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Packing for your holidays can be stressful, even more so when you are going far away or travelling to a different climate zone.

What items do you need? What are the best tropical vacation outfits? What are the best shoes for a tropical vacation? Which essentials do you need to bring, and which items should you rather leave at home?

To make packing easier for you, we have created this checklist. Over the years, we have gone on vacations to many exotic places ourselves, from a Caribbean island in Belize to a Peruvian Amazon lodge or a dream island in the South Pacific.

Along the way, we have learned a lot about luggage and packing, and we have compiled all of our knowledge in this post. Keep reading to find out what to pack for a tropical vacation and what to leave at home!

Tropical Vacation Packing List

Bags

#1 Packing cubes

When packing for a tropical vacation, the first item you need to consider is your suitcase.

We are deliberately not going to recommend anything here because it’s a big topic on its own, and everyone has their preferences. I like travelling with a big backpack as I find it easy to carry from one place to another.

View of the beach in Caye Caulker, Belize

Daniel likes bringing along a suitcase because it doesn’t hurt his back like a backpack does. Others prefer duffel bags because they’re flexible and easy to store.

Whatever you choose and feel the most comfortable with, you will need a way of organising your luggage. It’s never fun to empty all of your clothes to find a piece of clean underwear. That’s why we recommend taking packing cubes.

Daniel has the eBags light packing cubes, which are amongst the lightest on the market. They barely weigh anything, and they have a mesh, so you can easily see what’s inside. Plus, they come in five different sizes, making it easy to organise your luggage.

Click here to read reviews and get your own packing cubes now!

#2 Daypack

What are your plans for your holidays?

Tropical vacations are perfect for all kinds of outdoor adventures, and unless you’re planning on staying at the beach only, we highly recommend that you take a daypack.

Ilona enjoying the view in Uxmal

The ideal backpack for a hot climate has a mesh at the back, so you don’t get too sweaty.

That’s why we love the Osprey Talon 22. Both Daniel and I own this backpack, and it’s perfect for travelling. It is big enough for everything we need for a day trip, and it has lots of pockets for getting organised. I always carry my wallet in one of the inside pockets, and I like to keep my keys at the top where I can quickly access them.

The backpack comes with a hip belt, which is useful for when it gets heavy. Plus, it has two more pockets there, which I use for carrying hand sanitiser.

The Talon 22 is a man’s model, but it fits me well because I’m relatively tall. Osprey also produces the Tempest 20, which is the corresponding women’s model.

Click here to get your Osprey backpack now!

View from El Penol in Guatape, Colombia

#3 Rain cover

When you’re thinking of tropical weather, you’re likely imagining sunshine and hot temperatures.

But the lush green jungle can’t exist in a desert, so depending on the time of the year, you might experience some rain. You might even be glad about a refreshing rain shower on a hot summer day.

To ensure that none of your belongings get wet, we recommend taking a rain cover. I always carry one in my daypack, and if it starts raining, I can quickly take it out.

Check out this rain cover, which comes in many different colours and sizes.

Essentials & Documents

#4 Travel documents

Now that we’ve talked about bags and luggage let’s get to the essentials you have to pack for your trip.

Beach in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Costa Rica

The first essential item on your packing list for a tropical vacation should be all of your travel documents. You need to make sure that you carry them with you, whether electronically or on paper.

Daniel and I like to print the most important documents, but we also carry some of them on our phones. If you have them on your phone, make sure to download them so you can access them offline. First, this might help you avoid hefty roaming charges at your destination. And second, you never know if you’ll have phone reception everywhere.

We use lots of different apps to help us plan our trip, organise our travel documents and make sure we don’t get lost. Want to know more? Then check out our post about the best travel apps you need for your next trip!

#5 Passport

One of the most important things to bring on a tropical vacation is your passport.

Unless you’re very lucky and live in a country that spans tropical climate zones, you’ll likely be travelling abroad. That means you need your passport.

Boats in the Amazon in Peru

A month or two before you leave, make sure to check if you need any visas. The easiest way to do so is by finding the website of the embassy of your target destination. They usually have all of the information on visas that you need.

#6 Credit / debit card & emergency money

Besides documents and your passport, you need to bring a few more essentials for a tropical vacation.

The next items on our list are a credit/debit card and some emergency money. We usually carry some US dollars with us, in a mint condition. If we ever have problems with our credit cards, we can use those until we resolve the issue.

