The 10 Golden Rules of Packing for Surf Travel

05th Mar 2018

It’s day 10 on my 13-day surf trip, tomorrow we begin our steam back to port, then to the airport and then back home – these salt encrusted board shorts and another pair have been the mainstay of my attire. The rest of my luggage shamefully hides a plethora of clothing that can I now only think of as frivolous, weighty and possibly a little contrived. I’m no newbie to packing for travel yet every time I break the golden rules of packing and I suffer for it.

What are the 10 Golden Rules of Packing for Surf Travel? Well, I’m glad you asked…


1. Divide by two and bring that much instead
It doesn’t matter which travel site you hit up or which person you talk to, this rule floats to the top of any packing listicle. Why? Because it’s good advice. Basically, pull everything out of your bag and take only half. See point six for more and only do this once…


2. It’s 90% likely that you’ll be in the tropics, pack for that
I’m confidently going to step out on a limb and say that your surf trip includes warm water, azure barrels breaking over a living reef and more palm trees than you poke a palm frond at. If that’s not the case then onto tip four for you… for everyone else pack for the heat. Singlets, t-shirts, walk shorts (for that one classy night out that’ll never happen) and of course boardies. Natural fibres and lighter colours are your best friend in the tropics. It’s a surf trip so you’ll be throwing yourself in the ocean lots and outside of the ocean, you’re gonna sweat lots… which brings us to point 3.


3. Toiletries – Hygiene is pretty cool eh?
This one is kinda sensical but belongs here regardless. Pack roll-on deodorant not spray. There are two reasons for this 1. It won’t be confiscated at the airport leaving you and your travel mates battling with your funk or some strange exotic scent like “chat pisse et cannelle” that you grabbed from a $2 chemist when you landed. And; 2. You’ll most likely be sharing spaces and facilities like dining areas, bathrooms, and shared rooms. These can get a little crowded at the best of times. The rest is just common sense, toothpaste, toothbrush, painkillers and if don’t you have one of those little first aid kits you should probably get one.

Pro Tip – If you need ongoing medication pack it in your carry on not your checked luggage, you know cause that luggage goes AWOL sometimes.


4. Towels are big and bulky, pack them in your board bag especially around the rails
This one is up for debate, but I kinda swear by it. I’ve only ever bought two boards on any surf trip – an all-rounder and something if the size jacks up. Most modern board bags and coffins are pretty well padded but I always find myself using a towel to cover my rails, nose, and tail (yes that’s a combination of small boards and big towels). Apart from fewer dings, there’s also the added bonus of an extra towel. Which means a dry towel after each surf, shower, snorkel or you can use it to whip your friends with if you don’t want to be invited next time.

Pro Tip: Bring some hot-fix for your board too, just in case.

5. Roll it don’t fold it
Again this piece advice floats around the internet like those annoying bits of parsley in a watery soup – always at the top and possibly not needed. But it is pretty useful as you’ve probably chosen to ignore tip #1 and are now trying to cram as much into your backpack as humanly possible.

Pro-tip – Aim to get everything in one backpack and make that backpack your carry on luggage. Keep it light…

6. Carry your valuables in your carry on or better don’t bring them anyway
I once bought an expensive camera on every trip I went on. It came in its own case and had a separate lens. Travelling with it made me want to wear khakis, a cool scarf and be outspokenly passionate about human rights, a picture of which I would secure and give to National Geographic at their inevitable asking… Alas, despite my ego and the opinion of the guy who sold me the overpriced DSLR I’m no budding photojournalist. It’s a sad realization but I’ve learned that I can tell my story with the footage I get from my iPhone and the occasionally shared image from my mates that still labour under the previous disillusionment. Worse case scenario you don’t get a lot of keepsakes to paste all over social media but you do retain more friends and have an interesting story to bring up at parties. Basically, it’s a surf trip. You’re probably not going to need the Ipad, Laptop, aforementioned camera equipment or your interesting quartz collection. 

7. The rule of 3. 3 shorts, 3 T-shirts
Congrats you now have 9 outfits and given the high fashion range of board shorts these days you may be even better dressed than usual. But, what about the cold airplane though and my cold little ‘toesies’… I hear you ask, head to point 8.

Pro-Tip – If you’re heading to Samoa or Fiji and are wanting to visit a village one of your t-shirts should have collars otherwise you might not get past the bouncer as it were…

8. Travel comfortable and bulky
Airports are universal. Which is why the toilet symbol always looks the same no matter where you are. It’s less confusing for every tourist and breaks the language barrier down to one of it’s most mundane but necessary human components i.e. It’s been a long flight, where’s the bog? International airports and flights also have other things in common. For example regardless what the weather is doing outside its climate controlled inside. That climate is usually cooler than you like. Likewise, when you’re up in the air flying in a hunk of metal that is defying gravity and largely spitting in the eye of physics, your primary concern should be keeping your toes warm. At this point, I’ll remind you that track pants and sweaters aren’t just for blonde socialites and K-Mart trash bags… embrace the inner bogan, wear sandals and socks free of judgment and strap yourself in for a long comfortable time. Also, wear that jumper so you don’t have to pack it. Same goes for that pair of sneakers/ skate shoes if the sandals and socks ensemble is too much.

Pro-Tip – Too big to fit it in? Go ahead just wear it…

9. Pluggers, thongs, flip-flops and sneakers
Packing shoes is always annoying. They take up a lot of room and I always wear the same pair anyway. This one is a no-brainer. You’re travelling somewhere tropical bring the thong’s in your bag and wear your bulkiest pair for the flight.

10. Entertainment – learn your phone it fits in your pocket… but bring a book in any case
Technology is a marvel, your phone can be a great travel friend. Most modern airliners have USB recharge ports onboard and airports offer ‘recharge stations’… Kindle for iPhone, Google Books, Stanza etc are all apps that give you access to hundreds and thousands of books – download a title and get reading. Or get something like Duolingo and learn to belt out the native tongue as soon as you land. Listen to music, go through your albums and delete your ex. Whatever… you’re an adult alive in the 21st century, I’ll let you figure it out.


There’s always a book. Usually, it’s a poorly bound paperback that has felt the hands of a thousand other travellers before you and somehow you end up reading it despite the modern advancement silently processing away in your pocket. Call me a romantic but I travel with a paperback, usually a $5 secondhand novel from a market or dusty bookstore. Given that most operators have an unofficial ‘take a book leave a book’ policy you end up enriching the life of the next person as well as your own… and as a massive bonus, you don’t care as much if it gets wet.

Pro-tip – Make sure you know your international data plan and call your service provider so you don’t get caught with a ‘hilarious’ phone bill the month after you get home, you may also wish to switch off data roaming…just sayin’.

Paul Theroux famously wrote, “Travel is only glamorous in retrospect.” I’ll leave it up to you to debate the truthfulness of that statement, secure in the knowledge that the 10 golden rules of packing will help you in their own small way.

Keen to get on your board while abroad? The below destinations are on our short list…

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