The Spirit of Aloha

I was nineteen when I took my first solo trip. I deboarded the plane in Honolulu, Hawaii on New Year’s Day. The humidity hit me like a wall. I removed my winter sweater and watched as other passengers received perfumed leis and kisses from friends and family members. After reveling in the moment for a few minutes and stretching my cramped limbs from the long flight, a gripping terror seized me.

You are completely alone.

The idea ran wild through my mind as I collected my oversized suitcases and dragged them to the bus stand in the dark. It had begun to drizzle. I needed to catch a shuttle bus headed to the other side of Oahu on the rural North Shore, where I was renting a room for four months to attend a semester at a local university.

“You are lucky,” the round-faced woman driving the bus said as she helped heave the bags onboard. “The rain isn’t so bad this season.” She grinned. “Last year it wiped out the only road to get to Laie.”


During the two-hour ride, the kind driver helped calm my nerves with light conversation. My excitement returned and pulsed through my veins. When we pulled up to the address I’d scribbled on a piece of paper, I couldn’t suppress my smile.

The driver helped me pull my bags to the door. I knocked. And knocked again.

The thought returned. You are alone.

“Do you have a phone number?” the driver said.

I passed her the number written on the paper. My stomach churned with anxiety and fear. I listened to the ring until it went straight to voicemail.

“Well,” the driver said. “You can stay at my house. We have a couch and don’t live too far from here. We will try again in the morning.”

I blinked at her unexpected charitable offer. “Really?”

“Sure! That is the spirit of aloha. You’ll understand soon enough.”

The next day, the driver took me back over to where I was supposed to stay. A large Samoan man greeted us and led me to the small room. I threw my bags in the corner and thanked the driver for her generosity.

“Of course,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

Right after I unpacked, I made my way to the beach. I stood at a bus stop with another woman, who was scanning over her resume. Within a minute, a rickety car with a surfboard roped to the top pulled up to us.

“Need a ride?” the young Hawaiian man said. “I’m headed to Sunset.”

I looked at the woman beside me for assurance this was not an abduction in the making.

“Sure,” the woman said. “My stop is on the way.”

I paused.

“Are you coming?” the man said.

Akoni, the driver, dropped off the woman at her job interview, and we headed to Sunset Beach. He surfed as I played in the sand and watched the sun dip into the water with radiant reflections stretching to the shore.

When Akoni came back in, we headed to his family’s home for a luau party. “You need a proper welcome,” he said.

Akoni introduced me to more cousins and uncles and aunts than I could keep track of. They loaded my bowing paper plate with raw fish and seaweeds and other unidentifiable foods. Their generosity was overwhelming and intoxicating.

Akoni dropped me off in front of my new place a few hours later.

“Thank you so much,” I said. “This was the best welcome imaginable.”

Akoni smiled. “That’s the spirit of aloha.”

Perplexed, I waved as he drove off, somehow aware I would never see him again, and it didn’t matter.  

I didn’t know then what I know now. I came to learn that the spirit of aloha could be found everywhere during those four months away from home on my own in Hawaii. It gave me the foundational courage to keep exploring the globe for the years to come. It also helped me form a mindset that assumes the vast majority of people are good, well-meaning, kind, and helpful.

No matter how long or how far I have traveled in this world, I have been pleased to encounter that same familiar, unfailingly generous spirit of aloha.

Photo published with copyright permission.

Rachel Rueckert is a Boston-based freelance writer and cultural photographer. She is passionate about education, immersive travel, and cheese. Connect with her here or read more of her work at