Hawaii is a bucket list destination for many. Even if you’ve been there before, there is always something new to discover, and something refreshing for the soul in the aloha spirit.
This episode of Out Travel the System is all about helping you not only dream about heading to Hawaii, but giving you practical trip-planning advice that you can use to make your trip a reality now, or at some point in the future.
Join host Nisreene Atassi as she speaks with Damon Fairchild, Expedia Sr. Business Development Manager for Hawaii and South Pacific, and Valerie Akiona, a flight attendant, and life-long hula dancer. Valerie even gives a quick Hawaiian language lesson that you won’t want to miss!
Make sure to “like” and “subscribe” to keep up with all the news we have for you this season.
Helping You Get To Hawaii
Nisreene Atassi: Hawaii is always one of those magical places, where even if you’ve already visited it before, you always want to go back. And that’s because there’s always something new to discover. Today we’re going to take a closer look at what to incorporate into your next trip there, and what to think about if you want to really be a part of that aloha spirit. Welcome to Out Travel the System. I’m Nisreene Atassi.
Hawaii has always seemed like this amazing dream destination to me. And I was so excited to finally get to go there two years ago when I booked a trip to Maui. What really struck me though as interesting that I didn’t know before was as I was planning my trip, I didn’t realize how diverse all of the islands were when it came to things to do and climate, and what’s best for the type of traveler that you really are. It was really hard for me to end up sort of choosing which island that we wanted to go to, which is why I’m really excited to deep dive into Hawaii today. And I’m even more excited to have some company with me on this journey. I’ve got Damon Fairchild, Expedia’s Senior Business Development Manager for Hawaii and South Pacific. Hi, Damon. Welcome to the show.
Damon Fairchild: Aloha. It’s great to be here.
Nisreene Atassi: All right, Damon. So let’s start off with the basics. First of all, where are you actually based?
Damon Fairchild: So I’m located, or we live on Oahu in a little town called Mililani, which is kind of central Oahu, and so we’re a reasonable distance from a lot of beaches. And we’re just slightly up in the mountains a little more highly elevated, and love the weather up here.
Nisreene Atassi: Awesome. So this episode is all about the basics for Hawaii. And of course, there are many different possible places to take a vacation across the state. I was just talking about how as I was doing the research for my trip, I was learning all of the differences about all of the different islands. What’s some of the initial advice you can give to people in terms of how to pick which Hawaiian island is the best one for them?
Damon Fairchild: That’s a great question. In fact, every island really has its own distinct personality. For instance, Oahu has a vibrant city life that you can feel in Waikiki, but you can also get away out into the countryside and experience that type of an environment at a place like Kualoa Ranch, where many films have been made over the years. In fact, you’re probably familiar with the Jurassic Park series. Lost was a TV series that was filmed here. Those are just one of many. Kauai is known for the Nā Pali Coast, which are the tallest sea cliffs in the world, and Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Hawaii islanders kind of locally know it as The Big Island, has a bunch of different micro climates from the snow atop Mauna Kea in the winter, to the flowing lava of Kilauea. And then there are tropical rain forests on the Hilo side of the island.
And then finally, Maui is known for the Road to Hana, which is one of the most scenic drives in the world. If you’re going to take the Road to Hana, you definitely want to take turns. One person driving one way, and maybe the other person driving the other way because it’s a road that requires the attention of the driver with 616 switchbacks and 56 one lane bridges. But for those who are passengers in the car, as they get to enjoy the waterfalls and the scenery, it’s completely amazing. And then you can go from there all the way up to Haleakala, which is a dormant volcano that’s over 10, 000 feet. And Haleakala actually in Hawaiian means house of the sun, so you can imagine the sun rises you could see up top of Haleakala. So each island has a distinct personality, and really gives an opportunity for everyone who’s traveling here to experience what they would love to experience the most while they’re here.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. I love that. And we actually did that trip and went to the top of the volcano and saw the sunrise. And then we actually took a bike ride sort of down, which was really, really beautiful. So I hear you, it sounds like whichever island you decide to go to, there’s definitely something for everybody. So why don’t we play a little game here, Damon? I’m going to name sort of an attribute, you tell me which island is the best one. And you can just say an island name, and we’ll go from there, so beach.
