Is it ethical to travel to Hawaii right now? 10 ways to be a Responsible Visitor

March 5, 2024

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E komo mai! Many people are asking if it’s ethical to travel to Hawaii, a highly debated topic, especially with the recent Maui fires. While Lahaina (the town impacted by the Maui wild fires) is closed, Maui and other islands are open! Local communities and businesses welcome visitors back to the islands.

We invite you to travel with responsible intentions in Hawaii and will provide you tips on how to be a responsible visitor. Consider us, Jade and Deeshen, your extended ohana as you plan your Hawaii stay. In the spirit of creating a meaningful connection during your stay, we’ve created a list of ways you can travel as a responsible visitor to Hawaii and our beloved islands.

One of the most rewarding aspects of visiting Hawaiʻi is engaging with the locals unique and vibrant way of life. To truly experience it, cultural experts advise adopting an open heart and an open mind. When you follow these tips for doing so, you’ll better understand the Hawaiian perspective, appreciate what makes these islands so special and deepen your immersion into the Hawaiian culture. 

Planning a trip to Hawaii? Check out our free Hawaii Packing List, guide on where to see turtles, and our best sunrise spots guide to fall in love with Hawaii!

Planning your Hawaii trip? Grab our Hawaii Packing list with best sustainable gear to travel well prepared

Read on to learn why traveling responsibly and being “pono” is important in Hawaiian tradition and how you can practice it.

Why traveling responsibly and “Pono” is important in Hawaii

Traveling responsibly with “pono” intentions is vital when visiting Hawaii. “Pono” is a Hawaiian term that encapsulates righteousness, balance, and harmony. Pono goes beyond a mere ethical guideline; it represents a commitment to living in harmony with oneself, others, and the environment as one.

In Hawaiian culture, the concept of “pono” holds profound significance, and woven into the fabric of everyday life. It recognizes that we all come from one source energy, and it’s our responsibility to take care of the land, oneself and our surroundings.

The Hawaiians believe that practicing pono leads to balance and righteousness, creating a sense of peace and fulfillment. The cultural value placed on pono is reflected in the saying, “E malama pono,” which translates to “Take care, be righteous.” This simple yet powerful phrase encapsulates the essence of pono, emphasizing the responsibility to care for oneself, the community, and the land. By embodying pono, travelers not only pay homage to the island’s cultural heritage but also contribute to the preservation of its natural beauty for future generations.

Connect with the Land and take care of the Aina

Hawaii’s natural beauty is awe-inspiring, and there’s no better way to honor it than by treading lightly on the land. Opt for eco-friendly accommodations, such as resorts with sustainable practices or cozy eco-lodges tucked away in the lush greenery. Embrace the spirit of “malama aina” (caring for the land) by participating in community conservation projects or simply by practicing responsible tourism.

The ʻāina (land) and the moana (ocean) are a part of the fabric of our culture and people. They are part of our home. And like any home, including your own, we hope that you will treat them with respect. Please ask for permission before entering any area designated as kapu (forbidden) or not expressly open to the public. Going “off the beaten path” is not an excuse for trespassing or disrespecting Hawaiʻi’s communities and culture.

Hawaiian word to know:
Aina: Translated to “love of the land,” Aina embodies a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. It signifies the interconnectedness between people and the environment. Aina teaches us to cherish and protect our planet, fostering a sense of responsibility to care for the land and leave a legacy of sustainability for future generations.

Immerse yourself in Cultural Experiences

Take time to learn about the culture, values and etiquette of Hawaiʻi. You’ll have a much better understanding of the islands and a more authentic experience here. Following the guidance from ancestors, “E nana i ke kumu,” encourages us to “Look to the source.” This saying encourages travelers to seek wisdom from the roots, to understand the cultural significance of their actions and decisions while exploring the islands.

