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How to Not Look and Act Like a Tourist in Hawaii


It was a typical sunny afternoon on a crowded street in Waikiki. Suddenly, the young mother with the small baby in its stroller quickly shielded her child’s eyes. The policeman riding his bike was also distracted by what he saw and slammed into the curb. The elderly man with the cane stopped dead in his tracks and just stared in silent disgust.

Yes, it was another Tourist from the Mainland, just another one of the eight million people who is traveling to Hawaii every year.

His hair slicked back by a heavy amount of hair gel, the man in his mid-30s slowly walked down the crowded street with two cameras and a Lei slung around his neck. He snapped photos using a cell phone and his extra-long selfie stick, as people moved out of his way.

His attire: a bright, neon-colored Aloha shirt, Hawaii Five O baseball hat, and short-shorts that were one size too small. This ensemble was completed with knee-high black socks and sandals. Oh, and who can ignore the sunglasses shaped like Pineapples.

The man suddenly whirls around and shouts: “does anyone know where I can get one of those colored snow cones everyone has told me about?” “You mean shave ice,” the woman with the baby groans. “Oh yeah, that’s it, shaved ice,” the man says, with a smile. Indeed, this kind of experience can drain the Aloha right out of anyone.

But, this disturbing situation could have been avoided, had the man just read this post, a revealing and essential guide for those vacationers who are fulfilling their dream or checking off a bucket list item with a trip to the tropical paradise known as Hawaii.


Mainland Myths & Dressing Like the Locals

Let’s start here, because this is what the locals see, even before you open your mouth. Most locals do not wear Hawaii Five O gear, unless they work on the show. Avoid wearing Five O clothing until you return home; or go ahead and wear it and let people think you work on the show. Hey, they might even assume you are the director, or Alex O’ Loughlin’s stand-in.

Tourists hiker smiling

Wearing socks with your slippers is a no-no; only wear socks with dress or athletic shoes. Wearing a T shirt or tank top that says Hawaii on it also broadcasts your true tourist identity. If you insist on having something written on your shirt or having a logo, wear something related to a local high school – just pray that no one asks you any questions like “so when did you graduate from Campbell High School?”

Football jerseys are also acceptable to wear. Without a professional football team in Hawaii, many residents are fans of teams on the mainland. If you would like to dress up, spend a little money and get yourself a nice, high-quality, but muted colored Aloha shirt.
Do not wear matching Aloha outfits with your spouse or partner, and children. This will confirm your image as a tourist caricature. This image is only good if you want to get a job as a model for Aloha wear or be an extra in a movie shot in Hawaii. You can get some more guidance from sources like this one.

Slippers are a requirement and can be purchased at local drug stores like Longs. Finally, please wear shorts that at least reach your mid-thigh or your knees. Please note too that Hawaii is a “No Speedo” zone and if seen on the beach this can cause local emergency sirens to blast for a mass evacuation.


Red is NOT the New White

Enjoy the hot weather but protect yourself from the sun. Having stop-sign-red, blotchy sunburned skin with tan lines says you are a tourist who possibly will suffer skin damage on your trip. You’ll notice that many locals use canopies or tents when spending the day at the beach. You don’t have to bake out in the sun and suffer first degree burns to prove you fit in.

Find Your Mahalo

Slow down when you walk and relish the beauty of Hawaii. Learn how to properly pronounce the names of streets and Hawaiian historical figures. For more assistance, refer here. Enjoy “talking story” with the locals. Say “A hui hou” (until we meet again) after meeting someone.

Little boys in swim trunks ready for the beachAnd, remember, it’s the “mainland” not the “states.” Learn the words Aloha and Mahalo, and practice the Shaka sign, especially when someone is kind to you in a traffic jam. “Shaka Sign”.

Moreover, don’t forget to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home as a sign of respect. This does not apply to public places or businesses; you won’t have to walk through the local Walmart in just your socks or bare feet, although you will notice that most stores don’t require shoes.

If you don’t know how to pronounce a name, ask someone who lives here or is local. Hopefully, a company one day will design a Hawaiian GPS app that will properly pronounce and not mangle Hawaiian street names and other locations. Unfortunately, Siri is not a local. And, absolutely do not ever refer to locals as “Natives.”

If you must have a camera and take photos, give the impression that it’s a hobby or that you are a working professional on assignment. In other words, don’t stumble around the beach with a euphoric expression on your face, but rather take your time with a casual, sauntering demeanor.

Oh, one more thing: forget about trying to speak Pidgin to the locals. Awkward!

Grab Your Loco Moco

Now that you are wearing proper non-tourist attire, and you are fairly confident with pronouncing words and names, it’s time to get something to eat. Finding a local eatery and enjoying a great “plate lunch” will make many people think you are local. Or enjoy the festivities at one of the many Hawaii luaus around the islands.

Order Loco Moco and relax. Although there are many variations, it’s usually white rice and a hamburger patty covered in brown gravy. Why is rice so common in local dishes? Well, there’s two reasons. First, the islands were settled by people who lived closer to Japan and China (think lots of rice paddys, but a long way from the potato fields of Ireland). But, the second reason is more recent- potatoes are heavy, so shipping them from Idaho costs a pretty penny. Want some sticker shock? Check out the price of potatoes in the grocery stores.

Loco Moco

In addition, grocery shopping at Foodland or Safeway is preferable to the ubiquitous ABC store. And never, never dine at the ABC store. You might as well be wearing a Scarlet T on your chest. Don’t be afraid to savor some of the local delicacies like Poi and Spam.

Ditch the Convertible and Grab a Scooter

Although your fantasy might be drive around the island in a red convertible, your hair blowing in the breeze, (unless you are bald) consider renting a regular, less conspicuous car like a Toyota or a Nissan, or even a jeep. Having mud from off road driving on your jeep will be even more impressive.

Better yet, rent a scooter to cruise around. Scooters with small engines can be parked anywhere (think- on the sidewalk) and you’ll notice an awful lot of locals using scooters as their primary source of transportation.

Keep away from the horn as honking is considered very rude. Horn-honking, along with swearing and foaming at the mouth, fits a lot better on the East Coast than it will in Hawaii.

In Hawaii, people actually drive at posted speeds and see traffic jams as just the price you pay for living on this lovely island. Remember, take your time and a deep breath before you merge into the perpetual parking lot called H-1.

Consider renting a car and driving on the road to Hana, one of Hawaii’s greatest scenic routes.

Turn your car radio to one of the local stations that play Hawaiian or Reggae music. Relax, just don’t fall asleep while you are driving. And, if your passenger insists on reading in the car, make sure they are enjoying a copy of the Star Advertiser rather than “The History of Pearl Harbor.” This will impress people who might see into your vehicle.
So, after you have booked your flight to Hawaii for your dream vacation, immediately print out this article, and keep it with you at all times. There is no excuse for creating a disturbance on the streets of Oahu now that you know how to not look and act like a tourist.

Do you have any tips to help people avoid looking like tourists?  Leave a comment.



  • Elizabeth L

    Aloha! I’m Elizabeth L. At LiveYourAloha, I am responsible for writing about sightseeing tours and Hawaiian culture. For the last 12 years, I’ve been working as a tour guide in Hawaii. It’s been a great way to see the world and learn about new cultures. I love nature and the outdoors, and have even climbed two of the world’s highest peaks! Making connections and showing my visitors the incredible beauty of these beautiful islands is a passion of mine. When I’m not out giving tours, you’ll likely find me on an invigorating hike or enjoying local cuisine on the beach.