Searching for Old Hawaii with Dad on my Shoulder

I fell in love with Hawaii when I was a kid growing up in small-town Ohio … thanks to my Dad. He loved all things Hawaiian.

A few days ago we embarked on our third Round the World trip, and for the third time our path has taken us through Hawaii – by design. And as much as I appreciate the modern, high-rise elegance of Waikiki, it’s the lone, 1920s pink bungalow that’s wedged between 20-story hotels, that makes me smile.

My father’s passion was the music. He would hum, sing, or whistle his way through all the popular Hawaiian songs of the day.

At Christmas he was just as likely to croon Bing Crosby’s version of “Mele Kalikimaka” as “Silent Night.” He even owned a ukulele … and that made him very cool.

Hawaii was all the rage with my friends, too. My best friend’s father turned their entire basement into a Hawaiian Tiki Lounge, complete with a grass-skirt-covered bar, coconut monkey heads, rattan furniture, a juke box that played only Hawaiian 45s, and a pinball machine. It was magical!

I was always captivated by the old sepia photos of the graceful, lei-clad Hawaiian women and the virile, surfing men …

… probably because they reminded me of my childhood hero, Tarzan.

Now that I’m grown up, I still love the music, memorabilia, and culture of Hawaii. And although modern-day Honolulu and Waikiki are gorgeous, with gleaming hotels and upscale boutiques, I find myself drawn to the simplicity of the “old Hawaii” I’ve come to treasure.

And although Dad never made it to Hawaii, he always dreamed of going. When I walk around searching for “old Hawaii,” I hope he’s riding on my shoulder taking it all in.




We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

45 thoughts

  1. Such a touching story, Terri! Your memories of your father also reminded me of my mother, who had a love of all things Hawaiian, as well, but never got to visit it. In fact, while looking through the photo you posted of Hawaiian records, I recognized a few of those albums from my childhood, looking through my mother’s record albums! She always had Hawaiian music playing! Enjoy your ongoing travels through Hawaii and around the world! I am certain your father will be smiling….<3

    1. Thanks so much, Anita. It’s amazing that our parents had the same love of all things Hawaiian. I think my Dad nearly wore a hole in his Don Ho album.
      As a kid I always wanted an official grass skirt, but now I’m drawn to the beautiful Hawaiian barkcloth fabrics. Now if I just knew how to hula! 😂 ~Terri

      1. Mostly in my dreams, Terri, but I was lucky to go to Maui and to Kauai once upon a time. Just a few days, and very low budget. Unforgettable nonetheless.

  2. Terri,
    Your writing of your father’s love for Hawaii is so sweet and loving. I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii, but have not been there yet. I so enjoy your and James’ writings. Safe travels.

    Martha Ann

    1. How wonderful to hear from you, Martha Ann. And thanks so much for your sweet words. I think we all have places we’d love to go and things we’d like to experience. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. But I think keeping the dream alive is the best part. I hope your dream comes true. So glad you stopped by. 💕~Terri

    1. Thanks Carla. Wonderful to hear from you. He loved that old uke. We always teased him, but he really got good at “Tiny Bubbles. ” But it was his sweet singing that made it so memorable. Just like your Mom. 💕~Terri

  3. This is such a heartwarming story, Terri. I can see why Hawaii has been captivating many people’s imagination, including mine. Its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, its rich and colorful culture, its stunning landscape, there are many reasons to visit this part of the world.

    1. Thank you, Bama. Each time we visit, we see both new and familiar. It’s been 12 years since we were last here and the building boom is amazing. We wondered how the folks here fared during the pandemic. We’ve been told that food supply was one of their biggest concerns. As you said, being in the middle of the Pacific is paradise, and has its challenges, too. ~Terri

  4. Thanks for the memories. Although no one in our families was passionate about Hawaii, I too remember “rec rooms” decorated in a Polynesian theme. Alie and I have a some wonderful memories of Hawaii, both on Oahu and Lanai. We spent R&R from Vietnam on Oahu. At a time when the war was very unpopular and people were nasty both to soldiers and their wives waiting back home, the people of Hawaii were so good to us. Around 1991, we vacationed at the Coco Palms Resort in Lanai, destroyed in a subsequent hurricane. It felt “old Hawaii.” And although those places had changed so much by 2019 when we went back on a cruise ship, we are very grateful for the memories just as you are for memories of your dad.

