What to pack for Hawaii

Nikki ParkinsonFashion, How to, Travel 28 Comments

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away it was the mid ’80s and this university girl was known to fall immediately to the floor of any club – not because she had consumed too many beers.

Actually the beer consumption may have helped with removing any fear from making such a fast vertical drop from standing to sitting on a parquetry dance floor.

But no, beer was not the reason.

The reason was the start of a particular song that was on high rotation at the time, despite its 1968 vintage. No sooner had the first notes, drums and trumpets started than we were on the ground in rows, miming an extremely rudimentary rowing action like the next wave was ours.

That song? The original intro track to the Hawaii 5-0 television series.

Now this song is stuck in my head (without accompanying floor drop and rowing action) – and probably in yours, I’ll get to the reason for today’s post.

We’re heading to Hawaii on Sunday for a family holiday.

My eldest son, who’s now at university and assures me this practice no longer happens, is turning 21 on the Fourth of July.

It’s funny, I remember thinking when he was born (he arrived on his due date and his punctuality has followed him through is life) on such an auspicious date that we’d do something to mark the moment in the US and soak up some Independence Day celebrations while doing so.

And 21 years later it’s happening.

General packing tips

I write a lot here on Styling You about packing tips and how to prep for an upcoming holiday or weekend escape and the three greatest tips I keep coming back to are:

1. Add your destination/s to your weather app on your phone. Start looking at this a few weeks out but if you’re heading somewhere where the seasons are changing then it will be important to track it up until the day you leave. This was so important for us when travelling to Europe last year. We could see that the UK “summer” was going offer up similar temperatures to what we had at the same time in winter in Queensland so we made sure jeans and jackets were in the suitcases. This time we’re heading somewhere where the temperature (daily and overnight) is appearing quite stable. Hawaii in summer is offering days of high 20s and overnights of low 20s. It looks as if the humidity levels will not be as high as those in Bali or Thailand (I’ll be writing specifically about what to pack for Bali before I head there with Mrs Woog in October – we’ve got just a couple of spots left if you’re keen to join in the fun) so that’s a win for the hair situation.

2. Create a mini capsule wardrobe around what you plan to take. I’ve created one for you below but the reason why any capsule wardrobe works is that by putting some planning into the exercise, what makes it into your suitcase will work for a number of different options.

3. In a capsule stick to mostly neutrals with one accent colour. This is how you get more out of what you pack. It’s so much easier to work items back with each other when in neutrals. I’m always a blue girl when it comes to accent colours but you might opt for coral, pink, green … whatever takes your fancy.

Hawaii packing tips

What to pack for Hawaii | Styling You

I haven’t been to Hawaii but I’m up to speed with packing for beach getaways of the non-camping variety so the below tips would apply to a similar destination.

1. Don’t pack anything. Many people have suggested this but others have offered cautionary tales of arriving to find it wasn’t the right time for shopping for clothes that worked for them. The exchange rate is also not as kind as the last time we went to the US … oh 2012 your fabulous parity ways were something else.

2. Pack everything. I’m sort of joking but not really. We are flying Hawaiian Airlines and each of us could in theory take two 32kg bags with us. This is information that this reformed packer should not be armed with. Give a girl and inch … or some extra kilos in luggage allowance and it’s like a green light to throw everything from the summer side of the cupboard into the case.

3. Think about what your daily activities will involve. Maybe you’re going to take out time share on a beachside umbrella and plant yourself there for the duration. No judgement here. You’ll need swimsuits, thongs and cover-ups as your mainstays. If you’re doing some day trips or shopping then consider adding in shorts and sneakers.

4. Think about what your nightly activities will involve. We’ll be eating out a lot at night time – from food vans to fancy – so taking a mix of evening options that work for those evenings will be essential. Beach holiday style – even on the dressy side – is not as dressy as if you were going out in a city at home. Think minimalist shifts or maximalist kaftans. Or both.

5. Keep your shoes to about three pairs. Or don’t (see above re loose restrictions on luggage!). If you can pack three pairs of shoes that will mostly work with everything that you pack clothes-wise, then you will very much reduce the space in your luggage. I find that every time I pack heels for a beach holiday I never get them out but don’t that stop you if you’re so inclined.

6. Take more than one swimsuit. I always pack at least two swimsuits if I’m heading on a dedicated beach holiday. This always means you have one dry and available for a quick change from a morning at the beach to an afternoon poolside. Pack rash vests – particularly if you’re planning any water activities.

7. Take outfits that work back with your swimsuits. This can include cotton frocks and cover-ups as well as shorts and tunic tops. A swimsuit can become a bottom layer of an outfit so make it all work together and you’ll extend your holiday wardrobe. Ideal for that elusive beach-to-bar concept that only seems to happen if holidaying sans kids.

