Updated: January 10th, 2019
This is not my first day as a post-pubescent adult, despite what my Hello Kitty T-shirt and collection of medicated face washes might tell you! So why are you reminding me to pack toothpaste and deodorant?
This is why I’m not a fan of packing posts. Every traveler knows they must maintain some sort of hygienic existence on the road; this is not advice. This is common sense. You’re wasting my time and my cache.
On the other hand, every traveler is different. What you travel with and what I travel with are rarely the same. I don’t carry a water filter. I don’t wear sarongs or “multi functional scarves.” And you’ll never, ever, find ballet flats and practical skirts in my suitcase. Who are these travelers? And how do they climb mountains in ballet flats? Doesn’t sound very practical to me…
I do believe packing posts are necessary but best used as an afterthought. “What should I have packed? What should I have left at home? What should I bring next time to better smuggle giant slabs of slate out of the country?” You buy keychains; I bring home heavy metamorphic rock. Please don’t arrest me.
However, there is one item I believe ALL travelers take with them regardless of their destination and plans: a crapload of denial. It comes in many forms: “Can’t forget my makeup! I’m going to look so pretty in the jungle. I’m definitely going to wear all of this jewelry. Of course I’m going to work out on my vacation!” Ha! You’re so stupid. My recent trip to Belize was no exception, except maybe to the rules of hygiene. Oh, the space I could have saved for bottles of rum and hot sauce. Here’s what to pack for Belize based on lessons learned…
WHAT TO PACK FOR BELIZE // APPAREL
First of all, it’s HOT in Belize. Like, eating habanero peppers on the surface of the sun while watching Jared Leto front a rock band. I know, you’d never think the surface of the sun could harbor 90% humidity but there I was, accidentally drinking my own salty sweat as it ran from my face into my mouth. I knew heat would be a thing because I looked at the forecast beforehand that showed 86°F every day I’d be there. THIS IS SO HILARIOUSLY INACCURATE. I don’t know where on Earth (literally) the weather people get their information because I’m certain the temperature in the Belizean jungle never dipped below 110°F. Luckily, when deciding what to pack for Belize, I planned for hot. I just wish I’d planned for OMG I think I might die… yup, this is it. This is the end. Holy Shit Jared Leto has a pink mohawk. hot.
During my six days in Belize (+1 in Guatemala), I wore 20 of the 29 pieces of clothing pictured here. Not bad! That’s definitely a better ratio than the fried chicken to fitness comparison. Those results I’m keeping to myself.
NICE THINGS NONSENSE:
I packed a few dresses and a few “nice” tops thinking maybe there’d be a night or two I’d want to look not like a howler monkey for dinner. Nuh-uh. NOPE. There is no looking nice when you’re in the jungle during a drought. Oddly enough, too, because I’m sure I could have filled the river basin with back sweat. I did, however, wear the grey tank top dress three whole days in a row because it was the only thing that allowed adequate air flow to my nether regions.
- Denim overalls: Fuggedaboutit.
- White shorts: that I only wore after wearing the grey dress so many days in a row became weird. Also, they’re no longer white.
- White linen pants: only worn for salvation after sitting in (and sticking to) chairs became too painful for my severely sunburned ass cheeks. These pants actually saved me. Except when they almost got stuck in my bike chain. Also, no longer white.
WHAT I ACTUALLY WORE:
The photo above illustrates my standard *what to pack for Belize* look for the trip and also why I’ll never be a fashion icon. That and my love for beer and deep-fried things, and, while we’re at it, deep-fried beer. Cheerleading shorts, a sports bra, and a loose-fitting tank top were all I could bear to wear in the 100°F+ Central American heat. I look reasonably clean in this picture but if only you could understand the level of sweaty I was when this photo was taken. I came home three pounds lighter if that tells you anything. (My suitcase, eight pounds heavier.)
Fashion – 0, Survival – 7
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE LEFT BEHIND
- Anything I wouldn’t mind destroying with road dirt, sweat, bike rust, hot sauce splatter, sunburn tears
- All white things (see above)
- All tops that require the use of a strapless bra – TOO DAMN HOT
- The stupid romper I bought last year. I wore it once and it shrunk at some point. It’s basically just a pair of underwear with a shirt attached now. Shit, let’s just call it was it is – a onesie.
