What to Pack for Maui: Essential Hawai‘i Packing List

May 4, 2021


What to pack for Maui: the essentials you need to stay cool, comfortable, and un-sunburnt!

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Swaying palm trees and crashing waves. Turtles laying on sandy beaches. Sweet shave ice and fresh poke. Maui has long held visitors entranced by its charm and beauty, but Hawai‘i is so much more than a travel playground: its history and culture run deep. I think we could spend years exploring Hawai‘i, learning about its culture and history, eating its delicious food, and swimming in its warm waters, and never get tired of it.

But enough talking about how beautiful Maui is how much we love it (seriously, we could go on for days). Today we’re talking all about what to pack for Maui!

While this Hawai‘i packing list will cover the specifics of what to bring and why and we’ll give you our suggestions for what to wear in Hawai‘i, we’re not going to tell you, like, exactly how pairs of underwear to pack – we trust you can figure that out on your own.

Instead, we’re focusing on the specific things you’ll need to make your trip to Hawai‘i as wonderful and memorable as possible – so you don’t look back and cringe because you got a sunburn on day one and spent the rest of your vacation miserable. (Trust me – we’ve all been there.)

In this essential Maui packing list, we’re including everything you need to bring to stay cool, comfortable, and blissfully un-sunburnt. Let’s go!

Looking for more Maui guides or beachy packing tips? Take a look at some of our other posts:

Maui FAQ’s

I know this is technically a packing guide, but if you’re wondering what to pack for Maui, chances are you might be wondering some of these other questions, too! Here are the most frequently asked questions we get about planning a trip to Maui, Hawaii.

What’s the best time of year to visit Maui?

The best times of the year to visit Maui are April through May and September through November. Although the weather in Maui is warm and wonderful all year long, during those months there are both fewer crowds and rain is less likely.

If you’ll be visiting between November and March, your trip overlaps with Maui’s rainy season – make sure you pack accordingly!

Is it Hawaii or Hawai‘i?

This question dives right into the heart of the complex history of Hawai’i. Legally, the state is called “Hawaii,” but the true name of the island is Hawai‘i.

It’s a perfect example of how the United States has treated Hawai‘i over the years: the United States invaded the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrew its monarchy, exploited its land and people, and has maintained dominance with a military presence ever since – a wrong that has never been acknowledged by the USA government. Here is a brief history, and here is an interactive map showing the effects of colonization across Hawai‘i.

As a visitor, it’s incredibly important to learn the proper names and pronunciation of Hawaiian places. We made many mistakes on our first trip to Maui, mispronouncing and misspelling things right and left. We later realized that our ignorance or unwillingness to learn the correct pronunciation was disrespectful and insulting to Hawaiian locals and residents.

What we’ve since learned is that in Hawaiian culture, places have stories, and learning their names honors those stories and their importance. The survival of the Hawaiian language (‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i,) despite laws banning the language from being taught in schools, is a testament to the strength and cultural legacy of the Hawaiian people.

Once we learned how to pronounce Hawaiian vowels and use the glottal stop, we practiced pronunciation on every word we could find during our stay. Here is a fantastic primer to learning the Hawaiian language, and here is an audio guide to help you learn some of the most common words.

Remember, part of being responsible tourists is to respect the places you visit! We recommend reading this book before your trip to get a much deeper insight into Hawai‘i, its culture and people, and the role tourism has played in Hawai‘i history.

How long do you need to visit Maui?

We decided to take a 3 day trip for our first visit to Maui not because we didn’t want to stay longer, but because it’s SO much more affordable. But was our trip long enough?

Well, here’s the thing: 3 days in Maui is enough to adjust to island time, fall in love with Maui, do a few must-see highlights, eat a bunch of yummy food, and then … oh, it’s time to go home already??  Really?!

3 days in Maui is like an appetizer. A teaser. It will absolutely make you want to go to Maui again. But it’s also a LOT less pricey than a full week! Maui is a fairly expensive destination, and it may end up being more doable to spend a few 3-day weekends in Maui over the course of a few years rather than a full week.

If you can spend a full week – 7 days, including two travel days and 5 days of activity – you’ll be able to see much more of the island!

Do you need a car in Maui?

Yes, you absolutely need a car in Maui! The island is quite spread out and rural – there’s no downtown to speak of, and it’s not walkable. Renting a car will not only help you see as much of the island as possible, but it will allow you to do one of our favorite activities in Maui, the Road to Hana!