Beach in Placencia, Belize

Regarding credit cards, Mastercard and Visa are the most commonly accepted worldwide. If you go with one (or both) of them, you shouldn’t have any issues.

Some banks require for you to call them before you leave on vacation, so they know you’ll be using your card abroad. Double-check with your bank before your departure so you don’t run into any unpleasant surprises.

#7 Travel insurance

If you’re thinking about what to bring on a tropical vacation, you should also consider travel insurance. While technically, this isn’t a physical item you can pack, it is essential to have.

Palm trees in the Parikia Waterfront

When we visited Japan, Daniel got appendicitis. The hospital told us that it would cost us $20,000 for the surgery and then asked if we preferred paying in cash or by credit card.

Fortunately, our travel insurance handled everything for us, and we didn’t have to pay anything at all. They were also very helpful in finding a hospital in the first place.

We hope you don’t get sick during your holidays. But if you do, you want to have excellent and affordable treatment. Travel insurance offers precisely that.

Village on the way to the Ciudad Perdida, Colombia

#8 Prescription medication

When you tick off your checklist for your tropical vacation, make sure to bring along any medication you take regularly. This especially applies to drugs that you need a prescription for, as you likely won’t be able to buy any abroad.

Ask your doctor if you need a letter from them listing the medications you need. Depending on what you take, this might be necessary at the border.

#9 First-aid kit

We recommend that you bring along a small first-aid kit on your trip. It doesn’t need to include much, but it’s always good to have a few band-aids in case of blisters or small injuries.

Here is an example of a small one that is perfect for your trip.

Boats in the Peruvian Amazon

Into your first-aid kit, pack a few over-the-counter drugs that you might need. This includes a painkiller, some antihistaminics and medication against nausea and traveller’s diarrhoea. If you’re unsure of what to take, ask your doctor for advice.

On that note, you should also double-check with your doctor if you need any vaccinations for your trip. Make sure to do so as early as possible, so you have enough time to get them.

Clothes

#10 T-shirts

Let’s talk about the best outfits for a tropical vacation.

It’s going to be hot, so you want to bring breathable clothes. It also helps if they dry quickly, so you can wash them if needed.

If you want, you can look into quick-dry t-shirts. Many companies (especially ones for outdoor gear) produce t-shirts that are light and dry quickly. You don’t have to, though. You can also grab some of the lightest shirts you have lying around at home.

They will likely be sufficient for your trip.

Sunset on Isla Ometepe Nicaragua

On a side note, take a look at the colours and make sure that all of your clothes combine well. That way, you can take far less and combine all of your items into different outfits.

I usually only carry around five t-shirts with me and wash them along the way. It keeps my luggage light, and I don’t uselessly carry clothes with me that I don’t end up wearing.

#11 Shorts

The best clothing for a tropical vacation is suited for warm weather.

That’s why you should bring along a pair of shorts (or two). You can expect to have mostly good weather, and shorts are perfect to wear on hot days.

Just make sure to read up on your destination’s culture. In some countries, everyone wears shorts. In others, most people cover their legs. Sometimes, it’s even offensive to enter certain sites with shorts. Think about Angkor Wat in Cambodia, for example. Even though the weather here is hot, you should keep your knees covered while entering the temples.

A sea turtle at Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Even if you’re going to a very conservative country, take at least one pair of shorts to wear by the beach, pool area or even in your hotel room.

#12 Long trousers

Long trousers don’t seem like the best clothes for tropical weather.

Nevertheless, you should take them for multiple reasons.

First, you need them on the plane, where it can sometimes get quite cold.

Second, as we have just mentioned, you might need to wear them for cultural reasons.

And last, if you’re going into the jungle, they can protect you from mosquito bites. Here, bites are not just annoying and itchy; they can transmit diseases like malaria or dengue fever. The more skin you cover, the less of a chance mosquitos have to bite you.

Ilona sitting on a swing in the water in Isla Holbox, Mexico

The best clothes for the tropics are light. Don’t take any jeans! They are too warm, and they’ll just stick to your sweaty legs.

Instead, get trousers made of light fabrics. I like linen, but I also enjoy the classic “elephant pants“. They are light, airy and barely add weight to your luggage. These days, you can get them in many different patterns, so you’ll likely find one that you like.

Click here to buy your own elephant pants if you don’t have any yet!

