Updated on January 18, 2021 by Asher Fergusson
My wife and I (pictured) lived in Hawaii for 2 years, and we loved it so much! We can’t wait to go back soon.
Below you’ll find our top 17 “must-have” items for a more safe and enjoyable Hawaii vacation. We also have some tips on what to wear in Hawaii, a list of items NOT to bring, where to stay, and some FAQs about traveling in Hawaii. Aloha!
What to pack for Hawaii – 17 Essentials
This case is a MUST if you want to bring your phone to the beach, on boats, hiking near waterfalls or anywhere where it can get wet, fall into the water or where it can get damaged by sand. It even makes it possible to take underwater photos and videos (with sound)!!
If you want to take better quality pictures than with a smartphone (and don’t want a more expensive GoPro) then this is a great little camera that won’t break the bank. With the beaches, the turtles, the rain forests and the waterfalls, there are plenty of things you’ll be dying to take pictures of in Hawaii. But all of these activities require a camera that is waterproof and that’s why we recommend this little beauty!
If you’re going to bring your waterproof phone case or underwater camera out on a boat, while snorkeling or while paddle boarding etc then you have to have this flotation strap so that it’ll float if you drop it!!
4. Neck Wallet
If you’re traveling to Hawaii from mainland USA then I highly recommend you use a quality neck wallet while going through airports etc. This clever little pouch holds my iPhone, credit cards, passport, cash and travel docs and allows me to wear it under my shirt when I want extra protection from pickpockets. Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and many people still feel jet-lagged when they arrive so it’s handy to have all your valuables in one secure place so that you don’t lose them when you’re tired. Also, this one has RFID blocking to prevent e-thieves from stealing your credit card details and comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee.
Swimsuit cover-ups are a must have for Hawaii. You can go for a swim, throw it over your suit, and then head to lunch without much thought. This one pictured is the one that my wife owns and loves. It’s attractive on all body types, the lightweight fabric dries quickly and is breathable — plus it’ll take up very little room in your suitcase and comes in several colors.
Whether you’re traveling with a suitcase or a backpack, a few packing cubes will make it so much easier to stay organized. Instead of having to dig around for your swim trunks or bikini top, just grab the cube your swimsuits are packed in and you’ll be ready to hit the beach. This set also comes with two laundry bags so you’ll never have to mix dirty and clean clothes again!
Available on HeroTravelSupply.com with an exclusive 15% discount using the coupon code “HERO”.
Lots of time in the sun and salt water may be the staple of a Hawaii vacation, but it can wreak havoc on your hair. To protect your hair from the elements and keep it from drying out too much, bring a leave-in conditioner to apply at the end of your beach days.
All the major Hawaiian islands have an extremely wet and windy side where the rainforests are. These are some of the most beautiful parts of each island such as “The Road to Hana” on Maui and they are not to be missed! Since you will most likely be rained on, we highly recommend you bring a windproof travel umbrella (like the one pictured) so that you can still enjoy the beauty without getting completely drenched.
Hiking in Hawaii is beautiful, but it can be intense and often covers muddy terrain. Instead of bringing heavy hiking shoes to Hawaii we highly recommend these lightweight, mesh, water shoes. They are breathable (meaning your feet won’t get too hot) and the “water grain” sole provides exceptional traction in wet and slippery conditions. They are also super easy to clean.
If you want to spend your Hawaii vacation exploring the islands and not nursing a painful sunburn, you absolutely need to pack sunscreen. But I urge you to PLEASE only use “reef safe sunscreen” that is safe for the reefs and turtles too. Hawaii has a very fragile ecosystem and studies have shown that the chemicals in normal sunscreen destroys the coral reef! In fact, there are even plans to ban oxybenzone-based sunscreen from Hawaii altogether.
This one from Earth Pak is our top pick. It’s inexpensive, cleans easily and most importantly it works! It can be dropped in water (and even submerged) without your belongings getting wet. I recommend it whether you are heading to the beach, going on a day trip on a boat, or planning to do a more extensive water based excursion. Before I knew about dry bags, I got my backpack soaked on a day trip to Molakai because the boat got splashed by the waves and drenched the deck.
Though last year saw an outbreak of Dengue fever, there’s generally very little risk of mosquito-borne diseases in Hawaii. That said, there are still mosquitoes, and you’ll want to protect yourself against bites. These natural insect repelling wristbands last for up to 300 hours. Note: I also recommend you use insect repellent in addition to the bracelets if you want to minimize the chances of getting bitten.
Beach blankets are always necessary in Hawaii, but the wrong blanket will get blown around, filled with sand, and will be hard to dry at the end of the day. This Wellax beach mat is made of parachute material so it’s quick-drying and lightweight. It also folds up very compactly for packing purposes. There are sand weights on the edges, too, so it won’t blow around in the beach breeze! It even has pockets for your belongings and comes with a bonus cellphone case.
