Essential Caribbean Packing List

Learn what to pack and what to leave behind for an easy, breezy Caribbean getaway.


The arguing is over, the payments are made, the travel documents are in hand and your passport is ready for that first stamp. After setting the alarm for some ungodly hour, you settle into the final chore of packing for your Caribbean trip. Relax, it’s not as complicated as you might think.

Clothing. The rule of thumb is to bring half of what you think you will need. A bathing suit is a no brainer. My Rule of the Twos will help you out with the rest.

For men:

  • 2 casual outfits (short sleeved or polo type shirt and shorts)
  • 2 semi-dressy outfits (khaki pants or collared shirt
  • 2 pairs of traveling clothes for the way there and the way back

For women:

  • 2 casual outfits (casual shorts or skirt and a blouse or polo type shirt)
  • 2 semi-dressy outfits (sundress, dressier slacks, blouse)
  • 2 pairs of traveling clothes

There are some islands that will have a dressier feel to them. St. Barthelemy (St. Barths), Bermuda, St. Martin (French side) all are a bit more formal and a dressier dress for the ladies and a jacket for the gents is appropriate. Honestly, you can leave the T-shirts and cutoff jeans at home. While there are very few truly cool days or evenings in the islands, a light jacket or sweater is usually a good idea from November to March.

Essentials. Since most resorts provide bathing essentials, such as shampoo, conditioner and lotion, there is no need to bring those along unless you have a particular reason and cannot live without your brand. As for the other items, it’s always less expensive to buy them at home, so pack them in.

  • suntan lotion
  • sunscreen
  • aspirin
  • Band-Aids
  • Solarcaine

Infant travel. If you’re traveling with an infant, make sure you bring all of the necessities, as these items will be at least double the price on the islands.

  • diapers
  • diaper cream
  • bottles
  • disposable bags
  • sippy cups
  • anything else you usually pack in the stroller

Luggage. When I travel to the islands, I like to take advantage of some of the bargains I can find in the offbeat galleries and shops. I have a small suitcase that I pack inside my suitcase on the way down, and when it invariably gets filled with souvenirs, I just check it on the way home.

Electronic Accessories. It does rain in the Caribbean and sometimes you may be stuck in your hotel.

  • iPods and PS2s are great to keep the kids occupied—they work well for some adults too.
  • Cell phones (with international roaming) will work on most islands but service is expensive. But, you are on vacation, save the phones and technology for when you return.
  • If you are intent on packing the electronics, a small power strip makes sense. The available outlets in most rooms are never convenient.

Electricity on all islands is the same as in the United States: 120/240 volts, but three-pronged outlets may be rare.

Liquids. Remember that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security is a hassle. With its 3-1-1 rule, it’s next to impossible to take liquids or gels without checking your bag. Keep this in mind for your return trip if you buy some alcohol and have a connecting flight. I have witnessed many bottles of that duty-free rum being poured out (or drunk) at the security line.

Carry-on. You do need a carry-on bag of some sort. This is where you’ll pack your passport and your vouchers or confirmations for your hotels and transfers. It’s also a good idea to keep a bathing suit and a casual change of clothing in there as well. Luggage has a way of getting delayed; if you’re on a cruise it is not delivered until after dinner. Being able to change into a suit and hit the beach is … as MasterCard says … priceless.

[Read 10 Tips for Island Hopping in the Caribbean for more information about passport and currency packing essentials.]

Destinations: Caribbean

Themes: Beach Vacations

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