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How to Experience Authentic Island Living:8 Unexpected Joys I Miss About Life in Hawaii

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Fairy lights in a car on a beach at sunset

8 Unexpected Joys I Miss About Life in Hawaii

Today, I am walking around the Chicago Loop with some friends and family. It's a good day for it. I have my coffee in my hand, and I feel a sense of comfort looking at some old familiar landmarks from my childhood. However, to my dismay a relative brings up how I have been in Hawaii for the past few years. My heart starts to race.I was not ready to talk about my life in Hawaii. Whenever someone finds out that I lived in Hawaii for several years THE FIRST question they ask me is WHY am I not there anymore because only a crazy person would leave Hawaii to come back to the mainland right? The SECOND question is always, “SOOO..What do you miss?” My go to answer is I miss living so close to the beach. I miss the beach everyday. Who wouldn’t, right? I truly believe that people were made for tropical weather, and when we visit places like Hawaii, something in us just goes “Oh, hey! I'm home!” I long for a lot of the typical things most people would miss, but there are some things that caught me by surprise. Reality didn't hit me about how much I appreciated them till I left the island.

# 1 Embracing Ohana:When Kids Call You "Auntie"

palm trees in the Hawaiian sunset

One of the things that I found so sweet and wholesome about the local Hawaiian culture is that anyone who is older than you is your Uncle or Auntie. You will often hear children( the Hawaiian word for children is Keiki) You may get called Uncle or Auntie even if someone does not know you. While we were on Big Island my Husband worked at a local school. I remember that no matter where we went on Big Island there would be a kid shouting to us, “Hi Uncle, hi Auntie!” Many times their parents would come over to talk story with us . All the way from the beaches to the restaurants on Hawaii, I always heard kids calling someone uncle or auntie. I realized I missed that because of a grocery store encounter. While I was grocery shopping, a teenager handed me a cart and said, "Here you go ma'am”. It sounded so weird in my ears because at that point, I’d ever been called ma’am in my life. I could have thrown up right then and there. Ma’am???? What??? I felt so old and irrelevant. I had a realization that my students now call me by my last name.It's not as endearing as hearing "Auntie". I think it would be amazing if we showed those older than us respect by warmly addressing them as "Uncle or Auntie."

#2 From Open Roads to Open Hearts:The Art of Island Hitch Hiking

Hippie van driving along the beach

I learned that hitchhiking is an essential part of authentic island living. This is one that is really fun but I do not recommend.I especially caution other women against it. It's not safe , but I took my chances with it. Maybe it is because my parents were really strict with me as a teen. On the Island, I was finally free from criticism and overbearing rules! It very well also might have been my ADHD's doing .I don’t know. Either way, I was eager to try something mildly edgy. Anyway, my first time hitchhiking I actually wasn’t trying to hitchhike. My husband and I were walking along the side of the road to the bus stop. These two old and sweet Aunties pulled up and asked if I wanted a ride into town. My husband and I were like... “Sure!” It beat waiting for a bus that may or may not come. I was with my husband and it was two small ladies so I figured it would be fine. As we came closer to town, they asked, “Would you like to join us for morning coffee ? They pulled into McDonalds, they bought us coffee, and we got to know them.They and all their friends told us about growing up on the island. They were the first of many interesting people to chat with. We learned a lot and we got to meet so many new people. I quickly noticed how hitchhiking was part of the vibe in Hawaii. I saw other women do it, couples, friends from work ect. I even picked up people when I got my car. I met quite a few interesting people for hitchhiking and that's why I miss it. I should note again that I do not recommend it and I did not get into every car that offered me a ride nor did I stop for just anyone one if I was getting weird vibes from them. I also do not think it is safe to hitchhike on the USA mainland and wouldn't do it here.

#3 Free Expression and Aloha Spirit

Boho woman doing yoga while facing the water

Growing up in the suburbs, I never really felt like I fit in the overall tone of the culture. I hated how everyone was competing with one another, parents ranked each other by their jobs, you would get made fun of at school if you didn't have "the right" clothes and all that other pretentious b.s. I knew that no place would ever be perfect but everyday growing up my heart ached to be in a place where my worth was based on none of that stuff.I dreamed of being in a place I could live authentically my way. I wanted to meet people that cared more about you than what material things you had to offer. Out in Hawaii, I met a cool group of people that were just like that. I met so many people who were down to earth and had hearts of gold. I remember when I first visited Hawaii's Hot Springs. To my absolute delight there was a yoga class talking place on a small patch of grass near the beach. There were singing bowls, colorful mats, fresh pineapple; the works. I remember going outside at night and banging drums with my friends, dancing and just being silly. We would share artwork, poetry, and took drop in classes together. For the first time in my life, I was able to take a Tahitian dance class at 2:00pm on a Wednesday. Those were things that I had always wanted to do. Also, I met an uber driver who was storyteller. She told Hawaiian legends to all her riders. So many people being unapologetically themselves were there. It inspired me to be the person that I knew was inside of me but I was afraid to be.

#4 The Horns of Connection:Getting Honked at with Love

"What! You used to enjoy getting honked at?" One of my friends exclaimed when we were at lunch. I grinned at her mischievously. My friend, if you live in a high populated area, you know that people dive unsafe . After being away from it so long, for the longest time I would avoid driving if I could.The first week back home, there were a few times I thought I was going to die out there on the road.

In Hawaii, things were a bit different. I saw of my favorite Aunite's stop of to the side and talk with her friend that was walking her dog on the sidewalk (there really wasn't any traffic). The first week back home, I thought I was going to die a few times. If you get honked at in Hawaii it's most likely because the person knows you and they are saying hi. I got used to hearing a honk and then seeing a shaka thrown my way. In a weird way it was cultivating community for me. In those moments I felt like I was part of the community, enough those most of the time I felt out of place in Hawaii. Now, when I drive back on the mainland and I hear a honk, I ask my husband, “Who was that?”

