The first time we went to Hawaii, I was skeptical. It was spring of 2013, a time following the most shattering year in our lives to date, and one where we desperately just needed to get away, be somewhere new, and be together. I’ll be honest, this was a vacation chosen by my father and sister, who had always wanted to see the islands, experience their magic; but I myself…I just wasn’t so sure. What I had seen of Hawaii in movies seemed to be very ritzy, very touristy, and very expensive. This isn’t to say that this kind of travel is not legitimate by any means, but for a girl like me who lives in her tent and prefers not to bathe, I just wasn’t so sure that it would be my thing. Would they judge me for wearing a t-shirt over my bikini in hopes of hiding a less-than-flat stomach? Would my unbathed smell offend? I mean, in those pictures of Hawaii I see everybody always looks so perfectly tanned, and perfectly toned…could I ever fit into such a picture of perfection?
As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.
From the moment you land on a Hawaiian island, any of them, you get an overwhelming feeling that you belong. You may get lei-ed at the airport, or you may not, but either way you feel darn lucky! Why? Because you’ve just landed in one of the most beautiful, friendliest and relaxed places on earth, where almost every day is a Sunday (literally). The people are tanned, sure, but then again you will be too soon enough, and just you wait until that salt-water kisses your hair! Not sure where to start? Neither were we. But if you need some ideas, here are some of the things we found in this amazing place.
THINGS TO DO IN HAWAII, IF YOU’RE NOT SURE WHAT TO DO IN HAWAII
1) Hang Ten or Hang On
My dad didn’t care what we did in Hawaii, as long as we went surfing. Now my dad is not a surfer, but for years he had been practicing the surfing lingo: all the hang tens, and the righteous, dudes, he had really worked hard at diversifying his vocab. So when we decided to hit up the islands, all he wanted to do was shoot the curls with his bras, and have a great excuse to make the shaka sign in all of his photos. According to him, surfing was in his blood, and we simply couldn’t deny him his dream. So we took surfing lessons, which were awesome, and actually caught some waves, which was also awesome. In my opinion, you just don’t feel like a real Hawaiian until you’re walking around with a surfboard under your armpit. And if you actually know how to use it? Even better! Sure, it can be frustrating not being able to catch anything while the more experienced locals surf rings around you; sure, the waves you do catch will be at most in chest deep water, and sure, you’ll develop a rash down your entire front side from rubbing against the surfboard for hours on end. But as Hawaiian surfer Tito says, “when you’re itching for the waves, the only lotion is the ocean.”
2) Feel the Vibe at a Hippy Party
I don’t know when the hippies first got to Hawaii. According to legend, a group of 13 of them fled protests in mainland America in 1969 and set up camp on a beach in Kauai, eventually growing the commune to around 120 individuals in 8 years. The residents, existing without electricity, indoor plumbing, or clothing, lived wild and free off the land, until local communities finally decided that their vibe and full moons were killing the tourism industry and shut down the village. The inhabitants dispersed, but apparently didn’t go very far. Today, Hawaii is still a haven for the hippy culture, with weekly markets in which you can purchase all of your on-tap Kombucha, hemp fabrics and healing crystals, and nudist celebrations in the evenings on the beaches, complete with bongo beats and some veeeeeery careful fire spinning with flaming poi balls. Trust me, it’s not to be missed, and you can even keep your pants on.
3) See the View from Above the Clouds
In a state that is basically a series of volcanoes, you really can’t come here and not climb one. And by climb I mean drive up in your automobile (we’re not crazy), to a point which may or may not be almost the summit (depends on the volcano). For islands that make you still feel as though you are immersed in the natural world, it is surprisingly accessible. And thank goodness for that! Go early and you can watch a sunrise and see the entirety of the island before the clouds roll in; go later and you can admire the sunset, and have your mind blown by the sheer amount of stars dotting the night’s sky. It is remarkable no matter which way you slice it, that feeling of being on top of the world, on top of a volcano! And if you are a little crazy, you can even cycle up and cycle down, a practice for which your friends will admire you, and locals will mock you. But hey, what do they know, it’s your vacation (see #4, below)!
