Here’s an oldie but goodie I first published back in 2009!
There has been a lot written about how to enjoy world travel or how to increase the ways that world travel can fulfill you. What I haven’t seen is a lot about how to have a miserable time when you are on the road.
Having lived in quite a few tourist destinations, run hostels, and interacted with literally thousands of travelers, tourists, nomads, vagabonds, and gypsies over the years I’ve seen more than a few people who are making themselves as miserable as possible. In fact, I’ve done it a time or two myself.
So, I dedicate this post to all the miserable wretches who thought they were going on the adventure of a lifetime but ended up having the worst time of their lives.
1) Get drunk all the time. Party like a miserable suicidal rock star.
Sure, it’s nice to have some drinks now and then. It’s even nice to sometimes throw caution to the wind and just get blotto and see if you wake up in the morning with a beautiful stranger (or a stranger you thought was beautiful when you were hammered), but the truth of the matter is that alcohol is a depressant.
Alcohol used to excess has a negative impact on our bodies, our minds, and our emotions. While it is easy to shake off a hangover now and then (easier for some than others), no matter how fit you are if you are getting soused every night your mind and emotional state are going to suffer.
Not only will you miss those glorious early morning walks when people all over the world are getting ready for work and starting their day but you are putting yourself in a position where you won’t be able to clearly see the things that make foreign cultures beautiful. And you will spend a lot. With a few exceptions (like the Philippines), booze is also one of the most expensive things you can buy. Drinking will sap your budget and sap your spirits. As an example, an average night of drinking in Turkey will cost you anywhere from 30 to 100 lira. For 20 lira you can take a boat tour in Kaciegiez including lunch and visit the mud baths, and go to the beach, and drink a beer and eat an ice cream. So, one night drinking or a boat trip?
2) Don’t leave the resort or tourist areas.
I know that being in a foreign culture can be difficult, but if you only eat in the McDonalds, use the hotel facilities, stay in the backpacker ghetto area, or stick to the guidebook than you are missing out on what life is really about in whatever place you are in. Would you rather sit by a pool meeting other vacationers or perhaps meet Chinese villagers who are celebrating a local holiday?
When I ran a hostel in Waikiki, I noticed that some guests never left Waikiki and they usually wrote things in the comment book like “Hawaii is just like Miami but more expensive”, but for those who ventured out into little towns like Kailua or who visited local spots in Honolulu, the comments would usually read something like this “Aloha is real! I love Hawaii!”
Which comment would you rather leave?
3) Compare everything negatively with somewhere else.
I’ve heard plenty of tourists in Fez, Morocco say things like “The clubs here aren’t as good as the ones in Barcelona” or “The cafes here aren’t as good as the one’s in Paris”. They are right, but the problem is that by comparing things in a negative way they are missing what is good or interesting about the clubs in Fez.
A better way is to say something like “The cafe’s in Fez are different from those in Paris because they are filled with only men. That’s interesting, I wonder why?” and then to ask someone about it. Sure, you may not like it as much, but explore the diversity instead of just harshing about it.
If you want to know more ways to not enjoy world travel, stay tuned. More are coming soon.
In the meantime, what do you recommend for those who want to be miserable?
If you haven’t yet downloaded and played with the Iwahai app, you are really missing out. There are still a few bugs to work out, but for the most part – it’s already a fun way to explore and share the world. Need proof?
Easily done – but you’ll need to download and open the app before you can check out these amazing markers. And since you have the app now – why not add some memories of your own on there? Share some insider knowledge. Make a recommendation. Or – say hi to a friend. The more you add and share on Iwahai – the more fun it will become. Bring your friends on, Iwahai is free, it’s easy, and it’s fun.
If you’re looking for a classic beach resort town with all the shops, restaurants, perfect weather, and great beaches nearby – Lahaina on the island of Maui is perhaps your best choice. This little town exudes country tourism charm. Be warned though – during the peak season this little village swells from a population of about 12,000 to nearly 40,000! That’s not even including the nearby resorts of Ka’anapali and Kapalua.
Still, Lahaina is a fun place to go and offers something for everyone. However, if you are looking to buy a slice of Hawaiian paradise, this may not be the place for you. Lahaina has some of Hawaii’s most expensive real estate with homes that can cost as much as $5 million dollars.
There’s a reason for those prices. Prior to contact, Lahaina was the capitol of the Maui Kingdom. It was also the capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820-1845 under King Kamehameha III – he preferred it to Honolulu. There are still vestiges of that legacy there. Front Street, the bustling main drag of Lahaina dates back to that period. While some guides will tell you that the big banyan tree at Banyan Court Park was planted by Kamehameha III’s queen, it’s not true. It was planted by William Owen Smith in 1873 to celebrate 50 yeas of missionary work. There is no larger banyan tree in the United States. Nearby are the reconstructed bulwarks of Fort Lahaina.
It’s a sunny spot which is reflected in the Hawaiian name – meaning ‘cruel sun’. It’s dry most of the time but gets a bit of rain in the winter months. Lahaina was an important center of the whaling industry in the 1800s and the conflict between conservative missionaries and horny sailors was the stuff of legends. Fort Lahaina was actually built to protect the town against rioting sailors! The whaling has stopped but Lahaina is still a heavily used port for whale watching cruises from November to May.
There is no shortage of historical or tourist attractions in Lahaina. Among them the Bailey Museum, the Lahaina Courthouse, and the Prison. Walking maps are available at the Baldwin House Museum for a couple of dollars. There are a huge number of restaurants, bars, and shops on Front Street.
The biggest celebration in Lahaina every year is Halloween with huge crowds walking up and down the main street. It’s not exactly kid friendly after dark because of the many drunks staggering around. Mardii Gras of the Pacific is what I’ve heard it called, but I think that overstates things by quite a bit.
I’ve always enjoyed spending time in Pa’ia on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, but I have to admit – on this last trip – after more than a decade since my last visit – I wasn’t too keen on it. I’m sure it would be cool if it was your first time to go there. My wife and daughter liked it. The thing is – it used to be kind of a hippie art town – but like most hippie things (granola, brown bread, tofu, soy products, hemp) it’s now sort of trendy, chic, and over-priced. For me what made the hippie stuff great was that it was cheap AND healthy. Now, the cheap part is gone.
Same goes for Pa’ia – although, I will say that the natural foods store is still offering far better prices than the other food places on Maui. Mana Foods is a hell of a lot cheaper than Whole Foods or Down to Earth here on Oahu. There are some decent restaurants in Pa’ia – the most expensive and most famous of course being Mama’s Fish House – which used to be a bit of a secret until Oprah let the world know about it.
There are art galleries, tourist shops, and a couple of surf shops.
Pa’ia is the first town on the famous “Road to Hana.” It used to be a sugar town. Then it became sort of a forgotten and overly wet artist and surfer spot – cheaper than Lahaina or the other beach towns. The sugar mill closed in 2000 and like most places – it started catering to tourists. Pa’ia is sometimes called the capital of wind-surfing and has some world class spots for it. There are also some amazing beaches around this north shore town, but I’m not going to spoil them any further by calling them out. You’ll just have to explore to find them.
Pa’ia has about 3000 residents and lots and lots of tourists. It is the gateway to upcountry Maui and the road to Hana. It’s a cute little town – a place where hippies used to hang out and now it’s a place where tourists come to pretend to be hippies. It’s definitely worth a visit.
A lot of visitors to Honolulu ask me about the unique design and history of the Hawaii Convention Center near Waikiki. It’s a massive building. It cost over $200 million to build back in the late 1990s and has more than 1.1 million square feet of usable space. The building is owned by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) but strangely, they outsource the management of it to a California company (such practices are why we have low paying jobs and a stagnant economy here in Hawaii).
The State of Hawaii was the contractor and the architect was LMN from Seattle, Washington. This is their statement on the Convention Center:
The design celebrates Hawai`i through innovative functional planning, ecological responsiveness and a unique expression of place. Designed before sustainable design gained popularity, the facility employs energy conservation and passive building systems as integrated aspects of the architectural experience.
The building is configured on the site to capture Hawaii’s trade winds and optimize natural ventilation of public spaces. More than 60 percent of the center, including lobbies, registration, pre-function areas and concourses, are open to the sky and shaded with trellis structures to provide abundant daylight while maintaining human comfort.
References to traditional building forms and landscape elements reinforce the connection to Hawaiian landscape and culture—expressed in roof shape, structural columns, and a series of folded fabric roof “sails” that induce air flow and create a dramatic civic presence.
Addressing its urban context, the building provides active edges on all four sides by enveloping the functional service areas within the building massing. Landscaped public terraces are designed for a diverse range of active and passive use, integrating the entire facility into its active pedestrian environment.
The interior architects were Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG), one of the most successful firms to be born in Honolulu. Their idea was to incorporate Hawaiian quilt motifs and representation of Hawaii nature throughout the interior and exterior elements.
It has been voted the most beautiful convention center in the world! The iconic sails on top represent the original Polynesian voyagers who became the Hawaiian people. It has appeared in many TV shows and movies including LOST and Hawaii 5-0.
Our personal favorite events that happen there are Hawaii Comic Con and the Honolulu Festival but there are many more events, expos, and conferences that take place at the HCC.
A few weeks ago, it was the last week of summer vacation for my 8-year-old daughter (and it was her birthday week) so I took some time off and we made an awesome week of it. We filled the days with boogie boarding in Kailua, shave ice on the North Shore, pizza, and doing crazy things she suggested like playing Yahtzee while we ate cereal for breakfast.
One of those great things we did was taking a long awaited hike to Kaena Point on the North Shore of Oahu. I hadn’t hiked to the point since 2008 when I did my 9-day walk around Oahu. I’d done it a few times since then – but not since I got back here in 2017. I’d been wanting to do the hike with her.
Drive to the North Shore of Oahu, make a left at Haleiwa and drive until you can’t drive any more. That will bring you to the westernmost point you can drive to on Oahu. That’s where we went. We parked the car, grabbed water bottles, and made sure we had on plenty of sun screen. You can reach the point from the Wai’anae Coast (West Side of Oahu) but we came from the North.
In Hawaiian, kaʻena means ‘the heat’. We were ready for the heat – but still – it was hot. The hike is about 7-miles round trip and except for a couple of off road vehicles that went by us – we didn’t see anyone else on our way out. The State of Hawaiʻi has designated the point as a Natural Area Reserve to protect nesting Laysan Albatrosses and wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Hawaiian monk seals, and the fragile (to vehicular traffic) native strand vegetation that has been restored there.
Along the trail we passed plenty of naupaka kahakai, ilima, Hawaiian cotton plants, hinahina, and other endemic and native plants. The beautiful lava karsts and tide pools along the way are spectacular. I’ve heard that there is some amazing snorkeling in this area – but this wasn’t on our agenda. During the winter months – the massive surf that hits the north shore makes Kaena Point extremely dangerous – with waves that have been reported as big as 80-feet!! Part of the reason I wasn’t going to take my daughter snorkeling there is because the area is known for undertows, rips and other deadly ocean conditions – year round. There are no lifeguards there and you are on your own if something goes wrong.
When we got nearer the point – we found the massive predator proof fence that was put up in 2011. It is a bit of an eyesore but has helped the endangered bird populations quite a bit. It cost almost $300k to build. The lighthouse at the point is just a beacon and the old concrete one is more of a canvas for graffiti artists than anything else. We found a few people out at the point and encountered quite a few on the way back.
It’s a longer trek back than it is to the point – so make sure you don’t drink all your water.
I’ve already written so much about Honolulu and Oahu that I don’t really feel like there is much to say beyond our personal journey since we arrived here three years ago. Hawaii has always been an expensive place to live, but until we arrived and had boots on the ground – I had no idea just how expensive it had become. Mind-blowingly expensive.
We pay $1700/month for a small 2-bedroom apartment in a decent building but in a neighborhood that is inconvenient to the beach, Waikiki, or Honolulu. We live in the Salt Lake Neighborhood. It’s clean, generally safe and friendly. Once we arrived and I began working – I quickly realized that earning $15/hour as an archaeologist wasn’t going to pay our bills. Archaeologists don’t earn much in the first place, but that was a particularly crappy wage. The three month raise they had promised me only brought my wage to $16/hour. I asked them to give me a raise that would at least cover my monthly living expenses but they offered weak excuses about how I was doing a dream job in paradise and shouldn’t expect much. Pretty lame. I was qualified, had the right degree, and had a family to support and the bottom line was that archaeology wasn’t going to work.
I found a far better paying job in tourism and offered my two-weeks notice. My wife was going through a bit of culture shock and still didn’t understand why I had made us move from Reedsport, Oregon. I’d kept a lot of the racism and xenophobic stuff from Reedsport to myself while we were there. When I told her, she didn’t seem to believe me. In any event, it was up to me to take care of us.
I sold my antique shop for a fire-sale price. My best inventory wasn’t in it when I put it up for sale. That inventory came to Hawaii with us in a box trailer along with our possessions. I began learning the ins and outs of antique dealing in Hawaii. Most of the stuff I had brought with me was premium goods in Oregon but hard to sell in Hawaii. It’s a very different market here. I was still selling things on Ebay and began using the Aloha Swap Meet, selling at antique shows, and any other venue I could find.
I started working on forming my own tour company and once again became seriously interested in tech. I co-founded a cryptocurrency (which failed without making any money) and then started looking at finding a job in tech again. It was a bit like archaeology – the pay was less than the cost of living. It’s a common problem in Hawaii which is why most families have three, four, or five jobs to make ends meet. Since I couldn’t afford to work for start-ups, I decided to start my own. That process has been going on for about ten months now. I’ve founded two companies ZguideZ and Iwahai. It’s been an amazing learning process so far. Iwahai is launched and ZguideZ is still a work in progress. I still do tours – and that is what pays the bulk of our living expenses.
My daughter is in school. She’s thriving and loves living in Hawaii. She wants to learn how to surf but we’re still getting the swimming skills up to speed – though she and I do love body boarding together. My wife is also thriving and works as a special needs teacher (RBT). We have friends, we have a nice, safe place to live, and we somehow manage to pay our bills every month. We managed to scrape enough together so that last year the two of them were able to go see my wife’s parents in Morocco and her sisters in Belgium. We have taken a couple of short family trips to the neighbor islands of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next. This is where we are. We live in Honolulu. I’ve founded a couple of small tech companies. We scrape by in one of the most expensive places to live in the USA – but it’s beautiful, safe, and a good place to live.
I still dream about the Aegean in Turkey and Greece. I’d love to live in Europe again. I’m still drawn to my home state of California and as a tech founder – the San Francisco Bay Area has a huge draw. My siblings are now both on the California coast. It would be nice to have our families closer to each other.
I suppose it’s all on me – where we end up in the world – and where we have ended up. Honolulu is a good place to be. It’s not perfect (it’s crowded, expensive, remote, has too much military, and a lack of tech opportunities and high paying jobs) but it’s among the best places I have been – so I feel like we are doing alright. This is the end of Places I’ve Lived ….. for now, but I still don’t have any moss on me. I’ll do one more post where I rank the places I’ve lived from best to worst and then we’ll move on to something else.
Honolulu, Hawaii is the capital city of the State of Hawaii. It has a population of approximately 1 million people. It is an incredibly diverse place to live. With more than a dozen languages spoken by significant communities, a wide diversity of religions, and a culture that spans the globe. When you consider the fact that Honolulu is not just a city but actually a combined entity of the City and County of Honolulu all run from as jurisdiction with one mayor, one city council, and one police force – it really changes the way Honolulu looks both geographically and demographically.
When I moved to Hawaii – I had $100. I booked a dorm bed into the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel in Waikiki for seven nights and bought some rice and cheap veggies in Chinatown. During the next week, I ate rice and beat the streets looking for a job. I found a job painting houses and then moved into a longer term hostel down the road called the Beachside Hostel. I got a discount for waking up early and cleaning up the common areas.
Painting houses wasn’t very fun and while the owner of the hostel I was in was giving me a discount, she wasn’t a particularly nice woman – so my life wasn’t the Hawaii dream I’d been expecting. I’d made friends with some of the people who worked at the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel and was down there when the owner came in and told everyone that the manager had stolen a bunch of cash and left the island. I’d talked with the owner a few times in the past and had a friendly relationship – I volunteered to be her new manager. She agreed. I quit the painting job and moved into the manager’s apartment. My Hawaii dream life was taking shape.
A little over a year after I started, she took a month long vacation and left me to handle everything. It all went good except I’d gotten a dog while she was gone. She told me to get rid of it. I’d grown attached and honestly, I don’t respond well to orders. During her absence a shady character who was opening a new hostel on the windward side had been trying to recruit me to come help him build his place. She gave me the ultimatum about the dog and I resigned and moved to the new hostel “Countryside Cabins” in Punalu’u.
Punalu’u was AWESOME. We built this amazing country Hawaiian hostel where our guests regularly decided to skip their flights home and stay longer. We had bonfires every night, we had an outdoor kitchen we cooked communal meals in every night, we integrated with the local Hawaiian community and they taught us how to cook in an imu, spearfish, hunt pigs, catch prawns, and much more. It was like a Hawaiian dream. Then it became a little like ‘The Beach’. The owner was older and single and all of us young guys were regularly hooking up with our guests and he wasn’t. He started drinking more, getting sort of abusive to the staff, and frankly, being a dick. People stopped staying longer. It was unpleasant. Some of the locals had developed some heavy ice habits (smoking meth) and there were a couple of scary incidents. The owner kept driving away our guests and then when I took issue with it – he drove me away. We’d made a gentleman’s agreement – I would come, help him build, recruit a staff, and set up tours and activities. I would be paid a salary and the tour revenue would be mine. He renegged. When I complained he said “What are you going to do? You have a dog and you don’t have anywhere to go?”
I gave my dog to a local guy who liked him and I put my things in a storage locker at Kailua Mini Storage. Then I bought a ticket to Kauai where I hiked out the 22 mile trail to Kalalau where I set up a camp in the jungle and stayed in solitude for a couple of weeks before I met some of the other outlaws out there and began to take part in the Spiritual Pizza parties, pakalolo sharing, and heavenly communal living in the valley.
When I finally hiked out of Kalalau, I was in love with Kauai. I got a job at the Blue Lagoon Hostel in Kapa’a and then got hired as a kayak river guide at Paradise Kayaks. I bought a VW van and lived on the beach in Kapa’a next to the Kayak shop. For the next two years, I was a river guide – then I fell for a flight attendant and went to Portland where I published Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond before coming back to my senses and returning to Kauai. After that I took a trip to the Philippines and when I returned I decided to live in Kailua on Oahu and write a novel. I bought another van (I’d sold the one on Kauai) and wrote my first novel, Slackville Road. When the book was finished I was ready to do something else. I got a job as a tour guide and limo driver and rented a studio in Kailua. It was one of the best places I’ve ever lived. I began blogging and creating an online used bookstore and everything empire. I was the Chairman of the Fukn Bored and CEO of Fukn Books, Fukn Records, and Fukn Clothing. I met an amazing woman, we fell in love, we got engaged, and she went to Africa to help the people of Sierra Leone. Then we mutually fucked everything up. For the next couple of years we tried to fix things but were unable. We lived in Lanikai and then on the Punchbowl. Finally, I enrolled at University of Hawaii and rented a studio in Manoa. Our relationship never recovered – which is a pretty huge bummer. She was one of the most awesome people I’ve ever known – and today, we’re not even in contact. I miss her friendship.
Anyway, I did my best to make myself important but school took all of my energy and the Fukn Empire began to fall apart. I put my energy in becoming the managing editor of Ka Leo, the University of Hawaii student newspaper, the president of the Honor Student Organization, an Osher Scholar, the President of the UH Sierra Club Chapter, and a dozen other things. I made student films, wrote an undergrad thesis, and graduated with honors. That was December of 2008 and the economy was fucked. So I gathered what money I could, sold all of my possessions, and decided to take trains across the USA and then go travel the world – that’s when Vagobond.com was born.
Kapa’a is a small town on the East side of the island of Kauai. It’s beautiful and not really a big tourist destination – at least it wasn’t when I lived there, mainly because there were few hotels there. The population is about 10,000 today – to the south is the Wailua River and the once famous Wailua Beach – home to the destroyed Coco Palms Hotel that was devastated by the 1992 Hurricane Iniki. The Coco Palms was where Elvis loved to stay in Hawaii, many movies were made there. Frank Sinatra stayed there too. The Wailua River is a popular kayaking destination. There are waterfalls, a Hindu Temple, some surprisingly tasty restaurants, and large empty stretches of beach nearby.
Man…that was so cool. It hardly feels real. The climb to altitude in the Cessna. The moment of going out the door of the plane. The freefall..man oh man…the freefall was awesome. Below is the link to the company I went with. Totally fukn cool man. I highly recommend it and I will definitely go again. Hawaii Sky Diving.
I wrote the little blurb below about the experience but I didn’t include it in the original post….my tandem diver told me how depressed he was before we jumped. I’ve never figured out if he was just messing with me or if I narrowly dodged a bullet. The night before had been his 50th birthday and he was unhappy at the turns of his life. Still single, no kids, and generally unhappy. He smelled like alcohol still. We were the last out of the plane and the first on the ground – meaning we pulled the rip cord way after everyone else….
A Suicidal Skydive Instructor’s Stream of Consciousness
That’s crazy. I would never do that. Somewhat disturbing to think about what it would be like to do it though. It wouldn’t really be hard. I mean, it wouldn’t haunt me because I would be dead. Right? I mean, that’s what it is.
But to not pull the cord. The strength it will take to not pull the ripcord. To not choose life at the last moment. There really can’t be much more difficult than that. I have my doubts about whether I could really do it.
Fuck, I’m late. Fuck it, today will be my 1000th dive. Cool. Shit. Gotta go. I’m sick of working. Sick of having to be anywhere. I’m fifty and I don’t have anyone who gives a shit about me. No wife, no family, no kids. My life will only get worse from here on .
It’s a cool job though. I do have that going. I’ve got to be there, but it’s pretty cool. I just hate strapping myself to strangers and pretending to feel the thrill of their first airplane jump as if it is my first time too. Life is most difficult when you are insincere. Suddenly the world begins to appear as full of shit as you are. I really wonder if I could do it.
(Scroll down for my gallery of photos from the Road to Hana)
The Road to Hana – also known as the Hana Highway is Routes 36 and 360 along the East side of Maui. It connects the towns of Kahalui, Paia, and Hana. The destination is not the purpose of taking this trip, literally, you are there to experience the road. There are 59 bridges (most of them one way) and with stops you should count on a minimum of 8-hours round trip. The highway was opened in 1926 and fully paved during the 1960s.
In the early 2000’s on Maui, I took my rental car the rest of the way from Hana to Ulupalakua Ranch. This route is even more treacherous than the main Road to Hana. I considered doing it this time but when I heard one baby boomer in a Mustang recommending it to another baby boomer in a Jeep, I decided it was a better idea to take the Road to Hana back – surprisingly – we saw very little traffic on the way back – so my assumption is that a majority of people are now taking the so called ‘road less travelled’ (which, if true, makes it the road more travelled).
The Road to Hana is one of those fantasy trips that people dream about doing. Sixty two miles with more than 620 turns and a natural treasure around every bend. Waterfalls, black sand beaches, green sand beaches, red sand beaches – tropical forest, more waterfalls, hikes to such amazingly named places as the ‘Seven Sacred Pools’. There are absolutely breathtaking views along the way with climbs along the coast up to as high as 4200 feet. Some essential stopping points are Ho’okipa Lookout, Twin Falls, Kaumahina State Wayside Park, Honomanu Bay, Ke’anae Arboretum, Wailua Valley (and falls), Upper Waikani Falls (the three bears), Pua’ Kaa State Wayside, Hanawi Falls, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Kahanu Botanical Gardens, and the Nahiku Marketplace (which, while priced for tourists, still offers some delicious lunch options).
The Road to Hana is beautiful and there are many places worth stopping along the way – if you can find a parking spot. Going past Hana to Kipahulu and Ohe’o Gulch is essential.
You can break your budget with mediocre roadside attractions along the way. A good example is the lovely but overpriced ‘Garden of Eden’ -a beautiful botanical garden that charges $15 per person to have a walk in the jungle, buy bird food to feed their birds, and shop in their gallery. Personally, my recommendation is to pass this one as the free botanical gardens, parks, and trails along the way offer everything you can get here (and more).
It’s hard to get a photo at any of the attractions along the way without a whole bunch of tourists (like us) in the background. Patience is the key here. If you are dreaming of being alone in beautiful and remote tropical areas – the Road to Hana is not your destination. Parking at the trailheads, beachparks, and attractions along the way is also a problem – at one point, I felt like I was jockeying for a space at the Iwilei Costco on Oahu (not a recommended experience).
