5 Easy Ways to be a Respectful Traveler in Hawai’i

Ala Moana Beach park, Hawaii - best beaches for family photos

Most of us in the States, myself included, think of Hawaii as another state – which is it. But its primarily another culture with its own language. We can do better with these 5 easy ways to be a respectful traveler in Hawai’i.

When we moved to Japan in 2016, we took the time to learn a Japanese phrases and customs so that we entered their world respectfully. We taught our boys those phrases, about bowing, using chopsticks properly and so much more over the years.

The same should be true for Hawaii. Native Hawaiian culture has its own history, language and “aloha spirit” that emphasizes kindness, respect, and harmony with nature.

According to Hawai’i Magazine, “recently there has been concerns about how tourism—particularly overtourism—is impacting Hawaiʻi’s natural environment. And, maybe more importantly, how Hawaiʻi has changed to accommodate visitors. Traditions are ignored, culture is dismissed, and visitors aren’t experiencing what really makes the Islands so unique and beautiful.”

In recent years there has been a resurgence in reclaiming the native Hawaiian culture, language and spirit.

So, in my research and preparation for our own move to Hawaii, I’ve compiled the most useful resources and tips so you don’t have to!

Oahu-family photograpeher alison Bell,

Have you thought about family photos while you’re in Hawai’i?

Its photo season year-round here in Hawaii and I want you to take advantage of it!

Take home the bright skies, warm air and blue water to relive it over and over because you’ll never experience this place with the kids these ages ever again.

This is your one shot. Take it!

As the ringleader of my own 4 boy circus, I know how hard getting family photos can be. I’m here to change that.

If I could dress your kids and literally hang your family photos on your walls, I would …but I can’t, so I do just about everything else in between. That’s why I take the time to hold your hand from start to finish.

Because what good are family photos if your kids never see them?

I only accept two families a week, so if you have dates, reach out to Alison Bell, Photographer now.

What You Wear Matters

What to wear for hawaii famil photo outfits

I tried to avoid it for years. But the fact is it matters. 

It may not make or break the anything, but planning out the details of undergarments, colors and movement will go a long way to a great experience and even better photos!

Get every tip, trick, and clothing idea I have from 12 years experience all in one place.

BEACH GUIDE graphic by Alison Bell, Photographer
5 Easy Ways to be a Respectful Traveler in Hawai'i

Basic History of Hawaii

The native history of Hawaii begins with the arrival of the Polynesians, who sailed to the islands around 500 AD. They established a complex society based on agriculture and fishing, with a hierarchical system of chiefs and commoners.

In the late 18th century, British explorer Captain James Cook arrived in Hawaii, leading to significant changes in Hawaiian society, including the introduction of Western technology, diseases, and Christianity.

In 1893, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by a group of American businessmen and politicians, leading to Hawaii’s annexation by the United States in 1898.

Native Hawaiians continue to face challenges related to the loss of land and cultural practices, but efforts are being made to preserve and celebrate their rich history and traditions.

5 easy ways to be a respectful traveler in hawai'i by alison bell, photographer

1. Learn before you go

You’re already doing it! This is just a starting place, but dig deep into history and culture of Hawaii. As you research and make plans for what to do, where to stay and where to go in Hawaii, keep these simple things in mind.

Read up on the basic history – beyond Pearl Harbor. Listen to an audio book, podcast or watch some videos.

If its too late for that, visit the cultural sites on island.

“culture can be experienced through the learning of traditions and customs, from hula to lei-making to learning ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language).”

Cultural and educational programs are happening everywhere from hotels to cultural sites and:

  • ʻIolani Palace
  • Bishop Museum
  • Waimea Valley
nicos pier38 honolulu 1 by Alison Bell, Photographer
Nico’s Pier 38, Honolulu

2. Buy and Eat Hawaiian (not always the same as local)

Everyone has to eat. What if you could make every meal a Hawaiian one?! Imagine the impact with money you’re going to spend anyway! Now, that’s not always possible, especially if your accommodations include meals. But when do you leave the hotel, resort or AirBNB, seek out specifically Hawaiian eateries. Usually these restaurants have more local sources, supporting whole native chain of growers.

Use this Hawaiian Owned directory for any kind of business! Birthed out of the pandemic, Kuhikuhi is a Hawaiian owned business directory and “a collective project of Hawaiʻi’s Native Hawaiian Chambers of Commerce and the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, supported by the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, Kamehameha Schools, Movers & Shakas, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.”

3. Use Hawaiian Names

In 1896, the Hawaiian language was forbidden in the public schools. Naturally, western names and nick names filled the gap. A big part of reinstating native culture is using the Hawaiian name instead of using the Western names.

The National Park Service in Hawaii is restoring the indigenous place names using early maps, books and legal deeds. You can read and listen to NPS efforts here!

Ha’akulamanu (Sulphur Banks) and Lēʻahi (Diamond Head) are just two examples.

44 Hawaiian and Pidgin Phrases

Get the translation for these 44 phrases here!

4. Don’t Stack Rocks

Stacked rocks are not a cultural practice in Hawaii. Ceremonial alters calla ahu are. Ahu are used to mark trails in Hawaii Volcanoes National park. Moving them or stacking new ones will create confusion.

Just don’t do it.

aulani beach hawaii 2 by Alison Bell, Photographer

5. Give back

It can be as simple has picking up trash on the beach or hiking trail, all the way up to spending a half a day or more with organizations designed to for ecotourism – volunteering your time and energy while on vacation.

Places to give back:

https://paepaeoheeia.org/ – Help restore a native Hawaiian fishpond

https://www.sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org/ – Beach clean ups made fun!

https://legacyforest.org/malamahawaii – Plant and dedicate a tree.

https://paradisecopters.com/charters-malama/ – This adventure includes planting a native tree.

https://www.waimeavalley.net/volunteer – Several options from removing invasive species, reforestation and ohana days designed for young children

More opportunities around Hawaii can be found here.

Bonus! 6. Leave no trace

I may go without saying, and should be practiced everywhere, but pick up after yourself!

Don’t litter, don’t destroy native plants, don’t stack rocks. Operate by the motto, “leave it better than you found it.”

This goes for public spaces as well as natural areas around the world.

5 Ways to be a Respectful Traveler in Hawaii

There are endless resources and opportunities for learning the language and culture. These 5 ways to be a respectful traveler in Hawaii doesn’t have leave you walking on eggshells. Effort will go a long way. A generous and kind spirit, one of learning will be part of your “spirit of aloha.”

More resources for traveling to Hawaii

https://kuhikuhi.com/ – Directory of Hawaiian Owned Businesses




I'm a USMC spouse, South Carolina native, recovering homeschool mama of a 4 boy circus. They've taught me the most important facet of family photography: KEEP IT FUN!

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I find joy in chaos. The louder, the better!

I'm a USMC spouse, South Carolina native, recovering homeschool mama of a 4 boy circus.

They've taught me the most important facet of family photography: KEEP IT FUN!

hey, I'm Alison!


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Yep! I host a podcast interviewing local entrepreneurs about their stories, successes and sometimes strategies!

Shop Small & Support Local