Knowing what to bring with you and what you should wait to buy on your Kauai vacation will help you save time and money!
My husband and I recently went to Kauai to celebrate our anniversary. We wanted to avoid checking our luggage so we each packed a carry on and left a little bit of space for souvenirs. Having never been to Kauai (or any of the Hawaiian Islands), there were a few things that would have been helpful to know. While we did fairly well, I’m now passing this information on to you so you will be a little more prepared. I’ve broken this post into two parts: what you should bring with you from home and what you should buy in Kauai.
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What to Bring With You
One of the best purchases my husband and I have ever made when it comes to shoes is our hiking/water shoes. They look like tennis shoes, but are lightweight, breathable and can be worn in the water. Our family enjoys hiking so we use our shoes multiple times a year, especially in the summer. I saw a lot of people hiking in water shoes and it made me cringe because there’s no support. Or they wore tennis shoes or hiking boots which weren’t good to wear in the water. If you like hiking, or are planning on doing a lot of hikes while in Kauai, definitely look into buying a pair of hiking/water shoes. The kind my husband and I have are the Speedo brand and I’ve linked to them here: MENS and WOMENS. However, there are a lot of other great brands out there as well. I’m looking at replacing my shoes soon with something like this.
Knowing how active we were going to be while in Kauai, I knew I wasn’t going to be taking my wedding ring with me on our trip. But I still wanted to wear a ring, so I reached out to Enso Rings. They make super high quality silicone rings for men and women in all different styles and colors. Something I was really excited about is that you can have your rings personalized with an engraving. I ordered one for my husband and one for myself and we wore it the entire time without any worry of damaging it or losing it. Even if we had lost our rings, they are super affordable and much easier to replace than a wedding ring.
We were gone for seven days and I brought four swimsuits. My husband brought two and bought one while we were there. Because we did so many water activities (swimming, hiking to waterfalls, playing on the beach, etc), we often stayed in our suits all day, so they were almost like a set of clothes where we needed new ones each day. Of course, you there are a lot of places to purchase suits on the island so you could plan on bringing a few and buying one or two while there.
The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook
Everyone I talked to, or read about, who had been to Kauai recommended that I read The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook. I borrowed an older edition from a friend rather than purchasing one and read through it a couple of times as I planned our trip. I’m so glad that I brought it with me on our trip because there were a couple of times we went hiking and were unsure about the trailhead or there were two trails that intersected and having the book with us was really helpful. (With it being an older edition, I made sure to double check the updates on their website Hawaii Revealed where they will post updates that have taken place since their most recently published version.)
Waterproof Cell Phone Bag
Again, with so many water activities, buying a couple of waterproof cell phone bags to take with us was a MUST. We didn’t want to run the risk of dropping our phone into the water or getting splashed by a wave and having it get damaged. The kind we bought had a lanyard with a clip that attached to the waterproof case which was helpful for when we went hiking, ziplining, kayaking, and even on our helicopter tour of Kauai.
If you get motion sickness, or think you might, take some anti-nausea medicine, such as Dramamine, with you. My husband and I were okay on our flights to and from Kauai, but we both took some before our helicopter tour. (I wish I had taken some on our drive up Waimea Canyon because those roads are as twisty as a roller coaster.) We didn’t do a boat tour, but if we had, I definitely would have taken some. Dramamine is one of those things that might be harder to find once you get to Kauai because guaranteed there are other people who forgot it at home and have to buy it on the island.
Small First Aid Kit (including Pain and Headache Medicine)
Whether you bring a small kit from the store or put one together yourself, a first aid kit will be nice to have on hand for those cuts and scrapes. Also make sure to pack some pain and headache medicine. My husband and I are in pretty good shape but we were still sore from hiking, swimming, swinging from a rope swing, going snuba diving and playing at the beach. Yes, your hotel or wherever you’re staying may have these basic first aid items, but it’s much easier (and less expensive) to have them with you in the first place.
