Stopping for Life’s Unexpected Surprises

It was another beautiful day of warm weather with breezy trade winds in Honolulu, Hawaii. But today was no ordinary day. Today was Christmas.

On Christmas, the island is virtually shutdown. Malls are closed, most supermarkets are closed, and nearly everyone is off from work. Traffic can be incredibly backed up and slow on weekdays, so Christmas day seemed like the best opportunity for us to drive the perimeter of the island and do some sightseeing. After opening Christmas gifts in the morning and eating lunch, our family of four along with my mother, hopped into our rental SUV to drive around the island of Oahu.


We started from downtown going north on the freeway through central Oahu. Cars were few and far between and we were making good time to the north shore. Chloe, our youngest daughter, napped in her car seat and we enjoyed the quiet of the car ride while we had it. We watched as high-rise buildings turned into housing complexes and large stretches of land.

The freeway eventually turned into a one lane highway, hugging the coast of the north shore. We had the ocean on our left and mountain ranges on our right. We passed by the big Dole pineapple plantation, famous shrimp trucks, large resorts and golf courses, and various beaches along the way. Chloe was still asleep in the back, so we decided not to stop at the north shore, and kept on driving towards the east shore.

We had the road mostly for ourselves, a small luxury on a normally bustling island, and we savored the freedom that the road provided. Plus, we were making good time as we had been on the road for a couple of hours and were already nearing Kaneohe and Kailua. Chloe was now up in the back, and the kids were starting to get restless from the long drive. So, on a whim, I decided to drive to Kailua beach so we could stop and enjoy the afternoon on its famous soft, white sand.

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.” ~Bill Watterson

As we made our way to the beach on the one-lane road, we got sucked into bumper-to-bumper traffic. Kailua beach apparently was a prime destination on a day of beautiful weather and nothing else open. The beach parking lots were jammed with cars and it looked like a serene Christmas afternoon would turn into a day spent searching for parking and precious space on the sand. What was a good idea didn’t seem like a very good idea anymore, so I kept driving. We drove past Kailua beach towards Lanikai, also a beautiful spot along the water, and hopefully with less crowds.

I kept driving with hopes to get to a road away from the traffic, but the road just looped back into the same direction of the traffic. Then we came to a complete and sudden stop. We were on a one-way lane of a residential part of the neighborhood in Lanikai, and we were stuck. Cars just weren’t moving. According to the local residents, there is only one way in and out of Lanikai. They said on weekends and holidays, when the weather is nice, it is normal for cars to get backed up with nowhere to go. Furthermore, on this Christmas day, President Obama was in the area enjoying a day at a nearby beach with his family. Our timing was impeccable.

So we waited and waited, and our car moved a total of ten car lengths in one hour. We weren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. What had been a day of smooth, traffic-less driving, now had become an unbelievable headache of a situation. The time was now 5pm and the sun would be setting at 6pm. Hopefully by then most of the people at the beach would make their way home and the traffic would clear up, and we could finally go home.

In our plight, I decided to park on the side of the road and wait the traffic out. We weren’t going to let this traffic ruin our Christmas day travels. So we took the kids out of the car and walked them through a narrow passageway to what seemed like a private beach. It was a small inlet where kayakers, surfers, and swimmers would go in and out. There wasn’t any dry sand to sit on except for a few elevated rocks.


This would be our day at the beach. For the next hour, our kids got their feet wet, then hands, and eventually their shorts were soaked with water. But we just let them play and enjoy the water. By letting them play, we were also able to finally relax. We were away from the congestion on the road and the headaches of not being able to drive quickly to our next destination. The frustration we had slowly began to wash away. We watched the waves, the kids, and the calming colors of the sky, and just enjoyed the serenity of it all.

The sun eventually set, day became night, and the cars finally started thinning out. What could have been a total disaster of a day turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We would have never stopped to find that small little beach in Lanikai, if we had not been slowed down by the Christmas day traffic. And we wouldn’t have had the memories of playing with our kids in the water on that tiny beach if we were preoccupied with our next destination.


The best surprises in life only happen when we stop, slow down, and fully appreciate our experiences. On that Christmas day in Lanikai, we were there, present and in the moment, relishing in life’s wonderful surprises.

Cliff Hsia is a writer, husband, and father, who is determined to live a better than normal life by traveling the world, slowly and purposefully, with his wife and two young daughters. His writing has been featured on MSN, TODAY, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and other publications. He writes about travel, parenting, and lifestyle design.

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  • Angela Moy Young

    Enjoying those little experiences, especially with children, is where it’s at! Great reminder to slow down. Incidentally, I thought you are just going to keep driving until you made an entire loop and ended up at home, haha!