“Travel allows us discovery of ourselves…” A Travel Chat with an Hawaii Insider.
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“Travel allows us discovery of ourselves…” A Travel Chat with an Hawaii Insider.

Traveler Interview:  Donna Bender   

 Born and raised in Hawaii, Donna Bender considers the islands home. She’s lived in Hawaii part-time her entire life.   

Passionate about sharing the “local” Hawaii experience as only a long-time insider can, Donna authored two guides for visitors to Hawaii.   

The Local Girl’s Guide to Maui started as a list of Donna’s favorite restaurants for her friends who were visiting. Over the years, the guide has grown to 50 pages, with every piece of information a visitor might want to know, from where to get the best manicure, snorkeling spot, or sunset views to a primer on local language and politics.   

The Local Girl’s Guide to Oahu  provides the same in-depth details on local favorites. Donna explains local food — pancit, halo-halo, or Lau Lau anyone – and gives details like where to find the best plate lunch, “Martini Madness” and half price entrees.   

If you want to see Maui or Oahu as a local does, Donna’s guides are for you.     

Sunset from the lanai of Donna's Maui Kai condo.

 Donna is also a certified Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau Destination Specialist. She books lodging and air-land-car vacation packages for Maui and all the Hawaiian islands. Her condo booking site  showcases a variety of Maui condo properties for rent.   

For a taste of Hawaii, check out Donna’s featured recipe of the week  

In addition to Hawaii, Donna’s other passion is exploring the globe, from Tanzania to Bora Bora to the Florida Keys. (We note a warm weather theme!)   

We were curious learn more about Donna’s passion for travel and Hawaii.   

The Jones: What inspires you to travel?   

Donna: Travel for me is immersing myself in a totally different culture and experience. It’s putting myself in a place that is different than my normal day-to-day life and reveling in that experience. It’s always been for me: “Can I do this? Can I navigate this?”   

Have you always enjoyed travel? What contributed to your love of travel?   

Donna: I didn’t start traveling except to and from Hawaii until I was in mid twenties and after starting to travel I was mega hooked. Once I started traveling I loved the adrenalin rush of being out of my comfort zone and learning and experiencing something new every day.   

What is your favorite destination?   

Donna: I have loved everywhere I’ve been. Because I have no expectations I am never ever disappointed when I go somewhere.   

 If you have preconceived ideas and expectations for how a country, a hotel or even a cruise should be you are setting yourself up for heartache.   

Tanzania, where I’ve been twice on safari, was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. Anthropology was my undergraduate degree so I have always been drawn to Africa. I did the safaris with Andrew Beckett Safaris, Journey into Africa and plan to do another one with Andrew before I leave this planet. Andrew is truly a life enhancer and his safaris are perfection.   

If I were to choose another place that I want to return to, having only been there twice would be Bora Bora. Gorgeous.   

What destination has surprised you the most, either good or bad?    

Donna: I wasn’t prepared for how hard Egypt was going to be. I did a tour because it was too difficult and impossible to do it on my own. What was hard was the unbearable heat and how I was treated by the majority of men that I came in contact with.   

It wasn’t easy finding Egyptian women to talk to. The women, hidden under their burkas, came out at night to do their shopping.   

Right now Egypt isn’t a destination I recommend because of the political turmoil.    

 However, it is a place to go to if you are serious about Egyptian antiquities.   

Abu Simbel Temple, built 3000 years ago blew me away. I will never forget the color of blue the Egyptians used in their jaw-dropping murals.   

Why do you think that travel is important?   

Donna: It allows us discovery: discovery of ourselves and how well or not well we handle new experiences.   

Travel is also a discovery of cultures and people who are so different yet we find to be so alike.   

A lot of people are afraid to travel because they think they need to speak French in order to go to France when in fact you can have the time of your life and only know how to say croissant!  

Donna's favorite walk, on Maui's North Shore.

You were born in Hawaii and have lived there part-time most of your life.   

What do you love most about Hawaii?     

Donna: Everything! Perfect weather. Pristine beaches. Crystal clear water.   

The most delicious and inexpensive dining, if you eat where locals eat.   The nicest, most generous and kindest people on the planet live in Hawaii.   

We want you to come to Hawaii to share our Aloha.   

What do first-time visitors to Hawaii need to know before they go?

Donna: You have to be willing to be adventurous.   

It kills me that most tourists to Hawaii only eat in chain restaurants or hotels instead of venturing in to Mom-and-Pop family-owned restaurants. Hawaii people love to eat and know how to cook.   

Hawaii is multi-cultural in that we have Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Tongans, Japanese, Samoans, Hawaiians, Mexicans, and Micronesians, all living happily together sharing culture, food and love.   

I want people who travel to Hawaii to meet “real” people in Hawaii and not just other tourists.   

Living in a hotel bubble doesn’t allow you that experience. I also want visitors in Hawaii to slow down in their cars and lives so they can drink in that sunset and palm tree and beautiful scent of a plumeria flower. I see tourists running amok, rushing around and not slowing down to enjoy what they have paid so much money to see.   

If visitors understood Hawaii culture better I think their visit would be enhanced and how Hawaii folks perceive them would be much more positive. Hawaii people have a love-hate relationship with tourism. It’s Hawaii’s only industry and we want tourists, but we also see them shopping and eating in chain stores and staying in corporate properties instead of locally owned and operated establishments.   

Hawaii needs tourists and their money, but it’s not really getting to local Hawaii people when you stay and eat at the Sheraton, Westin, Marriott, etc.   

Do you have a practice or insight that makes your travel experiences more enjoyable?   

Donna: Absolutely. No expectations.   Don’t set yourself up for a disappointing trip by having expectations for a place.   

35 years ago when I first went to Bora Bora I complained to a fellow traveler that the service wasn’t very good at this expensive hotel where we were staying.   

The traveler said to me as he picked up a napkin “You are lucky you have this napkin to wipe your face! Do you know what it took to get this napkin to you from America or France? Many planes, many boats, many people to get you this one napkin. Be thankful for everything you have when you travel.”   

Thank you Sergio Aragones, renowned cartoonist! Lesson learned.   

We enjoy learning about other people’s travel discoveries as much as making our own.            

What fuels your travel passion?  Please share in comments.         

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