If you are traveling to Hawaii there are a few mistakes that you’ll want to avoid that lots of first timers traveling to Hawaii make.  From trying to see multiple islands in a short period of time to misunderstandings within the Hawaiian culture, I got you covered with the Hawaii travel tips to know before you go.

For most, Hawaii is a dream destination.   Whether you are searching for idyllic secluded beaches or an adventure through the rainforest to a hidden waterfall, the Hawaiian Islands have it all.

I want you to have the best trip possible, that’s why I wrote a post about Hawaii travel tips and what not to do.  There are many common mistakes many travelers run into and I want to save you time and trouble from having to learn the hard way.

Hawaii Travel Tips with I'm Jess Traveling

1. Trying to See Multiple Islands in a Short Amount of Time

If you only have a week to explore Hawaii, then choose one island and stick to it.  Each island is diverse, has its own unique quality and a week won’t be enough time to explore it all.

Choosing to visit 3 different islands in one week will be ‘traveling for postcards’.  You won’t get a true feel or understanding of any island, just a postcard that proved you stopped by.   Which leads me to our next Hawaii travel tip.

Inside Haleakala National Park

2. Assuming all Islands are the Same

As I mentioned earlier, each island has its own flare and each island is very different.  Thinking that the Big Island and Oahu are only different in size is completely off.  Each Island is unique and rich in culture and history.

If you’re having trouble trying to pick an island that suits you best, here’s a quick rundown of each place.  I am only listing the 4 most popular and well known islands (Big Island, Maui, Oahu and Kauai).  If you’d like to learn about Lanai or Molokai check out these posts.

Big Island

The Big Island is more diverse in natural landscapes and is a great choice if you love the outdoors.

Highlights:

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  • Rainbow Falls
  • Manta Ray Night Dive
  • Akaka Falls
  • Hiking to a Green Sand Beach

Maui

Maui has a little bit of something from each island.  It has the nightlife of Oahu, the seclusion of Kauai and a volcano to explore like on the Big Island.

Highlights:

Oahu

Oahu is the most populated and visited Hawaiian Island.   Oahu has the best nightlife and shopping compared to the other islands.

Highlights;

Kauai

Filled with secluded beaches, roaring waterfalls and the most dramatic landscapes, Kauai is the ultimate honeymoon destination.

Highlights:

  • Hiking the Napali Coast (permits required)
  • Year round surf
  • Hanalei Bay
  • Napali Coast from above in a helicopter
  • Napali Coast by boat
  • Waimea Canyon
  • Wailua Falls

3. Not Renting a Car

One of the biggest mistakes people make when traveling to Hawaii is not renting a car.  Renting a car in Hawaii gives you freedom to explore all the islands have to offer and on your own time.

For example on Maui – driving the road to Hana, driving the back road to Hana or driving the West Maui loop is best enjoyed with your own set of wheels.

Hawaii Travel Tip:  If you would prefer to follow along to an audio tour I recommend the Shaka Guide!  The Shaka guide tours are great for independent explorers who want the freedom to explore on their own terms, but like to learn about the spots they’re visiting.

The tours use GPS to offer turn-by-turn directions and audio narration with stories and music.  This will leave you with a deeper understanding and connection to Hawaii.  The Shaka Guide has several audio tours for each island.

However there is an exception to this rule.  If you are traveling to Oahu and only plan on staying and exploring only Waikiki, I’d recommend saving a few bucks and not renting a car.  But who doesnt want to explore the rest of the island?!

4. Driving Like you are Back Home

As you explore Hawaii you’ll probably notice homemade signs posted around that say ‘Slow Down, this ain’t the Mainland’.  That’s because people from the mainland drive around Hawaii like they’re still on the mainland.

Plus these signs are usually posted around school zones or in residential areas where keiki (the Hawaiian word for kids) run around and play.  Remember you’re on Hawaii time…so ease off the gas and experience Hawaii like a local, in the slow lane.

5. Leaving Valuables in your Car

One of the most important Hawaii travel tips is to not leave your valuables in your car.  There are many places in Hawaii in order to explore them, you have to park on the side of the road and hike into.

