Why Hawaii Living Isn’t Really Paradise

paradise

Hawaii is most certainly one of the most beautiful places on this planet. Pictures do not do the beaches, oceans, mountains, flowers and sunsets behind towering palm trees justice — they are more awesome in person. But.

Then there is life here and that isn’t always a paradise.

In the months leading up to our move here I never wanted to tell anyone where we were headed because I knew what they would say. “HAWAII! I’m so jealous!” All I could think was, “Really? You want to be stationed far from family with a deployed spouse? Huh?” Because for me, that’s what I dreaded, among a few other things.

I know, you’re probably thinking “I could handle being away from family in exchange for paradise!”

But it isn’t all paradise. And here’s why.

Five reasons why living Hawaii isn’t living the dream:

Schools: They aren’t terrible but they certainly aren’t great. Between the curriculum, lack of funding and bullying parents have tough choices to make — public school? Private school? Homeschool? But sometimes no choice is the perfect choice … just one you learn to deal with for the few years they are here, trudging through and making the best of it and hoping all is well once they return to the mainland.

Cost of living: I almost had an asthma attack when I checked out at the Commissary the first time. The prices of the produce and dairy will take the wind right out your sails and it’s like that for everything!  Yes, we do get COLA but living here is expensive and that COLA isn’t going straight to the bank – it goes towards your everyday living expenses like food.

Deployment: There I said it! Every military spouse dreads it, especially now after so many years of war. Beautiful beaches don’t make living without my spouse for months on end easier. They aren’t helping fold laundry, taxi kids around or deal with whatever Murphy has planned (because we all know it’s something big). Deployment stinks no matter where you are!

Bugs: Lots and lots of bugs! If you hate bugs, I’m warning you now they are everywhere! Bugs are so bad here that having a few roaches in your house on a weekly basis is considered normal. WHAT?? Yes! It’s gross and makes me a little crazy.

Isolation: Or as it more commonly known, “island fever.” It’s the feeling of being trapped or isolated and leaves some people feeling really out of control. Hopping on a flight and going home to family isn’t so easy. It can cost somewhere up to $2,000 to purchase plane tickets for a family of four plus the addition cost for traveling. Many people come and don’t leave during their tour — and they long for the wide open highways of the mainland. I know I’m looking forward to them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate living in Hawaii. This post is about me complaining or wanting anyone to throw me a pity party. It’s to let anyone who has never been here know that for those stationed here we still live our everyday lives; it’s not vacation.

So, if a friend calls for a shoulder to lean on because they miss their deployed spouse or they are upset because they are broke and can’t go home for their grandmother’s funeral or their child was bullied again because he is a “haole,” don’t answer with, “But, you live in Hawaii!”

Let them shed their much needed tears without the guilt trip because they aren’t happy to just go to beach and forget about their woes. Always remember that military life can be tough no matter what the scenery outside is.

 

Kate authors the blog Tips From The Homefront where she shares tips and resources on all things related to military life. She and her husband have been married for over 10 years and have two boys. Together they have been to four duty stations and survived multiple deployments and TDYs. Recently she was named the NAS JRB New Orleans Spouse of the Year 2013 for her tireless efforts as their Ombudsman. She continues to serve command families as an Ombudsman as well as being a Chapter Coordinator for Stroller Warriors.  Kate’s life mission is to ensure that all military families are empowered to live the best life possible while serving in the military through connecting them with the resources and entitlements they need and deserve. 

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25 Comments on "Why Hawaii Living Isn’t Really Paradise"

  1. Amen, sister! I barely fill the bottom of my cart and end up spending over $80 in the commissary! Almost made me faint! I have been here 6 months and have been home once already and I have "island fever." Not because I'm away from my family, but because they would not ship my vehicle over here. I have no car and I'm a HUGE car person – I race, frequent road trips with family and friends, and I own 3 vehicles. Definitely NOT the place to be if you're a big car buff. You'll end up washing your car every day with how sporadic the rain is here. Sometimes, I freak out wondering why the sun is shining, without a cloud in sight, yet rain is falling. What's up with the weather here?! My husband has damn near permanent water spots on his Camaro! Scrubbing them isn't getting them off.

    Ugh! Sorry, after reading this I had to vent as well. I'm so glad I'm not the only one going through this.

