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9 Common Mistakes Tourists Make in Hawaii

Oct. 14, 2018
6 min read
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Aloha! October is Hawaii month at The Points Guy, so check back regularly for flight and hotel reviews, features and deals from Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii.

Hawaii is one of the world's most sought after travel destinations, and the islands receive millions of visitors each year by both plane as well as ship (in 2017, that number exceeded 9.4 million).

If you want your trip to paradise to be as dreamy as possible — mai tais on the beach, surf lessons and jungle hikes — plan ahead and avoid these all too common vacation oversights.

1. Assuming All the Islands Are the Same

There are eight major islands that make up Hawaii, and none of them are remotely the same. Choosing the right island for you will determine the vibe of your trip.

Only six of the islands are major tourist destinations: Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and the Big Island. Even still, each one offers its own distinct adventures, weather and local transportation (don't expect to catch an Uber on Lanai, for example, while serious hikers should plan to escape to the Garden Isle of Kauai), so it’s important to plan your trip accordingly.

2. Saying You’re "From the United States”

It’s really easy for a local to spot a tourist. Don't make it easier by claiming you're “from the United States,” because, well, you're still in the US. Sure, Hawaii may feel very exotic and tropical, but it's been a state since 1959. Simply say you're from “the mainland” or, name the specific state you live in.

Though you haven't left the country, travelers will still need to bring cash from home, or face fees at local banks. There are no Bank of America locations in Hawaii, nor will you find a Chase or Wells Fargo during your stay.

3. Trying to Island Hop in One Trip

It’s tempting to island hop during your trip, especially because the flights are cheap and short. But because there is so much to see on each individual island, it’s best to stick to just one or two.

If you only have 3 to 5 days for your Hawaii vacation, for example, you should focus on exploring one island. If you can go for a week or longer, you could see two. Adding a third island to a 7 or 10 day trip might be feasible, but you'll be spread thin, you will end up spending more time transiting through airports than relaxing on the beach!

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Travelers who do island hop should start on Oahu, Maui or the Big Island — the three islands with the most connectivity.

4. Spending Your First Full Day in the Sun

We know the first thing you want to do when you reach Hawaii is slip into a swimsuit and head out to the pool or beach. But this could be a mistake you regret the rest of your trip.

If you spend the entire day outside, you’re very likely to get sunburned, dehydrated and extremely tired — not a great way to start a holiday. And if you get burnt on day one, you’ll be burnt for the entirety of your trip. Avoid this common mistake by getting plenty of shade and drinking a glass of water at least for every fruity cocktail you have.

5. Not Bringing the Right SPF

In Hawaii, most travelers can’t get away with their standard sunscreen. The islands are a lot closer to the equator than many travelers realize, and the sun is most direct on the islands between the hours of 11am and 2pm (read: prime beach time). If you normally wear SPF 15 or 25, you need to wear at least 30 or 45. Don’t forget to apply the sunscreen to your feet and ears, and remember to pack a good sunhat.

Moreover, Hawaii recently banned some sunscreens: those that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, chemicals that can kill coral reefs. Even though the law doesn't go into effect until 2021, you should still be conscientious about buying sunscreen that's environmentally friendly.

6. Only Exploring Waikiki on Oahu

A vast majority of vacationers spend their entire trip on Oahu, specifically on or near Waikiki beach. But there is so much more to see around the island (not to mention, you know, the rest of the state). If you stay in Waikiki, make sure you plan at least one or two day trips out of the city and explore the other sides of the island. The best way to do this is to rent a car, though Ubers are easy to come by.

Travel north to watch some of the best surfers on Earth ride the famous North Shore swells, and to visit the nearby town of Haleiwa (stop for garlic shrimp from Giovanni's shrimp truck). If you head to the east side of the island, you can spend a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center or the Kualoa Ranch.

7. Not Packing a Sweater

Although most days in Hawaii are sunny and hot, the weather can be unpredictable. Depending on the time of year, it could rain for an entire day.

Bring a light rain jacket for those unexpected weather spells, and know that it can get quite cool at night, too.

8. Hiking After it Rains

If it rains during your trip, you may need to adjust your itinerary. The hiking trails, many of which are steep, dirt footpaths, can get extremely muddy and slippery.

If you decide to do a hike and it recently rained (even if it was a couple days prior) you should at least prepare to get dirty. Some hiking trails might be closed after rainfall, whereas other trails have a rope system in place to help guide you up and down the trail. And you’ve been warned: even if the way up seems fine, the way down is definitely going to be slippery!

9. Ignoring Posted Signs at the Beach

While some beaches have lifeguards, not all of them do, and most lifeguards will go off duty in the evening. Swimming in Hawaii can be very dangerous, so if you see a warning sign or flag about the shore break or rip currents, it’s best to avoid going into the ocean at that time.

Shore break can knock you down against rocks and reef, and rip currents can pull you far out to sea, which often leads to drowning. Even if you think you're a strong swimmer, it’s best to be cautious, especially in Hawaii.

All photos by the author.