WHAT TO PACK FOR BELIZE // SHOES
I WORE ALL THE SHOES I BROUGHT! That maybe has never happened before. Everything you see in this picture is now covered in a thick layer of road dust plastered on with sweat that dripped from my body. A couple pairs of flip-flops, a “nicer” pair of sandals that I wore once then realized I was so, so stupid, and the two that I wore the most:
- My North Face hiking shoes
- Keen H2 hiking sandals
- pssst! Zappos has free shipping and free returns, just FYI.
Also available on Amazon if you’ve also got some paper towels and dog treats to buy:
In my three full days in the jungle I:
- hiked through a cave (that involved river crossings, a lot of swimming, rock climbing, some ladder action, a jungle hike, and eating some live termites – irrelevant but still notable)
- explored the ancient Mayan complex of Tikal and climbed many of the towers (as seen earlier)
- hiked to the summit of a mountain
- mountain biked through the jungle
- hiked to and swam in a jungle river
- rode a packed, old, beat up American school bus across the country standing up in the aisle
To say these two pairs of shoes were invaluable is an understatement. To say air conditioning and handrails are fundamental is also one. I’ve had the North Face hiking shoes for years but the Keens I bought specifically for this trip and our adventure through Belize’s famed ATM Cave (in which we also had to remove our shoes and wear only socks for part of the hike – this is a real thing). They’re basically hiking boots made for hikes that involve water. We saw everyone else wore Keens too so fifty points to Gryffindor! Surprising though because they’re quite ugly but still the most comfortable shoes I own. Can I wear these to your wedding? WHY I AM NOT A FASHION ICON.
More on appropriate footwear for Belize here: Do This, Not That // Touring the ATM Cave in Belize
WHAT TO PACK FOR BELIZE // SWIMWEAR
When deciding what to pack for Belize, anyone who’s been to a Caribbean island knows they’re going to need many swimsuits, the region’s official dress code. Yellow for snorkeling, teal for just about anything, sequins for my bachelorette party in Las Vegas… even though we were at a topless pool party… it’s whatev. Ya don’t show up topless… geez.
[ You should read: 17 Things That Shocked Me in Belize ]
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE LEFT BEHIND
Nothing. I brought all three of these as I should have but I actually should have worn all three of these, which I didn’t. I wore the teal one spelunking on day one. Forgot about my snorkel suit and wore the teal one again. Then, due to the sunburn I acquired in the exact shape of the teal suit, I was forced to wear it for the rest of the trip.
WHAT TO PACK FOR BELIZE // ADVENTURES
So, Belize is full of adventures. I squeezed in as many as I could but still only scratched the surface. And my shins. So much. As I mentioned, we toured the ATM Cave, Tikal, climbed a mountain, biked through the jungle, snorkeled the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, and the most daring of all, took the public bus across the country. We made good use of ALL THE THINGS (but one, not our fault) we brought for these occasions.
- Aqualung fins, mask, and snorkel. Yes, they have snorkeling gear there but I prefer my own because I’m a snorkel snob.
- Spit antifog gel for my mask which I use every time I’m in the water.
- My Deep See dive booties. I love these things for wearing inside my fins and on the boat.
For miscellaneous jungle activities:
- Binoculars for the wildlife obsession
- Water bottle fanny pack for hiking because I need both hands when I fall. It also has a little pocket for chapstick and your ID for identifying you when you pass out from heat exhaustion. Belize really is the best!
- My insulated Camelbak water bottle that never leaves my side (⇡ literally, har har)
- Sunglasses – cheap, polarized
- Strappy backpack thing I got for free somewhere that you probably also have somewhere
- Clif Bars – in coconut chocolate chip, if you must know.