That said, rental cars in Maui are PRICEY. We recommend using Kayak to compare deals across car rental companies, including Turo, which is a popular local car-share service and often the cheapest option. Take a look at Maui car rentals on Kayak.

Maui Travel Tip: As soon as you get into your rental car, turn on this Hawaiian Music Spotify playlist! It’s the perfect musical setting to the stunning scenery rolling past your windows.

Do you have any other resources to help me plan my trip to Maui?

Yes! We’ve got a detailed Maui itinerary.

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What to Pack for Maui: Essential Hawai‘i Packing List

The Basics: Things to Pack for Hawai‘i

Ready to jump in to packing for Maui? Let’s start with a few basic must-haves for your trip:

  • Carry-On Size Suitcase: The Away carry-on sized bag is my go-to for bringing along more than I really and not paying extra to check a bag. It’s well constructed, super lightweight, and small enough to fit the carry-on requirements of most domestic budget airlines. Plus, thanks to the flexible sides, I managed to squeeze two snorkel fins and this giant snorkel mask into it without anything breaking!
  • Travel Toiletry Organizer: This hanging toiletry organizer comes with me on every single trip. The compartments help me stay organized, it’s easy to hang up in a hotel bathroom, and it packs up into the perfect size to throw into my suitcase and go!
  • Lightweight Day Bag: This lightweight backpack is perfect for some snacks, a water bottle, a bottle of sunscreen, our phones, and whatever else we need for the day.
  • Binoculars: Maui is one of the best places in the world for nerding out about wildlife, so embrace your inner Lia’s Mom and get yourself a pair of binoculars! They don’t have to be fancy, they just have to help you spot whales or beautiful tropical birds. Some tour operators will have a pair of binoculars available to rent, but if you bring your own binoculars and you’ll be covered in the event that absolutely any critter is doing anything adorable within a mile radius!
  • External Battery: I use my phone constantly while traveling: for maps, as a camera, to take notes, to pull up my itinerary and trip planning doc, and to check in back home whenever I’m on WiFi. So I always bring along this external battery stuffed in my day pack. It holds about 2-3 full charges and charges my phone FAST!
  • Travel Umbrella: If you’ll be visiting Maui between November and March, you’ll be there during rainy season and you’ll definitely need an umbrella and a raincoat! During the rest of the year, I’d still recommend packing a lightweight travel-friendly umbrella in your suitcase, just in case.
  • GoPro: You didn’t come all the way to Maui to NOT get underwater footage of yourself swimming with sea turtles, did you?? You gotta have a GoPro! They’re hands down the best camera for capturing footage underwater. Just make sure you also pick up the Standard Housing,  the waterproof case that you’ll definitely need before you go underwater! For a more budget-friendly option, this waterproof action camera will also do the trick.

Sun Protection for Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i is just 1400 miles north of the equator, which means the sun is stronger on Maui than you’re used to back home! So sun protection is really, REALLY important to protect your skin. You’ll be doing yourself a favor in the long run, and besides – bad sunburns are vacation ruining.

But you can’t just stick any old sunscreen in your suitcase and call it a day. In 2018, Hawaii became the first state in the USA to pass legislation banning sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which destroy coral reefs. So you’ll need to be very careful about what kinds of sunscreen you bring. We’ve included our specific recommendations below!

Here are the essentials to bring with you on your trip to protect you from the sun:

  • Reef-Safe Sunscreen: Going into the ocean? You need to wear reef-safe sunscreen. Unless you hate coral, fish, and also all of human life. Reef-safe sunscreen is designed to biodegrade and not harm ocean life. Regular sunscreen bleaches coral and ensures humanity’s swift death from climate change. So please, for the love of society’s inevitable collapse, wear reef-safe sunscreen if you’re going into the ocean! As a fun bonus incentive, it’s actually required by law in Hawai‘i. Although reef-safe sunscreen is always mineral, not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe! Sunscreen must use “non-nano zinc oxide” particles to be reef safe (more details here). This is my favorite reef-safe sunscreen, and I use this lightweight sunscreen from Sephora on my face.
  • Mineral Sunscreen: This is the least harmful type of sunscreen, according to science. Mineral sunscreens use two natural minerals—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—as active ingredients. They basically simply sit on top of your skin and protect it by physically reflecting away UV rays, like tiny little mirrors. Meanwhile, regular chemical sunscreen soaks into your skin and ends up in your bloodstream (and breast milk, according to this study) which squicks me out. Mineral sunscreens do not soak into your skin (according to this study). So even though mineral sunscreens can feel a bit heavier than chemical sunscreens, I prefer to use them anyway! I use this one for my body, and for my face (which is more sensitive) I use this lightweight mineral sunscreen.
  • Mineral Sunscreen Lip Balm: Don’t forget to protect the delicate skin on your lips from sunburn, too!
  • Sun Hat: Who says sun protection isn’t cute? This comfortable hat protects your face, neck, and chest from the sun and goes with every outfit. The adjustable band around the rim guarantees that this hat will fit your head perfectly, and the neck cord means you can wear it even when it’s windy! This is my go-to everyday hat.

