Packing time for your tropical beach vacation. Don’t know where to start?
Welcome to the only tropical beach packing guide you’ll need. For a trip like this where bulky items are not needed and shorts/bathing suits will be worn almost 24/7, I’m a huge fan of carry-on travel.
Why? Because of its convenience! No matter how you spin it, it really does make you more of an efficient traveler. Having traveled all over the world in various seasons with nothing but a carry-on, I know a thing or two about how to pack with max efficiency.
Read on to see exactly what you need to bring with you to any beach destination and pack like a pro!
*Please note: All of the products listed in this post are my personal tried and true recommendations and may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running. Thanks!
What To Expect In Tropical Beach Destinations
The tropical beach life is all about the laidback lifestyle. You don’t need to bring very many formal outfits, if any. Shorts, t-shirts, sundresses, and flip-flops are all the norm in tropical towns. A collared shirt or sundress is all you’ll really need for almost any restaurant.
Oftentimes, given the constant heat and sunny weather, you’ll even see people driving with their windows open without shirts on. Now that we’ve set the stage on what to expect, let’s get on to the packing details.
For the sake of this post, I’ll be writing it through the lens of a trip to Hawaii, but you can use this for many other tropical beach destinations (Caribbean islands, Cancun/Tulum, Bali, etc.). Let’s get into it!
Travel Essentials: Packing Gear
Before you pack anything, it’s important to start with the skin and bones of packing. Having the right tools to put your belongings in is extremely important. The last thing you want is to toss everything for your trip into a bag with no method of organization.
You’ll find yourself spending a lot of extra time later on packing and repacking once you’re actually on your trip. Trust me, your life will be so much easier when you actually apply strategy to how you pack.
You’ve got two options here. Do you want to go with a wheeled case or a travel backpack? Wheeled carry-ons are awesome in that they are pretty much weightless on your body, you just roll and go.
The other option is a backpack. Travel packs are so convenient when it comes to hands-free commuting. As you’ll likely be needing a car in Hawaii and not lugging your bag around on foot, you could really go with either option.
Wheeled suitcase | I use my Monos Carry-On Pro whenever I want something sturdier and can’t be bothered with having weight on my body. It’s roomy and super sleek looking. Spinner wheel hard shell cases are the future!
Travel backpack | Personally, I’m a travel backpack kind of person; I love my Osprey Aura 65 so much. It’s extremely comfortable because of its super intense hip belt (if you get it, you’ll see what I mean) and perfect for those warm travel days due to the ventilation technology.
I actually went backpacking with this pack and can attest to its greatness. Totally worth the investment. If you’re looking for a new travel bag or backpacking bag, GET THIS BAG! You won’t regret it.
Packing cubes | You need to get these packing cubes, they are amazing at creating space in your luggage that you never thought you had.
However you want to organize your clothes— by day, by outfit, by type—these will be the most useful thing you have in your packing artillery. You’ll no longer need to dig through the entire suitcase for that one thing you’re looking for, because you’ll know exactly where it’s at.
Everyday bag | A mini backpack that can fit a water bottle, phone, camera, sunglasses and sunscreen is a great option. Another good option for days where you’re not feeling the backpack look is a medium-sized, cross-body bag.
If you’re able to find a bag that folds flat so that you’re able to stow it in your carry-on, even better. I like the Fjallraven Kanken Mini Classic Backpack for something simple and compressible, so when I’m not using it, I can flatten it and store it in my luggage. For something more elegant, I go with a simple leather backpack.
Travel Essentials: Clothing
Tops | You really don’t need that many shirts, especially if you choose versatile pieces, allowing them to be multifunctional. You can go with a mix of sleeveless and sleeved for the most part, with one caveat. Depending on which island you end up on, mosquitos may be a problem. In that case, pack 1-2 lightweight long sleeves.
Pants | Bring 1 pair just in case there happens to be a chill at night or if you plan to attend a more formal event. For summers, in the face of humidity, go with something loose and light. Jeans can be way too hot for summer travel. Trust me, I’ve experienced my fair share of sweaty legs trapped in jeans. It’s pretty uncomfortable, to say the least.
