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Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.

— Paul Theroux

As a full-time travel blogger, I’m frequently asked about my favorite destinations around the world. My answers, depending on my current whims and the energy I have to delve into such a query, range from a carefully calibrated, heartfelt list of places that make my heart skip a beat to a far-off smile and a rotating roulette of just one off the list.

Often, it’s Hawaii.

Hawaii Travel Blog

Hawaii Travel Blog

Ko Olina Lagoon

Of all my answers, it’s probably the one that people are most surprised by. “Hawaii?” they clarify, in a tone that suggests they find the answer bordering on pedestrian. For a girl who’s packed up and taken herself to some fairly far-flung and exotic corners of the world, somewhere I don’t need a passport to get to might be somewhat a surprising choice.

And for those who know Hawaii only for the five-star resorts in Wailea or Ko Olina, or the bustling tourist centers of Waikiki and Lahaina (all of which I have nothing but love for, by the way), I can see how it might raise an eyebrow.

Ice Cream in Kakaako

Murals in Kakaako

Aulani For Kids

But wow, do I feel blessed. Because I’d already had the enormous privilege of spending a collective two months on the Hawaiian Islands over two previous trips; and here I was, heading back for another three weeks to dive head first into my happy place once again.

Because I somehow lucked into having so many family and friends that live on these islands and have showed me the real meaning of ho’okipa, Hawaiian hospitality.

Hawaii Travel Blog

Hawaii Travel Style

Murals in Kakaako

And because I first met Hawaii when I was young and felt broke, and so I stayed in hostels and crashed on friend’s blow-up mattresses and slept in my car, and ate lunch from gas stations and had nothing but shave ice for dinner, and marveled over all the free entertainment the islands offered, from epic hiking to magical snorkeling to encounters with boulder-sized turtles on hidden beaches.

Somehow, these blessings of time, aloha, and adventure have allowed me to fall head over bare feet for so many facets of Hawaii. For me, they are more than just beautiful islands on which to sip tiki drinks (another thing I have nothing but love for, by the way) — but I appreciate Hawaii down in my soul.

Nightlife in Hawaii

Nightlife in Hawaii

Ukulele in Oahu

Can you even imagine how excited I was to bring Ian here, for his first time? My heart was bursting with happiness as our plane took off from Los Angeles — and while our trip was quite painstakingly planned, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to book a return flight. While Ian had a firm two and a half weeks, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to resist staying just a bit longer.

Rainbow Surfboards in Maui

Scuba Diving on Oahu

Our trip kicked off with a Hawaii tradition I’d yet to experience: a true luxurious resort vacation in Ko Olina. Sure, I’d stayed in some pretty fancy hotels during a gorgeous press trip to Maui in 2014, but the thing about press trips is you only photograph pools, you don’t get in them. This time, I was going to swim, dang it.

And swim I did. My dad generous gifted us enough of his Disney Vacation Club points to stay at the Aulani Resort on the West Coast of Oahu, and while upon arrival we were somewhat skeptical if two twenty-somethings would really mesh with a dang Disney resort, by check-out we were so swept up with the place that we extended our original four night stay to five.

Aulani Travel Blog Review

Next, we moved onto yet another first for me — actually staying in Waikiki for a long weekend. Prior to this trip, my Oahu adventures had all been hosted by my lovely friend Wim, who like almost all Oahuans avoids “town” with a dedicated passion, so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.

While I admit Wim was mostly right about Waikiki proper, we found ourselves obsessed with some of the nearby neighborhoods that staying there afforded us easy access to.

Hawaii Theater Oahu

And then we were back at the airport, clutching boarding passes for Maui. The next four days felt like a dream as we hopped in a vintage RV and spent three nights camping along the Road to Hana. Ian lists this as his undisputed highlight of the trip — I couldn’t possibly begin to choose, though I must admit that I felt like I was dreaming as we chased waterfalls, pulled over at every hand-painted sign for home-made banana bread, hiked to hidden beaches, and slept under the stars.

The best part? With our beat up ride, everyone assumed we were kama’aina, or locals — something that would actually be a dream come true for me someday.

Road to Hana Camping Trip

Maui Travel Blog

Maui Travel Blog

Maui Travel Blog

Maui Travel Blog

We rounded out Ian’s time on Maui with six nights relaxing in Paia, cementing our loyalty to East Maui. We sampled a local winery and brewery, I took a class at every yoga and fitness studio in town, and we caught up with some very dear friends.

Paia Travel Blog

Paia Travel Blog

After Ian left, I considered so many options — flying straight back to LA, heading over to Big Island, or even bumming around Maui a bit more. But in the end I felt drawn back to Oahu, where I spent five nights going diving, crashing with Wim and Dave, and hanging with the two cutest twins Hawaii’s ever seen.

