Hawaii is a Place, Not a Paradise: 15 months on the Big Island & Falling in Love

Happy Newbit!

Even though it’s been months since my feet have rested upon the raw terrain of Hawaii’s Big Island, I occasionally find myself back there in dreams.

Once, I thought I’d slept in and missed my flight back to the mainland. I panicked when I thought of the consequences, only to wake up in my bed in my new home.

Now that this has happened a few times, I’ve decided to explore a short retrospective of my time on Hawaii in the hope that looking back on the decision to leave may yield some insights.

Insight 1: You Don’t Need Lava to feel Burnt Out

It’s a funny feeling. Part of me was really burnt out on living in Puna. (And it wasn’t because I was living near the most active volcano on earth.) I was tired of worrying about getting burned by the equatorial sun, the abundance of sharp rocks on the beach that sliced me up more than once, and the friction associated with using hitchhiking as a primary means of transportation.

Lava flow on edge of Kalapana, HI

Don’t get me wrong. I still love the weather, the landscape, and even the hitchhiking, but there was a kind of friction to that lifestyle that wore on me after a while.

In the end, I had to admit to myself that living in Puna just wasn’t the best match for me, or for my writing career. (Mind you, all of this was before the recent lava flow that threatened to cut off the area, starting in September.)

But why? I can hear you practically screaming.


It’s quite simple, actually, and it hit me without warning.

Insight 2: Even Paradise can feel Limiting

By early last year, I had already acknowledged the feeling of friction that I mentioned above. I loved Hawaii, but I also felt deeply that my situation was subject to change at any time. My lifestyle there was open and fun, but also constricting at the same time. The job market in the Puna district was pretty atrocious, and it was difficult to find clients to consult for.

Malama-Ki pool

If you came to Malama-Ki at the right time, these pools became magic.

Still, I loved being so close to the ocean, and I get nostalgic for places like Malama-Ki park sometimes. And every week, there were an abundance of community events nearby, filled with fascinating characters.

Events like La Hiki Ola’s open mic night, Cinderland’s Taco Tuesday (later, a vegetarian potluck), Uncle Robert’s famous night market (complete with live Hawaiian guitar), and the Sunday morning drum circle at Kehena beach were events that my friends and I looked forward to every week. (Sure, most events were full of hippies, but many of the hippies I met were pretty fantastic people and not necessarily luddites.)

Taco Tuesday Cinderland sign

The sign I’d see every week for Cinderland’s Taco Tuesday. Good times, good food, & good people.

For a district smaller than the island of Kauai and a population around 45K, there was a surprising abundance of events each week; and community engagement was definitely way above average compared to what I’ve seen in other parts of the US. Of course, there are probably more intentional communities per square mile in that area than in any other part of the country. (And I’m surprised these communities aren’t written about on more sites. Of course, the internet isn’t exactly a priority for many of the people there.)

Still, something was creeping up inside me. I felt it was time to move on. Once you’ve attended 40+ potlucks, served food at them dozens of times, snorkeled all around, hitchhiked to the top of Mauna Kea itself, and heard “That’s My Number” performed live by Uncle Robert’s numerous sons more times that you can count, you may be ready for a change.

What many people don’t realize is, Hawaii isn’t a paradise. Hawaii is a place. It’s a wonderful place, yes. But as anyone who went through Hurricane Iselle knows, it has its share of problems. Most of my friends didn’t have any kind of reliable access to the web, not to mention reliable cell reception. If these aren’t important to you, then it might be the place for you; but for most of us in the 21st century, living in certain parts of Hawaii can feel like going back in time.

Insight 3: Love prevails all Trauma

Even with all this in mind, it’s hard to quantify exactly why I knew it was time to move on, because it was primarily intuition.

And then I met her.

Freaky Mysterious Sea Creature

We found this freaky sea creature with 27 tentacles. I dared her to touch it, until we realized it could be venomous.

Needless to say, I’ve never met anyone like her. Even from our first meeting, we seemed to have a second language of in-jokes, a love of the natural world, and a healthy pride about our nerdy-ness. And that was only the beginning.

After a few months, it had become clear: our connection went deeper than either of us had ever imagined. We became each other’s confidant; each other’s safe haven; each other’s radiant joy.

Short version: We fell in love.

But there was a catch. She had only made a temporary commitment to stay on the Big Island. Not long in the grand scheme of things, but long enough for me to decide if it was worth going back to the mainland. Sure, I was ready to leave the Big Island even before I met her, but this changed things. A lot of reflection went into the next step of my journey, and I decided to observe how the relationship went for a few months. Were we really as compatible as I thought? I’ve learned from experience that only time and plenty of communication can reveal the truth.

Of course, you already know the decision I made. We had some pivotal conversations about it, and in the end, we decided that our relationship was worth the risk of changing the environment to a completely different state, climate, and social situation. Yes, there was fear, on both sides. We both had heartbreak in our past, but when we were honest with ourselves, we simply knew that it didn’t end there. Intuitively, I knew she was worth it. And thankfully, I do have a job that is quite mobile.

It’s like my friend Harry Jim says, “Love prevails all Trauma.”

Hawaiian bloom

It certainly did here. (Of course, he is a kahuna who kahunas, so I shouldn’t be surprised.)

So that’s the short version of how it happened. We don’t rule out living on the Big Island again someday, but I don’t think I’ll have the same lifestyle if we ever do go back. It’s not that I hate it. Hawaii profoundly changed my life. I grew in many ways during my time there, and then it came time to move on.

I know by now that, to be happy, I have to follow my path with a heart… wherever it leads.

The Future of Byteful Travel

So, now that I’m back on the mainland, what does that mean for this blog? What does it mean about my travelling adventures? Will I stop writing about Hawaii?

