Hawaii - Planning and Preparing for Your Trip

Crossing a stream on a hike in Moloka'i

Planning and Preparing for your trip to

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This page covers the following topics:

Hawaii is a US state so Visa Requirements apply for foreign visitors of most countries. We covered this material in depth on our Niagara Falls page. You can also visit the US Department of State website for the latest on the Visa Requirements.

Now for both international and domestic travelers to Hawaii, there is also a customs check. Thus, don't bring any produce (e.g. fruits, veggies, or any other agricultural products).

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Even though Hawaii has had a history of mosquito-born illnesses, the last epidemic was in 1944, and no new outbreaks have been reported since. Thus, there are no mandatory vaccination requirements (as for the rest of the US).

However, there are such requirements for longer-term stays in the country. You can check the US Department of State website for more info on this.

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In order to ensure a relatively safe and hassle-free trip (especially considering the hidden hazards of Hawaii's diverse climate regions and rugged terrain), here are a few things you might want to consider packing for your trip in addition to your basic toiletries and clothes.

  • Comfortable Shoes - much of the state's outdoor pursuits involves lots of walking and hiking. At the very minimum, comfortable walking shoes are a must, but hiking boots are probably better especially if you're hiking on more primitive walks and trails. In fact, you'll want shoes that can better grip wet surfaces because of the humidity that tends to keep trails and rocks slippery.
  • Hat - don't take for granted the dangers of UV radiation. A hat will at least keep your scalp from getting severely burned (especially considering how easy it is to get sunburned in a tropical environment). If you're wearing a broad-rimmed hiking hat, it could also help protect your neck, ears, and face.
  • Sunscreen - again, given the sun's harmful UV rays, it's a good idea to protect other exposed parts of your skin from sunburn.
  • Sunglasses - prevents cataracts or other harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays on your eyes
  • Bug Repellant - this can be controversial because the chemicals contained in these things can be harmful to the environment. However, getting eaten alive by mosquitos is not desirable either (especially if there's always that potential of getting some mosquito-born disease). In any case, the most effective repellants contain DEET, but they're smelly and toxic if used excessively. The better way to go environmentally, though not necessarily a comfortable one, is to cover your skin with long sleeves and pants.
  • Layered Clothing - you wouldn't think of this in a place like Hawaii, but believe it or not, there are some places where the temperature can dip towards freezing. Such places are basically on the island interior such as the summit of Haleakala.
  • Rain Coat - this will keep you and your equipment dry for the most part (with a rain poncho covering the pack in addition to the body). It rains a lot on the windward sides of the islands so this will at least keep you sane under such conditions (not to mention prevent your camera or other valuable electronics from getting waterlogged).

Some other things worth bringing to enhance your experience include...

  • Water Shoes - this is actually more of a corollary of the above recommendation on comfortable shoes. That's because many hikes and walks involve walking in water - especially if you're crossing an unbridged stream/river. Ever since we've purchased Keens, we tend to exclusively hike in these shoes. We've noticed others prefer Tabis for amphibious conditions.
  • Hiking Sticks/Trekking Poles - this is useful for longer and more involved hiking excursions. They provide you at 1 or 2 extra "legs" to maintain your balance on stream crossings or alleviate shock to your knees if you're carrying a pack
  • Lots of Memory or Film or Portable Hard Drive - the first and third items are for digital photographers. In any case, you'll be taking heaps of photos and you'll want to make sure you can bring all your photos home

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Even though Hawaii is usually quite a safe, don't be naive about crime. It does occur so do not draw unnecessary attention to how much money you have. A money pouch is good for this purpose as are TSA locks if you have to leave stuff in your accommodation while out during the day.

Perhaps a greater nuissance is theft and break-ins, especially at trailheads or car parks out in nature. We've seen numerous places with broken glass undoubtedly caused by thugs who managed to smash in a car window. To counteract this, pay attention to your surroundings where you're parking your car and leave nothing valuable in the car as you're out and about away from the car.

Finally, nature is inherently dangerous and unforgiving. But in order to enjoy Hawaii's true paradise, that means going out into nature and being cognizant of these dangers. Below is a list of things you need to be aware of to stay safe in the outdoors...

  • Flash Floods - these are sudden floods where surges of water race down a river or stream. Such surges are typically caused by downpours occurring upslope and channeling their waters into the streams and rivers further downstream. This also means that even though you may be experiencing nice weather where you're at, flash floods can still occur as rain can be dumped way upslope from you. Since many people like to swim or hike across streams, getting caught in one of these floods is almost sure death. Try to inform yourself with the latest weather reports and limit your exposure to the flash flood risk by not lingering too long in streams.
  • Rock Falls/Landslides - given the fragile nature of Hawaii's volcanic rocks and cliffs, such phenomena occurs very frequently - especially around waterfalls. In fact, a Mother's Day tragedy in 1999 on O'ahu's Sacred Falls serves to remind us of just how dangerous and real this danger is.
  • Ocean - since much of Hawaii's activities involve being in the ocean, you really have to watch out for rip currents and high tides. Many people die of drownings each year so be sure not to stray too far from the coast (at least no further than your swimming capability). If there are high tides, don't even think about going in the water. Moreover, there are agressive tiger sharks in some of the coastal waters near the islands.
  • Getting lost - always stay on the trails and heed the signs - for both your safety and even for trespassing reasons. Bring a topo map as well as a compass with you if you're on a more involved hike where it's easier to lose the trail.
  • Hypothermia - while not normally associated with a tropical environment, it's possible if you're caught in a sudden downpour or a flash flood or even in the higher elevations. Always pay attention to the weather reports before undertaking any hike that exposes you to the elements (especially in high elevations). Bring a rain coat to avoid getting wet and losing excessive heat that way.
  • Streams and Rivers - while many popular walks have bridges, other more difficult walks involve crossing unbridged streams and rivers. Use your hiking stick to gauge depth and do not cross if it has been flash flooded or you can't see the bottom. Generally waters thigh-deep or higher are very dangerous for crossing.
At least you don't have to worry too much about predators, but you do have to be aware of your impact to the fragile environment.

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How much time should you spend in Hawaii?

Most people tend to spend anywhere from about 4 days to a week on a typical vacation - usually to just one island at a time. We tend to make our Hawaii trips quick-hitting trips of around 4-5 days encompassing a long weekend (including travel). We've seen some people stay longer than a week, but that's not too common - especially given how little vacation time Americans tend to have.

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