Diving in Oahu

Diving in Oahu

Diving in Oahu

Aulani For Kids

Speaking of those kiddos! Like I said, our trip kicked off in Oahu at Aulani. One of the things I loved about the idea of staying here was that Wim and Dave and Rhys and Rhone were practically our neighbors in Ewa Beach, and I wanted to spend as much time as we could with them.

I hadn’t seen Wim in two years, and I couldn’t get over the idea that the last time I’d seen her, we were sipping mai tais without a care in the world. It took me so long to get back to Oahu that by the time I did, she and Dave had made two little mini-mes! Life is crazy like that.

Aulani Travel Blog Review

Aulani Travel Blog Review

Aulani Travel Blog Review

Aulani Travel Blog Review

Are these not the most gorgeous children you’ve ever laid eyes on? Aulani is pretty strict about only allowing guests to use the facilities — luckily, our one-bedroom suite had a technical capacity of five adults, so I was able to register the whole family to our room along with us for no extra charge.

And while in spite of my eager offers they declined to have a sleepover (Wim assured us this was for our benefit), they brought the babies over twice, and once Wim managed to sneak over on her own for a girly afternoon while Ian drove off to the North Shore. North Shore, you say? This burnt out blogger vowed she wasn’t leaving the property once for our entire stay, which I mostly made good on, aside from one BBQ dinner over at Wim and Dave’s, and one sunset sail on the boat Dave crews, both well-worthy exceptions. Basically, we all saw loads of each other, much to my delight.

Aulani Travel Blog Review

Aulani For Kids

Aulani Travel Blog Review

Aulani Travel Blog Review

Aulani Travel Blog Review

One of the coolest things to come out of this trip was this very calming revelation I had while spending time with Rhys and Rhone, which is that I was really enjoying myself. I’ve never had a single twinge of baby lust in my life — for a long time, I figured maybe it would show up someday in the future, though at twenty-eight, I’ve started to suspect it possibly never will (of course, maybe it will — life is crazy, right?)

It’s kind of hard for me to articulate in a way that doesn’t sound vapid, but as I’ve reached that age where my friends have very slowly started to do crazy stuff like get married and get knocked up, I’ve started to have this selfish realization that at some point my life is going to change pretty drastically, whether I decide to join them or not. If you and all your friends have kids, fabulous, you’ve got a built in playgroup! But what if you chose not to? I’ve never had a real connection with kids or been a natural with them, and there were times when I started to wonder what that would do to my friendships as I reached that age where essentially everyone you know dives into raising a family for two decades. Where would that leave me, the girl who’s more likely to freak out over petting a dog than holding a baby?

Aulani For Kids

Aulani For Kids

So, hanging with Wim’s family for these two weeks gave me the “aha!” moment that your friends kids aren’t just any kids — they are literally little mini versions of some of your favorite people in the world! I had so much fun with Rhys and Rhone I was practically begging Wim and Dave to go on vacation and let me come stay for a week to babysit. They were an absolute trip and I left just aching to get back and see them again already. I’ve basically never connected with kiddos like that before.

Suddenly, all that mild anxiety I’d had brewing about the future cleared as I realized that it’s absolutely inevitable that friendships change with new responsibilities and priorities, and while I may never feel the call to have kids of my own, I’m going to have so much fun getting to know the little families my best friends eventually start to build.

Hawaii always teaches me something.

Aulani Travel Blog Review

And I felt closer to Wim than ever. Here’s this girl I met in the Cayman Islands when our boyfriends happened to work at the same dive school — and we instantly clung to each other like female friendship life rafts on a tiny island where we knew no one. Years later, I drove to her to her wedding to the same guy in her hometown in Pennsylvania. Later still, I crashed their honeymoon in Thailand. A few months after, they invited me to come visit them on their new home island of Oahu. Four years and three trips later, and I’ve got one of their babies on each hip.

Life is crazy, right?

Aulani For Kids

Aulani For Kids

Aulani For Kids

Aulani For Kids

No surprise twist here — Hawaii was just as magical as it was when I first washed ashore there in 2012. As I’ve begun preparing for this deep dive into my three and a half weeks there, I’ve found myself actually giddy with excitement to once again share this deeply important corner of my heart with you. Whether Hawaii is an old favorite or still on your bucket list or a destination you’re skeptical of, I hope I might be able to surprise you with something.

After all, it just so happens to be one of my favorite places in the world.

Aulani Travel Blog Review

Confused on where we are? I’m catching up on the black hole of content from August of 2016 to April of 2017 — when I jumped forward to blog the summer of 2017 as it was happening. Right now, we’re in October of 2016 in Hawaii, and I can’t wait to turn my detailed notes and journals into blog posts from Jamaica, Thailand and Bali next! My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.

