Are you craving some vitamin sea? Got a balmy beach vacation or island getaway booked? Wondering what to wear in hot, humid weather? Whether you’re planning to lounge by the pool, or entertaining more adventurous pursuits such as snorkelling, kayaking, hiking or caving, here is the only tropical vacation packing list you will ever need!
I grew up in the sub-tropics of Australia, lived in tropical Singapore and frequently travel destinations that lie in these warm and balmy equatorial regions–so I know a little bit about what to wear in hot weather in order to stay as cool and comfortable as possible. Read on for details of what to pack for tropical vacations, including a printable checklist you can download using the button at the end of this post.
Here are some additional posts that will help you prepare for your tropical vacation:
How to Pack a Suitcase – The Ultimate Guide
You can also find various, specific destination packing lists here.
General notes on what to pack on a tropical vacation
Tropical climates are typically experience consistently higher temperatures. Seasonal variations are more in terms of precipitation and humidity than they are in temperature. They usually have one or two monsoonal seasons where storms are more frequent, with dryer seasons being more popular with visitors.
Consult a reputable weather forecast before packing for your trip. This might also include looking at water temperatures if you plan on doing a lot of water-based activities.
Check the common form of payment in your destination. Is it credit card friendly or do you need to have cash? Cash may be advisable anyway, in places where credit card fraud are an issue.
For cash based economies, what is the currency? Research where should you exchange or withdraw local currency for the most favourable exchange rate?
If credit cards are favourable, check with your bank to ensure you can use your card overseas and what the various fees and rates are for international transactions.
If you’re planning to take any kind of appliance or electronics, make sure you look up the voltage and plugs at your destination. For instance, a US 110-volt hair dryer will not fare well if you plug it into the 240-volt power supply while visiting the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Depending where you are travelling from and what kind of appliances you are bringing, you may need an international adapter and or converter. Generally, modern phones, tablets and laptops are made for both 110V and 220-240V, but it pays to check this detail.
No matter which beachy vacation spot or tropical island you’re visiting, there is no doubt that its natural beauty is one of the attractions. Do your part to preserve the nature you are travelling to enjoy and think about minimizing packaging and disposables as much as possible – these guides will help: 8 Essential Eco-Friendly Travel Products and 5 Steps to More Sustainable Travel.
Generally, people who live in tropical destinations tend to dress more casually, however depending on the local culture, modesty may still be important. For example, if you plan on visiting temples in Southeast Asian destination such as Bali, you are going to need to cover your chest, upper arms and down to your knees.
A bikini may be fine on the beach or on a boat, but in towns and villages, you may need to cover up with at least a sarong or kaftan to avoid unwanted attention. Do your research on the destination before you start planning your vacation wardrobe.
A sub-tropical to tropical destination calls for lightweight, breathable fabrics. The best materials to wear in a tropical climate are cotton, linen, hemp and maybe some silk. Viscose or Tencel is also somewhat breathable. Synthetics such as polyester and nylon will make you sweat and should only be worn as rain gear, swimwear or other specialist clothing.
There is a risk of mosquito transferred diseases such as Zika Virus and Malaria in tropical destinations. Pack an insect repellent that contains recommended amounts of DEET, picaridin or other scientifically proven product e.g. RID Tropical Strength or OFF Deep Woods. Cover up at sunrise and sunset when mosquitoes are most busy looking for a meal. There is also some evidence that mosquitos may be attracted to certain darker, bolder colours. Therefore, wearing light, neutral-coloured clothing may also be of benefit.
Though generally, I’m a roller bag fan, beach holidays and sandy tropical island getaways tend to be the exception depending on the infrastructure. Luggage doesn’t roll so well on sand and stairs are more common than elevators in some destinations. All-round I think a backpack is an easier, more convenient option or consider whether your packed case is going to be light enough to cart around when necessary.
A smaller, foldable backpack or beach-bag style tote is a good day-bag options depending on your activities. A drybag may be useful for keeping valuables during water-based excursions.
Whenever you are travelling it is best to leave any unnecessary jewellery and valuables at home. Some travellers like myself, only pack and wear costume jewellery for overseas trips.
Consider taking a money belt or other secure pocket to carry cash, passport etc while sightseeing. This post about basic travel safety and security is worth a read if it’s your first time or some time has passed since your last trip.
Tropical vacation packing list
Passport – International travellers, ensure your passport has at least 6 months validity and plenty of blank pages for your new passport stamps.