8. Pack a beach bag. The flight from Brisbane to Hawaii is less than 10 hours so I’ll probably make my beach bag my carry-on bag. Or I’ll pack one flat in my case. I reserve the right to change my mind. Make it a bag that is a neutral or something that can work back with your capsule. We also take our Turkish towels with us – ideal for any day-tripping that might happen as these towels take up next to no room in the bag. Mr SY will use a backpack as his cabin bag and this will then double up as a day-tripping bag for us too.

9. Pack a cross-body bag. No matter where I’m flying to, I always take a cross-body bag that can fit all my essentials – money/cards/phone/lip gloss/passport. It keeps you hands-free and your valuables close.

10. Pack a hat. And sunscreen. I do pack a broad-rimmed hat in my suitcase for a beach holiday. Here’s how. Coupled with sunscreen, these are my must-haves. I love the beach but my skin is fair and I don’t take any chances.

11. Pack a couple of different pairs of sunglasses. I keep my holiday accessories to a minimum (mostly my everyday jewellery and one statement necklace and/or ring/bangle) and prefer instead to mix up my look with a different pair of sunglasses. You have them on all day and for sunset cocktails, so why not take a couple of options?

12. Pack your active wear. Or don’t. I’m still debating this one with myself. I packed it for Europe and didn’t use. We walked a lot but I wore my FRANKiE4 sneakers. If you’re a running fiend then I know active wear will be mandatory for you. Shopping is my cardio, so as long as I have comfortable flats I think I’ll balance out the Mai Tai cocktail and Hula pie consumption. I will also be on the lookout for a yoga class so maybe some tights would be a good addition.

13. Wear an in-flight outfit that won’t have you sweltering on arrival. This is the tricky thing about flying from winter to summer. You have to dress for the day/evening you depart and the cold onboard situation but be able to adapt that outfit for arrival. I’m going to go for a lightweight pant, tee and sneakers with layers I can easily take off and pop in my carry-on on arrival.

15-piece Hawaii travel capsule

Another tricky aspect of packing in winter for a summer destination is that you won’t be able to necessarily duck out to the shops to buy something new to fill any gaps. The shops are currently in full winter mode – albeit sale mode – so spring styles will be in store in a matter of weeks. GAH!

You will need to go back and really look through your summer pieces and see if you can make them work. When I did a recent edit of my wardrobe, I did so with the winter season in mind but also with an eye to what might make good options for our Hawaiian holiday. I put those pieces aside then so it will make it easier this weekend when it comes to narrowing down what makes the cut.

If you are desperate to buy, I’ve included links below to some online stores that sell resort and summer styles all year round. I can highly recommend you check out Sequins and Sand, Blue Bungalow, Birdsnest and Adrift.

With the below capsule, use the types of clothing as a starting point – add in more shorts or dresses to suit your style, the length of your stay and what you have planned on your trip.

15-piece capsule travel wardrobe | What to pack for Hawaii

1. Sacha Drake maxi dress $249 (on sale) @ Birdsnest

2. Jets kaftan $159

3. Bird Keepers dress $69.95 @ Birdsnest

4. frockk top $169 @ Bell and Ford

5. Betty Basics singlet $19.95 @ Birdsnest

6. Bird Keepers shorts $69.95 @ Birdsnest

7. Oroton bag $197.50 (on sale)

8. Kooringal hat $39.95 @ Sequins and Sand

9. Seafolly sunglasses $69.95 @ Birdsnest

10. Sunseeker beach tote $19.96 @ David Jones

11. Jets underwire top $129 and mid bikini bottom $89.95

12. Queensland Swimwear Company one-piece $149.95

13. FRANKiE4 Footwear ELLiE sneakers $229.95

14. FRANKiE4 Footwear PENNi sandals (re-stocking soon)

15. Havaianas $24.99

So over to you? Have you got any beach or island holiday packing suggestions to add? Have you been to Hawaii? What shouldn’t we miss (we’re just on Oahu this time, staying at Waikiki).


* This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something via one of these links I may receive a small commission. Full disclosure policy here.

Comments 28

  1. We are taking the kids to Singapore for the school holidays so this post could not have come at a better time. I am a chronic overpacker so this time I will be brutal! The less I pack the more space for bringing home the shopping!

  2. Ah, Nikki – the Hawaii 5-0 rowing en-masse thing!! I remember doing this in Perth on holidays and laughing my head off!! It didn’t seem to be a Sydney thing, and I have to say I did the full gamut of venues in Sydney in the 80’s. I adore Hawaii, one of these days I’ll get back there with my husband and family in tow. We’re off to Tokyo and beyond tomorrow – so Hawaii will be waiting for us at a later date. Have a ball! Rest assured we’ve packed light again this time around – two cases for the 4 of us!

