How to Love Hawaii Like a Local


"Aloha!  E komo mai Hawaii nei!!" When the military sends you here, that greeting might not make you happy.

Mahalo nui loa to Kate for her article on "Why Hawaii Living Isn't Really Paradise.” (A dozen of my friends forwarded it to me!)  My family and I love Hawaii, but that life isn't for everyone.

So let me help you get a good start here -- or at least help you cope if the assignment officer calls with "good news".

My spouse and I were ordered to Oahu in 1989 and we plan to stay for the rest of our lives. We grew up near the East Coast but our Navy careers spent more time outside the Mainland than on it: Scotland, Spain, the Azores, Hawaii, and deployments all over the Western Pacific. Our daughter was born and raised here, and now at her Mainland college she misses the islands every day.

Hawaii's culture is a big change, and not everyone wants to leap into a new life. If you've never even visited here before then spend some time with some of the resources I’ m about to share. Learn a little of the geography and current events before you get on the plane, and the transition will be much smoother.

Want to take a chance on Hawaii? Try to live like a local. It's a lot cheaper than replicating Mainland life, and we'll appreciate your effort. We love our cultures and we're happy to share our favorite places, foods, and activities. When your tour ends, hopefully you'll always have warm memories of your Hawaii days. 10 Ways to Live Like a Local and Learn to Love Hawaii Love it or hate it. You'll have a definite opinion of island life. Most (like me) never want to leave, but some quickly get "rock fever.” Reach out to your new neighbors for support.

Know the lifestyle bias. No matter how hard you're working here, everyone on the Mainland will assume that you live on the beach and play all day in the surf.

Tackle isolation. Visits will always be complicated. Mainland family or friends think it's so far and so expensive.(Flights are 5-10 hours long.) Some island residents chafe at not "being there" for Mainland parents and relatives. Facebook and Skype help a lot.

Enjoy the weather. Hawaii has four seasons too! Summer is a little warmer with higher surf on the south shore, winter is a little cooler with bigger surf on the North Shore. Spring is rainy, and fall gets hot when the tradewinds stop. Haleakala and Mauna Kea get winter snow. You won't have a heating bill. Depending on where your home is, you may not need air conditioning either.

Learn to drive with aloha. Most highway speed limits are 55 mph. You try to live close to work/school and stay off the roads during rush hours. Drivers are more polite here; we'll let you merge, and we will NOT use our horns – although a "howzit honk" is fine.  Bicycle lanes are getting better. Buses are not as frequent as they could be, but light rail is coming. Gas does costs over $4/gallon but the total expense is lower since you drive fewer miles.

Know your education option. Just like the Mainland, some public schools struggle. Private schools have smaller classes and more tech, but their "lifestyle cost" is high if there's a long rush-hour commute. Sylvan and Kumon offer math & reading tutoring, and parental involvement helps at any school. Kids can bloom wherever they're planted:  our daughter graduated at the top of one of Oahu's largest public schools and won a Navy ROTC scholarship to Rice University.

Keep the food costs low by eating local.  "Mainland" food is a luxury: raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, potatoes, cow's milk, and most cereal brands. However it's easy to grow mango, papaya, pineapple, bananas, tangerines, oranges, avocados, lemons, tomatoes and many exotic fruits and veggies. Seafood is plentiful. Local beef, chicken and pork are excellent. Local restaurants are cheaper and offer many cuisines. Instead of Tex-Mex and Indian you'll enjoy Korean BBQ and Thai curry. Hawaii's lunch wagons are the world's best.

Enjoy your easy wardrobe. Summer uniforms are worn year-round. Shoes, pants, and skirts are for business. Casual wear is t-shirts & shorts. I no longer own a suit, tie, or vest.

The bugs aren’t so bad. I've lived in Mainland places (hint: Washington, D.C.) that are far buggier.  Cockroaches and ants seek food and houseplants, so limit their access and the bugs will stay outside.  Geckos patrol the doors and windows while the tradewinds limit the mosquitoes.

Find alternate sports. No major leagues here! Pro-golf tournaments, college sports and kid's leagues are plentiful. Surfing, paddling and martial arts are popular. Want to make the locals love you? Here’s how: Leave the Mainland behind and start fresh with local culture. We want to hear about your family and your leisure activities. We're eager to share.

Pidgin, a language used by residents of Hawaii, grew from many languages of immigrant cultures. It's compact and very expressive, and it's more convenient than "proper English.” But please don't try to speak it. Instead, learn some Hawaiian words.

Do not say: "Well, back in ... we do it this way!" Try instead: "What would work here?"


Is Hawaii really that bad?!?  No, there's a reason it's called "paradise.” But it is a huge cultural shift, and many residents spend unhappy months learning the hard way.

If you're willing to adopt a different lifestyle then the islands are wonderful. The first year is full of changes, but soon you'll wonder why anyone would want to live with freezing weather or air pollution … or without surf. Here’s a few Hawaii resources: Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Civil Beat newspapers. Subscribe online now and read them for a few months. They're worth the price!

"So You Want To Live In Hawaii"  -- try finding it at your public library. "How to Live in Hawaii"[1]  a great online guide to living in Hawaii

3D Hawaii 3D maps you can tour online – thanks to 3D travel.


Doug is a retired U.S. Navy submariner and the author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence & Retirement.” The book shows servicemembers, veterans, and families how to achieve those goals on their terms, and more than 50 others shared their stories to explain the simple techniques.  He blogs at The-Military-Guide.com. All revenue from his writing is donated to military charities.

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