#5 Tropical Fruit Straight from the Source

A bowl of tropical fruit

I was entering data for my company and my fingers started to feel like a goblin had cursed them and they were slowly being turned into stone. My neck was killing me and I couldn't help but keep staring at the palm tree hitting my window. Like is wasn't going to relent until I can out to play. So I got up and when outside for a walk. I noticed that there were adorable oranges on a tree finally ready to be picked. So I started to pick them and while I was, a group of bored students walked by and eagerly wanted to join me. We talked as we were picking the fruit and one of the students asked if we could make orange juice. I thought that was a great idea! So me, the students, and the other staff that were with them brought the oranges into the kitchen and we juiced the oranges. Its was so good, it was the very definition of tropical. It tasted like how you would think drinking orange juice in Hawaii would be like. After that I felt refreshed enough to finish entering the rest of the data. I didn’t realize the value of moments like that, until I left. While I was grabbing coffee with my sister one day, I was telling her how when I needed a break I would run out to my company's front lawn. There were so many fruit trees. We had star fruit, papayas, avocado, mango, coconuts we could crack open(very hard to do). I also told her about how I made the orange juice with the students. My sister looked at me with big eyes and was like," Uhhhh….that’s LITERALLY my dream!!! I would love to go pick tropical fruit from a tree. Not fair!”. I do my best, but the pineapples here just aunt the same, and it is extremely hard to find lillikoi. Although, I glad I am back in the land of reasonably priced blueberries, I do miss me my fresh tropical fruit.

#6 Talk About Waves of Adventure:Taking the bus in Hawaii

A bench on the beach in Hawaii

Taking the bus in Hawaii is the closest thing you can get to living like a local. Talk about authentic island living. I know I know. It seems like a weird one right? The bus rides on Big Island were insane. While I lived there I actually hated it.It was the highest level of HATE you can possibly think of. One time, I was lectured by an old retired lady. She sat next to me and told me how sorry she was for poor little me who was stuck taking the bus( no joke true story). I felt awkward and humiliated. She sat right next to me and told me she was blessed with an amazing vehicle... and how her and her husband worked oh so hard to be able to retire in Hawaii. My face turned red with embarrassment. Also, the bus was never on time, sometimes 3 hours late. Sometimes, I would have to wait in the rain. When it did come, people would be packed. However, looking back on it, I met a lot of cool people at the bus stop while waiting for the bus. People I probably would have never stopped to talk to(because I'm an introvert like that). I heard the wildest, craziest conspiracy theories, some that made me think. One guy I wasn’t sure was all there but he was really nice. Others offered encouragement. I made a sweet friend that would uplift me on my hardest days. There was a core group of I want to say 9 people would get excited when we hopped on in the morning.Looking back on it, seeing their smiling faces gave me strength to make it through the day. Sometimes their stories would make me laugh so hard my stomach hurt. A lot of tourists from other countries would take the bus and I would get to talk to them! So if you are looking for a new wave of adventure or an authentic way to experience Hawaii, I recommend hoping on the bus.

#7 Underrated Legends and The Rich Hawaiian History

When I was a kid in school I don't remember learning much about Hawaii. In fact I think the only times Hawaii was mentioned were when we were talking about volcanoes in 4th science and Pearl Harbor in History.. And of course Hawaii was mentioned when all the rich kids talked about where they went on spring break. Nothing in depth though. Through my conversations with other mainlanders, I realized that most people probably don't know anything about Hawaii's Rich History. Before becoming part of the US Hawaii was its own Sovereign Nation with its own fascination culture and history. I learned about the marvelous Queen Lili'uokalani ,King Kamehameha and of course the epic myths of Pele and Maui. Learning about Hawaii's history gave me a whole new dimension to the appreciation and respect I already had for the Islands. It is my hope that one day that all the USA mainlanders will have a deep understanding of what Hawaii is all about.

#8 Delicious Treasures

Hot dogs on a restaurant table

One ridiculously hot afternoon my husband and I were craving hot dogs. Neither of us eat meat, so we didn't think we would be able to find anything, but we figured that it was worth it to look. So, we went venturing around Hilo, Hawaii Low and behold we struck gold! We discovered the cutest hole in the wall restaurant named Saucy Dogs. It smelled amazing! They had all different kinds of options to choose from.The cashier smiled and told us that they had a vegetarian option called the Not Dog( its real name). It’s a carrot dog. Yes, a carrot dog. It was a carrot cooked and flavored like a hot dog. I had never heard of anything like that before.. The first time I tried it I couldn't even tell I was eating a carrot! My husband loved that place so much, every time a tourist asked us to recommend a few places to eat, Saucy Dogs was on that list! They didn't pay us, we were just fans. Part of what makes Saucy Dogs so special is that it's a hot dog place that can accommodate a variety of diets. There aren't many hot dog places like that. If you ever go to Big Island and you like hole in the wall food places, check them out! You won’t be disappointed.

As I write this article, I am watching the water cascade so wonderfully at Buckingham fountain in Chicago. Walking around downtown today, made me think about all the ways that Hawaii had impacted my life. This article is just a brief reflection about things I miss that I did not really expect to. In a few years, I will mostly likely have other insights to add to my list. Have you ever lived in a new place?If so what are some things you miss about where you used to live? If not, what are 8 small things that you appreciate about where you live?

Hi! I am Paulie D. from Notes from My Hammock. I write about living authentically, mindfulness, wellness, and self-expression.

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