In addition to everyday sun protection, you’ll want to take extra care on days you’ll be spending more time than usual out on the water, like on a snorkeling or kayaking tour or even just when you’ll be swimming in the heat of the afternoon sun. I’m a huge fan of wearing swim clothes to protect your skin and cut down on the amount of sunscreen you’ll need to use!

  • Rash Guard: I highly recommend bringing along a long-sleeved rash guard, which is specially designed for swimming in salt water. It feels the same as swimsuit material, dries quickly, and gives you plenty of sun protection. Your arms and chest will stay protected, and if you’re a wuss in cold water like I am, you’ll get a lil’ warming boost, too!
  • Swim Leggings: My butt is always the first thing to burn when I’m snorkeling. But swim leggings provide full-coverage sun protection while letting you move underwater without restriction. Quick-drying swim leggings are designed to hold up in saltwater and chlorine, and just like swimsuit material, they dry quickly once you’re out of the water. I love Waterlust’s swim leggings line because the brand is super sustainable and supports conservation and anti-racism initiatives, plus their leggings are 100% chlorine, sun, saltwater and sunscreen resistant and made from recycled materials. Oh, and they have POCKETS! Sizes go up to 3XL.

Remember: the more your body is covered, the better you’ll be protected from the sun, and the more environmentally friendly your beach vacation will be! Psst: For more eco-friendly and responsible travel tips, head over to our Ethical Travel Guide.

  • Travel Tip: In case you DO get sunburnt, a bottle of aloe vera will help. But an even better sunburn treatment? Apple cider vinegar! It smells terrible but it works miracles to take the sting out of a bad burn and speed up the healing process. Plus, it doesn’t feel sticky and gross on your skin. I bring a little spray bottle full of ACV on every beach trip.

What to Wear in Hawai‘i

Whether you’re trying to look cute or just be comfortable, Hawai‘i is the kind of place that makes you want to cover yourself in flowers and tropical plants. Or is that just me?

Other than looking like the scenery and maybe attracting a bird friend, my goal for clothing in Maui is to be as not-sweaty as possible! I like to wear clothing that is breezy and comfortable and lets me move and walk without discomfort or restriction.

Not to be a complete textile nerd (although I do have a degree in fashion design, so I guess I’m certified) but my favorite travel textiles for hot weather are linen, cotton, lyocell/tencel, wool and hemp. Look for those fibers in your clothing to help you stay cool and cut down on that smell you get after a sweaty day (you know what I mean).

Here are a few essentials you’ll want to bring to Maui:

  • Adorable Cover-Up: I live in swimsuit cover-ups on beach vacations. I know they’re supposed to go over your swimsuit or whatever, but you’ll catch me wearing them everywhere! This is my favorite cover-up thanks to the breezy, lightweight, fabric (… and because there’s monstera leaf print). When I’m off the beach, I pair it with jeans or shorts and a tank top.
  • I’m also a huge fan of rompers like this one as cover-ups, because having some protection on your inner thighs cuts down on the dreaded Chub Rub
  • Wear-Anywhere Sandals: In Maui, you need a pair of sandals that’s down for a day at the beach, a long hike, scrambling on sharp lava rock, AND a romantic evening out. Luckily, my favorite pair has been up to every challenge I’ve thrown at them for the past 10 years (er, to clarify: I’m on pair #4 of the same style, but still). We also each brought a pair of Allbirds Tree Skippers (hishers), which are lightweight and breathable, and perfect for hot days with lots of walking. Plus, they’re eco-friendly! I’ve got more details on these sandals, and my other favorite shoes for travel, this travel shoe guide!
  • The Dress: You know what I mean when I say The Dress, right? The Dress is the one in your closet that makes you feel adorable, comfortable, airy, and free. It’s the dress you can throw on with a pair of sandals and have a complete outfit ready to go. It’s the dress you’re gonna want to wear every single day on your beach vacation. If you don’t have The Dress yet, get shopping! My favorite dresses, as a curvy girl, are A-line cuts with swingy skirts that hit me just above the knee, like this one which I have in XL, or this one which is the same as the dress pictured above. Bonus points for sweetheart necklines, travel-friendly fabric, and pockets!
  • Bike Shorts with Pockets: Girl, I’m a size 16/18. You think I can just throw on a dress and go?! HA. No. #chubrublife Underneath my dresses, I wear a pair of comfy, stretchy bike shorts with pockets. They’re as close to leggings as you’re going to want to get on the beach. If you don’t like bike shorts, at least pack a stick of anti-chafe balm to help with that vacation-ruining inner thigh chafe.
  • Rompers: I adore rompers because once you throw one on, you’re wearing a whole-ass outfit! I have 3 of these linen-blend rompers from Old Navy in various colors (it also comes in plus sizing) and they’re my go-to hot weather outfit! I’m also in love with this leaf-print romper (it matches this swimsuit!) and I wear it constantly.
  • Adorable Sunglasses: Not technically clothing, but just as important! You’re gonna be wearing your sunglasses in every photo, so the cuter, the better. I love these rose gold heart-shaped sunglasses that literally help me see everything through rose-colored glasses (ba-dum-ssh). They are SO cute!

