What I Wish I Knew Before Moving To Hawaii

My Hawaii friends and I liked to joke that “you’re never allowed to have a bad day in Hawaii." I mean, it’s HAWAII right?

But people who have moved from the US mainland to any of the islands in Hawaii may recognize the following scenario:

You post something on social media like, “Had a really rough day at work. Just want to curl up on the couch with all the tequila.” And amidst some “Likes” and “Hang in theres!”, the following comments are bound to appear:

“Hard day on the beach?” 

“It’s 30 degrees here and raining. I’d LOVE to have a bad day in Hawaii!”

“Oh PLEASE. You live in Hawaii!”

Part of me understands it. Before I moved to Hawaii, I definitely viewed the Aloha State through “Vacation Goggles." When you’ve only ever visited a place to relax and unwind, it’s hard to see it any other way.

And yes, Hawaii really is as beautiful, if not more beautiful than the postcards and websites say. Every time I flew into Honolulu after a trip back home to California or Texas, I was in awe that I get to live here. Hawaii is like no other place on earth, and I’ll always be grateful for my experience there.

However, as I try to explain to people, “Paradise is paradise until you have to pay rent” — reality still applies when you live in Hawaii.

So for those of you thinking of making the big move across the Pacific, here are some things I’d wish I’d known before moving to Hawaii. I truly believe that anyone can carve out a happy life here, but a little bit of “looking before you leap” can only make the transition smoother.

Hawaii Is Expensive

I tried to think of a more elegant way to put it, but that’s the truth. You live on an island, and though there are lots of wonderful local products to be had, a lot of the comforts from home on the mainland have to be shipped over.

Hawaii — and Honolulu where I lived — is consistently listed as one of the top three most expensive places to live in the US. Gas, food (a loaf of bread was several dollars more than I was accustomed to in Los Angeles!), toiletries — all of these things cost a little bit more. It does add up.

Plus, rent is high. While you may imagine living in a sweet little studio by the beach, know that you’ll probably be paying the same as you would for a 2-bedroom apartment in many US cities.

Hawaii life is not cost-prohibitive, but you may be surprised at the corners you may have to cut (at first) to maintain your standard of living. My best advice is to prioritize and shop where the locals shop.

“Island Time” and the Aloha Spirit Are Real

One of the biggest complaints I heard from friends who were born and raised in Hawaii is that mainlanders get to an island and try to make it like where they came from. Life in Hawaii goes by its own rules, and if you’re going to live there, there’s no use fighting it. Hawaii will win.

When I first started living in Honolulu, it drove me crazy that everything from meetings to retail seemed to go “slower”. I’d be the “uptight” person getting all riled up over someone being five minutes late, or folks stopping to chat with shop workers while I tapped my foot impatiently waiting to pay for my expensive bread.

I was fighting a silly battle that caused me more stress than it was worth.

Many people in Hawaii still want to “talk story” and connect with the community in a way that has been lost in other major US destinations. I’d moved to Hawaii to LIVE IN HAWAII, why was I getting so uppity?

Of course, Hawaii is not perfect, and you’ll find your share of people who can’t be bothered with you. But in a place where the downtown parking garage attendant will help you out when you’re short a dollar, or the 7-11 worker will tell you to “come back and pay later” when you realize you’ve lost your wallet while paying for lunch, it’s worth dropping your cynicism and embracing the “Hawaii way”…even if it seems counter-intuitive to your own.


Maybe I should edit my earlier statement to say, “Paradise is paradise until a giant cockroach flies into your face at your front door”.

Everybody raves about the weather in Hawaii, always warm and balmy, never the “snowmageddon” friends suffer through back on the mainland. And yes, the weather is one of the best parts of Hawaii life. But because it’s always warm and balmy, COCKROACHES NEVER DIE and they WILL be in your home.

It doesn’t matter how clean you are, how diligently you set out traps or spray for them, you WILL encounter cockroaches. Those suckers are STRONG — locals don’t call the giant ones “B-52 Bombers” for nothing.

But they are a part of Hawaii life, and I often thought of dealing with cockroaches as a measure for how adapted to Hawaii living I was. While I screamed and cowered at the sight of a roach when I first moved to Oahu, three years later, a giant one walked across my open-toed shoe after work one night and I barely even flinched.

Who says paradise can’t make you a little tougher?

The Hawaiian Language Is More Than “Aloha”

The first week I lived in Hawaii someone asked me how to get to my apartment. I rambled off something about going north on one street then turning east on my street. The person I was giving directions to looked a little confused and asked me if he should turn mauka or makai onto my street.


Another time during Christmas, a friend of mine (Hawaii born and bred), texted me this message: “What time are you pau hana? Meet at Honolulu Hale at 8pm to see the lights?”

I just stared at my phone wondering how to respond.

Alright, here’s a brief Hawaii language rundown:

mauka — toward the mountains
makai — toward the ocean
pau hana — done with work, time after work
Honolulu Hale — Honolulu city hall (hale meaning “house or building”)

Hawaii has two official languages, English and Hawaiian. And while everyone speaks English, a lot of Hawaiian words are used in everyday speech. The sooner you take the time to learn the meaning and pronunciation of some basic Hawaiian words, the sooner Hawaii will start to feel like home. It really unlocks a part of the culture you can’t experience while on vacation.

The Hawaiian language is just one of many reminders that Hawaii is like no other place in America.

The Beaches Are Awesome! (When You Actually Go) 

Alright, I’ll admit it: when I moved to Hawaii I really expected to spend A LOT of time at the beach.

Like, a few days a week, just head over there after work…okay, maybe every weekend…for sure a couple times a month…when’s the last time I went to the beach?

While lots of people are “soul surfers” and head to the beach at the break of dawn everyday, most of the non-surfing transplants or locals I knew rarely went to the beach. I loved seeing the blue-green water on my drive to work, and nothing beats a 4th of July cookout by the water, but actually going to the beach was a part of “vacation life” I didn’t always have time for.

Perhaps in retrospect, I wish I’d made more time for the beach, as well as the mountains, the forests, and other aspects of Hawaii life. Sometimes I’d get so caught up in surviving Hawaii life, I forgot to live it.

Balance might be the most important thing to remember about making a home in Hawaii. Despite being expensive, sometimes confusing, and often totally foreign, Hawaii is an experience unlike any other. Island life may be a dream, but only after you learn to balance paradise with the normalcy of everyday can it really be living the dream.

Are you moving soon? (Start planning your adventure with our free moving planning journal!)


Louise is a writer and contributing editor for xoJane.com, and currently lives in Hong Kong. She also successfully moved her cat Brandy all the way from Honolulu to Yokohama, Japan.

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