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Retirement and Hawaii-Bound


How many of us dream of packing up our belongings and moving to Hawaii? The lure of endless sunshine, warm temperatures, seeing the ocean every day, and living close to nature are powerful pulls.

How many of us actually make that change? Blogger Laura and husband Brett are one couple that left rainy and chilly Portland for the perpetual summer of Kauai. After a few years of diligent research, serious downsizing, and a willingness to make major lifestyle adjustments, they made their dream a reality.

Laura is a regular reader of Satisfying Retirement. I asked her to share her story. She graciously agreed and has provided me with a wealth of information. Her own blog, The Occasional Nomads, provides a fascinating glimpse into all aspects of living over 2,600 miles from the mainland.

With her permission I am going to take parts of her past posts and e-mails to me and reproduce them here. I will add some of my own comments to her narrative. Some of what she has to share is what I expected: expenses are high but the climate is spectacular and worth the adjustments.

Her experiences also tell of having to undergo changes in diet, learning to make do when needed, living within the limits of an island environment, fitting in with the local culture, and give serious thought to bringing pets along.

Hawaiian cove
I will admit to being a lover of all things Hawaiian. I have been to all five of the major islands, both on business and for pleasure, at least 15 times. When I step off the plane I immediately feel at home. The softness of the air, the smells, the friendliness of the people, and the slower lifestyle have very strong appeal to me.

Several times Betty and I have toyed with the idea of relocating for at least part of each year.

I was excited to learn all about Laura and Brett's adventure and now, to share it with you. Even if you have never thought of such a move, many of their experiences can be applicable to any relocation or major lifestyle change.

Here is Laura's story:

I recently wrote on my blog about how and why we chose to retire to Hawai'i: The Occasional Nomad. We're different from many retirees who dream of Hawai'i because we chose it from a purely analytical standpoint versus having come here on vacation (although both my husband and I had both been here, but not together or on a family vacation).

Living in Hawai'i is very different from vacationing here. The transplants I know that have been successful have spent long stretches here versus basing their move only on positive vacation experiences.

If you want to come, research, research, research what it's actually like to live here and then research some more. So You Want To Live In Hawai'i by Toni Polancy. I don't know how recently it's been updated, but there is still lots of solid information on living here, choosing an island, as well as a chapter specifically about retirement. 

You can find out what things cost here - read the local food circulars; sign up for forums to discuss Hawai'i issues. Again, living here is different. If you still want to come, then start planing, planing, planing. And keep researching. A move overseas to Hawai'i is great motivation to downsize and get rid of the flotsam and jetsam in your life. Less really is more here.

Do I Have To be Rich To Move To Hawaii?

You don't have to be wealthy to live in Hawai'i, but you do need a steady, solid retirement income. You have to be adaptable and be prepared to live in a different way than you did back on the mainland. Be prepared to change, from how you live to what you eat to how you interact with others. The LAST thing anyone, local or otherwise, wants to hear here is, "well, back in xxx, we did it this way." Talk to transplants and locals about what they love about living here, and what they see as positives and negatives. Here is another post I wrote that discusses how we manage to live in such an expensive place on a fixed income: How We LIve In Such An Expensive Place. Again, less really is more here.

Do you want to rent or buy in Hawai'i? Almost everyone advises that you rent for at least a year before purchasing a home here, to make sure you want to stay before making the huge commitment of a home purchase. Besides being very expensive, homes here require LOTS of maintenance ("salt never sleeps"). We have been renting since we arrived, and currently have no intention to buy. We are enjoying the freedom from worry and other issues that renting has brought, and our housing needs will change again in a couple of years when our youngest daughter heads off to college, so we're glad to not currently be owning anything.

How About Fitting Into The Community?

Be prepared to have it take a while to make friends here. Locals have been seeing transplants come and go for years (most transplants don't last a year), so they take their time and make sure you're going to stay for the long haul before they open up (they're still very friendly and helpful in the meantime). We've made friends with other transplants/retirees.

I know our situation is a bit different from many: military retiree, older parents, etc. but our move to Hawai'i has been very positive for us. We can't imagine living anywhere else now.

How About Our Dog. Can We Bring Her?

Sadly, we relinquished our pets before we moved. It was NOT an easy thing to do, and might seem heartless to some, but it was the right thing to do for our pets. We knew from our research that it would be very difficult to impossible to find a rental here if we had a pet, so that was part of our consideration. Neither of the two homes we've lived have allowed pets, and we consider ourselves fortunate to have gotten chosen as renters for each one - the rental market here is very tight (I highly recommend that people start reading the Craigslist housing list daily once they think they want to move here - it's a real eye-opener on costs, what's available, and how few properties allow pets).

Still, even if we had planned to bring our dogs, two elderly pugs, the strong recommendation from our vet (who had lived in Hawai'i) is that we did not move them as either the upfront requirements or quarantine would have been very hard on them. And, it turned out we most likely couldn't have brought them anyway, at least at first, because many (if not most) airlines would not accept the breed for transport. We were gratefully able to re-home our beloved dogs into loving families using a rescue organization. It was more difficult to find a new home for our 11-year old cat, but one of our daughter's friends stepped forward and she also sends us pictures and videos - Lily adjusted well to her new home and is happy and doing well.

A period of quarantine is still required, but you can now take care of everything up front before you move, and your pet will be checked at the airport and released if all is in order. It's still very expensive - people we know have paid on the average $1000 per pet to get them admitted (you also pay for quarantine - it's not cheap either). Again, this is an area where people need to do their research and decide what they want to do.

Do you ever get island fever - The need to get off island?

 So far we haven't suffered from 'island fever.' One thing that you discover when you live here is that each part of the island is very unique, and has its own microclimate and culture. And, you become accustomed to driving shorter distances. So, a trip up the north side feels very far away and different from how it is where we live (on the east side, in Kapa'a). Same for heading down to the south or west sides. It makes the island seem a whole lot bigger than it really is.

We usually get in 2-3 trips off island every year though. This year we went to the Grand Canyon/Sedona during spring break (so got to do some driving then), then made a short visit over to Oahu in June, and later this month I'm taking my daughter back to college in Massachusetts (so far from home!) with a stop in Denver on the way back to visit my mom. Last year two of our daughters and I went to Japan in the spring, and then my husband took our oldest daughter to college in Oregon in the fall followed by a road trip with his sister down the California coast to Los Angeles which gave him his 'driving fix.' Anyway, so far we've never felt 'trapped' here, and have discovered there's nothing like coming to Kaua'i and knowing you are home.

Brett spent 22 years in the navy, and we did a LOT of traveling then, back and forth across the country. He said he's gotten his fill of driving, but I could see us doing some RV travel, maybe in a few years. We've talked about renting an RV and seeing some places we missed when we lived on the mainland (national parks, etc.).

A heartfelt mahalo to Laura and Brett for sharing their experiences. The ability of middle class folks to successfully relocate to the islands might encourage others to consider the move. But, Laura makes it clear that lots of research is required, as well as some basic changes in living and consumption habits. I urge you to check out her blog and read the posts for more details.

For Betty and me, the deal breakers are both the distance from family and the pet situation. We could be separated from our family for two or three months a year, since we already do that while on RV trips, but not as full time residents. And, for us there is no way we could give Bailey away or put her through the air travel or quarantine system. So, an occasional two week escape to Hawaii remains our option. 

How about you? Does this post give you any ideas? Do you see yourself living the island lifestyle? I look forward to your comments.

Hawaiian waterfall

In the meantime, Aloha!


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