    1. What incredible memories you and Alie have made, Ray. It’s so heartwarming to hear of the graciousness of the Hawaiian people. We’ve always found that to be true, too.
      You’re the first person I’ve talked to who spent R&R from Vietnam in Hawaii. I’m sure the hospitality was a welcome refuge at the time.
      We haven’t made it to Lanai yet, but understand it’s gorgeous. Too bad your hotel was lost to the storm. The little hotel we used to stay at in Waikiki was lost to the developer’s bulldozer. But like you, our memories sustain us. ~Terri

  5. I have yet to visit Hawaii but would love to do so at some point. What a beautiful story of your Dad and his love of a place he never had the chance to visit. I have no doubt he is sitting on your shoulder Terri, humming a tune and taking in the warm sunshine. Enjoy!

    1. Thanks so much for that, Lynn. We were reminiscing about the first time we visited Hawaii, and realized it was on free reward tickets on Braniff Airlines (long gone). We came over Thanksgiving – and it was the most exotic feast we’ve ever had – definitely not turkey and dressing! 😄 I hope that you get to visit soon. ~Terri

  6. My parents loved Hawaii too, even living on a prairie farm. They eventually did visit Oahu and when I won a trip to the big island, we took them along with us. They were like children visiting an amusement park. It was wonderful to see them enjoying themselves. We have also visited Maui and loved it! I just can’t imagine having a bad day in Hawaii. BTW Elvis’s Blue Hawaii was my very first LP, a birthday gift when I turned 12, and I almost wore it out because I played it so much. Enjoy your time and the memories. xo

    1. You won a trip to Hawaii, Darlene! How cool is that. I love how you describe your parents’ enjoyment of being in Hawaii. And it’s so great that you got to see their reactions. We’ve been seeing a lot of tourists here having the same reactions. I love watching their looks of wonder.
      It’s got to be pretty memorable to have Elvis for your first LP ( I nearly forgot that term). That album was so popular. Thanks for sharing all your great memories. 💕~Terri

    2. If you read my comment above about our visit to the old Coco Palms resort, you might also be interested to know Elvis’ Blue Hawaii was partially filmed their including the final scene in which he is married in their chapel.

  7. Green with envy! Still miss our crazy
    Times!!!! Remember baby Sushi up the tree? Good thing we weren’t in Hawaii
    That day!!!!!! Sayra

    1. How wonderful to hear from you, Sayra! We absolutely miss our crazy times, too. Awww, Baby Sushi – what a sweetie. He was always up for a little mischief. He sure kept you on your toes. I hope that you’re doing great, and thanks for the memories. 💕~Terri

  8. Hawaii has always been on my travel wish list, but I haven’t made it there yet. I remember watching the Elvis films set in Hawaii and dream of visiting it.
    I love how you pay homage to your father with this beautiful blog post.

    1. Many thanks, Gilda. I think my Dad”s generation was so enamored with Hawaii because it was so exotic and the center of world events. And as many folks have pointed out, it didn’t hurt that Elvis had been here!☺️

      A trip to Hawaii was my first trip out of the continental US – and I was smitten, too. It certainly has it’s own vibe – just like so many of the places that you and Brian have been visiting these past few years. ~Terri

  9. I can’t say my parents encouraged my love of Hawaii, Terri, but that never damped my enthusiasm for the Islands. They have always provided a great escape. Even for your dad, apparently— even though he never visited. I still remember my first trip there in the early 70s to Kauai. There was just something magical about it. So I have returned time and again and plan to be back there sometime soon. I really enjoyed your story with its touch of nostalgia. Thanks. –Curt

    1. Thanks so much, Curt. It sounds like you and I have very similar feelings and experiences with Hawaii. And the nostalgia seems to be around every corner.

