How to travel to Hawaii responsibly

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I’m pretty sure most people have the dream of visiting the Hawaiian islands, and for a good reason! Hawaii is breathtakingly beautiful with some of the best beaches and waterfalls in the world. Plus it’s relatively easy to travel to and there’s lots of good info online on planning your trip. Sadly, many visitors to Hawaii fail to consider the amazing culture, sustainability, and leaving the island better for future visitors and those who live here when they plan their trip.

I have worked closely with Hawaii tourism and once had a really great conversation with someone who was higher up about their mission. The thing is, Hawaii does NOT need more tourists. Millions visit every year. Hawaii needs better tourists. And so any efforts to bring people to the island do not revolve around increasing their numbers, but educating tourists to come and spend their money where it counts (with local and Hawaiian owned businesses), respect and learn about the culture and history, and travel mindfully and sustainably to leave the island in the best shape possible.

Ever since this conversation I’ve tried my best to help visitors travel to Hawaii responsibly. This is one of the reasons my Oahu travel guide includes so many tips and activities that revolve around sustainability and Hawaiian culture.

If you are traveling to Hawaii in the future, then here are my best tips (in no particular order) for being a responsible tourist and taking care of the island for future generations! Have any questions? Learn something new? Leave a comment down below, I love to hear from you!

Let’s get started.

  • Wear reef safe sunscreen! Let’s help keep the reefs healthy and thriving for future generations to come. My favorite brand is All Good which can be found at Target, Costco, and Amazon!

  • Reusable water bottles. Now that you’re near the ocean, it’s important to be extra conscious of your plastic use since that stuff ends up in the ocean and hurts wildlife (plus makes the beaches look ugly!). I love my Hydroflask but anything is better than buying plastic bottles. The water from the tap is safe to drink and tastes amazing too! While you’re at it, ditch the straws whenever possible.

  • Respect private property and don’t trespass. Please avoid high traffic areas such as “Turtle Beach” where you have to jaywalk to get across the street and stop the flow of traffic. (There’s no turtles there anyways, and it’s not that great of a beach).

  • Never touch wildlife! It’s actually illegal to touch sea turtles or even be within 30 feet of them while they’re on land. You might be lucky enough to see one on the beach, but if you get close to it when taking a photo you are actually cause the turtle stress, preventing it from getting the rest it needs. You might even end up being responsible for that turtle dying out in the water, so just stay away and watch nature do it’s thing! This also applies to dolphins, seals, and anything else you see in the wild!

  • Learn Hawaii’s history. Did you know that the government of Hawaii was illegally overthrown by the United States? Or that Hawaii didn’t even become a state until 1959? Native Hawaiian culture such as the hula and even the Hawaiian language was completely outlawed for a time, and there are still entire generations of Hawaiians who don’t speak their own language, although it’s making a comeback. There were many injustices against the Hawaiian people and because of this, there is still leftover tension between native Hawaiians and the United States and you may experience some of this tension during your visit.

  • Learn about native plants and animals to gain a greater appreciation for the unique things Hawaii has to offer! You can visit a botanical garden, get your hands dirty at a Kalo farm, or go on a guided tour and learn about the plants and animals from an expert.

  • Appreciate Hawaiian culture. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who don’t even realize native Hawaiians exist. I’m serious! Sadly many Hawaiian people have moved away from the islands due to rising living costs and lack of government protection, but there are still so many fighting to keep their culture alive. Learn about traditional dance, farming techniques, Hawaiian religion and deities, fishing, and so much more. There are dozens of opportunities listed online but I’ve included many within my Oahu travel guide.

  • Avoid illegal Airbnbs. If the owner doesn’t live on the property, it’s technically illegal and most likely foreign owned. There is a huge problem with housing affordability and availability throughout the islands and this is mainly due to most neighborhoods being bought out by foreign and mainland buyers leaving completely empty neighborhoods and rising house costs. And because the Airbnbs are illegal, it’s not taxed as a vacation rental and all of the money leaves the state and is pocketed by someone who does not live in or contribute to the community. If possible, stick to hotels, officially listed vacation rentals, or only book Airbnb’s where the owner lives on the property (it usually says in the description or you can reach out to them!).

  • Support local businesses! A little research can go a long way but whether you are eating out, buying a souvenir, or booking an activity, try to spend your money in a way that benefits the people who live here. Besides, a necklace crafted locally is so much more special than a cheap plastic mug made in China.

  • Lastly, try not to tag exact locations on social media! It’s different if the tag is something like Pearl Harbor or a place of business, but I have seen firsthand how social media tagging can negatively affect a place. I have gone back to visit some of my favorite spots only to see them covered in literal trash and packed full of people. It’s heartbreaking, and I can’t even imagine how the people who have lived here for decades must feel. Keep things under wraps and let those who would appreciate and respect a place find it on their own!

I hope you enjoyed this little post all about how to travel to Hawaii responsibly! I believe these tips apply to anywhere we travel, and I hope we can create a generation of responsible and respectful tourists!

If you enjoyed this post make sure you read about my favorite beaches, figure out which Hawaiian island you should visit, and take a look at some local’s stories I was lucky enough to capture throughout the islands.

xoxo Heather