9 tips for first-timers traveling to Hawaii
The Hawaiian islands have their beautiful beaches, invigorating atmosphere, fascinating wildlife and colourful culture, it’s easy to see why so many people have traveling to Hawaii on their bucket list. You’re probably already planning what to bring and where to go–and having a hard time doing so.
The good thing is there are plenty of reliable online resources to help you decide the best places to see in Hawaii and how to go about having a great, hassle-free vacation. We’ve collected some of the best Hawaii travel tips out there for first-time visitors, to get you started.
Secure a U.S. visa
First things first! Because Hawaii is a part of the United States of America, you’ll need a U.S visa to enter. If you have a current Australian passport, you can go to and stay in Hawaii (and other U.S. states, Mexico and Canada) for up to 90 days without getting a U.S visa, thanks to the Visa Waiver Programme.
Australian travellers going to Hawaii will need to have their Electronic System for Travel Auhtorisation or ESTA approved first though. You have to complete the ESTA application at least 72 hours before your departure date, but we recommend submitting your application earlier to avoid trip delays.
Stick to one or two islands
It’s hard to absorb what Hawaii can offer when you’re always having to run from one place to another. For your first visit, choose one or two from Hawaii’s four main islands: Maui, Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island, or the Big Island.
Before traveling to Hawaii, do your homework and research the activities you’d like to do and which islands would have them all. The top two islands for first-time travellers to Hawaii are usually Maui for surfing and Oahu for the diverse array of local food.
Widen your accommodation horizons
The Hawaiian Islands have plenty of accommodation options for every need, lifestyle and budget. Aside from the usual hotels, there are hotel condos, budget hotels, hostels as well as bed & breakfast inns for budget-conscious folks. You can also book lodging through Airbnb and Couchsurfing, which will allow you to stay in a local person’s home.
Of course, for those traveling to Hawaii who want to enjoy some luxury, you can always check out Maui vacation rentals for the best accommodations by the beach!
Rent a car
Getting around Hawaii, especially if you’re sticking to one island for your first-time visit, is easier if you drive your own (rented) car. There are many Hawaii car rental agencies and each offers different kinds of vehicles at various prices depending on the season and demand. Compare their promos to determine which company can give you the best deal.
Remember to make your vehicle reservation as far in advance as possible if you’re traveling during the peak season. Also, don’t forget to check your insurance policy as well as credit card coverage to determine which items may be offered at no cost.
Don’t leave without learning to surf
If you are traveling to Hawaii and you love to surf, this is sure to be a good vacation choice. Learning to surf in Hawaii is great as there’s a surf spot for surfers of every skill level. If it’s your first time to surf, Hawaii offers several surf breaks that are suited for beginners and with plenty of surf instructors around. In Oahu, there’s Barbers Point, Queens and Canoes, Pops (or Populars) and Puaena.
In Kauai you have Pine Trees; in Maui there’s The Cove/Cove Park, Breakwall and Thousand Peaks. For intermediate-level surfers, you can go to Middles on Maui’s north shore. As for Big Island, there aren’t that many surf spots for beginners, we suggest sticking to Maui and Oahu. Sign up for surfing lessons and catch those waves!
Educate your palate
Hawaii serves up a variety of international cuisine for travellers from around the world, it even has roadside food trucks, but what you should definitely go for are dishes prepared the
traditional way. Hawaii has a rich culinary tradition you shouldn’t miss, your taste buds will thank you for it.
There’s always fresh produce to be had, you’ll love their rambutan, papaya and pomelo among other tropical fruits and vegetables. Of course, there’s also their traditional Hawaiian food. We
recommend trying out poi, a taro dish that has been a staple of native Hawaiian cuisine for millennia. For dessert, you absolutely need to have a serving (or two!) of haupia, a coconut
milk-based pudding with a consistency like gelatin. There are many other specialties to try just ask the locals in Hawaii!
Swim with sea turtles–but don’t touch them
Swimming with sea turtles is an extraordinary experience first time travellers to Hawaii should not miss. On the Big Island, the best place to swim with these friendly and gentle animals is at
the Carl Smith Beach Park in Hilo town.
The sea turtles may swim toward you but you should know that you should never touch them, touching is not only invasive, it’s illegal. It’s recommended to stay at least 2 yards away from them at all times. Also, don’t try to chase them, the calmer you are, the higher your chances of them wanting to float and hang around you.
Immerse in the culture
Your Hawaii vacation will become more meaningful when you learn about the traditional culture and participate in activities that celebrate it.
Find out for yourself what makes the Hawaiian people unique by learning hula and the meaning behind each movement, watching how they cook their food (or learn to cook authentic dishes
yourself), learning about Hawaiian art and history by visiting museums and galleries and paying your respects to the ancient spirits by visiting heiau temple ruins.
Meet traditional healers and attend a language class, these are just some of the ways you can get a deeper understanding of the Hawaiian culture, which we guarantee will stay with you long
after you’ve left the islands and which will keep you coming back for more.
With that said, it’s also important to treat cultural practices with respect. Be aware of the local customs and etiquette by reading about them beforehand. Knowing what could be considered impolite or offensive will not only save you from embarrassment but also earn you the respect of the Hawaiian people. For instance, receiving a lei is an honor, and it’s rude to take it off in the presence of the person who gave it to you. Express your gratitude by saying “Mahalo.”
Our last tip for those traveling to Hawaii, is probably one of, if not the most overlooked one. It’s easy to forget to wear sunscreen when you’re all excited to go out and explore, but we cannot stress it enough: wear sun protection whenever you go out. Rashguards with built-in UV protection are also great for strolls on the beach or when surfing.
Important tip: It’s recommended to use sunscreen that does not contain the compound oxybenzone, which causes damage to corals. Always check whether the sunscreen lotion you’re buying is coral-safe.
Those are our top nine tips for Hawaii newbies, don’t forget to check out Maui resort rentals to see where you can stay while you’re on the island.
What other tips can you share to help first-time visitors have a great vacation in this tropical paradise? Tell us in the comments below!
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