COVID-19 vaccination card
Visa – Check if you need a visa for entry. This will depend on which country issued your passport and the length of your stay.
Itinerary, reservations and tickets – It is best to pack a paper copy of these items just in case internet is not available or your device battery goes flat. You can also opt to download a copy to your phone so you aren’t reliant on internet connection.
Travel insurance – Pack a copy of your travel insurance policy and emergency contact details for your insurer. I also program the international dialling number in my phone so it is ready to go if something bad were to happen.
Underwear, bras and socks – Cotton underwear and socks are preferable for breathability and coolness in tropical vacation destinations.
Sleepwear – Again cotton or other natural fabrics are best for keeping you cool during the night. A sleep mask and ear plugs may also be ideal for light sleepers.
Shirts – If this is a strictly beach/pool trip you will spend most of your days in swimwear, so don’t go too heavy on other clothes—1 shirt for every 2 days might be enough. If you are going to be hiking, sightseeing or other activities, pack one shirt per day.
Shorts – 1 pair for every 2 days. I recommend shorts that will be cool, provide sun protection, and are comfortable for light walking (without chaffing).
Board shorts or zip-off, quick-dry khakis – Are good for more adventure travel involving activities such as caving, tubing or hiking in tropical environments.
Full-length pieces – 1-2 pairs of lightweight pants/ maxi skirt/ maxi dress to wear in the evening when it’s a little cooler, mosquitos are biting or when you’re in an air-conditioned space.
Light jumper (sweater) – Mostly for the cooler months and air-conditioned spaces.
Shoes – Depending on the activities you have planned, a pair of sturdy shoes for light hiking and water shoes for caving. Pack sandals or flipflops for beach time and evenings.
Swimsuit – Choose a swimsuit appropriate for your activities. A string bikini may work for lounging by the pool but it’s not ideal for kayaking, surfing or any kind of adventure. Also, in the tropical humidity everything takes a longer time to dry out, so if you prefer to put on a dry suit in the morning pack two and alternate.
Rashguard – Good for added sun protection during long stints in the water and for caving or other water activities.
Coverup – A sarong or other coverup to keep you sun protected and modest between swims. Maybe even a cute poolside co-ord in light fabric or terry towelling.
Toothpaste and toothbrush
Shampoo and conditioner
Aloe Vera – Aloe vera gel is great to have on hand if you get sunburned. It can also be used as a general moisturizer.
Face wash/makeup remover
Hair accessories (ties and pins)
Razor and shaving cream
Light makeup and perfume – See my post on travel makeup for how to pack your cosmetics and which products to look for.
Laundry soap – Pack a small cake of laundry soap, so you can wash underwear and socks in the hotel bath or basin if need be.
International adaptor, ideally with a USB socket
Voltage convertor, if necessary
A camera and accessories including charger, spare batteries; SD cards; and tripod. Polarizing and neutral density filters for your DSLR would also be helpful for the harsh tropical light.
A waterproof camera (or waterproof case for your phone) is a must for water activities.
Phone and charger.
Portable power bank.
Day bag/ beach bag
Refillable water bottle
Hand sanitizer and mask
Toilet paper in a ziplock bag to keep it dry
First aid kit
Medications and prescriptions
Dry bag for keeping your camera, phone and other water sensitive valuables dry, during water activities.
Secure wallet, money belt or bra pouch
Medications and prescriptions
Sunscreen with SPR 15+ or higher
Lip balm with SPF 15+ or higher
Hat – A wide brim hat with a fit that won’t blow off with a breeze or movement of a boat is best. This often calls for a chin tie or some other way to secure your hat.
Sunglasses – Choose eye protection that is UV-rated and polarized to cut glare from reflective surfaces such as water.
Rain jacket or poncho, especially for wet season.
Lightweight towel – Something lightweight and quick drying. Most resorts and other accommodations supply beach and bath towels, but it is always good to have a backup on a trip where you are doing a lot of watersports and beach time. A microfibre travel towel or a Turkish (also called Hammam or Peshtemal) towel works well.
Flashlight or headlamp.
Snorkel/diving mask defogger.
Making memories and filling spare time
Sketch pad and pencils/paint
Diary or notebook
Playing cards or travel games
I hope this tropical vacation packing list helps you to feel less stressed and more prepared for your time in the sun. If you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments below.
Peace, love and inspiring travel,