Four and a half years ago, our family visited Hawaii. It was incredible, of course – stunning sights and weather, pristine beaches, and the most welcoming people. We fell in love.
Living in California, we know many people who travel to Hawaii regularly – and I can see why! It’s stunning, super fun with kids, requires a reasonably short flight, and feels unique and far away without any additional travel considerations like passports and visas. While we’d considered returning several times, other trips always got in the way (like our summer in Paris or our 4-month RV trip or a couple’s trip to the Maldives).
So when a flight deal popped up a few months ago, right during the lowest point of the pandemic when things were looking incredibly positive, we jumped at the chance. We figured it would be a great opportunity for our family to relax after a very stressful 18 months. It also seemed to be quite a safe place to take our too-young-to-be-vaccinated kids since testing was required to fly there and case counts were extremely low.
But then all that changed.
Over the summer, things seemed to devolve, both in terms of pandemic numbers and other factors. So much so that last week, just a couple weeks before our trip, we decided to cancel. Our own health and safety was definitely a consideration (especially that of our kids who are too young to be vaccinated), but wasn’t the primary consideration.
Here are 5 reasons our family decided a trip to Hawaii right now was not the right or responsible decision for us to make.
While the pandemic is getting worse in many areas, Hawaii is especially bad. In fact, it’s experiencing the worst numbers since the pandemic started. While this is, of course, not ideal for our family, it’s even worse for those living there. Local communities and hospitals are very strained with resources and healthcare, especially as islands unable to quickly connect with neighboring areas.
This also means healthcare will be even more difficult to access for local – especially indigenous – communities. It’s top of mind for communities where 80% of their ancestors died because of the spread of European diseases. Especially during this unique time of travel, it’s our responsibility to ensure we’re not contributing to a worsening of the pandemic and its effects in the places we visit.
Water Shortages & Environmental Concerns
The islands of Maui, in particular, have been grappling with drought over the last couple of months. These water shortages have culminated in restrictions being imposed on locals, especially those who live in ranching and farming areas away from tourist hotspots. While the sourcing of water to these areas is separate from that of the high tourism areas, decades of infrastructure expenditure prioritizing the areas tourists frequent has created this system in the first place. It is a system of giving to tourists that which local residents cannot themselves access.
Plainly put, it’s simply not fair to knowingly travel there and use up more of these resources needed by locals at this time.
And while we always do our best when we travel to minimize our impact, there is always a footprint. Unfortunately, the scales in Hawaii are currently tipping toward that footprint being too large. This includes tourists either knowingly or unknowingly harming flora and fauna; some have been reported as touching sea turtles and monk seals, and hiking in illegal areas and harming the lands.
While Hawaii has been a popular tourist destination for some time, it’s really exploded in the last few years. It’s also one of just a few places where the tourism numbers are almost on par with pre-pandemic numbers. People are traveling there in hordes due to convenience, proximity, and perceived safety, often without considering these same effects for the local population.
This has made it even more difficult for locals, especially native Hawaiians, to enjoy their lands. As the only state that has not fully reopened, Hawaii still has a number of restrictions. Locals are surely clinging to their nearby options for outdoor recreation, so I can imagine it’s frustrating for tourists to take over many of those spots.
Local Governments Asking Tourists To Wait To Visit
The Maui mayor recently asked airlines to please reduce the number of flights and visitors. He notes that the people and employees there haven’t had sufficient time to prepare for the influx of tourists, especially in the face of continuing health restrictions there.
It’s even caused many road blockages throughout the islands, including on the famous Road to Hana. That is not only frustrating and potentially damaging to the lands (so many people parking illegally on sides of roads because there’s nowhere else to stop), but could also hinder emergency vehicles trying to get through during pandemic times.
Indigenous Communities Are Asking Us To Not Come Right Now
Most importantly, those to whom the land belongs are begging and pleading with us to not come right now. It’s sometimes tricky finding these voices. They’re not being shared by major news outlets. They’re not being amplified by tourism boards and airlines and hotels that are interested in driving up profit. But it’s their voices that matter most.
Once I started hearing these voices, I kept finding more. It became abundantly clear to me that that was the overwhelming sentiment amongst indigenous communities. It became a very clear decision that our family needed to respect that.
Here are some wonderful voices from whom to learn:
Our Family’s Choice To Cancel Our Hawaii Trip
Overall, what I’m mostly hearing from indigenous and local Hawaiians is NOT to never come again. Most are not saying that tourists are completely unwelcome ever. However, the vast majority of those actually impacted are asking people to please wait until some of these issues improve. They’re asking us to temper our enthusiasm and look into systems and reparations that can mitigate some of the harm. They’re asking us that when we do come, to do our best to respect the land, learn about the peoples and communities, and show appreciation and support for them.
For our family, the best way we can do that right now is by waiting to visit Hawaii. My husband and I researched, discussed, and decided this was the course of action we personally could feel good about choosing with integrity at this current point in time. We discussed with our kids, and while we feared they would be very disappointed, every one of them made the same choice – to honor and trust those most impacted, and to believe those with lived experience.
And at the end of the day, as a travel blogger, I feel an added responsibility to not only make respectful and responsible choices, but to communicate them, as well. As someone who benefits greatly from being welcomed to incredible places around the world, I feel partly responsible for disseminating information on how to do that cautiously, carefully, respectfully, and at the right time.
If You Do Choose to Visit Hawaii Now
Of course, we only made that decision for our family and it’s certainly not a perfect decision. There’s rarely a single right answer in responsible travel that works for every person and circumstance. I am acutely aware of our privilege both in planning a trip to Hawaii, and being able to cancel a trip to Hawaii.
Others may decide they can still visit now. For those who do choose to do so, I highly encourage you to do so with great respect and understanding, and with a plan to mitigate your environmental footprint (taking your waste back with you to the mainland, for instance).
And if you do travel there right now, PLEASE consider not (or at least waiting on) broadcasting your visit in an effort to not encourage others to visit in droves (unlike this recent major newspaper publication). Do not encourage further tourism right now. DO educate yourself, seek out, and follow indigenous Hawaiian voices, and amplify those voices in your sphere of influence.
By doing so, I sincerely hope we can return some power in Hawaii to indigenous voices and return Hawaii to a place where visitors are welcomed – in moderation.
Aloha e Preethi,
I want to express my deep gratitude to you and your ‘ohana (family) for the respect and solidarity you’ve demonstrated by not only canceling your trip, but sharing it so perhaps other visitors will gain insight into our struggles. I live on O’ahu, and it has been such a difficult time. While “aloha” is a very complex term that does include love, acceptance, and welcome, it (and our people and land) has been exploited and misappropriated repeatedly throughout our history. Pandemic aside, our norm is tourists visiting with no prior knowledge or care of our history, arriving with an entitled attitude and lack of respect. The Pandemic is just another layer on top of that.
Again, thank you so so much. Please continue to be an informed and respectful traveler, and I hope you are able to reschedule your visit here when things have settled.
Sending ALOHA to you and your ‘ohana,
This is such a thoughtful decision on your family’s part. More people should consider the needs of others over the desires of themself. Thank you for making a difficult, but selfless choice!
That is very kind of you – thank you for your note!