Water Sports Essentials for Maui

Water sports are an essential part of visiting Hawai‘i and have a long and storied history in Hawaiian culture! Whether you’re trying surfing or paddleboarding for the first time, kayaking next to humpback whales, or snorkeling with turtles, here are a few of the essentials you’ll need.

  • Dry BagDon’t set foot on a boat without putting your stuff in a dry bag, just in case. You never know when a wave/rogue sea lion is going to splash your sh*t. This one is excellent, with a mesh section in the front that we use for wet bathing suits or towels. Plus, it comes with a phone protector too, so you can wear & use your phone safely while white-water rafting, kayaking, or snorkeling!
  • Snorkel Stuff: There are tons of beaches in Maui where you can dive right in and snorkel, no tour or guide needed! You can rent snorkel gear on the island and carry it along with you all week, but we were glad that we brought along a snorkel set and this snorkel mask, which is ridiculously amazing (even if it looks a little ridiculous) – and you won’t get that style of mask on any tour. If I had to pick one item to bring rather than rent, that mask would be it. That said, even if you don’t bring your own gear, it’s still helpful to bring along a little bottle of anti-fog spray in your suitcase to treat a provided mask – I always seem to need it.
  • Rash Guard & Swim Leggings: These will help protect your skin from the sun so you don’t have to think about re-applying while you’re enjoying yourself out on the water. There’s a reason you always see surfers wearing them!
  • Water Shoes:  For every minute that you’re not wearing flippers, you’ll want to be wearing water shoes. Whether you’re trying to walk over one of the insanely spiky black volcanic rocks – they’re pretty, but they hurt so bad – or just wading into some water (surprise! more volcanic rocks) your un-cut feet will thank me later. I swear by my trusty leather Tevas, and Jeremy likes classic close-toed water shoes.

Beach Essentials for Maui

There are beaches everywhere in Maui. And by law, they’re all open to the public – yes, even the ones that are tucked away behind luxurious hotels! So there’s a good chance you’ll be spending a LOT of your time in Maui relaxing on the beach.

Lots of parks and beaches in Maui have bathrooms and changing facilities as well rinse stations, but you’ll need to pack everything else. Here are a few essentials to bring along:

  • Several Swimsuits: There’s a good chance you’ll be jumping into the water every day, so you’ll want to bring along multiple pairs of swimsuits so you always have something dry to put on! I’m a size 16/18, and my favorite swimsuit is this one, which I literally have in 3 different colors. It’s amazing. It’s perfect. It’s a freakin’ steal! I also love this suit, and this is my favorite one piece. For more swimsuit picks, check out my guide to swimsuits for curvy girls.
  • Travel Towel: There is absolutely no guarantee that the towels at your hotel are going to fit around your waist. Frankly, they rarely fit around my left thigh. Plus, they’re heavy and bulky and you can get in trouble for bringing them out of the hotel. So just to be safe, I always bring my own travel-friendly, lightweight, quick-drying travel towel!
  • Travel Clothesline: Newsflash: your hotel’s moist, dark bathroom is the absolute WORST place to hang your clothing up to dry. Instead, hang this tiny travel clothesline up somewhere that gets plenty of airflow and sun-like on a curtain rod in front of the window! Your wet swimsuit and travel towel will be dry in no time.
  • Beach Tote: I’m a backpack girl, but that doesn’t cut it on the beach. A good beach tote will do more than just hold all of your stuff: it will also repel sand, zip closed so you can lock it while you swim, and even keep your lunch cold in a detachable cooler. Yes, for real.
  • Sand Repelling Beach Mat: I hate sand SO MUCH and this mat is made with magical sand-repelling qualities. If sand doesn’t make you want to go live in an igloo forever, you can always just use your towel as a mat instead!

