The Ultimate Florida Keys Vacation Trip Packing Guide
I often read posts on Facebook Florida Keys travel groups where the traveler asks ‘What should I pack for my Florida Keys Trip?” This can be a tricky question to answer since we all have unique itineraries, travel plans and adventures when we visit the Florida Keys. Some of us want to spend all day at the beach or go fishing all day. So I think we can all agree that we’re trying to find that perfect balance of packing enough ‘stuff’ but not over-packing and today we’ll go through this with our Florida Keys Travel Packing Guide.
First, we want to pack for ease of travel (i.e. not getting held up at TSA), not over stuffing our carry-on so that we have to check it and having enough room to bring back a few items and so on. The best news is your traveling to a sunny warm place where you don’t have to worry about bringing many cloths in the first place.
Let’s have a look at some tropical packing ideas to consider for your upcoming island paradise vacation in the Florida Keys. Here is the low-down into Essentials, Basics, Optional & Tech/Gear and then add in a few of my favorite TIPS and ideas that I’ve gleaned over my many years of livinng the Florida Keys.
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Sunglasses & prescription glasses – if needed, packing your spare prescription glasses is a good idea. Especially, in the event that you lose yours. If you have polarized sunglasses they really help if you’re floating in the ocean to counteract the glare. A lanyard/leash is always a good idea. More than once I’ve been glad to have my glasses on a lanyard/leash especially going fishing!
Prescriptions and Medications – Don’t forget to pack enough (in their original containers) to last the duration of your visit to the Florida Keys. Especially important for international travelers coming to the Florida Keys. Chain store pharmacies are located all over the island so no worries if you do run short.
Reusable Water Bottle – keep empty before you board the plane, once you’re on board have a flight attendant refill it from bottled water (not advisable to drink the ‘tap’ water from the plane). The Reusable bottle is also great to take to the beach with your favorite beverage. Florida and especially the Keys enacted new recycling restrictions and the more you use your reusable bottle, the less trash is put into landfill. Remember everything you throw away on island (Florida Keys) has to go somewhere.
Swimsuit / Swim trunks – 1 to 3 pair. Having more than one means that if you come in from the beach or pool for a while, you’ll have a dry one to change into if you go back out. Best part of renting our vacation home is the 2 sets of washer & dryer we have in the house so you can bring less clothes because you can wash them over and over again.
Light jacket/hoodie – Evenings and sunsets can be cool – especially if the breeze has kicked up or if you’re nursing a sunburn. Great if you’re planning a sunset boat tour too!
Documents – ID, if you’re not using an Airline app on your smart phone, itinerary, check-in instructions, passport if you’re an international traveler, prescriptions if needed.
Proper footwear – such as sneakers, closed toe walking shoes, water shoes or Teva type sandals and of course my favorite Flip Flops. We ware them all day long. Anything you would feel comfy wearing over gravel, sand or hiking on a slippery trail in one of our national parks. Teva’s are great for this as they are amphibious and designed just for this purpose. If you’re not much of a hiker and plan to be mostly on the beach for your trip, some water shoes (aka Aqua Socks) are great for snorkeling in spots that have lava or rocky entrances. But please don’t walk or step on any coral. It’s kills our reefs to step on living coral.
TIP – Keep in mind that some activities require closed-toe shoes such as a outdoor adventure, bike riding and so on.
Reusable/packable shopping bag – the kind that folds into it’s own pocket like Chico Bags do. This will come in very handy for shopping (though we do provide reusable shopping bags in our condo and they can be bought on island at ABC store and just about everywhere.)
Shorts – I pack between 2 and 3 pair.
Tops – 3 or 4, including a few tank tops, and maybe one nice dressy top. If you’re traveling during the winter on the Mainland, Wear a long sleeve shirt on the plane and a light jacket. Then pack it in my carry on for your departing flight so you can change into it on the plane. At times the planes are like a flying ice-box so be prepared.
If you’re going fishing you need to consider buying a long sleeved shirt that has extra UV protection so to keep the harmful rays from burning your skin or skin cancer. We have shops all over that sell these long sleeved fishing shirts so don’t worry if you don’t have one.
Underwear/Bra/socks – eh, take what you feel you need, just remember we offer a washer and dryer as well as a drying rack for delicates.
Pajamas – I pack between 2 and 3 pairpack a lightweight pair.
Flip Flops or Slippahs – aka Flip Flops or thongs. Essential on the Keys island. You can always buy them in our shops and ‘Locals’ love our favorite brand among those living in the Keys. We have Sandals shops all the way down the Keys you’ll see them as you drive from island to island. Sandals is also located in Marathon Florida they have a lot of stores throughout the Keys. Keep in mind that it’s a custom as well as a gesture of respect on to remove your shoes upon entering someone’s home especially if they have Tara Cotta marble floors. You will most likely see plaques and signs in homes reminding you to remove your shoes’.
Hat – Fishing hat a must if you’re going fishing. And ladies love their beach hats while strolling along the beach. The intense sun makes this an essential. Wide brims are best! If yours is packable, bring it! But not to worry if you can’t pack it, there are plenty for sale in the Florida Keys.
Sarong/Beach cover-up – Great for wearing to and from the beach/pool. Alternative is to wait until you’re on the island and head to the gift shops and stores to purchase a Sarong. I use sarongs as a skirt, a shawl, a towel, a blanket, an impromptu bag and a pillow. They’re very versatile and inexpensive and cover a multitude of needs.
Jeans/pants – One pair, wear them on the plane. You most likely won’t wear them again unless your activity requires it.
Sundress/Skirts/Nice outfit – I have a few light sundresses that I like to take, they’re made of rayon type material similar to sarongs and pack up small in my bag. I also take a miniskirt or two. One nice outfit – You’ll want to dress up a bit if you have plans go out to one of the many fabulous outdoor Tiki restaurants or if you have reservations for one of our higher end restaurants – no need to go over the top – even in dressing up in the Florida Keys, it’s really pretty casual. In most if not all restaurants Island Wear is perfectly appropriate.
Rash Guard – these are great for keeping the intense sun off, snorkeling when the water temperature feels a little cooler. Don’t worry if you don’t have one yet, they sell them all over the stores down to the mom & pop shops, are sure to have a good supply and better selection than the Mainland.
Optional And Tech
Headlamp – great to have for late night beach walks or if you do sunset on Beach and Sombrero Beach.
Camera gear – travel tripod, GoPro accessories for great ocean shots, memory cards, extra battery packs and battery charger cords for cell phones.
Phone charger & gadget cables – Self explanatory. We offer several USB charging stations in our Villa to keep all of your electronics powered up but you’ll need your power cord.
Extra Battery Pack – and speaking of powering up. We’ve blown out our phone battery taking videos, pictures, texting beach photos to friends etc. Having one of these inexpensive back up chargers are great! They’ll run you less than $20 on Amazon or elsewhere and are great to keep your music and phone going at the beach.
Water & sand-proof Cell phone case – if you don’t already own one, they’re sold at our Publix Grocery stores and it’s wise to have at the beach. I’m pretty low-tech and have been known to just slip my cell phone into a quart sized Ziplock bag. So if you’re low-tech like me pack a few baggies if you’ve got them, they’ll come in handy.
Binoculars – if you’re an animal lover you might want a pair for binoculars to use for watching from shore or even a boat cruise.
Backpack – If you think you’ll be hiking (and there are some national parks and beaches to explore) then you’ll want a decent backpack. Nothing fancy is needed but something to carry your gear. If you can, use your backpack as your personal carry-on item.
Pen – you’ll need one having a pen will streamline the process for you since a pen comes in handy.
Neck Pillow – The flight to up northern American to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale area is about 2.5 hours. I do like to nap on the plane so a neck pillow is a savior! Or go double duty – I often travel with an inexpensive cashmere shawl. I picked it up at Macy’s on sale and it’s big enough to act like a blanket on the plane, or I can roll it into a neck pillow. Easy to carry as I just wrap around my neck. When you get to Florida Keys, you can just put it in you packable shopping bag and hook it on your carry-on handle.
Here are some Tips that might save you packing space or travel time.
“Pack half as many clothes and twice as much money.”