4) Let Your Freedom Flag Fly
I am a girl without shame. It may have come from sleeping in countless Walmart parking lots, or washing my hair on occasion over the toilets with a bottle of water purchased from the store (don’t judge me, those were desperate times), but needless to say I found my kindred spirits in the Hawaiian people. Being a constant stone’s throw from a beach, and constantly enjoying beach-like weather, the bikini-under-the-clothes becomes a daily occurrence after a while. Consequentially, the change-out-of-a-wet-bathing-suit-in-a-devious-manner-in-the-wide-open is a maneuver perfected by every islander. A well placed sarong or enormous mumu, and you too can drop trou in the grocery store parking lot without offending or drawing too much attention. It’s a trick I saw practiced time and again by Hawaiians of all ages, and it’s the very thing that made me feel as though I truly belonged amongst them.
5) Snorkel with the Locals
You’re in Hawaii, surrounded by ocean…literally…there it is, on every side. So you may as well go in. Not only is that saltwater bath fabulous for both your hair and complexion, but depending on the island you may have the chance to swim with the local fauna, most of which are absolutely adorable and about as chill as the people on land. Sea turtles come in to feed and play in the surf along most of the beaches, which can be both a joy and a shock when one comes up for air right beside you, peering at you through giant googly eyes like a squishy toy. They don’t seem to know that you’re there, or care really, which when it comes to sea turtles I am not surprised. If you’ve ever seen “Finding Nemo,” you know the character of most of the sea turtles in the ocean…just turtling around and riding the waves. One word of warning, however, no matter how much you may want to, there is no riding of the sea turtles…these are protected creatures, and even touching them as they swim by is considered a punishable offense.
For the more adventurous snorkelers (or scuba divers), there’s also the chance to swim with Manta Rays off of some of the islands. And that is an absolutely fantastic thing to do. Manta Rays, unlike their stingier cousins, are actually about as dangerous as belly button lint, which is to say, not at all. And they only come near the shore at night, feeding on plankton and swirling around in circles like underwater laundry machines. So to swim with them, you have to go out at night, enjoy an epic Hawaiian sunset (perhaps complete with a Green Flash), hold some lights under the water to attract the plankton, and wait for the show. I know, it’s a lot to ask! But trust me, it’s completely worth it. Within a little while these gentle giants are literally dancing right below you (and sometimes right against you), rolling over and over and over and over in an attempt to eat as much as they can (and because it’s probably super fun and feels like flying). And as an added bonus, they all have little smiley faces on their underside, which makes them all look super happy and squishable. Same thing here though: no matter how cute those little smileys are, you cannot, nor should you, ride the Manta Rays. Mostly because you’d probably throw up from all that spinning.
6) Enjoy the Local Cuisine
Every country or region in the world has the food for which it is darn proud, and Hawaii is definitely no exception. For the gourmet, there’s locally grown coffee, macadamia nuts, fresh-caught seafood, and poke – essentially sashimi, smothered in everything from fresh-pressed oil (classy) to mayonnaise (still classy), depending on where you buy it. You can get Kombucha on tap, fresh lychees and pineapples, and coconuts hacked to perfection by the guy on the side of the road. And if your tastes are a little less complex, there is always Hawaiian Shaved Ice (a.k.a. the BEST sno-cone you’ll ever have) or Loco Moco – literally translated “crazy mucous,” (which is what it looks like) and consisting of fried eggs, a hamburger patty, rice and gravy. Delicious.
But of course the food that perhaps Hawaiians are most fond of is Spam. In fact, the collective islands consume over 7 MILLION cans per year! You can find it in McDonald’s, in your eggs, in your sushi (an Obama favorite), on your macadamia nuts, and even in your ice cream. Yes, folks, the versatility of Spam is endless, so why not stock up today?
7) Get Lei-ed
Of course, no trip to Hawaii would be complete without that time-honored tradition: attending a luau. Ok, a lot of trips to Hawaii would be complete without attending a luau, but you’ve gotta say you’ve done it at least once. I’ve gone twice, and I regret nothing. Luaus vary across the islands, but they usually include the same basic ingredients:
- A gorgeous outdoor setting, which in Hawaii is actually not that hard to find
- Getting lei-ed in some fashion at the door, so keep a breath mint handy
- A variety of traditional mushy foods, most of which require very little chewing. Don’t question it, just eat it, it’s usually delicious.
- Mood music, just to mellow you out even more
- And some incredible dancing, with hip gyrations so vigorous you’ll expect them to fly off at any moment
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and who knows, perhaps you’ll be inspired to shake a hip or two yourself. Either way, it’s an experience, and, like the rest of Hawaii, one that you’ll never forget.
For Father’s Day, we had the honor of celebrating with the most amazing Dad ever! In trying to get the perfect Plumeria and water shot, he risked life and limb in the waves. The result, was better than we ever could have expected! Here’s what it looked like: