Retiring in Hawaii: Pros & Cons (Part 4)

One of our favorite parts of living in Hawaii is giving and receiving the Shaka. It can mean hello, thank you, take care, right on!, goodbye, but most of all . . . aloha. (photo credit: Kukui’ula)

Once we decided that we wanted to retire in Hawai’i, Brett and I began reading as much as we could about the state and living there as retirees. We also talked with as many different people as possible, those who were living on Kaua’i when we visited, or had previously lived in Hawai’i, to pick their brains about the best and worst of life in the islands. This week’s positive and negative reasons for retiring in Hawai’i are the two aspects that almost everyone spoke about or mentioned most often.

PRO: We have found that Hawai’i residents are, without exception, the friendliest people that we have ever encountered. From locals who were born and raised on the islands, to those who relocated years ago to recent residents, almost everyone we meet takes the time to talk with us (‘talk story’) and offer help when needed. Almost without exception, everyone we pass on our walks greets us, friends and strangers alike and asks about YaYu. Residents gave us tips on how to settle in, get involved and make friends, and let us know where volunteers were needed. We were told about the best hula instructors, where to learn ukulele, take cooking classes and so forth, but also the best markets to shop and find bargains, best places to eat, best places to visit. Aloha is something we read about, but to experience it is something else.

CON: Geographically speaking, the Hawaiian islands are one of the most isolated places on the planet, alone and surrounded on all sides by thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean. One of the most difficult adjustments new residents face is that distance from everything else, especially family and friends. Almost everyone we spoke with before we moved here told us the importance of budgeting in an amount every year for travel off the island you live on. Whether it’s to reinforce ties with family and friends back on the mainland or just to visit another one of the islands, everyone said it’s important to be able to “get away” somewhere once a year.

The spread of the virus has made it difficult to impossible for us to get away since we arrived back in March of 2020. Visits to Japan are off the table for the foreseeable future as they deal with their own surges and quarantines remain in place, and we haven’t felt any desire to return to the mainland. Savings goals have kept us from visiting another one of the islands. We’re looking forward to our daughters’ visits at Christmas this year, and to see other friends next month when they come to Kaua’i. In the meantime we stay hunkered down in order to stay healthy, but we do miss greatly being able to get away once in a while.

9 thoughts on “Retiring in Hawaii: Pros & Cons (Part 4)

  1. Do you think it is bc of the fact that it is far away from everything that makes people feel isolated? I ask this because I seldom travel over a two hour radius from where I live. I COULD but usually don’t more than twice a year, including plane trip to see family. That is during normal times. However, if my son who lives four hours from me had an emergency, I COULD drive to him. That did happen in 2020. But, usually, he drives to me so I do not travel, like I said, outside a two hour radius more than twice a year during normal times. I work a lot so travel may be different when I retire and I could see where being on a island could impact that. I am thinking it is the ability to hop in a car and get there that may affect how folks feel about living on an isolated island. That is probably a relatively new issue since folks who moved out West in the 1800’s l, lots of times, never saw their birth family again.

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    1. Part of the isolation that people feel here does come from being so far away from everywhere else. You pretty much have to get on a plane to go anywhere, even the other islands. And that gets to people (or you get used to it). What’s funny is that what would be considered short distances in another environment come to feel far away here. For example, we live on the south side of Kaua’i, and maybe only get up to the north side once or twice a year – it feels much, much further away than it actually is, and because most of the road is two lane, and there’s traffic, takes longer than you might imagine. We are still in “hunker down” mode, so staying in one place here hasn’t gotten to us yet. We are itching to travel, but we’re not there yet, nor willing to risk it.

      Many families from here prefer to stay here, or in the state, where it’s easier to get together. Family gatherings here are legendary, and it can take a long time as an outsider to be invited in or to participate.

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  2. Interesting perspective on how different people perceive distances. I’ve never thought that living on an island would make people feel more isolated and remote. Since everyone told you that, it must be true, but it’s probably more psychological than realistically tied to the geographic location.

    Up to the pandemic time, I used to go back to Romania to see my mom, sister, and rest of family every other year. I’d budget money and time off work for a trip that takes me anywhere between 30-36 hrs one way, depending on flights and layovers. One year, as I was getting ready for my trip, a mother of one my students who has her family near Atlanta, couldn’t help and asked me how do I do it so regularly because she hadn’t seen her mother in 6 years. And she gave me some really good reasons why. I told her how and she couldn’t believe that in order to make it happen, I’d have to save all my vacation days for two years. She didn’t think that she could work two years without taking any days off. My point is that each person prioritize things differently when it’s about distance and seeing family who is remotely located.

    The pandemic has complicated the traveling conditions and although there are still flights available, I am just not ready to take on so much health and safety risk. So for now, I’m hunkering down just like you and so many others. I am hopeful that soon the situation in Japan will improve and you’ll be able to go where your heart is.

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    1. Your story of getting back regularly to see your family in Romania reminds me of the ones I heard from my students back when I was teaching. Those who had come from Mexico went back every other year or so, saving, saving, saving in order to go back. For students from Africa or Asia, those trips were impossible – they knew when they came that it was likely they would not see their families again. So, trips home became sort of an unwritten forbidden topic of conversation in class as it was very hard for those students who could not return (and not just for financial reasons, but also because they had escaped war, violence and such).

      We’re still not ready to travel, although I told Brett we have finally moved into “less than a year” territory. Japan remains up in the air, and may have to be postponed – time will tell. Thank goodness for social media and other forms of communication we have these days!

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      1. How heartbreaking must have been for those people who left their countries and families behind for good! I know I am very fortunate to be able to see my family despite all the sacrifices I had to make. And during this pandemic, having the option to do Zoom and FaceTime with them has been a true blessing.

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      2. Anyone who leaves their home country for any reason, at any age, are the bravest people in the world. Some of the people I taught left horrific conditions, some had family members die along the way, some had been waiting years for family members to be able to join them, and on and on. To a person they were all extremely grateful to be in the U.S. When I asked them what was the biggest surprise about the U.S. it was how hard people in the U.S. had to work to make a living (no streets paved with gold, in other words).

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  3. We are keeping our fingers crossed and face maks close, hoping that the visit Betty and I have planned to see you and Brett next month goes off without a hitch. We have uploaded all the necessary info to the Hawaii Safe Travel site. 24 hours before we fly in your direction we will complete the final stage of that process, get our QR codes, and be all set.

    I have followed your four-part (so far) posts on retiring to Hawaii.. For a time we gave it serious thought, but the distance from family, the costs of housing, and the worry about medical care as we aged kept us firmly anchored on the mainland. That doesn’t mean, a month or so stay in a condo is out of the question. We have been to Maui, Oahu, and Kauai at least a dozen times and love everything about it. But, if your family is not already on the island, that is a bridge too far to cross (or an ocean too large) between us and our loved ones.

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  4. Early in my working career, I was envious of a coworker who retired to Kauai (Lawai). On a trip there, I visited him at his island style house, which was very nice. A couple of years after that, he moved back to Indiana. He had lived in Hawaii as a teen and thought it would be his forever retirement home. He cited two big reasons for moving back. The distance from family and friends was one. They had thought that they would constantly have visitors, but the distance and expense was too great for many. The second reason was curious, I thought. He said that they got tired of being just whatever temperature it was outside. They missed the seasons and the contrast of air conditioned and heated houses.

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    1. We live in Lawai!
      The distance from family is our biggest reason for not staying this time, with the current increase in prices right behind. We manage OK, but know it’s only going to grow worse.

      There are seasons on Hawaii, although no where near as dramatic as they are back on the mainland. The first year we were here everything seemed the same year round, but in following years we see the subtle changes that take place throughout the year, like the plumeria trees losing all their foliage in the late fall or the higher surf and beach conditions in the winter. Those changes however are now being affected by climate change – this summer has been the strangest we’ve ever experienced – it’s been more like fall all summer, and we wonder what winter will bring this year.

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