The following is from my “Moving to Hawaii – The Good, Bad, and Ugly” ebook that is now free over there on the right side column.
WELCOME TO HAWAII!
If you’d rather download the MP3 to listen to later, get it here: Welcome to Hawaii Intro (right click, save as)
Passengers seated all around me on the plane cheered as the wheels of our United Airlines 747 touched down, and I thought – what is this? Why were people cheering so loudly for a plane landing?
I guess I had mixed feelings about arriving on Oahu. I was nearly five thousand miles from the place I grew up in Western Pennsylvania. I was coming to Oahu as my first duty station in the U.S. Air Force. According to everyone’s reaction around me in tech school where I received my orders, I’d hit the jackpot for my first permanent duty station at Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii. Many of my teachers at my technical training school in Biloxi, Mississippi told me that Hickam was the best assignment the Air Force had available.
I wasn’t at all sure about that. I had never even once thought about moving to Hawaii before the orders came. The only thing I ever heard or saw about Hawaii was the Brady Bunch television episode where they went on vacation and had a tarantula in one of their hotel room beds.
Flying from Pittsburgh to Honolulu took about nine hours. I didn’t sleep at all, my mind spun with possibilities. I wondered if it was possible after I arrived and didn’t like it if maybe it wasn’t too late to trade my orders to go somewhere else. I knew I was stuck in Hawaii, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I’d probably be there four years. It felt a bit like a prison sentence at the time.
After the cheers and claps, my arms tingled and I got what Hawaiians call “chicken skeenz”. Then the pilot said warmly over the speakers, “Aloha, and welcome to the lovely island of Oahu, Hawaii!” Once again, applause and cheers erupted from everyone on the plane – except me. I smiled nervously, but it was all I could manage.
Looking back on it, I couldn’t have been more clueless about what Hawaii was all about. Many of those around me on the plane already knew. They had been to the Hawaiian Islands before and they were obviously excited about returning. I remember people talking excitedly about arriving in Honolulu and all that they would do. I remember the flight attendants were gorgeous, and extra delightful. After we landed, everyone smiled, joked and laughed as if they were old friends.
Looking out the small windows of our plane as we taxied, I saw the most picture-perfect sunny day. As I walked down the corridor and stepped into the airport, I remember seeing more Asian people than I’d ever seen before in my life. We had one adopted Chinese girl in our town, and later we had a family from Vietnam that was sponsored by a family friend. Sadly, that was the extent of my seeing people from other cultures!
Everyone appeared to be so happy inside the Honolulu International Airport. It was surreal. Somewhere ukulele music played softly. The space was bright and airy. The scent of Plumeria (Frangipani), Tuberose, and Arabian Jasmine flowers hung in the air from the many leis being handed out by tour guides.
I was already completely overwhelmed with the beauty of Hawaii, and I was still in the airport!
I remember clearly, my body was tingling when I walked out of the airport on that very warm day of March 8, 1985. I was wrapped in a dreamy state that I can only describe as magical.
That first day I still remember vividly. At 11:30 a.m. after I had collected my bags, I met with Staff Sergeant Gallagher. “Bob” was my new supervisor at my job as one of the mail delivery persons at Hickam Air Force Base. We drove to the base where I checked into the dorm. There, I was also stunned by the beauty of Hickam AFB. It was like a resort! It was nice enough to be on Robin Leech’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Hickam was stunningly beautiful.
Imagine me, later that week almost slipping into a pleasure-coma when I finally got to see the beaches and ocean in Waikiki, Makapu’u, Kahana, Kailua, and the views at the Pali Lookout and the North Shore.
I walked around with my head in the clouds for weeks, not fully understanding why I was there, and not sure it wasn’t all going to just disappear when I woke up from the dream.
Fast forward to the present. I’ve seen Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, some of Cambodia, Korea, Canada, Key West, New York City, and Miami.
I’ve seen some beautiful places, but I have never experienced the same magical feeling I have in Hawaii. Hawaii is a place that defies logic and explanation. It’s too nice. It’s too perfect. It’s mystical and magical… and so many other things words cannot adequately describe.