- Ziplock bags in a variety of sizes for the many times my hiking equipment and I were submerged under water
- OFF! Deep Woods bug repellent for all those Zika-carrying mosquitos we were warned about. Oh, but guess what? WE DIDN’T ENCOUNTER A SINGLE MOSQUITO. The jungle just isn’t what it used to be. Thanks, Obama.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE LEFT BEHIND
Nothing! I brought all the right stuff and nothing I didn’t need. OK, technically I didn’t use the bug spray but I would’ve been stressed had I not brought it… Peace of mind, y’all. The most important thing to have on your travels.
WHAT TO PACK FOR BELIZE // BEACH
Well….. we didn’t spend much time at the “beach” so much as we did the bar near the water but most of this did get used.
- Beach bag – As you’ll see, I carried a lot of my denial in here.
- Beach towels from Hawaii but I’m pretty sure you can find these at Wal-Mart
- An Aerobie because the thought of “laying around” on the beach gives me anxiety and I need physical activity at all times (the round, yellow thing that screams “Denial!” as it whizzes by your head only you’ll never hear it because it didn’t leave the bag)
- ALL THE SUNSCREEN.
- Some awesome SPF 30 lip balm I got in Italy that turns my lips white but I don’t even give a shit. What goes better with a red ass and black and blue shins anyway?
- Magazines (again, Wal-Mart, or steal them from your local bar like I did)
- Actually really good sunglasses which on Amazon are a lot cheaper than what I paid for them at Sunglass Hut. The bastards!
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE LEFT BEHIND
- The beach towels. Both places we stayed provided us with all the beach towels we could ever need. These take up a lot of space and SMELL AWFUL the entire week you drag them around.
- Magazines. WHO WAS I KIDDING?
- The Ralph Laurens. I wore the cheap freebies the whole week and they were perfect. Ladies! My hair was in a bun the entire week. Now, you know what happens when you wear metal sunglasses with nosepieces when your hair is up. That shit gets STUCK and rips all your hair out. The plastic frames you can slide on top of your head and off with ease, something I do a lot for taking pictures and using my shirt to wipe the sweat off my face. You will too.
- The Coppertone. SPF 8? Tanning lotion? Psshhhh! I’ve never been darker than I am right now from this Belize trip and this is all from TRYING TO AVOID THE SUN. You definitely won’t have trouble getting some color in Belize so the more SPF the better.
WHAT TO PACK FOR BELIZE // ELECTRONICS
Yes, IT’S ALL NECESSARY! I could have done without all the clothing and beach towels and, psshh, reading material, but I CANNOT do without my gear.
WHAT TO PACK FOR BELIZE, MY TRAVEL GEAR MUST-HAVES:
- My new obsession, my baby, my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II (whatever the hell all that means. It’s a camera, people.) + 12-40mm lens (sun shield came with) + 40-150mm lens + charger. This photo was taken with an old camera if that’s something that’s been bothering you.
- One 64GB SD card and one 16GB SD card + whatever micro SD is in my GoPro, I don’t even know
- Joby GorillaPod, Zoom model – the weird looking tripod that’s flexible and weighs practically nothing
- My cell phone – a Samsung Galaxy S5 + charger. Soo out of date, I know. OMG I’m such an old fogey. (Update: I now have a Google Pixel XL and it’s the best. phone. ever.)
- A curling iron that I’ve had since my literal first day as a post-pubescent adult.
- Fujifilm FinePix waterproof digital camera + battery charger + floaty wrist thing. This one was for my husband. This is the camera I used in Iceland and Hawaii before I got my GoPro.
- GoPro Hero 4 Silver + charging cord
- GoPro floating hand grip for sturdier underwater shooting plus it floats and has an adjustable strap so… idiot-proof.
- GoPro chest strap + head strap for miscellaneous adventures
- The extremely necessary Polar Pro GoPro red snorkel filter for shallow water. (Mine is for the GoPro Hero 4, but they now have them for newer models.) The red filter balances out the blues and greens you get when filming in the ocean to give you colors closer to what you actually see. I show you:
On the left is the picture of the sea turtle I took with my GoPro + red filter. On the right is the picture my husband took of me taking the picture of the sea turtle (no red filter). On the left is how I saw it when I was down there in between being head-butted by sharks and bitch-slapped by turtles – vibrant colors and crystal clear water. And that’s how I’d like to remember it.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE LEFT BEHIND
- I didn’t use the GoPro chest or head strap but I’m glad I brought them. Peace of mind, remember? They weigh almost nothing and pack up real tight.
