Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.
— Paul Theroux
As a full-time travel blogger, I’m frequently asked about my favorite destinations around the world. My answers, depending on my current whims and the energy I have to delve into such a query, range from a carefully calibrated, heartfelt list of places that make my heart skip a beat to a far-off smile and a rotating roulette of just one off the list.
Often, it’s Hawaii.
Of all my answers, it’s probably the one that people are most surprised by. “Hawaii?” they clarify, in a tone that suggests they find the answer bordering on pedestrian. For a girl who’s packed up and taken herself to some fairly far-flung and exotic corners of the world, somewhere I don’t need a passport to get to might be somewhat a surprising choice.
And for those who know Hawaii only for the five-star resorts in Wailea or Ko Olina, or the bustling tourist centers of Waikiki and Lahaina (all of which I have nothing but love for, by the way), I can see how it might raise an eyebrow.
But wow, do I feel blessed. Because I’d already had the enormous privilege of spending a collective two months on the Hawaiian Islands over two previous trips; and here I was, heading back for another three weeks to dive head first into my happy place once again.
Because I somehow lucked into having so many family and friends that live on these islands and have showed me the real meaning of ho’okipa, Hawaiian hospitality.
And because I first met Hawaii when I was young and felt broke, and so I stayed in hostels and crashed on friend’s blow-up mattresses and slept in my car, and ate lunch from gas stations and had nothing but shave ice for dinner, and marveled over all the free entertainment the islands offered, from epic hiking to magical snorkeling to encounters with boulder-sized turtles on hidden beaches.
Somehow, these blessings of time, aloha, and adventure have allowed me to fall head over bare feet for so many facets of Hawaii. For me, they are more than just beautiful islands on which to sip tiki drinks (another thing I have nothing but love for, by the way) — but I appreciate Hawaii down in my soul.
Can you even imagine how excited I was to bring Ian here, for his first time? My heart was bursting with happiness as our plane took off from Los Angeles — and while our trip was quite painstakingly planned, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to book a return flight. While Ian had a firm two and a half weeks, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to resist staying just a bit longer.
Our trip kicked off with a Hawaii tradition I’d yet to experience: a true luxurious resort vacation in Ko Olina. Sure, I’d stayed in some pretty fancy hotels during a gorgeous press trip to Maui in 2014, but the thing about press trips is you only photograph pools, you don’t get in them. This time, I was going to swim, dang it.
And swim I did. My dad generous gifted us enough of his Disney Vacation Club points to stay at the Aulani Resort on the West Coast of Oahu, and while upon arrival we were somewhat skeptical if two twenty-somethings would really mesh with a dang Disney resort, by check-out we were so swept up with the place that we extended our original four night stay to five.
Next, we moved onto yet another first for me — actually staying in Waikiki for a long weekend. Prior to this trip, my Oahu adventures had all been hosted by my lovely friend Wim, who like almost all Oahuans avoids “town” with a dedicated passion, so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.
While I admit Wim was mostly right about Waikiki proper, we found ourselves obsessed with some of the nearby neighborhoods that staying there afforded us easy access to.
And then we were back at the airport, clutching boarding passes for Maui. The next four days felt like a dream as we hopped in a vintage RV and spent three nights camping along the Road to Hana. Ian lists this as his undisputed highlight of the trip — I couldn’t possibly begin to choose, though I must admit that I felt like I was dreaming as we chased waterfalls, pulled over at every hand-painted sign for home-made banana bread, hiked to hidden beaches, and slept under the stars.
The best part? With our beat up ride, everyone assumed we were kama’aina, or locals — something that would actually be a dream come true for me someday.
We rounded out Ian’s time on Maui with six nights relaxing in Paia, cementing our loyalty to East Maui. We sampled a local winery and brewery, I took a class at every yoga and fitness studio in town, and we caught up with some very dear friends.
After Ian left, I considered so many options — flying straight back to LA, heading over to Big Island, or even bumming around Maui a bit more. But in the end I felt drawn back to Oahu, where I spent five nights going diving, crashing with Wim and Dave, and hanging with the two cutest twins Hawaii’s ever seen.
