Island Packing

What to Pack for the Caribbean: 35 Essentials

So you’re headed to the Caribbean for a few days (or week) of beach relaxation, swimming, and maybe even some diving or cave exploration. Here’s what to pack for a Caribbean vacation whether you’re headed anywhere from Aruba to Puerto Rico.

What to Pack for the Caribbean: The Suitcase

If you’re staying put on one beach resort or island, I recommend traveling with a hard-sided spinner, like Bric’s international carry-on style. However, if you have multiple transfers or will be on a boat for part of your journey, I’d recommend a water-resistant hybrid bag, like Helly Hansen’s Duffel.

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What to Pack for the Caribbean: The Personal Item

For my trip to the Caribbean, I brought my Dagne and Dover carry-all tote as my personal item. I knew I’d need some extra space for my electronics and spare clothing items, so I opted for a bag that would give me some extra space.

What to Pack for the Caribbean: In-Flight Essentials

  • Headphones: For backseat entertainment. Most direct flights to the Caribbean average around four hours, so you have plenty of time to watch a few movies.
  • Collapsible water bottle: This model from Hydaway saves packing space when not in use. Depending on the island you’re visiting, you may be able to drink the tap water, too.
  • Tablet: This comes in handy for work and/or reading.

What to Pack for the Caribbean: Shoes

  • Casual slip-ons or sneakers: This pair from Rockport was great for travel days, casual dinners, and walking around town.
  • Water shoes: You’ll want water shoes for water activities in the Caribbean.
  • Flip-flops: For the beach and walking around resorts.
  • Stylish sandals or heels: If you’re planning on going out or to fancier restaurants, bring along a pair of low heels or sandals.

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What to Pack for the Caribbean: Clothing

  • Shorts: Pack a few pairs of both casual shorts (jean or chinos) as well as athletic shorts for any hikes or water activities.
  • Quick-dry layering tops: Bring a few pairs of a tank and/or short sleeve style for excursions.
  • Lightweight sweater: I packed one lightweight sweater for travel days and to cover up when needed.
  • Swimsuits and cover-up: Mandatory beachwear.
  • Maxi dress or long skirt: For night’s out and dinners. For men, bring one pair of chino pants if you’re going to a resort or more formal restaurant.
  • Lightweight shawl: I always travel with a neutral-covered shawl that can double as a scarf, travel blanket, or cover-up.

What to Pack for the Caribbean: Toiletries

  • O.T.C medication: I always travel with anti-histamines, anti-acid, and a pain reliever.
  • Basic toiletries: Depending on your accommodations, you may want to bring travel-size versions of your essentials.
  • Bug spray and anti-itch cream: Mosquitos are common in the Caribbean, with some areas at risk for Zika, so you’ll want heavy-duty spray and relief.
  • Sunscreen and aloe: Always travel with a natural and reef-friendly sunscreen. In case of burns, pack aloe or aftersun cream.
  • Lotion wipes: I like traveling with one pack of these to cool down during the day and for a quick refresh after a day at the beach.
  • Facial hydration mist: My go-to during hot days in the sun.
  • Lip balm with SPF: During the mountain summit, you’ll definitely want this handy.
  • Reusable plastic storage bags: These are great for wet swimsuits, dirty laundry, extra toiletries, or to double as a dry bag for your phone.

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What to Pack for the Caribbean: Gadgets

  • Backup phone charger: If you’re going to take a lot of photos and videos on your phone that will drain your battery, bring a backup charger.
  • Fitness tracker or waterproof watch: So you don’t have to rely on your phone for the time when you’re swimming at the pool or beach.
  • Adapter: If you’re going to a non-U.S. island you may need an adapter. Check with your accommodations beforehand if you’re unsure. Travel with an adapter that also has USB ports for multi-use charging.

What to Pack for the Caribbean: Accessories

  • Sun hat: A brimmed hat is a good idea for sun protection.
  • Collapsible tote bag: Pack a simple style that can double as a market tote, beach bag, or to hold your camera bag.
  • Sunglasses: Pack a sportier and affordable pair in case something happens to them.
  • Cross-body bag: For nights out or day tours.

What to Pack for the Caribbean (That I Didn’t)

  • Books or card games: You’ll want some form of entertainment, whether it be a hard copy of the book you’re reading or playing cards for downtime at the beach.
  • Snorkel gear: If you have your own snorkel gear, weigh your options of renting vs. bringing. Gear is readily available to rent, but if you want your own fins and mask and will be enjoying the water almost every day, you may want to bring your own.
  • Dry bag or phone protector: You’ll definitely want this if you’re at the beach or on boats and island hopping. I used plastic baggies, but wish I had brought a dry bag.
  • Travel insurance: If you’re traveling during hurricane season, purchasing travel insurance with a TCI-clause is advised.

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What Not to Pack for the Caribbean

  • Warm clothes: The beauty of the Caribbean is that its warm year round. You won’t need warm clothing or rain gear unless you’re traveling during hurricane season.

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By Ashley Rossi

Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

After interning at SmarterTravel, Ashley joined the team full time in 2015. She's lived on three continents, but still never knows where her next adventure will take her. She's always searching for upcoming destination hotspots, secluded retreats, and hidden gems to share with the world.

Ashley's stories have been featured online on USA Today, Business Insider, TripAdvisor, Huffington Post, Jetsetter, and Yahoo! Travel, as well as other publications.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A reusable filtered water bottle—it saves you money, keeps you hydrated, and eliminates waste—win-win."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "A week in a bamboo beach hut on India's Andaman Islands."

Travel Motto: "Travel light, often, and in good company."

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Window—best view in the house."

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