When the weather gets cold up North, folks start dreaming of warm-weather, tropical adventures in the Caribbean. And we hope that many of you are headed our way to the US Virgin Islands and St Croix. With many airlines now charging baggage fees, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of what you are bringing with you on your vacation to St Croix and other Caribbean islands. So, I’ve compiled my Top 10 helpful tips on packing for your Caribbean vacation.
1. Make a list and check it twice. You don’t need a lot when vacationing in the Caribbean or on St Croix. Most dress is casual, dressed up can be as easy-breezy as a button-down tropical shirt for gents and a sundress or capris and a nice top for ladies. Bring a couple of swim suits, a few shorts that and a couple pair of capris you can pair with several different tops and 3 or 4 sundresses, and maybe one really nice outfit. For footwear, you’ll find that you live in flip-flops which pack easily. Bring a few pairs in different colors to offer some variety. I like at least one pair with a little bling that easily go from day to evening. I also recommend bringing a pair of water shoes or Tevas with ankle straps for hiking.
2. Pack must have essentials in your carry-on. It stinks when it happens, but it does happen. Planes get delayed en route to your destination and you’re forced to overnight somewhere along the way without your suitcase. Or you arrive at your destination but your checked bag doesn’t right away. Be sure you have everything you need for at least 1 night in your carryon and you’ll reduce your stress level immensely. In particular, pack any necessary medications (ensuring you have more than enough for your entire stay) or items you can’t live without. On the occasions when I travel with checked baggage, I usually pack at least a lite pair of pajamas, a cotton sundress, extra undies and a pair of flip flops in addition to my toiletries in my 311 bag (see tip 3). I also like to throw in a few granola bars, a bag of nuts and an other snack, just in case. That way, when I’ve been delayed in another city, I’m ready to make the best of it. If traveling for an island destination wedding, be sure everyone in the wedding party carries on their wedding day attire, jewelry and essential items.
3. Heed the 311 Rule. For carry-on you can bring on liquid toiletries that are under 3oz. Everything must fit in a 1-quart, clear, zip top bag (1 per person). You can use a zip-lock disposable bag or I like my Travelon 1 Quart Zip Top Bag with Bottles, Clear, One Size
. I can stuff more in securely – and I mean stuff! I like to use a separate bag for my powdered makuep and eyeliners and only pack travel-sized liquids, medicines and lip glosses in the bag (yep, they count lip gloss as a liquid!) It’s a great way to use samples you’ve collected in freebie offers during the year. The flat shampoo and conditioner sample packets are the best at maximizing space and it’s a great opportunity to try out some fun new products. I restock my bag after each trip or when I get new samples, so it’s always ready to go. For more details visit the TSA’s 311 website.
4. Packing Cubes. Love them. I started using these about 5 years ago and now never leave home without them. I’ve even given them as gifts. eBags Packing Cubes make a great inexpensive set with mesh fronts that keep clothes fresh. I use the small one for lingerie, the medium for tops and the larger size for a pair of jeans, a couple capris, shorts and a few sundresses. They stack nicely in my carryon and maximize space. I can really pack them tightly! They make unpacking at the hotel a breeze and then I repurpose them as laundry bags for soiled clothes. When packing efficiently, I can easily fit everything I need for a week’s vacation in my carryon rolling bag and tuck it safely in the overhead bin. I also like that when my bag is opened by TSA, everything stays neatly in place and there’s no chance of my “unmentionables” falling out!
5. Pack the right fabrics. Remember that tropical locations are humid. Stay away from packing fabrics like rayon and other synthetics that don’t breathe. Cotton and linen are preferred fabrics in the Caribbean as they are lightweight, breathable, and wick moisture. You’ll be more comfortable and thankful you thought ahead. Side benefit, they tend to fold up small and take less space in your luggage.
6. Use TSA approved locks. These are a must especially if you are checking baggage. It’s unfortunate, but I have heard all too often of things going missing from people’s baggage, especially after off-island shopping trips. These are unfortunate crimes of opportunity. If your bag is easy to get into, the changes are much higher that it may fall victim. Simply adding a TSA-Accepted Lock makes it more difficult for baggage handlers to reach in and thus they pass it by. Be sure to get the combination lock style so that you don’t have to worry about lost keys.
7. Use your beach bag as your personal carryon. Or pack a foldable, reusable shopper to use as your beach bag. When I’m traveling, I use a smaller purse that can easily tuck inside my larger personal carryon with a book, my iPad, 311 bag and other items. Using a beach bag that can serve double duty (and that will fit under the seat in front of you) is not only practical, but will get you into an island state of mind from the minute you leave your house!
8. Leave your beach towels at home. Hotels and rental villas will have beach towels for your use, so there’s no need to take up valuable real estate in your suitcase with those. In fact, I usually travel with a couple of cotton sarongs that fold up small and dry quickly. I use them at the beach instead of a towel: The cotton wicks up water quickly; They open up nicely to lie on; When finished, shake out the sand and use it as a wrap!
9. Think about the excursions and adventures you have planned. Don’t forget that the sun here is very strong! While you’re out enjoying yourself, you are going to want to wear a hat with a brim and sunglasses, as well as a strong SPF, water-proof sunscreen. If you will be participating in any water sports, I highly recommend wearing a UV-protection Rash Guard Shirt , particularly when snorkeling. Backs are notoriously burnt to a crisp on snorkel tours where you spend an hour face down in the water. If you don’t have one to pack, you can pick one up at most dive shops. They make a world of difference and you’ll see a lot of full-time residents wearing them too. If you plan to do some real hiking or go horse-back riding, pack sturdy shoes or sneakers. Like the Boy Scouts say “Be prepared!”.
10. Go through security like a Pro. I often say there should be a separate line for frequent travelers who know how to get thru security efficiently (TSA are you listening?!). Take your ID, passport and printed ticket and place them in the outside pocket of your purse or in a Passport Wallet so that you don’t have to dig. Keep these out and handy after you check in for your flight and wait in the security line. Dress and pack your carryon with security in mind. I wear my flip-flops or slip on shoes to the airport whenever I can and change into sneakers or other shoes once I’m THROUGH security. Same goes for belts and large metallic earrings. Be sure to unhook your Crucian hook bracelets or the metal detector will go off. If travelling with a laptop or other electronic device, remove them from sleeves or cases ahead of the security line. Once through security, grab your things, find a nearby seat, and then put on your shoes and belt, and repack your bag. The 500 people waiting behind you will appreciate you getting out of their way quickly!
A little pre-planning and efficient packing can help you avoid stress, expense and help you to get into the island mindset quickly… a glass of Cruzan Rum Punch awaits you at the St Croix airport (STX)!