Besides the aesthetic beauty of Hawaii, there is something else to it that really defies words. I feel like I still haven’t expressed it to you as clearly as I want to.
The natural beauty of the islands is unsurpassed. Everywhere I looked was a postcard view. Every plant was bright green and flowering. The smells in the air, the fragrance of the flowers combined with the salty air near the beaches, were all mind-numbing… and soothing.
The weather in Hawaii is nothing short of miraculous. Where else in the world is there such perfect weather? I don’t think it can be beat. The weather is always bearable, and usually what I’d call perfect. The trade winds cool things off so it doesn’t get too warm, and overall, the weather experience is part of the magic of Hawaii because there is near constant beautiful weather. Growing up with the horrible winters in Pittsburgh for the first eighteen years of my life, I felt like Hawaii was another planet.
The pure air in Hawaii outside of certain spots during rush hour is just astounding. The gentle sting in the nose of salty fresh air as one gets close to the beach where waves are breaking and on-shore wind is blowing, is one of my favorite smells and experiences ever. Inhaling this salty wet air and breathing deeply of it, gives me a peace of mind that I’ve never had before. It reinforces the idea that the islands are a magical place.
Exercising in Hawaii is great because the air is so clean and the terrain so varied. On Oahu you can run in the sand at the beach, on the sidewalk along the Ala Wai canal, or up winding dirt trails on Tantalus Mountain. Up to you! There is no shortage of physical activities you can take up in Hawaii – even snorkeling can give you a workout if you cover some ground. For me, surfing and bodyboarding were the ultimate ways to spend time in the ocean. I spent hundreds of hours in the Pacific Ocean doing those activities, along with swimming, and bodysurfing.
The waters of Hawaii where I typically swam were clean, and often times filled with fish and the occasional large sea turtle. Swimming in such an amazing place, with the possibility of seeing dolphin jumping, spinning, and flipping above the water’s surface was a lovely way to spend my free time. Seeing the occasional shark, fish, crabs, octopus, and sea turtles really gives a magical, and mysterious feeling to the islands of Hawaii.
There is always activity going on, especially on Oahu. The island is packed with fun things to do. For me, it was impossible to not have fun there. I can’t remember a bad day in Hawaii, truthfully – I cannot!
Every day is a great day. Every day is a day you can go to the beach or do something new, like climb a mountain, swim in a new spot, explore some hidden terrain, shop in a new place, or whatever your passion is. Not only these things, but you can choose from the other islands as well – Kauai, Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, and Lanai. They are all just a short flight or overnight boat ride to a completely new island paradise. So, part of Hawaii’s magic is that it doesn’t end with the island you’re on. There is so much more to explore, and you’ll never see and do it all.
Hawaii’s locals are real gems. You might not have the same experience I did… but, working with them and spending time after work with people that grew up on the islands was a real treat. They have an awesome outlook on life, and they are a significant part of the island magic I experienced. It was really refreshing to see their attitude about life as much more relaxed than my own. On the mainland, in the northeast, we are indoctrinated with ideas of work being everything – the main focus. Having fun happens only after we’ve worked hard and accomplished enough.
In Hawaii I learned how to relax at work and during my free time. I spent hours laying on the beach in the morning sun. Sometimes I’d find myself sleeping on a towel at the beach for six or more hours each day on the weekend. I met people from all over the world in Hawaii. I dated women from Tahiti, Venezuela, Canada, Colorado, Philippines, and Japan. I had never even known people from these places before I arrived in Hawaii.
I learned how to camp and barbeque at the beach – Hawaiian Style. We’d spend the weekends camping out in tents in Waimanalo or spending it in the beach cabins at Bellows Air Force Station – and having more fun than we thought we had a right to. I think that’s part of the magic. I think that’s the one of the hidden ingredients that many visitors to Hawaii, and those living in Hawaii, can’t quite put a finger on.
