Hawaii is known not only as the Aloha State, but also as the Health State. The life expectancy here is 81.2 years, the longest in the nation. Balmy weather makes it easy to remain active year-round, and the low-stress attitude contributes to the general well-being. When visiting the Islands, however, there are a few health issues to keep in mind.

The Hawaii State Department of Health recommends that you drink 16 ounces of water per hour to avoid dehydration when hiking or spending time in the sun. Use sunblock, wear UV–reflective sunglasses, and protect your head with a visor or hat. If you're not acclimated to warm, humid weather, you should allow plenty of time for rest stops and refreshments. When visiting freshwater streams, be aware of the tropical disease leptospirosis, spread by animal urine and carried into streams and mud. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, and red eyes. If left untreated it can cause liver and kidney damage, respiratory failure, internal bleeding, and even death. To avoid this, don't swim or wade in freshwater streams or ponds if you have open sores and don't drink from any freshwater streams or ponds.

On the Islands, fog is a rare occurrence, but there can often be "vog," an airborne haze of gases released from volcanic vents on the Big Island. During certain weather conditions, such as "Kona Winds," the vog can settle over the Islands and wreak havoc with respiratory and other health conditions, especially asthma or emphysema. If susceptible, stay indoors and get emergency assistance if needed.

The Islands have their share of insects. Most are harmless but annoying. When planning to spend time outdoors in hiking areas, wear long-sleeve clothing and pants and use mosquito repellent containing DEET. In damp places you may encounter the dreaded local centipedes, which are brown and blue and measure up to eight inches long. Their painful sting is similar to those of bees and wasps. When camping, shake out your sleeping bag and check your shoes, as the centipedes like cozy places. When hiking in remote areas, always carry a first-aid kit.

Local Do's and Taboos

Remember, when in Hawaii, refer to the contiguous 48 states as "the mainland" and not as the United States. When you do, you won't appear to be such a malahini (newcomer).


Hawaii is a very friendly place and this is reflected in the day-to-day encounters with friends, family, and even business associates. Women will often hug and kiss one another on the cheek, and men will shake hands and sometimes combine that with a friendly hug. When a man and woman are greeting each other and are good friends, it is not unusual for them to hug and kiss on the cheek. Children are taught to call any elders "auntie" or "uncle," even if they aren't related. It's a way to show respect; it's also reflective of the strong sense of family.

When you walk off a long flight, nothing quite compares with a Hawaiian lei greeting. The casual ceremony ranks as one of the fastest ways to make the transition from the worries of home to the joys of your vacation. Though the tradition has created an expectation that everyone receives this floral garland when they step off the plane, the state of Hawaii cannot greet each of its nearly 7 million annual visitors.

If you've booked a vacation with a wholesaler or tour company, a lei greeting might be included in your package. If not, it's easy to arrange a lei greeting before you arrive into Honolulu International Airport with Kamaaina Leis, Flowers & Greeters. To be really wowed by the experience, request a lei of plumeria, some of the most divine-smelling blossoms on the planet. A plumeria or dendrobium orchid lei are considered standard and cost about $16 per person.


Kamaaina Leis, Flowers & Greeters (808/836–3246 or 800/367–5183.


English is the primary language on the Islands. Making the effort to learn some Hawaiian words can be rewarding, however. Despite the length of many Hawaiian words, the Hawaiian alphabet is actually one of the world's shortest, with only 12 letters: the five vowels, a, e, i, o, u, and seven consonants, h, k, l, m, n, p, w. Hawaiian words you are most likely to encounter during your visit to the Islands are aloha (hello and goodbye), mahalo (thank you), keiki (child), haole (Caucasian or foreigner), mauka (toward the mountains), makai (toward the ocean), and pau (finished, all done). If you'd like to learn even more Hawaiian words, check out

Hawaiian history includes waves of immigrants, each bringing their own language. To communicate with each other, they developed a sort of slang known as "pidgin." If you listen closely, you will know what is being said by the inflections and by the extensive use of body language. For example, when you know what you want to say but don't know how to say it, just say "you know, da kine." For an informative and sometimes hilarious view of things Hawaiian, check out Jerry Hopkins's series of books titled Pidgin to the Max and Fax to the Max, available at most local bookstores in the Hawaiiana sections.

Visiting and Aloha

If you've been invited to the home of friends living in Hawaii (an ultimate compliment), bring a small gift and don't forget to take off your shoes when you enter their house. Try to take part in a cultural festival during your stay in the Islands; there is no better way to get a glimpse of Hawaii's colorful ethnic mosaic.

And finally, remember that "aloha" is not only the word for hello, good-bye, and love, but it also stands for the spirit that is all around the Islands. Take your time (after all you're on vacation and "Hawaiian time"). Respect the aina (land) that is not only a precious commodity in this small island state but also stands at the core of the Polynesian belief system. "Living aloha" will transform your vacation, fill you with a warmth unique to Hawaii, and have you planning your return before your tan fades.