The sun in Hawaii is surprisingly strong even in the winter, and “rashies” are popular amongst locals. If you are fair-skinned (like me!) or this is your first time in the sun for a while you will be glad to know this one has an UPF sun protection of 50+. I wear mine religiously, especially when paddle boarding. My wife, who is very olive skinned, also swears by it because when you are in the Hawaiian sun for many hours it’s just really easy to get burned.
15. Beach Bag
A good beach bag is key because (more often than not) where you park your car is a bit of a walk to the beach; and in many cases beaches can be far from food and drinks etc. This Aruba Mesh beach bag is great because it comes with an insulated cooler at the bottom which is key for keeping your snacks and drinks cold in the sun. It also easily fits towels and changes of clothes, yet isn’t bulky.
16. Gorgeous Dress
I recommend bringing one nice outfit on your trip. Inevitably you will want to grab a cocktail or a nice dinner somewhere and a sundress won’t quite cut it. My wife loves this dress, and personally owns it. It doesn’t wrinkle, it’s easy to throw on after a long day at the beach, its super sexy on all body types, and comes in a variety of colors. It’s also very inexpensive but doesn’t look it when you put it on.
This item may be a surprise to you to find on a Hawaii packing list but I’ve found having a good VPN is essential for any travel. I learned this the hard way when I recently had my credit card number stolen after using what I thought was a secure Wifi network at an Airbnb rental.
I’ve learned that whenever you go on someone else’s WiFi whether it’s at a cafe, airport, Airbnb, or hotel, you’re potentially putting your passwords, credit card, and identity at risk of being hacked.
The good news is that with a VPN like NordVPN you protect yourself on any device with 1-click. The other benefit of having a VPN is that if you ever travel somewhere that censors the Internet such as Thailand or parts of Europe then you’ll still be able to access all your favorite websites. I highly recommend you check it out before your next travels in order to guarantee the safety of your sensitive data.
Other Hawaii Packing List Items Not to Forget
Hawaii Revealed Guidebooks
Waterproof Bluetooth Speakers
Facial cleansing wipes
Steripod toothbrush cover
Deodorant: Women’s and Men’s
Razor: Women’s and Men’s
Aloe Vera Gel
Vitamins: Women’s and Men’s
Sun hat: Women’s and Men’s
Personal Item Bag
What to Wear in Hawaii
In general, though, Hawaii is warm and fairly casual. You’ll be most comfortable if you stick to clothes made of breathable, lightweight fabrics, and shorts, sundresses, and sandals are acceptable for most occasions.
If you’re planning on going out for nice dinners or attending shows, you might want a couple of dressier outfits for evenings. Also, note that if you don’t want to look like a tourist then don’t wear a Hawaiian shirt! 🙂
Many parts of Hawaii can get chilly at night too, so a lightweight fleece is a good idea, and it’s a must if you’re planning on visiting any higher elevations such as Mt. Haleakala or Mauna Kea.
If you’re going to do any substantial hiking, you’ll probably want to wear long pants and hiking shoes.
When visiting Hawai, women should favor lightweight, breathable fabrics. The weather is consistently very warm to hot, so beach attire is ideal. Sundresses, shorts, and t-shirts, or maxi dresses are the name of the game. Sweat-wicking athletic attire is great for active days, but generally, you’ll feel cooler in loose-fitting, airy clothing. Linen, lightweight cotton, and silk are all great options.
The vibe on all Hawaiian islands is mostly casual. Be sure to have a swimsuit coverup or sundress to throw on overtop for sun protection and modesty. You may also wish to bring one or two more elegant outfit choices for dining out in nice restaurants.
If you intend on watching the sun rise from Mt. Haleakala or other high elevations then you’ll definitely need to bring at least one very warm outfit. We once went up there unprepared and almost freezed to death! 🙂
Beach attire is ideal for most parts of Hawaii. Men will feel most comfortable in light, airy clothing, like shorts and t-shirts. Though you may want a few nice shirts for going out at night for a dinner. You’re bound to sweat a lot during the day, especially if your vacation is action-packed, so ensure you have a couple of extra, clean outfits to change into in the evenings after the day’s activities are done. If you plan on visiting one of Hawaii’s volcano summits then you definitely need to bring a warm fleece and scarf because it can get freezing up there!
Where to Stay in Hawaii
We love all the Hawaiian islands but Maui is our favorite since we lived there for two years. If you’re going to Oahu, we recommend checking out Kailua which is only 25 mins drive from Honolulu. If you’re on Maui and have the budget, we recommend the Four Seasons at Wailea.