Or, if you’re a guy, go and check out these linen trousers, which are perfect for any tropical vacation.

#13 Light jacket

Even if you’re in a tropical climate, temperatures can drop in the evening.

That’s why it’s important to take a light jacket that you can throw on when you get a bit cold.

It’s also very convenient for keeping mosquitos away, which tend to come out after dark. You don’t need to buy anything special. If you don’t have a light jacket, you can also take a button-up shirt to wear on top of your t-shirt.

Umbrellas in Tamarindo Costa Rica

#14 Rainjacket/poncho

When you think of lightweight clothing for the tropics, a rainjacket might not be the first thing that comes to your mind.

However, as we have mentioned before, you might encounter rain during your trip. A tropical downpour can soak you within minutes, so even if you only have one or two hours of rain during your holidays, it’s worth taking a rainjacket.

The best jackets are lightweight and breathable. Daniel is a big fan of the Outdoor Research Foray Jacket, whereas I love my Tierra Backup jacket.

As an alternative, you can look into rain ponchos. While it’s possible to get a disposable poncho in most tropical countries, we think that it’s much more sustainable to buy a reusable one.

Take a look at this poncho, which folds up small enough that you can take it anywhere. At the same time, it’s durable, and you can reuse it for many holidays to come.

The sea at Isla Mujeres, Mexico

#15 Swimsuit

If you’re going on a tropical vacation, you should take a swimsuit.

Even if you’re not planning on spending any time at the beach, it’s great to have a swimsuit in case you book a hotel with a pool.

#16 Flip flops

You’re going to need shoes for your tropical vacation, so you should take a pair of flip flops or sandals. Take some that you already own, so you know they’re comfortable.

#17 Walking shoes

Besides some flip flops for hot days, you also need a pair of comfortable walking shoes.

Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

I usually pack trainers. They are great for walking because that’s what they were made for. They are comfortable, light and allow your feet to breathe even in hot weather.

If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking, you can consider taking hiking boots (if you’re unsure which ones to get, here is a list of the best hiking boots cheaper than $100). I have, however, found that I can do all of my hikes in a pair of well-fitting trainers.

Plus, trainers often dry very quickly. If you hike through the jungle, you don’t have to worry about crossing rivers or stepping into puddles because your shoes will be dry again in a day or two.

Right now, both Daniel and I own a pair of Skechers sneakers. We’ve chosen models that combine well with our clothes and that we can comfortably wear in cities, without feeling that we look like tourists.

Get your own pair of Skechers sneakers for your next trip now!

Tour guide in the Peruvian Amazon in a canoe

#18 Underwear

When you’re thinking about what to wear on a tropical vacation, don’t forget to add your underwear to your packing list.

If we’re only travelling for a week or two, we usually take enough underwear to be covered for that period of time. For longer trips, though, I take enough for around ten days and then do laundry along the way.

That’s why I would recommend taking light underwear that dries quickly. You don’t have to buy anything special for this trip, just look at what you have and choose what you want to wear in hot weather.

#19 Nightwear

Remember to take some pyjamas or other nightwear for your trip. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but keep in mind that you’re travelling to a hot destination. You should choose something light and breathable, so you don’t start sweating at night.

The sea and the lagoon on Cozumel Island, Mexico

#20 Nice clothes/dress

Whether you need women’s or men’s outfits for a tropical vacation, you should remember to pack some nice clothes.

This could include a button-up shirt for a man, whereas the best women’s clothing to wear in a tropical climate is a dress. Pack some clothing items you would wear to a nice restaurant. That way, if you decide to go out one evening, you won’t feel helplessly underdressed.

Cenote Ik Kil from above

Don’t overdo it, unless you already know you’re going to a high-end place with a specific dress code. Usually, the best dresses for a tropical vacation are light and still somewhat casual, so you can wear them both in the evening and while out exploring.

The same applies to button-up shirts. Ideally, take something that is light, so you’re comfortable in hot weather, and that you can also wear during the day.

Daniel recently bought a linen shirt, which is perfect for a tropical climate.

Toiletries

#21 Daily essentials

After looking at the best clothes for the tropics, we are now moving on to toiletries.

What to bring on a tropical vacation is similar to what you would bring on any trip, but there are a few differences we’re going to point out.

First, you need to pack your essentials. That means taking a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel.

Flamingos in Mexico

Do you have any skincare products you use on a regular basis? Then remember to take those. Also, go through your preferred make-up and make sure to pack some that you know works well in hot weather.

