Look cute and stay cool: Holiday travel packing list for hot, humid climates

Online packing lists usually fall into two camps. Either you’re confronted with utilitarian bullet points incorporating bare essentials, seemingly written by a practical pensioner with little to no interest in fashion (do you really know anyone who seriously considers trousers that can zip into shorts?). OR collages of cute, capsule but impractical holiday wardrobes that cost more than your entire wardrobe.

After years of experience, I’ve honed my packing list to include key items that work for all kinds of situations and environments. This packing list focusses on travel in tropical and sub-tropical climates, or anywhere that’s going to be hot and humid.

Wherever I go, want to feel and look nice. But I also want to make sure I have practical clothes so I feel comfortable and can get down and dirty, walking, horseriding, trekking, surfing, kayaking, paddleboarding and all the other fun stuff. This is for anyone who wants to do more than just sit on the beach all day.

This list is just for clothing; makeup and beauty products are a whole other story! There’s a post on those coming soon.

What bag to take?

If I’m heading abroad I usually take around a 60 litre backpack unless we’re staying in the same place for a week or two (on honeymoon was the last time this happened!). If I’m carrying my stuff on my back, I want to make sure I’m not packing anything unnecessary. It’s really hard to pack lightly for a 2/3 week trip if you’re also packing for practicality and several beach, city and mountain locations!

Packing cubes

Whatever bag I take, I always use packing cubes to ensure everything is snug and neat. You can fit more in, but your bag feels lighter as everything’s compacted inside instead of rolling around in a jumble of shifting weight. Also, your clothes don’t get anywhere near as creased! You can find packing cubes on Amazon. Look for the ones that compress down with a second zip.

Another bonus is this makes it easy to unpack. All you need to do is haul out the cubes and unzip them as everything is already neatly folded.

Clothing

Note on materials: For hot climates, polyester will make you sweat. Also, cotton absorbs sweat and gets a bit gross after a couple of wears if you don’t wash it. I make an exception for denim shorts and one very loose polyester blend dress I have. Try looking for material blends like rayon, viscose, linen blends and silk with merino or cashmere for travelling & light layers.

Short sundress

The best sundresses can be worn at the beach or in town, and look fine even if they’ve been screwed up in the bottom of your bag all day.

Midi dress

This particular dress is very lightweight. It’s backless with a plunge front and I’ve worn it to weddings abroad, on my honeymoon, to the beach, into town and out for dinner. So versatile!

Sometimes I don’t take a longer dress, but if I know we’ll be going out to “nice” places I throw one in that will also double as a beach coverup. These also work with a shawl if you’re going to places that require you to cover your legs, like temples or other religious sites.

Jumpsuit, romper or lightweight dungarees

You can do ANYTHING in a romper, even lean over a pit of crocodiles…

I have just discovered the joys of jumpsuits. They’re great for the city, as a beach coverup or the evenings when it gets a bit cooler. They’re also great for travelling. Like a skirt, they’re baggy and offer freedom of movement. Unlike a skirt, they don’t show your arse when you sit with your legs open. Let’s face it, when it’s hot, you don’t want to keep your sweaty thighs clamped together the whole time.

My favourite all in one at the moment is a baggy leopard print Billabong jumpsuit a few sizes too big with 3/4 length legs, thin straps and a tie belt which gives it a bit more shape. I wore this all the time in Panama. I feel smart because it’s cute, but also casual as it’s so loose and easy to wear. You can dress it up or down really easily depending on what shoes and accessories you’re wearing. Also, you don’t have to wear pants or a bra with it – which keeps you WAY cooler for some reason! Easy breezy!

Maxi Skirt

I have a red silk maxi skirt with a side slit that I had sewn for me by a local seamstress. The elasticized waist can be worn around my waist or my hips and it looks great with a vest top or crop top. Lightweight, versatile and really easy to dress up or down, it can also be worn if you need to cover below the knee.

