Insider Tips on Packing for a Tropical Vacation

It’s getting to be that time of the year when everyone is planning their big tropical vacation. The thought of white sand beaches, unfamiliar cuisines, and warm waters is enough to make you book a flight ASAP. Since you probably don’t venture to such locations too often, packing for the trip can seem like a bit of a mystery. Because we want every aspect of your tropical endeavor to be as relaxing as possible, we reached out to professional surfer and Reef brand ambassador Paige Maddison for some insider packing tips.

It is part of her job description as a Reef ambassador to travel the world to surf, explore, and adventure in the most beautiful locations, which for the most part are in fact tropical. I was lucky enough to travel with the Reef team and Paige to Nicaragua and join in on Reef’s “Just Passing Through” lifestyle and motto. It was there that I got to see Paige’s vacation style in action; she seemed to effortlessly have just the right thing to wear at all times, consistently stylish and practical.

With everything from sensible footwear to hats that actually protect you from the strong sun, how many bathing suits you should reasonably pack, and last-minute travel essentials you’ve never thought of before, this list will ensure you are packed and ready for your most amazing vacation yet.

Keep scrolling to read our interview with surfer Paige Maddison and to shop some of the essentials she never travels without!

WHO WHAT WEAR: What shoe style is the most practical for a vacation like this?

PAIGE MADDISON: I know there is going to be a lot of sand and various activities going on during the trip, so I find that having three types of shoes is actually all you need for tropical getaways like this. In my personal opinion, the color black is the way to go, especially when you need to pack as minimally as possible. In my suitcase, you will always find a pair of outdoor practical running shoes, like my Reef Rovers, that are not only comfortable and supportive but also are perfectly stylish for any activity that might come my way.

Secondly, I always pack something for a dressier occasion just in case I end up at a nice dinner or going out with my friends. For me, the Reef Rover Hi sandals are perfect for this kind of thing. Basically, any shoes that can look simple and elevated while still being practical for the kind of environment that tropical destinations provide. Because as much as you will want to pack a pair of heels, the majority of these kinds of locations are rocky, filled with gravel, and not suited for a pair of stilettos.

Lastly, every tropical vacation calls for a pair of flip-flops, right? They are easy to slip on and slip off when you’re headed to the beach, and if you get a good-enough pair, they can also provide great heel support for impromptu exploring.

WWW: How many bathing suits do you usually pack/are necessary?

PM: Realistically, you only need two kinds of styles, but if you love bikinis and this trip is something special and rare, then pack however many you like. You should be living your best life every day, especially on vacation! But if we are talking practically, just the two styles will do. One for supportive activewear, such as a one-piece or a more supportive sports-style top to incorporate into running, surfing, or hiking, and then one to just bask in the sun in (aka your itsy-bitsy Brazilian bikini).

WWW: What articles of clothing do you find are best in the heat?

PM: I would say any pieces that are lightweight in material, that dry quickly in case you get them wet, and that look good thrown over a bikini, whether it be day or night. I always pack a long-sleeve collared shirt to prevent sun damage during the day. You can tie it up to make it more beachy, but it can also transform into a dressier evening piece should you end up needing one. I also find that a thin scarf that’s wide enough to cover my lower half when wrapped around like a sarong is extremely versatile. I can use it to tie my hair back, cover me from the sun, or keep me warm when the sun is setting at the end of a long day.

On Paige: Reef Bali Breeze One Piece ($77)

WWW: What kind of hat is the most protective from the sun but still keeps you feeling stylish?

PM: My ideal hat is anything straw and with a wide brim. These styles don’t necessarily fit well in your suitcase, so be prepared to wear them on the airplane, but let me tell you, it’s well worth it. Also, since I am a surfer and sometimes have to take windy boat rides to different beach breaks, I find that bucket hats are most ideal, especially ones with a chin strap.

WWW: What are your top three must-have items when traveling to a tropical location?

PM: First is my surfboard. I usually I travel with three boards—my long board (single fin), my 6-O egg (single fin), and my 6-O (2 + 1). Second is my disposable camera because I love to capture candid moments, and they are easy to store in a cute backpack. They also don’t take you away from enjoying the moment like an iPhone can often do. Lastly is my reading book and a journal—a reading book to get lost and a journal to find my way. Oh wow, that’s so cliché, but seriously! Because I am by myself sometimes, I need to get lost sometimes. I am thinking a lot and want to write down my thoughts so I can remind myself of that path that I’m on and point myself in the right direction.