High Brow vs Hobo: Seeing Lifestyle Extremes in Hawaii

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After living so remotely in a corner of Hawaii while volunteering off the grid and milking goats on a permaculture property, we were eager to see what else was out there during our week-long adventure around the island. And we knew that there would likely be a dichotomy in lifestyle extremes in the process. But knowing and living these lifestyle extremes are two different things! And seeing old things with new eyes has given us new perspective.

This post was originally published in 2008. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

The Convenience of Car Travel

THE GOOD: Our first awakening was the ability to get around in a car. Wow! How easy the trip between Hilo and Pahoa became. Where Hilo was once an almost unreachable destination 40 miles and a three hour journey away, all of a sudden it was well under an hour and a beautiful drive.
Not to mention the car we are driving…a beautiful brand new Solara convertible – we are riding in luxury for the price of an economy car!

How to do that is included in my secret money-saving travel tips.

THE FLIP SIDE: We are only too aware of the negative impact that driving has on the environment. Our previous host wouldn’t even drive to Hilo to help his wife (who stays there during the week while attending school) celebrate her birthday because of the gas consumption. (This was extreme and we didn’t agree with it at all, but the thought remains with us nonetheless).
If we can, we will avoid owning a car again, and if we do have to get one it will be as environmentally friendly as possible (ie: hybrid, bio-diesel, etc). And we will only drive when we need to.


THE GOOD: Ah…to sleep at night, resting assured that centipedes won’t be attacking in the middle of a good dream. To have hot showers, flushing toilets, and unlimited power. Ahhh.

THE FLIP SIDE: I’ve become accustomed to cooler showers (with less water), so I actually haven’t taken advantage of the heat and unlimited supply of water like one who was deprived of it for two months might. And I’m quite pleased about it too. I do however feel a twinge of remorse or guilt every time I flush the toilet or use too much toilet paper, and visiting a shopping centre with fluorescent lighting abound seems garish and extravagant to me. I actually squint in the brightness, and especially at night I wonder why urban centres are so well lit….if people would only look up, the stars and the moon could light the way and provide a little inspiration and ambiance too.

Packaging and Garbage

I don’t see anything good about packaging in general. And after packing out our garbage, composting all food items, learning to live without disposable napkins and such, and recycling all bottles and jars, we were amazed at how we had been able to reduce the amount of waste we produced dramatically. We generally had one plastic grocery bag of garbage per week, if that.

Now that we’re “out”, composting is a rare sighting. Cooking dinner at the hostel the other night was depressing, as I had to throw out compost-worthy waste, and even recycling bins were hard to find. And sugar packets, coffee cups, and paper napkins are so common and in some ways unavoidable – we have likely doubled or perhaps tripled our garbage production already.

Here are some tips for going Zero Waste when you travel.


THE GOOD: Oh my gosh. Where do I start? The bevy of foods available to culinary foodies like us is a treat for all the senses. Prepared food, raw ingredients, my personal favourite – farmer’s markets, and another favourite – restaurants and cafes. It’s almost too much for the senses.

THE FLIP SIDE: It’s almost too much for the senses!

We have to keep each other in check so as not to eat everything in sight that we feel we’ve been deprived of (either by choice or necessity) over the last few months. We truly want to apply lessons learned while living the healthy life and keep the weight that we lost off. But in the land of abundant foods (and yummy and expensive ones to boot), it is a challenge.

Social Life

THE GOOD: We are both very social creatures, and have been sequestered away in a remote nook. Our social interactions have been limited to those with our hosts Rick & Iris, our land mates (Chris was pretty reclusive, but Emily was more social), the locals who we didn’t get along with too well, and the hippie community who we don’t relate to.

So finding ourselves back in travelers circles, striking up conversations at hostels, on the street, in cafes, and on the beach is a treat.

THE FLIP SIDE: While having a leisurely chat in the hostel the other day with a fellow traveler and typing away at the computer, I was enjoying the vibes of being around people. Then 15 students piled into the room, laden with baggage and waiting to check in. The quiet room and relaxed mood immediately became loud, frenzied, and overwhelming. I’m sure this is just an adjustment period, but the sensory overload can be substantial at times.

Admiring Hawaii, lifestyle extremes and all

High Brow vs Hobo

THE GOOD: What a treat to be able to live the high life (like dining at a fine restaurant) as well as appreciate the subtler things in life (like eating leftovers and fresh mangoes for dinner on the beach instead). We have stayed in expensive fancy hotels, and we have slept in the car – by choice. We feel that we can easily slip into both roles: high brow and hobo.

THE FLIP SIDE: I am sitting in a Starbucks at a ritzy (really ritzy) shopping plaza on the west side of the Big Island. We drove here past luxury mansions built practically on top of some of Hawaii’s historical landmarks, passed garishly lit artificially manicured lawns at resort entrances, and witnessed evidence of overt opulence. And in it we feel a terrible disregard for the environment we are in. The Hilton for example, has a man-made lake, in which families gleefully paddle and swim, disregarding the spectacular natural wonders on the other side (a calm ocean bay is literally mere feet away).

Why not cultivate the beautiful thick foliage indigenous to Hawaii, instead of clear cut it to have bowling greens requiring pesticides and gas lawn mowers to maintain it? Why not dim the lights just a bit, and turn them off entirely overnight when everybody sleeps? And what does “x” jewelery and “y” clothing label have to do with vacationing in Hawaii, or Hawaiian culture? Why is all this on a resort taking up beautiful space near the water on a small island with limited space to begin with?

On the other side of the island (and the spectrum), some of the “hobos” and hippies we met give the free life we are living a bad rap. They epitomize what people dislike and stereotype long-term travelers for; they often smell bad, are unkempt, have little regard for their future or the futures of their children (which are bountiful), they’re narrow minded, and hedonistic to a fault. The property and organic farm owners are often reclusive, out of touch, and unrealistic about how the world “should” live, without willingness to see a middle ground.

Having seen and lived in both of Hawaii’s lifestyle extremes, I am once again drawn to a life of balance. Can we not compost and recycle everything (and I don’t just mean throwing bottles in the recycling bin – I mean rinsing out those bottles and reusing them yourself), but still live with conveniences like power and transportation used in moderation? Can we not learn to balance our wants with our needs, and be kind to both ourselves and the environment at the same time? I know a green revolution is afoot, and I only hope that the overt waste and opulence of the Hawaii Hiltons of the world is trending downwards. These tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean are gems, and I want to see them survive for future generations to enjoy.

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4 thoughts on “High Brow vs Hobo: Seeing Lifestyle Extremes in Hawaii”

  1. As a Native Hawaiian living on the continent,it brings great joy that you brought good mana where ever you went.
    Hawaii Nei would be a better place if all Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike
    would understand this Aina-land,is all we got and we’re responsible for taking care of it.

  2. Wow – Thank you for commenting! I am incredibly flattered that I have native Hawaiians reading my blog, and that I have managed to present a compelling case for you too.
    Thank you!


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