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What I learned from my time in Hawaii
I was featured on a travel podcast called We Travel There, where I talked about living in Hawaii and where to go if you're in O'ahu.
Sometimes, the best holidays are the ones where you never leave. I’m just joking. But seriously, I never intended to live in Honolulu or have a burning desire to experience island life, but here I am, a year and a half later.
Hawaii had opened up again after lockdowns and I jumped at the chance to get out of Oakland and visit my sister. It was my sixth time on the island and each time I’d visited, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could ever live here beyond a week or two. What would it be like? How quickly would I get island fever and how bad would it be?
The pandemic caused mass relocations and the great resignation and I was a part of both movements. My work was indefinitely remote, so after my five-year stint in The Bay Area, l put my things in storage and bid farewell.
Honolulu had become quite the hot spot for remote workers who, like me, wanted to float around. During my time here, I met a few transient folks who were cheating the 9-5 grind for blue waters and warm breezes. But I have yet to meet anyone who actually takes their laptop to the beach. I think that’s just a silly myth.
At first, I wanted to stay to enjoy the island’s slower pace, practice yoga, and hike regularly. What was supposed to be only a month turned into two, then four, and eventually, I found a condo and signed a one-year lease.
And now that my lease is coming to a swift end, I wanted to honor my time on this beautiful rock and write about my time in O’ahu. To me, living in a new place or traveling is about noticing all the little things. The tiny and the mundane that give you greater insight into the people and culture.
Perhaps my views will help you better understand what it’s like to really live here. I’ve graduated from tourist status. I definitely don’t claim to be a local, but I do know a helluva lot more than I did when I was just a visitor who thought Waikiki was the shit.
To me, Hawaii is no longer associated with hotels and brightly colored cocktails topped with little umbrellas. Sometimes, I feel like I live on a different planet. A planet with breathtaking views and perfect weather. A place where Amazon deliveries take a week instead of two days, and you’ll see rainbows even when there’s no rain.
The aloha spirit
Forget the perfect, year-round 80-degree weather and unique artwork of puffy clouds waiting to be admired each day. The part I love most about Hawaii is the warm and welcoming people. The Aloha spirit is real. It’s hard to fully experience it unless you live here.
Hawaiians deserve an award for incredible customer service. Go to any Starbucks, Walmart, even the DMV, and you’ll always see smiley, cheerful people.
I never thought about how important it was to be around a nice community of people, even if they’re complete strangers. The only downside is that I’m spoiled. I’m way quicker to notice bad customer service or when people are jerks.
What road rage?
A few weeks ago, I accidentally cut this lady off and in my first-ever confrontation on the road, she pulled up next to me and shouted, “Learn how to drive you dumb #$*@!” I turned in her direction, smiled, and waved.
I love driving in Hawaii. You need a car to get around and a few months into living here, I bought my island beater, complete with a cute rainbow license plate.
If you’ve ever visited, you’ve probably noticed how slow everyone drives. The speed limit on the freeways is only 50 mph. When I thought about it, it makes sense. What’s the hurry when you can only go in a circle? No joke, I had a conversation with my sister recently about feeling scared when I’m in a car that’s going 70 or 80.
On the island, shaka hand signals will get you everywhere. It’s your ticket to merging into jam-packed lanes, it’s the aloha thank you too. Drivers actually say thanks and you’re welcome. If you want to get into a lane, get your shaka sign ready. Also, don’t honk. Only tourists do that.
Even if you don’t use shakas, I rarely have problems with asshole drivers. Plus, a lot of folks here are Asian senior citizens—harmless rule followers. They just want to make it safely from point A to B.
When you move to a new place with 95 percent of your crap locked away in storage, it forces you to stop buying more crap. I got here with two suitcases but realized I didn’t need to bring half the clothes in them. Forget long sleeves or jeans. All you need are a pair of solid flip-flops, sneakers, and hiking shoes.
Each time I go back to Cali, I’ve been lugging back the stuff I don’t need or even dropping it off at Goodwill. My closet is 95 percent empty and my apartment only has a bed and desk. During my time here, I’ve turned down several offers to get a free TV and couch from people moving away. I’m glad I said no. I don’t want any more stuff.
The condo I rent is 450 square feet but feels much larger. The physical space and emptiness help me feel tidy on the inside. That Marie Kondo stuff has so much truth to it.
I’m not busy thinking about finding room to organize my stuff or throwing things away.
Hawaii is great but it can’t always be rainbows and puppies. The first time I experienced island fever, was when I stayed on the island for two consecutive months.
When I lived in Oakland and felt like I needed to get out, I would drive out to Point Reyes for a long hike, head to Tahoe in the winter for boarding, or go on a road trip to a different state.
The most you can do here is travel to the other side of the island, mostly to Kailua, North Shore, or Makaha.
Surprisingly, I got used to always having a bit of island fever. The fact that I’m leaving soon definitely helps with appreciating every last drop of Hawaii.
But overall, I’ve learned to be more patient and to be okay with staying put. Boredom can follow you anywhere if you let it.
I’m not perfect at it, but I’ve become less inclined to book a flight whenever I feel bored or anxious.
The 1990s vibe
The island of O’ahu hasn’t changed much since back in the day. Besides the new high-rise condos and a few modern shopping centers, everything is dated. Architecture hasn’t quite caught up to the rest of the mainland.
The Windward Mall near Kaneohe reminds me of the one in the town where I grew up, complete with brown carpets, an arcade, and a Red Robins.
Mostly, I don’t notice it that much anymore—except when I’m at the airport. I loathe the Honolulu Airport. There are parts of the airport that look permanently shut down. Like they have no plans to ever open the stores again or build something new. They never have enough people working at Starbucks and the Southwest terminal is like stepping into 1965. I digress…
So, goodbye for now
I know I will leave Hawaii with fond memories. So many amazing things happened while I was here.
The Pacific Ocean that sits between my folks and me somehow brought us closer together. Living a block away from my sister always brought me comfort, too.
With all of the “boredom” I sometimes struggled with, I channeled that energy into my writing. Not to mention I went back to consulting, and I couldn’t be happier with my work schedule and the writing I do for the awesome clients I have.
I’m leaving the island a better person than I was when I stepped foot on it a year and a half ago. Thank you, Hawaii. You’ll always have a special place in my heart.