Below is a really cool map tool (currently showing Waikiki) that has both hotels and short-term rentals displayed with pricing. You can of course zoom in or out and view the other islands on the same map.
Please note: Where it says “Sheraton Waikiki” in the below map is actually a search bar so you can look up any specific destination you like in there!
Packing for the Seasons in Hawaii
SUMMER – May, June, July, August, September, October:
Bring a sun hat and good sunglasses, plus don’t neglect your skin – apply reef-safe sunscreen frequently! Temperatures out of the water average between 80°F to 90°F (27°C to 32°C). Summer water temps are often near 80°F (27°C) in most areas.
WINTER – November, December, January, February, March, April:
If you’re planning to climb to some higher elevations (like Mt. Haleakalā – the dormant volcano on Maui or any of the other taller mountains in Hawaii), you WILL need a fleece jacket or something similar. A hat and light gloves aren’t a bad idea for such adventures, either.
Waterproof hiking shoes are ideal for this time of year in Hawaii! Tropical areas will enjoy more rain and fairly steady temps. Sunny, dry areas (like those near most tourist resorts) will typically have cooler but dependably calm weather. Temperatures out of the water average between 70°F to 80°F (21°C to 27°C). Winter water temps on Maui and Oahu are usually around 77°F (25°C).
Beach/Pool – There’s no question that much of your trip to Hawaii will be spent by the water. Be sure you protect yourself from the sun. Polarized sunglasses, a sunhat, and high SPF sunscreen will prevent overexposure. A swimsuit coverup or long sleeved linen shirt will offer additional sun protection if you need it.
Hiking – If you plan on doing hiking then you will want sturdy shoes, possibly long pants and bug spray. There can be a LOT of mosquitoes in certain parts of the islands. And as mentioned elsewhere, you will want to bring very warm clothes if you go to the summit of one of the volcanoes.
Dining out – Having a gorgeous dress for ladies and a stylish shirt and pants for guys is ideal. If you don’t want to look like a true tourist then I would avoid Hawaiian shirts. Think smart casual.
What NOT to Take to Hawaii
Travel FAQs and Hawaii Vacation Tips
- What is the best month to visit Hawaii?
- Which Hawaiian Islands are the best to visit?
- What is there to do in Hawaii other than the beach and water sports?
- What is the weather like in Hawaii?
- What is the best way to get between the islands of Hawaii?
- Are there any health concerns for visitors to Hawaii?
- How much does it cost to travel in Hawaii?
- Are there cruises from California to Hawaii?
- Where is a good place to travel off the beaten path in Hawaii?
- What are the best hikes in Hawaii?
- Where should beginners learn to surf in Hawaii?
- What are the best souvenirs from Hawaii?
- Hawaiian fashions like shirts, skirts, and muumuus
- Coconut oil products
- Hawaiian music
- Sea salt products
- Hawaiian quilts
- Koa wood
- Lauhala hats
- What is there to do on each Hawaiian island?
- The Big Island: Volcanoes National Park
- Kauai: The Na Pali Coast
- Oahu: Pearl Harbor
- Maui: The Road to Hana
- Lanai: Horseback riding
- Molokai: Kalaupapa National Historic Park
Hawaii’s weather varies by the island and by elevation, but the average monthly temperatures are generally in the 70s. The weather is fairly consistent year-round, though it’s slightly cooler and rainier in the winter months. Also, it depends on where you are on an island. Generally, the northern and eastern coasts are wetter, while the southern shores (where most hotels are) is very dry year round.
There are some boat options for inter-island travel, particularly to and from Maui, but flights are much more common. Six airlines operate within Hawaii, and most flights last under one hour.
Visiting Hawaii poses no more health risks than visiting the continental U.S., and common sense will protect you against most potential issues, like dehydration.
Yes! There are many different cruise lines that typically do 15 night itineraries from Los Angeles to the Hawaiian Islands and back. Some longer cruises even go down to Tahiti as well. If you enjoy many cruising days at sea then it can be a great way to see all the islands without having to pack up your hotel each night. Be sure to check out our packing list for a cruise to get all our tips on what to bring.
There aren’t many attractions, but that’s part of what makes it so peaceful. My wife and I went camping on Molokai for a week and it was such a wonderful experience. We particularly liked the Pala’au State Park on Molokai.
There are far too many great hikes in Hawaii to list, but some of the best are: Kalalau Trail and Hanakapiai Beach Hike (Kauai); Pipiwai Trail (Maui); Manoa Falls Trail and Diamond Head Crater Summit Trail (Oahu); and Muliwai Trail and Kilauea Iki Trail (the Big Island).
There are great surfing spots on many of Hawaii’s islands, but the most popular for learning are on Oahu (Waikiki Beach and the North Shore) and Maui (Lahaina and Kihei).
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