The clear blue water lapped over my feet as I sat in my beach chair just off-shore. The mountains towered behind me and a palm tree lent a little shade. From this vantage, I could watch my toddler in his goggles diving under water again and again, smitten by the fish. I could keep my legs cool and grab the baby at a moment’s notice as he splashed in front of me. I smiled as my husband threw our toddler into the water and heard his squeals of glee. This was why we had come to Kauai—for uninterrupted family time. As I thought about how much we all were benefiting in this break from the norm, my aunt walked over and plopped down in a chair next to me. She smiled, and her lips said it all. This was paradise, and we were living it together.
Mom + dad + two kids = what we think when we hear the term “family travel.” Although families, including my own, are redefining what the word “family” means when traveling to Hawaii these days.
Earlier in the year my husband and I hatched a plan to introduce our boys to Kauai. We had never taken the kids; it was an oversight that needed to be remedied. As usual, we extended an invitation for our families to join us. We had no takers. That is, until my aunt popped up saying “I’ll go! I’ll go!”
My Aunt Barb is a single woman with no children of her own. But here is the kicker: She isn’t related to me at all, but she is most definitely a member of my family.
In a modern world of locked doors and anti-tribe attitudes, when my parents were first starting out a few decades ago, they opened their home to students, church friends, and other young professionals. In doing so, they built their own tribe to raise their children. “Aunties” and “Uncles” surrounded me. My “Aunt” Barb was one of those church friends. I grew up with her, and you know what, we all decided to keep her. I am now closer to her than any of my blood relatives. My sister and I fight over who gets to take care of her when she is older. Family really is however you define it.
This type of family unit isn't surprising on the island of Kauai. As any parent who has seen the Disney film Lilo and Stitch
, “ohana” means family in the Hawaiian language. Family is important as a single unit but also as a community. Family takes care of each other. And bringing my Aunt Barb along for a magical experience on one of our favorite islands was made all the more sweet by the generous welcome we received everywhere we went. No one cared that she wasn’t the mom, or blood aunt of me or my children. We were simply a family exploring the foods, waters, and lush landscape surrounding us.
But what do you do with your 60+ year old aunt when you have brought her to a tropical island? Well, first you take her up in a helicopter tour
with you and your kids. Yes, we did it with a 10-month old, a three-year old, two 30-something parents and my 60+ year-old aunt. It was incredible! She was blown away. My toddler is still talking about it. He wants to know when he can go again.
Next you take her to some of the best beaches on the island. Ke’e
, and Anini
topped our list. We snorkeled, we watched the sunset, and we jumped around, all the while trying to avoid getting sunburned. We toured taro fields, the Kilauea Lighthouse
, and Waimea Canyon
. I even brought the whole gang to a luau, another first for most of the family, including my aunt. We stuffed ourselves silly, let the kids run in the grass and enjoyed the show.
Speaking of food, we ate a lot. The one thing my aunt, husband and I all have in common is that we love to eat when we travel. We will try most anything once. My aunt doesn’t get great seafood in her town, so when she hit the island, we knew what we had to find her; fish, fish and more fish. It wasn’t hard. The island is full of delicate white fish, coconut shrimp and fish tacos. We rounded out this fish-a-polooza with Kalua pork, shave ice, and a few pounds of fresh fruit. Soursop was in season and made for great smoothies.
Now eating, sitting on the beach and exploring an island sounds simple enough, but it did take some work. When adding anyone to a trip, especially an extra family member, you want to make sure you talk ahead of time about expectations. My aunt likes to plan beforehand. This was invaluable knowledge for me as I played tour guide. I had a list of things I knew she was interested in. We worked our way down the list, fitting in more when my children’s nap schedules and whims allowed, and dialing it back for a little more time playing on the beach when everyone demanded it. We kept the communication open. If anyone wasn’t happy or wanted to do something else they spoke up.
My own little family is now complete, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have room for extra relatives. I’m happy to report our trip with my aunt was a smashing success, and she is eager to travel with us again. Each trip with extended family, and family friends, has its own stresses and joyful moments, but in the end, you are still family. As long as you remember that you love each other and make your relationship the priority, not any troubles you may have along the way, then you can bet your trip will be successful.
On our last day my aunt and I left the kids with my husband so we could run into town for a coffee. We ended up having breakfast. It was the little bit of catch-up time we both craved and needed after a whirlwind week together. I checked in with her to make sure she’d had a good time and if there was anything we could have done better. There was nothing. We sat on the lanai of Hanalei Coffee Roasters watching the locals and travelers move by. No one was rushing. Everyone just took in the warm breeze floating through the air, enjoying their day and life on island time.
Keryn Means doesn’t believe in leaving the family behind when she travels, and she blogs about her family travel experiences at adventures on Hawaii Island as a pregnant woman with some serious fruit cravings. I fully expect Keryn and her family will manage another visit to Hawaii sooner rather than later.