Why shouldn't I move to Hawaii?
May 24, 2010 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering moving from Saint Louis, MO to Hawaii, probably near Hilo on the Big Island. What is bad about this idea?

The other askmefis I saw about this were specific to Honolulu. They said it's expensive to live there, and can be frustrating to people who aren't used to a laid back culture. I moved to Saint Louis from Los Angeles last year, so I suspect the expense is something I could get used to.

I have a wife, a year-old daughter, and two cats. We figure that the couple of years before she starts school are really the last time we'll have the freedom to just jump up and move somewhere.

My job lets me work from home, so I wouldn't need to find work in Hawaii. All I need is electricity and internet access. I get the impression that finding reliable internet access on the Big Island might be tricky, however; DSL/cable may have poor coverage, satellite has high latency, and 3G/4G have low bandwidth limits.

The general plan would be to find an cheap apartment/condo in Hilo on Craigslist and use it as a base to find a more permanent living space -- probably a cheapish house outside of Hilo. We've been looking at ads for off-grid housing which look fun.

We're not fixed on Hilo, but it seems to be a cheaper area than Honolulu, while still being a reasonably sized city for convenient access to services.

So, what am I not considering that'd make me rethink this plan? :)
posted by Kemayo to Travel & Transportation around Hilo, HI (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Hawaii imports almost everything; this makes most stuff more expensive than on the mainland.

Also it's a geologically active zone.
posted by dfriedman at 3:21 PM on May 24, 2010

Have you actually been to Hilo? It might help if we knew what you were looking for. Hilo-side is rain and jungle, with new-age hippies, artists, and stoners (in one corner), uptight white people in gated communities (in another corner), and locals that can be a bit reserved around new comers.

It's a great part of the state, but it's not the "Hawaii" most people imagine.
posted by kanewai at 3:26 PM on May 24, 2010

The big island of Hawaii is beautiful, but it's kind of like a third-world country : low-tech, poor, no real economy, rough beaches, not very touristy, lots of natives who kinda hate white people. Don't get me wrong -- for adventuring, it's absolutely phenomenal -- absolutely no place like it on earth, especially if you're into the eco-tourism thing. But it doesn't seem like a good place to live, unless you're a pot grower or a hippie intent on living on a very low-tech organic farm.

Although I should say that I'm really only familiar with the Hilo-side -- Kona-side is supposed to be a bit richer and a bit more touristy.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:28 PM on May 24, 2010

Best answer: From Hilo.

Cable is basically your only choice as far as internet provider. Oceanic Time Warner, to be exact, and coverage isn't as bad as you think. Speed might get a little low sometimes, but it's pretty reliable, but like all cable providers, occasionally maddeningly frustrating.

As far as finding temporary housing, I'd really advise you against renting an apartment in Hilo. All of the ones I know are shitholes, and it takes a special kind of poor to not live in a house in Hilo. Plus, there's not a lot of them and the chances of you running into issues with your cats is a little higher. Condo or house is much more advantageous -- finding a house to rent should not be a problem. It still may be shitty, but it'll just be your family.

As far as living outside of Hilo, I don't really know what your motives are, but just know that you need to select your area carefully. There are still enclaves of people on the Big Island (more on the south side -- Pahala, South Point, etc.) who are still extraordinarily opposed to outsiders (sometimes rightfully so), and there's also a fair deal of general retardation and meth use.

And as for living in Hilo long-term, and sending your daughter to school (in Hilo, I'm assuming), your options are pretty intensely limited. The in-town private schools, despite being private, are pretty meh. I'm a product of the public school system, and I'd like to think I'm a relative success, but consensus across the nation seems to be that Hawai'i's public school system is epically f**ked. If you have high standards, your closest option is probably HPA, halfway across the island in Waimea (and it's boarding). So maybe you want to think about this again... If you want Hawaii but with more civilization, I'd recommend Maui, or maybe Kailua (Oahu).

Hawaii is essentially a tropical version of the Midwest. Hilo is a small town -- 50k-ish people. Weather aside, is a rural Midwest town what you want?

I know I'm a little bitter, but I think I'm pretty on point.
posted by the NATURAL at 3:30 PM on May 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

The scenic beauty of the Big Island is spectacular, with enough variety in flora and landscape to keep your head spinning for weeks.

But you mention a cheapish house. Even in this current, lagging economy, housing prices in Hawaii are sky-high. In fact, they've always ranked at or near the top in most national surveys.

