After twenty three mostly uneventful years in the Midwest, I was given an opportunity most people could only dream of: the chance to move to Hawaii. I’m in a time zone four hours away from the one I’m comfortable with and experiencing 70 degree days in February. Every day’s another day in paradise, but it’s not all perfect. At the same time though, before moving, I heard a whole slew of negatives that made me almost afraid of moving. I can’t speak for everyone, but if someone has any desire to move here, here’s what I’d tell them.
1. Rent is just as high as you might expect
Among the Hawaiian horror stories, there is nothing more famous than that of the cost of living here. Everything’s more expensive. Milk, eggs, juice, and pretty much everything regularly purchased is more than it is back on the mainland. But these are nothing compared to rent. In Hawaii’s defense, it won’t set you back any more than a rental in a hot city on the mainland, but it’s when rent is combined with these other factors that it becomes hard to handle. And don’t even think about buying a house. Not that millennials are buying houses or anything, but if one is planning on coming here for the long haul and thinks it might be wise to invest in real estate, good luck. The median price of a house on Oahu is more than $700,000. With these astronomical prices, it is no surprise that homelessness is an epidemic here. All of this being said, it’s not impossible to find a decent apartment. Thanks to the finesse of my my girlfriend, we were able to find a place with a decent price tag, ample space, and a view that’s just as breathtaking a few months in as it was the first time I saw it. Ideal living situations are hard to come by in Hawaii, but they aren’t impossible.
2. Jobs are here, but they’re tough
It should come as no surprise that the number 1 industry in Hawaii is tourism. Entire spots on the island of Oahu are almost entirely built for hotels and resorts. Outside of tourism though, it can be hard to find something that fits. Be prepared to work odd jobs until you land that lucky position in the field you’re looking for. I’ve been a tutor, a dog walker, and I’m training to be a substitute teacher since I’ve been here. Fortunately, my girlfriend, a journalist, found her job before we moved. I can’t say that moving here on a whim is a bad idea, but I personally recommend finding a source of income before moving.
3.Potlucks are the Hawaiian love language, and Ohana is real
Wow those first two were kind of bleak, huh? I promise Hawaiian life isn’t just worrying about how to pay for rent. Even though the day I moved was my first day ever in Hawaii, I was lucky to move with someone who had previously lived island life. My girlfriend was a decade removed from her last time on the island, but she still had a built in network of family friends from the church she attended as a kid. Anyone whose seen Lilo and Stitch knows the Hawaiian concept of Ohana, a word that means family but encompasses much more than what we think of it on the mainland. Being part of the Ohana means that I’ve never felt alone on the island. Even though I was a stranger, I felt welcomed by “aunties” as soon as I arrived. Potlucks are commonplace in Hawaiian life, and apart from the rich feeling of inclusivity found at these gatherings, the food alone makes these events worth going to. Hawaii boasts a unique mix of local cuisine, Japanese food, and other specialities. Having the chance to mind a new social network while also getting to eat foods I have never tried before has been a great way to spend time on the island.
4.Even fast food is better
Now that I’m thinking about food, I need to talk about an unexpected joy of island life: the fast food. Hawaii has a few chains unique to the state. Zippy’s is found all over Oahu, and they serve standard fast food fare with the additions of Japanese food AND macaroni salad that I cannot praise enough. These are nice, and I doubt the novelty of them will ever wear off. But I’m talking about the real stuff: normal fast food chains with Hawaiian flair. McDonald’s is the best example. I fancy myself a bit of a McDonald’s connoisseur, and Hawaiian McDonald’s is my playground. Hawaiian McDonald’s is home to unique menu items, like bacon cheese fries. They also recently added a delicious teriyaki hamburger known as the McTeri. This next thing might not appeal to everyone —in fact, I know it won’t appeal to everyone— but spam is extremely popular in Hawaii. Like, more popular than you would ever believe. As a result Hawaiian McDonalds even serves spam and rice. Again, it won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s worth trying.
5. Get ready for traffic
From what I’ve seen from island virgins looking to make the move to the Aloha State, one thing they don’t account for is transportation. What locals already know, and what anyone who moves here will find out in good time, is that Hawaiian traffic is notorious. There are way too many cars for the amount of road on Oahu. My girlfriend told me about a time when she lived here before when there was a traffic jam in the evening that kept drivers on the road for more than six hours, unable to simply commute home after work. Thanks to my girlfriend’s car combined with our amazingly convenient location, we don’t have that hard of a time getting around, but it’s easy to see how many people in Oahu have issues getting around. Additionally, parking is abysmal. I’ve been lucky in being able to avoid the worst of the traffic, but parking can’t be avoided. Once again, there are just way too many cars here. If you want to move here, don’t plan on bringing your car unless you’re dedicated to driving. Odds are you’ll have a hard time adjusting to Hawaiian driving. I personally recommend the Hawaiian method of transpiration: the moped. Moped are all over the place here. They’re easy to ride, and they get to avoid a lot of the parking difficulties other modes of transportation face. Alternatively, Oahu has an island-wide bus system simply called “TheBus.” It’s not the fastest way around, but it’s cheap and it gets the job done.
