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How to Survive a Vacation in Hawaii

Rose West has been an online writer for more than 10 years. She often writes about England, Hawaii, and books.

Travel agents and guide books alike will tell you of the beauty of Hawaii: the year-round neon greenery, the healing Pacific Ocean, the buttery tropical breezes, and the excess of exotic fruit. All good and fine, but take it from me, what you need to worry about are the things the travel guides don't tell you. From my perspective, a vacation is something to be survived, and a vacation in Hawaii requires a special set of survival skills not detailed in your pocket-sized Fodor's.

If you're planning a vacation to Hawaii (whether it's real or imaginary, is of no consequence), or if you are the friend or spouse of some hopeless romantic who has a tendency to purchase airplane tickets to tropical islands on an ignorant whim, then please beware. Although traveling across the ocean on a flimsy piece of metal and screws has its own dangers, staying in a strange place with the hope of relaxation comes with risks. And if you are brave enough to take on these risks, you must be wise enough to keep in mind these tips for survival.


How to Dress

Learning how to dress for the tropics and what kind of clothes to pack in your suitcase (if you're lucky enough to afford one) can be a challenge. Fortunately, the weather in Hawaii is generally the same year-round, so with a few simple rules, you can be prepared for the worst.

Less is best. Remember, even in the middle of February, the temperature in Hawaii is probably a lot higher than it was where you came from. Don't bring your ski jacket. Or your scarf. Or your gloves. And for Heaven's sake, leave those nylons and stockings at home! You probably won't be needing socks either (unless you want to go hiking with shoes on). The temperature averages in the 70s and 80s all year, dropping to the 60s on winter nights.

What you should pack:

  • shorts
  • short-sleeved shirts
  • sundresses
  • flip-flops
  • swimsuit
  • light jacket or sweater

As you can see from the picture, I'm not very good at following my own rules, but then again, I'm not very good at survival.


Fear the Sun

The sun is your worst enemy. What people call UV rays are really death rays that seek to sear your skin, turning you into the suitcase you couldn't afford. Hawaii lies between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, which means that the sun and its death rays are closer to you than most other places. Although a healthy dose of sunshine provides the helpful Vitamin D, one minute over the healthy amount means red, itchy, peeling skin for the remainder of your vacation.

What to bring or buy at the local ABC store:

  • sunscreen (30 SPF, at least, is recommended for tourists who have been sitting in office cubicles or basements for much of the year)
  • hat
  • UV protected sunglasses
  • aloe vera (for when you don't listen about the 30 SPF sunscreen)


Travel guides go on and on about the adorable monk seals and sea turtles and spinner dolphins and humpback whales, but they don't tell you about the wild animals that are a little less than adorable. The cane spider, for instance. Think: anorexic tarantula. Cane spiders don't spin webs, and apparently, they are afraid of humans. Some unthinking people like them because they eat cockroaches.

Brown Huntsman Spider, commonly called the Cane Spider

Brown Huntsman Spider, commonly called the Cane Spider

Speaking of cockroaches ...

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cockroach in its best state

cockroach in its best state

If the cane spiders and cockroaches don't bother you, then surely the centipedes will. Fat, purple, leggy worms that bite! Believe you me, this is one insect not to be played with.

a medium-sized centipede

a medium-sized centipede

Good news, though. Death by insects is at an impossible low currently in Hawaii. To prevent further annoyance, a can of Raid or a convenient shoe, or the sledgehammer you may find in your condo's closet will come in handy. Just keep your eyes open, and always check inside your shoes.

Sea Creatures

Perhaps you may think I exaggerate about the little creatures with teeth called bugs. I think not, but be that as it may, you will surely want to be on your guard regarding the creatures of the sea. I don't need to remind you to watch Jaws before swimming.

One thing many tourists (and especially snorkelers) do that they really shouldn't is walk on the coral reefs. Walking in these fragile ecosystems is damaging to the beautiful sea creatures that live there. Of course, another reason not to walk on the reef is the sea urchins that sit on the rocks, poking their poisonous spines up for careless bare feet to step on.

Although it looks like a jellyfish, it actually isn't one. The Portuguese Man o' War is made up of individual zooids who colonize together in their voyage of shocking destruction. The nematocysts in the man-of-war's tentacles paralyze fish and when in contact with your skin, leave red welts.

Portuguese Man-of-War

Portuguese Man-of-War

Again, death by these creatures is extremely rare, but you still want to stay out of range of danger. Don't walk on the reefs, don't go swimming with an open wound, and, if you see a clear balloon floating on a wave, don't pick it up.

Don't Get Lost

Among the many activities to do in Hawaii, hiking is among the most popular. Visitors look forward to a pleasant danger-free excursion in a tropical rainforest. Unfortunately, the real definition of hiking is roaming around in remote places where paved roads, cell phone reception, Starbucks, and public restrooms are near extinct. Wandering off marked trails can lead to extremely dangerous situations. Because the rock in Hawaii is so crumbly, landslides can easily occur, especially after heavy rainfall.

To prevent accidents when hiking:

  • Buy a map or trail guide and don't forget to read it.
  • Tell someone where you plan to go and when you plan to return.
  • Pack extra water and food supplies, as well as sunscreen.
  • Don't decide to "explore" off the trail.
  • Take into account the weather conditions—heavy rain can erode trails.
a weary hiker

a weary hiker

The Pacific Ocean

Pacific, my eye. Sure, it makes for beautiful sunsets and somewhat pleasant snorkeling escapades, but the ocean can also be a deadly foe. Dangerous surf swells can occur throughout the year, but the incredible waves that create the infamous Pipe Line are rampant on the North Shores in the winter. Even when the water looks calm on the surface, beneath the blue lie invisible currents and rip tides that will catch you by surprise. Stay aware of the water conditions, always keep an eye on the sea, and don't go beyond your comfort zone. Some adventurous people like to jump off the rocks and cliffs into the sea, but this isn't recommended unless you are with experienced jumpers.

the Pacific Ocean in the winter

the Pacific Ocean in the winter

Keep in mind:

  • Don't jump in the ocean if you don't know how to swim.
  • Don't swim during a tsunami warning.
  • Don't swim during a strong swell.
  • If you aren't sure, ask the closest lifeguard for current conditions.
local risk-takers

local risk-takers


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