There are no palm trees in this post. Yes, I’ve just returned from my first trip to the tropics in 2 years (island hopping Dominica, Martinique and Saint Lucia), but before we talk about that I have a little insight about packing. I have always considered myself a good packer – I plan well, make lists, maximize use of space – but for some reason on this trip I lost my mind a little. Not only did I over-pack, but I also over-shopped before the packing ever began. There are lessons here that I hope will help you (and future me) from wrestling a 45 pound suitcase up and down broken sidewalks and from having to leave great souvenirs behind because you just don’t have a way to get them home.

Lesson 1: Take half as much stuff and twice as much money as you think you’ll need

This great advice comes from my Mom, one of of the best travelled (and organized) people I know. In the case of this most recent trip her advice would have been pretty much spot on. Everything from food costs to local transportation cost more than expected in both Martinique and Saint Lucia, and repeated trips to the ATM meant repeated high service charges.

Meanwhile, island hopping meant multiple ferry rides, repacking and moving accommodataions every few days, and constantly risking a lost checked bag while dragging a heavy carry-on on and off the boats. Smarter packing would have eliminated or greatly lightened one of the two bags and saved a lot of aggravation.

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The stuff to the right of the red line never even left the suitcase.

Lesson 2: Do laundry

Nobody wants to do chores on holiday, but taking an hour or two each week doing laundry can cut your clothing needs in half. While we had laundry facilities at 2 of our 5 vacation rentals, I didn’t factor that into my packing. It would have been easy to take 5-6 days worth of clothes and wash them as needed instead of packing enough for all 15 days.

Lesson 3: You don’t have to take it with you (see point 1)

Almost anywhere you travel, what you really truly need will be available for you to purchase. It might not be exactly what you would buy at home, but wouldn’t a hand woven madras shirt from Martinique be better than another Old Navy tee?

In Dominica I made an emergency rash guard (swim top) purchase that saved the remainder of my holiday after an early sunburn. Yes, it cost slightly  more than it would have at home because the only outlet in Roseau was an in-hotel dive shop, but even in a small country with limited shopping that specialised product was available.

Lesson 4: Don’t buy new things you wouldn’t be buying anyway

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All of this is new; only some of it was needed.

For some reason I got really spendy before this trip even began. Several of the items I bought I had planned to purchase  (e.g. new luggage, the perfect black leather sandals I’ve been hunting for 2 years) and buying the plane tickets merely clarified the timing of those purchases. However, there were a number of sundresses and tank tops that I really didn’t need but convinced myself I would.

I also took outfits for a more diverse and formal holiday than we were planning. And while some of those items will be appropriate for the summer here, that doesn’t make them necessities. In the end, a few of the items I bought never even made it out of the suitcase, a few tops stayed behind at home. And again, if I had run short I could have bought what I truly needed

Next time I pack my shiny blue suitcase I’ll be a little smarter. And maybe remembering tips 2 – 4 will get me a little closer to tip 1.

For the record:

Some things were absolutely worth buying:

  1. Bamboo shorts: I bought these fantastic lightweight, breathable bamboo shorts from Blue Sky Clothing. I much prefer to wear skirts and dresses in the heat, even during moderate activity, and in the tropics that means fast and furious thigh burn. These shorts protect from both wardrobe malfunctions and the dreaded chub rub.
  2. Miss Mooz Alanis sandals: you have to feel this amazing Portugese leather to believe its softness, and the heel cup, ankle strap, leather footbed and solid sole make these the perfect city walking, out for dinner, dress them up and down sandal.
  3. Fourth Element Hydroskin: I am now a rash guard wearer for life. Yes, I love my bikinis (I’ve come to that late in life), but the combination of fair skin that has been burned multiple times before and a love of snorkeling is begging for trouble. A good rash guard blocks up to 95% of UVA and UVB rays, meaning maximum water time and minimum pain and damage. I have a long body so I bought the men’s style, but there’s really little difference beyond length and colour (and obviously blue is my colour – ha).

WARNING – one thing was 100% a waste of money:

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The last couple times I’ve been snorkeling in the Caribbean the operators have made a big deal about “reef friendly” sunblock (that you could conveniently buy from them – ha). Both the reefs and my skin matter to me, so I went for it and bought all-natural, reef-friendly, locally-made sunblock. It was a  TOTAL fail.

I applied this three times in three hours the first time we headed to the reef. It left white streaks on me, my clothing, and my snorkel gear that had to be washed off. It is so thick it was difficult to apply. Worst of all, I burned so badly that I spent the next day in bed for 6 hours with cold compresses on my back and a fan blowing on them. The next time we went snorkeling I mentioned it to our guide who guffawed and said reef safe sunblock is a scam (I think that’s an overstatement – but the jury is out).

Regardless, DO NOT BUY THIS PRODUCT – your money and your skin deserve better.

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