Damon Fairchild: Oahu.
Nisreene Atassi: Outdoor adventure.
Damon Fairchild: Kauai.
Nisreene Atassi: Nightlife and dining.
Damon Fairchild: Oahu, Waikiki, for sure.
Nisreene Atassi: Family friendly.
Damon Fairchild: Maui.
Nisreene Atassi: All right. Maui, that actually really surprises me for some reason. I feel like I always associate Maui with honeymooners and sort of couples. But what is it about Maui that makes it so family friendly?
Damon Fairchild: One of the great things about Maui is the tremendous number of condos and vacation rentals that are on Maui, kind of provides more opportunities to families to be closer together in that type of an environment. In fact, some of our recent data has shown that families who are planning on traveling, the consumer sentiment right now is that staying in a vacation rental may be a little bit more appealing as we consider COVID- 19. And even though our hotels and resorts are doing a fantastic job of communicating safety protocols, families are having the feeling that they’d like to be a little bit closer together in an environment they can control a little bit more. So I’d say even pre COVID, I would’ve answered the same thing. But during the COVID era with as many vacation rentals as there are on Maui, definitely a place where you would consider it to be family friendly.
Nisreene Atassi: What about weather? You mentioned that Hawaii has a lot of different micro climates. You even mentioned mountains and snow, which I had never even imagined would be in Hawaii. Are there some islands that are more prone to sunny, warm days, versus islands that are a little bit rainier in nature?
Damon Fairchild: We’re blessed with fantastic weather pretty much all year round. Oahu for instance has about 300 days a year of sunshine. But in order for us to keep the beautiful green vegetation that we have, it certainly is going to rain. And you should expect while you’re traveling to Hawaii that there’s a chance you’ll feel some rain while you’re here, or see some. The good news is it’s a warm rain. It’s a rain that is much different than one you might feel in the middle of the winter, where you may be traveling from. And we’ve talked a little bit about micro climates. Maui and Hawaii island specifically have a ton of different micro climates, where you’ll be able to experience different weather driving from one side of the island to the other.
One of the great things about each island is they have large mountain ranges. And I kind of joke that it’s always sunny on one side of the island because where you’re at in the morning, it may be raining. But on the other side of the mountains, it may be sunny. So you just get in the car and drive, and kind of chase the sun.
Nisreene Atassi: I think we looked at some of our pricing data for the last couple years. And we actually found that the cheapest time to go to Hawaii is in sort of end of January and February. So that actually could work out for people who do have that flexibility because I know if you’re coming from North America, and especially for the Midwestern or Northern states, it’s still actually really, really cold. So sounds like you can get less crowds, a better price, and still get that warm weather if you go in February.
Damon Fairchild: Yep, exactly.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. Great. So let’s talk about while you’re actually on the islands of Hawaii. Do people typically just go to one island and stay there? Or is there flexibility? And is it easy to sort of bounce around from one island to the next?
Damon Fairchild: Yeah. So our data shows about a third of travelers come to Hawaii, spend time on more than one island. So it’s really easy to jump from one island to the next. In fact, you can take a Hawaiian Airlines flight and get to any neighbor island really in less than an hour. Some of our guests will visit other islands for multiple days. They might stay on Oahu for a handful of days, and then they’ll jump over to Hawaii island and stay for a handful of days. Or some of them will even do a day trip, and just jump over for the day. They might catch a flight and kind of do a self guided tour of the island, or visit some restaurants, or beaches, or do a hike that they wanted to do. That also becomes really easy if you kind of coordinate with one of our tour companies who does day trips from one island to the next. So yeah, it’s a pretty high percentage of travelers who are visiting more than one island and trying to experience as much as they can of Hawaii while they’re here.
Nisreene Atassi: So it sounds like flying is the best way to go in between islands if you are looking to see more than one. Ferries or things like that aren’t necessarily an option.
Damon Fairchild: That’s correct. You’ll have to fly. I mean, you could try a kayak, but it’s going to take you a while.
Nisreene Atassi: That’s maybe for the real adventure traveler.
Damon Fairchild: We would not recommend that from a safety standpoint.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay, Damon. So you’ve lived in Hawaii for over two decades now. You live in Oahu, but it sounds like you’ve been obviously to some of the other islands. What are some of your favorite things to do and see? If you had to maybe pick one thing per island, or your sort of top three activities for someone coming to Hawaii, what would those be?