Your vehicle could be unattended for several hours at a time making it very tempting for smash-and-grab thieves if you were to leave valuables in plain sight in your car.  A strong tip is to bring your valuables with you and leave the car unlocked to avoid broken glass.

6. Spending all your Time on only One Part of the Island

You don’t travel to New York City only to experience Time Square.  The same thing goes for Hawaii, you don’t want to fly all the way to Hawaii only to spend your time in a 4 block radius of your resort.  Each island is so diverse and Waikiki is night and day from the laid back vibes of the North Shore.  Do yourself a favor and explore as much of each island as you can.

Snorkeling with sea turtles a popular thing to do in Maui

7. Touching the Animals like Hawaiian Monk Seals or Sea Turtles

The fact that this is even has to be a Hawaii travel tip is such a disappointment.  Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, making it illegal to touch, harass, injure or kill the animals

Penalties can include up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine but the most common fine is $500.  People must remain at least 50 feet away from the animals or 150 feet away from pups with their mothers.  The areas are usually roped off (or soon to be roped off) and it’s roped off for a reason!

As for sea turtles, Hawaiian green sea turtles are federally protected and it’s illegal and harmful to touch or harass them.  Feeding or touching turtles in any way is considered a disturbance and therefore illegal.

There has been many Instagram posts lately of tourists touching animals such as the Hawaiian Monk Seal and the Green Sea Turtle.  Don’t be this person!  You will not only be fined, get publicly hazed on the internet and probably won’t ever return to the Hawaiian Islands ever again.

8. Ignoring Kapu Signs

Kapu in Hawaiian means forbidden, sacred or holy.  Signs are placed in certain areas for a reason.  Kapu signs could signify private property, folklore comes from Hawaiian traditions and beliefs or simply, mindfulness.

If you see them don’t go past or enter.  Be respectful to the land, the culture and the people and the islands will show you respect back.

Surfing at Honolua Bay

9. Underestimating the Power of the Ocean

The ocean is powerful and relentless.  Waves in Hawaii can include powerful surf, crushing shorebreaks and even tsunamis and hurricanes.

Waves can create even more dangerous situations with jagged rocks and reefs, and strong currents along remote, unguarded beaches.  Underestimating the power of the ocean can cause series harm and in extreme cases death.  Be aware of your surroundings and watch the waves visually when you arrive at a attraction that involves the ocean.

Hawaii Travel Tip:  Do NOT just assume there are no waves if you arrive somewhere and there are none or that they are small.  Bigger waves come in sets about every 15-20 minutes or longer and can be spaced very far apart.

10. Removing Sand from the Beach

A small container of sand sounds like a cool souvenir, especially if taken from a black,  red or even green sand beach, but doing so is considered bad luck in Hawaiian folklore.  Sand is a natural resource that takes years to form, so removing it harms the environment.  Remember what I mentioned earlier, respect the islands and they will show respect back.

Sharks Cove on THE NORTH SHORE OAHU

11. Getting to Close to Lava Rocks

We call this getting a Hawaiian tattoo.  There’s nothing worse than getting too close to the waves while around lava rocks.  Waves sweeping your legs from under you and being drug across lava rock can cause serious injury.  Not to mention the strong current that’s potentially waiting for you in the ocean makes it very difficult to get back to safety.

A good rule of thumb is never to turn your back to the ocean.

Hawaii Travel Tip:  If you are in an area like Shark’s Cove on Oahu or the Olivine Pools on Maui, that requires extra caution, check the rocks to see if they are wet and shiny looking.  Wait it out from a safe distance to make absolutely sure that there are no waves and that the area is suitable to explore.

Best Reef Safe Sunscreens for your Face

12. Protecting the Coral Reef

Hawaii is the first state to ban any sunscreens that contain chemicals known to harm the environment.  Reef-safe sunscreen is the only sunscreen allowed in Hawaii.

Why wear reef sunscreen you ask?  Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.  Not only do coral reefs provide homes for hundreds of species of marine life, they also help stabilize the sea floor, prevent coastal erosion and storm surge damage, contribute to the mitigation of climate change, promote tourism, support your fresh seafood habit, and filter and clean seawater.

Wearing reef safe sunscreen is a small part to protect the ocean and everything in it.  Check out this post on the best reef safe sunscreens for your face.

