May 23, 2024

A Travel Writer’s 16 Caribbean Packing Essentials

A Travel Writer’s 16 Caribbean Packing Essentials

As a travel journalist with a penchant for balmy beach days and awe-inspiring natural wonders, there’s no region in the world I’ve frequented more than the Caribbean. My travels there have led me to write about the joy of Carnival celebrations, notable hotel openings, and the history of Caribbean foods. I’ve always been inspired by the vivid colors and textures of the region: the multihued blues and frothy waves of the ocean, a pastel colored sky, and the woven and rattan accents found in some of my favorite Caribbean hotels. These details have inspired my packing list, including tropical prints inspired by blooming fauna, and breathable, flowing fabrics that stand up against humid days. 

In a region that bursts with color and fashion trends, finding my looks for the Caribbean has given me a wide range of diverse style options — and thanks to temperate weather nearly all year long, I’m able to pack light with carry-on friendly options. From vibrantly patterned dresses and comfortable walking shoes to functional water-resistant fabrics and sun protectors, here are my 16 must-have items for Caribbean travel.

Vuori Airport Joggers 


The Caribbean’s tropical climate is best matched with breathable, comfortable clothing. These Vuori joggers are so soft, I could sleep in them – and I often do just that since they’re my staple for red-eye flights. Their slim but relaxed fit comes in a variety of colors, from tamarind to heather gray. The brushed jersey fabric is lightweight and buttery soft, and I love the pockets that help to store my phone and passport. When checking into a hotel or taking a tour, the forgiving fabric makes the humid weather much easier to navigate. 

(Psst, looking for an equally soft and comfy jogger for travel and your upcoming trips, but at a more budget-friendly price tag? This $18 jogger at Amazon has racked up more than 66,000 five-star ratings and comes in tons of cute colors.)

Hoka Sneakers


Designed with comfort in mind, these Hoka Bondi shoes provide incredible support, whether I’m hiking or running a trail or through an airport to reach my gate in time. A cushioned memory foam collar supports ankles and helps me avoid potential injuries on uneven sidewalks and morning runs. When temperatures rise as they often do in the Caribbean, I gladly welcome their mesh exterior to impart breathability. The shoe runs true to size and comes in a number of fun colors, including a coral and papaya combo that perfectly complements a tropical climate and can liven up a more neutral colored outfit. 

UV-Blocking Layer


Finding a shirt that offers sun protection while remaining lightweight is a double win. This t-shirt from REI does just that with a three-panel hood equipped with an internal drawstring and long sleeves to shield from the heat. The soft, stretch fabric has built-in UPF 50+ to safeguard against UV rays and wicks away moisture, which is ideal for protection against the Caribbean’s rain showers and thunderstorms. Whether on sundrenched hiking trails or weaving between waterfalls, this is my go-to for an extra layer of protection. 

Hiking Leggings


Also a hike-friendly option, these leggings from Girlfriend Collective include a compression pocket for your phone, keys, and whatever else you don’t feel like lugging around in a purse. Double sided seams and a compressive high waistband provide a sleek, flattering look, without the headache of leggings that don’t stay in place. Plus, the sweat-resistant and squat-proof material is made from 79 percent recycled plastic bottles (RPET) and 21 percent spandex.

Looking for something more technical? These $28 Eddie Bauer trail tights are made of moisture-wicking fabric with built-in UPF 50 and have zippered pockets to keep your belonging safe while hiking.

Spacious Beach Bag


Key to any Caribbean packing list is a functional beach bag. This thin, foldable pick from Kalidi is a gamechanger when packing space in my suitcase is running low. The surprisingly durable bag is sturdy enough to hold up to 30 pounds — more than enough room to carry my magazines, reliable Calpak water bottle holder, and favorite Quay sunglasses. I’ve had far too many beach days where my bag got wet or filled with sand, so I’ve also got my eye on this soon to be released Soap Bubble Waterproof Beach Tote from Case-Mate. The iridescent carrier features a touch screen pouch to scroll without worrying about sand or water interference, and wide straps for comfort. 

Double-Duty Swimwear


Whether sailing on a yacht or heading to a beachside brunch, a bikini that makes a statement will always be one of the first things I pack. During Caribbean carnival season, decorative swimwear, in particular, is always in rotation. SAME offers colorful pieces that are handmade in Los Angeles, with options that include everything from hi-rise vintage bikini bottoms to my favorite cut-out one-piece adorned with three dimensional flowers from the La Vie en Rose collection. I love to pair it with a few bikini accessories from Dorne’s Golden Girl Love Set.

If you want to make your beachwear pop with a reasonably priced lookalike, check out this rose-adorned, cut-out one-piece swimsuit that comes with a matching cover-up skirt for $42.

Casual Beach Slides


I couldn’t have been more excited about Farm Rio’s collaboration with Adidas this year. The tropical Brazilian patterns paired with the functionality of Adidas sportswear are the perfect pair for any Caribbean packing list — from airport sweats to beach sandals. These Adilette comfort slides offer a contoured footbed for optimal cushioning and fit true to size. The vivid berry, green and orange patterns of these floral themed shoes are a great sand-friendly option.

The downside is that the collection was so popular, sizes are almost sold out. If you need a different size, these cloud-like platform Croc slides come in a colorful tropical print and are perfect for beach days and afternoons spent exploring small island towns — and they’re 43 percent off, making them just $29.

Swimsuit Cover-Up


When humid beach days strike, I’m thankful to have packed an airy cover-up. The Bsubseach Crochet cover-up from Amazon has a breathable, open-weave makeup, flattering silhouette that can be worn loose or form-fitting thanks to a cinch-waist, and also has side slits for easy movement. The one-size cover-up comes in five vacation-ready shades, from classic black to a tropical green.

I’m also a fan of this 100 percent organic cotton option from Quince that is breathable with an open knit crochet design that also gives a glimpse of your bathing suit underneath. The halter neck and open back give the cover up a chic upgrade that can function as a daytime dress, too. 

Packable Sun Hat


I love to compliment my brightly colored dresses and bikinis with the Brixton Alice Packable Bucket Hat in black and natural print, made from 100 percent straw. This essential hat is foldable and lightweight, making it easy to transfer straight from my luggage to my beach bag. The circular edge provides great protection against 50+ UV rays. As an alternative, South African brand Maxhosa’s vivid Xhosa beadwork patterns and colors shine through in this fun bucket hat.

Denim Shorts


Unforgiving jeans in Caribbean heat are out of the question for me, so investing in the coveted and splurge-worthy Mother Denim brand for my go-to shorts was a great decision. The brand is known for its pliable, soft fit and high-waist options. The Tomcat Short N Long Short has a frayed hem and machine-washed cotton fabric that makes it easy to pack and throw on for hikes, pair with a bikini top, or wear for a casual night out. 

Hot tip: The Caribbean is full of natural wonders that lead to long days of exploration in the sun, leading to inevitable perspiration. I wear the moisture-wicking LDMA bralette and briefs — with a buttery microfiber-blend — beneath my clothing (like the Mother Denim shorts) to keep me cool and comfortable.

Day-to-Night Dress


This Fiorella dress from Missa Los Angeles is a flattering off-the-shoulder mesh design that’s airy and comfortable. Best of all, the gauzy piece can double as a going-out dress to save room in your suitcase, so I pack it any chance I get. The brand’s late founder called her pieces “many moment dresses that take you from day to evening, week to weekend, and home to travels away,” and I often return to their versatile fabrics and prints for just those reasons.

Given that this is a fairly pricey option, if you’re trying to refresh your vacation wardrobe on more of a budget, you may want to consider an alternative dress with a similar high-low silhouette. This highly-rated boho style comes in 16 colors and is priced at $48. According to Amazon, more than 400 were purchased in the past month, a sign that it’s an on-trend dress in high demand.

Colorful Footwear


Braving heels on dirt roads, sandy pathways and hilltops can be difficult, which is why these Vivaia mules are a great option for a little height that doesn’t put your ankles (or outfit) at risk. I love the vibrant pitaya color to compliment printed dresses for a night out, and they come in a number of other versatile colors like mustard yellow, black, and ruby red. These semi-flats also liven up more simple outfits, from shorts to rompers. The mule design makes them easy to pack flat in your suitcase, so you can just take a carry-on and avoid baggage fees.

Versatile Crossbody

Mz Wallace

The Micro Sutton from MZ Wallace is my essential purse to compliment any dress for a night out. You’ll get a great pick of energizing colors to compliment any outfit from the brand, including coral, acid yellow, grass, or, more subtle frost and black tones. Versatile in design as well, the Micro Sutton can be worn as a clutch or adjustable nylon crossbody strap with enough room to store your cell phone, favorite lip gloss, and room key.

For a more affordable pick with plenty of pockets for storage and built-in RFID-blocking technology, opt for the Baggallini Modern Pocket Crossbody at Amazon, starting at $45. Another compact option is the Sivim Small Crossbody, made of vegan eco-friendly leather and available at Amazon for $18.

Wearable Jumpsuit

Savannah Morrow

When I’m prepping for sunset happy hours by the sea, I reach for this flowing jumpsuit with a flair. The Arun from Savannah Morrow has long straps that can be wrapped in a number of versatile looks, including an open cut-out front and crossover style. The sustainable-minded brand sources only living materials that are grown in a way that reduces environmental harm, and this stunning jumpsuit — made from peace silk and bamboo wrinkle fabric sourced from India — is no exception. I often pair the caramel colored fabric with my favorite detailed brass Radiance Hoops from The Sable Collective.

Another great jumpsuit option is the Avalebeti Summer Tie Knot Cutout that comes in at just $40. The wide-leg design and shirred waist back make it a comfortable alternative.

Caribbean Designer

Fe Noel Llittle Caribbean

Hailing from one of my favorite islands, Grenada, designer Fe Noel has created swim shirts that pay homage to a number of Caribbean countries, including Barbados, Jamaica, and Antigua. Designed exclusively for the Fe Noel Little Caribbean line, the series of brightly colored shirts are made from Lycra that’s ready for the ocean, pool, or just lounging. 

For a complete look, I pair the shirt with these fun floral printed swim shorts from Akhg that are $65. Another great alternative is these Baleaf swim shorts that come with pockets, which are $25 at Amazon.

Sunscreen SPF 50


The Caribbean’s yearlong warm weather requires serious sun protection. Peter Thomas Roth’s Max Vitamin D-Fense is an SPF 50 moisturizer that doesn’t cause a white cast on the skin and leaves me with a nice glow — thanks to a plant-derived ingredient similar to Vitamin D and Vitamin E. You can grab it while it’s on sale now for $36 and have it at-the-ready for all your warm-weather vacations this year.

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