Catherine Toth Fox: Great news Hawaii! You’re vacationing in Hawaii!

A few months ago, my mom and I walked through the 27-acre city-run Wahiawa Botanical Garden.

As we stopped to sit on a bench near a rainbow gum tree, my 76-year-old mother, who has lived her entire life in Hawaii, said, “I didn’t even know this place existed.”

I hear that a lot from locals.

As a travel editor and writer based in Honolulu, my job is — literally — to travel the islands, explore neighborhoods, and (for the readers, at least) discover new things and places to see. And I’m always amazed at how “new” many of these things and places are to people who grew up here.

I conducted an informal poll of friends who live on Oahu and found that the vast majority had never been to the USS Arizona Memorial, had not hiked to the top of Diamond Head since childhood, and—like my mother— there was a botanical garden in Wahiawa.

We arguably live in one of the top travel destinations in the world, a spot on vision boards and bucket lists, and yet many of us don’t explore our home island beyond the occasional baby luau at an unfamiliar beach park.

And that’s a shame.

Hawaii welcomed more than 10 million visitors in 2019, an all-time high, according to year-end data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. And even now, more than two years into the pandemic, the state is seeing an increase in numbers — total arrivals in March were near pre-pandemic levels at 788,931 — with summer promising the highest number of visitors since 2019.

Hawaii is clearly a popular vacation destination—yet many of us plan summer trips anywhere but here.

Not us. We’re booking a trip to Kauai this summer – maybe another one to Maui. That’s it.

With Covid-19 numbers rising again – new cases are now averaging 1,200 a day nationwide – and the cost of everything rising, this really should be the Summer of Staycations.

Catherine Toth Fox's son and husband review Kilauea's recent eruption
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is just one of the many wonders you can see just a short, inexpensive flight away when you live on Oahu. Catherine Toth Fox/Civil Beat/2021

And think about it: we live in the perfect staycation location. We can hop to another island for less than $100. There are dozens of hotels, resorts and vacation rentals to choose from. We have some of the best beaches, restaurants and hiking trails in the world. What’s the point of living here if we can’t enjoy it?

According to a survey by personal finance website WalletHub, 29% of Americans are not planning vacation trips in 2022. Honolulu ranks #1 when comparing more than 180 cities across 44 indicators — parks per resident, cost of restaurant meals, residents’ vaccination rates on his list of the best places to stay. Talk about Lucky We Live Hawaii.

And there are many reasons to consider a stay.

First, it’s usually less expensive. According to Google Flights, non-stop flights from Honolulu to Los Angeles cost around $900 round-trip in June. (A non-stop flight to New York City costs $1,700.) Compare that to a direct flight to Kahului, Maui, or Hilo, which costs around $100 round-trip. Now multiply that by your family of four. That’s a huge saving.

And the money you save can be spent at local businesses. Imagine all the places you would visit if you were vacationing in California, for example. You might shop for homemade strawberry jam and homemade bread at a neighborhood farmers market, shop for souvenirs at a family-run boutique, book a farm tour, dine at a renowned restaurant run by a local chef. You can do all of these things here – and you would be supporting the local economy.

Staycations are better for the planet too. Greenhouse gas emissions from commercial flights account for about 2% of the world’s total carbon emissions and are expected to triple by 2050, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Last year, Google Flights added a carbon emissions feature to its search engine, allowing travelers to consider their carbon footprint along with ticket prices and flight duration. A non-stop Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles emits an estimated 491 kilograms of carbon dioxide per passenger. FlightFree, a website designed to encourage people to give up air travel altogether, explained it further: A flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles emits enough carbon emissions to melt 48 square feet of the Arctic Sea. Avoiding this trip is as climate-friendly as being a vegetarian for 2.8 years and carpooling for 1.5 years.

Compare that to a fast flight to Maui, which produces only about 100 pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger. You only need to be a vegetarian for 6 weeks to catch that flight.

Besides, you would vacation in Hawaii. Hawaii! Think of all the things you’ve never done or places you’ve never been because your kids have soccer games and swimming lessons all weekend, or you end up cleaning the house instead of going to the beach.

Take a week off and hike to the peak you always see from your car on your morning drive. Finally learn to surf. go camping Hop on a plane and marvel at an erupting volcano on the island of Hawaii. Do yoga with Nigerian pygmy goats in Kula. Eat kulolo on a Kauai beach. Or just stroll through your neighborhood.

It’s probably the same things you would do in California anyway. Only you can sleep in your own bed afterwards.

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