Less is definitely more when packing for a vacation and no one has ever come home from a trip and thought, “next time I am going to pack heavier.” Packing for a vacation is actually incredibly easy once you get past the idea that you have to bring a bunch of stuff you probably won’t use “just in case.” The rule of thumb is to pack only what you know you will absolutely need. If you then just have to have something you didn’t pack, you can always pick it up locally.
Of course, a winter ski trip will require bringing a lot more gear than a tropical vacation. However, the truth is you can pack for the latter with just a single carry-on size bag. Before talking about what to bring, you should think about what you won’t really need. You can easily get by without things like jewelry and makeup for a week or two. However, if you must have these items, limit your travel collections to just a few pieces. As virtually all hotels provide hair dryers, shampoo and towels, leaving these items behind will save yourself a lot of luggage space. Bearing these things in mind, here is a complete packing list for a tropical vacation:
You really don’t need much in the way of clothing in the tropics. Generally two changes of clothes, plus the ones you are wearing, will get you through a week-long trip. Forget about jeans and other heavy clothing as it is just too hot and humid in the tropics. You will want to think about bringing clothes that are both casual enough for the day and also nice enough to wear out at night. Women can easily pull this off with a couple of sun dresses and these can serve triple duty as beach cover ups. Men should stick to one pair of lightweight slacks, a couple pairs of shorts and lightweight shirts. Three pairs of socks and underwear should be plenty. Everyone should bring a lightweight windbreaker-style rain jacket and women should bring a pair of leggings to wear under their sundress in case the weather turns cool.
Even if you don’t swim, any tropical vacation demands a swimsuit. However, because it is humid in the tropics, many two-layer swimsuits will not dry completely overnight. Either find a lightweight one-layer suit or pack a second suit so you will always have a dry one.
A single pair of nice sandals are casual enough to be worn to the beach and still dressy enough to wear out at night. A second pair of shoes, for walking and hiking, can also be worn while traveling to and from your destination. Flip flops, if you must have them, are one of those items that are just as easily picked up at your destinations so you can save the space in your luggage.
Everyone should protect their eyes from excessive UV exposure to prevent vision damage whenever they are outside. This is especially true at the beach where the sand causes very strong reflection of the sunlight. Polarized sunglasses will help cut the glare and sunglasses with reading lenses are available if you wear reading glasses. FYI, all eyewear sold in the U.S. is required to have full-spectrum UV protection. However, be sure any sunglasses you buy abroad provide full UV protection.
A hat is essential to not only protect your head from the sun, but it will also reduce the amount of UV rays and glare reaching your eyes. Big floppy hats are great for warding off the sun, but can be too hot to wear all day. Mesh baseball-style caps are much cooler and will still keep the sun off your head.
A good broad-spectrum, high SPF sunscreen is an absolute must have in the tropics where the sun gets hot enough to burn the skin off an alligator.
Hotels and rentals will have bath towels, but may not provide you with beach towels. Here you should bring two quick-drying towels, one hand towel for freshening up while traveling and one beach towel.
A small flashlight can come in very handy as many tropical locations do not have the power-grid reliability of countries like the U.S. or U.K. There are some very powerful LED flashlights that are no bigger than your finger and take up no space in your bag or pocket.
Unless you absolutely must have your laptop to work, a small seven- or eight-inch tablet is all you need for navigation, looking up local restaurants and scheduling activities, watching Netflix and reading ebooks. These size tablets are small and lightweight enough to carry in your purse.
You will need some type of small day pack or bag for taking to the beach or shopping. There are some nice packable bags that fold down to the size of your palm that will hold everything you need for a day out.
Some type of waterproof bag for keeping dry things dry or wet things away from dry things is a necessity if you will be going out on a boat or stowing wet swimwear. While you can buy specialized dry bags, these can be bulky. Instead, pack a few extra heavyweight “contractor” trash bags as these are remarkably strong and durable and take up no space in your luggage.
Montezuma’s revenge is not something you want ruining your vacation. Even the tap water in some places can harbor cysts, bacteria and viruses that can make you sick enough so you won’t want to leave the hotel room. Here a water filter certified to remove pathogens down to 99.999 microns is a must have whenever traveling abroad. These filters can be had for just a few dollars and are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand so they won’t take up hardly any space in your luggage. There are even some filters that work as a straw and come with a water bottle.
While the camera on your smartphone will work for casual photos and videos, a smartphone won’t work for water skiing, SCUBA or snorkel diving or parasailing. For recording these types of adventures from a POV perspective you will want some type of action camera.
With all the diseases the little biters carry, mosquito repellent really is mandatory in the tropics where bugs are plentiful. While the bug police won’t come give you a ticket for not wearing mosquito repellent spray, you will be opening yourself up to things like West Nile and Zika virus and possibly malaria. A good tick repellent is also a must as these little guys carry several highly transmissible bacterial diseases. Of course, many people worry about using mosquito and tick spray containing harsh chemicals like DEET. If you have these concerns, there are preparations that use ingredients like Picaridin that are recommended by the CDC, the World Health Organization and the Environmental Working Group. Companies like Proven carry a full line of mosquito repellent sprays and lotions that are safe for the whole family as they contain no harsh chemicals. Just remember the TSA limits you to a three-ounce tube of any liquid if traveling from the U.S.