This post is also available in: Nederlands
At Always Around the World we like to keep our travel planning simple and fun. Some people hate packing but we love to be prepared. By checking items off our ultimate tropical vacation packing list, we can look forward to the adventures ahead knowing we have everything we need.
We’ve traveled to many tropical destinations including Bali, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Panama and always have an incredible time. With so many trips under our belts, we think of ourselves as unofficial packing list experts! Here’s our expert advice on the 27 essential things you need on your tropical vacation packing list.
How to make a smart tropical packing list
Packing lists vary depending on destination. We didn’t use the same packing list for a three-month trip to Iceland and a vacation to Bali. If we had, we wouldn’t have survived either destination!
Before you start any packing list consider these few questions:
How long is your trip?
Will you have enough clean clothes to last the duration of your trip? We usually only pack enough clean clothes for 1-2 weeks, even if our trip is longer, and use a laundry service when we run out.
What will the weather be like?
It’s easier to pack for a tropical vacation than it is for a cold weather trip. On a tropical vacation, you need fewer clothes and can pack smaller, lightweight items – no bulky jackets and sweaters taking up lots of space. You may be expecting blazing sunshine for the duration of your trip but weather in tropical locations can be changeable. Prepare for cool nights and rain showers.
What activities do you intend to do?
Are you planning a hike? Would you like to try beach camping? What about a special evening out in a fancy restaurant? Each of these activities requires a different wardrobe. And if you’re hiking or camping there are navigation and safety items to consider too. Tailor your packing list to the kinds of activities you’re intending to do.
Our top 5 packing tips
Before we get to our tick list, we want to share some tried-and-tested packing tips. This advice can be applied to any vacation packing list for any destination – trust us!
- Do some research. Be willing to pay a little more for items that you intend to get a lot of wear out of. We’re thinking of things like a waterproof jacket, walking boots and swimwear that will serve you well on countless adventures.
- Don’t pack new clothes or shoes. Test drive new items first! You don’t want to get to your destination only to find out your great new bikini doesn’t quite fit or your walking boots give you blisters.
- Do buy packing cubes and a dry bag. We love our Eagle Creek packing cubes that allow us to roll and compress our clothes into different colored cubes. And a dry bag will keep your clothes safe even if you’re on the beach or on the water. Great if you have to take an impromptu water ferry!
- Don’t forget useful accessories, like a hat, sunglasses, a money belt and a sarong/wrap.
- Do look for clothes that have special features. Wrinkle-resistant shirts, quick-drying swimwear, bug-resistant clothes, and clothes that filter UV-ray will all make your life a little easier.
9 clothes item packing list for a tropical vacation
Now for the fun part, creating our list and gathering our supplies!
- Mid-sized backpack
We discovered Osprey a few years ago and have bought all our luggage and backpacks from them since. Our Osprey Daylite daypacks accompany us everywhere. Only 13 litres in size, we find these daypacks perfect for day-to-day use. We can fit two beach towels, water, sunscreen, snacks, our phones, power bank, wallets, and camera into one bag. The Osprey daylite daypack is also the perfect size for hand luggage.
- Light shorts x 2 and trousers x 1
On tropical vacations we like to stay cool by wearing short-shorts made from lightweight material. But even the most deeply tanned legs need a break from the sun. Always take a pair of trousers on your tropical vacation, linen or linen-cotten blend is best. You’ll be glad you have a pair of trousers on colder evenings or if you have sunburn or insect bites!
- Light shirts/ t-shirts/ tank tops x 5
A mixture of five shirts, t-shirts and tank tops should be enough to last the duration of your tropical vacation, whether you’re staying for one week or one month! Providing you can access a laundry or clean your clothes yourself, five tops are truly enough. Make sure one of your tops has long sleeves and go for materials that are high-quality and dry quickly like organic cotton.
- Light waterproof jacket/Poncho
Every adventure traveler knows that a good waterproof jacket is an absolute necessity! We have Fjallraven Keb Eco Shell jackets and think they’re the best rain jackets of all time. Find out why in our recent review.
Hot and humid tropical weather is tough on your feet. The only footwear you’ll want to wear at the beach or hanging out around the pool is flip flops. Comfortable and durable, we especially like Havainas rubber flip flops.
- Study sneakers or boots
However, if you want to explore a tropical paradise beyond the well-trodden path, you need a pair of walking boots or sneakers. Many tropical destinations are also hotspots for adventure travel so be prepared to climb a mountain or hike a rainforest! Columbia hiking shoes are a good choice for a tropical destination.
- Underwear and socks
7 pairs of socks and underwear should be enough for a tropical vacation packing list. Remember, you can find a laundry service in most tropical destinations and where you can’t, you can take your own laundry soap and wash your clothes in a sink!
Choose your sunglasses for function over style. Make sure they block at least 99% of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays and screen more than 75% of visible light. It’s tempting to buy the fake designer sunglasses sold in popular tourist destinations – we feel the urge too! – but these sunglasses are rarely up to standard. Invest in one quality pair of sunglasses and take care of them!
- Hat or Cap
Like sunglasses, a hat is more than a fashion statement, it offers vital protection from the sun. In tropical climates in particular, a hat with a brim will shield your head from the sun’s rays and keep you cool.
9 toiletries packing list for beach vacation
Many travelers find packing toiletries the biggest headache of all. Toiletries can be heavy and awkward to pack. Traveling with liquids is also subject to restrictions in most countries.