  2. Sarah -- SBuzz | June 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm |

    I felt this way about being stationed in Germany. Everyone else thought I should be so grateful and pleased to be living in Europe, but I hated the inconveniences, I missed the United States, and I couldn't attend my grandmother's funeral because she died unexpectedly while my husband was in the field. It wasn't always the perfect duty station either. Thanks for writing the contrary position!

  3. anonymous | June 6, 2013 at 4:58 pm |

    I enjoyed this post, it struck a chord with me about the jealousy. When I told people I was moving to Florida with my fiance, I got a lot of it. I'd have to specify and say Pensacola is in the panhandle, it's not even in the same timezone as most of Florida, and it's basically like being in Alabama (though we have a pretty decent beach).

    We tossed around the idea of trying to request Hawaii or Japan, but your post has made me give a that another thought. Maybe I'd consider while we're young and have no children… but I think once family comes into play, we'd try to stay stateside (yes I know there is no guarantee of that happening). But we do plan on going to Hawaii for our honeymoon, so we'll get to check it out either way.

  4. anonymous | June 6, 2013 at 5:13 pm |

    Being stationed in Alaska is similar, minus the sunshine and beach option.

  5. Kate, I'm sorry this duty station isn't working out so well. People here either love it or hate it. After we'd lived overseas in Scotland, Rota, the Azores, and Japan… we love it here. We love those other places too, but we like Hawaii weather a lot better!

    The Navy sent us to Pearl Harbor 24 years ago, and we're going to spend the rest of our lives here. Our daughter is a product of the public school system, but I think the parents have a much bigger influence than the schools. Our daughter was a top grad here and is now starting her senior year at Rice University, studying civil engineering on a Navy ROTC scholarship. In six months she's going to interview with Naval Reactors to persuade them to let another Nordman into the submarine force.

    As for the food, the bugs, the roads, the expenses… all of those are an issue. All of them have answers. Here's another perspective (with additional links) for military families: http://the-military-guide.com/2011/10/13/lifestyl

    Amy_Bushatz, I'd be happy to do a guest post for Spouse_Buzz. (Hey, I'm a military spouse too.) Contact info on the way.

  6. Sorry you're having a bad experience, I think every station has it's positives and negatives for me VA NOB sucked! Cost of living, you spend your time sitting in traffic, crime, schools, etc. I think more so it depends on the person, because a lot of other people loved it. My experience was so bad it turned me off of ever moving to another base anywhere else with my husband, after looking back at I realized it was me. I was depressed so depressed I even contemplated the unthinkable, because I was depressed I was always exhausted, meeting people seemed like a hassle for me quite opposite of my naturally bubbly outgoing self. VA could have been great if I felt great about being there if I had concentrated on the positives like being alive and well, my husband not being deployed, we are not homeless, things could be worse…Instead of I can't find work, I can't find affordable childcare, I wish I could afford to…whatever. You could move to the best most greatest most beautiful place if you're not happy it wont be that. Hope things get better for you

  7. Best Duty Station | June 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm |

    I completely disagree with you. It sounds like you had a bad taste in your mouth about moving to Hawaii before you even got there. We were there for 4 years and we loved every second of it. Every time you move you know there is going to be culture changes. Yes, it is expensive but the COLA more then compensates for it. Everyone I know that has came back to the mainland from Hawaii struggles with the lack of COLA. The people that hate living there are the ones that are to afraid to enjoy it. They are afraid to leave the base and explore. We found so many fun, interesting things to do that I am sorry my children where too little to fully enjoy it. As for the schools, I LOVED the school on base! We are currently at Lejeune and I would gladly put my kids back into Mokapu! And bugs???? North Carolina has 100x more bugs then I ever seen in Hawaii. Every place is what you make of it and it sound like you didnt want to love Hawaii, you didn't even give it a chance.

  8. 20yearsmilspouse | June 8, 2013 at 2:50 am |

    Hawaii is an absolutely beautiful place and I agree with "best duty station " , we love every minute of it here and possibly plan to retire here. I think you already made up your mind before you moved hereabout Hawaii.
    1) yes it is possible to survive on Cola and even have a little left over . We have 4 kids so I do understand. Like the other wives have stated, farmers market and Asian markets sell produce at a more reasonable cost. You could also sign up for a budgeting class which might help?
    2)The military does have funding for when there is a death in the family. You would have to reach out to American Red Cross to send a message to your spouse's command and they will assist with travel arrangements and payments.
    3) I also agree with the other spouses as far as Deployments go , it doesn't matter where you're stationed , your spouse could be deployed at any time
    I think you just have to have an open mind and enjoy the beauty that is here. it could be worse and you could have been stationed in someplace worse like Bahrain –ekkk!

