7 Packing Tips You Need to Know Before a Week in the Tropics

See recent posts by Rebecca Nadge

Idyllic beaches promise a refreshing escape.

Autumn is officially over and the chill of winter has started to settle in, so what better way to lift the spirits than to head north into the tropical zone? It's easy to imagine the warm seaside air rustling the palm trees, particularly when you're packing your suitcase on the eve of your departure. Nevertheless, there are always some essential items that are worth taking when heading to warmer climes, so spare a few minutes from your daydream to consider if you've got everything you need. Whether you’re planning on staying in a tropical rainforest near Cairns or heading abroad to snaffle up a super cheap room in Bangkok, here at Oyster.com we have you covered, with a list of packing tips for a week in the tropics.

1. Pack Light

It’s almost inevitable that a trip away will result in a few additional purchases, so aim to leave some spare room in your suitcase by taking less to begin with. In a region like South East Asia, prices will be considerably cheaper than back home, meaning that a guilt-free shopping splurge can easily be justified. As well as large scale shopping centers, quirky markets can usually be accessed with ease — the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai contains hundreds of stalls, and is an easy stroll from Le Meridien. Aim to pack only a few outfits, with tops and bottoms that can interchange. Be realistic about the type of dress you require; if you’re planning on simply spending your days in the pool, then several different shirts will hardly be necessary. Also avoid items like towels or hair-driers; they’re bulky to pack, and it’s likely that you can source them from your hotel anyway.  

2. Keep the Season in Mind

It’s easy to forget that destinations in tropical zones aren’t always going to be perfectly sunny and bright. While the rest of Australia is having summer, the Tropical North and South East Asia experience a rainy season, with high levels of humidity and bouts of torrential rain. Although traveling at this time isn’t for everyone, tourism low season may bring some great deals and you can still have a pleasant holiday if you pack according to the weather. Although it won’t be the most fashionable item, an unlined poncho is sure to come in handy; costing only a few dollars and taking up hardly any room, a lightweight poncho will keep you dry without feeling too oppressive. 

Fast-drying clothing will also be beneficial. Even if it is a warm day, being caught in a downpour can leave you feeling chilled, and the humidity prevents your clothes from drying out effectively. Pack lightweight, breathable items that will dry quickly, and ensure you are wearing something practical if you will be away from your hotel all day as you won’t be able to change. 

3. Prepare for Mosquitos

Mosquito nets encourage a peaceful sleep.

Mosquito nets encourage a peaceful sleep.

Dengue Fever is a mosquito-borne disease that is still prominent in rural parts of Asia and can be found in northern Queensland in Australia, too. If you are planning on heading off the beaten track, wear long, light-colored clothing to deter mosquitoes, and use an insect repellent containing DEET as an added safety measure. Mosquitoes are also worth considering when booking your accommodation; apart from health concerns, they can quickly disrupt a good night’s sleep when buzzing around your face. If you’re hoping to escape the city and stay out of town, ensure that your lodgings will be equipped with mosquito nets, like the rooms at BaanBooLoo Traditional Thai Guest House

4. Always Bring a Swimsuit

The sooner you can get in the water, the better.

The sooner you can get in the water, the better.

If your hotel is comprised of private pools at a beachfront location, then you’ll no doubt be spending a large amount of time in the sun. In countries such as Indonesia, certain commodities aimed at tourists can be astronomically expensive, so for essentials it’s worth bringing your own, and swimsuits take up so little room. Along with bathers, a hat, and sunglasses, also pack a small bottle of sunscreen. Not only will you save money, but you can also head to the pool as soon as you’re checked in. Furthermore, pale skin is considered the beauty ideal in many nations, and cosmetic items have been known to contain bleach. If saving a few bucks isn’t a good enough reason to stick to your home brand of sunscreen, then no doubt the presence of toxic chemicals will encourage you to change your mind.

5. Pack a First Aid Kit

Some hotels have basic kits with the minibars, but it's best to be prepared with medication as well.

Some hotels have basic kits with the minibars, but it’s best to be prepared with medication as well.

As well as bringing your own bottle of sunscreen and insect repellent, go one step further and compose a small first aid kit especially for traveling. In some countries in South East Asia, water from the tap will not be safe for drinking; even consuming salads washed in local water can result in stomach illnesses. “Bali Belly” is virtually guaranteed to make you miserable on your holiday, so visit your local pharmacy prior to leaving and buy some tablets to treat dysentery and dehydration. In addition, Malaria may also be present in some regions; preventative medication often needs to be taken before you leave and then continually for several weeks, so once again visit your local chemist before you go.

Although destinations in northern Australia certainly don’t foster the same concerns about the drinking water or Malaria, it is still worth coming prepared for any mishaps in the great outdoors. If your accommodation is peacefully located in a rainforest in Port Douglas, or even if you are simply planning day trips into the bush, come equipped with an ointment like Stingose. Suitable for bites, burns and other itches, Stingose will be invaluable if a local insect decides to nibble at you, and the ointment will barely take up any room in your luggage. 

6. Ensure Your Footwear is Suitable

Multiple pairs of shoes can be awkward to pack, so decide on two pairs that will come in the most useful. If you are planning on visiting the beach or pool then thongs or sandals are a given; they are easy to slip on and off, and you won’t have to worry about the discomfort of hot feet. On the other hand, if you are planning on exploring the city by foot, then closed-in shoes are a good idea. Busy cities like Bangkok can be dirty at street level, and heavy rain can leave undesirable puddles that you may not want splashed over your toes. Sturdy footwear is especially important if you are planning on hiking outside the city areas. Apart from providing grip, hiking boots or running shoes will give you proper support for long walking trips, and will keep your feet protected from sticks, rocks, and even snakes. Comfort and practicality are the most important aspects, so maybe leave the knee-high boots at home this time.

7. Be Prepared to Cover Up for Local Customs

Some temples require covered shoulders.

Different religions and cultures can mean that what is acceptable back home may not be tolerated in the nation you are visiting. In a country like Malaysia, where Islam is the prominent religion, conservative dress is expected in some areas. When you’re staying by the pool in luxury accommodation and the climate is humid and warm, it is easy to forget about conservative dress and just wander in wearing just a singlet and shorts. Tempting as this may be, the local customs should be respected. Pack something versatile like a sarong: It can be doubled as a scarf or shawl if you need to cover up, and yet will be lightweight and breathable in the daytime heat.

Points to Remember

  • Pack light: You may need room after shopping.
  • Be realistic about what you will wear: If you are planning to sunbathe all day, then several shirts will be overkill.
  • Pack interchangeable outfits that match.
  • Bring lightweight clothes that will air out quickly.
  • An unlined poncho will be worth its weight in gold.
  • Avoid bulky items that you can request from your hotel.
  • Bring insect repellent if you’re planning on leaving the main cities.
  • Pack your own sunscreen.
  • A personal first aid kit will go a long way.
  • Decide on suitable shoes.
  • Bring a versatile sarong to ensure you can comfortably cover up if required  .

All products are independently selected by our writers and editors. If you buy something through our links, Oyster may earn an affiliate commission.