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What to Pack for a Tropical Family Vacation (Printable Checklist Included!)

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

All the essential items to bring on a family vacation to the sand, sun + surf.

Pinterest photo of what to pack for a tropical family vacation

Our family is addicted to lists. We’ve found that the formation of a good one frees our minds from trying to remember uninspiring, yet essential, travel to-dos so they can focus on soaking in the goodness of positive-anticipation for the trip.

Having a thorough packing list for your tropical getaway ensures you don’t spend sleepless nights trying to figure out what essential items you’ve forgotten to pack, and prevents the unfortunate event of reaching a remote island only to discover you've arrived without your bathing suit.

* Click here for a printable version of this list.

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Tip: Avoid the temptation to randomly throw clothes into your suitcase. Being intentional with what you pack, by putting together outfits that suit your itinerary, will ensure that only items you’ll actually use end up in your bag.

Another Tip: If you’ll have easy access to a washer and dryer, you can cut the number of outfits you bring in half.

· Folder with identification, tickets, insurance info and essential documents like visas and vaccination records (and photocopies of all of the above.)

Passport, camera and folder with documents being packed for a tropical vacation

You can probably get away with going on a trip without anything on this list... except these items. We recommend tasking the most responsible adult in your family with being in charge of a sturdy folder with items like passports, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, Visas, or any other documentation required for wherever it is that you’re going.

· Two or three forms of payment. Have that responsible person mentioned above carry a money pouch on their person that has credit cards, debit cards and cash.

· Bathing suits! We recommend bringing at least three per person, so the worn ones can dry between use.

· Sunscreen that can be easily applied, especially if you have small children. We prefer some form of zinc oxide as it lasts longer than many other options. If you’ll be in a buggy area, you can get a sunscreen-bug-repellent combo.

· More sun protection.

Sun hats on a bed that will be packed for a summer holiday

Nothing kills a vacation-high quicker than tomato skin. Prevent this displeasure with a hat for each family member, sunglasses, and sun suits for kiddos.

· Sunburn remedies. Because sunburns happen, even when you’re super vigilant with the goodies above, you’ll want to bring aloe, or other skin soothers.

· Bug repellent. While it’s nice to have the sunscreen-bug-repellent combo, it’s also wise to have solo bug spray or cream for extra buggy moments. Our favorite brand is Badger Organic AntiBug Spray, as it’s nontoxic and effective.

· Two transit outfits. When you’re dealing with air, car, train, etc transit it’s ideal to wear items that allow for maximum comfort, which often requires having a few layers to account for the temperature shifts you’ll likely experience.

· Two outfits for each day of your adventure.

Outfit with jeans, a white shirt and red shoes that are on a beach vacation packing list

As you’re planning these outfits, have your itinerary handy so you can ensure you’re packing the right type of garb for the activities you’ll be engaging in. If you think you’ll be done by evening, and ready to climb into pajamas, skip the second outfit. But if you plan to go out for dinner every night, or do other evening activities where you’ll want fresh clothes, the second outfit can come in handy.

· Pajamas. If you won’t have access to a washer and dryer, you’ll likely want a pair of pajamas for every two nights you’ll be away. If you’ll be able to wash clothes, cut this number in half.

· Footwear. Again, pull out that itinerary and figure out what footwear will be required for your various activities. And then... resist the temptation to pack additional pairs, as shoes take up some serious luggage real estate.

· Toiletries for skin, hair, eyes, teeth, odors, and so on.

Makeup, nail polish and other toiletries being packed for a trip

A few days before you depart, pull out all your hygiene and beauty essentials. Now consider the length of your trip, and yet again, the nature of the activities you’ll be doing. Next, figure out which items you need to buy more of before you depart, what can be housed in a smaller container, and what you can buy when you get there (for example, for long trips we often purchase shampoo, conditioner and body lotion when we get to our destination.)

· Earplugs. We think these gems deserve their own bullet point as they can be sanity savers on an airplane, in a hotel room with your family, or a beach filled with people.

· Medicine and other self care items, like glasses, contact lenses, inhaler, Epi pen, etc. Be sure to refill any needed prescriptions at least a week before you depart so you don’t have to scramble at the last minute.

· Reading material you’ll actually read.

Reading material for a beach vacation

We’ve often been guilty of packing way more books and magazines than we’ll ever read, which takes up precious weight and space. Be super selective with the reading material you bring, limiting yourself to those you’re sure you’ll crack.

· Entertainment for the kids. If you have teenagers, the phone, pad and necessary chargers will likely be all they need to entertain themselves, but let’s throw in a book for good measure. For littles, set yourself up for sanity by packing a combo of games, toys, non-messy art supplies, and a cherished stuffed animal, or whatever it is they’re often clinging to.

If you really want to stoke them out, pack a backpack with toys, and other treasures, they’ve never seen. We sometimes siphon off a few of Hudson’s birthday gifts to use for this purpose.

And of course, pack that screen and headphones if your family does screen time. Hudson adores road trips, as that often means an Octonauts binge.

· Work essentials. Hopefully, you won’t have to engage in much work on your adventure, but we live in the real world and realize that sometimes a few emails or whatnot have to be taken care of while you’re rocking that Bora Bora hammock. So make sure you have that laptop, charger, paperwork, or whatever else you’ll need to get your job done.

· Gadgets.

Backup surrounded by electronics that will be packed for a trip

While items like your computer are likely already on the list if you’ll be working on your trip, make sure you securely pack other gadgets like a portable speaker, cameras, drones, phones, necessary chargers and batteries, and any other digi-items you’re almost 100% sure you’ll use on the trip.

· Specialized items for activities. For example, if you’ll be snorkeling, you may want to bring your own equipment. Or if your children can’t swim you’ll want to bring a life preserver, and maybe goggles.

· Beach bag. Bring a big ole beach bag, or better yet, one for each member of the family that can walk, so everyone can schlep their own stuff.

· Baby stuff.

Baby feet on a bed as the mom packs baby stuff for a vacation

For babes, you’ll want to run through your customized list of essentials, which will likely include items like diapers, wipes, changing pad, diaper ointment, any needed children meds, sleep sack, onesies, blanket, hat, and portable crib (if your accommodations don’t offer one.)

· Car seats, or seat belt adjuster. If your children are really little you’ll want to bring their car seats that are most travel friendly. If your kids are of booster seat age, you can save space by purchasing a seat belt adjuster that lowers the strap and adds cushioning for comfort.

· Baby carrier or stroller. If you’ll be doing ample walking on your trip, you can save yourself a world of hassle by bringing along your favorite baby/kid transport options.

· Travel snacks and reusable water bottles.

Metal water bottle sitting on a rock and being used for a hiking trip

Kids get hungry and airport food is too expensive, and gas station food is gas station food. So pack some favorite healthy snacks that are easily transportable. In addition, keep everyone hydrated with their own metal water bottles.

· Translator app or book. If you’re going to an area with a language you don’t fluently speak, it’s handy to have a translator app (if you’ll have access to Wi-Fi) or the booklet equivalent.

* Click here for a printable version of this list.

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