  9. Too bad you feel this way. We spent 41/2 years at Hickam and loved almost every minute of it. We would go back in a heartbeat, that's for sure. And for the record, it's much cheaper to fly home from Hawaii than it is from Germany, which is twice the cost for a family of four. Sticker shock at the commissary? Yes, but you learn to work within your budget and thank God you're not shopping off base, where things are much more expensive. My husband was deployed while we were there, and things ran smoothly thanks to friends and military support. We even had to deal with emergency leave the last month of his deployment. We were thankful for his first sergeant working hard to get us home from Hawaii and my husband home from Qatar. Thanks to the first shirt, my husband beat us home by a day and we all got to say our goodbyes to my husband's mom. We also dealt with Furlough Fridays. However, extra time spent with my children on school work ensured a good transition to a DODDS school. Driving on highways? Never missed it. Instead, I was thankful for fewer miles on my car. I hope things turn around for you because you seem very unhappy.

  10. Anonymous | June 12, 2013 at 3:30 am |
  11. CWO, US Army Retired | June 14, 2013 at 5:15 am |

    It saddens me to hear people that visit my home State, leaves with sour taste experience [not that I’m implying this to you in any way]. As one of the bloggers suggested, get out to the local community, meet, and greet them. Learn some of the rich culture we offer. They will even give you pointers how to shop the Kamaʻaina style and save money! Rest assure that we [Kamaʻainas] mean what we say, when we extend our hands to say … Aloha in a very sincere way! I believe this experience will bring warmth to your heart and to any Ohanas (families) that visit Hawaii and leave with rich memorable lifetime memories. …plus it makes your tour in Hawaii goes by quicker.

    On the other hand, you don’t want to leave because you’ve meet many wonderful Kamaʻainas that brought you into their homes with open arms. I can relate to the “Island Fever” comment, my first tour here in the mainland, I was lost-as-a-pup and the unending road…… Gosh, I will never forget that experience, especially a kid from Hawaii, just 18 years of age. You see … we Islanders and Mainlanders have something in common, no matter where you live. First, the ‘shock-and-awe’, then you learn to adjust to the environment you live in.

    I hope I offered some insight to visitors visiting my home State of Hawaii. Many Kamaʻainas’ are sincere, warm-loving, and friendly. Use your ‘Ombudsman’ experience to propel some of these ideas. Get out and experience the once-in-a-lifetime Polynesian culture, trust me, you won’t regret it… I can assure you, that the “Island Fever” won’t even come into your vocabulary once you begin exploring, unless you live like a Kermit.
    I apologize if my opinion seemed bias — but please understand that 95% of my Ohanas are still living and working in Hawaii not to mention the fond memories I have with my High School Friends…..

    Mahalo Nui Loa [thank you]
    Chief Warrant Officer, US Army Retired

  12. CWO, US Army Retired | June 14, 2013 at 9:11 am |

    Wow! Your comments are interesting but not surprising. Whether they were intended to be bad, good, or indifferent they are nonetheless opinion of a Mainlander [no pun intended]. Don’t worry; I’m not offended, I’m used to it growing up…

    While some of your comments are true, such as schooling, I can attest to that. This is an unfortunate subject that Hawaii possesses for many years [but no more different than the DODDS School system there, if they are anything the same as the ones my Keiki (kids) attended] and probably deteriorated more since the 70s & 80s. I can say this with confident, because I am one of the Kamaʻaina [local people] that lived and attended K12 public school in Hawaii, until I left, to join the Army. I will admit I did experience some challenges while taking College courses but nothing that I wasn’t able to adjust and still passed. Years later, earned my BS Degree while in the military. Nonetheless, I don’t think — I did as bad, after more than 21 years of Army service. Considering – I retired with a [senior] Chief Warrant Officer rank at the end of my military career despite the mediocre schooling I received in Hawaii.

    If you’re Keiki attends public school there, be mindful that the language we use are what we call “pigeon English” [mix language between local Hawaiian language and English], don’t worry, you will still understand the English part :). Instead of looking at it negatively, try viewing this as an experience-of-a-lifetime. You can take this experience back with you when you return home to the mainland and tell the rest of your clan what you’ve experienced [positive once — I hope]. Hawaii has many rich cultures. This happens to be one of them.

