10 Ways to be a Safe and Responsible Traveler in Hawaii
Looking to learn more about how to be a safe and responsible traveler to Hawaii? Check out Hawaii's Best Podcast below! In this episode, Bryan Murphy of Hawaii's Best interviews Andrew Fowers, Shaka Guide's Co-Founder about the importance of responsible travel.
Ah Hawaii, a place with award-winning beaches, hundreds of hikes, countless waterfalls, and endless natural beauty. Sure, when you visit you’re planning your dream vacation and hoping to explore some of these sites. But, it’s important to remember that Hawaii is not a theme park - it’s home to 1.4 million people along with many more native plants and animal species. The outdoor adventures you seek are reliant on mother nature’s whim and with certain activities, she doesn’t always play nice.
We don’t want to scare you, millions of people travel responsibly to Hawaii each year. But we do hope that this blog allows you to prepare for your vacation so you can have a fun and, most importantly, safe trip to the islands.
1. Know Your Limits
With all the natural wonders Hawaii has to offer come risks. Whether you’re planning an epic hike, snorkeling at the hidden beach, or just going for an ocean dip it’s important that you know your limits. Don’t attempt to swim just because a friend told you a beach was awesome. Don’t go on a hike because you saw it on Instagram. What is considered easy for one person might be strenuous for others. Take swimming for example, the winter is when waves get rough in Hawaii, just because surfers are out enjoying the water doesn’t mean you should. The same goes for hiking. There are plenty of hiking trails popular with tourists where people need to be rescued each year.
2. Pay Attention to Signs...And the Weather
In addition to knowing your limits, pay attention to the signage around you. If there are high surf advisory signs, don’t go swimming. If it looks like it’s about to rain (or is raining) don’t jump into a watering hole - people have been swept out to sea doing just this. Again, mother nature calls the shots, pay close attention to the conditions around you. If a hike is prohibited (or on private property) don’t go. There are hundreds of hikes in the islands, if one is off limits, there’s a good reason.
3. Do Your Research
This goes hand in hand with knowing your limits. If you’ve done your research you’ll most likely get a good idea if something is within your capabilities. For example, take Koko Head Stairs - a popular hike for locals and visitors. The views from this hike are breathtaking and if you’re scrolling through Instagram you’ll probably come across pictures from the summit. However, if you do a bit of research you’ll know this hike is rated difficult with an extremely steep incline. Sure, it’s less than two miles total, but that doesn’t make it easy! If you’ve never hiked a day in your life, this probably isn’t the spot for you.
4. Don’t “do it for the Gram" - or Any Social Media Post
Speaking of Instagram, DON’T - we repeat - DON’T do it for the gram (or any social media post for that matter). Looking for an epic hiking pic? Want to perfectly capture the ocean behind you? Trying to make a Tik Tok video atop a mountain? Those pictures and videos look great on your feed but in a place you’re unfamiliar with, think about your safety before getting that perfect shot.
5. Respect the Aina, or Land
In Hawaii, the land is sacred. Remember, you’re a visitor to the island and there are over a million people who call the state their home. Visitors have a huge impact on the environment. If you truly love Hawaii there are a few ways you can show your respect to the aina, or land.
First, use reef safe sunscreen. If you’ve ever been snorkeling in Hawaii you’re lucky to have experienced the crystal clear waters with an abundance of sea life, but the ocean will only stay that way if we all work to respect it. Pack some reef safe sunscreen (or buy when you arrive). This small gesture goes a long way in protecting the state’s coral reefs from bleaching.
In addition to Hawaii’s waters, there are ways that you can protect its unique plants and animals. Currently, there is a crisis among one of Hawaii’s native tree species - the Ohia tree. This beautiful plant is being killed by a fungus called Rapid Ohia Death. There’s a simple thing you can do to help stop the spread of this disease - thoroughly clean your shoes before and after venturing out. Easy right?
We can go on and on about ways to protect the environment, but for our last bit of advice we ask that you take back you brought in. Again, a simple solution that goes a long way. When you leave trash, water bottles, food containers, and plastics on the beach or along a hiking trail, you’re endangering the animals that call these spots home.
6. Respect the Culture
Hawaii has a unique culture, different from anywhere else in the United States. While you’re here you can show respect in a number of ways. The first would be to do your research, if a site has historical significance, please treat it is such. Another simple way? Listen and be open to learning. When you visit Hawaii there are so many wonderful things you can learn about the culture and history that will deepen your understanding and appreciation for the islands.
7. Respect Locals
We’ve said it before and we hate to sound like a broken record, but while you’re vacationing, there are over a million people that are living their daily lives on the island. You can be respectful by using proper etiquette on the road (specifically the Road to Hana), cleaning up after yourself, and wearing a mask. Please note, there is currently a mask mandate in the state.
8. Respect Animals and Native Species
Hawaii is home to many plants and animal species that are found nowhere else in the world. To help protect the islands’ ecosystem it’s important to show respect to these creatures. As exciting as it is to see a sea turtle or a monk seal, these animals are protected. Please keep your distance and certainly don’t do anything to harm these animals or you’ll face steep fines.
9. Support Local Business
The Aloha State has tons of amazing local businesses. You can show your appreciation to these artisans by visiting these shops! Whether it’s for food, souvenirs or mementos for yourself, try to shop local first. If you need recommendations, check out the tour highlights section in our apps. These are all hand-picked suggestions -- no ads!
10. Give Back
While you’re here, you might want to consider giving back to the community. There are loads of ways you can plan to help out on your trip. Check out a list of volunteer opportunities here: www.gohawaii.com/malama. You can also sync up with local organizations like Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Travel 2 Change to find a beach clean up!