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What to Pack for Hawaii

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Apr 24, 2012

I remember my first Hawaii discovery.

I was 25, young and in love, visiting Kauai for the first time on my honeymoon. I thought I had everything in the world. A husband. A Hawaiian vacation. A suitcase with all the necessities--bikini, a hot sundress and strappy sandals in the suitcase.

We went to Hanalei Beach. We snorkeled at Anini Beach. We took a boat ride along Napali Coast. We were feted at a luau, me in my hot pink, silk sundress--I loved that sundress--and black, strappy sandals. My hubs sporting his first Aloha Shirt.

One early morning, after breakfast at Wake-Up Cafe in Hanalei, we motored on down the road, in our rental car convertible packed for a day at Kee Beach. The ocean spread out on one side of the car, the fern-draped mountain hugged us on the other. We parked--this was when you could park at the end of the road--and lugged our gear to the beach adjacent to Napali Coast and discovered Kalalau Trail.

In discovering Kalalau Trail, I discovered hiking. (I hail from the Midwest, remember, where there are no mountains. No real hiking trails.)

I also discovered that sexy, black, strappy sandals cut and blister your feet should you try to use them for anything other than what they were made for--standing. But I didn’t care. I was hiking Napali Coast. I was traipsing along Kalalau Trail. We didn’t get far.

My new-found love for hiking graduated to backpacking after our honeymoon, and I strapped on a pack, carrying a sleeping bag, tent, cookware, food, water and more on my back. My husband and I explored national parks this way, and when we moved to Kauai, a few days later, we lit out for the territory--Kalalau Trail. This time, wearing hiking shoes.

I became the type of backpacker who a) gets elated when I have just the tool--a tweezers on my Swiss Army knife to remove a thorn, say--when I need it; and b) gets upset if I don’t have exactly what I need.

That mentality translates beyond backpacking, too, to my island-hopping suitcase. Over the years as a writer for OutriggerHawaii, I’ve learned to keep some very handy tools and items in my suitcase. I never remove them from my suitcase between trips, so I don’t have to remember to pack them. What’s more, like the backpacking pack rat that I was, they take up very little room and weigh next to nothing. But they offer a myriad of uses.

Here’s my list of what every suitcase in Hawaii should contain:

1. Stuffable hat: For sunny days on the trail or the ocean. Or, shopping, too, I suppose.
2. Waterproof stuff sack/backpack: For hiking of all kinds, but especially for hiking in misty, rain forests.
3. Foldable water bottle: So I don’t have to buy single-use plastic bottles of water. I even finagle flight attendants into filling these, instead of a tiny, plastic cup that, seconds later, goes in the trash.
4. Pareau: For use as dress, bathrobe, swimsuit cover up and beach towel.
5. Raincoat: Because you never know.
6. Fabric bag from Muumuu Heaven: So, I can say no to plastic bags at the grocery store, book store, gift shop, wherever. It also comes in handy if I come home with more stuff than I packed. Know what I mean?
7. Phone car cell phone charges: Because sometimes I forget to pack the real one.
8. A selection of tea bags: Because I do not drink coffee.
9. A three-inch bamboo spoon/fork combo: Then, I can say no to plastic utensils.
10. Cheap slippahs: They are accepted everywhere.

What about you? What items are your packing must-haves?


Kate Mink | Apr 24, 2012 04:00 PM

Hi neighbor! Well, kinda - I live in Wailua. Just discovered your blog,not even sure how I got there, but It's good. I enjoy your writing and can relate to a lot of the experiences and impressions you recount. When I saw "tea" in the what-to-pack list I had to reply! Me, too, a tea drinker in a coffee world. Yes, it's actually not that hard to get a cup of tea any more, but I feel better with a few bags tucked away. Like an army, i travel on my stomach. If I'm well-fed, all is rosy and I can go on and on. So I pack snacks - lately salted almonds and dried cherries, maybe a bar of dark chocolate. Hawaiian Airlines trail mix used to be absolutely da kine; it's not quite the same the last few years but still good. Other necessities that always go with me are pen and lined paper, Advil and vitamin C, lip balm, kleenex, polarfleece sweater and wool socks (I guess I've been living here long enough to get chilly in planes and too much a/c). Reading glasses. Sunglasses if i haven't lost them again. For more than a couple-day trip I pack by threes: 3 pair of pants, 3 light shirts, 3 pair of earrings. That's enough variety. I feel better if I have duct tape, a few zip ties, needle and thread, a small flashlight. If the airlines would let me I'd always have a Swiss Army knife. And a book. Or two. No more than three, really :) Aloha, Kate

Wendy McIlroy | Apr 25, 2012 03:07 AM

Another tea drinker here. If traveling anywhere in the US, I add a small hotpot. Most hotel rooms only have a coffee maker, and running water through them to make tea makes...teafee. Not a pleasant flavor!

mary | Apr 25, 2012 09:47 AM

Chop stix, too!

Kim | Apr 25, 2012 03:22 PM

Fabulous ideas. I definitely want one of those hotpots, Wendy. And, Mary, a woman I met out at Midway (and a regular reader of this blog, I think) travels with chopsticks that unscrew and store in a handy traveling pouch. Gotta get me a pair of those, too. Kate, what great travel essentials. Many of those you identified (snacks, paper, pen, a book or three--even a Kindle AND a coulple books--reading glasses, sunglasses) go in my backpack! But the duct tape, zip ties, small flashlight (for reading, of course), needle and thread? Yep. I gotta add those. Immediately.

Jenny Robert | Jul 04, 2014 08:22 PM

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