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Ia Orana! Are you getting excited for your trip to French Polynesia and wondering what to pack? It can be tempting to chuck your entire wardrobe in your suitcase and call it a day. After living in the tropics for over five years, and spending months at a time island hopping while researching the Moon guidebook to French Polynesia, these the true packing essentials.
As a surfer, scuba diver, photographer, hiker, and someone who likes to dress up every so often, I know what’s going to be used and what will never make it beyond your suitcase. So whether you’re honeymooning on the beaches of Bora Bora or going trekking in the Marquesas, here are the things you’ll want to bring.
Islands of Tahiti Packing List: At a Glance
- Shorts and T-shirts or tank tops
- One formal outfit (more if staying in luxury/overwater bungalows)
- Comfortable shoes: sandals, hiking shoes, reef booties
- Swimsuits and rashguard
- Long-sleeved sun shirt
- Loose trousers
- Reef-safe sunscreen, sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hat
- Waterproof backpack
- Water bottle
- Beach tote
- Bug repellent
- Pareau or sarong
- Camera, phone, chargers, and adapters
- Optional: Dive, snorkel, and surf gear
The Best Luggage for French Polynesia
First things first, let’s decide whether you’re on a suitcase or a backpack type of trip. For this, let’s focus on how quickly and how often you’ll be moving.
If you’re staying at luxurious accommodations and are not planning to island hop too much (visiting under three islands), a suitcase might be the best fit. You’ll want a rolling suitcase to roll easily through airports, and a hard shell to protect it against rain. Downpours are common in French Polynesia, and boat rides can be choppy. Having a hard suitcases adds an element of waterproofing against the elements. Samsonite is a solid brand.
However, if you’re staying in hostels and doing some serious island-hopping around French Polynesia, a backpack might be a better option. Pick on with a rain cover and comfortable straps. We use backpacks by Osprey and Deuter.
When in doubt, pack light. You’ll see many people stroll around the islands with nothing but a pareau, a sarong made of thin colorful fabric.
Stay well under the airline luggage allowances for economy flights. Most international carriers allow 23kgs (50lbs) for checked luggage, plus a carry-on allowance of 10kgs (22lbs) with a personal item 3kgs (7lbs).
On Air Tahiti flights, you’re allowed an extra 5kgs (11lbs) of diving equipment if you’re a certified scuba diver with certification card in hand.
1. Lightweight Clothing
It’s hot and humid all year long in French Polynesia, so think light and breezy when it comes to your clothing. It’s the perfect place to don your sundresses, shorts, and T-shirts. You probably won’t ever be too far from a beach!
Create a capsule wardrobe with a mix of T-shirts, tank tops, shorts, skirts, sundresses, and a hiking outfit. You’ll also want a wide-brimmed sunhat you can fold into your suitcase (and won’t have to babysit on the plane).
Quick-dry swim shorts will be perfect for taking you in between swims. A long-sleeved sun shirt is always a good idea for long boat rides, hikes, and lounging in the sun. We love the Omni-Shade 40+UPF shirt by Columbia. A lightweight rain jacket is also useful to have not just for rainy days but also for choppy boat rides where you might be splashed with sea spray.
If you want to blend in with the locals, toss in a pareau (sarong), to wear as a skirt, dress, shirt, you name it! It’s also a great cover-up, towel, and scarf. There are many ways to style one, and they’re sold all throughout the islands.
2. Formal Outfits
Many of the more luxurious accommodations and restaurants (especially on Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora) offer a chance to dress up in the evenings.
For women, this might look like a nice dress or top paired with a skirt or trousers and strappy sandals. Men, think tropical print shirts, slacks, and closed toed shoes. It’s still the islands, after all, so there’s no need to go full-on black-tie affair.
If you’re traveling on a cruise, note there is usually an official formal night (or two) onboard.
French Polynesia’s official borders encompasses mostly water, and there’s a good chance you’ll be spending a lot of time in it.
Be very selective in the swimwear you choose. You might want to swim multiple times in a day, and putting on a wet bathing suit is an atrocious feeling. Pack at least two swimsuits to ensure one is always dry. Hang your bathing suit to dry as soon as you take it off.
