We’ve made the trek to Kauai probably 10 times now, during all seasons. In the beginning, we over packed each time. And each time we’d swear that we would do better next time and pack less stuff, more relevant stuff.
When I pack my goal is to pack only the things I will use. To avoid baggage fees, I also want to be able to pack everything into one carryon size bag. The house has a washer and dryer, so the question is not “How long is the trip?” – instead, the question is “How often do I want to do laundry?”. My answer is 4 days, so I pack enough stuff so that I can go an average of 4 days between laundry loads. After over 10 trips, I’ve whittled my list to these few items:
3 Casual Outfits
Stay away from denim here. It may not be incredibly hot in Kauai, but it is incredibly humid. Denim tends to get heavy, sticks to you, causes chafing. Instead, go for a thinner material that won’t hold onto so much humidity. My go-to outfit is a knit t-shirt dress with capri-length modal leggings.
2 Outfits for Adventuring
Fast drying items that can get muddy. I prefer form-fitting knee-length athletic shorts and a tunic-length athletic top in a lightweight material.
2 Pairs PJs / Loungewear
Hands down, the most under-packed item. We tend to forget that between sleeping and lounging around, we spend lots of time in our PJ’s!
No need for more than one. You probably won’t be in it all that much.
You’ll obviously pick the most comfortable, but bring a few fast-drying items also. They’re nice for sweaty hikes, but also for the Secret Falls kayak adventure – which involves wading across a river at the start of a hike through the rainforest.
The locals call these "slippers," and you're generally expected to remove them when invited into someone's house. Great for the beach or anything casual.
A Light Jacket or Cardigan*
You may want both – a soft sweater or robe for lounging, and a waterproof jacket for cooler, rainy outdoor activities.
Hiking Shoes* & 3 Pairs Socks
Ideally, you will be able to wear these for walking and running also
* Tip: Wear your hiking shoes and jacket/cardigan on the plane so they don’t bulk up your baggage.
Toiletries & Miscellaneous
This bit will vary for everyone, but here's mine: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor, hair brush & rubber bands, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, vitamins & prescriptions (I pre-sort mine in little airtight baggies. Pills can disintegrate in Kauai's humid air). Don't forget about TSA restrictions on these items. If you're unfamiliar with the rules, check out TSA.gov
What to Leave at Home
Don’t waste your very limited luggage space packing things like beach towels, beach bags, coolers, etc. We have all of these things at the house – just check the hall closet.
Extras to Consider
A camelback or small backpack for hiking. If you plan on hiking only on dry days and the easiest trails (like Kuilau Ridge or Sandstone Cliffs), you won’t need one. But, if you plan on doing anything harder, go for a pack of some sort. You will need your hands free, and you might even want a walking stick. The trails can be really slippery!
An underwater camera. Cell phones take great pictures, so most people don’t think about needing another camera, but unless your cell phone is waterproof, you might miss a lot of great shots! You’ll want a waterproof camera for snorkeling, kayaking, and boating.
A short word on Kauai fashion: People travel to Kauai from all over the world, and the fashions are as varied as the people. My advice is to wear what makes you most comfortable. There's no need to go buy a bunch of clothes to fit some imagined norm about Hawaiian dress - it doesn't exist. From old surfers wearing only a pair of board shorts to families that look like the stepped out of a J. Crew catalog, I almost never see anyone who looks out of place. The one exception is the occasional goth teenager wearing all black, mad that their parents forced them to go to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Kauai and a bad attitude don't mix.
Hair & Makeup
As a native Texan, I have not been accustomed to the impact of extremely high humidity on both hair and makeup. The humid sea air is so refreshing and healthy for your skin. It seems like bases and powders just melt and clump their way right off your face. I recommend going au naturale - just wear your skin-kissed cheeks and a little mascara. Oh, and you won't need your lipgloss either - that humid air plumps your lips and alleviates the need for moisturizing.
Obviously there are a tremendous number of hair textures and styles, and I don't claim to be an expert on any of them (including my own). I can tell you that my hair is long, fine, straight, and somewhat prone to tangling. A ponytail is my go-to for most activities. Where wind and sea air have the potential to cause tangles, I like to french braid my hair (boat trips, snorkeling, biking, etc). Finally, leaving my hair loose for awhile every day helps it to dry thoroughly, which is important to prevent mildew (yes, your hair can mildew from staying wet constantly, even if you wash it ever day). If don't use any leave-in products in Kauai, but if you do, stay away from anything that is sticky - if it rains, it'll be all over your skin.