As many products come in large bottles, like shampoo or shower gel, I like to refill my toiletries into smaller containers. That way, I only carry what I need, and my luggage doesn’t get too heavy.

Click here to see an example of travel-sized bottles that are perfect for your next trip.

#22 Insect repellent

One of the essentials to pack for your trip is insect repellent.

When you dress for a vacation in tropical climates, you need to balance your need to wear short clothes so you don’t get too hot, with the need to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Ideally, you’d cover your arms and legs, but that’s not always an option.

That’s why we recommend taking strong insect repellent. Depending on your destination, those insect bites are not just itchy, they can also give you diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

Signpost on Cozumel Island in Mexico

We usually take insect repellent with at least 40% DEET. That means it’s strong enough to keep even the worst mosquitos away. Just be careful when handling your electronics right after applying DEET. It’s very aggressive, and I’ve already damaged a GoPro casing by touching it with hands covered in DEET.

As an alternative, you could get an insect repellent with picaridin. Those are very popular here in Germany, and they work well against mosquitos. I am, unfortunately, allergic, but I used those sprays when I was younger and found them just as efficient as DEET. Plus, the picaridin is not as aggressive, which is great.

Click here to check it out on Amazon.

#23 Laundry detergent

When we talked about the best clothes for a tropical vacation, I already mentioned that it’s best to wash them along the way.

The Amazon river in Peru

You don’t need to do laundry regularly, but it’s helpful if you have a small bottle of laundry detergent that you can use to wash some underwear or a t-shirt.

I like using Sea to Summit soap for doing laundry. The Wilderness Wash product is a biodegradable concentrate, which you can use for washing your clothes in the sink.

One bottle is more than enough for your trip, as you only need a few drops at a time. Even though this product is primarily made for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, it works very well for a vacation, too.

Click here to get your own liquid laundry soap!

#24 Sunscreen and sunglasses

The next item on this tropical vacation packing list is sunscreen. You need to protect your skin to avoid getting sunburnt and getting skin cancer in the future.

View of the San Ignacio ruins, Belize

The best sunscreen for a tropical vacation is biodegradable.

In some countries around the world, you’re only allowed to swim in the sea if you’re using reef-safe sunscreen. Therefore, make sure to double-check that the sunscreen you want to bring along is permitted!

If you click here, you can find an example of reef-safe sunscreen that you can use in tropical climates. It has SPF50, which is excellent for protecting your skin from UV rays. Plus, it’s 80 minutes water-resistant, so you can swim in the sea without worries.

Check it out now on Amazon!

Electronics

#25 Camera

Whether or not you need a camera depends on the kind of holidays you’re going on.

Are you going to spend most of your time at a beach? Then your phone camera is likely sufficient.

If, on the other hand, you’re going to the Amazon or to Central America, where you have a chance of spotting wildlife, you should consider getting a camera with great zoom. Daniel and I both have Sony mirrorless cameras, which we use in combination with a zoom lens.

Are you thinking about getting your own Sony camera? Or do you already have one? Then look up the best travel lenses now!

An alternative is to buy a compact camera with a good zoom. My friend owns a Panasonic Lumix, which takes great pictures and weighs much less than a mirrorless camera. The photo quality is not exactly the same, but most people won’t even notice.

Click here to check out the Sony Alpha 3, or take a look at the Panasonic Lumix now!

Pineapples at Bocas del Drago

#26 Underwater camera (optional)

Are you planning on going snorkelling or diving?

Then you could consider getting an underwater camera. Taking pictures of fish and coral reefs is lots of fun and slightly addictive once you get into it.

We own a GoPro, which we use for all of our underwater pictures. Ours is already a few years old, and it still takes great pictures. The latest GoPro model offers even more features, and we found a bundle which already includes the waterproof housing.

Click here to check it out!

If you’re not ready to spend as much money, you could consider getting a cheaper brand. The Akaso Brave 4, for example, receives great reviews and is very affordable. Perfect for taking underwater pictures on your next trip!

Get it now on Amazon!

Feeding a monkey in the Amazon in Peru

#27 Chargers & adapters

When you’re thinking about what to take on a tropical vacation, make sure you don’t forget to pack your chargers. This includes your phone charger and chargers for any other electronics you want to take (like your camera or an e-reader).

