aloha /əˈlōˌhä/, n.

Earlier this month, I went on my first official vacation. Huzzah!

Since I started working, I have gone on short, extended weekend trips to Seattle and Chicago, but this recent trip to Hawaii was the first time I took more than two consecutive days off work. 

I just never saw the point of taking vacation. The time I had to take away would inevitably have to be made up before or after my absence, so what was the purpose of creating this buildup of unnecessary stress for myself? 

Answer: To allow myself to not experience any stress for a brief duration of time.

Cat sleeping
Cat nap, Kahuku, HI | Photo by Courtney Cheng

When I arrived in Hawaii, I was armed not only with a color-coded, multilayer Google Map of all the places I wanted to go, but also the recommendations of everyone who had listened to me wax poetic about my upcoming vacation and had tips from their previous trips to Hawaii.

I was ready to go—so much so that Candle Boy actually asked me how precise of a schedule I had made and intended to follow, and if I was 100% serious about getting up at 3 a.m. to do a sunrise hike at Koko Head Crater(I was serious about the hike, but I plead the fifth about the prior question.)

What I hadn’t anticipated, however, was my allotted “relaxation time on the beach” not at all matching the reality I met once my feet touched the sand. 

Most people I talk to agree with this spectrum of cultures: LA is more laid back than the Bay, but the Bay is less uppity (to affectionately borrow the adjective of an MBA candidate at Columbia) than New York. 

I personally am not a fan of LA, so I can’t speak to the first piece of that statement, but I can confirm: Hawaii is the most relaxed and the friendliest place I have ever been.

Green wall with framed coffee prints
Green World Coffee Farm | Photo by Courtney Cheng

Every single store employee I talked to—and these folks were working at the Foodlands and Longs Drugses of the less touristy area near ‘Ewa Beach, not those who were regularly interacting with tourists—was patient and thoughtful in answering my question, whether it was about their products or the location of their restroom. A cashier apologized when her card reader failed to read Candle Boy’s card. 

Other restaurant diners actively opened or held doors open for me when I was still about seven feet away. 

On the road, drivers let us in on the freeway while changing lanes and when turning into or exiting the supermarket plaza. Someone even waved their thanks through their rearview mirror when we let them enter the freeway before us. 

In certain parts of the Bay Area, driving at the 65-mph speed limit is slow. On Oahu, driving 65-mph on the freeway is too fast. 65 is above the speed limit of most their freeways—which really were more like expressways—and above the speed at which most others are driving around you. 

Sunrise peeking through clouds
Sunrise, Koko Head Crater Trail | Photo by Courtney Cheng

Folks say this friendly, relaxed culture in Hawaii is from Aloha, their culture of being kind, patient, and agreeable; having humility; and seeking unity. I had had very little knowledge of this culture, and the history of Hawaii, before I went.

When I decided to vacation in Hawaii, I was expecting to simply enjoy the freedom of having time off work to go to the beach and eat good food, all within my fine-tuned plan that included scheduled beach time for x hours each day. I wasn’t expecting to receive quiet lessons on kindness and the art of, in Bay Area speak, being chill. 

Sun shining down on green hills and a town in the distance, ocean in the background
Lookout at Koko Head Crater Trail | Photo by Courtney Cheng

On Candle Boy and my last day in Hawaii, we unanimously decided that it would be a fine morning to stay in bed, in our private beach house, until 10:30 a.m. If you know either of us, or our travel habits as a couple, you know—we do not linger in bed. Not for weekends, nor vacations. Never.

But on this last day in Hawaii, we got up for breakfast at 8:30 after we’d woken naturally with the morning light. When we finished, we wondered, why not go back to bed, look at wholesome memes and aesthetic photos on Instagram, and just, relax? 

By then, after seven full days in Hawaii, even I couldn’t find a particularly convincing reason to follow my original schedule. I was in Hawaii to relax, and so, I did. 

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