On the flip side, the real estate market has performed extremely well on a decade-to-decade basis. So, if you have deep pockets, you might consider a purchase, hoping that it will translate into a solid, long-term investment (and pleasant dwelling as well).
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:31 PM on May 24, 2010

On preview: No one likes Kona people. Don't be a Kona person.
posted by the NATURAL at 3:32 PM on May 24, 2010

A couple of things not mentioned, that you might want to consider in your decision:

Are you or your family allergic to anything? You have cats, so maybe not allergic to pets, but what about fine dust or insects? The Big Island has an active volcano that throws vog into the air on a continual basis, and a great many insects whose droppings some people find allergenic.

Do you like the night-time music of coqui frogs? I've been told that the chirps can be loud and perpetual, which some people have found annoying.
posted by CancerMan at 3:57 PM on May 24, 2010

My job lets me work from home, so I wouldn't need to find work in Hawaii.

While I don't know much about your situation, this raised a red flag for me. A good friend of mine here in Chicago has a job that allows lots of "work from home," though the company's offices are just out in the Chicago suburbs. Though my friend works the majority of time from home, he makes a point of going to the offices at least 1-2 times per week - because over the last 12 years he has seen time and time again that the folks who work 100% from home are the ones that get let go in the next round of downsizing. Part of that may just be his company, but I do think there's a good warning there - at the first sign of trouble, the easiest people to let go are the ones the decision makers never see in person.

So what do you do if you've decamped to an island in the middle of the ocean, where life is expensive, and your "work from home" job decides the guy halfway around the world is now expendable?
posted by dnash at 4:21 PM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've vacationed in Hawaii, many times and many different places. I always loved it, and the islands are definitely among my most favorite places in the world to visit. But here's what I discovered when my sister moved to the Big Island/Hilo-side: I would not want to live there. Peeps above have listed several reasons, but the main one for me is that massive, oppressive heat and humidity. On vacation I don't mind it at all. I revel in it as I soak in a pool, swim in the ocean, or sip a fruity cocktail. But when trying to get real life stuff done -- like, shopping, helping my sister move in, dealing with mundanities like getting gas or weeding the garden or driving to the Kona side to pick up something you can't get in Hlio -- it turns out I hate it. It saps all my energy.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:25 PM on May 24, 2010

I live on Oahu and am considering a similar move to Puna (the area south / south-east of Hilo) in the next few years. Compared to other areas /islands land is pretty cheap in Puna, newish houses (sometimes poorly constructed) are plentiful, etc. You just need to be really selective with regards to exactly where you live -- the subdivision itself and even down to the specific lot. Your immediate neighbors constitute the biggest component of "a nice place to live".

I highly recommend you check out the Puna Web forums as they have been extremely helpful for me in getting to know the lay of the land there, etc. This is NOT an easy move and I think you might be surprised to find that the windward side of the Big Island is not what you picture in your mind as "Hawaii" but it could very well still be for you.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 4:35 PM on May 24, 2010

Response by poster: dnash: That's not a concern in this case. I'm already working 100% from home -- my company is in LA, and I'm in Saint Louis. There's actually not *any* of the developers who work in-office at HQ. :) (We're spread out across the US and Europe.)
posted by Kemayo at 4:45 PM on May 24, 2010

I would scout out the job market for your industry in Hawaii. If you lose your job, or your wife wants a job (or her job isn't transferable) you could be in a bad place - transporting a family + pets overseas while unemployed could drain even a healthy emergency fund.
posted by fermezporte at 5:47 PM on May 24, 2010

You would be about 8000 miles away from the Schlafly Bottleworks.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:03 PM on May 24, 2010

Hilo itself is a sleepy little town, but big enough to absorb an outsider. The likelihood of your having problems with xenophobic locals in Hilo itself are slim to none. But although I've always loved visiting Hilo, it's just too damn slow for my tastes. Also, I'm not convinced that Hilo life, all together, would be substantially cheaper than Honolulu.

Another thing: the vog on the Big Island seems to have gotten considerably worse in the last year or so. I was just in Kona this weekend, and while Saturday was near perfect, Sunday was unbelievably voggy. People may snicker at "voggy," but as someone who has probably still not coughed up all the soot and crap I inhaled in my L.A. childhood in the seventies, I can confirm that it gets REALLY bad over there. If either of you have respiratory problems, this could be a serious problem. This page seems to have some info on the problem.
posted by lex mercatoria at 6:18 PM on May 24, 2010

Response by poster: To clarify a few things!