13. Not Following the Unwritten Rules of Surfing

There’s nothing worse than someone being dangerous and ignorant in the water.  This not only puts yourself in danger but others around you in danger as well.  Here are a few examples.

  • Not following the pecking order once you’re in the line up.
  • Dropping in on someone or burning them on their wave.
  • Paddling out to a break that is above your skill level.
  • Taking a big board out to a break that is advanced, stick to a longboard wave.

14. Not Exploring Local Cuisine

It’d be a shame if you traveled all the way to Hawaii and didn’t sample the local cuisine.  Many traditional Hawaiian foods are originally brought over from the Polynesian islands, so there’s always a little flare mixed in with the local dishes.

A few of the must try items when exploring the island are Ahi Poke, Poi, Lualua, Lomi Lomi Salmon and Opakapaka just to name a few.

Top of Haleakala National Park

15. Not Bringing Something Warm

Another one of those Hawaii travel tips that you’ll be happy you didn’t learn the hard way is bringing something warm.  Yes, it gets cold in Hawaii and on some parts it even snows!

For example if you are traveling to Maui and are planning to watch sunrise or sunset atop Haleakala, you’ll want to be dressed appropriately.  It gets chilly especially in the winter.  Check out this post for what to pack for Hawaii to be fully prepared for your Hawaiian adventure.

16. Taking Lava Rocks

Don’t take rocks!  Removing lava rocks from the volcano is considered bad luck. The lava is property of Pele, the volcano goddess.  Leave rocks where you found them.

By leaving rocks in place we repeat Hawaiian beliefs and help nature thrive.  Plus, you don’t want an ancient Hawaiian goddess angry at you.  You’d be surprised how many packages of rocks taken from Haleakala National Park gets sent back because visitors were unaware of this Hawaiian faux pas.

17. Parking Where you Feel Like it 

You’ll see this a lot at popular attractions and as you drive the road to Hana. This not only causes unnecessary traffic, it sometimes blocks locals driveways and it’s just rude.  Like I’ve mentioned several times in this post, if you show respect, you will receive respect back.

Big Beach, Maui HI

18. Not Respecting the Aina

The Hawaiians believe in what they do today impacts the next seven generations.   At the core of every Hawaiian’s values is the notion of malama ka `aina, meaning to care for and live in harmony with the land.

By simply taking care and respecting the land, it will sustain life.  Easy ways to malama ka `aina is to try to eat locally sourced foods, recycle, and clean up your trash.

19. Not Getting to Know the Hawaiian Culture

Did you know that Hawaii is the only state that has two official languages?  Yes, English and Hawaiian are Hawaii’s 2 official languages.  There is so much beauty in the Hawaiian Culture and not getting to know it would be a disservice to yourself.

Most visitors to Hawaii only experience what I like to call the ‘ABC’ version of things but if you dive a little deeper, you’ll not only get a better understanding but probably fall head over heels with it like I did.

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20. Not Taking off your Shoes when Entering Someone’s House

If you’ve ever been to someone’s house in Hawaii, you’ll notice a row of slippas at the doorstep.  This custom came from a mix of cultures, such as Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese, that took hold during the early plantation days.

Like most tips listed in this article, it shows respect to the owner of the house by keeping their home clean and not tracking sand, dirt and germs inside.  Whatever you do, always leave with the same pair you came with.  I can’t tell you how many times my husband left a party with 2 different slippas!

21. Not Having your Safe Travels Forms Filled Out Properly and In Time

Update: The Safe Travels Forms are set to go away starting 3/25/2022.  I will keep this post updated on the effects.

The most recent Hawaii travel tip is properly filling out your safe travels form.  This form needs to be filled out before you get on a plane to come to Hawaii.  This form proves you’ve been vaccinated or that you have a negative test.  Filling this form out properly allows for smoother travel, less lines and an easier time entering the state.

That wraps up on all the Hawaii travel tips on what not to do!  Happy planning and safe travels!

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Tips on for the First timer to Hawaii
Hawaii Travel Tips with I'm Jess Traveling
Hawaii Travel Tips | 21 Mistakes to AvoidHawaii Travel Tips | 21 Mistakes to Avoid
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