We recommend bringing one swimsuit that’s perfect for snorkeling and adventure activities, like surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. This is one that won’t slip off or chafe. A long-sleeved rashguard or mermaid suit is ideal for these types of activities, as you won’t have to worry about getting sunburned. Throw on a pair of swim leggings and you’ll be protected the entire day!
Your other swim trunks or swim suit could be reserved for lounging on the deck of your overwater bungalow or on a white sand beach.
If you’ll be scuba diving a lot, it’s worth bringing your own wetsuit if you have the space. Most dive shops offer them for rent, but you’ll be stuck with a limited size and quality range.
4. Daytime Essentials
You’re not coming to the Islands of Tahiti to spend your time inside. From hiking to diving to surfing to doing nothing on a white sand beach, you’ll rarely spend your daylight hours inside.
Bring along sunglasses with UV protection, reef-safe sunscreen, a sun hat (ideally wide brimmed), and water bottle. Once you leave the main islands, water is rarely drinkable, so it’s wise to pack along a filter like LifeStraw. Bugs aren’t too bad on the islands, but if you’re susceptible, you might want it for the Marquesas.
5. Waterproof Backpack and/or Beach Tote
There’s peace of mind in knowing your most precious travel items are protected against water. For the past two years, we’ve been traveling with a waterproof backpack by Patagonia as our main camera gear bag. Once we’re at our accommodation, we stash away our tech and use the backpack as a day bag. It protects against rain, choppy water, and when you accidentally step too deep into the water when boarding a boat for a snorkeling tour.
And while a waterproof phone pouch does look a little touristy, it’s best to lean into it and keep your phone protected.
If you’re not the adventure type, bring a beach tote to throw in your beach reads, sunglasses, some snacks, towel, and sunsreen.
Your camera won’t be able to capture every shade of blue quite like your eyes can, but there’s no harm in trying! The best camera is the one you’re going to have on you, so if it’s time for a phone upgrade, you might want to splash out on one before your trip.
Otherwise, the GoPro Hero cameras are ideal for capturing scuba dives, snorkel trips, ATV rides, and jumps off your overwater bungalow balcony. You can often find last year’s model for around 40% cheaper than the newest model secondhand.
7. Travel Accessories
There are some Tahiti-specific bits and bobs you might not have at home. Pack a travel adapter or even a power strip if you need to charge many items. Powerbanks are always handy. Long haul flyers might want a travel pillow (though this might not be worth the bulk) and compression socks. To track your luggage, consider an Air Tag or Tile.
A guidebook to French Polynesia is also well worth a browse, and will save you from having to spend your time searching around for activities, restaurants and accommodations on painfully slow internet.
Don’t expect the brand of makeup, shampoo, conditioner, etc., you prefer to be available in French Polynesia. Once you leave the Society Islands, toiletries in general are pretty scarce. A toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste is usually easy to find.
If you have long hair, pack along extra conditioner and a wet brush to comb out those gnarly saltwater tangles. Don’t forget hair ties.
Pack all medications you’ll need, contact lenses, contact lens solution, and even some spares just in case a flight is cancelled at the end of your journey.
9. Adventure Equipment
If you’re not staying at luxury properties, bring your own set of snorkeling equipment (mask, fins, snorkel). While it’s bulky, it has the potential of saving you loads of money and stress.
Most budget accommodations only have one or two sets of dingy snorkel gear, if they even have it at all. Outside of that, most rental stands open around 9am/10am, and it can cost CPF 3,000 or more to rent for a half-day. If you book a snorkeling tour, you’re often competing with many guests for the right sizes… and there’s a chance you’ll get blisters. Trust us, it’s worth having a comfortable set that won’t leak or cause blisters. And you’ll use it on scuba dives, too.
Scuba divers have an extra 5kgs (11lbs) of baggage allowance on Air Tahiti flights, leaving you room to bring a BCD and regulator if you like. Most dive operators include the cost of rental gear in the price of each fun dive. So packing it all isn’t necessary. In order of packing priority we’d recommend mask, computer, fins, regulator, BCD.
Surfers, renting a board is nearly impossible outside of Tahiti and Moorea. If you’re a serious surfer, you’ll need to bring your own surfboard. When you’re booking your international flights in, tally up the cost of you plus your surfboard to see which airline offers the best deal. Air Tahiti flights are a first-come first-serve situation as to whether they’ll be able to fit your board on the island hopper flights, so arrive early. Pack a spare leash and wax.