Shorts/skirts | 2-3 pairs will do. If you plan on wearing more dresses, you can definitely cut out some tops and bottoms and substitute with dresses.
Leggings | Useful if you plan on working out, hiking, or want something to lounge in on the plane. I love leggings and can’t take any trip without them. A pair of lightweight leggings like the pair by 90 Degree By Reflex is a great option if you’re looking for breathabilty while getting that protection from bugs and the sun’s UV rays. If you want something with pockets that’ll fit your phone, go with this pair.
Dresses | 1-2 long dresses for the summer season. Long or flowy dresses/skirts are really good for days when you plan on visiting places like cathedrals or temples (no bare shoulders or exposed knees, so be prepared). If you plan on going out at night, aim for one of the dresses to be appropriate for both daytime and evening looks. It’s all about versatility!
Rule of thumb: To save room for things I plan to buy on vacation, I’ll always bring ~2 outfits less than the number of days I plan on traveling. I know historically I tend to not wear everything I pack, so I’ve adjusted for this in the packing process. Plus, everything you bring is washable and re-wearable. You should evaluate your situation and adjust for it as well!
Underwear and socks | Bring five sets and just find a washing machine whenever you can. Or save water and wash them while you’re showering. These are light enough where overpacking is not a problem.
Bras | Depending on your activity level, 2-3 will do. Because I’m pretty active and tend to do a lot of tropical hiking, I typically bring more sports bras than regular bras. (Plus, your swimming suit tops can function as bras too.) Throw them in the wash as needed.
Shoes | When traveling to tropical destinations, sandals and flip flops are a must. If you plan on doing a lot of hiking on rocky or muddy terrain, consider hiking boots too. If not, you should at least bring a pair of comfortable walking shoes with good support and traction. For sandals, I alternate between my Birkenstocks and Toms Open Toe Alpargatas— both allow you to walk miles and miles. Going with something like these Nike flip flops will allow you to hit the beach and walk with comfort as well.
Cardigan or lightweight jacket | For those unsuspecting chilly nights. If you plan on catching some sunrises or visiting higher altitudes such as Mauna Kea or Haleakala, note that it does get cold in Hawaii.
Rain jacket | Despite its warm weather, Hawaii (and other tropical destinations) tends to get quite a bit of rain depending on the season and which part of the island you’re on. Consider a light rain jacket if there’s rain in the forecast. This one by North Face comes in so many colors and is ultra-packable, taking up virtually no space at all.
Shawl / scarf | One of my must-haves! I’ll always have a medium sized thin scarf in my bag. Not only can you use them for warmth or style, but you can also use them as a coverup after beaching, as a towel, as a mat on grass/sand/dirt, as a quick rain shield, or as an emergency skirt if your bottoms get stained or soaked somehow.
Swimsuit | 2-3 depending on how much you plan on beaching. It’s okay to pack extra, in case you need to hit the beach or pool and the ones you wore previously haven’t had a chance to fully dry yet.
Sleepwear / loungewear | Yoga pants and a t-shirt or workout clothes are all you need here. Save luggage space; these items can be used as pajamas, loungewear, and airplane/road trip outfits.
Basic Hawaii packing list for men | T-shirts, tanks, polo shirts, shorts, one pair of pants (only if you plan on going to a nicer restaurant), two pairs of swimming shorts, one lightweight jacket. Consider a light rain jacket if there’s rain in the forecast.
Travel Essentials: Accessories
Sunglasses | Because it can get really bright during summer afternoons.
Hat | Hats are so necessary for sun protection, don’t forget it!
Jewelry | Optional. I tend to skip jewelry on most days (even if i’ve packed it) because either it’s too hot/humid to want to deal with something sticking all over my neck, or I just forget to wear it.
Wearable technology/activity trackers | Because we love data, technology, and convenience. Won’t you want to track all those steps you’re racking up on vacation? Can’t go wrong with the Apple Watch, it just does so much!