      Something I haven’t talked about is the food – so many products are still popular here that my Mom served in my childhood. Spam, corned beef, and dried beef – just to name a few – that were imported during WWII. And they’ve turned them into local favorites and gourmet dishes. But, as James says, I’m here for the fruit. Can’t beat the fresh papaya. ☺️~Terri

      1. Laughing, I used a lot of canned corned beef in our West African dishes when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia. My mother would occasionally cook spam. Jerky has always been a favorite when I’m out backpacking. All in all, however, I’m with James. 🙂 –Curt

  10. Isn’t it wonderful how our parents are still with us no matter what. I still sing the songs my dad used to sing to us when we were little. Your father sounds so lovely, no wonder you feel such a deep connection to Hawaii. I must say we loved it. Enjoy your stay there.

    1. We absolutely loved Hawaii, Alison. It’s such a mellow place.
      That’s so interesting that you mention singing the same songs your dad used to sing to you. Me too! And he always wanted us to figure out all the parts so we could harmonize. He made it fun.
      We’ve just arrived in Japan – our first time. We’re really looking forward to learning more about their culture. Are you and Don traveling soon? ~Terri

      1. Oh Japan! How utterly fabulous! Of all the countries we’ve been to our two absolute favourites are India and Japan. (You couldn’t get two more different countries!) Enjoy Japan. I know you will, it’s quite wonderful.
        We have no travel plans at the moment; Summer in Vancouver is such a beautiful time. Perhaps in the fall we’ll be off again.

    1. Hi Rusha, it’s wonderful to hear from you! We absolutely loved Hawaii – it seems to get better every time we visit. And we’ve just arrived in Japan – our first trip here. And just in time for the cherry blossoms. It’s gorgeous!
      I hope that you and Bert are doing great. Have you guys been traveling? ~Terri

      1. Enjoy Japan! I once chaperoned 4 girls in Kyoto through a grant by Panasonic to share Japan with Americans. Soooo lovely. And friendly. We aren’t traveling right now, but taking care of medical issues. Your posts keep us in the loop!

      2. I bet that was a fun time, Rusha. And memorable! Please take good care of yourselves, and I hope that your medical issues are resolved very soon. 💕~Terri

    1. Thank you, Lexie. My Dad was a sweetheart.

      The backpacks are working really great ! Perfect for navigating our way through airport security and very crowded Tokyo subways. We both came up with a small capsule wardrobe (5-6 pieces), based on layering, of lightweight clothes. They had to be odor resistant, easy to wash, and quick to dry. Some of the new tech fabrics and wool blends are perfect. Most nights we do a few pieces of hand laundry. As needed, we also plan to purchase or leave behind items. James is leaving his winter scarf and hat in Japan as we move to warmer locations. So my backpack weighs about 6 pounds and James’ is 10. Very manageable.

      And I must admit we share a little smile when we pass travelers struggling with huge suitcases. It’s absolutely worth trying on a short trip just to experience the freedom and see if you like it. 😌 ~Terri

      1. I might have to try it sometime. I was pleased that I just did a 3-week trip to Southeast Asia with just a carry-on, doing laundry most nights, but you guys are wayyyyyy ahead of me! I feel like clothes are the least of it, though; do you also not carry toiletries, or a laptop, or shoes, or …? I hope that someday you will do a post on this as I am truly curious and eager to try it myself if I can!

      2. Over the past 10 years we’ve encountered some great travelers who have been experimenting with the same approach – and compared to some of them we’re still running a little heavy. 🤣 We traded out our laptops for iPad minis and our phones – then taught ourselves how to blog on them. A bit different. We planned our electronics to minimize cables, etc. We cut our toiletries to the minimum – then supplement with hotel toiletries (downright luxurious in Japan!) And we committed to one main pair of shoes (to be supplemented or replaced if necessary.) As James is fond of saying, “Ounces matter.” We know it’s not for everyone, but it’s really a fun exercise to see how creative you can get. ~ Terri

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