I find myself at the airport nearly every month. And since my travel calendar includes three to four Hawaii trips every year, I’ve got my packing system for the tropical islands dialed in. Using the travel tips in this post (along with my handy packing list), I’ve even traveled to Hawaii for three weeks without checking a bag.
Keep reading for my tried-and-true list of what you REALLY need to pack — and what you shouldn’t waste precious luggage space on. This is Maui Trip Guide’s ultimate packing list — what you need while in Hawaii and what you can leave at home.
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Top packing tips for Hawaii
- You’re better off packing light. Hawaii is a casual destination with a warm, humid climate. Pack primarily lightweight fabrics such as cotton and linen instead of heavy fabrics such as denim and heavy wool.
- Leave room in your suitcase for souvenirs. Whether you discover Made-in-Hawaii jam to gift to your family or the perfect pareo to memorialize your dream vacation, you’ll want to reserve luggage space for your finds.
- Consider the activities you’re planning when finalizing your packing list. If you plan to spend your days on the beach and touring the local towns, you can probably leave the hiking boots at home.
- Don’t forget mineral sunscreen. Using mineral-based sun protection is less damaging to the sensitive coral reef than chemical sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or octinoxate. In 2022, the state of Hawaii passed a law banning the sale and distribution of chemical sunscreen without a prescription.
What to pack for the plane ride to Hawaii: in-flight essentials
Most visitors fly to the islands of Hawaii — and it’s a long trek for most. From the U.S. mainland, expect flight time of at least five hours. If you’re boarding a plane on the East Coast, prepare to spend at least 11 hours on the plane. Here’s what you’ll need to get you through your travel day:
I highly recommend wearing a small crossbody pouch to hold the essentials for getting through airport security. No more fumbling for your ID or boarding pass, or holding up the line while you stow your phone before going through the metal detector. Everything you need is easily accessible.
After I pass through the ID check, I slip off the small bag and run it through the X-ray machine along with the rest of my carry-on luggage.
In my crossbody pouch, I keep:
- Government-issued photo identification
- Mobile phone with an electronic boarding pass
- My slim travel wallet with credit cards and a few bucks
Quick tip: If you’re wearing anything small that could set off the metal detector, stow it in the pouch so you don’t accidentally leave it behind on the X-ray belt. As a precaution, I slip my Apple Watch into my crossbody pouch before walking through the metal detector.
Nice to have
These items aren’t quite essentials, but they’ll make your travel day smoother if you have them.
TSA Precheck. If you’re a U.S.-based traveler, TSA Precheck is a game-changer for getting through airport security. The wait is typically shorter in the TSA Precheck line since travelers don’t have to remove their shoes or pull electronic devices out of their bags. To get TSA Precheck, you have to apply in advance, go through a background check, and pay a fee.
CLEAR membership. If your airport participates in the CLEAR program, you can get through the ID check portion of security screening using just your biometrics (eye scan or fingerprints) and boarding pass. The program also walks you to the front of the line at ID check for fast track to the screening area.
I participate in both TSA Precheck (via the NEXUS program) and CLEAR. Using these programs, I typically get through security screening at my home airport in Seattle in less than five minutes.
Unfortunately, none of the Hawaii airports participate in the CLEAR program, so you’d only benefit from your departure airport. But if you travel through busy airports frequently, the annual membership fee can be well worth it.
Reusable water bottle. Avoid dehydration when making the long voyage to Hawaii. Many airports have installed bottle fillers near water fountains. Instead of spending $5 on a bottle at the airport, bring an empty bottle through security with you. You’ll save money, and it’s better for the environment. You can also use it while touring around Hawaii.
After getting through security, navigating the airport to your gate, and waiting for what feels like forever — you’re finally ready to board. This is our packing list of must-haves for when we’re on a long flight to Hawaii.
I use a travel organizer that hangs from the front seat pocket to keep everything I need close at hand. Some flight attendants will ask you to stow it under the seat at takeoff and just before landing, but it’s otherwise okay to hang it on the seat pocket in front of you. No more bending over to rummage through your bag, trying to find something you need.
These are the in-flight essentials in my travel organizer:
- Small snack bag
- Wet wipes
- Tissue paper and a few napkins
- Pen for filling out Hawaii’s agricultural form while in the air — your flight attendant will distribute and collect this form before you land on Hawaii
- My phone
- My phone’s charging cable
- My Apple AirPods
- Device holder to watch movies, such as this phone stand (since some older planes don’t have one at every seat)
Other items I keep at my seat:
- Reusable water bottle, filled at the airport terminal after going through security
- Neck pillow
If I’m traveling with other devices, such as an iPad or laptop, I keep them stowed under the seat in front of me. That said, I don’t always bring my larger devices on Hawaii trips since I prefer to travel light. I can do most things from my phone, so why schlep the extra weight?
If you’re checking luggage
While I prefer traveling only with carry-on luggage, checking luggage is sometimes unavoidable. If you check any bags with your airline, I recommend the following:
- Tuck an Apple AirTag or other bluetooth tracker into your checked luggage bag — you’ll have an easier time finding it if the airline loses it
- Keep medication, medical devices, and toiletry essentials (spare contact lenses and lens solution, for example) in your carry-on luggage
- Pack a change of clothes (and slippahs) into your carry-on bag if you’re flying from a chilly climate to Hawaii
- Keep a bathing suit in your carry-on bag in case your luggage arrives late
Trip essentials: ultimate Hawaii vacation packing list
Along with the airport essentials and in-flight packing list above, don’t forget to pack these items in your luggage:
- Packing cubes
- Laundry bag
- Booking confirmations: hotel, car, tours, restaurant reservations
- Costco membership card (Big Island, Kauai, Maui, Oahu)
- National Parks pass
- Reusable shopping bag (disposable plastic bags are banned in Hawaii)
- Sunglasses that provide UV protection
- Mineral-based sunscreen
- Small bag, purse, or backpack for touring the island
- Clothes (see detailed clothing list below)
Toiletries and health
- Medication: prescription and over the counter
- Medical devices used daily such as CPAP machine
- Mini first aid kit: band aids, pain reliever such as Advil, antacid, etc.
