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How to Pack for a Tropical Vacation Like a Pro

by Rebecca Casamayor

Getting ready to jet off to a warm-weather locale for a well-deserved vacation? Whether you’re headed to Miami, the Caribbean, or somewhere farther like the Maldives, you’ll want to know how to pack for a tropical vacation without getting overwhelmed—or worse, overpacking. For a week-long trip, you’ll need to pack for different events, like a beachside lunch, an elegant dinner, and a night out on the town.

The key to feeling comfortable and chic in the heat and humidity is to opt for natural fabrics like cotton and silk—stay away from spandex and elastane blends, which are heavy and clingy—and to choose lighter colors like whites and pastels. Sleeveless blouses and flirty skirts are a good combination for going out during the day or at night; the same goes for lightweight dresses.

Here’s a cheat sheet for how to pack for a tropical vacation destination and the eight essential items you’ll need.

1. A Floral Dress

A day-to-night dress is ideal for a classy lunch spot or a nice dinner out. Pair a soft, floral-print dress in a pastel color scheme with flat sandals during the day, but go for a strappier shoe in the evening. Neutrals or a metallic option is a nice complement here.

Floral a-line dress

2. Versatile Tops

You’ll want to pack two tops for your trip. A silky or cotton tank in white or black goes with everything from white pants to printed shorts and flirty skirts and—most importantly—is lightweight and layerable. A more formal printed top in a blended material (say, a floral or a polka dot) is great over white pants or a neutral skirt. Neither takes up much space in your suitcase, and both are versatile.

3. White Pants

A crisp pair of white cotton pants or jeans is a must for a warm-weather vacation. Something in a slim, cropped silhouette is flattering and polished. White pairs well with any printed top, from florals to animal patterns to geometric designs and solids.

4. Printed Shorts

Floral shorts in a structured material and tailored silhouette play well over a swimsuit for the daytime (throw on a tank top for a casual lunch) or can look dressed up for dinner paired with a neutral silky top and a cardigan. Be careful to avoid clashing prints and keep the top half solid if you’re going to opt for a printed short.

Floral shorts

5. A Cardigan

It’s often chilly at night in the tropics, so make sure to pack a soft, neutral cardigan or knit to bring to dinner. Draped over your shoulders or worn over a dress, this is a key item to pack and one that’s often overlooked. You’ll be glad you have it when you’re seated on an outdoor patio without heat lamps and using a napkin on your lap for warmth.

6. Flat Sandals

You may have a long walk from your room to the beach or to get to a restaurant, so make sure you have some flat sandals (not flip-flops) on hand. You can always wear them on the plane, too. Whether you’re sightseeing or going out to dinner, metallic flats are sturdy and comfortable.

7. Strappy Sandals

If you’re staying somewhere closer to home base at night, a pair of high-heeled sandals (in a nude shade, so it goes with anything) is a fun addition to any outfit. They elongate the leg, give you height, and create a formal, polished look. Strappy sandals are a must if dancing is in your after-dinner plans.

Patent strappy heels

8. Statement Sunglasses

We’re sure you own a pair of sunglasses already, but it always helps to pack a second pair. After all, if they end up breaking or getting lost in the packing process, you’ll be left blinded by the sun or forced to spend a fortune at the hotel gift shop. Aviator sunglasses are a crowd-favorite and flattering for most face shapes.

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