Comfy shorts

Comfy shorts are great for just hanging out in and wearing to the beach

I always take one pair of soft comfy shorts to take me from bed to beach! I can sleep or chill out in comfy shorts when I’m relaxing at the hostel or hotel. They’re long enough so I can sit with my legs up at odd angles and not unwittingly flash anyone.

High waisted denim shorts

I love denim shorts paired with an all in one swimsuit. Cute and definitely cool!

This is one thing that breaks my “no cotton” rule (more on this later). Hardy and cute, a nice pair of high waist blue denim shorts just goes with everything! I always have to take a belt too as after one wear – being cotton – they always get a little baggy. I like Levis cut off 901’s as the waist is higher than the 501’s, but 501’s are probably a little comfier.

Long, lightweight skirt

I have a high waisted red skirt made of silk that I had a tailor-made for me from a design I’d drawn. I can roll the top up or down to make it shorter or longer, or sit higher or lower on my waist. It’s so light and easy to pack, and silk is great for warm weather. It can also be dressed up for those evenings when you want to feel a bit more special.

Cropped top and vest top

Crop and vest tops are great if you feel confident wearing one because it’s really easy to match them with any bottoms. Crops can also double up as a bra when you’re travelling if you have a small chest like me. I have a black one which I love and wear with everything. under t-shirts, with shorts, trousers, my skirt. It’s so versatile. They also take up less room in your luggage than an average size top.

Sleeveless drop armhole t-shirt

At the moment I have two of these that I like to take with me. One was my dad’s, and the other is from Urban Outfitters and I’ve had it for years! The drop armholes mean you get more circulation and it’s less likely to get sweaty after a couple of wears. I sometimes like to tie mine up into crops.

Lightweight Cami

My freckly face and my favourite linen blend cami

I love this cami that I found in a sale at FatFace a few years ago. Their stuff is pretty expensive but it can be good quality (like their leather belts) so if you can find something great in the sale (the only time I shop there) – go for it! I love wearing it tucked into jean shorts.

Two pairs of “sensible” cute and comfy sandals

I’m not the biggest fan of flip flops. They’re so impractical. They slide off when they’re wet or if you’re sweaty (gross, I know) and they’re just kind of boring. They’re not suitable for walking long distances in and unless you’re hanging out at the beach all day – I don’t see the point in taking them. I much prefer sandals with a bit more substance.

Usually, I take two pairs of sandals. One just for the beach, every day walking or wearing with a smarter outfit. The other for comfort and more intrepid activities where you don’t want your shoes falling off. I love Teva’s for the latter. They’re cute, don’t fall off and come in so many colours and styles. Although you can get pretty sturdy ones, I find the lighter styles are cuter.

My Birkenstock Eva’s are so light and also perfect for walking around town, taking to the beach or wearing out for dinner. The cork bottomed Birkenstock’s are also super comfy but they’re much heavier to pack and you can’t get them wet.

Wide leg ankle length trousers

When these first got popular I wasn’t too keen. Now I love them! My current favourites are high waisted, very light rayon material in a washed out bronze-red. They’re really light and perfect for evenings to protect you from mosquitos or when you need to be a bit more covered up.

Sarong

I lost this hat somewhere in Panama – which I’m quite pleased about as it’s not my usual style. It was just the only one I could find with an adjuster!

I take this to the beach and use it as a lightweight, quick-dry towel, it also doubles as a coverup and a skirt.

Lightweight long sleeve pullover or sweater

For those cooler evenings, over air-conned dorm rooms and overnight bus rides you’ll want something that keeps out the chill.

Merino base layer style tops are great as they’re breathable and last longer before getting whiffy. I’d go for something that fits a little looser than a base layer would for mountain hikes or cold climates. Finistere do great quality merino that lasts and washes well. Size up for a cosier feeling and cooler look.