Damon Fairchild: You’re asking a difficult question now to narrow down .
Nisreene Atassi: I know. It’s very difficult.
Damon Fairchild: One on each island. I might break the rules and slip in a couple.
Nisreene Atassi: That’s fine.
Damon Fairchild: I apologize for that in advance. So we live on Oahu, and aside from the typical activities that we have mentioned, as many times as I have been to the Polynesian Cultural Center, or Kualoa Ranch, I’ve always loved it. The family always loves it. Anytime we have guests who are coming to visit, those are a couple of places that we go without a doubt when we have visitors, and everyone has always had a great experience. A couple times a year, in addition to that, is visit neighbor islands. Get an opportunity to do some hikes that maybe we haven’t done before, visit some beaches that we haven’t visited. I mentioned earlier that I love to golf, and every island has a ton of different golf courses to choose from. I should note, in case any of my friends listen to this podcast, I’m not claiming to be a good golfer. They would not support me in that, but I do love to golf.
And on top of that, we kind of, like most humans, love to eat. For me, you can’t beat a fresh poke bowl, or after spending a day at the beach, we certainly love stopping in somewhere and getting some shaved ice on the way home. If we kind of go island by island, and what might I recommend doing on each island outside of Oahu, every island has a luau. It’s certainly something you should experience when you come here. I mentioned Polynesian Cultural Center, which has a great luau. On Maui, for instance, you might want to visit the old Lahaina luau and have that experience there. But on Kauai, I would say you definitely have to visit the Nā Pali Coast, whether you hike the Nā Pali Coast, or you do a dinner cruise, or a snorkel cruise along the Nā Pali Coast. And I joked about kayaking earlier, but you can certainly kayak along the Nā Pali Coast, during the right time of year, of course. Wintertime, the waves are too big and it would be unsafe. But during the summer when it’s relatively flat, you can kayak and kind of experience the Nā PaliCoast just like that.
On Hawaii Island, depending on whether or not there is active lava flow or not, Kīlauea has a place where you can visit, which is inside of Volcanoes National Park. And if there isn’t active lava flow at the time, it’s still a fantastic experience to go and to learn a little bit about what really has formed the island of Hawaii and all of the Hawaiian Islands. In fact, one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, which seems pretty simple, was just coming up over a peak on Hawaii Island, and as we came up over the peak, we could see where over the past few decades, lava had spilled into the ocean and new land had formed.
Nisreene Atassi: Wow.
Damon Fairchild: And it was just kind of a surreal experience where you looked at it and you said, “Where else on Earth can you actually see where land is forming on an almost daily basis?” I don’t think there is anywhere else.
Nisreene Atassi: It’s a very powerful thought. And I think it’s what makes Hawaii so special, is that there are all of these things, what you just mentioned, that a lot of people don’t know about. And so I think so many times, people maybe just assume that Hawaii is just for that sort of relaxing, romantic beach vacation. But hearing all of the things that you just sort of listed off, and the history of it all, it sounds like it’s worth coming and really digging into the culture and the climate and the landscaping to really appreciate I think the true beauty of what Hawaii has to offer.
Damon Fairchild: 75% of people who visit Hawaii return. And in studies, 95% of those people who return say that the reason they return is because of how they feel while they’re here.
Nisreene Atassi: Wow. That’s such a powerful statement.
Damon Fairchild: And it’s something that I think through the tourism industry, the Hawaii Tourism Authority, for example, does a fantastic job of emphasizing to everyone who works in the travel industry, to everyone who lives here, does everything that they can to help people understand how important that is. And that’s how we can continue to invite visitors back to the islands and to give people a reason who have never been here to come and feel and experience something that you just can’t feel or experience any other place.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah, I love that. And I know I want to go back, that’s for sure. My next question for you, Damon, I think is one that I personally sort of went back and forth on. And I get asked this every single time by family members and friends who are going to Hawaii. Do you need to rent a car to get around?