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
- Dental floss
- Eyeglasses in case
- Spare contact lenses and contact lens solution
- Skincare: face wash, toner, moisturizer, serums, etc.
- Cotton rounds, cotton balls, and/or cotton swabs
- Hair care: shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, gel, etc.
- Hairbrush, hair ties, clips
- Hair blow dryer (if you’re staying somewhere that doesn’t provide one)
- GPS-enabled tour app such as GyPSy
- Digital camera (or use your phone camera)
- Underwater/action camera such as a GoPro
- Charging cables and spare batteries for any electronics
- Extra memory cards
- Multi USB wall charger
Clothes to pack for Hawaii
What you decide to pack for clothes greatly depends on your travel style. Are you a fashionista? Will you have access to a washing machine? What tours and activities do you have planned?
To give you an idea of what to pack for Hawaii, I’ve included my personal clothes packing list for vacationing in Hawaii below.
Hawaii clothing tips
- Casual is key. You’ll be fine in a clean t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops at even the swankiest resort.
- Lightweight fabrics are your friend. Tropical weather = humid and warm. Forget the jeans. Think cotton, linen, and moisture wicking fabric.
- Don’t forget to pack a sweater. Even on warm days, temps can drop in the evening near the water.
- Stage your clothes before packing by laying them out to assess what you need and make sure you aren’t missing anything. I like to do this on my bed. Then put back any excess clothes. If you’re like me, you probably pulled out too much.
My 7-day wardrobe packing list for Hawaii
- 3 t-shirts
- 3 tank tops
- 2-3 pairs of casual shorts
- 3-4 resort style outfits for dining out
- 2-3 sets of swimwear
- 1 swim coverup (or buy a pareo when in Hawaii)
- 1 pair of leggings (usually worn on the plane)
- 1 lightweight sweater
- 1 jacket (for volcano tours on Maui or Big Island)
- 7 sets of underwear
- 2 sets of workout clothes: sports bras, tops, bottoms, sport socks
- 1 pair of workout shoes
- 1 pair of slippahs (flip flops)
- 1 pair of dressy sandals for dinners out
- Jewelry: rings, earrings, necklaces, etc. (in a pouch or travel organizer)
Hawaii packing list for inclement weather
While you won’t have to worry about shoveling snow while in Hawaii, the weather isn’t always perfect either. If you’re visiting during the rainy season or the weather report predicts stormy weather, consider adding these items to your packing list:
- an extra pair of closed-toe shoes
- extra socks
- an extra pair of pants
- lightweight rain jacket or poncho
- an extra sweater
If you’re planning to see the volcanoes, such as at the Haleakala sunrise or sunset, prepare for cold weather. Pack a jacket, winter pants, gloves, warm socks, and a beanie.
Hawaii beach and water activity packing list
Banking on plenty of beach time during your Hawaii vacation? There’s no need to weigh down your bags with unnecessary gear. You can easily rent snorkeling gear in Hawaii, and your hotel or condo rental will likely have beach towels and chairs for you to borrow. (Check in advance if you aren’t sure.) If you’re booking a tour, your tour provider should provide the equipment you need for the duration.
Along with the requisite sun protection (hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen), consider packing the following items:
- Waterproof cell phone pouch – Caution: I’ve seen waterproof pouches such as these fail when fully submerged. I personally would only use these as light water and sand protection while on the beach, not for taking into the water.
- Dry bag
- Underwater camera
Add-on packing list for hiking around Hawaii
The Hawaiian islands boasts its share of stunning hiking opportunities. Reserve space in your luggage for these items:
- Closed toe waterproof hiking shoes, particularly if you’re traversing lava beds or water features, such as streams and waterfalls
- Hiking pants and long sleeve shirt
- Bug repellent spray
- Mini first aid kit (or bare minimum, some band aids)
- Hiking day pack
- Portable hiking poles, if needed for steep hikes
Considering an overnight hike in Hawaii? Check out this backpacking list I created for my overnight trip at Haleakala National Park.
What NOT to pack for Hawaii
- Snorkeling gear. It takes up a lot of space, and snorkeling gear is inexpensive to rent on the islands.
- Beach chairs. Not only are they bulky, but you can probably borrow some from your vacation rental or resort.
- Water shoes. The sand is soft at Hawaii beaches, and you’re less likely to step on the precious coral reef if you aren’t wearing water shoes.
- Fancy clothes. The islands have a casual vibe. No need to impress while on a Hawaii vacation.
- High heel shoes. Again, it’s unnecessary. Wear a wedge heel if you’re looking for some height.
- Heavy clothing. The tropical climate in Hawaii calls for light fabrics. Bring a few warm weather items only if you’re planning to tour a volcano. The weather gets chillier at the higher elevation.
- Umbrella. While it rains frequently on the Hawaiian island, showers typically don’t last for long. And any rainfall that hits you will feel warm.
- Hair dryer. Most hotels and vacation rentals in Hawaii will provide a hair dryer for guests.
- Heavy moisturizer. I have dry skin, but I pack only lightweight moisturizer when traveling to Hawaii. The warmth and humidity helps keep skin hydrated.