Living life in Hawaii is a dream for a lot of people. Many who can afford a vacation to the Hawaiian islands return home and are a little bit shell-shocked. In a good way. Hawaii is definitely one of the most beautiful places in the world.
If you’re one of those who has visited one of the Hawaiian islands: Oahu, Maui, Big Island, Kauai, Lanai, or Molokai you will inevitably ask yourself the question:
What’s life in Hawaii like? Can I live in Hawaii?
Everyone asks themselves if they can do it too… live in the paradise that was only a dream before they actually went and experienced Hawaii in real-time.
Vern lived in Hawaii for six years and has some insight into what it’s like to live there. I’ve lived in Hawaii for most of my life, since the mid-80s and love this place every bit as much today as I did the first day I landed here. I’d like to share that with you in the hopes that it gives you a realistic picture of what moving there would actually be like. It’s not for everyone – really. There is good as well as bad. Here are links to more than two-hundred (200+) of my best articles about Hawaii – listed on one page.
Probably the best way to present this without writing a book about my time living in Hawaii is to make a Positives and Negatives list and let you sort it out for yourself.
Living in Hawaii Negatives:
- Island Fever. Hawaiian island fever is a frequent complaint of those that live there for any number of years. In Hawaii you are, in fact, isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You’re thousands of miles from any major country. If you’re Caucasian (aka “Haole” pronounced “How-lee”) you are probably feeling like a minority – because you are. Hawaii is a multicultural melting pot. It’s not easy to pick up and fly away to a neighboring state for the weekend. There are no more road trips to other states as you did in the mainland. Hawaii is a bit confining – especially if you don’t have the money to visit the other islands often, and visit the mainland once or twice each year.
- High Cost of Living. A quick trip to the supermarket will give you some sticker shock. You basically can’t walk out of there spending less than $50 in 2016. I remember shopping at the supermarket years ago and being fascinated… EVERYTHING was over five-dollars. Everything. I had trouble finding something to buy that was under five-dollars. I had to actually look. Everything I wanted was over five-dollars. Add to that the cost of gas, renting apartments that are very small and with pay for parking issues all over Waikiki if that’s where you plan to stay, and it gets expensive. I think auto and healthy insurance is expensive too. I’d say you need to be making $50,000 per year in Hawaii to get yourself above the “poverty line” and still you must be prepared to be really frugal and live in a manner you may not be accustomed to. Could you live for less? Of course, but you better be ready to essentially do what it takes and scale way back on your lifestyle, which few are really prepared to do.
- Parking. I mentioned parking above, but it deserves it’s own bullet-point. Parking on Oahu, Hawaii is a minor catastrophe. For instance… drive down to Waikiki to bodyboard at “The Wall”. There is a parking lot close to it – and it’s packed every weekend, and weekdays too unless you get there before about 9 am. There are parking meters. I think it was something like twelve and-a-half minutes for one quarter but of course this is always subject to change. There is a maximum of two or three hours you can stay before the meter runs out. If you happen not to remember the meter is running out as you’re bodyboarding, bodysurfing, surfing, sunning, or whatever you’re doing – you’ll get a $35 parking ticket the very INSTANT the meter expires because there are meter-maids and meter-dudes that are camped at that parking lot trying to earn their daily pay. Here’s a local’s view on parking. Vehicles are towed quickly in Hawaii if you’re in the wrong spot. Finding a good spot is not so easy. Parking is in a sick state in Waikiki, and generally not a joy elsewhere in the state.
- Traffic. If you’re working far from where you live on Oahu, Hawaii then traffic is going to be an issue. A big issue for some. It never bothered me that much because how upset can I really get sitting in an air conditioned car listening to my favorite music, drinking amazing coffee and looking at all the people around me? Not that bothered at all. Hawaii traffic can really get some in a tizzy though. It’s atrocious during rush hours on Oahu. Maui used to be OK but no longer. There are some serious traffic jams depending on the time of day. On Kauai – same thing. If you’re on the wrong highway at the wrong time of day, you better have great music and great coffee because you’re going to need to enjoy that bumper to bumper feeling. Molokai and Lanai don’t have traffic problems. The Big Island is pretty free of traffic except for some nasty stretches on the Kona side.
- Petty Thieves. On a couple occasions as I was far out on the waves bodyboarding I saw guys looking through my bag on the beach. I yelled – but who’s going to chase down a young kid on drugs for you? Not many. Not even me! Auto smash and grabs, purse snatches, wallet snatchers, bike thieves… they’re all there in Hawaii. It has to be expected as there is a huge gulf between the haves and have-nots. The have nots get theirs too, but before it’s theirs – it was yours. You will have some of your things taken. Be smart and try to limit your losses.