TIP – pack a lightweight pair of shorts, t-shirt and flip flops or slippahs in your carry-on. About 20 minutes before you land, go change out of your travel clothes and when you land you’ll be dressed for the local weather. I generally wear my jeans on the plane and change into a lightweight mini skirt and tank top. They roll up pretty small in my carry on bag -or- here’s where that packable shopping bag comes in handy, just roll up your jeans, shoes and shirt that you just changed out of and put in the shopping bag, tie to your suitcase after you deplane.
TIP – Don’t pack bulky clothes. It’s the tropics, lightweight, breathable fabrics are best such as cotton or linen.
TIP – Pack half as many clothes and twice as much money. This is “island time”and everything in the Keys is laidback and easy going. Island time is what you make of it and relaxation is why people come to the Keys in the first place. Everything is on Island Time so everything takes longer no one’s in a hurry and our clothing reflects this way of life.
TIP – Pack half as many clothes and twice as much money. This is “island time”and everything in the Keys is laidback and easy going. Island time is what you make of it and relaxation is why people come to the Keys in the first place. Everything is on Island Time so everything takes longer no one’s in a hurry and our clothing reflects this way of life.We live here and what we actually ware vs. what we brought is minimal. Almost always half of what you bring never gets worn.
TIP – We’re pleased to offer our guests brand new 2 sets, en-suite full sized washer and dryer (and free detergent too). You won’t need to bring as many garments when you can toss a load of clothes into the washer every few days.
TIP – If you find that you have to check luggage and you’re traveling with a partner. We have found that if one person stays and collects the checked bags while watching all the carry-on bags, the other can quickly hop on the rental car shuttle and beat the lines. Renting a car can take up to an hour if there are lines at the counter. Florida Keys moves s..l..o..w compared to the Mainland pace and I know, I’m always itching to get to the our home in the Keys so I can slip into my swim suit and hit the beach. Then you can just circle back through the terminal and pick everyone and all the luggage up in your rental car.
TIP – Getting through TSA quickly and easily. Sounds like an oxymoron I know, but there are things you can do to streamline going through the security checks. First off make sure you only have TSA approved items in your carry-on. If you’re not sure if you can bring it, check the TSA ‘What Can I Bring‘ page. The latest regulations require removing your electronics including laptop and even iPads now. We provide body-wash soap. At Publix (1/2 mile) you can get shampoo and conditioner if you want to skip bringing liquids get your shampoo etc right here. Stores can be found in the Keys so no worries there.
TIP – When leaving and flying back home. It would be wise to just keep all your snacks and food in a separate bag (you know, that reusable shopping bag I mentioned that you bring earlier in this post) and once you go through TSA you can then pack it in your carry on. So yep, take those mac nut chocolates and bags of taro chips out of your carry-on until you’re through TSA screening.
TIP – Remember when packing to leave you can make your own meal for the plane containing fruits and veggies.
TIP – Streamline your carry-on/personal item. The less you pack, the faster it will be when you have to remove and repack at the end of the screening.
TIP – Before you depart for your vacation, take a serious look at what you’ve packed and then edit ruthlessly. You really will be surprised at what you can do without clothing wise. If you find you’re desperately missing one particular article of clothing, just head to one of the many shops and find yourself a little souvenir clothing.
Assuming that you’ve followed the other tips mentioned here, you can save yourself some money by not checking luggage. You’ll breeze right to the car rental shuttle and be on your way to the beach.
And also assuming you’ve streamlined your packing down to the bare essentials then you should have room for plenty of souvenirs for friends and family. I generally try to only pack one side of my carry-on bag, leaving the other empty for Chocolate Macadamia nuts and such goodies like that.
Things you don’t need to pack or buy because we provide them in the Villa;
Iron (we provide both iron and ironing board)
Makeup face cloths
Reusable grocery shopping bags
Beach Towels (we provide thick, oversized beach towels)
Beach Bag (the sand-free kind)
Beach ground cloth (sand free type)
First Aid Kit
Starter pack of (soap, toilet paper)
Starter Coffee packet and filters
Dish Soap (not that you would pack this but we do provide it!)
Starter paper products/trash bags
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