It’s the magical feeling that, “I’m having a better time than I deserve to.”
It’s the awesome realization that, “This is the most beautiful and awesome place on the planet to experience – and I’m HERE NOW!”
It is the incredible feeling that – “I am not worthy of this amazing, dreamy, mystical place, the people, the experiences, the MAGICAL FEELING that pervades the Hawaiian Islands…”
It’s too much – too perfect… I’m not worthy of it.
And I don’t know what else to say to help you come to know the feeling of magic pervading life in the Hawaiian Islands. You need to go and experience it for yourself. Words can only give you a hint. The experience must be had for yourself. You have to make it happen if it is ever going to be!
I have a website dedicated to living in Hawaii – AimforAwesome.com. After you finish with this book you should go have a look because there are many more articles about living in the islands. After reading this book and a couple dozen more articles on the website, you should have a really good idea whether Hawaii is right for you. It’s a big decision, but not an impossible decision.
I like to poll readers on my site to see what their views are. As much as I like to think my views are the “norm” – I’ve been shown many times to be way off. Polling visitors of my site helps me to keep in touch with what the rest of the world is thinking.
Below is a reader’s poll I had on my website for a few days. I wanted to see if my idea of the best things about living in Hawaii were echoed by others living here.
Choose the 3 Best Things About Living in Hawaii:
~ The ocean (73%)
~ The weather (71%)
~ The laid back atmosphere (40%)
~ The multi-cultural experience (35%)
~ The food! (23%)
~ Isolated from the mainland USA (18%)
~ Best place to raise a family (11%)
~ The hiking (10%)
~ The shopping (5%)
~ Great place for business (2%)
Total Voters: 128
There are good and bad reasons or motivations that people use when moving to Hawaii. Let’s take a look at some of both kinds.
Some Good Reasons to Move to Hawaii:
- You have family living in the islands already and you want to be close to them. This is a great reason, and it presupposes that you have already been to Hawaii and know what it is like. Maybe you even grew up there and you’ll likely stay there as long as you want without any problem. Most Hawaii residents born and raised in the islands that move away, I think eventually return.
- You are retired and have a check coming in that more than covers all necessities, needs, and wants. And, you are sure that check will keep on coming. Keep in mind that as you age your needs for medical care may grow enormously and quickly.
- You have another income source whether it is royalties from a book or music, or something else, and that income is not likely to change at least for the next few years. Moving to Hawaii can be the ultimate long-term vacation. If you can make it for a couple of years, or even a year, in my mind it makes sense to make the move and experience the beauty of Hawaii for as long as you can make it last.
- Somehow, you lucked-out and landed a good job in Hawaii either without having been here, or while you were just visiting the islands! I almost, almost landed a job by phone from Florida. This was for an online startup that needed someone to do all the online marketing for the company. They needed someone that could hit the floor running. I was 80% sure they would call me back to hire me. Nope. Close, but no cigar. It is very difficult to get an offer from Hawaii if you are not established there already.
Companies in Hawaii are very cautious about the people they offer jobs because many have made offers only to see the applicants disappear afterward.
- You can sell everything and move – either living off investments or getting a job in a field where workers are in demand. I think for those over fifty years of age, this is the scenario that most often happens. You suffered your way through thirty years of work, bought a house, the kids are either in college or done, and you want more than anything else in the world to go live in Hawaii. Some people make it, and some don’t. If you have the money, I always say, give it a try and see if it’s for you. If you are lucky enough to get a once in a lifetime chance to live in Hawaii – why not go for it?
The Negative Side of Living in Hawaii
Out of every ten visitors to the Hawaiian Islands, at least five are wondering, “Is living in Hawaii possible for me?”
And for every five that do wonder such a thing, realistically maybe one can choose to live in Hawaii for any length of time. Maybe less than that.
Why is it so difficult for the average person to move and stay in the islands?
Hawaii is a very different place from wherever you grew up in Kansas, Okinawa, or wherever you call home.
Let’s look at some of the differences that are readily apparent.