  3. Great post as always 🙂
    I’m currently in Europe for 6 weeks and i literally spent all year researching posts like this on pintetest and planning my capsule wardrobe. Here is my ployvore version of approximately what i packed (though i made some swaps at the last minute). I was proud of myself for getting it that small as we started in cooled Amsterdam and Paris and will finish in boiling Rome and Greek islands. I did also bring a jacket coat i left behind in Paris and a fluffy jumper (both purchased at home from op shops so i could leave then behind if it got too warm

  4. Love all your travel ideas. I’ll use some of your suggestions as I’m planning my wardrobe for a weeks swim trek, 2 weeks in Puglia and a week in France. I always take a good sarong/wrap. Great as a cover up for beach, around the pool or for night if cool. Hawaii is great fun and rather casual – though a Camilla is always a touch of glam – worn with sandals. Havea wonderful time. It’s so good travelling with your children as they get older!

  5. Hi Nikki,

    I absolutely love Honolulu and went in June 2014 for my 21st as well, so you’ll all have a ball. I’m going back in November so I’m loving all of the other recommendations to add to my list! In terms of packing, we packed quite a few outfits/heels for dressier occasions/dinner but didn’t wear them once as everywhere is so casual. You can definitely get away with wearing sandals to most places for dinner (the majority of people were in thongs!).

    I started to write out all of my recommendations for you but the comment was way too long. I have written a post on my Oahu recommendations (shopping, eating, to do, etc.) here: https://bonjourolive.com/2016/05/31/waikiki-travel-guide/

    My must-do recommendation is to visit Scoop of Paradise Ice-Creamery on the North Shore of Oahu. The pineapple flavour is out of this world!

    Oh – and in terms of packing, the shopping is, as you can imagine, amazing. We packed all of our things in one suitcase, which we then put into another suitcase, so we had one empty suitcase to fill up over there with our shopping. That wasn’t enough either – we went over there with one suitcase and came home with four!

    Hope you have a great trip – I’m looking forward to reading all about it!

  6. As the woman who has given me so many fabulous holiday tips from Burleigh to Bondi and beyond, I am only too happy to share my top Hawaii tips with you!!!

    1. Sunset cocktails at the Halekulani – throw on your Camilla and get down to the swishiest hotel in all of Honolulu for a sundowner or two

    2. Proper coffee at Bills – sadly the one thing our US friends don’t do so well is coffee but if you are after a proper latte then go and visit Bill Grainger’s outpost in Honolulu.

    3. Stock up at Pink by Victoria’s Secret – There is a massive Victoria’s Secret store on Kalakaua Ave (road that runs parallel to the beach). The ground floor is full of all the regular Victoria’s Secret gorgeousness designed for chics with a body like Giselle but UPSTAIRS at Pink is where your credit card will explode. Lounge wear and active wear galore. I love their tights as they have high waist options which are perfect for keeping the tummy situation under control during a yoga class. I may have seen in my Faceboook feed that there is a sale on at the moment. If your daughter is coming on this trip with you but this is a must do mother/daughter experience.

    4. Fish tacos at Dukes – amazing! Fun atmosphere, right on the beach so kids can swim/surf while you and Mr SY enjoy with a bevie or two.

    I could go on and on but these are the highlights. Have a fab trip and look forward to seeing a purchase or two on your Insta feed and meeting you in person at Baby Mac’s lunch when you get back. Michelle

  7. Oh I was going to take my mum to Singapore in October …now I may be a copy cat! Hawaii!!!
    Please write up a review afterwards of fun things as my mum’s fave thing on holidays is shopping and meals!
    All I can think to contribute is that Camilla kaftan I trot out on all holidays with sunshine and some sparkly thongs…will get a good work out in Hawaii!
    Congrats on parenting to a 21 yo man, such an achievement, what a fabulous way to celebrate!
    PS am bookmarking this as fab suggestions from others

    1. Hey SY community, big thanks, I booked a week in Oct in Hawaii with my mum (fab deals with Hawaiin airlines) and I have bookmarked all your links and likes ..and I’ll add Nikki’s tips too and will be ready to go. Thank you all,…you
      amazing resourceful lovely peeps, Cheekie x

