriced items, many of which are imported from other places.
I wish more tourists would refrain from buying gimmicky trinkets that will probably break by the time they arrive back home, if not sooner. Instead, they should support local artists who put their heart and soul into their work.
Buying local goods, like a hand-carved tiki or traditional leis, can also be a wonderful way to connect with Polynesian culture.
Tourists don't always keep a proper distance from wildlife.
I will never forget the day I was at Ho'okipa Beach Park, a popular place to witness green sea turtles sunbathing on the sand, and had to stop a tourist from accidentally sitting on one of the animals. They mistakenly thought it was a rock.
People should stay at least 10 feet away from turtles, 150 feet away from dolphins or monk seals, and 300 feet away from whales.
If they're swimming in the ocean and one of these creatures gets close to them, they should show it respect by giving it space and not touching it.
Tourists should also never feed the wildlife - not even land animals, like chickens and stray cats.
People turn their backs on the sunset too early and miss the magical afterglow.
The sunset is certainly not over once the sun is out of sight. But every time I watch this daily event from a busy spot, a lot of the tourists leave way too soon.
The afterglow is almost always the best part, so visitors should take their time to truly savor the spectacular views until all the colors have faded away.
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