A vacation to Hawaii can conjure up many images. Whether it brings to mind last year’s relaxing family vacation, the romantic honeymoon from ten years ago, the condo you purchased along the water, or the great time you had with old friends, Hawaii is a top vacation spot that represents something different for everyone. If you’ve ever traveled to the islands, then you know what the lure is all about – barefoot walks on soft sand, sitting outside on balmy evenings, flavorful dishes and fresh fish. The Hawaiian islands epitomize the escape we seek from the daily doldrums of working life.
Many times, first–time travelers to new places don’t want people to know that they’re unfamiliar tourists who don’t know the first thing about the place. Yes, we might spill the beans to the curious, friendly couple in the hot tub (“This is our first time in Hawaii!“), but when it comes to that innate desire to fit in, we like to keep a low profile and a demeanor that doesn’t scream, “I’m a tourist!”
Although Hawaii is one of the 50 United States, it has a culture different than any other place on earth. A blend of Pacific Islander, Asian, European, and American ethnicities, this unique archipelago has a pidgin language amongst the locals, and a blend of cultural traditions and norms that is quite distinctive. To help you to understand the Hawaiian vibe and look less like a tourist, here are a few untouristy travel tips for Hawaii.
Learn the local lingo
Though English is the official language, in Hawaii they spice it up a bit. Learning a few Hawaiian words will be useful on your trip. Here are some to get you started:
- Aloha (hello, goodbye, I love you)
- Mahalo (thank you)
- Kane (man, usually used on bathroom signs)
- Wahine (woman)
- Mauka or Makai (mountain or ocean, used for directional purposes)
- Pupus (appetizers)
- Ahi (tuna)
- Howzit (hi, or what’s up, but in the form of a rhetorical question)
- Shoots (okay, sounds good, whatever, bye)
- Ohana (family)
- Keiki (kids)
- Kapu (restricted, keep out)
Don’t overdo the Hawaiian shirts
The Hawaiian shirt was implemented in Hawaii as part of Aloha Fridays, which allowed business people to dress casually, instead of wearing traditional suits that were required in the business districts. The classic Hawaiian shirt has the state flower printed on it (hibiscus) and is a colorful, button-up, short-sleeved shirt. They’re attractive and comfortable, but don’t overdo this style. It’s too typical for people to assume it’s “what the locals wear” in Hawaii. It’s also not so cool to dress your entire family in matching aloha print outfits, unless this has been something you’ve wanted to do ever since you started dreaming of a Hawaii vacation.
Use a shaka or wave generously
Shakas are Hawaii’s equivalent of the peace sign. It’s a hand signal that denotes a laid-back atmosphere and can be seen used by locals everywhere. It’s good to use a shaka now and then – just make sure to get the finger positioning correct before flashing it around. (The shaka is a loose fist with the pinky and thumb sticking out.) You’ll notice locals use this gesture almost religiously when posing for photos. Also, waving is a good way to smooth over any tension, especially on the roadways. A quick wave is a way to say, “thank you” when crossing the street, cordially addressing a passerby, or making sure things are okay in almost any situation.
Lay off the horn
While your driving instructor may have taught you to use your horn in any and all traffic situations, Hawaii locals rarely if ever use their horns. Blaring a horn is almost viewed as an unnecessary attack on the person “at fault”, and if you end up using your rental car horn in traffic, you’ll probably notice some stink eye (nasty looks) coming your way.
Humility is a virtue
Humility goes a long way in Hawaii. The Hawaiian culture is strongly influenced by the Asian ethnicities present here, which explains the humble demeanor of many locals. While you’ll meet outgoing, friendly, and boisterous local people, you’ll also notice they won’t act this way while standing in a quiet line at the grocery store. Many locals strive to not stand out in a crowd, and will be extremely modest in many conversations.
These tips are designed to be helpful for travelers to Hawaii who don’t want to look like tourists. Experiment with them, and have fun on your trip. Hawaii is a beautiful and diverse state with a unique culture and feel. For more advice or tips on how to tour in Hawaii, check out Hawaii Aloha Travel!