  8. So envious! Although I was only there a couple of months ago! All the suggestions sound great. I wouldn’t take your heels – very very relaxed everywhere you go, thongs and a nice pair of flat sandals would be all you need! Another great place to eat is the Yardhouse. I don’t know if anyone has told you already – most places you might want to eat you have to wait – sometimes up to an hour, you get a buzzer so you can browse the shops whilst you wait! Shops open in Waikiki until about 10pm but also don’t open till 10am. You will get a laugh at all the ABC stores – they stock everything!
    If you go to the North Shore – the kids will all love (as will you and Mr Sy) Kualoa Ranch – heaps of activities to do the ATV’s are great, as are the Film tours. We didn’t get to go on the catamaran to secret Island because of the huge swell, but it looks really good too. http://www.kualoa.com/ Also stop in at Turtle Bay Resort. Beautiful part of the North Shore – we stayed there last time. We have been 6 times now and are planning a big family holiday next March. Looking forward to hearing what you think via your blog. Enjoy!

  9. Visit Shangri-La the Doris Duke mansion with the most amazing view of Diamond Head and incredible collection of Islamic art. tours start from the Honolulu Museum of Art.
    http://www.shangrilahawaii.org/
    Try Morimoto’s at the Modern Hotel for amazing Japanese food. And have a Tropical Itch at Dukes on Waikiki

  10. Enjoy! I love Hawaii so much. The Cheesecake Factory, the beauty of the people and the place, The Cheesecake Factory…

    But I digress, fab outfit edit!

    You must remember to check out the premium outlets. They are amazing for the whole family. Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase and to bring it with you when you shop!!

    SSG xxx

  11. Hi Nikki I would take active wear as it so lovely to wake up early and go for long walks towards Diamond Head. It is also great fun walking up Diamond Head and active wear is great for that too.Somehow Hawaii is more of an active wear place than Europe. I think you will wear it.

  12. i just read that yo are only going to Oahu this time. My facebook comments related mostly to Maui & the Big Island but there is plenty to see & do on Oahu – take a drive to the North shore if you get the chance, where the beaches are much prettier than in waikiki & of course I already mentioned the beautiful views from Diamond Head & the memorable Pearl Harbour experience. Above all, have a wonderful family holiday. You are so lucky that your adult children are still happy to go on holidays with you. Our last family holiday was to LA & Disneyland when my boys were teenagers.

  13. As another reformed over-packer, I’m always just one trip away from lapsing back into taking everything I own on a trip. The key for me is to plan and check out some items as outfits, but don’t actually put anything into a bag until the day before I leave. Packing any earlier just encourages me to see that there is space and add in all the just-in-case extras.
    My tip would be to leave the heels at home on these tropical and resort holidays and perhaps adding an extra pair of sparkly flats. That way you can have day and night alternatives, so you’re still wearing something a bit special to go out.

    1. You would very much understand then that someone (and airline) telling me I can take two suitcases is not good for this reformed packer’s sensibilities. I’m with you on packing the day before (I’ll do on the day as we don’t fly out until the evening) and also the flats.

  14. sounds great nikki! … lucky birthday boy!
    all good tips as usual! … good capsule for Hawaii! can hear the music!!!
    we are just going to sunny!!! queensland in july for 6 weeks!
    I have just bought a new smaller case!!! … I figured we only get to take the same weight so might as well be compact! I can unpack when there! … we’ll see how it goes!
    mr m followed my instructions from you about the hat packing last year, he was chuffed! … he will have the larger case!;))X and has his backpack too! i’ll take a tote and always a cross body bag!
    enjoy! love m:)X

  15. Fabulous choices Nikki, I love these posts. Though I did have a bit of a chuckle, as I can’t imagine you beach holiday destination style without a Camilla kaftan or two to go in hand with your afternoon cocktail or champers. 🙂

    1. Sharon, you know me too well! And guess what? My girlfriend dropped around two Camillas today for me to borrow for the trip – I swapped her for a couple of race hats and a clutch. Got to love the girlfriend network!

  16. Hi Nikki I hope you have a great time in Hawaii with your family! I like the packing tips you share and recently bought some packing cells from Kathmandu (on sale 3 for $30) from seeing them in a previous post you did. Do you own the Bird Keepers dress in this post and if so what size did you get? I had a look online and a lot of reviews say to go down a size. Thanks! Karen

    1. Hi Karen, I know you commented a month ago but I just thought I’d put my 2c worth in case. I bought the striped birdsnest dress to take with me to Europe in July. It is a great dress but the jersey is quite heavy and so the heat & humidity in Italy meant I could not wear it at all. Just bear that in mind if you are buying it for a summer holiday trip.

  17. I think you have covered it all Nikki and with 32 kg of luggage allowance it will be hard not to slip something else into your bag (that’s very generous) I am wishing you a wonderful time with your family and how exciting for your son to have his 21st in Hawaii,looking forward to your stylish pics in the warmth,safe travels Nikki Xx

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