Packing for Tropical Destinations: What I Packed vs. What I Used

This pack list was created by one of our Costa Rica program faculty leaders before and after his seventh visit to Costa Rica. Below, he reflects on what he brought and what he could have gotten away with on the trip. What he packed and used on this trip might not be suitable for every tropical destination, but its a good idea of what to think about on an active two-week trip to a tropical location!

​I packed 8 pair of underwear. I used four. I either swam with them, or washed them with me in the shower and body-dried them wearing them after the shower. It is warm enough that a pair of wet undies felt good. Clothes in the tropics dry faster on you than in the air.

I wore my wet clothes to get them dry (including socks and boots) so they wouldn’t go rank with mildew (have had that in the past!). I kept one pair of shorts for evenings and sleeping, one for wearing during the day, and a pair of board shorts for the beach. One pair of pants (not shown are my plane pants).

​I didn’t need all the extra shirts. I was comfortable re-wearing t-shirts. When we would swim, I would wear the shirt in the river and then let it body-dry on me – a natural washing. The dark blue in the lower center is a rash guard. I didn’t use it because the surf instructors had some and I kept mine dry and clean. I will still bring it this time just in case. Definitely used the red rain jacket.

Toiletries and Extras

​I brought two little and one big sunscreens – needed one little and one big. Brought a big toothpaste and a small toothpaste – only used the small. Brought two battery backup flashlights – needed neither. Brought lotion, conditioner, shower gel. Used the gel as body and shampoo. Put a hat on and didn’t need the gel. Had two headlamps and lent one out. DEFINITELY deodorant (TOMS doesn’t work for me in the tropics), nail clippers, and a razor. The black oval pouch is my noise canceling ear buds – wore them nights when the chickens and dogs were loud. An iPhone charging cable, a usb-c charging cable, power brick that works for both, a couple of AAA batteries for the headlamps, and a camera battery charger. Did not use the camera tripod.

​I had brought a trail solar charger – never used it and won’t bring it this time.

Things I Packed and Used

32oz Nalgene, 8×42 monocular, Nikon waterproof camera, 10oz coffee cup (so I didn’t have to use throw-aways) sunglasses with case and cleaning cloth, bug lotion, hand sanitizer. I also had with me a Spanish reader (to try and improve my Spanish), eye shade (VITAL IF YOU ARE A LIGHT SLEEPER – also ear plugs – roosters and dogs and mosquitos are noisy at night and in the am), a bandana, a Ziploc with some propel-like water flavors, and a big waterproof stuffsack (Columbia outlet sells different sizes – I use mine to compress my clothes in my pack). 
Waterproof hiking boots (worn on plane to save bag space), flip flops and chacos (you can see the sand in them still). I hate junk falling or getting kicked into my boots, so I have low hiking gaiters and wore them.

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