Living on a Hawaiian Island is Constrained by Space
Living on an island is a little different than living in downtown Boulder, Colorado. The Hawaiian Islands are not large. Oahu is about forty-four miles on the long side and thirty on the short side. Can you imagine living in 597 square miles? The only way you go further than forty-four miles in any one direction, is on a plane or in a boat – which sounds interesting, but there’s another set of issues there I’ll talk about in a minute.
Defined as the feeling that one is stuck on an island, and doesn’t have the freedom to just go somewhere and drive for a few hours to ‘get away’. Island fever usually hits first timers that move to the islands after six months or a year. The sudden realization occurs that, this is all there is. Sure Hawaii is beautiful… it has awesome natural beauty, views, and landmarks, and plenty to do, but this is it. This is home, and it’s not a big home, it’s a relatively small island to live for the rest of your life.
There are parts of the island you wouldn’t want to go see. There is a lot of private property on Oahu and the other islands, and you will never see a good portion of the island you live on. So in reality, you’re stuck living and exploring the public places – whatever the government has declared as such. Island fever is one of the big sources of discontent among new Hawaii residents. It shouldn’t be overlooked because if you move to Hawaii, it will likely hit you at some future point in time, and maybe it will be the entire reason you decide to leave later.
It’s warm year-round. Some would even call Hawaii “hot” – but I never would, having lived in Miami, Tampa, and Thailand for nearly two decades. Those places are hot. Hawaii has the perfect weather for me, but you may find it hot all the time. I know people that sweat continually in Hawaii. They need not do anything physically, but they just sweat constantly. If you’re one of those people, Hawaii may not be the right place for you to live. Some people adjust; maybe you are one of them?
There are no changing weather seasons in Hawaii. Only warm, balmy weather with a period during the winter where it is a bit rainier than during other parts of the year, and that is about it. Sure, once per year you might get to breathe fog on a cold December or January day, but it doesn’t happen often. Not even every year.
It rains often on all the islands, in different areas. If you’re planning on living on Kauai you should carry a poncho all the time because Kauai gets a lot of rain. One of the mountain peaks on Kauai is the wettest place on earth. It receives over 450 inches of rain per year. That’s over an inch each day! No matter which Hawaiian Island you choose to be living on – it rains often – but usually in short bursts. Some find that annoying. If you ride a motorcycle or bicycle often, you will probably be caught in showers. That’s Hawaii.
Groceries are All $5 or More
It is a bit of a shock during your first few trips to the grocery store. It seems like there isn’t anything cheaper than five dollars. Most everything consumable is imported, and arrives by sea. One time I remember shopping at the grocery close to my home in Waikiki. This was the cheapest grocery around so it was always packed with locals who knew where to get the good stuff at a reasonable price. But, every single thing in my cart – and I had over thirty things – was over $5. A gallon of milk, a pound of butter I remember in particular. Unbelievably expensive – right? You’ll need to get accustomed to it if you want to live here. Food on all the islands is expensive. There are secret resources locals use for food that are out of the way, but usually worth the trip. Of course, everyone is a member of Costco and Sam’s Club.
Employment is Tough to Find
Jobs exist in certain career fields. If you’re a waiter-waitress, nurse or other healthcare worker, or you have worked in the travel industry, you can probably find a job in Hawaii. If not, outside of a few other career areas it may be a struggle to find employment. The entire island is built on tourism. If your specialty doesn’t have something to do with that, or isn’t related to that in some way like sales, customer service, waiting tables, or selling retail, you might want to reconsider living in Hawaii. At the very least you should do a lot of research before you arrive to prepare yourself.
I know a guy with a lot of different skills that arrived on Oahu and tried for a year to get a job he really wanted. Finally he accepted a telephone sales job just to get some income. It’s a very tough job market, and don’t let the unemployment figures lull you into a false sense of security about the place. The jobs most often open are in those areas I mentioned above. Bring a whole lot of savings to live off if you don’t have skills in one of those fields.