Maui Travel Tip: Keep some essentials (like a travel towel, swimsuit, or dry pair of undies) in your rental car – because you never know when you might see a gorgeous beach and just have to pull over and jump into the sparkling, warm water.

READ THIS POST

The 5 Best Swimsuits for Curves: Comfortable, Cute, & Field-Tested

Beauty Essentials for Maui

I struggle to look attractive in the heat. I’m far more likely to look like a sweaty, sunburnt mess with a head full of tangles than a carefree Beach Babe.

That said, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve when I need to pull myself together after a long day at the beach for like, a luau or whatever.

  • Tinted Moisturizer: This is 99% of the makeup I wear on a beach vacation, honestly. It’s sunscreen and foundation in one and I cannot be bothered with anything more complicated than that. (Note: If I’m going swimming, I wear this reef-safe face sunscreen instead.)
  • Travel-Friendly Makeup: If I’m trying to get real fancy I’ll throw on a little cream blush (you know, for the 5 minutes before I’m sunburnt) and some waterproof mascara. And there you have it: my beach vacation look in a nutshell.
  • Bold Lipstick: My favorite shortcut for looking put together is to throw on some bright, bold lipstick! It instantly tricks everyone into thinking you’re a makeup goddess, even when the rest of your face is a dry, flaky mess and you have a snorkel mask imprint burnt onto your forehead (see photos above). In the winter, I’m all about a bright red lip, but on the beach I tend to go for a ridiculous bright pink instead, like this one. I prefer to wear long-lasting lip stains or these liquid lipsticks because I’m too lazy to reapply.
  • Moisturizer: My skin feels SO dry after a day in the sun, so I take special care to moisturize like crazy on beach vacations! I recently turned 30 started a legit skincare routine and taking better care of my skin, and this Evan Healy moisturizer is my absolute HG ride-or-die favorite. I also like to use really lightweight moisturizers in hot weather, like pure, lightweight argan oil which soaks right into my skin (and hair!) without that greasy oily feeling and doesn’t break me out.
  • Mineral Face Sunscreen: I’m fairly lazy when it comes to skincare – I’m highly likely to use a baby wipe to wash my face and call it a day – but this lightweight mineral facial sunscreen is a crucial part of my daily skincare routine, especially while traveling when I’ll be outside in the sun all day long! Important: Make sure to wear reef-safe face sunscreen if you’ll be going in the water that day.
  • Curly Hair Supplies: Maui’s humidity does things to my hair, and I used to dread the frizz. But I’ve recently embraced my hair’s natural texture and gone all-in on the Curly Girl Method, so my usual low-maintenance “f**k it, I’ll brush it when I get home” hair has transformed into bouncy, shiny curls. Like, who am I, seriously? Here’s what I bring with me when I travel: all this product, a travel blowdryer, a travel diffuser, and a microfiber hair towel. YES I know it’s super extra. But my curls look flawless – and for the first time in my life I have consistently good hair!
  • Dry Shampoo: I’m gonna be honest – on our last trip to Maui, I went swimming almost every day and washing my hair sounded like a whole thing. So I spritzed some dry shampoo on my roots, wet my curls and re-scrunched them with conditioner, and went on my merry way.

Ready to pack your bags while you sing Moana songs at the top of your lungs? Or is that just me..? Did this post help you to feel more prepared for your trip? Drop us a comment or question below!

Psst: Planning a trip to Hawai‘i? Check out some of our other posts!

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Our Top Travel Tips & Resources

Here are our favorite travel tips & resources for saving money and planning travel logistics! For more tips, check out our complete guide to trip planning.

  • Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Skyscanner or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
  • Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly, vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO (they’ve got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record.) You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We’ve also used TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
  • Travel Insurance: We always, always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY suggest it – visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
  • Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
  • Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local’s perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
  • Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place using public transit. When we book a rental car, we use Kayak to compare rental companies and find the best deal.
  • Luggage Storage: Whenever we’re checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use Stasher or LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we’re running around. On Stasher, you can use the code PW10 for 10% off your booking!
  • What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!



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