Everything on the Road to Hana is priced at the highest possible amount. This is a well defined tourist route and you are paying tourist prices at every point.
I’d driven the Road to Hana a couple of times in the past. Once in 2005 and again in 2007. This was more treacherous than either of those trips. The problem was the constant stream of rented Ford Mustangs and Jeep Wranglers going in both directions – intersperced with pissed off locals trying to get home or someplace else and willing to make insane passing maneuvers when the Mustangs and Wranglers didn’t pull over to make way.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m sympathetic to both groups. After all, we live on Oahu and are visiting Maui – we were a little bit of both tourist and local, but both groups were engaging in some shitty behaviour. While most of the tourists used the pull outs to let groups of 3 or more cars go past – all it took was one jerk living out his jeep fantasy while holding his GoPro over the t-top who refused to pull over and left a line of ten or more cars behind him to ruin it for everyone. Also, while most of the locals patiently waited for a safe opportunity to pass – there always seemed to be at least one aggressive teenager in an oversized Tonka truck that was willing to play chicken with oncoming cars and endanger everyone. I lost count after the six or seventh near miss – but that was fairly early in the day.
I can understand why some people want to come to Maui and stay in the beach resorts in Kapalua, Kaanapali, or Kihei. Maui has beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, and some real high end resort experiences. That’s just not what we are looking for when we come to Maui.
We live on Oahu so we get plenty of beaches, resorts, and tourist activities. For us, the reason to come to Maui is to enjoy a break from tourism, the city, and the grind of traffic and city life on a resort island. We come to Maui to experience more of a simple Hawaii. The kind of Hawaii where you can look up at the stars at night, shower outside under a wealth of flowers, and wake up to birds, deer, and the sounds of nature.
Our go to place for all of that is Peace of Maui, an upcountry B&B located near the Maui cowboy town of Makawao. Peace of Maui is definitely not a resort. If you are looking for five star accommodations, this isn’t the place for you. If you are looking for golfing, beach umbrellas, and early morning swims – this isn’t the place for you. If you are looking for waiters and valets and bellboys and concierge – this isn’t the place for you. You need to know this before you book – you are not booking a luxury vacation at Peace of Maui.
What you are booking is a chance to enjoy the simple things on Maui. Peace of Maui is hard to classify. B&B might be closest, but from my experience – it’s more like a hostel for grown-ups with private rooms, laid back vibes, and a do-it-yourself ethos that works for those who (like us) don’t really want to stay in a resort that could be in Los Angeles, Miami, Honolulu, the Philippines, Australia, or dozens of other beach destinations. Peace of Maui gives you the chance to stay someplace that is uniquely and totally Hawaii and Maui.
There are no private bathrooms or kitchen unless you rent the cottage. We rented the Hibiscus room, a classic plantation style shack with unobstructed views of Haleakala. The bathrooms are in the main lodge (there are three of them for all rooms to share as well as two indoor showers and an outdoor shower that was near us in the Hibiscus Room.). We had a queen bed, a pullout single bed, a mini-fridge and a dresser. Nothing fancy but comfy beds and pillows, clean sheets, and a locking door.
Peace of Maui sits on a couple of acres and is surrounded by grasslands at the base of Haleakala. The shared kitchen is reminiscent of youth hostels with each room getting a cupboard and a section of the main refrigerator. The owners, Tammi and Mika live above the main lodge. Their two dogs Ranger and Awahi wander the property freely. There is an outdoor patio area near the kitchen and then a bigger outdoor patio near where we stayed with a hot tub, the outdoor shower, fire pits, and plenty of sitting areas. Mika is building an outdoor kitchen in this area too.
It should probably be noted, that the owners are Christians and there is a fair amount of Christian material around – be it the artwork, the embroidered towels, or the religious tracts – that being said, at no point was there any sort of conversation regarding religion or anything like that. I mention this because if you are for some reason ‘anti-religion’ or ‘anti-Christian’ this might put you off. We are not Christians and weren’t bothered by any of it, but I know some people have stronger views about his sort of thing. To be honest, I probably would not have booked if this had been obvious on the website – and if that had been the case, we would have missed out on a spectacular place. We really loved it!
The only reasons we had to go into the main house were to get access to the wifi (it doesn’t reach the Hibiscus Room), use the kitchen, and use the toilets. If there had been an outdoor composting toilet, an outdoor kitchen, and a stronger wifi signal – we would not have needed to go into the house at all. I suspect that all those things are coming. In any event, it’s nearly perfect as it is. Our interactions with other guests took place on the outdoor patio or in the kitchen. We swapped notes on going out the Road to Hana or going up Haleakala and generally interacted a bit less intimately than if we had been in a hostel but a bit more intimately than if we had been in a resort – just right for my tastes at this point in life.
Peace of Maui is perfectly located for all of your adventures on Maui. Just ten miles from the airport and an easy drive into Paia or Makawao, not far from the farms of Kula and the Haleakala Highway, close to the starting point of the Road to Hana and far enough away from Kihei and Lahaina to be peaceful, but close enough to be convenient. It’s about a 30-minute drive to the Maui Ocean Center, Lahaina, or down to Kihei.
