Packing List: The Great Barrier Reef

Nothing can ruin a vacation like stepping off the plane, ready to start your epic vacation only to realize you forgot an essential item. Below I’ve compiled a list of essential items to pack on your trip to Australia, specifically for traveling to the Great Barrier Reef and participating in some water activities (snorkeling or diving).

Read on: Everything you need to know about planning a trip to the Great Barrier Reef

This packing list should be used only as a general guide. You don't have to take every item on this list—use your best judgement to determine what you will need—and remember it is always helpful to try and pack as light as possible.

Tip: As you read this, feel free to click on any of the pictures or links. These will help you shop exactly what I use when I travel. If you are an Amazon Prime Member you have it even better since most of the things I linked can be bought right on Amazon!

The Best Carry On Luggage

Let’s start at the very top, with luggage. I always try, no matter how long the trip is, it really helps to try as hard as you can to pack everything in a carry on. Not only is it easier to travel because the luggage itself is lighter (especially helpful if you are traveling alone), but it also saves essential time that you should be relaxing, not waiting in lines to check in and pick up bags. Once you start limiting yourself to only a carry on you will be surprised just how much stuff can fit!

I have exclusively used an Away carry on since 2016 and I LOVE IT. You can see my review of it here. These are a little pricey but I still recommend them due to the amazing durability and quality.

If you aren’t ready to spend a couple hundred on an Away Luggage check out the similar carry on bags I have linked below.

A few tips to help you pack light

  • Bring clothes that serve multiple purposes. For example: A maxi skirt can be worn over a bathing suit as a cover-up and also be worn with my heels for a nicer dinner.

  • Pack the same color scheme throughout your bag. This helps ensure everything matches everything easily.

  • Wear your bulkiest clothing items on the plane, especially your bulkiest shoes and heaviest jacket. It frees up tons of space in your carry on and also provides an extra layer (or pillow) for the plane ride.

Read on: The top cities you can’t miss on your first trip to Australia

Clothing for the Great Barrier Reef

Obviously, the first thing you will need to do is look at the the weather before boarding your plane to Australia. The good news is Cairns (the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef) is a great option for tourists and adventurers year-round.

Read on: Cairns Travel Guide | Best things to do in Cairns

Also, don't forget that weather and seasons are opposite in the Southern Hemisphere. January is the hottest month, with temperature sometimes exceeding 85-90ºF and July is the coldest month, but very mild, with temperatures only dropping to around 60-65ºF. In general, the days are pretty hot throughout the year and you'll want to pack tanks, shorts, and bathing suits.

Bathing Suits for the Great Barrier Reef

Your probably going to spend some time in the water in Cairns and when heading out to the Great Barrier Reef. It goes without saying you’ll need to pack a couple of bathing suits for your trip. Personally, I love one pieces more than anything! It means I can indulge in all the delicious food and drinks without worrying too much about being in a swimsuit later.

One piece bathing suits are also great for snorkeling and diving trips which you will probably be participating in while visiting Queensland!

Cover ups for Your Australian Trip

It may get very hot during the middle of the day. Make sure you pack some trendy cover-ups that hopefully can also double as a cute dress out. A super easy way to look cute and put together is by wearing a maxi skirt on top of a plain one piece. There are also so many super cute dresses these days that are technically cover-ups.

Read on: How to visit Australia on a budget

Casual Shorts and T-shirts

You'll want a great pair of shorts and lots of breathable shirts. Especially for walking around. It gets hot in Queensland, especially midday! Make sure to drink lots of water, you shouldn’t underestimate how hot it gets. Also make sure you have breathable cottons or something that wicks away moisture.

A DURABLE roomy Day Bag

I also suggest bringing a pretty big bag that you can load up with supplies for day trips leaving out of Cairns. I use a Hershel day bag (the large one on the left) to carry all my stuff while I travel (including camera equipment). If you don’t think you need something that big I suggest the Hershel backpack.

Read on: Best day trips to take in Cairns

Other clothing essentials

By no means a definitive list, here are a couple more things you might want to pack for your trip:

  • Underwear, bras, and socks

  • Pajamas

  • Belts, scarves, jewelry and other accessories

  • Athletic wear (sports bras, workout pants)

  • Straw Beach Hat

  • Sunglasses

  • Cross Body Purse

    • I always pack a cross-body purse. This type of purse is harder to steal, a thief can’t just grab it and run. I look for one with a long strap. When I’m sitting at a restaurant I put the strap under my chair and keep the purse on my lap. But, don’t worry Australia is very safe! I am just super cautious.

 Best Shoes For Traveling Australia

The lighter you pack the more versatile of a shoe you’ll need. When exploring a city I tend to walk an average of 8 miles a day! With this much time on my feet I definitely want some comfortable shoes.

I’m a creature of habit and on every trip I pack the same three pairs of shoes in my carry on: Sandals, light-weight sneakers, and nude heels.