You should also look into whether you need an adapter for your holidays. It’s usually easiest to buy a universal travel adapter that works everywhere around the world.

Click here to buy one!

#28 E-reader

Do you like reading?

Then you should consider getting an e-reader for your holidays. No matter how many activities you pack into your itinerary, sooner or later, you will have some downtime. I love spending that time with a good book, but I don’t love carrying heavy books with me.

An e-reader is perfect because you can take a whole bookshelf, and it is still light. I use a Kindle Paperwhite, which you can easily get on Amazon.

Daniel snorkelling in Bocas del Toro

#29 Power bank & spare batteries

Besides your chargers, some of the important things to take on a tropical vacation are a portable charger and spare batteries for your camera.

Daniel and I own two portable chargers that we love. The first one, an Anker Portable Charger, is big and lasts forever. It’s not very light, but you can charge your phone multiple times with it.

Our second power bank is tiny. It’s perfect for fitting it into a pocket and charging the phone along the way. Plus, it has a built-in cable, so you don’t have to worry about carrying one with you.

Click here to check it out on Amazon!

Bocas Town

Other

#30 Waterproof bag

We don’t have many items left on our list of what to pack for a tropical holiday.

One of them is a waterproof bag. You don’t necessarily need one, but if you’re going to a country where you expect lots of rain, and you want to take expensive electronics, you should consider bringing one.

I once lost a camera in a tropical downpour when the rain was so heavy that water came into my backpack. A dry bag would have prevented that. It’s also great if you’re planning on doing rafting or any other water activities.

Click here to check out a popular dry bag on Amazon!

#31 Towel

A towel is one of the more important things to pack for a tropical vacation.

Even if you’re staying at a hotel that provides towels, you might want to have a lightweight one that you can take to the beach, on a snorkelling excursion or into the jungle.

Red Frog Beach

I own a Lifeventure microfibre towel, which I love. It’s unfortunately unavailable at the moment, but the Rainleaf towels are a great alternative. They come in many different colours and sizes, so you can pick the one that best fits your needs. They’re fast-drying and lightweight, which makes them perfect for a tropical vacation.

Get your own Rainleaf towel now!

#32 Waterbottle

No matter where we travel, we always take a reusable water bottle. It’s much more sustainable than buying individual bottles of water along the way.

Maybe your hotel will provide you with drinking water that you can fill into your bottle. Or you can buy a large canister of water. Both options are much better than getting lots of tiny bottles that fill up the landfills after you leave.

Cayos Zapatillas island

I have a collapsible Platypus bottle, which is great for travelling. It gets smaller the more you drink. When I started using it, I was afraid that it would eventually break and leak. But I’ve had it for multiple years now, and it’s still fine and works great.

Platypus bottles come in multiple sizes, but I usually carry a 1-litre one with me.

Click here to see prices and reviews on Amazon!

#33 Steripen

Is sustainable travel important to you? Do you want to do more than just buying large canisters of water, which still produce plastic waste?

Then you should consider getting a Steripen. The Steripen treats water with UV light to eliminate any harmful bacteria, viruses and other disgusting germs. That means you can use tap water, treat it, and you don’t have to worry about buying water.

Not only is it much more sustainable, but it can also save you quite a bit of money.

Click here to get a Steripen on Amazon!

Boat on Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua

#34 Snorkelling gear (optional)

Tropical holidays can have a different meaning for different people.

If, for you, that means that you’re going to spend some time at the beach and close to coral reefs, you should consider bringing your own snorkelling gear. It is by no means mandatory, and you can likely also rent it. In fact, we have never carried any snorkelling gear with us before.

Swimming in the waters at Isla Cozumel, Mexico

Tour operators that rent out gear usually disinfect it before giving it to you. But let’s be honest. Now, with Covid, would you feel comfortable using someone else’s snorkel?

If that doesn’t sound great to you, then check out this inexpensive mask and snorkel, which you can take on your next tropical vacation!


We hope you now have an overview of what to pack for a tropical trip. We’ve marked everything that is optional, so if the list looks long, make sure to double-check. Depending on your needs, you might not have to take all of the items.

If you’re going on a tropical holiday, you might also find the following posts interesting. Make sure to check them out, as they can help you plan your trip!

Until your next adventure!

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Author

Ilona is a world traveller passionate about sharing her experiences and giving advice to fellow travellers. Having visited over 70 countries, she is always excited about her next trip.

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