Travel Essentials: Toiletries
Sunscreen | Sunscreen is absolutely necessary for tropical destinations. Even if it’s overcast and cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply whenever you’re outdoors. If you plan on snorkeling near the reefs, choose a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreen contains chemicals that damage and even kill the precious reefs.
Whenever we head to tropical destinations with ample marine life, we always go with a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreens contain chemicals that harm our environment as well as the natural balance of marine ecosystems.
In fact, you may even encounter tour companies and eco-parks asking you to only use sunscreen and sunblock that are biodegradable, containing titanium oxide and zinc oxide only.
And honestly, it’s not enough to just buy any old bottle that has a “reef-friendly” label on it. It turns out many sunscreens claiming to be “reef-friendly” or “reef-safe” actually aren’t!
Products containing the following ingredients are technically NOT reef safe: oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene or nanoparticles. Always review the active ingredients on the bottle to be sure you’re really getting something reef-safe.
Here are a few travel-sized biodegradable sunscreens you can easily buy on Amazon:
- Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen – SPF 40 Kids Clear Sport
- Badger Reef Safe Sunscreen- SPF 35 Clear Zinc Sport Unscented
- Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen
- Babo Botanicals Zinc Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
- All Good Sport Face & Body Sunscreen Lotion
And on days where we are just out and about (not getting into the water)–for the face, we are absolutely obsessed with the magical Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen. No white-cast, no greasy film!
Bug spray | Depending on the island you choose and the season you go, there will be mosquitoes and you’ll want to protect yourself against bites. Typically the more undeveloped the island or destination, the more prevalent mosquitos are. If you plan to go hiking, I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
Squeeze bottles | GoToob travel bottles are my favorite thing ever. Made of high-quality silicone, they are extremely durable, have never leaked on me, and are super easy to squeeze. They have different TSA-approved sizes, but I found the large GoToobs to be the best for the duration of my trip. I put face wash in one of the large ones and it lasted me all 3.5 months without a need for a refill!
Hand cream, body lotion, face masks | Highly recommended. You’ll likely be in shorts and a tank– you don’t want to show off dry arms and legs.
Moisturizer with SPF | You’ll be out in the sun all day. Save yourself face from premature aging and sunburns with a daily moisturizer with SPF.
Shower supplies | Only required if you’re going to be at a hostel or Airbnb. These are usually provided by hotels.
Dental supplies | Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash.
Deodorant | You’re going to be in the hot sun most of the time, so bring deodorant if you sweat or stink.
Makeup | Some girls have a huge collection of makeup. But it’ll be hot, and you’ll be sweaty or beaching so much that you won’t need too much. Bring only what you need.
Dry shampoo | Optional. I try not to wash my hair every day, but at the same time, summers are hot. Dry shampoo came in handy very frequently.
DIY survival kit | Make a little bag of the following: ibuprofen, allergy pills, Immodium, ciprofloxacin (or whatever your doctor prescribes for traveler’s diarrhea), bandaids, floss, hand sanitizer, eye drops, lip balm, a sharpie, tape, and extra contact lenses (if applicable). Think about the ailments you typically suffer from and have to deal with on a regular basis and adjust the contents of the bag as needed.
Extra plastic baggies | Because you never know, but they always come in handy.
Tissue/antibacterial wipes | Sometimes, your hands get dirty. Sometimes, there’s no toilet paper in the public bathrooms.
Laundry soap | Optional. Bring a super-concentrated soap so you can do your own laundry if you’re going to be taking a long trip. By doing your own laundry, you can save on those insane drycleaning fees hotels charge!
Quick-drying towel | Optional. These are light and quick-drying. Useful if you plan on having beach days but don’t have access to a beach towel. This one is a great option.
Eye mask | Amazing for planes, hostel/shared rooms where the beds aren’t separated by curtains, or afternoon naps. This one is silky and very comfortable on your face.
Travel Essentials: Electronics
Phone | Make sure you have everything right with your phone before you go. Get the battery changed, free up some memory space.
Camera | Optional. iPhones are typically good enough, but some higher quality pictures wouldn’t hurt. I typically go with my Nikon D5500, which produces great photos that I’ll cherish forever. If you plan on doing a bunch of adventurous activity (ziplining, skydiving, kayaking, paddling, ATV-ing) and/or want some underwater footage when surfing or snorkeling, you should definitely go with the waterproof GoPro.