Because I only use a small carry on for every trip, I try and pack everything in the same color scheme so that I match effortlessly. My normal color scheme includes whites, browns, and a few pops of colors. The only time I break the color rule are with my sneakers. I prefer black sneakers for travel—it helps to hide the dirt and wear and tear. Black sneakers also tend to match my plane attire, which is always leggings and a sweatshirt. Regardless of color, look for sneakers that are lightweight! I like ones that are mesh on top, this will help fit them in your bag.

For heels, I always carry with me nude low heels. Specifically the ones I linked via the photo. A low heel helps me easily walk whatever type of street my destination throws at me. More importantly, they fit into my bag without much effort.

As for sandals, I always opt for ones that have the smallest heel possible. I also like them to have a clasp around the ankle. I look for a clasp because it helps secure them to my foot and ensure they don’t slide off. They are also (usually) more comfortable to walk in for long periods of time compared to classic slide ons.

Read on: Why I loved the hotel I booked while diving the Great Barrier Reef

Toiletries, Medication, Personal Items

If you're following my advice, and using only a carry on for your trip, make sure all your toiletries you park are travel-sized. When it comes to toiletries—the less you pack the better. Anything you don't bring, or can’t fit, can easily be bought abroad. Often times for cheaper than in the states!

For example, when I recently went to Tulum Mexico my travel sized toothpaste ran out. I went to a store and a full sized Colgate bottle was less than a dollar! (In the states, that same bottle is $3-something.)

  • Ear Plugs

    • Why is this first you ask? Because it is the most important thing that should be in your toiletry bag. I can't even tell you how many times I have been so incredibly thankful I had earplugs to rescue me from screaming babies on planes or loud neighbors in a cheap hotel.

  • Hairbrush or comb

    • Some of you are going to think I'm crazy but I literally travel with the tiny brush I've linked and posted a picture of. I've found normal brushes take up way too much room and having a tiny one is perfectly fine.

  • Shampoo/Conditioner/Body Wash

    • If I know I'm staying at a nice hotel I only pack conditioner to save room. Shampoo and body wash at hotels work perfectly fine for me. Also, stop buying those mini bottles of brand name shampoo. They are so expensive. Buy reusable bottles and fill them up before you go.

Things I don't ever pack and simply buy (or ask the front desk) if I need them:

  • Nail file/clippers

  • Tweezers

  • Shampoo/Body Wash (I wrote about why above)

  • Aloe Vera (I try and apply sunscreen so I don't need it but if you do get a bad burn you can simply buy it while you're there)

A quick word on the sun and sunscreen in Australia

You should lookout every day for the Ultraviolet (UV) Index Forecasts. Local weather reports will give out the UV index, which represents the daily solar UV radiation intensity, and it is imperative you protect yourself from the sun. Getting a sunburn anywhere is dangerous but even more so in Australia. You should be using strong SPF 30+ sunscreen (or more) every single day.

Sunscreen is available for purchase throughout Australia at various supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies. It won’t be hard to find. I also recommend wearing sun-smart clothing, including a hat and sunglasses. In general, look for the following things when picking out ‘sun-smart’ clothing:

  • Fabric structure:  The more you can see through the fabric, the more UV can pass through it. The tighter the fabric structure, the better the sun protection. Look into packing clothes that have tightly woven, lightweight natural fabrics such as linen, cotton or hemp. These types of fabric also keep you cooler than synthetic equivalents.

  • Layering: an additional highly effective way of increasing protection from UV.

  • Color: Darker colors absorb UV rays better than white or pastel colors of the same fabric.

Sun-smart clothing isn’t simply a marketing gimmick—some clothing has an ultraviolet protection factor (or UPF rating) which is a rating of how much UV protection a fabric provides. Below are some great ‘sun-smart’ clothing items I recommend packing for any trip that involves lots of time in the sun.

Electronics to Pack for Austrlia



Camera Gear and Equipment

My full list of travel gear, that I take on every trip can be found here.

Read on: The most Instagrammable spots in Melbourne and the most Instagrammable spots in Sydney



Scuba Diving Camera Equipment

If you are heading to the Great Barrier Reef while in Australia make sure you have all the right equipment for underwater photography. If you want to take photos underwater make sure you have the right equipment. For great underwater photos I suggest a Go Pro — but, make sure you have a red filter with it. If you don’t, all your photos will look very blue. If you are only snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef consider bringing a waterproof case for your phone.

Read on: Everything you need to know to plan a trip to the Great Barrier Reef

Money and Documents

  • Cash

  • Credit and/or debit cards

  • Passport

  • Drivers license

  • Airline tickets, hotel reservation and car rental info

    • I use an app called Tripit to store all my travel itinerary information.

One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...

And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email tessajuliette at gmail dot com

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