Culture Shock | 10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Hawaii

Photo: Falco Emert/Flickr Creative Commons

Hawaii is one of the most sought after travel destinations in the world and boasts some of the best weather, surf and beaches you’ll ever see. Though technically a part of the United States, Hawaii has an entirely different culture, history and even language than the mainland. So even if you’re just a state away, there’s some lifestyle differences you need to know before traveling to Hawaii.

“Island time” is a real thing.

Photo: Brian Uhreen/Flickr Creative Commons.

Don’t expect to be anywhere on time, and please for goodness sake don’t go around honking your horn if the car in front of you is traveling under the speed limit. The culture in Hawaii is laid back and patient, meaning mainlanders need to practice their chill when driving or biking.

Not every “local” is Hawaiian.

Photo: Oye Creations/Flickr Creative Commons.

The term “Hawaiian” refers to people of Hawaiian decent, not people who are born or live in Hawaii. True “Hawaiians” actually only make up around 9% of the population. If someone is born in the state or has lived there for a few years, they’re referred to as “locals.”

They have snow (and you can ski on it).

Photo: Charlie Hasselhoff/Flickr Creative Commons.

The Big Island of Hawaii has many different climate zones, ranging from wet, dry, ocean and even tundra climates! The volcano Mauna Kea’s summit gets just enough snow to ski and snowboard, so if you get sick of the beach and beautiful sunsets, head up to the mountain and cool off.

Read the warning signs at the beach.

Photo: Floyd Manzano/Flickr Creative Commons

They’re there for a reason and can inform swimmers and surfers about any potential hazards or dangers, as well as animal life to watch out for. Take particular notice if the signs say for advanced swimmers only – this could be due to a gnarly undertow, precarious currents or dangerous tides.

Hula isn’t just for hot locals.

Photo: Ricardo Mangual/Flickr Creative Commons

The hula is a complex dance that celebrates the histories of gods and goddesses, nature, values and history through movement. It’s a traditional dance that’s not just for women. In fact, true hula has roles for both male and female, and you should definitely catch a show while you’re on the island.

Kapu means “sacred” but it also usually means forbidden.

Photo: jtriefen/Flickr Creative Commons.

Throughout the islands, you may see signs that say kapu. This means the site is sacred and may be forbidden for tourists. If there is no sign that discourages entry, visitors should treat the site with respect, as these spots can range from ancient burial grounds to sacred meeting places.

Pineapples are more expensive here than where you’re from.

Photo: Eugene Kim/Flickr Creative Commons.

In fact, costs for food, gas and rent costs about 30% more on average than the mainland. This is not only because the costs to ship food by boat is more expensive than by rail, but also because grocery stores have to keep higher stocks of food in case of emergencies. That being said, eat all the pineapple, guava and dragon fruit your heart desires, but know you’re going to pay for it.

You should definitely say aloha whenever you can.

Photo: Prayitno/Flickr Creaative Commons.

Hawaii has two official languages, English and Hawaiian, and there’re some words every traveler needs to know before going. Aloha means “hello,” “goodbye” and “love.” Mahalo means “thank you” and wikiwiki means “fast.” Oh, and Hawaii’s state fish is called the humuhumunukunukuapua’a and it’s pronounced “who-moo-who-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-pooah-ah.”

Try the traditional Hawaiian food.

Photo: takaokun/Flickr Creative Commons.

Food like poi, a starchy, fermented paste made from taro root, and laulau, pork wrapped and cooked in taro root leaves are absolutely delicious and hard to find on the mainland, so enjoy it while you can! Also, slow-cooked Kalua pig and poke should be enjoyed whenever possible.

Every island is different.

Photo: Floyd Manzano/Flickr Creative Commons.

Before booking your travel, do some research to see what island works best for your trip. Though they are all part of the same state, there are 6 main islands with unique cultures, sites, and activities. If you’re going on a long vacation, try to hit as many islands as you can. If you have a limited time, make a list of your expectations for vacation and pick the island from there!


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