Rooms start at the astoundingly reasonable rate of $115 per night and the cottage starts at $250 per night. This is a small place with limited capacity, so be sure to book early. Make your reservations at www.peaceofmaui.com
The view of Haleakala from the patio each morning where I drank my coffee.
I don’t want fans of the Waikiki Aquarium to get up in arms here – I love that place, but the difference between the Waikiki Aquarium and the Maui Ocean Center is like the difference between community college and university – and that’s all the comparing of the two I will do. The truth is that families traveling with kids will love both places. First let me give a little background.
The Maui Ocean Center opened in 1998 with the mission of respectfully educating and sharing the treasures of the Pacific Ocean as well as educating about and sharing many aspects of Hawaiian culture with visitors. At just over twenty years old, it’s a relatively new attraction in Hawaii, but already one of the best with more than sixty exhibits, a 750,000 gallon living reef aquarium, and the awesome 3-D encounter with humpback whales.
We arrived on Maui several hours before we could check in to our room at Peace of Hawaii and this was the perfect first destination. My wife was deeply immersed in the important exhibit on Kaho’olawe, the Hawaiian island that the US Navy bombed into an uninhabitable wasteland. This was one of the most important of the inhabited islands to the Hawaiian people’s culture and yet somehow, some military genius decided that using it as a bombing range was a good idea – thankfully, Kaho’olawe is making a slow recovery thanks to the hard work and bravery of activists and preservationists.
Our 7-year-old loved the Turtle Lagoon, the touching tide pool, and the living reef exhibit. Of course, seeing the sharks and rays and walking through the shark tunnel was a thrill for all of us. The 3-D whale encounter in the sphere was good but felt like it was a little bit short, which is probably a sign that we enjoyed it. 3-D technology is catching up quickly and I’m not sure how long this will still be amazing to anyone – but at the moment, it’s still well worth doing.
The Maui Ocean Center is open every day from 9am to 5pm. Admission is $35 for adults and $25 for kids ($34.95 and $24.95 +tax, so who are we trying to kid here?) It’s a bit steep in my opinion, but then admission to everything is expensive these days and the value here is quite good. Military and kama’aina get a 35% discount with valid ID.
The Maui Ocean Center is located at Ma’alaea Harbor on the West Side of Maui. From the airport it’s an easy 15-20 minute drive.
When I first came to Maui, sometime in the early 2000’s – I was in awe. I’d grown up hearing about Maui – mostly in terms of Maui Wowee – but also about the beauty, how it was place the stars gathered, and one of the most spiritual places on the planet.
My first time here (because I’m here again as I write this) was a budget trip just to see the place. I stayed in hostels, hitchhiked around, swam, drank, smoked my first Maui Wowee and seriously felt the vibe. I don’t have pictures from that trip because I didn’t have a camera and in those days, there were no cameras on phones – but in fact, I didn’t have a phone at that point either.
However, it pretty much felt like this picture. It was awesome.
The next trip was totally different. Troubled relationship, four star resort, great food and wine, luxury experience but with personal and money issues. It felt more like this picture:
Then, there was a trip where I was working as a driver – taking PGA golfers on tours and to their tee times. I was a servant and I hated it – though there were moments like when one of them generously bought me a $150 Kobe Beef hamburger at the end of the Road to Hana. That one felt more like this picture:
After that, I had one trip where I stayed a couple of nights in Lahaina before going to Lanai. That one was a little bit like the first trip but without the carefree – more like I was looking for the carefree but still carrying all my cares. That trip felt like this:
Now, back again and I have to admit – Maui is a great reflector of what you are feeling in your life. It’s a bit like a magic mirror. I’ll be writing about Maui and the adventures and experiences I find here this time around – I’ll try to keep it to the facts and try to understand that what I experience here is still likely a reflection of my own inner experience – at the moment – it feels a bit like this picture – So far, so good!
Enjoying travel is easy. The hard part is making sure everything works.
In terms of accommodation, it comes down to 1) figuring out how to get where you want to go and 2) figuring out where to stay when you get there. Sure, there are other factors like finding the money to travel, what to eat, how to stay in your budget, and of course the biggest challenge for those not born with a magic ticket passport – getting the visas.
But, by and large I would say that transport and accommodation are the two biggest challenges. What are the relative merits of a few types of places you might consider staying.
First of all hostels – I’m not a huge fan of hostels now that I’m no longer in my twenties, but, for people who aren’t like me, there might actually be some very good reasons to stay in hostels. Here are just a few – hostels are great places to meet people, hostels are sometimes cheaper than a hotel (but not always), and hostels can be good places to find cheap tours, activities, etc. My personal recommendation is to avoid the dorms and get a private room – even if it means finding a new friend at the hostel and sharing a private the next days you are there. A private room at a hostel is probably the best value and you don’t have to deal with inconsiderate, crazy, or drunk dorm-mates. Here’s another but though- if you are going to get a private room at a hostel, have a look at hotels nearby because you have a pretty good chance of getting a more comfortable room for the same or less money at a one or two star hotel and sometimes even the three stars can surprise you. Don’t assume that hostels are the cheapest option because often they are more expensive than a nicer room somewhere else.