    First — find your niche, I then urge you to visit your local community [not your military] in the town you live in, there is one to almost every town. I know one in Waipahu in the Island of Oahu has one large community organization. There are abundant things to explore and learn from the Kamaʻaina’s culture, especially if you have Keiki. As an example, have you ever been in one of the Kamaʻaina’s home, and noticed they removed their slippers at the front door before they enter the house? [It’s funny — I tried this when I was stationed in Alaska, that didn’t work so well.] The only way to know this answer is to meet them. Albeit, activity like this, probably somewhat strange to you, but it is customary to certain ethnic who lives in Hawaii. Perhaps you, et al, can volunteer to your local community. Besides, it only fosters friendship between the military community and the Kamaʻainas’ that lives there. We have a unique culture that no other State offers, such as visiting the volcano in Hilo or visiting Haleakala in Maui [gorgeous view overlooking the Islands] to name a few. In addition, they offer a place to stay while vacationing, catering only to the military family. …..And yes the ‘cockroaches’ …… who can forget that — we locals just take it in stride, what else can we say. Lots of jokes around this subject with the local comedians, besides, these critters also needs ‘basking in the sun’, if you know what I mean. You should go and see the local comedy show in Waikiki and hear what the comedians are saying – too funny.

  13. CWO, US Army | June 14, 2013 at 9:12 am |

    It saddens me to hear people that visit my home State, leaves with sour taste experience [not that I’m implying this to you in any way]. As one of the bloggers suggested, get out to the local community, meet, and greet them. Learn some of the rich culture we offer. They will even give you pointers how to shop the Kamaʻaina style and save money! Rest assure that we [Kamaʻainas] mean what we say, when we extend our hands to say … Aloha in a very sincere way! I believe this experience will bring warmth to your heart and to any Ohanas (families) that visit Hawaii and leave with rich memorable lifetime memories. …plus it makes your tour in Hawaii goes by quicker.

    On the other hand, you don’t want to leave because you’ve meet many wonderful Kamaʻainas that brought you into their homes with open arms. I can relate to the “Island Fever” comment, my first tour here in the mainland, I was lost-as-a-pup and the unending road…… Gosh, I will never forget that experience, especially a kid from Hawaii, just 18 years of age. You see … we Islanders and Mainlanders have something in common, no matter where you live. First, the ‘shock-and-awe’, then you learn to adjust to the environment you live in.

    I hope I offered some insight to visitors visiting my home State of Hawaii. Many Kamaʻainas’ are sincere, warm-loving, and friendly. Use your ‘Ombudsman’ experience to propel some of these ideas. Get out and experience the once-in-a-lifetime Polynesian culture, trust me, you won’t regret it… I can assure you, that the “Island Fever” won’t even come into your vocabulary once you begin exploring, unless you live like a Kermit.

    I apologize if my opinion seemed bias — but please understand that 95% of my Ohanas are still living and working in Hawaii not to mention the fond memories I have with my High School Friends…..

    Mahalo Nui Loa [thank you]
    Chief Warrant Officer, US Army Retired

  14. Islander, Too | June 15, 2013 at 11:40 am |

    COLA is not meant to go straight to the bank; it is to reimburse Military Families for the extra expenses incur in high cost areas. So using your COLA for what it is intended should not be seen as a negative.

  15. 1SG-Retired | July 1, 2013 at 4:49 pm |

    A duty station such as Hawaii has its many experiences most of which depend on your rank, your base location, your branch of service. My wife and I for instance were stationed at Schofield barracks, infantry, no kids and a young E-5. We were housed in the Aliamanu (sp) crater.

    We had a 3 story apartment building with loud and obnoxious neighbors above and below us. Most of the stories mentioned in this article were true back then. I'm sure many things have changed since then, but everything I read was true and struck a cord. We did about die when we went to the navy exchange and bought milk at almost $4 a gallon then. We had one car. Either she drove me to work, which killed us on gas, or I drove and she became homebound.

  16. 1SG-Retired | July 1, 2013 at 4:49 pm |

    We didn't have any trouble with the locals. Just the same stories to watch out for this place or that place. Money was always tight, but my wife managed to get us to the big island, we figured out how to get a space-a hop to California and Omaha and back for seperate trips. But my wife was absolutely miserable once all the newness wore off. No family, no friends, no husband. People you make friends with leave. 15-miles to base and people you work with.

    She couldn't get a job…no one wanted to hire military spouses. I enjoyed the beaches, but not the tourist stuff. But as for my wife, she would tell you, it was a very bad tour of duty as a spouse. I really can't comment, I wasn't there long enough.

