First stop, Hawaii.

It’s funny how you remember the first few moments of a big decision. I was downstairs, running on the treadmill, and I saw a notification from The Flight Deal on my phone. $459 for a round trip flight to Honolulu. Pausing my workout, I ran upstairs to dad, and asked whether it was a good deal. The thing is, I was pretty much already on board (pun intended). A few weeks prior, I watched a helicopter’s dash cam as it flew above the Nā Pali coast in Kauai, and I just knew that one day I’d be there. In my mind, the world gave me a sign. A week later, I took off to Hawaii.

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My first mission was to explore Oahu, and there was no better place to start than at Diamond Head. After taking a morning stroll over, I began the ascent – quickly realizing that hiking in New York is vastly different from hiking in Hawaii. I’m embarrassed to say, it kinda kicked my butt. Granted, I should have eaten something first, waited until it wasn’t the hottest time of day, and perhaps bought a real bottle of water, but que sera sera. The view from the top is totally worth it – it’s magnificent. Plus, there’s a charming trolley that can shuttle you home, bringing you past some cool sights along the way (think Hawaii 5-0).

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Oahu is known for its amazing surfing, and I am known for watching hot men surf (am I right!?). On the way up to Waimea Bay up on the north shore (everything is about an hour drive, btw), I stopped at the birthing stones, which is a lovely stop about half way, and then at the legendary Giovanni’s shrimp truck farther up. Word of advice, get the garlic. If you want to try the hot, ask for some on the side. I opted to stop by on a different day, the ballsy gal that I am, and torture myself by losing feeling in my mouth for over an hour… after only two shrimp. Trust me – ‘no pain, no gain’ doesn’t apply here.

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During my visit, the island got some gnarly swells (yes, I said that), and my dive with the sharks got canceled. The bright side of that was being able to catch some better-than-usual surfing. I noticed that within the islands, it’s perfectly acceptable to pull over (out-of-the-way), and simply stop to admire the waves – some of my favorite moments were made by some of these impulsive pullovers.

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Ahhhhhh the moment we’ve all been waiting for!! (Okay, side chat: I traveled for seven months, non-stop practically, and this is the first time I’m going back, looking through pictures, and reliving the experiences. Pardon my over-excitement). Yaaassss, it’s time. Today was the day I skipped over to Kauai to take a helicopter ride over the coast! Believe the hype. There is a reason they filmed Jurassic Park here, Pirates of the Caribbean here, Just Go With It here… it’s unimaginably stunning. And yes, totally worth paying extra to sit up with the pilot. Honestly, it takes your breath away.

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My time on Kauai was short, but lovely… on to the next!

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Ahhhh, Maui. Not all honeymooners, it turns out! So, I jumped in my jet black mustang (come at me, bro), and hit the road. To start my journey on the Road to Hana, I drove north around the coast and headed back around to the west (covering the less traveled area first). Really amazing how the landscape changes. Less amazing how I felt every bump. Dammit, mustang.

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The Pipiwai Trail was my first major stop, and boy was it a good one. On my way to Waimoku Falls, a 400ft waterfall, I passed one of the most beautiful banyan trees I have ever seen, followed by a magnificent bamboo forest. The waterfall is definitely a sight to see, and the 4 mile “hike” is really just a nice walk.

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At the start of the trail, you also had the option of walking down a different path to visit the Pools of ‘Ohe’o. If you brought your bathing suit, this was a cool place to take a dip. I did not, since I didn’t have an awesome blog post like this to inform me.

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Okay.. are you listening? I want… no, I need you to hear me on this one. Do you want the best damn chicken on your life? Good. On Kōkī Beach, there is a woman who cooks in a shack there. Go to her. It’s also right next to the red sand beach, which is also pretty awesome. Two birds, one stone. You’re welcome.

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The Waianapanapa black sand beach was another stop I made, which didn’t disappoint. Oh, and if you see a banana bread stand on the road, get some. Back to the beach: there is a natural cave that was fun to go in – don’t be scared! But also, don’t go in when the water is too high.. because, you know.. #awkward.. the caves they promote are cool too, sort of. Moving on…

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The town of Lahaina gets a lot of attention, but I didn’t really see the magic. I did get some amazing shave ice from Ululani’s, meandered a charming outdoor arts fair, and did a submarine ride to see the underwater wildlife, but not much else stood out. At night, the area felt either romantic (nope), or frat party-ish (yeah, but nope.. not solo). Seeing the purposely sunk ship during the dive was pretty awesome though.

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You want to party? Go to the triangle in Kihei. After having a fancy dinner and chatting it up with some business travelers at MonkeyPod, I stumbled upon a few locals who praised ‘the triangle’ – eight shit-show bars in, you guessed it, a triangle. My  favorite? Dog & Duck. While the night gets a tad hazy from here, I met a bunch of cool people, with an awesome guy named Cameron being the highlight. Although Maui was originally just a pit stop on my way to the big island, I’m really glad I made it.