As far as hotels go – there are really a few different types of accommodation that fall under that category.
Bed and Breakfasts are essentially hostels for grown ups as they generally have common areas where guests can converge (for breakfast for example) and more personalized service than a hotel – this can, in some cases, be annoying if you just want to have a place to sleep and be left alone by other guests and staff but most people find it to be pretty nice. The staff and owners at good B&Bs are generally interested in who you are and getting to know you…if you don’t want that, just get a hotel.
Guesthouses are along the same lines but without the interest in you from staff. You may or may not have breakfast or common areas – these can range from a lakeside house in Koycegiez, Turkey to a Dar or Riad in the Fes Medina – to me, a guesthouse is characterized by a host who lives in the house or somewhere nearby and is available to answer questions or help arrange activities, transport etc.
Vacation rentals are a mixed bag. This could be an extra room in a family house or a whole property dedicated to being rented out on a short term basis. These days, you can find vacation rentals that fit with everything else that is described in this article from a spare couch or van parked in someone’s driveway to a luxury home with a butler and private chef.
Motels are places you can drive your car to and park. Motor + Hotel – In South Korea, they tend to be places where you can get some loving with a special someone (either that you just met or who you already know – up to you) and they also tend to be much cheaper than hotels. They call them Love Motels for a reason. In the USA, these are hotels that are along motorways, highways, and freeways. I grew up staying in motels since my dad was a musician early in my childhood..
Hotels are places generally in cities where visitors can stay. Service tends to be detached, professional, and standardized. A managerial staff usually runs the hotel rather than the owner of the property. This is your best bet for privacy, comfort, amenities, and location. Hotels are rated by stars, but there are many hotels that have never been rated that offer exceptional value. Many that have been rated degrade over time or fail to provide the standards you would expect. In general – no stars means it has not been rated, 1 star means basic room with toilet and shower, 2 star means the room has additional comfort features (like shower gel and soap, daily cleaning etc) and the property may offer food or drink, 3 stars means that there are additional features like telephone, television, hair dryer, extra pillows or blankets etc. It also means the hotel likely has a complaint system in place and works hard to make guests comfortable and happy. 4 stars brings you additional comforts like a bathrobe and slippers, minibar, room service, couch and/or upholstered chair, patios, cosmetic products, etc. And finally, the 5 stars (or five diamond) hotel brings you fresh flowers in the rooms, welcoming drinks, personalized service, shoe shining, ironing service and everything else you can imagine in terms of comfort and service.
Finally, a resort is a hotel in a specific setting usually with shops, restaurants, activities and much of what you could want on holiday all in one location. Examples would be Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu, Hawaii ; Disney Resorts; or Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore.
So, which is the best hotel? As with most things in life- it depends. The star or diamond system is a great general guide but in many cases hotels don’t live up to the stars they have or far exceed them. For my money, a three star hotel that aspires to four stars is the best thing going. Or – a hotel that hasn’t yet been rated that aspires to four or five stars. The worst? A four or five star hotel that is living on it’s reputation from long ago – these are the kinds of places that charge you for internet access or have terrible expensive restaurants in the lobby. If you are just looking for a bed and a place to stash your bag – a one or two star will usually give you the same or better accommodation and rates than a hostel private room. Even if they are one star, they value it and want to keep it- a hostel doesn’t have stars and won’t get them – although in some cities I’ve seen hostels that behave as if they are five stars while giving less than one star treatment.
A final note on what used to be my favorite means of making friends and learning about new places. Couchsurfing. For a while Couchsurfing was an amazing underground way of finding free accommodation and making new friends. Then it became more mainstream. Then it tried to monetize itself like AirBnB had done. Then it all fell apart. I’ve tried to use it over the last seven years and found it to be more trouble than it is worth. However, it may still be worth it if you can figure out how to make it work.
I need to emphasize this – you can’t really put couchsurfing on the same level as hotels, hostels, or motels. First of all, you aren’t paying with money. You are, however, paying with a guest/host relationship that has responsibilities. If you are going to couchsurf but don’t want to interact or spend time with the hosts – you shouldn’t couchsurf. Often, your hosts will provide you with experiences you wouldn’t find elsewhere, but never forget that couchsurfing is about friendship. Would you call your friend in a different city and say “I’ll be arriving on the 5th at 10 pm, please have my room ready. I’ll work all day the 6th so you won’t see me and then I’ll leave on the morning of hte 7th at 6 am. Can you arrange transport?”
If you would do that, I’m guessing you have no friends. I certainly don’t want a friend like that and neither do couchsurfing hosts. Couchsurfing can provide you with all kinds of levels of comfort from filthy, stinky, sketchy drug shacks to mansions and villas with private gyms and saunas. It depends on the host. The reason they are hosting is because they want to know you and become friends – if you don’t have the time or desire for that – don’t couchsurf.