  17. I wonder why so many comments were removed from this blog. They were not mean or ridiculing, yet they were erased anyway. Yes a couple were from me, though others as well. Yet some of the most hateful comments and demeaning remarks are left on other blogs. Are the guest bloggers allowed to have whatever erased that doesn't fit what they want to hear? Even if it isn't mean, just say.. not exactly fitting to what they wanted as responses?

  18. jacey_eckhart | August 5, 2013 at 3:15 pm |

    Mamatoni6. We believe in a rousing exchange of ideas around here. So we don't delete comments just because the commenter doesn't agree with the blogger. We do eliminate comments that include profanity, personal insults or spam. We don't catch them all, but we try. I hope that clears things up.

  19. I used to really loath Hawaii when I lived on base, but ever since we moved to Kaneohe (a town right outside the Marine base) I feel like I belong a little more. I got a job and a few local friends. No one calls me "haole" even though I'm very pale.

    If you're bored (and need more money after your COLA) get a job. That's what really helped me.

  20. It amazes me how some spouses of military just can't stand me a military wife. I grew up a brat. Loved every moment. So did my mom. Loved moving every 4 years. I learned so much about culture. My parents were adventurous. Heck learn to play tennis and golf. It is so cheap on base. I feel a lot of military spouses grew up in small towns or never really traveled much when they were young. Name one big city in the US that is not expensive. Name any public school system in the US that is great? Try Memphis, Detroit, Nashville, etc, all bad school systems. Get a job or a degree. Get a degree and make more money than your husbands military pay.

    You know it is an island, island fever is a sillily concept. If you live in a town or city you get trapped there. I feel trapped living in Nashville.10 hours from the ocean. No culture here. Most locals here have never been out of the county. Boring to talk to.

    Heck learn to surf. Learn Japanese. Learn pottery. Talk long walks on the beach. Start a business. Take yoga on the beach. Home school, start a garden.

  21. I have been a military spouse for over 20 years and not to sound cliche but you can look at the glass have full or have empty. How you think affects how you feel and in turn how you behave.
    I remember when we were stationed in Okinawa we couldn't get base housing and I learned how to speak a little Japanese Ikuro Deska (how much is it?) and my husband was blown away when I asked a local where to park, he responded and I actually responded back. We still crack up about that! My kids had a great experience learning Kanji, picking purple potatoes (taro), going to cool water parks. As a familywe went to Cherry Blossom festivals in Naha, awesome temples, I learned how to dive and Ieven got my grad degree. The point being, enjoy the journey! I thought this was especially important to pass on to my kids.
    So I wrote Uncle Sam's Kids in Moving Again Mom ( Recommended by First Lady of the Marine Corp) I will be actually in Kanehoe Bay MCX on Feb 27 so come on down. It's all about enjoying and learning as you go!

  22. The Isolation comment really hit the nail on the head. I would really recommend making friends with other ladies in the military and swap watching each other's kids so you can volunteer with organizations like Kupu Hawaii or Surfrider Foundation to help clean up Oahu's beaches. You'll meet nice people and it will give you a goal to work toward.

    However, I know that a large majority of people on this Island GREATLY envy your Commisarry access to goods that are much cheaper than everyone else on Island pays, even if they are still expensive.

    Additionally it is said that the cost of living was first raised because of military presence in O'ahu. While its presence is fundamental to keeping these shores protected, the government HAS to pay whatever the landlords charge for housing, so more often than not, they charge an arm and a leg.

  23. I think it's a little unfair this post, you make good points but as a military child who grew up in Hawaii and experienced public schools firsthand, it's not that bad. I moved to the mainland and was still a straight A. Student. Bullying for haloes can be a problem but it's not actual bullying. It's more of a playful joke if anyone even mentions it. Military kids are common and nobody cared what skin tone you had. In fact, nobody ever used the term Haole except in Hawaiian class where we learned what it meant.

    The bugs. Oh my you're right bugs are huge. But it is normal to have cockroaches and fruit flies and centipedes. The geckos and other beautiful wildlife make up for it I think. Other than that I agree cost Of living is high and island fever can happen, but what helped me overcome that was exploring the island outside tourist attractions. Don't get lost after Waikiki. Go on trails, there are hundreds unadvertised ask a neighbor or a long time resident. There are beaches just for the military and also beautiful hikes and waterfalls. Don't forget there is a north shore and other parts of the island that are wonderful.

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