This article is sponsored by the Maui Visitors Bureau but all opinions expressed within are my own.
Hawaii: It conjures up thoughts of the most delicious tropical escape. Crystal waters, lush landscapes, swaying palm trees, the scent of plumeria wafting through the air. If you have been to any of the Hawaiian islands, then you know that Hawaii is all of this and so much more. If you haven’t been, chances are the stunning natural beauty and the rich local culture will exceed every expectation.
But while the three islands of Maui to visit (Maui, Molokai, and Lanai) are merely vacation destinations to most of us, a tropical getaway to love and leave, they are the home and history of so many people. And it is our duty as conscious travelers to respect the land, the environment and the culture of all the places we visit and to remember that our visit has an impact, from economic to environmental and ecological.
While many of us want to be responsible travelers, sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what to do and what not to do. Here are some helpful tips for being a responsible traveler to Maui Nui:
Learn about the culture before you visit
Like most, Hawaiian culture is deep and multi-layered. It is rich with ancient customs and traditions, legends and values that, if you take the time to learn about, will help you better understand the Hawaiian people and the ties that bind them to their land and natural surroundings. Did you know that the foundation of Hawaiian culture is understanding the connection between the people and the environment and the mandate to care for both? If this is the duty of the local people, then it stands to reason that it falls upon everyone who visits to be mindful in the same way.
Respect the land
The land and the ocean are inextricably tied to the culture and people of Hawaii. Some lands are designated forbidden, not open to the public for any number of reasons, from fragile environmental conditions to cultural respect. Whatever the reason, always obey requests to respect the land and never enter an area not open to tourists. Don’t go off the beaten path as it can lead to erosion. Never remove any flora or fauna you find or coral, shells, rocks or sand – everything plays a role in the island’s ecosystem. And please don’t carve your name into trees.
Respect the ocean
The ocean is not just a playground for tourists to go swimming, sailing and surfing. Respecting the ocean means making sure that nothing you do will jeopardize the marine ecosystem and wildlife. Make sure your trash never ends up underwater, which can potentially injure and kill innocent marine life. Never take single-use plastic bottles to the beach; instead opt for a reusable water bottle and reusable food bags. And choose a sunscreen that won’t add toxic chemicals to the ocean water and whose only active ingredient is zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Just because a sunscreen says “reef safe” on the bottle, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safe for marine life so check the ingredients list.
Pick up your trash
This should go without saying but: Never, ever litter, whether you’re on the beach or at a park, whether you’re camping or hiking. It’s just never okay. And if you see trash on the ground, pick it up and dispose of it so that it doesn’t pose a threat to the land or to wildlife. As responsible travelers, our goal should be to leave no trace of our presence.
Travel in the off-season
For destinations like Maui Nui, where tourism presents challenges to all aspects of island life (from damaging the natural environment to creating traffic congestion that makes it difficult for locals to live their daily lives), consider traveling in the off-season or shoulder season to help ease the overcrowding.
Visit lesser known places
If the point of travel is discovery, then try to steer away from the crowds and discover lesser known places that aren’t already overrun by tourists. Not only can you contribute to decreasing the number of tourists at overcrowded spots but you’ll probably have a more unique experience as well.
Support local businesses
Supporting local businesses is one way to use your tourist dollars towards good. Spend your money at restaurants that source local suppliers, support local farmers markets and purchase locally-made crafts, all of which will benefit the people who actually live there. You can also donate to social and environmental projects that will benefit the destination.
Mind your social media manners
Social media platforms like Instagram have changed the very way we make decisions about where to travel and what we do once we get there. If you’re photographing a beautiful destination, don’t do anything illegal or damaging to the environment to get your shot and don’t venture into restricted areas. Be accurate in your representation of the destination (for instance, refrain from using an app that will delete the crowd, which signals that the place is empty, when perhaps it’s teeming with too many tourists). And don’t geotag the destination, which could result in hordes of people swarming a previously tranquil place.
Traveling to experience the beauty of a place like Maui Nui is, without a doubt, a privilege. Together, we can all make small changes to our travel behavior to ensure that we leave the islands as we found them. For more ways to be a responsible traveler to Maui Nui, check out these tips.
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