If you’re going hiking on Kauai, which you definitely should be because it’s gorgeous, I highly recommend taking a small hiking backpack with you. My husband and I purchased a couple for ourselves about eight years ago and still use them anytime we go hiking. They are small, easy to pack, lightweight and hold a surprising amount. We could store extra water, snacks, sunscreen, a jacket and other items easily, leaving our hands free for hiking and picture taking.
Plastic Sacks or Reusable Bags (for shopping)
One of the very last things I threw in my carry on were a few plastic sacks from the grocery store. I didn’t realize at the time that these would become one of the best items I packed because Hawaii doesn’t have plastic bags at any of their stores. If you go shopping at Walmart, Costco, or anywhere else, you have to bring your own reuseable bags. If you forget (or don’t know), you’re stuck carrying everything and loading it into your car loose which is a pain. Bring your own bags!
Some water activity places have dry bags you can borrow or rent, but it’s much easier to just bring your own. They take up hardly any space and are helpful for storing your wallet, keys, clothes, or anything else you don’t want to get wet. Throw them in your hiking backpack and you’re good to go!
What to Buy in Kauai
Between my husband and I, we went through almost 36 bottles of water in the seven days we were on Kauai. Hawaii is big on recycling and has recycling bins everywhere so you can feel good knowing that your plastic bottles aren’t just going in the trash when you’re done using them. A case of water from Costco at the time we visited (June 2019) was about $5. We had small fridge in our hotel room where we kept our drinks cold and refilled as needed.
It should go without saying that if you’re out in the sun, you should be wearing sunscreen. This is even more true in Kauai. The Hawaiian Islands are closer to the equator which means you are closer to the sun when you’re there. Close to the sun = More likely to burn. We bought a pack of Sun Bum sunscreen (with SPF chapstick) from Costco for about the same price as it is at my local Costco in Utah (plus it’s reef-safe!).
Something to be aware of: Starting January 1, 2021, you won’t be able to buy any sunscreen on the Hawaiian Islands that isn’t FDA approved to be reef-safe. You can read more about what that means here and make educated decisions about what type of sunscreen to bring with you if you don’t buy it on the island.
We mostly used sandwich sized bags since we packed ourselves food when we went hiking Resealable bags could also come in handy if you forgot to pack or bring a waterproof bag for your phone. It will help protect your phone a little from the sand and water. You can use resealable bags to store ice if you need to keep something cold, or even if you get a sunburn and need a little ice to cool it off. I also used a couple bags to bring some sand home with me for a beach keepsake I’ll be making.
If you’re planning on packing any food for yourself while in Kauai rather than going out to eat every meal, I definitely recommend buying a basic cooler. My husband and I found a large insulted cooler bag at Costco (similar) that we liked so much we brought it home! It was less than $10 and great for packing with ice and bottled water. When we didn’t need it for food or drinks, it made a great carry-all bag we could use for groceries or beach stuff. My husband did stuff a small insulated lunch bag into his suitcase that was nice to take on longer hikes.
I have a whole post on where to eat (and not eat) on Kauai for when you want to eat out. But if you are going to be staying at a hotel with a fridge or at a rental with a fridge/kitchen, there are a few places you can pick up what you’ll need for food.
- Costco (4300 Nuhou St, Lihue, HI 96766): As I mentioned above we purchased water bottles and sunscreen from Costco. Other items to consider buying: chips, granola bars, trail mix, bread, fruit and veggies, protein shakes.
- Walmart (3-3300 Kuhio Hwy, Lihue, HI 96766): For almost everything else, Walmart is the place to go. It’s not a super Walmart with a large selection of produce so keep that in mind. However, we purchased peanut butter, jam, sandwich bags and lotion. The milk and bread there are expensive (about $4 for milk and $4-7 for bread) so if you have more than a couple of people you’ll be feeding, definitely buy those items from Costco.
- Longs Drugs (4 locations: Koloa, Lihue, Kapa’a and Eleele): They are owned by CVS so you’ll find the same type of items there as you would on the mainland. They also have a small section of snacks and candy for fairly inexpensive.
I hope you found this post helpful as you pack for your Kauai vacation! Would you add anything to either of these lists?