Damon Fairchild: Yeah. That’s a great question. I say if you’re staying in Waikiki, and you’re planning on kind of just hanging around in that area among the resorts and the restaurants and the beaches, you may not need to rent a car while you’re here. Or what I would recommend actually is hanging out in Waikiki, having that experience for a few days of your trip, and then renting a car for another day or two of your trip, and getting out and exploring the rest of the island, and going to see some of those places that will give you those feelings that you would expect to feel in Hawaii. Waikiki definitely has a vibrant and energetic feeling, but if you want to kind of get to a place where you can relax and just enjoy it, you might want to venture out to the North Shore, or to the windward side and experience a little bit of that seclusion that you might be looking for as well.
Now on the neighbor islands, I would say you would definitely want to rent a car for the whole time that you’re there. Many of the resorts are a little bit more spread out than they are in Waikiki. Waikiki, for example, it’s just about a two square mile area. And it’s easy to walk from one side of it to the other. But as you get to the neighbor islands, of course, there are many miles between one resort and another in some cases, in between the sights that you may want to see and the adventures you may want to participate in may not be right there next to your resort, so I’d definitely recommend having a car so that you can experience that.
And if you’re not comfortable driving in a new place, that’s just fine too. Pretty much the great majority of our tour and activity companies offer hotel pickups. And they’re more than happy to pick you up at your hotel and take you to do an amazing helicopter adventure with Blue Hawaiian Helicopter, or to do a snorkel cruise with Ocean Joy Cruises here on Oahu, or a company like that. Certainly, they’re ready and willing to pick you up and take you where you need to go.
Nisreene Atassi: All right. So it sounds like it’s good to do your research, see where your hotel or resort is, or vacation rental, compared to maybe the sort of main part of town, and where some of the excursions might be. And if it’s a little bit further away, it might be the best choice to rent a car. Otherwise, if you don’t feel like renting a car, there are other options available. My resort at the time offered a shuttle service sort of within two miles of the resort, so we used that a lot. We also used sort of Uber, Lyft. Those types of sort of ride share options were also available. So it sounds like there’s a couple of different ways that you can get around.
Damon Fairchild: Yeah. That’s a really great point that a lot of the resort areas do have shuttles to kind of take you around and get you from place to place. Ko Olina, for instance, here on Oahu, has a shuttle that takes you from one resort to the next, or one lagoon to the next, or one restaurant to the next, so there certainly are options to help keep you comfortable and moving around as you please.
Nisreene Atassi: Damon Fairchild is Expedia’s Senior Business Development Manager for Hawaii. Damon, thank you so much for all of these amazing facts. Coming up after the break, we learn the four little words that could mean the difference between a good and a great trip to Hawaii.
You’re listening to Out Travel the System. I’m your host, Nisreene Atassi. In this season of the podcast, we’re all about making sure you’ve got everything you need to know to plan some travel, whether you’re leaving tomorrow or at some point in the future. We’re tapping into the deep data at Expedia’s fingertips, so we can bring you a wide range of tips and tricks to maximize your travel budget. Like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, so you’re completely in the know on travel.
Our next guest is a flight attendant by day, hula dancer by calling. Her name is Valerie Akiona, and she’s joining us now. Hi Valerie. Welcome to the show.
Valerie Akiona: Hi. Aloha, everybody. Thank you for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: Aloha. All right. So we just got done sort of really deep diving into some of the facts and special things about planning and researching your trip to Hawaii. But I wanted to dive in a little bit more into the culture that people can experience. I think it can actually be hard for some travelers to understand whether to appreciate hula simply as entertainment, a cultural art form, or a religious or spiritual event. Can you break that down a little bit for us?
Valerie Akiona: The way hula was brought to, I would say the general public, it was made more of an enticing thing to bring people here to Hawaii. From what the Hollywood standpoint is, bringing people to Hawaii, look at our beautiful hula dancers. Come and enjoy the luau. Well, as a selling standpoint, that’s great. But as far as the cultural perspective, it’s a little misguided. I started hula when I was three years old. And honestly, that is what I stepped into. It was more about the tourism. It was more about the grass skirts, the coconuts, and the cellophane skirts. And Waikiki, which is great, but I think it really lacked the cultural perspective.