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The big island often gets overlooked, but god dammit, its super cool. Granted, the landscape is dark, and you have an ominous layer of smog in the air because of the volcano, but you also have a few things that you can only do here. Best example being, Mauna Kea, the place where they discovered the first planet. The first of my most anticipated activities was driving up to the top (not the top top, but the visitor station), and stargazing at one of the clearest sites in the world. As you drive up, make sure to catch the sunset, and cruise above the clouds. It’s stunning. However, keep in mind that the higher you drive, the more layers of clothing you need to put on… at the station, 9.2k feet up, it can be extremely cold. Once you get there though, it’s remarkable. I find it hard to explain how it feels to see that many stars in the sky.

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The swells were still too high during my next day to go for my second highly anticipated activity, so I decided to drive around the island, explore, and check out the active volcano. I’d like to be really honest, and let you know that I did not care for the volcano. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen stream rise from the ground (as well as from the streets nearly every day in NYC), but it was quite the bore. What wasn’t a bore, was stumbling upon the Kaumana Caves.

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Holy $#!/ this place was dark. Keep in mind, this isn’t really a tourist attraction, so there’s no security there to provide you with a headlamp, a walking stick, or a helping hand if you get lost, slip, or get stuck. Armed with my iPhone light, I climbed down the ladder and entered the darkness (I’m sorry, mom!!) At this point, three shirtless men wearing headlamps ran past, and I did my best to keep up. Despite my best creeping skills, I failed. So, there I am, walking around 2 miles underground, alone, in an unsecured tube where lava once scorched its way through the earth. Suddenly, I heard something clatter against the ground behind me. Turning around, I caught a glimpse of something flash by, disappearing behind the previous bend. I called out, but no one answered. As you could probably guess, I’m now freaking out, and remembering every horror story I’ve ever seen – most notably, The Descent. Fantastic!

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Turns out, I met the guy who scared the bejesus out of me on my way out (coincidentally, I had scared the bejesus out of him). After a quick chat, him, his wife, and I decided to explore the second tunnel together. While the wife stayed back upon encountering a challenging roadblock, him and I continued on, scooting underneath a low lava pillar. After walking about a mile inside, he decided to head back, and I continued on (because I’m a badass, y’all). Yeahhhhh. Five minutes in, I realized how deep underground I was, freaked out, and ran after my new buddy. Turns out, he did something similar, and ran out as well – which means, we are now two fools running after each other, but it’s too damn dark to see each other. To wrap this all up, as I approach the light at the end of the tunnel (ha!) I hear him telling his wife how “she continued! Alone! Can you believe that?!” Sadly, I then scrambled out after him, assuring them both that I am not as cool as he made me sound, and that I, in fact, was terrified mere moments after he left my side. Recommended, but recommended with a buddy system. The mind plays mean tricks in pitch dark, eerily quiet places.

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In addition to the Nā Pali coast and the Mauna Kea summit, the third (and final) bucket list item was swimming with the manta rays. Thankfully, those swells I keep mentioning died down on my last day, and they cleared the trip. Geared up in wetsuits, we sailed out, and waited for the sun to set. Fun fact about manta rays: they feed on plankton. Plankton are attracted to light. With a large enough group of people, all armed with industrial flashlights, we can draw the plankton into a nice, centralized area, and, as a result, the manta rays.

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If you don’t know what a manta ray is, think of an extremely large stingray (no, that is not me in the picture below). These creatures are incredibly graceful, and seem to perform a ballet routine beneath the water. I snorkeled and witnessed this amazing experience from the top. Next time I will definitely opt to dive, admiring their beauty from below.

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Alas, it was time for me to head back to Honolulu. While I loved all of the islands, Oahu was the one I could actually see myself living on. Besides the fact that it is beautiful, you also have two very important perks: great people and delicious food. I found myself at Yard House a few times, which is an excellent bar in Waikīkī – outstanding beer selection, friendly service, great food (and good-looking people.. ahem.. men.. military men). I mean, try the poke stack! It’s delicious! That’s what’s important!

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No, but seriously. I met some amazing people here… from late night cruising and stargazing on private property with Damon, to long, emotional talks accompanied by an abundance of drinks with Issac – the trip wouldn’t have been the same without them. Speaking of military, I stayed at Outrigger Reef Waikīkī Beach right off of the base – it’s a wonderful (yet affordable) hotel with a fantastic location.

I mentioned good food. If you’re in the mood for Mahi tacos, try them at Rum Fire, which is right on the beach. Moco loco? Go loco… and by loco, I mean local (hey – I tried). Since you are in Hawaii, you’ll also have to have the spam musubi, but I’m not saying you’ll have to like it.

Another amazing thing to do in Honolulu are the Pearl Harbor Historical Sites. Try and pick a sunny day to visit, as seeing the submerged U.S.S. Arizona, distinctly, was breathtaking. Learn and explore, then head back to Waikiki and visit Barefoot Bar at Hale Koa to watch the sunset (they also have great mojitos), and chatting with the military, at this popular off-base bar.

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I think that wraps it up! Hawaii was my first stop on my worldwide adventure, and it was a fantastic place to start – especially for my first time traveling alone. From the moment the plane took off from JFK I knew I loved the freedom – it only takes that first big decision to make a world of a difference.

Good luck out there.

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