Hawaii’s rich cultural tapestry invites travelers to dive deep into its traditions, dance, and art. Embracing the local culture is not just an activity; it’s an integral part of the journey. Here are immersive cultural experiences to ensure you connect with the heart of Hawaii:

  • Traditional Luaus: Attend a traditional luau, a feast for the senses featuring authentic Hawaiian cuisine, hula dancing, and traditional music. Luaus are not only a celebration of food but also a window into the stories, history, and legends of the islands.
  • Hula Performances: Immerse yourself in the captivating art of hula, the traditional dance form that expresses Hawaii’s myths, legends, and natural beauty. Many hotels, cultural centers, and local events showcase skilled hula dancers who bring the stories of the islands to life through graceful movements.
  • Visit Local Museums and Galleries: Explore the islands’ history and artistic expression by visiting local museums and galleries. The Bishop Museum in Honolulu offers a comprehensive insight into Hawaiian history, culture, and science, while smaller galleries feature contemporary Hawaiian artistry. Maui Historical Society (Maui), Hawai’i Museum of Contemporary Art (Big Island), and Kauai Museum to name a few.
  • Participate in Workshops: Engage in hands-on experiences through cultural workshops. Learn lei making, ukulele playing, or traditional Hawaiian chanting. Many local cultural centers offer these workshops, providing an interactive and educational way to connect with Hawaiian traditions.

By immersing yourself in these cultural experiences, you not only gain a deeper understanding of Hawaii’s heritage but also contribute to the preservation of its unique traditions. Remember, every dance, every story, and every melody is a thread in the colorful fabric that makes Hawaii truly special. E nana i ke kumu – look to the source, and let the cultural richness of Hawaii become an integral part of your travel narrative.

Protect Marine Life

The ocean in Hawai’i is a wellspring of both serenity and adventure. A source of food and a home to countless marine organisms. We are connected to it economically and spiritually. And so we do all we can to protect it – and we invite visitors to do so as well, by learning how small tips from our ocean safety experts can make a big difference in keeping the ocean healthy and enjoyable for everyone to experience

Practice mindful adventure and leave no trace

Approach adventure with a sense of mindfulness, respecting the natural environment by following designated trails, refraining from disturbing wildlife, and leaving no trace behind. Leave no trace means to leave a place the way you found it, or leave it even better than you found it. When hiking, stay on trail to avoid erosion.

While walking off-trail, avoid trambling over plants. Your footsteps drift the soil away from the plants, weakening their foundation. The roots lose grip of the soil, impacting the health of the local plant life. Let each adventure be a reminder of the delicate balance between human exploration and the preservation of Hawaii’s pristine landscapes.

Seek Wellness in Nature

Amidst Hawaii’s soothing atmosphere, take a transformative approach to wellness. As the saying goes, if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself. Embrace “E ho‘omau i ka ‘ike; ho‘omau i ke aloha,” which translates to “Continue to seek knowledge and perpetuate love.”

Begin your journey within, practicing looking inward, unlearning practices and emptying thoughts that no longer serve you, and embracing the islands’ natural beauty as a catalyst for personal growth. Bring a journal and incorporate reflection every day on what can you unlearn from yourself, learn from Hawaii, and apply in your every day life.

Engage in local yoga sessions, experience traditional Hawaiian healing practices, or simply let the beautiful nature of the islands inspire mindfulness. By fostering your well-being, you not only embark on a journey of self-discovery but also contribute to the collective energy that has the power to positively impact the world around you.

Hawaiian word to know: Lokahi – Finding balance and harmony in all aspects of life—mentally, physically, and spiritually. It’s about unity and a sense of completeness. Lokahi reminds us that true well-being comes from embracing the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit, creating a harmonious balance in our lives.

Give Back Through Volunteering

Change the world by actively participating in the well-being of Hawaii’s communities through volunteering. Embrace the Hawaiian philosophy of “E kokua a ho‘omau i ke aloha,” which translates to “Extend help and perpetuate love.” Numerous local organizations welcome volunteers, providing a unique opportunity to connect with the community and contribute positively to the islands.

  • Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii: Join their beach cleanup initiatives to help preserve Hawaii’s pristine shores. Not only will you contribute to the well-being of the environment, but you’ll also engage with like-minded individuals passionate about sustainability.
  • Hawaii Humane Society: Enhance the lives of animals by volunteering at the Humane Society. Whether it’s walking a dog or assisting with daily tasks, your involvement supports the welfare of animals in need.
  • Malama Maunalua: Get involved in the conservation efforts of Maunalua Bay. Volunteer opportunities range from restoring native habitats to participating in educational programs that promote environmental awareness
  • Kokua Hawaii Foundation: Join this foundation in their mission to promote environmental education in schools and communities. Volunteer to assist in school garden projects, environmental field trips, or community events.
  • Surfrider Foundation – Oahu Chapter: Contribute to the protection of Hawaii’s oceans by volunteering with the Surfrider Foundation. Participate in beach cleanups, educational programs, and advocacy initiatives focused on preserving the coastal environment.
  • Kupu Hawaii: Engage in environmental stewardship and community service programs with Kupu Hawaii. Their initiatives range from sustainable agriculture projects to conservation efforts, providing diverse opportunities for volunteers.