So just a little bit of a background on hula, the Hawaiian people never had a written language. So in order for them to pass down knowledge, to pass down stories, they had to do it through hula. And nowadays, when you translate the hulas, more like the traditional or the kahiko, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of places that you’ll recognize on the different islands. There’s hula about Maui, the god Maui, not just the island, and how it was formed. You have hula about Pele, the fire goddess, who has all these adventures around the different islands of Hawaii, and getting into wars with different demigods. So things like that are really important.
And nowadays, you see that people are actually trying to learn more about it. And the one thing that has really gained a lot of popularity within the past few years is Merrie Monarch, which I can tell you is the Superbowl of hula. Anybody and anybody who dances hula who is a part of a hula school or a hula halau would want to participate in this. And because of Merrie Monarch, which is known now globally to different cultures outside of the US, outside of the United States, it’s international now, outside of that, they have a little bit of Hawaiian culture that comes with it. And I think that is a great way to bring people in, aside from the Waikiki-ish hula girl standpoint. And they’re learning more about it. They’re learning more about the language. They’re learning more about the culture. They’re learning more about specific protocols that are unique to the Hawaiian culture.
We had a living monarchy, and David Kalākaua was one who we call the Merrie Monarch. It was because of him that there was a revitalization there of the Hawaiian culture and of hula. And we brought it back, and we have Merrie Monarch to honor him, so it’s a celebration of the revitalization of hula and the Hawaiian culture.
Nisreene Atassi: And so when does the Merrie Monarch Festival usually take place?
Valerie Akiona: It is usually the week after Easter Sunday. So depending on what the calendar year is, sometimes it’s late March. Sometimes it’s early April. So Easter Sunday, and then that following week is Merrie Monarch week. So it is held on the big island, or as Damon had said, the Hawaii Island in Hilo Town, which is a really small town on The Big Island. And it thrives during this week of Merrie Monarch. Craft fairs and farmer’s markets all throughout the week, and a lot of activities that they can participate in also, if they wanted to learn more about hula and the culture.
Nisreene Atassi: Is there sort of an inter-island competition in terms of who has the best hula?
Valerie Akiona: Hawaii Island by far has the biggest competition for hula, like the Merrie Monarch. There are different competitions on the individual islands. And as you dive deeper into the hula, you’ll notice that each island kind of has their own personality as far as how the hula is interpreted.
Nisreene Atassi: So for visitors who are coming to Hawaii, and obviously may not be coming during the Merrie Monarch Festival, but want to maybe experience the culture and the storytelling of hula, what would you suggest travelers do to really learn more and embrace it a little bit?
Valerie Akiona: You’re going to find that there are places that offer free hula lessons as well as free ukulele lessons. They have cultural workshops also, where you can learn how to weave. You can learn more about farming. If they’re on the island of Oahu particularly, there are many places, such as the Bishop Museum, where they have a lot of cultural artifacts still there. They could visit Iolani Palace, like I had mentioned before. We did have a living monarchy, and the last living queen that we had was Queen Liliuokalani, lots of history to deal with Iolani Palace. There’s also Queen Emma’s Summer Palace. They could learn a lot about that.
Nisreene Atassi: How have you seen it sort of change over the years when it comes to catering to tourists and travelers and those types of things?
Valerie Akiona: I was the show girl in Waikiki in my early adulthood years. It was my main source of income. So I was pretty much immersed in the tourist industry. And I’m just going to be quite frank and honest. People were coming because Hawaii’s a beautiful place. They just want to come here and vacation and not have to worry about things from their normal lives back at home. So their inhibitions have been thrown out the window, pretty much lack of respect and all that. So that was my early years in Waikiki.
As I kind of transitioned into another part of the tourist industry, which is now in the airline industry, I see people are putting more of an effort to learn more about the culture before they come here. And it’s really refreshing to see that because in the middle of service, they would ask, ” Oh, I’m sorry. Excuse me, miss. Could you tell me where I could learn more about this? This is really interesting.” And to see that really made me happy that people actually took the effort to learn more about my home. And they just didn’t see it as a tourist destination. They saw it more. There was more substance now to our home.
Nisreene Atassi: That’s really special. I love that. What are some other tips that you would recommend for our listeners who are planning their vacation? What do you think would be helpful for them to know before they arrive?
