Kauai–What To Pack For Your Visit

I have to make a disclaimer  upfront.  I’m a light packer no matter where I travel because I don’t like to check my luggage and pay baggage fees.  With that said, the following list is for the “minimalist” who doesn’t want to bring a bunch of stuff to Kauai that they’ll never use during their vacation.

Suggested necessities for a week long visit on Kauai:

Light Luggage
Light Luggage

–Start with a small suitcase or duffle bag that will fit in the overhead bin, plus a backpack.

Small Purse
Small Purse

 Backpack can double as your beach bag and it’s handy for day hikes on Kauai’s many trails to carry water, snacks, and a rain jacket.

I suggest tucking a small purse or fanny pack into the backpack for your wallet, airline tickets, keys, etc.  The cotton print mini-shoulder bag, pictured here, is locally-made and runs less than $20.

Kmart Suit-$30

-Swimsuit/bikini.  Assuming you have space, it’s nice to have two swimsuits if you plan to swim, snorkel, or surf every day.  Good news:  If your swimsuit is shot, you can buy one year-round on the Garden Isle.  You’ll find inexpensive suits at Costco, K-Mart and WalMart.  You’ll also find pricey designer suits at local surf shops and specialty stores.

Shell Searching

 A rash guard is nice because it provides extra sun protection, so bring one if you own one because they’re kind of pricey on Kauai where they rarely go on sale.

–2 pairs of shorts, Bermudas, or capris.

–1 pair of long pants for cool evenings and/or hiking.

Red Dirt Shirt
Red Dirt Shirt

–3 T-shirts/tanktops.  Pack less if you plan on buying one of Kauai’s “Red Dirt” shirts, or other souvenir T-shirts.  Yeah, for real… You can buy a shirt dyed with local dirt.  A YouTube video shows how “Kauai’s Red Dirt Shirts” are made at a local sportswear company in Eleele where the tradition began after Hurricane Iniki stained the inventory.

–Ladies:  1 or 2 sundresses.  They make great swimsuit cover-ups and can double as your “dress-up” clothes.  They can be purchased for cheap at WalMart, Costco and a variety of flea markets in fun tropical prints.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho
Mayor Bernard Carvalho

–Men:  2 casual shirts/polos.  And, yes!  Hawaiian-print shirts are popular here.  Even Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho has a collection.

–Lightweight hooded rain jacket.  Average temps on Kauai range between 75 to 85 year-round with the possibility of daily rain showers and the potential for strong winds and heavy rain in the fall and winter months when a trip to Kokee can be chilly (sometimes 10 to 15 degrees cooler than temps at the bottom of the hill).

Slippahs
Slippahs

–1 pair of flip flops/thongs.  Locals call them “slippahs” and they are the universal shoes on Kauai, so it’s OK to wear them to restaurants, church, etc.  If you don’t own a pair, you can buy them nearly everywhere on the Garden Isle, including WalMart, Kmart, local surf shops, even at most grocery stores and some gas stations.

–1 pair of sturdy tennis shoes, lightweight boots or Teva-type shoes for hiking.  These shoes are guaranteed to get stained by Kauai’s red dirt and/or red mud, so don’t bring those nice new ones you want to keep sparkly white.

–Socks.  Same warning as above… Stains guaranteed.

–Underwear, as needed.

–Hat/visor/baseball cap.

–Sunglasses.

–Prescription drugs.

–Cell phone.  Reception can be sketchy on Kauai, and non-existent on the North Shore past Hanalei, on the West Side in Waimea Canyon, and on most remote beaches.  Still, a great way to take photos, check Email, and brag to your friends on Facebook that you’re hanging out in paradise.

–Toiletries.  Most hotels provide you with sample-size goodies.  If you’re staying in a private home or condo, it depends on the owner.  Full-size necessities are available at a variety of local stores.

Be sure and buy some sunscreen after you land, and use it, because the trade winds can fool you and make you forget that the sun is still cooking you when it’s cool and breezy.  I’m a mosquito-magnet, so if you also tend to attract those nasty little blood-suckers, you’ll want to buy some insect repellent and keep it handy, especially when you’re outside at dusk.

Ladies:  No need to overpack your cosmetics bag because heavy make-up melts in the tropical heat if you’re hanging out at the beach all day.

My daily beauty routine:  Tinted  moisturizer with 15 spf sunscreen, and  waterproof mascara.  I add waterproof eyeliner and lip gloss for “dress up” and evenings out.

Most hotels and  private rental condos/homes provide hair dryers,  but wash and wear hair works best when you’re in and out of the ocean multiple times a day.  A lot of locals have long hair which they pull back in a ponytail or bun.  I sometimes sweep mine back with real or silk flowers.

