Maui, Un-Vanilla’ed


I love to travel. From New Orleans to Bermuda to South Korea, my happy place is anywhere I’m surrounded by people and places that are different and beautiful. I have been on lots of conventional vacations, and by that I mean visiting only places listed in a guidebook and sticking to activities that family members or the concierge recommended. I feel like a lot of Maui vacationers do this, and I’m going to recommend something different.

Un-vanilla your vacation.

Think about it. You just saved up a lot of money to fly to one of the most isolated places in the world and experience Hawaiian paradise, so why would you let a book or a friend or a stranger on the internet plan your vacation for you? And yes, I do realize I’m also another stranger on the internet giving you suggestions, but, well, yeah. There’s a time and place for by-the-book vacations… Disney World, Niagara Falls, Mount Everest, sure. But Maui is one of the most beautiful and diverse places in the world and I hate to see people checking off items on their Hawaiian Vacation To-Do List instead of living in the moment and exploring the island themselves. In my opinion, the most memorable and exciting things happen when you aren’t actively trying to make them happen.

There’s nothing wrong with checking into a five star luxury hotel in Wailea and never venturing beyond the pool bar and spa, I’m just telling you that you’ll probably have more fun if you do. And if you’re up for it, I have some tips to make your trip to Maui an adventure you’ll always remember.




Maui, Unvanilla'edOne of the biggest expenses for any vacation is the hotel room. So why not try to avoid that, at least for part of your trip, and spend that extra money on a private boat rental for the day, a fancy sushi dinner or even a ticket to a neighbor island? 

Through Couchsurfing, you can create a profile, contact people that live in places you want to go, and wait to see if they will host you in their home for free. My friend and I did this for three weeks in Europe last year and saved around $1,000 each. In fact, had I not done this, I never would have salsa danced in Italy, eaten homemade strudel in Prague, visited Salvador Dali’s house in Spain, taken a cruise ship through the Mediterranean Sea or gotten sick at a bus stop in Florence. Hey, it can’t all be perfect, right?

Regardless, this is a great way to meet people and see the island from a local perspective. If you can get in touch with me and I actually own a couch by the time you make it to Maui, I may even let you stay with me.


Join In

At least for a day, pretend that you live wherever you’re visiting. Now do something you’d never do where you live. Take a hip hop class. Sing karaoke. Dance in a drum circle. Go play bingo. High five strangers. Rent a stand up paddle board. Do sunset yoga. Eat spam. Even if you end up hating it or are horrifyingly terrible, who cares! You don’t know anyone and this is an island. It’s time to live a little. 

A few months ago I went to a demolition derby. I didn’t even know that existed on Maui. But you know what? I sat on top of my roommate’s scuba school bus, watched adult bumper cars, made new friends and had a weird, wonderful, and memorable night. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.


Demolition Derby


Talk to People

Take advantage of the fact that Maui is still America and use your words! Most people you meet in any country are willing to stop, listen, and help you out. It just helps when you speak the same language.

Want to know where to watch live music on a patio, who makes the best banana bread, where you should set up a beach hammock, how to take the bus to Lahaina, or what dive bar makes the best rum punch? Ask. Anyone, everyone, it doesn’t matter. Don’t be afraid to ask people for information. I’ve met really friendly locals here that don’t mind sharing their favorite spot, and in some cases, even invited me to come with them.

From my experience, the best person to ask about anything cool is usually the bartender. Unless they’re busy, then just leave them a big tip and ask the person next to you.


South Maui View


Whatever kind of vacation you’re looking for, just remember that the ultimate goal is to enjoy yourself. Unplug, put down the to-do list, channel your inner spontaneity and stop trying so hard to have fun. It’s here.


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