Tropical packing tips from expert Anne McAlpin,

Anne McAlpin, packing expert (

Anne McAlpin, packing expert (

Anne McAlpin, nationally known packing expert and author of Pack it Up: Travel Smart, Pack Light, travels more than 100 days a year and averages 12 flights each month. She has visited 78 countries on six continents, including lots of tropical islands.

In a recent interview she shared specific tips on what to pack for a tropical trip and the importance of sun protection clothing.

Packing for a tropical trip should be easier, since the type of clothes needed for warmer climates are lighter weight and less bulky, but it’s always tempting to take too much. Here are a few of Anne’s top tips specifically related to packing for tropical travel.

  1. Think 3 to 1 – Three tops to each bottom (shorts, capris, long pants or skirts). A pair of zip-off pants that convert to shorts is a wise choice, too.
  1. Change out accessories (jewelry and scarves), which can maximize your wardrobe even more, if you wear the same top and bottom later in the trip.
  1. Choose quick wicking fabric or cotton for the staples of your tropical travel wardrobe.
  1. Layers are always needed, whatever the climate. Pack a light jacket, sweater, or large scarf wrap for cooler evenings.
  1. Sun protection is a must. Think about protecting yourself from the sun’s rays with packable sun hats and clothing with SPF sun protection built into the fabric.
Recommendations from Anne:
Tilley Hat (

Tilley Hat ( Pictured is the TM10B Cotton Mesh, $84.00.

Tilley hats (, a Canadian firm, has a wide variety of hats for both women and men. Tilley hats block 98% of the sun’s rays and most Tilley hats and caps are guaranteed for life not to wear out. They are even insured against loss for two years with a 50% deductible!

Tamiami™ II by Columbia (

Tamiami™ II by Columbia (, $45.00

Columbia is the #1 maker of sun protection clothing in the U.S. (Others include Ex Officio, Royal Robins, and REI.)

One of Anne’s personal favorites is the Tamiami™ II by Columbia, a white button up shirt with from ultra-light ripstop fabric that’s wicking and sun-shielding, with mesh-lined ventilation at center back. It has a 40 UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) and comes in several colors.

The same shirt is also available for men.


Anne’s favorite tropical islands

When asked to name a few of her favorite island destinations, she mentioned Tahiti and the surrounding islands of French Polynesia—“they are even prettier than the posters”—the Greek Isles for its history, Curacao for its Dutch influence, and the list goes on…

Her years of being activity director on a cruise ship took her to many islands, but her all-time favorite, is the very “out of the way” Devil’s Island on French Guiana. (In case you were wondering, French Guiana is a department of France in the Amazonia region of South America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Brazil and Suriname.)

Devil's Island, French Guiana (Flickr/Creative Commons image)

Devil’s Island, French Guiana (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Devil's Island prison ruins (Flickr/Creative Commons image)

Devil’s Island prison ruins (Flickr/Creative Commons)

It is the site of Cayenne, a famous French penal colony of the 19th and 20th century, and was the real life setting of the 1969 movie, Papillon, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.

“It is so desolate,” she recalls, “but the most beautiful flowers were growing out of the crumbling prison cells. You can only get there via a small tender boat and there is really nothing else there but I loved the history of it…and the setting.”


Wherever your tropical travels may take you, Anne’s advice is to travel smart and pack light: “If you want to get away from it all, don’t take it all with you!”

You can glean many more tips from Anne on her website and in her book. Check it all out at

Open and view or download a PDF of Anne’s packing list for a Mediterranean cruise here.

Do you have other tropical travel packing tips to share? I’d love to read them in the comments below.

Coming soon: Anne will share how she packed for a round-the-world trip – 21 days in a 21” carry-on, 21 pounds total!

You may also enjoy reading: “Pack It Up” expert Anne McAlpin shares her story and how Oprah played a part in her success

7 Comments on “Tropical packing tips from expert Anne McAlpin,

  1. We’ve spent much of the last four years living in and visiting various tropical destinations. While I appreciate these suggestions, there’s even more to consider. I’ve found skirts to be much cooler in extreme humidity, and a sarong or two to be versatile – from swim coverup or towel to skirt or dress. Footwear is also critical. In many destinations you can get by with a simple rubber flip flop. In others, you’ll want more protection and support. Some travelers may not be aware how quickly and poorly leather reacts to humidity. Your nice handbag could mildew in a day or two. Cotton is great, but it tends to hold moisture in extreme humidity and feel clammy. Lots to think about!

    • Thanks, Betsy, for sharing your tips for tropical travel! Tropical climates with high heat and humidity definitely have challenges that we need to be aware of.

  2. I will remember the 3 to 1 rule. I also like to pack so the tops can be used with more than one bottom. “If you want to get away from it all, don’t take it all with you” is a great line.

    • I agree, Donna. The more mix and match the better. For tropical wear, I mainly stick with white bottoms and colorful tops, so everything goes together. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I’m always trying to learn from others packing tips. I have a Columbia shirt that I only use for travel and it has lasted for years. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever bought. Definitely think a sarong goes a long way. It can serve so many uses.

Leave a Reply to MoreTimeToTravel (@MoreTime2Travel) Cancel reply