woman packing a carry on

Streamline your packing before you travel to Hawaii. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Pack Light: How to Travel to Hawaii with Only a Carry-On

Twenty-two inches by 14 inches by 9 inches: Those are the maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag on most airlines. It doesn’t sound like much — hardly enough to stash away a single outfit and a thousand-page juicy beach read — but if there’s any exotic destination that’s well-suited for the traveler unencumbered by a material burden, it’s Hawaii.

The balmy weather, casual lifestyle and mix of international and local shopping delights mean you can arrive with little more than the shirt on your back. (And some shorts, please; let’s not get arrested.)

Go Light

Hawaii’s year-round temperatures range from 78 F in the winter months to 88 F in the summer, so think light — shorts, T-shirts, sundresses and, of course, a bathing suit.

Until you venture to higher elevations, like the chilly peaks of Haleakala on Maui, you won’t need a jacket. As for footwear, a pair of flip-flops will serve for almost every situation. (Pro tip: When you get off the plane, start calling them “slippers,” as the locals do.)

In addition, pack something a tad more formal for dinner out. And when you do summit the nearest volcano, there are plenty of outfitters ready to rent you a parka for your trip above the clouds.

Go Casual

It’s not just the temperature that makes wardrobe management an effortless affair in the Hawaiian Islands — it’s also the easygoing local culture.

While it’s possible to splurge on a lavish dinner featuring the best locally grown ingredients if you wish, clothing can stay resort casual. The most upscale of restaurants will prefer you wear some slacks or a collared shirt, but “jacket required” is rarely on the menu.

Don’t Sweat the Wrinkles

Roll items tightly and pack them into your carry-on. The warm, humid air and pleasant trade winds of Hawaii are like being in a fluff cycle at all times.

Wrinkles will disappear within hours of your arrival. Besides, nobody will care, anyway; and after that first mai tai, neither will you.

Rent the Toys

You’ve got big plans for adventuring responsibly. We get it. You’re going to snorkel and hike and take amazing underwater pictures. Fair enough. Adventure is what Hawaii is all about. But do yourself a favor: Don’t buy the toys before you leave for Hawaii; acquire them when you get there.

Need a snorkel mask? Rent one in the hotel lobby. Need the really amazing snorkel mask you read about online? Fine, buy it, but buy it when you get there. Same goes for cumbersome scuba gear, camera equipment, surfboards and more — all of it is available for rent or sale from local Beach Boys who can also give you tips on the best places to surf, dive or swim.

Minimize Toiletries

If you intend to go without a checked bag, you’re going to need to dial back on some of the fancy goops. There’s a strict 3.4-ounce limit per item, per the TSA, so decant a little of each product you can’t live without into a travel vial.

You can purchase sunscreen once you arrive, but if you do have a fave brand, be sure it’s reef friendly; Hawaii has banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. Be nice to the ocean and use mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

packed carry on with mask
Be sure to pack the essentials. (Photo: Getty Images)

Practice Sun Safety

Hawaii is closer to the equator than the rest of the United States is, so the sun’s rays are intense. A rollable, crushable hat; quality sunglasses; and a shirt or rash guard with UPF protection are essentials.

A small umbrella is also handy, both for the passing rain showers and for use in the sun — many locals use umbrellas as parasols.

Wear Your Heaviest Items

Finally, remember that you are not entirely limited to the dimensions of your official carry-on baggage on the airplane. You also get a personal item and whatever you are wearing as part of the deal.

Since the coldest you’ll be on your Hawaii vacation is likely at cruising altitude, step onto the plane wearing your long-sleeved shirt, your only pair of jeans and the one jacket you were afraid to leave at home. And if you must, you can even wear that fancy snorkel mask.