6. Tourists are annoying
Who doesn’t want to vacation to Hawaii? The weather is perfect and the views are breathtaking. Well, that’s the problem. EVERYONE wants to vacation here. There are entire sections of Oahu that are basically inaccessible to the general public because tourists clog them up. A nice day at the beach can be ruined because it just so happens to be spring break, and everyone from Kappa Kappa Gamma came to spend the week. Tourism is absolutely necessary to Hawaii. If it suddenly stopped, the most profitable industry in the state would be gone. Just like that. And Hawaiians tolerate the tourists for that exact reason. But the question has become more prominent in recent years: how much is too much? If you’re someone who experiences occasional white guilt like I am, then this becomes doubly concerning the more I explore Oahu. Tourists in their big sun hats and fanny packs become more than mildly annoying when contrasted with the high percentage of locals who live in homeless camps, unable to keep up with the high cost of living and limited economy. The trolleys that transport hordes of tourists from spot to spot are less innocent when in the context of the overcrowding of Hawaiian roads.
7. Really though, everything is just as beautiful as the postcards
Regardless of the housing costs, the difficulties in finding work, and every other negative I can say about Hawaii, there is one thing that tops everything else. Hawaii is built up as an almost mystical land filled with rainbows, volcanos, and the bluest waters on Earth. And this is exactly what it’s like in real life. Even walking past the same locations daily, I find myself noticing new plants while birds I hadn’t seen before fly over my head. Sure there’s a city skyline in Honolulu, surprisingly similar to a skyline in any “regular city,” but it’s just a small part of the island. And sometimes if I go a certain direction, I’ll come across a tent city or a smaller homeless camp around the island, and it briefly makes me forget about the beauty that fills the island. But these lapses are few and far between. The beauty found in these islands cannot be overstated.
8. Sometimes Hawaii feels like its own country
If it weren’t for the high military presence, it might be easy to forget that Hawaii is part of the United States. People here have a lot of pride in being Hawaiian, and there are plenty of statues that honor the former Kingdom of Hawaii and buildings standing that mark important moments in the history of independent Hawaii. When flying into Hawaii, you even have to fill out a customs form to ensure you aren’t smuggling any contraband into the state. This all might sound intimidating, being in one’s home country while also feeling foreign, but it’s quite a cool feeling, honestly. Travels around Oahu often feel like exploring abroad, but at the end of the day, it’s still part of my home country.
9. Have some respect
I mentioned a little bit about white guilt, and that’s definitely a part of my life as a non-native living in Hawaii. Remnants of colonialism are present all around the state, from the plentiful US military bases, to the wealth inequality among ethnic groups. Another horror story I frequently heard before moving was how the native Hawaiians treated white residents, and honestly I kind of worried. Would employers take me seriously? Would I get served at restaurants? It’s silly to think of, a white man worrying that he might not receive fair treatment, but with the picture that was painted for me, I was kind of worried. But since I’ve been here, I’ve experienced nothing of the sort. I know people who have had bad experiences, but I certainly have felt nothing but welcome here. My tip to get the same result? Be respectful. Understand that this island was someone’s home long before it was yours. This small landmass is still considered sacred by a large number of people, and all that most of them ask is that you give it the same amount of respect. It’s not just a backdrop for a quality Insta post. It’s special. I was recently at a Jamba Juice in a crowded mall that’s popular among rich tourists. The cashier gave me a special deal on smoothies because I was “happy and polite.” If you decide to move here it means one of a few things. You might be the sort of nature freak who exclusively buys from Whole Foods, or you’re rich and want to live in a constant vacation. Whoever you are or whatever your reason is for coming here, just have respect. Everything will go smoother for you if you do this simple little thing.
There are pros and cons to island life, just as there are to basically every place a person could live. But if you’re willing and ready to deal with the high cost of living and cultural boundaries, then it is while you’re young and able, it might be a risk worth taking. It gets hard, but there will always be someone around to show the Aloha spirit and make everything at least a little better.