Speaking of those kiddos! Like I said, our trip kicked off in Oahu at Aulani. One of the things I loved about the idea of staying here was that Wim and Dave and Rhys and Rhone were practically our neighbors in Ewa Beach, and I wanted to spend as much time as we could with them.
I hadn’t seen Wim in two years, and I couldn’t get over the idea that the last time I’d seen her, we were sipping mai tais without a care in the world. It took me so long to get back to Oahu that by the time I did, she and Dave had made two little mini-mes! Life is crazy like that.
Are these not the most gorgeous children you’ve ever laid eyes on? Aulani is pretty strict about only allowing guests to use the facilities — luckily, our one-bedroom suite had a technical capacity of five adults, so I was able to register the whole family to our room along with us for no extra charge.
And while in spite of my eager offers they declined to have a sleepover (Wim assured us this was for our benefit), they brought the babies over twice, and once Wim managed to sneak over on her own for a girly afternoon while Ian drove off to the North Shore. North Shore, you say? This burnt out blogger vowed she wasn’t leaving the property once for our entire stay, which I mostly made good on, aside from one BBQ dinner over at Wim and Dave’s, and one sunset sail on the boat Dave crews, both well-worthy exceptions. Basically, we all saw loads of each other, much to my delight.
One of the coolest things to come out of this trip was this very calming revelation I had while spending time with Rhys and Rhone, which is that I was really enjoying myself. I’ve never had a single twinge of baby lust in my life — for a long time, I figured maybe it would show up someday in the future, though at twenty-eight, I’ve started to suspect it possibly never will (of course, maybe it will — life is crazy, right?)
It’s kind of hard for me to articulate in a way that doesn’t sound vapid, but as I’ve reached that age where my friends have very slowly started to do crazy stuff like get married and get knocked up, I’ve started to have this selfish realization that at some point my life is going to change pretty drastically, whether I decide to join them or not. If you and all your friends have kids, fabulous, you’ve got a built in playgroup! But what if you chose not to? I’ve never had a real connection with kids or been a natural with them, and there were times when I started to wonder what that would do to my friendships as I reached that age where essentially everyone you know dives into raising a family for two decades. Where would that leave me, the girl who’s more likely to freak out over petting a dog than holding a baby?
So, hanging with Wim’s family for these two weeks gave me the “aha!” moment that your friends kids aren’t just any kids — they are literally little mini versions of some of your favorite people in the world! I had so much fun with Rhys and Rhone I was practically begging Wim and Dave to go on vacation and let me come stay for a week to babysit. They were an absolute trip and I left just aching to get back and see them again already. I’ve basically never connected with kiddos like that before.
Suddenly, all that mild anxiety I’d had brewing about the future cleared as I realized that it’s absolutely inevitable that friendships change with new responsibilities and priorities, and while I may never feel the call to have kids of my own, I’m going to have so much fun getting to know the little families my best friends eventually start to build.
Hawaii always teaches me something.
And I felt closer to Wim than ever. Here’s this girl I met in the Cayman Islands when our boyfriends happened to work at the same dive school — and we instantly clung to each other like female friendship life rafts on a tiny island where we knew no one. Years later, I drove to her to her wedding to the same guy in her hometown in Pennsylvania. Later still, I crashed their honeymoon in Thailand. A few months after, they invited me to come visit them on their new home island of Oahu. Four years and three trips later, and I’ve got one of their babies on each hip.
Life is crazy, right?
No surprise twist here — Hawaii was just as magical as it was when I first washed ashore there in 2012. As I’ve begun preparing for this deep dive into my three and a half weeks there, I’ve found myself actually giddy with excitement to once again share this deeply important corner of my heart with you. Whether Hawaii is an old favorite or still on your bucket list or a destination you’re skeptical of, I hope I might be able to surprise you with something.
After all, it just so happens to be one of my favorite places in the world.
Confused on where we are? I’m catching up on the black hole of content from August of 2016 to April of 2017 — when I jumped forward to blog the summer of 2017 as it was happening. Right now, we’re in October of 2016 in Hawaii, and I can’t wait to turn my detailed notes and journals into blog posts from Jamaica, Thailand and Bali next! My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.