Written by: Chrissann Nickel
When prepping for a holiday in the sun, most people have a general idea of the essentials they need to pack. With consistently warm weather year round, it’s fairly obvious what you’ll be wearing: swimsuits, sunscreen, sun hats, and some shorts. Other fundamentals, however, can be less obvious when you’re not as familiar with island living. As a result, most tourists on their first trip to the islands actually have a tendency to overpack – so much so, that we have a list on this very site devoted to advising people what NOT to pack on their Caribbean vacation.
While I hate to add to an over-packer’s list, most all of these things are small and don’t take up much space/weight in your luggage and you’ll be very happy to have them. After years in the islands, these are the things people visiting me ask to borrow most often. So as a complement to the list linked above, I give you this – items worth swapping all those things you don’t really need out for:
1. A Hand Fan
Life moves slower here, expect to spend some of your vacation waiting around. You’ll wait for your food at restaurants for longer than you’re used to; you’ll wait for ferries that break down unexpectedly; you’ll wait for taxis to show up for 15 minutes when the guy told you he’d be there in 5. All this waiting around in the tropical heat can get unpleasant, so I always have an old fashioned hand fan in my purse to keep my body and my mood cool. They put out a satisfying amount of breeze when you need it most and you’ll be the envy of all those around you.
2. Tiger Balm
While there are many anti-itch creams out there, the only thing I have ever found that provides true, lasting relief from soul-crushing mosquito bites is Tiger Balm. And the mosquitoes relentlessly suck my delicious blood, so you can rest assured – I’ve tested them all. Tiger Balm is a muscle/joint pain relieving ointment from Malaysia. It’s basically the same concept as Icy Hot only better – it cools the area with camphor and menthol, magically halting the itching that is slowly driving you insane. It sounds exotic but you can usually find it at any drugstore or natural food grocer. Just make sure you get the “Ultra Strength” version, as some of the others contain cinnamon oil which smells yummy but leaves a reddish, oily residue on everything. Bonus: the mosquitoes seem to hate the smell of it so it also works as a decent repellent once applied.
3. A Wet Bikini Bag
You know what always seems to be wet when it’s time to pack up and leave? Your swimsuit. Wet Bikini Bags have become one of my favorite beach bag items because they allow you to throw a soaked suit into them without A) getting the rest of your stuff wet too and B) making your stuff smell like mold when you inevitably forget said wet swimsuit inside for longer than you should. They’re also great to have on hand when you’re leaving the beach so you can slip out of your wet suit and put on something dry for the ride home, thus preventing the dreaded Island Swamp Ass.
4. A Couple of Garbage Bags
Did you ever hear of that revenge company that would send your enemies an envelope of glitter? A truly genius concept – once opened, the glitter went everywhere, and as we all know, there’s no real way to effectively rid yourself of glitter once it’s been unleashed in your space. Sand also possesses this pervasive quality. And you’ll likely be spending a lot of time in and around the sand on your island vacation. Throwing a garbage bag or two into your suitcase is a GAME CHANGER. Simply toss all of your sandy things (flip flops, beach bag, etc.) into a garbage bag before you pack them up to head home. And just like that, you’ve saved yourself from a suitcase full of sand that you’ll never be able to fully remove. Guess who won’t be bringing beach sand on their next business trip? That’s you, winner!
5. Dry Shampoo
Things get sweaty down here in a hurry. One minute, you’re all cleaned up and headed to breakfast, the next thing you know, the 5 minute walk has left you soaked through your shirt and in need of a fresh one. A surprising place beyond your pits that you end up sweating a lot? Your scalp. Dry shampoo rocks my rock life. It’s a great refresher without having to deal with the full on production that is washing your hair – something the sweat of existing on an island will make you want to do at least twice a day. The miracle invention of our time aka dry shampoo saves water, time, and the most wicked cases of hat-head.
6. Actual Books
You’ll be surprised how impossible an undertaking it is to read an iPad in the sun. And even though your Kindle may have a glare free screen you can read in bright light, some of the most enjoyable places to soak up a good book in the islands are far from waterproof. From lounging on a raft in the pool to laying in the sand in the lapping waves, real print books allow for more worry-free reading time where you want to be most. And, for the ones you finish while here, you can leave them behind as a special treat for us islanders, which will really help you rack up your tourist popularity points among the locals.
7. Water Sneakers
Even if you have zero intention of exercising while here (you’re on vacation after all, excuse accepted!), you may want to venture beyond the beach and take a hike on one of the island’s trails – an often overlooked activity that is hard to do in flip flops. The neoprene-style sneakers are lighter weight than traditional sneakers and are awesome for shallow water wading on rockier beaches if you love shelling too.
8. A Waterproof Case for your Phone
Now that smart phones have become most people’s main cameras, we see a lot more seaside phone mishaps down here than ever. It’s freaking beautiful in the islands and you’re going to want to snap as many pics as possible to hold you through until your next trip once you get back home, which means your phone is going to be out and about constantly – often precariously close to the water. Do yourself a favor a bring a waterproof case. Even if you don’t intend on taking your phone directly into the water, it’ll protect it whenever you’re out on a boat or the beach and can’t resist just one more epic sunset photo to make your Instagram followers jelly.
9. Reusable Shopping Bags
If you plan on doing any shopping while you’re here – whether you’re renting a villa and it’s in the grocery variety or if it’s more souvenir shopping you’re after – reusable shopping bags will not only come in handy, but will also help you to be a more responsible traveler. Plastic waste is the bane of our islands’ collective existence – if you can help us reduce it, we’ll appreciate you all the more.
I know what you’re thinking: I am coming to the Land of Forever Summer so I don’t have to wear pants, woman! Just trust me on this one. I’m not recommending this for fanciness purposes. Throw a pair of light, breezy pants (linen is perfect for this) into your suitcase to ensure happier happy hours. At dawn and dusk, you’ll probably want to be out on the beach enjoying the stop-you-in-your-tracks beauty of these two stunning times of the day. Unfortunately, these are also the witching hours of no-see-ums and mosquitoes. Sure, you can also douse yourself in DEET, but considering the fact that that stuff can literally melt the nail polish off your toes, wouldn’t you rather just cover-up a bit instead?
11. Decal from your Favorite Place Back Home
Because the islands attract people from around the world, many beach bars love to allow their visitors to show off all the places they’ve traveled from. Having a decal on hand can be a fun way for you to leave your mark and represent your town. It’s also something repeat visitors take pride in – finding their stickers from trips they’ve made in the past to see if they’re still holding strong. Obviously, don’t be an asshole – if you don’t find one of these decal-covered dives, don’t just stick your sticker anywhere.
12. Your Go-To Antacid
All those sweet, citrusy beach drinks can really sneak up on you. One thing I’m constantly handing out to visiting friends? Papaya enzyme (my go-to digestive, though you can easily insert Tums, Rolaids, etc. here). Most people are not used to imbibing as much as they do when vacationing on a rock, let alone this many juice-heavy drinks with such a high concentration of citric acid (think: orange juice, pineapple juice, lime juice, and more). Having an antacid on hand for the inevitable heartburn that follows makes for much better sleep – and leaves room for more pain-free happy houring.
13. Donation of Supplies to the Local Animal Rescue
One of the less sunny aspects of the islands you visit is the overpopulation of unwanted animals that need caring for. Many big-hearted tourists often fall in love with a stray dog or cat while visiting and end up wishing they could do more. If you’re an animal lover, why not do a quick Google search for the animal rescue organization on the rock you’ll be visiting and reach out to see if there’s anything they need before you head down? Many will have Facebook pages asking for simple things you could easily bring from home that could make a big difference for them in a place where resources are limited.
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If you’re a tourist reading this, is there anything that’s come in handy on your visits to the islands that you’d like to add to this list?
To my fellow islanders – what useful things do you recommend to your visiting friends/family to bring to make their trip smoother?