- Limited Mainland-ish Things to Do. Yes, this is actually a complaint of many people that I know living in Hawaii who miss mainland-type things like concerts, museums, ballet, etc. We do get a trickle of these kinds of shows but nothing in comparison to mainland cities. But Hawaii’s not about the mainland. It’s about this beautiful land, its people, and the Spirit of Aloha. On Oahu there are quite a few things to do. We’re all about doing things that involve nature and the outdoors, not buildings and artificial structures. There are beaches everywhere – with all those cool things to do at the beach: Snorkeling, swimming, diving, surfing, bodyboarding, bodysurfing, looking for crabs, playing cards & backgammon, sleeping, etc.
Life in Hawaii Positives:
- Perfect Weather. I’m not exaggerating at all. There are probably over three-hundred sunny days on Oahu each year. The other Hawaiian islands get more rain. Maui must, having lived there a year I think we got plenty more rain than Oahu does over the year. Kauai’s Mount Waialeale is called the “Wettest place on earth”. The weather in Hawaii is typically about 80 degrees and with a slight breeze called “trade winds” that blow from the northeast to the southwest every day. In fact, local Hawaiians often tell directions in relation to which side of the island gets the most wind. The northeast side of Oahu is also known as the “windward” side. The opposite or southwest is the leeward side.
- Laid Back Lifestyle. Sure, everyone works. Well, most do. But, even though everyone is working there is this underlying attitude that life is not about work. The people enjoying life in Hawaii understand well that the secret to a happy life is about what you’re doing outside of work. Work-style is a little more laid back. There is less intensity about it. People get their work done – but, it’s not a pressure-cooker environment unless you’re working in sales and your living – your income depends on it. I had a friend that sold insurance over the phone in Hawaii and he did not enjoy his working conditions. I knew another couple that sold time-shares on Maui. They made a lot of money, but nobody could really stand them as they were far to motivated and concerned about making money off those they knew and were introduced to. Those living in Hawaii like it laid back and want to keep it that way. After all, that’s why they’re living in Hawaii in the first place. To be surrounded by a like-minded group of laid back people is really invigorating and gives one a great feeling.
- Cultural Experience. There are a variety of cultures to be experienced while living in Hawaii. As I mentioned, the Japanese and Filipinos are the predominant groups and of course there is the Hawaiian culture which most groups have adopted. There’s a large variety of food to choose from. Imagine going through the McDonald’s drive through like I did most mornings and ordering rice with shoyu (soy sauce), scrambled eggs and Portuguese sausage! There are Korean food restaurants, Hawaiian restaurants, Japanese restaurants… every group has their own restaurants. Thai, Burgers, Filipino, Italian, it’s like the best foods from all over the planet assembled on Oahu. Quite a nice experience if you like a variety of food. The best is when you befriend some locals and they ask you to picnic with them at Ala Moana beach park on the weekend. You’ll get introduced to some amazing local-style foods like lumpia and Kalua pig!
- SO MUCH to Do! This is my take on it. I had trouble figuring out each day what I wanted to do for fun after work. There was just SO MUCH to do that my head was always spinning. I’m an outdoors and adventuresome type. If you are too – you’ll probably never ask yourself what there is to do, you’ll just be doing it. There are amazing mountain hikes of all difficulties. There are scores of great beaches on each island. There are so many things to explore. There is more shopping than I could ever want. There are places out of the way that are amazing to explore… the tide pools at Dillingham Air Field on the North West shore is one such place that is just amazing and somewhere that most visitors never see. Pity. Whether or not you surf or bodyboard you can learn to bodysurf. Bodysurfing in Hawaii is excellent because there are some beaches that are bodysurf only! Bodysurfing is a lot of fun, and pretty safe.
So, after reading these positives and negatives about life in Hawaii – could you deal with living there full-time?
If you have any questions about living in Hawaii – feel free to leave a comment. I’ll try to answer. I don’t know everything about life in Hawaii obviously, but I’ll be happy to give it a shot.
Peter & Vern
More Hawaii Information:
Bodyboarding Oahu, Hawaii: Bellows Air Force Station
Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii >
What’s a Moonbow? Hawaiian night-time rainbows.
Photo credits: Top, Apornpradab Buasi. Maui from helicopter, Flickr user, jurvetson. Taro burger, Flickr user, love-janine.
Learn more about Moving to, Living in, and Working in Hawaii:
- Hawaii home business opportunities?
- Moving to Hawaii and Finding a Job
- Hawaii Home Business Startups
- Move to Hawaii to Teach?
- Moving to Hawaii? Use Twitter.
- Want to Change Your Life? Move to Hawaii!
Did You Ever Consider Moving to Hawaii to Live?
Check out the book!