I've only been to Hawaii once before, and it was a touristy visit to Honolulu. I'm trying to make a conscious effort to not think of the state in general as being that way. Though the general equatorial-island climate is one of the big appeals.

General motive behind Hilo is that it seems to have cheaper housing than much of Hawaii. Also, we've been talking about building our own energy-efficient/eco-friendly house for a while now, and the area seems friendly to that.

No allergies that any of us know of.
posted by Kemayo at 6:27 PM on May 24, 2010

If you are used to life in metropolitan areas like LA and St. Louis, please consider that in comparison the big island will be VERY VERY RURAL and, as you are on an island in the middle of the Pacific, there is no easy take-a-three-hour-drive-into-town solution. My friends who moved to Maui referred to it as 'Island Fever,' not the actual bug-bite thing, but an anxiety and sense of isolation that can set in 4-6 months after the move. It wears off, you can adapt, but it can take you by surprise and fill you with doubt about your decision in a way that it does not seem like a beautiful island paradise should be able to do.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 7:48 PM on May 24, 2010

Public education in Hawaii in general, and the Neighbor Islands in particular, is greatly inferior to probably anywhere else in America. So your daughter's intellectual development will suffer in comparison to her peers elsewhere unless you send her to a pricey private school (which is still no guarantee of educational adequacy) or home school her. Also, the few jobs available here are mostly in the hotel/tourism industry, so if your job disappears, it's pretty slim pickings. Social services to help the unemployed/homeless have taken a huge hit since the economy tanked, and in Honolulu at least it seems like there are more and more F.O.B (fresh off the boat) people who came here only to discover they can't survive on the pittance they get from unemployment. So they become homeless and live on the streets or in a public park.
I'd think this through VERY thoroughly before you commit; it's a long way back to the West Coast, and further back to St. Louis.
posted by motown missile at 11:37 PM on May 24, 2010

$6.50/gallon milk? Not sure that's up to date, but i remember being shocked by some prices.
posted by salvia at 7:10 AM on May 25, 2010

An actual visit to Hilo may solidify your decision to do this, or it may make you realize how unfeasible it really is. Is there any way you can arrange something like a house swap and stay for a month or so?

I agree with the poster who points out that moving would be a huge commitment, very expensive to undo. And you don't know how it's going to be for your child. It's not even (to me) the schools so much as living in an isolated area. Lots of people live out in the country/off the grid with kids and it works out to whatever degree. It may be good for your family, and it may not. For some, living in an isolated area becomes a nightmare when you reach the age where your family is no longer your social life. How much effort are you willing to put in to make this work? Are you ready to fight teenage battles out in the woods somewhere with none of the escape hatches accessible in a more populous area? Or if the school really doesn't work out, is there a backup plan of any kind at all for you? If you are in Vermont or North Carolina or someplace you can at least move a couple hours away if you need to. From Hilo you could more to Honolulu but again, expensive. I would say, do this if you have a very heartfelt reason, but not if you are under the impression that it's going to be convenient.

That said, I love the Big Island. It is... well, big compared to the others, and there are open spaces and the beauty is truly haunting. Do visit if at all possible. Try reading Garrett Hongo's book Volcano.
posted by BibiRose at 8:19 AM on May 25, 2010

I've only been to Hawaii once before,

If you're going to upend your family for a period of [N] years, you need to find a way to take a couple of weeks or a month, go to Hilo, and get a better feel for what it would be like to live there.

And you've gone from talking about living there for a couple of years while the kid's still under school age to maybe building a house, which is a much bigger commitment of time and money. If you've ever wandered through your local builder's supply place and thought about how much lumber and tile and wallboard and pipes and whathaveyou cost, then think about how much more all that's going to cost in a place where it all has to come by ship.

I haven't been to the Big Island since I was a kid; I grew up on Oahu. Now I live on the mainland at I often encounter people who say things like "Oh, how could you ever live anywhere else? It's so beautiful there!" It is. It's also small and very far away from anywhere else. If you get in your car to go for a drive, you're still going to be on the island. You'd better like wrangling a baby/toddler on airplanes, because that's how you're going to get from Hawaii to anyplace else.

I really don't want to tell you "don't do this,", but you really need to commit to exploring the actually reality of living there - which you can't do based on one visit to Oahu and the opinions of a bunch of people on the internet - before you commit to living there.
posted by rtha at 12:14 PM on May 25, 2010

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