I used my mountain bike a lot while living in Hawaii. Was it dangerous? Sure it was, most tourists are looking around and not prepared for bicycles on the streets. Still, it was more stressful to drive my Honda around Waikiki. Rush hours and weekends where there is an event of some kind going on are pure nightmare material, and you’ll not want to live far from where you work unless you live in downtown and work in Kapolei or somewhere else there is no traffic. Traffic goes toward the downtown and Waikiki areas in the morning and away during 5 – 7 p.m. rush hour.
Add to the driving nightmare the fact that the Honolulu police seem to be everywhere you look. There is a higher police presence on Oahu than I have experienced anywhere else in the nation. If you are late putting your seatbelt on, they are standing in the middle of the street by your condominium and writing you a ticket. If you coast through a stop sign, even slightly, they are on you. If you speed, they got you! If you ride in the wrong lane on the highway, you’re had. You cannot win driving a vehicle in the islands. This in particular was no fun for me at all. Maybe because I’m such a bad driver! As I said, I used the bike or even walked when my destination wasn’t too far away.
Hawaii’s High Cost of Living
To some it seems ridiculously high. To others, it’s manageable. There is a whole chapter on this coming up soon.
This one is hard to get away from. If your own attitude is poor, you’ll meet some of the nastiest people you never wanted to know in Hawaii.
That’s just the way it is everywhere, right?
However, if you’ve got a cool attitude and are open to learning how things work before and during your time there and you are friendly, outgoing, and a decent person all around, you’ll be likely to meet the coolest bunch of people you ever knew.
Give first, and you’ll get more in return. Such has been my experience while meeting new people in Hawaii. The Hawaiian spirit of Aloha is really a wonderful philosophy of life and I hope you get to experience it during your stay. If you’re not the type of person that deals well with cultural diversity or have a lack of common sense, you may not do well in Hawaii and it can be a very cold place for the selfish, ignorant, prejudiced, clueless, and heartless.
Bringing Your Kids
Bringing your school-aged kids (keiki) to Hawaii to live might seem like a great idea… ‘Let them breathe the clean air and soak up the sunshine… swim with the dolphins!’ Sure. They can do all that. But, they’ll still have to endure the school system. For mainland kids arriving in Hawaii for school it’s sometimes (usually?) traumatic. I wouldn’t recommend anyone bring their kids to Hawaii to live if they have to attend the public school system. I just wouldn’t. That’s me. I’ve considered at length whether I would want my daughter to grow up in Hawaii and attend Hawaiian public schools. I’ve decided – definitely not. We won’t move back to Hawaii until we can afford the home-school experience, or a good private school. In either of those two scenarios I think Hawaii would be a great place for a child to grow up. Otherwise? No. That’s just my bias.
If after reading all these negatives you decide that you still want to live in Hawaii because it’s your destiny or something – try this…
Look at living in Hawaii as a temporary move and tell yourself you’ll try living on one of the islands for a year. See if you can make it that long. By then you’ll have a good idea what the island you’re living on is like. You’ll probably have visited some of the others and know a little bit about them too. You might choose to move to another island or you might continue on living where you are. Or, you might move back to the mainland US after a year. No harm done, right? You just spent a year in Hawaii while many people dream of having that option.
If they see you doing it, you may have many people ask how you did it because they too are starting to get that question in the back of their mind.
“Could I do it too?”
Another reader poll:
Choose the 3 Worst Things About Living in Hawaii
~ High cost of living (75%)
~ Illegal drugs epidemic (39%)
~ Traffic (31%)
~ Low pay (26%)
~ High unemployment (17%)
~ Isolation from other places (18%)
~ Too many tourists (15%)
~ Tough for businesses to make it (14%)
~ Schools (11%)
~ The people (10%)
~ Not enough cultural things going on (9%)
~ Military presence (7%)
~ The constant police presence (4%)
~ Bad place to raise family (4%)
Total Voters: 113
Just like there are good reasons or motivations for moving to the islands, there are some not-so-good reasons.
