Although it’s March, for many of you, it still feels like winter. Most of my friends are posting pictures of snowy landscapes and adorable knit hats. I’m a sucker for an adorable hat, so I admit I feel a bit jealous as I scroll past these photos in my newsfeed. But let’s be real. The jealousy only lasts as long as the time it takes to put down my phone and look out at the azure sea lapping at the white sandy shore.
Yes, this has happened more than once.
I live three miles away from Lanikai Beach, the most beautiful beach I’ve ever visited, and I haven’t been in temperatures lower than 50 degrees in over a year.
The local hashtag #luckywelivehawaii tells the truth: we are, indeed, lucky. #Blessed, even.
When my husband received his orders on a particularly dreary Pacific Northwest winter day, he brought home sunscreen and a pineapple. We couldn’t believe our luck: We were headed to paradise.
Fast forward two years and I’ll tell you: Hawaii is indeed magical. My mistake, however, was believing that paradise equals perfection. Here are a few tips to help you mentally prepare for your move to the tropics.
Pretend you are moving overseas
OK, so you are technically moving overseas. The military will treat your move as such, and you will fly over the ocean to get to your new home. But Hawaii is still in the United States, right? So things aren’t going to be much different than what you’re used to on the mainland,* right?
Wrong. You are going to be living on an island, in the middle of the ocean, and if you expect things to feel familiar, you will be disappointed.
True, it is possible to live within a five mile radius of Target and two Starbucks (#winning), so things aren’t like, dire. But you will be saying goodbye to same day Amazon delivery (planning ahead becomes paramount, unless of course, you don’t really care about your kids’ Halloween costumes or gifts from Santa). And if you have friends and family on the East Coast, prepare for the six hour time difference when making phone calls.
Recognize you will not be on perpetual vacation
If you’ve visited Hawaii before, you were likely blissed out on holiday, and as soon as your feet touched ground on the island, your brain was telling you to find the nearest beach bar with the strongest Mai Tai.
And you can totally do that! You know, once you find a reliable babysitter and your spouse has a break in orientation.
One of the rudest awakenings for me when I first arrived was realizing how much my body was rebelling from daily life and demanding I take a holiday. There’s something in the air that tells you to shirk all responsibilities and just go to the beach like all the tourists you see tootling about on their little beach cruisers. And you know, that’s fine for a little while, but at some point you have to set up house and pay bills.
Eventually you realize you can build into your week holiday-quality excursions, like snorkeling Hanauma Bay, kayaking to the Mokulua islands, or hiking up Makapu’u, and you realize maybe the daily grind is worth it if you can relax on the lanai with your acai bowl and watch the fireworks over Waikiki any Friday night you like.
Find a place with central air
If you can’t find a place with air conditioning, make sure your new home is on a hill with lots of good air flow. Because your windows will be open all the time. Unless you live on base (which I hear is great, but wait lists are looonnng), you’ll basically live outside, and if you have to live outside, you’d better hope there are some breezes to cool you down on the days the humidity has your hair plastered to your hair from the sweat. It’s harder to find AC than you would think on an island that often experiences temperatures hotter than 80 degrees. On breezy days, our house is like heaven, but when those trade winds stop blowing (and they stop many times in the summer, my friends) our house is a verifiable Hades. You don’t want to be there. Humid heat makes mama cranky, so we installed AC units in the bedrooms. I’m quite jealous of friends who have central air. Their hair always looks so nice, and they always seem so happy.
Drop some cash on an exterminator
Y’all, hear me when I say that Hawaii is full of bugs. And I’m not just talking about the ants that will swarm your sink if you forget a dish (though that will also happen), I’m talking about flying cockroaches and poisonous centipedes that will sneak into your home and crawl into your children’s bedrooms at night. When my husband was deployed, I walked in one night to find a cockroach crawling across our bed.
This might have had something to do with the cookie crumbs left by some emotional eating in his absence, who can say.
But friends, I slept in our guest bedroom for four nights straight before I finally caught and killed that little bugger. Exterminators help a great deal. So find a good one and budget to have them stop by once a quarter. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Make peace with the house geckos
Geckos are harmless critters who actually provide impeccable service: they will eat any insects that the exterminator misses. They chatter with each other as they scamper across the walls at night (creepy, I know), but I promise they are more scared of you than you are of them. If you see one, it will likely either be hiding or jumping away from you – or in its whirlwind of anxiety, ON to you, which is less fun for you both. This can be terrifying, so be prepared.
Tell yourself, like I tell my boys, “Geckos are our friends. They will not hurt us.” Also prepare yourself for the likelihood that at some point in time you will accidentally step on a gecko with your bare foot, either on the pavement outside your home or on the carpet in your living room, which is basically the same in Hawaii. RIP, gecko friend. Of course the more vigilant you are about exterminating the bugs, the less you will see of these cute little predators.
Find a place with a guest room
This one doesn’t take a lot of explanation. People like Hawaii. People like Hawaii even more than they like you, even if they like you a great deal. You’ll have friends and family staying with you ALL THE TIME, especially during the winter months. Alternately, find a place without a guest bedroom and prepare a list of great hotels and links to vacation rentals. Because while a full house in 90 percent humidity isn’t super fun, scampering around at the beach with family and friends most assuredly is.
Give yourself time to adjust
One of the biggest mistakes I made was believing I’d love living in Hawaii immediately, and I felt a tremendous sense of guilt when I didn’t.
My husband was in heaven – Hawaii was everything he dreamed it would be – but not me (see “cockroaches,” “geckos,” and “humidity”). Our infant son got his first sunburn and our toddler got a fear of the ocean, and I shook my fist at the sky. So this is paradise.
Military spouses are no strangers to the time it can take to adjust to a new home, and you will be fooling yourself if you believe Hawaii (or another coveted duty station) will somehow magically make the transition process easier. I’ve found it usually takes me about a year and a half to really begin to feel settled in a new place; Hawaii has been no different.
Now, halfway through our time on island, I am beginning to mourn our impending departure date. Each day I try to take a moment to really notice where we are. I watch the way the breeze plays with the palm fronds. I breathe in the warm sea air. I squish that exquisite white sand beneath my toes.
Before I know it, new orders will come in and I will miss this.
*The Continental US. Pro tip: pronounce it “mAYN-lind”
FYI: Military Installations in Oahu, taken from www.Hawaiilife.com
- Marine Corps: Marine Corps Base Hawaii (Kaneohe Bay), Camp H. M. Smith and Pu’uloa Range Training Facility
- Army: Fort Shafter, Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield (formerly Wheeler Air Force Base) and Tripler Medical Center
- Navy: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, NCTAMS PAC, Naval Magazine Lualualei
- Air Force: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Bellows Air Force Station
- Coast Guard: USCG ISC Honolulu, USCG Air Station Barbers Point