When traveling in extremely humid conditions, unique strategies and a specialized packing list can help minimize the discomfort of extremely humid destinations. As a former resident of Seattle, a child of the American South, and having served a stint as a house-sitter in America’s wettest city- Hilo, Hawaii– I’ve learned a thing or two about staying comfortable and extremely hot and humid climates.
While I’ve written previously on the challenges of traveling in extreme heat, and even have a packing list for surviving the extreme heat of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, in this article I wanted to talk about some of the specific tips for staying comfortable in extremely humid locations.
Packing List for Humid Destinations
In the next section, I’ll show you some of my best tips for planning a great trip to an extremely humid location like tropical islands, hot and humid coastlines, and inland rainforests.
(Buy here at Amazon or an organic small business made version here on Etsy). In extremely humid destinations, both skin and clothing can remain damp, without the chance to dry. Humidity, body heat, and friction are a recipe for chafing – or at the very least, discomfort.
Body glide – or similar off-brand skin lubricants – coat the skin with a protective layer that can effectively help prevent chafing in humid travel destinations.
Skin lubricant is most often used on inner thighs, but if you find yourself wearing damp clothing (or even wet sneakers!) swiping the bar on feet or other areas of skin can prevent discomfort before it starts.
When it’s so humid in your destination that the clothing in your suitcase becomes damp to the touch, it’s actually a recipe for growing bacteria or even mold in your luggage.
While, in most destinations, hanging your clothes up with reach of a breeze or a bit of sunlight is enough to dry and refresh them, in a tropical environment air and sunlight may not be enough to combat extreme humidity. In these places, drying your clothing in a machine clothes dryer for a few minutes before dressing can be a way to make clothes feel more dry and comfortable (and it exposes the clothing to dry heat, which can kill mold and bacteria).
If you don’t have free access to a dryer to run on a whim, be sure and try this next tip, my #1 tip for thriving as a traveler in a high humidity location:
XL Zip Bags
It took me a few weeks in the wettest city in the United States to figure this out, but the best way to keep clothing dry and comfortable in a humid destination is by drying it out (using a dryer or line drying on a very dry and sunny day) and placing your clothing inside oversized zip-top bags.
You may already be using space bags to maximize storage space in your luggage or you may wish to purchase regular storage bags in oversized dimensions to fit the contents of your suitcase or backpack.
When travel-sized hand-pump vacuums became available for vacuum-sealed storage bags, I became a convert to packing using these space-saving bags. Not only do they protect the contents of your luggage from humidity, but also form a barrier against the dreaded bedbug-infested hotel room or hostel mattress.
For best results, dry your clothing before sealing the bag- and each time you open and remove something from the bag, reseal and squeeze out excess air. (As long as you squeeze out most of the air, you don’t need to vacuum seal every time you open the bag.)
Powder or Cornstarch
In addition to being one of my essentials for taking to the beach (it’s incredible at removing sand from skin!), body powder or cornstarch is another effective way to cope with the effects of an extremely humid destination.
In high humidity, our skin often feels clammy in cool temperatures and sweaty in warm temperatures- even if we aren’t actively sweating. A thin layer of body powder or cornstarch absorbs this excess moisture keeping us ready to explore our destination in comfort.
Surviving Humidity in Hawaii
My first trip to Hawaii was a sucker punch. I thought I knew how to pack for heat and humidity, but I’d never experienced both bundled into the unique environment of a tropical rain forest.
Hilo averages a mind-boggling 10 feet of rain per year- that’s 130 inches! For comparison, St. Louis, Missouri gets around 34 inches a year and the widely-regarded as-rainy city of Seattle actually only gets about 38 inches of rain each year! So, when I found myself weathering the daily downpours without the benefit of the dehumidifying effect of an air conditioner, I discovered what it was like to live with entirely new levels of humidity.
In Hilo, where the air doesn’t have a chance to dry out between heavy downpours created by ocean breezes hitting the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano, the humidity remains extremely high most days – during my visit, the humidity monitor in the home I was housesitting rarely dropped below 80%.
The air was so damp with humidity that my suitcase soon became damp, and the moist air seeped into my clothing, things I’d packed to take to the beach, and my personal products. Getting dressed each morning became a gross-feeling experience of putting on damp, clammy clothing.
Over my weeks in this humid, rainy climate I had a chance to experiment with various methods for managing humidity and getting a little more comfortable traveling in a humid destination. While I think my body acclimated somewhat to the humidity, adapting strategies to mitigate the effects of the extremely humid air definitely helped improve my comfort and my enjoyment of this travel destination.
Final Thoughts on Tips for Traveling in Extreme Humidity
For much of my life, my dislike of the feeling of humid air and sweaty skin kept me from enjoying tropical destinations. After a few weeks in the extreme humidity of a volcanic rainforest, however, I had the opportunity to develop these tips for staying comfortable while traveling in a very humid destination. This list, like the rest of my site, is an evolving resource. Do you have tips for travel to humid destinations you’d like to share? Drop a comment below.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.