Valerie Akiona: Really be mindful of the weather. We do have the most beautiful weather I think in the world. But there are times when it’s unpredictable. And if you’re coming here to vacation and go hiking, please don’t go after it rains. It gets very dangerous. Same goes for swimming. Don’t swim in murky water. Don’t swim if you don’t know how to swim, bottom line. Please don’t go into the ocean. I mean, stay in the shallow parts, please, please, please. I do tell that to all of our visitors. Please be safe. Please just exercise common sense. If there are signs there that says the waves are dangerous, there is a reason that it is there.
Also, if it says to not trespass, please do not trespass. Hiking trails that are not listed are unknown of, please don’t trespass into someone’s private property for access to it. And that goes for the beach as well. Pretty much, just be respectful.
Nisreene Atassi: Since you are native to Hawaii, I wanted to ask you this question. Damon mentioned some really sort of delicious food, including poke and shave ice. What are some quintessential Hawaiian meals or food that people should eat when they come to visit?
Valerie Akiona: Okay, guys, Hawaiian food is an acquired taste.
Nisreene Atassi: Is it?
Valerie Akiona: So you may not like some of the things that we really enjoy that is part of the Hawaiian cuisine. I know people don’t like poi. Some don’t like it because of its consistency. But that is something that you do need to try. It is one of our staples. It’s a starch. It’s very healthy. I fed it to my babies when they were younger. Some people just don’t like the texture. Lau Lau can be pork, or chicken, or fish. And it’s meat that’s steamed in luau leaves. And it’s kind of like collard greens with meat in it.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. All right. Interesting.
Valerie Akiona: It’s good. So it all depends on what your preference is. There’s lomi salmon, which is salmon that’s cut up into cubes with onions and other vegetables… It depends on how you like it. But lomi salmon is a popular side item too. Haupia is a dessert. It’s a coconut dessert. I don’t really like it, but some people love it. There’s a lot- kahlua pig and cabbage, pipikaula, which is like our version of beef jerky. It’s really good. You should try it.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. That all sounds very, very delicious. We talked a little bit earlier about four little words that we felt like could really make or break your trip. Please, thank you, hello, goodbye. Can you give us a little bit of a Hawaiian language lesson to help the prospective travelers?
Valerie Akiona: I would love to. Okay. For those of you who do not know, “aloha” in the Hawaiian language means “hello.” It also means “goodbye.” It can also mean “love.”
Nisreene Atassi: I didn’t know it also meant love.
Valerie Akiona: Yes. So if you’re saying hi, a general hi could be “aloha,” or “aloha mai.” If you’re leaving, of course, I’m sure some of you have heard the term, “aloha ‘oe,” which means goodbye to you, which in the Hawaiian language, there isn’t really something, a word that literally translates to goodbye. Most of the times, people would say, “a hui hou” until we meet again. “Aloha, take care, a hui hou, until we meet again.
Nisreene Atassi: A hui hou.
Valerie Akiona: A hui hou .
Nisreene Atassi: Did I say that correctly?
Valerie Akiona: Yes, you did.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay.
Valerie Akiona: Good job.
Nisreene Atassi: Lovely. And then what about “Mahalo?” We hear that one a lot.
Valerie Akiona: Mahalo, you see that a lot printed on trash cans. It doesn’t mean rubbish. It means thank you. So we’re actually saying, “Thank you for putting your trash in the proper receptacle” And for please, this one is kind of tricky, please is “Ke ‘olu’olu.“
Nisreene Atassi: Ke ‘olu’olu.
Valerie Akiona: Pretty good, yeah.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. Mahalo .
Valerie Akiona: Oh. Well, “A’ole piliki” which means no problem.
Nisreene Atassi: Now we’re getting very complicated, Valerie. But thank you so much for being on the show. This was really insightful, and I really appreciated the deep dive into the Hawaiian culture. Valerie Akiona is a flight attendant, hula dancer, and informal ambassador for Hawaiian culture. Mahalo for spending time with us today and sharing some perspective on Hawaii, Valerie.
Valerie Akiona: You’re welcome. Thank you again for having me as a guest.
Nisreene Atassi: That’s it for this episode of Out Travel the System. I’m Nisreene Atassi, and I can’t wait for my next trip to Hawaii. Happy travels.