The Truth Beyond the Sky in La Hiki Ola kava bar library

I donated a copy of my novel to the kava bar. Positive ripples…

Far from it. I have a huge backlog of adventures to share, most of it being crisp, HD video. In fact, I’m considering pivoting this blog to more of a video-based site.

So yes. I’ll keep posting about new places I travel to, but the form might change. I’m starting to feel burnt out on writing destination-based articles. After all, I’ve been writing travel articles for this site periodically for over 7 years. And these days, my focus has shifted to writing Mythic Fiction (if you haven’t already noticed). But as I said, I’ll keep posting here, too.

Hawaii Rainbow over the jungle

With all the rain, this happens a lot on Hawaii, actually.


Paradise can be found almost anywhere if you look intently enough.

My lady and I began the year with a kiss atop a hill in San Francisco. That night, even shivering at midnight was a slice of paradise.

You know it’s funny. I never imagined that I would be willing to move for a relationship. But that’s easy to say…

Until you meet someone who’s worth it.

with love,

p.s. Pretty excited to start a new Hawaii video series, which will kick off with last year’s New Year’s Eve in Hawaii when a home-built tricopter with exploding firecrackers flew over the crowd at Uncle Roberts. (Since that’s apparently what New Year’s Eve looks like in Hawaii.) Look for that soon, and thanks again for liking and retweeting these articles. It helps more than words can say.

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5 Hard-Earned Tips for Hawaii Work-Trade (WWOOFing) that ensure Success

During my adventures on these Hawaiian Islands, I have witnessed some remarkably unconventional and intriguing ways of living—ways that aren’t nearly as common on Mainland USA.

The single most profound difference I’ve encountered on these islands is the social agreement known as Work-Trade. Before I came here, I’d never work-traded anywhere. Heck, I don’t think I’d even heard of it before, but it turned out to be the best way for me to live cheaply on the Big Island while I wrote my 2nd book. No joke.

If you’re not familiar, work-trade is a type of living situation where a person (i.e., a work-trader) does a certain type of work in exchange for lodging. This is especially common on Hawaii, where jobs can be scarce. But even beyond that, many people choose work trade for the community benefits it offers. Nowhere else in the world have I seen so many intentional communities thriving than on Hawaii, and many of my friends here believe that community living is the future (not to mention the past, too).

Before I came to Hawaii in April 2013, I thought work-trade would be a fantastic way to save money. After all, helping people with their technology in exchange for free rent, laundry, and internet service sounded like a stellar idea.

What I didn’t know at the time was how much of a growth catalyst this would be for me. I’d never lived in community before, and I was in for a bit of an adjustment. I’ve managed condense what I’ve learned into the five tips below, that, when applied, can highly improve your experience.

Five Wise Tips

  1. Be Totally Crystal Clear what your agreement is before you begin. If the agreement is 24 hours per week, please be sure of which days that entails, and exactly what that work will be. Some managers are more free-spirited than others and just want someone there to hold space, while others will micro-manage you. It’s up to you to clarify what is expected of you before you begin.
  2. Realize that agreements are up for negotiation as long as you keep an open ear and behave honorably. Some places will charge you a security deposit (or give it some other name), and I was able to cut the deposit of my first place in half by doing some extra work in exchange. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but in a place where jobs and clients can be tricky to find, saving a little extra cash is helpful.
  3. Run the Work Environment through your gut. Do you feel good about living on the same property with the person who will also be your boss? Having your manager also be your landlord is perhaps the largest mental shift associated with work-trade. Working with someone who you get along with is great in a job situation, but it’s just about mandatory when it comes to work trade. You will see that person most every day, so test for resonance before you agree to anything. If you get into an agreement with someone who simply doesn’t get you, anguish will result. However, if your manager understands what you have to offer, and you both do your part, a beautiful, highly-supportive relationship can result.
  4. Be sure you want to be part of that Community before you arrive. If the community is relatively transient, obviously you’d better be equanimous with unexpected personalities coming and going every few weeks. Do you resonate with the culture of the place? Do you enjoy the people there now? Have you noticed new people arriving that you also feel good about—or don’t? In a place with a high turnover rate, like a hostel, this is can be a double-edged sword. Know yourself.
  5. Be prepared to share Utilities like kitchen, laundry machine, and bathroom. If you haven’t had to do this before, it can be a bit of an adjustment, but usually the least of concerns, which is why I’ve placed it here at the end. If you are the kind of person who is interested in community in the first place, you will most likely adapt to this quickly.


Overwhelmingly Positive

Double Rainbow over Hana Bay, Maui

Overall, living in a various work-trade situations has been overwhelmingly positive for me. Once I adjusted, I found the work-trade situations on the Big Island to be intriguing and of a relatively low time commitment (usually less time than a part-time job).

If you’re able to land a place that really resonates with you, it can be the best decision you’ll ever make if you want to really delve deep into a place while travelling, especially in Hawaii. You’ll expose yourself to new growth experiences, many of which you can’t anticipate. Living in a community, no matter how small, has the effect of exposing elements of yourself that you can improve on, as well as revealing your greatest strengths.

A Final Word of Warning: Once you start doing this, it may be difficult to stop! When I started house-sitting in mid-2014 after living in community for over a year, I found the adjustment to living alone rather pleasant at first, but then I came to miss living in community. The social support to be found in community is powerful, even if it’s just one or two other people.

Even now as I write this, I am on the eastern side of Maui, typing inside one of the most terrific living rooms ever: a fully-enclosed geodesic dome, complete with couches and a guitars along the edge. My friend’s farm here in Hana is a wonderfully eclectic mix of sacred architecture, abundant fruit trees, and creative souls — not to mention a wonderful home base for my brief time here on Maui.

Seems I just can’t get away from community, can I? 😉

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