How to Prep for Your First Trip to Hawaii

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You’ve done it. You’ve booked your first trip to paradise. The Hawaiian Islands are calling your name, and you can hardly wait to pack up the family and head to the airport — luggage or no luggage.

But before you run out and start the car, though, take some time to do a little travel planning in order to get the most out of your Hawaiian get-away. You’ll want to make sure you cover all of the bases when it comes to bringing essential items, planning activities and finalizing your transit plans to and from the airport, as well as which islands you want to visit.

Pack in Your Bags in Hawaii
What to Pack in Your Bags in Hawaii

This might seem like a stressful activity because it is your first trip. You may be worried you’ll forget something important, or you might not even have any idea of what you should bring with you. Don’t worry. Here’s a comprehensive list you can use to help prepare not only your bags, but also your home and in-flight items as well.

What to Pack in Your Bags

Before you start throwing things into your suitcase, you may want to read up on some facts about the fascinating place you will be visiting. This will help you decide exactly what you will need to wear and also what you may want to do during your trip. However, here are some basics you’ll most likely need:

  • T-shirts and shorts for your daytime casual wear. This will be ideal also for the sightseeing you’re bound to do on the island.
  • Dinners at most places in Hawaii don’t normally require fancy dress. Instead, most establishments will call for ‘resort wear.’ What does this actually mean? In general, resort wear for men means khaki shorts or slacks and a collared shirt, while for women this can range from flowy skirts and sun dresses to capris and dress shorts.
  • Of course don’t forget to bring your swimsuit (at least two per person), a cover up and flip-flops so you can go to and from the beach easily. You may also want to carry some water/reef shoes with you if you plan on spending time in the ocean.
  • Even though Hawaii is generally warm all year-round, for some activities (like horseback riding, hiking, ATV tours etc.) you’ll want to have some lightweight pants included in your luggage, as well as a jacket or sweater in case the nights turn a bit chilly.
  • Sunglasses and/or a hat are obviously a must, but it is imperative to bring sunscreen with the appropriate SPF levels. SPF 30 is generally recommended, but keep in mind that the sun is more intense on the islands than it is on the mainland, so overcompensate. The last thing you want is to be miserable over vacation because of a sunburn — this includes your lips, too, so throw in proper lip balm as well.
  • You won’t want to forget your camera and a memory card with plenty of space, as well as a pair of binoculars for checking out wildlife, lava and humpback whales (if the season is right). Due to Hawaii’s location, you may see powerful systems as well. Hawaii is just starting to gain ground in geothermal energy and you may be able to see in person how a geothermal system works.
  • Make sure to have a good beach bag to carry your items. You’ll want your bag big enough to fit all the necessities for a day at the beach, hiking or day trip, including a small first-aid kit for emergencies.
  • Bug repellent — try the pre-treated, moist towelettes you can usually find in any store’s camping section.
  • You will need hiking shoes — whether they are sneakers or sandals. Base your judgment off how many miles you plan to hike during your stay. You may choose light ventures or more strenuous endeavors, but plan your shoes accordingly.
  • If you plan to hit the higher elevations on your hike (Haleakala or Mauna Kea), you’ll also want to consider the change in temperature and wind levels by including warm-weather gear and a flashlight (either for star gazing or night lava watching on the Big Island!).
  • For water sports, invest in a waterproof bag or case that will protect the valuable items you need with you at all times like cash, cards, hotel keys, etc.

What to Do Before You Leave Home

Being prepared for vacation isn’t just about what to take with you. You’ll have more peace of mind and time to enjoy your holiday if you take care of these simple things before heading out:

  • Organize with a friend/neighbor to pick up your mail for you while you are away, or you can have the post office hold it. You can even sign up with your dates for holding and redelivery at
  • Make sure to turn off any unnecessary electronics while you are away, and try setting your air conditioning/heat to an economical temperature to save on energy costs.
  • If you have a pet, organize in advance their stay with a friend or boarder, and make sure you have a checklist for your pet’s care to leave with them.
  • Avoid the inconvenience of frozen accounts due to suspicious activity. Be sure to call your bank or credit card company to notify them of your travel plans.
  • Make a reminder to charge all of your electronic devices — phones, iPads, laptops, GPS, etc. — the night before you leave, and then pack the devices and chargers together the day you depart.
  • Call your hotel to confirm your reservation and notify them of any special dates coinciding with your vacation (birthdays, anniversaries, marriages, etc.). You just might get a special treat or free upgrade out of the deal.
  • Double check to make sure you have either paper or electronic copies of all your reservation and itinerary information to have on hand for quick reference.
  • Research airport transfer to and from your hotel. It’s possible that your reservation includes this service, and a representative from the hotel will be waiting for you upon arrival.
  • If you are driving, be sure to look into rental car pick-up and parking information. Is it included with your stay? Is there valet? You’ll be tired after your journey, and having this information beforehand will make your arrival that much easier.

How to Plan for a Worry-Free Flight

  • The night before your trip, begin preparing for your departure by checking your flight status. Most airlines also allow you to check-in at least 24 hours before your flight, so you’ll expedite the whole process when you arrive at the airport the next day.
  • Download the airline’s mobile app to check seat assignments, receive live updates on any changes or keep track of return travel itineraries.
  • Plan to have food and snacks with you for the flight and throughout your trip in case of emergencies. Most airlines now do not offer complimentary meals on domestic flights (even if you are leaving the mainland), so if you don’t want to spend a fortune on terrible airplane food, pack sandwiches to hold you over.
  • You’ll want make sure you and your travel companions have something to keep you entertained during the flight. Use your charged mobile devices for movies, e-books and music, or consider bringing small games or puzzles.
  • Be sure to bring your map and guidebook with you to read on the way as well. This way you can begin to familiarize yourself with the island(s) you’ll be visiting during your stay. If you plan ahead, you can also search the web for insider tips on what to do and see on the islands, and then print or save them to your device to save space.
  • If you want to catch a little nap on the flight, include your favorite travel neck pillow so you can be comfortable. There are a lot to choose from, so read about them and try some out beforehand if you’re able to.

Planning for a new and exciting trip has a lot of unknowns that can worry beginner travelers. Hopefully the above tips will help you have a better idea of how to prepare for your Hawaiian vacation.

Hawaii travel planning
Hawaii travel planning

If you need a more straightforward, printable check-list, you can also find those, as well as helpful articles specifically for first-time island goers. With all these pointers at your fingertips, you have nothing to worry about. You’ll be ready to jump on that plane to paradise in no time. Aloha!

Megan WildMegan Wild is a travel aficionado and is slowly crossing her dream destinations off of her list. Follow her adventures on her blog, Your Wild Home.

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