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Essentials To Pack For A Tropical Vacation

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It can be a complicated task choosing what to pack for your tropical vacation that you probably want to leave it to the last minute.  We suggest you start a week in advance.  By making a list first this will help so you don’t forget those essential items like sunscreen and bug spray.

We believe having the right luggage can help alleviate some of the stress, especially in the airport.  Luggage with 4 wheels that turns on a dime makes moving around the airport easier especially if you need to connect to another flight.

—–So dust off your suitcase and start with these packing essentials —-



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Travel & passport documents

Travel documents are a must.  These should be kept in your purse or bag under the seat on the plane.  Never take your eyes of them or leave them where pick pockets can easily snatch them.

If you put them in your carry-on and there isn’t enough room on the plane for overhead storage you may have to check it.  Think passport, plane ticket, the voucher for hotel & tours, drivers license (for renting a car), and of course credit cards.

Essentials & accessories

Most countries you will be traveling to are less fortunate than us in North America. I always recommend you leave your good jewelry at home. If you feel it’s necessary to add accessories to your outfits bring a few pieces that are lightweight and inexpensive. So if you lose them or happen to be stolen you won’t cry over lost items.

Locals can spot you in your flashing jewelry a mile away. This makes you an easy target.

One time I was asked for some advice from a co-worker on traveling to a particular country. My suggestions about not bring valuables and wearing them were ignored. Guess what? When I saw them next they commented that one of them was robbed of her necklace.

Essentials are things you really need on vacation and the rest is just added baggage. With the weight restrictions on airlines today it’s always better to be underweight so if you do find a few things to purchase on vacation you have room in your luggage.

What to bring on your vacation is sunscreen and bug spray. These are my must-have items whenever I travel. You may think that because you are going somewhere really warm you don’t need bug spray.

That is definitely false. You won’t believe where those nasty little bugs hide. You will find that these items cost a lot more, sometimes double the price.

Another item I love to pack is a beach bag, again multi-purpose. It can double as a day bag for shopping or going on a tour if you didn’t bring a knapsack, and use it to put your dirty clothes in on the way home. 

What not to bring

Camouflage clothes are not allowed in some countries.  We suggest doing a little research on the country you will be staying.  Barbados is one of those countries who forbids camouflage clothing. 

Jeans are one of the comfort items people love to wear.   I do too!   For the airport & flight it keeps you warm but once you arrive at your destination it can be very hot & humid.  They also take longer to dry when wet. 

You may want to change at the airport before your flight or once you arrive.  I usually throw in a pair of shorts in my carry-on. While I’m waiting for my luggage to arrive I slip into the washroom to change. 

 Heavy sweaters take up space in your luggage and weigh down your suitcase, so layering your clothing always works better.

Organize with packing cubes

When we start packing it’s easy to just fold or roll our clothes and put them in our suitcase along with shoes and whatever else we think we need. Packing cubes will allow you to keep everything organized separating your gear so it’s easy to locate items without rummaging through your whole suitcase.

You know how when you arrive at your resort or hotel and open your suitcase to find everything has shifted, well with packing cubes everything stays nice and neat. Take advantage of space in your shoes to put your rolled socks.

Choose your shoes first

 When traveling to the tropical countries it’s easy to think all you need is a bathing suit and flip-flops. What if you wanted to go hiking or participate in some adventure activities?

Having the right shoes for your vacation is essential. I suggest choosing your shoes first and then building your outfits around this. You may have to walk a few kilometers on a city tour and need a sturdy yet breathable pair of running shoes.

If you are traveling during the rainy season it’s important to have waterproof shoes or sandals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on trails or walking back from town and it started to downpour.

I use both my Keen hikers and sandals a lot in tropical destinations. For one they keep my feet dry (hikers) and the sandals dry quickly so they are ready for the next day adventures.

If you are staying at a resort you may want to pack a nice pair of shoes for fancy dinners at restaurants or dancing at the disco. I found some sole of shoes to be slippery on the tile floors in the hotel lobbies so I would suggest non-slip soles to prevent falls. Nothing can ruin a vacation like falling and injuring yourself.

Whatever shoes you decide to take with you on your tropical vacation I always wear the heaviest ones on the plane for my travel days. It helps save on the weight restriction of luggage.

Less is more

When packing for your tropical vacation think less is more. Lay everything out on your bed, then you can start to match up items in your wardrobe.

Start with a few solid colors in shorts and pair them with polo t-shirts (if you are a man) or floral prints for ladies.  Clothing that wears well in the hot climates is a fabric that wicks away the moisture and dries quickly.

I also like my linen. It feels cool and looks good but wrinkles easily, so if you are a perfectionist this may not be for you.

Make sure to check the dress code for your resort of the country before the packing stage. Some resorts require men to have long pants so pack 1 pair for the specialty restaurants.

Ladies may like a few nice sundresses.  It’s simple, one piece, and looks cute with sandals.  Depending on the trip you’re likely to spend a lot of time in bikinis and swim shorts. A dress-like cover-up is a space saver and multi- product for the beach that can be worn at night time as a dress for dinner. 

Wearing a scarf is a nice essential piece for ladies. It has multi purposes to keep you warm on the plane and if you travel to countries where you are required to have your shoulders covered it can work in a pinch.

By thinking less is more your back and suitcase will love you for it. Often times we take too much on vacations. Look at what you didn’t wear, why you didn’t wear it, and eliminate it the next vacation. Shorts and pants are items you can take less of and wear more than once.


Carry-ons should be packed with essential items such as prescriptions, toiletries ( 3 oz or less), change of clothes, bathing suit, and a pair of sandals.  Sometimes if you have connecting flights your luggage may have travel to a different destination in error or late to your resort. 

I’ve had this happen where I transferred planes but my luggage did not because of the short time in between.  Lesson learned there.  I had no clothes but what was on my back till later the next day.

TSA locks should always be used on your luggage. If you are the kind of person who loses keys or misplaces them opt for a combination one. This help keep your belongings safe.

Sun & rain gear

Sunhats and refillable water bottles are something else to bring on vacation. The sun gets really hot especially close to the equator and water bottles can be used on tours, at the beach or by the pool.

It’s easy to get dehydrated in the heat so it’s important to drink lots of water.  Depending on the country you are traveling to make sure to check if the water is drinkable.  Places like Mexico and the Dominican Republic are not so just brushing your teeth will make you sick.

Last but not least is a poncho or umbrella.   Both items can be inexpensive but lifesavers.  Ponchos a great to pack in your knapsack when you do day tours.   If it starts to rain they will cover you and your knapsack.  Umbrellas will work in certain situations but in really tropical storms they are pretty useless.

Extra essentials

snorkel gear

Beach towel, batteries, electronic plugs & adapters, phone, bottle opener, laundry soap packets, zip lock bag, first aid kit, and snorkel gear.

Beach towel, batteries, electronic plugs & adapters, phone, bottle opener, laundry soap packets, zip lock bag, first aid kit, and snorkel gear.

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About the Author:

Laurie Johnson is travel writer, agent, and founder of Pura Vida Vacations. She finds her inspirations from travelling of the beaten path, meeting the locals, and sharing her travel stories, reviews, and tips with her readers.

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