If formal volunteer opportunities are elusive, make a positive impact on your own by participating in impromptu acts of kindness. Consider organizing a spontaneous beach cleanup or simply pick up litter during your explorations. Remember, even small actions contribute to the greater good, aligning with the Hawaiian principle of “E malama pono.”

By giving back to the communities you visit, you not only leave a positive imprint but also forge meaningful connections with the vibrant spirit of Hawaii. E kokua a ho‘omau i ke aloha – extend help and perpetuate love.

Support Local Businesses

Support local businesses like Mi Casa, one of the best Mexican restaurants in Oahu, Hawaii. When you support local businesses, you help our distinctive local communities flourish and maintain their authentic character. Please choose restaurants and businesses that source from local suppliers and choose sustainable certified operators.

Shop local by visiting small businesses and local farmers markets. Explore neighborhood markets, purchase handmade souvenirs, and dine at family-owned establishments. Your contribution helps sustain the local economy and fosters a sense of community between visitors and residents.

Spread Aloha Everywhere

As you explore the islands, embody the aloha spirit by practicing kindness, respect, and gratitude. Connect with locals, share smiles, and be open to the rich tapestry of stories that make up the Hawaiian culture.

By spreading aloha, you contribute to the positive energy that makes Hawaii a welcoming and harmonious destination. Kahuna Nui Hale Kealohalani Makua – Love all you see, including yourself. Let love guide your actions and interactions, inwardly and outwardly.

Help with Maui fire relief efforts for locals (including where to donate)

The Maui community has lost family members, they have lost homes, lost businesses, lost jobs, and they have lost pets. The island has been impacted by the devastation of humanity, the destruction of Lahaina town, Upcountry Kula homes and forests, and a severe environmental impact on the lands, ocean, and reefs.

Consider donating to wildfire relief funds such as Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong fund, Pride of Maui‘s efforts, or verified GoFundMe fundraisers that support individual families and local businesses. By supporting the local communities affected by the fires through patronage and donations, you can also make a significant difference in aiding recovery efforts.

Reflect on the learnings you learned in Hawaii

Embrace what you have learned in Hawaii and carry it back home with you. Kulia i ka nu’u calls you to climb the peaks of your potential, celebrating the journey of becoming the best version of yourself. Embrace the aloha spirit, immerse yourself in the culture, and let Hawaii’s enchanting landscapes inspire a journey of balance and harmony.

Ethical travel to Hawaii FAQ

Is it ethical to travel to Hawaii right now?

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Ethical travel to Hawaii involves respecting native Hawaiian culture, choosing eco-friendly accommodation and tours, supporting locally-owned businesses, avoiding damage to environments like coral reefs, and educating oneself on local issues. Consider factors like the environmental impact, and ways to support the local community before deciding to visit.

How can I help with the Maui fires, M and support locals during my visit?

Consider donating to wildfire relief funds such as Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong fund, or verified GoFundMe fundraisers that support individual families and local businesses. By supporting the local communities affected by the fires through patronage and donations, you can also make a significant difference in aiding recovery efforts.

How can I respect native Hawaiian culture during my visit?

Respect for native Hawaiian culture can be shown by learning about it before your trip, honoring sacred sites, participating in cultural activities with reverence, using Hawaiian language and phrases respectfully, and supporting indigenous artisans and businesses.

What are some eco-friendly practices I can adopt while traveling in Hawaii?

Embrace eco-friendly practices by reducing waste and plastic use, supporting sustainable tourism initiatives, using public transportation or biking when possible, conserving water and energy, participating in beach clean-ups, and respecting wildlife and marine life habitats.

Final thoughts: Is it ethical to travel to Hawaii right now? 10 ways to be a responsible tourist

We hope this article has helped you learn ways on how to travel ethically in Hawaii. These tips will help you be a responsible tourist anywhere in the world, beyond Hawaii.

Remember, traveling with pono intentions in Hawaii is not just about exploring the beauty of the islands but also about leaving a positive impact on the land, its people, and yourself. As the Hawaiian saying goes, Kulia i ka nu’u: Strive to reach the highest version of yourself. Embrace personal growth and self-discovery during your time here.

If you’ve spent time in Hawaii and volunteered here, we’re curious about your favorite volunteering opportunities or nonprofit organizations on the islands. Let us know in the comments.

Our Top Hawaii Recommendations
Before we dive into this guide, here are a few things you can’t miss on your trip to Hawaii!

🐢Swimming With Hawaiian Sea Turtles: Hawaii is one of the best places to swim, snorkel, and dive with Hawaiian sea turtles. Do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!  Best turtle snorkel tour.

🚤Nighttime Swimming with Manta Rays: Hawaii’s Kailua-Kona is only place in the world to have a resident of Manta Rays that stay there year round. It is one of the best places to swim with huge Manta Rays, beautiful gentle creatures. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!  Best Manta Ray Cruise (only on Big Island).

🚌Oahu Island Circle Tour: Experience the top sightseeing bus tour on Oahu with this island day trip. Explore Oahu’s natural wonders, cultural sites, surfing spots, and shopping meccas on this full-day tour. Exceptional Oahu Circle Island tour.

🚌Luau and Polynesian Cultural Center: The Ha Breath of Life Luau at Polynesian Cultural Center is the best luau in Hawaii. The interactive activities at the center is one of the best family and couples activity to learn about Hawaiian culture. Best Luau and cultural excursion.

🌴Lanikai Beach: Called Hawaii’s most beautiful beach, Lanikai beach is a 30 minutes north of Honolulu and is a must-visit spot during sunrise!

🐋Whale Watching Boat Tour: Embark of a whale exploration for the day. Whale season starts in December and lasts until mid-April. Whales arrive yearly in the Hawaiian Islands after a 3,000 mile journey. If you are visiting Hawaii during this time, don’t miss out and reserve your seat to see these magnificent creatures.

🦖Jurassic Valley Zipline Tour: Zipline through world-famous Kualoa Ranch and soar over Jurassic Valley on over a quarter mile of the world famous moutains. Get a bird’s eye view of famous iconic scenery from Jurassic Park, Jurassic World. Best zipline tour.

🏨Where to Stay: An ocean view suite with boho luxury vibes at the Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach, a gorgeous modern suite with a ocean front view near the beautiful Ala Moana Beach and the world-famous Waikiki Beach, at Prince Waikiki, or a downtown friendly suite outside of town near the Hawaii State Art Museum at Aston at the Exceutive Centre Hotel,

  1. Sonia says:

    These are excellent ideas on ways to give back to the community when visiting Hawaii.

  2. DMarino says:

    This is perfect, thank you! We are travelling to Oahu in July and this will come in handy.

  3. Val says:

    Great post! I lived in Oahu many years ago and I’ve been curious how locals feel about tourism lately. Great tips and info!

  4. Steph says:

    This is so incredibly helpful. I love learning the words too – Lokahi is my new favorite. Thanks for putting this all together.

  5. Angela Allas says:

    Thanks for the tips! I really liked your blog and hope i can incorporate ‘Pono’ in my next trip

  6. kmf says:

    This is such a meaningful and educational post as I love Hawaii and wondered if it was ethically responsible to travel there now. We last visited Maui in early 2023 and were saddened by the Lahaina wildfires. Love this list of how to give back, immerse into the culture, respect natural resources and beauty, and support thelocal businesses.

  7. Steph says:

    This is so wholesome. Thank you so much for sharing. Hawaii has always been on my list so I will definitely keep this mind when I go.

  8. Sonia says:

    I love the idea of leaving a positive impact on the land. This sounds like a great way to travel to Hawaii or wherever you go.

  9. Marga says:

    These are great tips that can be applied to many destinations! I hope to visit Hawaii someday and I’ll check your post again!

  10. Katie says:

    Great tips for traveling to Hawaii. I love the idea of volunteering and will implement this for all destinations moving forward. Thank you!

  11. Jolayne says:

    Great tips. I haven’t been to Hawaii yet, but I am looking forward to my first visit.

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