top of page

Conscious Travel: What Hawaii Can Teach Us About Exploring Places Mindfully

“The planet isn’t full of ‘vacation destinations.’ The planet is full of places with real people, real environments, real issues. As a traveler, it really is our responsibility to at least leave the places we visit the same way we found them, and at best, leave them even better than before.”

As someone with a career in travel, I’ve long been aware of conscious travel and how small decisions can have big impacts. But it wasn’t until 2020 that I really reckoned with what this looks like for me personally. And I wasn’t alone – nearly 50% of Americans changed their views and began considering more sustainable travel as a direct result of the pandemic.

So, when I was asked this question in the midst of 2020 craziness, it stopped me in my tracks: “Rachel, how strict is Hawaii, really? Any tips on getting around Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine? Flights are SO cheap right now!”

It made me realize that no matter how many reusable straws we use, how many sustainably made outfits we buy, how many times we bring our own canvas bags to the grocery store, none of it can offset our learned tendency to think of faraway places as ‘dream destinations’ instead of what they are at their core – somebody else’s home.

So what is conscious travel, exactly? How can we actually become more respectful travelers, so that we can meet this global movement towards a more eco-conscious world with a healthier understanding of how we, ourselves, should move around in it?

In a nutshell, conscious travel is where curiosity meets empathy. It’s where we can look beyond our own “travel must-haves” and consider how our trips impact locals and the environment. It’s where we can approach new places and people with an open mind and hopefully, leave places the same or even better than when we arrived.

In 2021, I went back home to Hawaii for two months to explore what a conscious traveler might look like visiting one of the world’s most popular “dream destinations.” I worked with a local tourism board, reached out to countless local companies, and had dozens of conversations with friends, colleagues, and locals both working in and impacted by tourism. Here’s what I learned, and how we might be able to apply this POV to any place we travel as the world continues to open back up.

1. To Receive Aloha, You Must Give It.

Visitors to Hawaii have long been accustomed to the islands’ hospitality. Lei, luaus, and the soft, soothing lull of a live ukulele performance have a way of making anyone feel as if they’ve made it to a tropical paradise. But leave the resort, and you might be met with hostility. The sentiment towards tourists has in many ways gone downhill, especially since the pandemic. And it’s understandable – crowded islands make it harder for locals to live their lives. High costs of living get even higher as demand goes up and supply goes down. Too many tourists arrive without a basic understanding of Hawaii beyond the beaches and the palms.

Rather than traveling with expectations, we should lead with respect. Read about places beforehand. Learn about their history. Google “do’s and don’ts when traveling to _____.”

While we don’t know what we don’t know, the internet makes it easier than ever for us to do our homework so that we can show up more informed and less ignorant.

2. Buying Local Is More Important Than Ever Before.

Supporting local businesses, local restaurants, and local artisans has a huge impact, no matter where we travel. Buying local means your money directly impacts – and recirculates within – the local economy. In Hawaii, it also means empowering local makers and growers in an economy that’s largely influenced by massive retailers,