Some Bad Reasons to Move to Hawaii:
- You love smoking pot – and what better place to get Maui Wowie, than right here in West Maui? I don’t know that too many people move to Hawaii just for the pot experience, but I’ll bet there are more than I think there are! Driving out west past Kahana and over by the cliffs… and then on Kauai – the same, anywhere it looks like pure Hawaii jungle – you’re likely to see a guy or two just hanging out along the road. What are they doing? If they think you’re safe enough, they will hold up a big bunch of Hawaiian grown marijuana to let you see it and purchase it if you want. They are bold, and they have lookouts for police further up the road, and there are only two ways in to get to them so they disappear when police are cruising down the road. Contrary to popular belief, the Honolulu Police Department will throw you in jail for possession and for growing or distributing pot. It isn’t legal in Hawaii (yet). See Chapter 26 for more information on marijuana and likelihood of legalization in the islands in the coming years.
- You don’t feel like you fit in on the mainland because you don’t like working. You don’t like the whole environment. You want to get back to a slower place, the islands. Well, Hawaii is not Jamaica mon, and you’re probably going to get a big surprise as you land at Honolulu International Airport and smell the bus and car fumes from Nimitz Highway. Mexico might be a better place to move. Florida near the beaches… or even Jamaica might be better for you.
Hawaii is unforgiving… meaning, you must have cash or you’re going to be spending a lot of time with poor locals camping in the parks and along the beaches. It is very hard to adjust to that lifestyle, and very hard to make friends of the locals in that situation. You’d really be better off being homeless or destitute somewhere else. The homeless population is getting quite large in the islands. The State of Hawaii government is actually considering buying them plane tickets to go back to their state of residence! Yes, it’s that bad.
- You just got an unexpected payday. Meaning, you just got an insurance settlement, sold a business, sold a house or something else and you’re looking for a way to spend it. I have said many times that if you have $10K USD saved, you could possibly make it in Hawaii. Just find a rented apartment and start the job search. What I mean is, if you start saving now and planning, in a few months when you have the money, you’ll have likely learned everything you have to in preparation to move to Hawaii. If you just get a payday and you’re looking to spend it in an amazing way moving to the islands, you haven’t done all the necessary preparation. Don’t neglect to research a lot about moving, and how life will be once you arrive. If you haven’t ever been to Hawaii I wouldn’t suggest you move here. It’s too different from every other place you’ve probably ever been. I’ve seen more than a couple people blow their savings and move back home within just months.
- You have an incurable illness and you want to die in paradise. Hawaii can be a very lonely place. I have seen and spoken with many lonely people here. Most Caucasians don’t realize they’ll be a minority in the islands, but more importantly – they don’t know what that feels like. It’s a weird feeling at first, for most of us. Though I was surrounded by military, when I went off on my own, or in a small group I realized – wow, I’m a minority. It was a bit of a shock, but I got over it quickly. Some don’t. If you cannot, it will be quite difficult to make friends.
If you have an incurable illness and you think it’s best to pass in Hawaii – I’m not sure it is. You’ll have to make friends, and friends that really care. If you are bed-ridden, you might die alone watching Hawaii 5-0 on the television set. How sad is that? I think better to stay where you are in the mainland, or wherever your family and friends are.
- You want to start a business. You have a great idea, it’s amazing, and you know Hawaii is the right place for you to make it work.
Starting a business in Hawaii has got to be one of the riskiest things you could possibly do with your money. Hawaii is a different world when it comes to what people like. Do Filipinos like your product or service? Local Japanese? Hawaiians? Military? Visitors from across the globe? You’ll have to really spend some time researching the marketplace in-depth in Hawaii for your business. I have seen all sorts of businesses start and fail very quickly in Hawaii. If it takes longer to fail, that’s even worse because more money, time and effort go out the window. If you’re going to start a business in Hawaii, make sure you spend months doing the hard research you’ll need to ensure success. You probably need to live in the islands for a year or so before you have any idea at all what might work or not.