3-devide-lines
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36 Comments...
  • Riley
    February 17 2018

    I love this post! I visited Hawaii for the first time in 2017, and like you I knew it would not be my last visit. It is certainly a special place!
    Riley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Just writing this content is making me yearn for a fourth trip. I have a feeling it’s not far off!

  • Jamie
    February 17 2018

    Did you have a friend who leant you the van? Or what company did you use? That sounds fantastic!
    Thanks Jamie

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      I have three whole posts coming up on that topic 🙂 Stay tuned!

  • Ashley
    February 17 2018

    I agree that Hawaii is so magical! I’d been there a couple times before when I decided to go there for my honeymoon since my husband had never been. Just like you, I was SO excited to take him there even though everyone thought it was boring to choose Hawaii over somewhere more exotic, being the avid travelers we are (haters gon’ hate). And I love the rock with the heart in it. 🙂
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    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Ah, I hope your husband loved it as much as we did! I feel like as a serious traveler it’s almost impossible to pick a honeymoon destination… I know I’m going to struggle to narrow it down someday! Is there a more hyped up trip in your lifetime than a honeymoon?! Glad you followed your heart 🙂

  • Carmela
    February 17 2018

    You NAILED it in so many places in this post.

    I LOVE Hawaii as much as you do – I met my husband on Oahu 12 years ago while we were both on vacation. We now we work online and make it a point to come back to Hawaii for months at a time because everything is so downright magical about it – the people, the nature, the food.. all of it!. It’s expensive, but so worth it. Technically, it’s also “on the way” to Asia from the mainland. ha!

    I’ve been married for 6 years and get questioned all the time about when/if kids are on the way all the time. Everything you said about the shifts that happen when close friends start having families it SO true. It changes everything for sure, but I totally agree their children are, indeed, like “little mini versions of some of your favorite people in the world.”

    We’re actually in Hawaii now for about a month, which makes this post really hit home. Hopefully, our paths cross here one of these days!
    Carmela recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Oh my gosh, dream life! I hope someday I too can say I spend a couple months a year in Hawaii 🙂 Enjoy every moment, and holler if we’re both ever there at the same time!

  • Jennifer
    February 17 2018

    Great post and great read, Meihoukai. I love that one of your favourite places to visit is part of your own country. And yes, Hawaii is beautiful. It means a lot to me too, since that’s where my husband and I were married, or should I say Maui’d. 😉 Also, I totally feel you on the kid thing. I’ve never felt baby lust either, and I don’t think I ever will. It can be hard to deal with the rest of the world when we are expected to have and want kids, but we all need to do our own thing. And for some of us that means no kids.

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Maui’d! I might have to consider a destination wedding there someday for that pun alone 😉

  • Steph
    February 18 2018

    I’d love to visit Hawaii, it looks and sounds amazing. If I ever get married, it’s my dream honeymoon destination.

    Steph x

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      After this trip I have to agree it’s a pretty great place for a couple’s trip 🙂

  • Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad
    February 18 2018

    Love it, and I totally agree that there are so many sides to Hawaii that makes it such a great destination! I always geared it up to be a bucket list item and ended up visiting almost on a whim, I stayed in a hostel and road tripped with a friend around Oahu while she lived there! Totally not the experience I imagined when I was a kid, but I also fully expected it to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips, and instead I want to go back and explore more. Funny how places surprise you, huh?
    Clazz – An Orcadian Abroad recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Sounds like we had very similar first Oahu experiences 🙂 I hope Hawaii will be a part of my life forever!

  • Lori
    February 18 2018

    I also lack the burning urge or need to procreate. When I met & married a man who also happened to not want children I felt the universe was validating my feelings. They say “it takes a village to raise a child” & for me it’s enough to just be part of that village for other people. I love being the friend they call when they need a break. Whether they need me to watch the kiddos for a few hours or if they need someone to go on a short weekend getaway with. I’m always there for them.

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      I love the way you put it, Lori! I too am happy to be part of the village for my family and friends 🙂 That’s a beautiful way to put it.

  • Emily
    February 18 2018

    Love this! I visited Hawaii for the first time in 2016 (for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) and I am just ITCHING to get back and see more of the islands. I also feel you really strongly on the “no baby lust” thing – thanks so much for sharing your (ongoing) experience with it. Great post 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Thanks Emily! Ian was quite tortured that we didn’t go over to Big Island to see the lava going off and in retrospect I kinda wish we’d hopped over, but ah well, at the time it just felt overwhelming and so expensive. I LOVE Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!

  • Noel
    February 19 2018

    Meihoukai, I’m 32 and still have NO desire to have children! My sister just had the first baby in our small family (like you, me, my mom, and sister are a tight knit group). As much as I love that little guy, even he has not given me the baby itch!! Societal norms do not need to be the norm for everybody! Besides, the earth is already way overpopulated, with millions of unwanted children, so I feel as though I am being very responsible by not adding strain to our already over taxed resources. If I do get the “itch” later in life, I am totally fine with adopting 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      It’s always nice to hear that we aren’t alone, even when making untraditional choices 🙂 My sister has babylust for sure, so I’ll be a very happy aunt someday!

  • Megan
    February 19 2018

    I love this! I felt the same way when one of my best friends had her first baby. The degree of attachment I immediately felt to that kid was insane. Babies and kids in abstract are one thing, but they’re something else entirely when they’re the flesh and blood of your favorite people. I have always wanted kids eventually, but more for the family camaraderie when they’re older than for the actual kid part, so that feeling did give me a lot of hope.

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Aw, that’s so nice to hear. I agree, real life friend babies are way better than abstract ones 😉

  • Bella WW
    February 19 2018

    Hawaii has been on my bucket list since forever. Hopefully, I will be able to enjoy those amazing views in the future 😀
    Bella WW recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Ah, I hope you will too! Lots of inspiration coming up in the upcoming weeks 🙂

  • Katie
    February 20 2018

    So many things:

    1) We’re leaving for Hawaii next week with family, who are paying for everything, even a private plane. CRAZY (!!!), and something we’d never be able to afford. I say this because I never realized you could do Hawaii on a budget..I’ve only associated it with pricey resorts, and I was worried I’d find this magical place, only to never be able to return. SO happy to read this and see that it’s possible! Also, we’re going skydiving and I love your old tip about wearing long sleeves/pants that are form fitting so your skin doesn’t look weird in the video- LOL!

    2.) Affiliate link for those awesome pineapple glasses? LOVE!

    3.) I have felt very similar regarding children, especially now that two of my best friends are pregnant. It’s scary to worry you’ll be left behind, but having nephews and a niece made me realize exactly what you said… these aren’t just any kids, they’re extensions of your favorite people and you genuinely love spending time with them. Happy for you that this helped ease your mind! 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Private plane, girl you fancy! And I’m jealous 😉 Totally on my bucket list! And haha, I think that skydiving tidbit was like, the literal most helpful thing I’ve ever written on my blog, ever. And oh, I should totally do a Hawaii packing post list! I’ll add the link to my next post — don’t worry, I’m wearing them in all of them, haha.

  • becky hutner
    February 21 2018

    Hawaii is a place I yearn for even though I’ve never been and this post doesn’t help!

    Also I think we feel similarly about kids.

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      I think, from what I know about you, you would LOVE it! I think my upcoming Chinatown and Maui posts will really convince you 😉

  • Mary B
    February 21 2018

    I’m pretty devastated that I’ve not yet made it to Hawaii – it’s so far to get to that I usually wind up favoring international destinations instead! But you make a very compelling case for it.

    On the kids – isn’t it amazing how much difference it makes when they belong to your people? I don’t want my own, but I looooove being a Tia to my friends’ kiddos. I work hard at maintaining relationships with them, and I can’t wait to taking them traveling with me once they get older!
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    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      If you can get a direct flight to Hawaii, it makes all the difference. If you have to start connecting, you’re like whoa yeah um this place is in the middle of nowhere! Ha!

  • Dominique
    February 21 2018

    Hawaii looks beautiful! It seems to be so much more than just five star resorts! I’m with you on the matter of children. I’m happy for my friends who are starting to have children, but it doesn’t feel like a road I will take; and that’s OK 🙂
    Dominique recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 23 2018

      Wow, so many of us feeling the same way down in this comments section — it’s nice to read such similar sentiments from other kickass travelers.

  • Jen
    April 24 2018

    Oh I don’t blame you one bit! I haven’t been to nearly as many places as you, but Hawaii is one of my most favorite places as well. I cannot wait to return, and I’d love to give Aulani a try! We stayed at the Marriott a couple doors down for our whirlwind two days on Oahu, but I’d like to explore that West side a bit more.

    • Meihoukai
      April 26 2018

      It is a magical place <3 Already feeling the itch to book a return trip... I can never stay away too long!

  • Marni
    June 27 2018

    I had this moment in South Africa where it was this reaffirming sense of peace that this was the way life was supposed to be. I haven’t been to Hawaii yet, but I’ve often thought it would likely evoke the same response in me. Your posts about it are always so enticing and it’s so nice to also read about a very personal choice. I have a super close baby BFF in my cousin’s baby (I am legitimately his favourite person in the world) and it’s something I cherish immensely, even though over the years I’ve started to debate whether I actually want children or not. Another great post from you, Meihoukai, not that I would expect anything else 🙂
    Marni recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 4 2018

      You are so sweet. That part of this post definitely struck a chord and it is nice to hear from so many others who are also contemplating making an nontraditional life choice in that area.