External battery | Crucial, especially if you’re going to be out all day exploring and using your phone for Google Maps and such. Check out this external battery.
Noise canceling headphones | Always good to be able to get into the zone and tune people out. Very necessary for plane rides. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are truly amazing.
Travel adapter | Necessary for many countries. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
Chargers | Bring multiple phone cords since they are light (and easy to misplace).
Laptop | (Optional) Depending on what you plan to do. The MacBook Pro is such a great investment. For longer trips, I’ll definitely bring my computer. There are just some things I’d rather do on a full screen rather than my teensy phone screen. I’m old school in that sense, and will often make room for my laptop if I know I’ll have a lot of downtime.
E-reader | Go with the Kindle over books if you read a lot– it eliminates a lot of potential weight from actually carrying books. What better way to spend some time poolside or tanning at the beach?
Travel Essentials: Documents
Travel belt / money belt | Thief proof! I used a Flip Belt when I went out exploring, which doubled as my running belt. I swear, this thing doesn’t budge or jiggle at all when you run, plus it’s super comfortable!
Money | A mix of local currency and your home currency for emergencies.
Tickets and travel documents | Passport, student ID, medical card, proof of travel insurance, printed documents of your flight/hotel bookings, visas if you need them.
Travel cards | Credit cards, debit cards, airport lounge access cards, visas.
Journal or book | ‘Cause everyone could use a little alone time.
Other Travel Essentials
Travel pillow | This one by Turtl is THE one! It comes highly rated because it has so much support, almost like a neck brace (there’s a chunk of flexible plastic in there to prop your head up). It’s warm and super packable too.
Foldable tote bag | Great for doing groceries or carrying your belongings in a pinch. Please note, Hawaii charges for plastic bags! Bring one of your own, save money and save the planet. This option is very compactable and can fit right in your carry-on.
Laundry bag | Keep your worn clothes separate from your clean ones, especially when traveling to high humidity climates. When it’s humid, you’ll just be sticky all day and all that stickiness will transfer to your clothes. In either case you will inevitably have dirty socks and undies to toss in here. I have this laundry bag set, and it’s great because it includes many size options.
Small lock | If you’re staying in hostels, you may need to provide your own lock for the lockers. Otherwise, this can be used on your luggage bag when you’re traveling and checking your luggage. This one is small, TSA-approved, and serves multiple functions.
Massage Ball | One of the best things in my bag, hands down. Roll your legs, upper back, and under your feet whenever you have downtime to undo that tension and soreness you’ve built up over the course of the day. Especially after walking long distances or hiking! Check out this one.
Ultimate Tropical Beach Packing List Checklist
To wrap up, let’s review the ultimate packing checklist for extended travel:
- Wheeled Suitcase / Travel Backpack
- Packing Cubes
- Laundry Travel Bag
- Everyday bag
- 4-5 Tops
- 1 pair of pants
- 2-3 pairs of shorts/skirts
- 1 pair of leggings
- 2-3 dresses
- 5 pairs of undies
- 5 pairs of socks
- 3 bras
- 1 pair of comfortable shoes
- 1 hiking boot (optional)
- 1 pair of sandals / flip flops
- 1 cardigan or lightweight fleece
- 1 shawl or scarf
- 2-3 swimsuits
- DIY survival kit
- Extra plastic baggies
- Laundry soap
- Quick-dry towel
- Eye mask
- External battery
- Travel adapter
- Wearable technology / activity tracker
- Travel belt / money belt
- Tickets and travel documents
- Credit /debit cards
- Journal or book
- Travel pillow
- Water bottle
- Foldable tote bag
- Small lock
- Massage ball
Now you’re ready!
If you get nothing else out of this post, at least take this with you… pack light and save room for souvenirs and local snacks to bring home! Especially since your clothing items will be considerably lighter for a tropical destination. You’ve got a lot to look forward to and a lot of trip to pack for!
Looking for more packing/travel resources? Read next: