As someone born and raised in Hawaii, I’ve seen tourists spend money on things that aren’t worth it.
Some sunscreens and cheap beach toys can be harmful to the local environment.
Skip the fake leis and imported souvenirs and support locally-owned businesses instead.
Support locally-owned businesses instead of visiting chain restaurants.
Two popular mainland chain restaurants, Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s, opened on Maui this past summer — but from what I heard, some locals weren’t pleased because these fast-food chains could take business away from locally owned businesses.
To me, it seems like a waste to fly all the way out to Hawaii just to eat the same things you might have access to at home. Instead, I recommend supporting local businesses and taking the opportunity to enjoy authentic Pacific-island fare.
Avoid sunscreens that can damage the environment.
In 2021, the state legislature passed a law banning the sale of sunscreens made with the reef-damaging chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate — but these can still be found in some shops in Hawaii.
Spending money on products that are harmful to the islands’ natural ecosystems can negatively affect the environment and locals. The long-term effects oxybenzone and octinoxate can have aren’t worth the price, even if sunscreens made with these chemicals are a bit cheaper.
I strongly recommend helping to protect the land you’re visiting and only using reef-safe sunscreen, especially if it comes in a reusable or recyclable bottle.
Skip the fake lei and opt for real flowers instead.
Fake leis and other floral accessories can be souvenirs but I think plastic lacks the aloha spirit. While in Hawaii, wear an authentic lei handmade by a local artist, or find a real flower to wear in your hair at no cost at all.
If you absolutely must bring a lei home, consider purchasing one made of genuine kukui nuts, which come from trees that grow in Hawaii. Just be wary of synthetic iterations.
Pass on the imported, mass-produced trinkets.
There are tons of trinkets that solely serve as cheap replicas of the real thing. For example, the Tiki is an iconic cultural and spiritual symbol that represents Polynesian deities but tourists can purchase a cheap iteration from the convenience store.
These trinkets are usually imported to the islands and made of synthetic materials instead of hand-carved wood, which takes away from the totem’s mana, or power.
Though it may be more expensive, it’s worth purchasing the work from a local artist who has spent years honing their craft.
Matching outfits have the potential to be cute but often look tacky.
One way to stand out as a tourist is to wear a matching outfit with your partner or family.
I think matching outfits have the potential to be a cute photo op but consider if these pieces will actually be worn again after returning home. I don’t recommend wasting money on something you’ll wear once and throw away once the vacation is over.
You may also end up twinning with more people than just your family since so many tourist shops sell clothing in the same styles and prints.
Tourist traps are almost never worth the entry fee.
Each island has attractions that draw huge crowds but, in my opinion, don’t add much value to a vacation. I’ve even regretted visiting a few popular attractions because I thought they were overcrowded, underwhelming, and expensive to get into.
If the gift shop takes up the majority of the venue, you’ve probably been sucked into a tourist trap that will try to siphon your money without providing much value in return.
Don’t buy beach toys that will end up being thrown away.
Convenience stores on the islands sell a variety of water toys like inflatable tubes, snorkels, and boogie boards. However, I’ve seen that visitors don’t typically bring these products home with them so they end up in landfills or on our beaches.
Instead of buying these items from a convenience store, rent them from a kiosk at a beach-front hotel or a local business like Snorkel Bob’s.
Tropical cocktails at the resorts are convenient but overpriced.
The cocktails at the hotel bars are notoriously overpriced. “Upgraded” beverages served in a coconut or pineapple are photo-worthy but I think paying nearly $40 for one drink is outrageous.
That said, part of the drink’s value lies in the experience itself, especially if you’re enjoying it poolside.
However, if you just want to get a mai tai before dinner or have a night out at a bar, it’s more cost-effective to seek off-property options.
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