The big question when packing toiletries is should you bring from home or buy there?
The answer depends on two things:
1) How difficult is it to buy the toiletries you want at your destination?
2) How inconvenient is it to bring the toiletries you want from home?
When we travel to Bali we bring very few toiletries as it’s possible to buy almost everything we want there. Some things are a little cheaper but most cost about the same as back home in the Netherlands. However, when traveling to a tropical destination that sees less tourism, you may struggle to find the exact brands and products you love. This is especially true of makeup and luxury toiletries, unless you splurge at the airport!
Here’s our toiletries packing list for a beach vacation, complete with tips on whether to bring from home or try to buy there.
You should always wear sunscreen with SPF protection of at least 30. No exceptions. You can almost always buy sunscreen at your destination, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. We bring a good quality brand of sunscreen from home, like Reef Safe Sunscreen which is 100% environmentally-friendly.
Bring from home
It can be hard to find a good razor when on a tropical vacation. If you like to have smooth legs for the beach, it’s best to bring your razor from home. I always rely on my Venus Travel razor.
Bring from home
- Shampoo and Conditioner
Even on a short vacation you can use a lot of shampoo and conditioner which adds weight to your luggage. Unless you can only use a very specific brand, we recommend always buying shampoo and conditioner at your destination. To avoid waste, pass on what you don’t use to a new arrival!
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
Like shampoo and conditioner, you can buy a toothbrush and toothpaste in every tropical vacation destination. There may be less choice than you’re used to in your local supermarket but they will do the job!
- Mosquito repellent
Like sunscreen, you don’t want to be caught out with no mosquito repellent and nowhere to buy some. But in most places where mosquitoes and other irritating insects are present, you can find repellent or an alternative like Tiger Balm.
- Prescription medicine
In some tropical vacation destinations it’s very easy to buy prescription medicine. In Bali, medicine was cheap but it was challenging to find the precise thing we wanted. We recommend playing it safe on this one and bringing all medication you need from home.
Bring from home
- Sanitary products
This is very much a matter of personal preference. Women all over the world have periods and products to deal with them but in some countries it may not be possible to buy the product you prefer. For example, it is difficult to find tampons in Bali. Also, In some countries the quality of sanitary products may be poor. Bring sanitary products from home or make the switch to an environmentally-friendly alternative like the mooncup.
Bring from home
- Hand sanitizer
Even before coronavirus, we’ve always carried hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer kills any germs you may pick up while you’re traveling and helps to avoid colds, flus and stomach bugs. Hand sanitizer is small but mighty! Take it with you so you can use it in the airport and on the plane.
Bring from home
9 essential item tropical island packing list
Someone who is into extremely light travel could probably head on a tropical vacation without any of the items we’ve listed above. Wearing layered clothes for the flight and buying all toiletries on arrival, someone could saunter through customs with an empty backpack.
Yet there are some essential items that even very light travelers can’t leave off their packing lists. Be prepared and you will never miss out on having great experiences in nature – this is what adventure travel is all about!
- First aid kit
This is an absolute must for any tropical vacation. A first aid kit can save your life and takes up very little space in your backpack. A first aid kit like this one is sufficient for a tropical vacation.
- Reusable water bottle
“Don’t forget to take water” is the first lesson every new traveler learns. Whether you’re in a city, at the beach or hiking in the jungle, it’s super important that you stay hydrated. Bottled water isn’t always readily available so it’s best to carry your own in a reusable water bottle. We use Camelbak Podium Chill water bottles. These brilliant bottles keep water cool in hot climates and stop water freezing in cold climates.
- Water purifier
Water purifiers like the Lifestraw are surprisingly affordable, lightweight, long-lasting and could save your life! This amazing invention can filter bacteria, microplastics, parasites and other impurities from any water source. We always carry a Lifestraw when we’re on an adventure and have used it more times than you would think!
I don’t think we could live without our carabiners! These spring-loaded metal hooks are absolutely essential for any climbing, caving, abseiling or other activity that involves being clipped to a rope. But they’re also super useful for packing and securing items to your bag or your clothes.
- GPS tracker
Real travelers never go anywhere without a navigational tool. Today, most phones and many watches have GPS built into them. It’s never been more convenient to find out where you are and how to get where you’re going! The only issue with phone and watch GPS is that these devices run on batteries so you have to be sure they won’t run out.
To help keep your GPS device charged, always carry a powerbank. We especially like this powerbank that has a capacity of 25800mAh and can charge a phone 6-8 times!
- Camera and spare SD card.
You’re going to want to take tons of photos on your tropical vacation. Many people use their phones for all their vacation snaps but we like to carry a compact camera with us too. This Panasonic Lumix is a great size and not too expensive.
As if you’d ever leave this behind! Load up your phone with useful apps like Get Your Guide, Google Maps, Booking.com and AirBnB.com before you reach your destination.
- Universal adaptor
Pack a universal adaptor to charge your electronic devices. Choose an adaptor with USB outlets so you can charge multiple devices at once!
Everyone should have their own multi-tool. A multi-tool like this Leatherman can save your skin in countless situations ranging from a bicycle repair to a bottle of wine you need to open!
So there you have it, our ultimate 27-item tropical vacation packing list. This list has served us well over the years but if you think there’s anything we’ve forgotten, do let us know in the comments. We love to hear from you!