I have an old, coffee coloured stretchy jumper that’s about 15 years old and from Topshop that I use (it looks a bit nicer than it sounds, honestly!) but I’ll switch to a Merino as soon as it gets a few more holes!

Quick dry running shorts

Short, quick dry running shorts are perfect if you’re planning on hiking, kayaking, zip wiring, jogging or anything active.

Trail Runners or Trainers

If I’m going properly hiking on the trip I’d usually take my Vivobarefoot hiking boots. as they’re super comfy and light. The best shoes to take, however, would definitely be trail runners as they’re light, quick drying and can be waterproof. Look for something with good grip and size up. Did you know your shoe size can actually double in warm weather in multi-day hikes?!

If I wasn’t going hiking on the trip, I’d probably just take a pair of comfy Vans or Reebok classics.

Sports Bra

If you’re planning on working out whilst you’re away – a sports bra is probably essential. It’s also great for those times when a bikini won’t cut it – like white water rafting, hiking or yoga.

Leggings

These were just some leggings I found in TKMaxx. Go for a lightweight pair, something breathable and not cotton.

Leggings that will dry quickly but are also breathable are great for travelling. You can wear them on the plane and on chilly overnight bus journeys. They also come in handy if you go horse riding!

Two bikinis

Of course, I take bikinis! I always take two so if one needs washing or is wet, I have a spare. I love comfy bikinis from Australian brands like Aloe Swimwear. I’ve had a couple from Seafolly for years who generally do more modest cuts than I wear now, (you can buy these from Selfridges and Anne’s Cottage). But you can also find some of the best bikinis on ASOS.

A one-piece swimsuit

This is handy as it will also double up as a top. Right now my favourite one is the Hutton one piece from a friend’s brand, Bower Swimwear. They’re also great for surfing as you can just stick a rash vest over the top. Learning to surf in a bikini is a horrible idea as it will only keep sliding off – don’t put looks over practicality here!

A surf swimsuit one piece

I’m sorry, but how could you learn to surf in a bikini? Anyone who can keep a bikini on whilst surfing is either really good – or prepared to put up with the hassle of it constantly falling off. Even if you wear a t-shirt you’re not safe. A regular t-shirt will glide off along with the wave and – if you’re lucky – end up over your head. A one-piece swimsuit or bodysuit made for surfing is the best way to go here, trust me.

A baseball hat

For when you just need to keep the sun off your face and get on with it.

A sun hat

I always manage to lose or break my sunhats, so I end up getting a different one every few trips! Travelling with hats can also be so awkward as it can be totally crushed out of shape in transit. To help you deal with this, try Top Tote Hat Clip. They make it so much easier to travel with your hat!

I try to get a hat with a size adjuster so I can get it to sit tighter on my head. I really don’t understand how anyone can wear a hat in a way so it doesn’t immediately get blown off at the slightest puff of wind.

Kaftan

I’m not a kaftan wearer, but my older sister is and she swears by them! Hotel, beachside, dinner… some can double up as a lightweight jacket too. I aspire to one day find a kaftan I look good in but until I suddenly get tall and willowy limbs, it’s on my wishlist.

Accessories

I’m not a big accessories person. I don’t wear much jewellery and would rather have just one-day bag that I also use in the evening so if you’re looking for accessory tips – there’s a post on the best minimal travel accessories coming soon! But for now…

Sunglasses

This really goes without saying. I almost always pack two pairs just in case I lose one.

Day backpack

If you can find yourself a lightweight backpack that also folds down to almost nothing, you’re onto a winner. Go with something neutral and not too sporty so it goes with whatever you’re wearing. This is great for the plane, the beach and day trips.

Tote bag

I have a beautiful woven tote bag that I bought in Barcelona a few years ago. We were living on a boat in the harbour and had plenty of time to browse the surrounding shops! It’s big enough to fit in whatever I need for the beach, but it’s also cute enough to take out in the evening. Any bag you love that’s mid-size, light and easy to carry is perfect.

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