- The curling iron. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA I laugh hysterically at how naïve I was to pack A CURLING IRON. It’s something I always pack, regardless of what I have planned or where I am going. I have long, straight hair that I usually curl into big waves… when I care. Caring about my hair was utterly impossible in Belize. Wearing my hair down was also impossible. Every day was the same: shower, apply Moroccan oil (a non-negotiable), stand naked in front of the wind machine to air dry and pretend I’m a fashion model. Wrap hair into a bun on top of my head before leaving the cabin/cabana. Do not remove until next shower. It was TOO DAMN HOT and sweaty and sticky for anything else. Every time I saw the curling iron in my suitcase I LOL’ed. IDIOT. Now I know.
HOW TO PACK FOR BELIZE
I may be late to the game but I now a lot of you who still haven’t jumped on the packing cube bandwagon. YOU NEED TO USE PACKING CUBES. I use the TravelWise Packing Cube System and I’m OBSESSED. These things have seriously changed my travel game.
And of course my bra travel case. I wrote about these things in my Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers and I got a lot of response about this! In the case shown I have three bras, three swimsuits (tops and bottoms), and five pairs of socks.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE PACKED FOR BELIZE
- I meant to bring a hat of the baseball sort for hiking, or any other reason I’d need it buuuut I forgot. The sun of the islands is inescapable and sometimes you just have to create your own shade so…. I bought one there. I’m also a fucking champ at throwing shade BTW.
- A T-shirt. I concentrated so hard on the Belize is hot thing and refused to pack anything besides tank tops. This became a problem after the snorkel sunburn of 2016 and the need for something to cover my shoulders. I bought one there.
- Some kind of after sun lotion. By the grace of God I ended up finding some Ocean Potion burn relief at the gift shop in Caye Caulker BUT it was kind of funny having my husband chop off some stalks of the aloe plant outside our cabana and apply it to my burnt butt cheeks. *Sigh* The memories that will stay with us forever…
- Ibuprofen. Luckily, Belize has pharmacies and you can purchase drugs, Ibuprofen among them, by the pill, the way I wish you could in the U.S. I’m throwing shade at you, Big Pharma.
- Neosporin and bandaids. Because rock climbing inside a cave, underwater, is hard and coral is sharp.
- A dry bag. It was on my trip to the ATM Cave that I learned about these for the first time. I attempted to put everything I wanted to keep dry into a series of Ziplock bags but ended up eating a wet granola bar. You had ONE JOB, Ziplock! I have a dry bag NOW and it’s the best possible way to keep things dry, even while submerged in water. More on my dry bag in this post.
- A headlamp. Yes, we have some of these at home and could have used them on our jungle night hike and in our summit hike’s dark cave. Our guide provided some but I couldn’t figure out how to wear it so I just carried it around. (Leave me alone…) It was really annoying dealing with the lamp while trying to keep the feisty tarantula from crawling up my arms and pants leg:
You’re not an idiot. You don’t need someone telling you what hygiene products to bring or what undergarments to pack. However, if you’d like to know my preferences, I’d be glad to share those with you.
- Toiletries. I think you can handle this one and I’m sure you have a pretty good idea of what products I took with me. I’m not completely uncivilized, you know. I tried to remain as clean as possible, given the circumstances.
- Underwear and socks. Yeah, I brought them. At certain times it was all I wore. Think wind machine.
- Fodor’s Belize guidebook (+ a side trip to Guatemala)
- iPod Shuffle
- Various medicines / vitamins – whatever it is you like to bring / need desperately for survival – I ALWAYS FORGET THESE ARGGGGH
- Cosmetics – another big dumb-dumb moment. I think I put on mascara a couple of days but that was the extent of it. I’d work up such a sweat putting makeup on that it would be completely null and void by the end of it. Don’t get caught in the vicious cycle like I did. Seriously, NO ONE CARES.
Now, if I could only learn to unpack…
[For more of my absolute must-packs, see my travel gear + resources page.]
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