What to pack for the tropics

I always travel with a 30 liters backpack and a small handbag even if I travel for a couple of months. In this article you will find tips on how to pack to tropics. I don’t want to waste your time, I guess you are busy enough preparing for a holiday, so I will not include obvious things like a toothbrush or flip flops. I will highlight only things which turned out to be very useful, and I wouldn’t know that until I tried. It’s not a ready list, I will make you think about the factors to consider when you pack for the tropics. 

A girl seen from behind walking in a cobbled street with a backpack.

Think before you decide

Is it multifunctional? Ask yourself honestly: can I wear this t-shirt both with a skirt and the shorts? Is this jumper suitable both for a dress and the trousers? It’s better to stick to one color pattern so you can mix them easily, for example if you take green, brown, yellow shades they all look good together.

Is the material drying fast? The problem in tropics is humidity. Clothes dry ages after washing or after getting wet in the rain. Try at home which ones are drying quicker. Remember that dump clothes are also heavier.

Is it heavy? You would be surprised how big difference there might be between two pairs of trousers or jackets. Depends on a material and gadgets like zips and bottoms. Don’t even think about the jeans!

Is it easy to wash? White shorts may look fabulous in the pictures and you will love them for the first couple of days before you sit on something which will permanently stain the whiteness and even the small dot will ruin them. Colours are more practical.

To sum up, material matters!

Have a strategy and priorities

Don’t take too expensive clothes, they will go through a lot and it might be their last journey. They will be squeezed in a bag, washed with harsh detergents in a local laundry, exposed to salty water and sand. The only exception is sport equipment, like surfing tops or running shoes which better not be replaced by cheaper versions. 

Ask yourself honestly if you really need so many clothes? If you take five Tshirts are you going to wear one and carry the rest, dirty, stinky, in your bag? Really? Do you know that the smell can transfer to other clean clothes? Isn’t it better to just wash after each use? Don’t say it’s too much fuss, you just soak them in a sink for an hour then rinse and hang, in the morning you have a fresh T-shirt to wear. As simple as that. 

What clothes to pack for tropics

I will not choose the clothes for you as it’s a personal preference but here you have a handful of things which I wish I would take before I went on a trip. 

Loose clothes – they are more comfortable, airy and not irritating your skin.

Pareo instead of a beach towel – it’s less bulky, dry fast and you can wear it.

Two bikinis – just in case one is gone with the waves, thieves or other unexpected situation. Don’t laugh – a swimming suit was the only thing stolen during my trip and the shops by the coast were highly overpriced.

Cotton panties – skin doesn’t breathe under synthetics so it can trap moisture in the intimate areas and allow infections to take hold.

3 things which were absolute hits of my last journey and I would definitely take them for the next trips

Sporty Sandals – it’s simple, I was just wearing them all the time. In the city, in the jungle, on the beach and on the bus. But they must be extremely comfortable. Mine were.

Light cotton long sleeve shirt – it was a protection from the strong sun, i prefered to wear it instead of tons of sunscreen dripping off with the sweat. Also in the evening when it wasn’t cold but there was a fresh breese, it made me feel comfortable. And of course as an insect protection… yes, they didn’t really care about your repellent and that stuff…

Very thin cotton dress it had a universal style, suitable both in town or on the beach. Very comfortable during long bus journeys as it wasn’t tight. And perfect for hot days, when clothes easily stick to your sweaty body and irritate the skin. Loose and airy, that’s the solution for tropics.

Gadgets to make your life easier:

Pegs, clips  – small things that make your travel life easier. Not only to hang the laundry but also to close the opened bag of  biscuits, so you don’t discover crumbles in your backpack when they get stinky after a month.

Carabina – oh, this is soo useful! You will always find a way to use it eg.  attach your shoes or wet towel to the bag, hang your bag in a bus, attach hotel keys, and so on …

Waterproof case for a passport, a phone and money to protect during the rain, boat trip or from the wet towel or split drink. It’s a basic very often ignored.

A small knife – it’s better to buy it once you arrive because you can’t take it to a cabin bag. I had an avocado for a snack almost every day so a knife was essential. 

Umbrella – small and handy. When you wear waterproof jackets in tropics you start to boil… Even if it rains it’s still hot, so an umbrella might be a better solution also because it protects your bag. 

Bag cover – it protects not only from dirt, rain but also from pickpockets.

A handy cotton bag easy to fold and pack in your main luggage. I used it as a day bag instead of a handbag, shopping bag and a beach bag.

Meds and cosmetics

Medicines for the most common travel health problems like food poisoning, diarrhea, painkillers, probiotics: you can easily get them in the cities, but have some in your bag just in case you are in a remote place.

Medicines for your usual problems. Make exact supply before you travel, as you may not find what you want in foreign countries.

Cream to apply on insect bites –  even the best repellents don’t always work, mosquitoes will always find a way to get you. Be prepared.

Cosmetics – use mini versions and be savvy using them. You don’t want to carry half a litre bottle of shampoo for the next month unless you got lost in a jungle.

Forget about make up, it will be a pain to wear a foundation or a powder in a sweaty hot environment. Your skin will thank you for a break. My must haves are only a mini mascara, an eyebrow pencil and a lip balm with a UVB filter – these things are light and make you feel looked after.

Natural sunscreen and insect repellent. Caribbean has a problem with algaes and forbids chemicals in the water, Please respect that for the sake of the environment. 

For women – a mooncup is an excellent solution,  especially when you are stuck in a chicken bus for four hours without a stop!

And the top tip is …

Don’t pack your bag to a maximum limit of your flight company. Clothes get humid in tropics and that makes them heavier, you might be surprised when you find out that your luggage weight is more than when arriving and you might need to pay for extra kilos.

To sum up – travel light

Ok, that sounds like a lot, but I managed to pack in a 30l backpack. If you don’t end up having a really big bag, you might be charged extra in the chicken buses. Also I personally find it hard to walk with heavy luggage in the crowd in the full sun with high humidity. Think twice what is more important – the convenient travel or another top to show on the Instagram pictures.

Enjoy your packing and do it with a music of a country you are going to, to get you in a travel mode.

I hope you will have a nice holidays. Please, share your thoughts if this was helpful for you.

All the best, Dora

P.S. Leave some space in your luggage for souvenirs!!!

One thought on “What to pack for the tropics

  1. Thanks a lot. That is really helpful 🙂 would love to sea your wardrobe choice, especially the cotton dress.

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