In January of 2021 I travelled to Honolulu, Hawaii where I spent three weeks working remotely. It was a memorable and rejuvenating experience which I also judged to be safe and responsible.
I decided to somewhat shift gears for my next post. Part of the plan behind my latest venture was to travel for more extended periods of time and work remotely from different corners of the globe. To say that the COVID-19 pandemic made this more complicated would be an understatement.
But, I finally had my chance to realize this plan in January of 2021 when my wife and I decided to spend 3 weeks in Honolulu, Hawaii. I decided to share my experience with you.
Working abroad wasn’t super convenient but it was doable. I am fortunate to have a flexible schedule. It took a few days to find a good rhythm as for when to work and for how long, especially when tempted by all the wonderful things to do in close vicinity. I eventually decided that working in the morning was most suitable for me so that I could get it out of the way and enjoy the rest of my day. My wife did not have the same schedule flexibility as I did and she unfortunately had a few long days and early mornings. But thankfully, I think she also adjusted.
When it comes to jet lag, I have read that it takes one full day to adjust for one hour of time difference. This is likely dependent on the individual as it took me more than two weeks to adjust for the 5 hour time difference, and soon after it was time to fly back.
Overall, remote work away from home requires one to address multiple logistical challenges but it is worth if it means getting to spend more time at your destination.
Travel during the Pandemic
Traveling during the pandemic is certainly not the same as it was before. The decision over whether to travel is a decision that everyone has to make for themselves based on one's own risk tolerance. It requires carefully coordinating various rules and restrictions both at your destination and when you return home.
The state of Hawaii takes pandemic precautions seriously and at the time of this writing, they have had the lowest case rate among all the 50 states in the US. A negative COVID test is required within 72 hours of boarding your flight for the final leg of the trip. The test needs to be performed specifically with one of the state’s trusted partners labs. I perform COVID tests all day as part of my day job, but the lab used by my practice was not on the list of those acceptable.
We opted to use the “Vault” lab to perform our test. This was a saliva based test that needs to to be performed in front of supervisor via a Zoom conference call. They can guarantee results within 72 hours as long as you carefully follow the directions. The process of performing the test is not difficult but the awkwardness of spitting into a tube on camera is amplified by the pressure to not mess it up and risk not getting your result in time. If you are traveling with a group, it is possible that the results may come back at different times. I received my result early in the morning before our flight but my wife’s result was nowhere to be seen, which resulted in a panicked call to the customer service line. Thankfully her result arrived in the early afternoon.
Once we arrived at the Honolulu Airport, the screening process took no more than 15 minutes. On the ground, mask compliance in public was widespread, as is what we have come to expect at home. There were noticeably fewer people on the streets compared to our previous visit. Otherwise, things seemed fairly normal. Beaches and hiking trails were lively but not overcrowded. Most restaurants and shops, with the exception of bars, were open.
We paid a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center where we enjoyed a traditional luau. The food is typically served buffet style but was instead served by the staff. This was followed by a broadway style show, which was a nice taste of normal. Precautions were taken off course. In addition to being held in an outdoor amphitheater, the audience was well spaced out. There was an additional safety measure that I had not seen before. Each member of the cast was outfitted with a clear see through mask The masks were not exactly discreet, as they often visibly fogged up from the performer’s breath. But if this is what’s necessary for the return of performing arts then it’s a compromise I will gladly accept.
What to eat
The incredible array of local food offerings is one of the highlights of any Hawaii trip and it is easy to get carried away, The traditional cuisine is heavy on local Polynesian specialities and crops, many of which we got to sample at our Luau, These include Kalua pork, Lomilomi Salmon, Poi. You will not find the word “tuna” used, “Ahi” is the only word used for it. The local crops; “canoe crops” as they are known from being brought over on canoes by the early Polynesian settlers: coconut, banana, breadfruit, taro.
The local farmers markets offer a vest arrow incredibly ripe mangos, papaya, local avocados and perfect pineapples. Easy to make new discoveries, such as the soursop or “eggfruit” (a somewhat mealy custardy fruit that needs to be eaten at peak ripeness.)
What to see and do
Here there was no shortage of things to do. On Oahu, you have access to some perhaps the most famous beach in the world (Waikiki) to world class hiking destinations (Diamond Head) and perhaps the world’s most famous snorkeling location (Hanauma Bay). The latter two recently reopened after an extended pandemic related closure. Crowds still small and capacity is restricted.
I discovered the sport of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). Looks a bit similar to surfing (both sports were invented in Hawaii). As the name implies, it involves balancing yourself on a large board and paddling along the waves. A bit of a learning curve involved here as well as a private lesson in my case. I’ll be the first to admit that I fell off the board multiple times, but once you get the hang of it, the idea of being able to stand up on the waves is thrilling.
Snorkeling and free diving in Hawaii is amazing. It does help to develop some technique but once you do before you know it you will have the confidence to swim further out and take longer and deeper dives. Have your underwater camera ready and be ready for an array of tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and even sharks. Don’t worry the sharks were harmless, you can see them with one of the catamaran tours that leave off the island’s north shore.
To sum it up: for those that are interested in working remotely, if you are able to work out the logistics, then Hawaii is a terrific option. Wish I was still there rather then dealing with all the snow we are getting on the east coast these past few weeks. Plenty of opportunity for sunshine, fresh air and unforgettable outdoor activity. The island of Oahu is not that big, takes an hour or so to drive from one end to the other. This means that there will be plenty of time to do the things you want to do and still balance that out with the work.
In terms of the pandemic, Hawaii has the lowest COVID infection rate among the 50 states of the US. In order to keep it safe it requires cooperation and responsibility on behalf visitors. If that is something you're willing to do then you will find plenty of locals and businesses eager to welcome you back to this side of paradise.