Wash & Wear Hair:

Some generic tips if you have trouble packing light:  Wear your heavy shoes/bulky clothes, pack neutral interchangeable colors so you can mix or match.  Take a vacation from toiletry gadgets (Electric shavers, hair dryers, etc) and buy “cheap” stuff like sunscreen and shampoo locally.

There’s a much quoted phrase in the travel industry:  “Pack half the clothes and twice the money.”  Pretty good advice for your visit to Kauai where prices of food, gas and activities can cause some serious sticker shock, but that’s the topic for another blog.

Adendum:

Almost forgot the most important tip of all…  Pack your luggage light, and leave your “baggage” at home. Seriously, Kauai is a remote island that offers stunning beauty, multiple locations to relax and discover tranquility.  If you need a tourist mecca with every imaginable amenity, best to head to Oahu and hangout in Honolulu.

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12 thoughts on “Kauai–What To Pack For Your Visit

    1. Aloha Tammy,
      Humpback whale sightings have already been reported along the Napali Coast and offshore from the Kilauea Lighthouse and Larsen’s Beach.
      The Garden Island Newspaper says the sightings began in late October this year.
      I’m not “pimping” any special boat tours, but I took a sunset dinner cruise up the Napali Coast on a big catamaran with my family last year and we saw several pods of whales. The babies were the best… A couple swam up close and showed off for us. If you plan an evening cruise you might want to add a sweater under your hooded rain jacket because it can get cool when you’re on the water at night.

  1. Actually am planning a trip to Kauai in the coming months and came across your blog. Reading about cool hikes / stuff to do and come up with a good (light) pack list. Probably in March/April if there’s any must see events around that time. Thanks for the post!

    1. Aloha Mplsadventure,

      Sounds like you’re a big time hiker, so I suggest you make plans to do all, or part of the Kalalau Trail. If you plan an overnight stay, make sure you get a camping permit in advance because they sell out quickly. For a day hike, the 2-mile trek to Hanakapiai Beach is nice. If there’s not too much rain, add another 2-miles and head upstream to the amazing 1,000-foot Hanakapiai Falls. You should plan on spending a full day in the Waimea Canyon where the Koke’e Museum sells a waterproof map of all the great hiking trails for $10.

      Lots of amazing beaches on Kauai. My “must-sees” on the North Shore would be Secret Beach, Lumahai and Tunnels. On the South Side, I love Poipu, Mahaulepu and Polihale beaches.

      If you come to Kauai in March, you might catch the tail-end (pun intended) of the Humpback Whale season. Even if you don’t see whales, a boat trip up the Napali Coast is pretty darn cool.

      Mid-March is time for Prince Kuhio’s Birthday Celebration. For two-weeks, a plethora of events will highlight Hawaiian culture, including hula, canoe races, and rodeos on the
      south and west side of the Garden Isle.

      If you come in April and love Hawaiian music, there will be a 50th anniversary concert at the National Tropical Bontanical Gardens, April 5th, featuring Ledward Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi, and Mike Kaawa, plus many more.

  2. Many thanks for the good recommendations! One of my friends lives there right now, so should be able to help us get around too. Looking forward to visiting your home area. I’ll be bringing my dslr this time, so hope to get some great pictures if not just memories lol =)

  3. Thanks for your awesome blog! I love reading about the real deal on Kauai from a local! 🙂
    We live on Maui and have been thinking about moving to Kauai. I wonder if you can talk about the VOG on Kauai. In Maui it can get really bad and that would be a factor in our final decision making.
    Finding a non-religious private school for my 3 year old son is another big factor. If you have any good info on that, we’d appreciate it as well.
    Mahalo!!! 🙂

    1. Aloha j9holstein,

      I’m not an air quality expert, but am told Kauai gets the least VOG of all the Hawaiian islands. Makes sense to me since it’s the most western, outer island in the chain.

      Island School is the best known private school on Kauai and has an excellent reputation. I know they have a pre-K program, but am not sure if they accept 3-year olds. I’ve also heard Kauai Independent Daycare is good and accepts 3 and 4-year olds for a year-round program.

  4. Thanks so much for your fast and helpful reply! The fact that you aren’t saying that you notice the vog yourself is a huge indicator in and of itself!! On Maui,even if it doesn’t impact one’s health, folks notice it big time because it makes the visibility so hazy.
    Thank you again! Much Aloha!! 🙂

  5. My son and his family is moving to Kauai in December is is with USFW will be looking for a place to rent or buy.

    1. Rents are pretty steep on Kauai, compared to other parts of the country, unless you’re from NY or CA. West side the least expensive, Princeville and Poipu the highest. Garage sales and thrift stores are a good way to go for furniture and other items too expensive to ship from the mainland. Electricity is about 4 to 5-times higher than the mainland, so he’ll want to encourage everyone to turn the lights off when they’re not in use. Costco membership is worth the investment for the cheapest food and gas.

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