Going on a family surf holiday? Packing lightly and efficiently is key. You don’t want to lug around hefty bags bulging at the seams – especially in 30C heat when you’re hailing a tuk-tuk. But you do want to ensure you’ve got everything you need to make your trip a success.

As a family of five, we take one big wheelie bag and a board bag between us, then a small backpack each.

This isn’t a definitive packing list, but being seasoned family surf travellers, here are few things we don’t leave home without:


  • Sunglasses – with decent lenses providing protection from UV rays.
  • Zinc – the best sunblock for lips and cheeks when you’re in the sea.
  • Sunscreen – high factor, waterproof and free from oxybenzone and octinoxate (which are damaging to coral). Take enough for your trip, as it can be super-expensive abroad.
  • Sun hats – wide-brim hats and caps are ideal.
  • Sarongs – less bulky and more practical than beach towels, sarongs are quick drying and can be used as beach mats, towels, scarves, skirts and even funky head wear.
  • Wetsuits – find out the water temperature of your destination and take a suitable wetsuit if you need one.
  • Rash vests – too warm for a wetsuit? Keep the sun out with a rash vest or 1mm surf capsule.
  • Reef boots – whether you’re surfing or rock-pooling, these are great for preventing cuts and abrasions that can easily get infected in tropical waters.
  • Ear plugs – stop water and bacteria entering the ear canal and causing infection and surfers’ ear. We love SurfEars.
  • Dry Bag – great for stuffing your camera, keys, phone and a few dry items of clothing in when you’re on the beach or on a boat.
  • Snorkelling gear – to check out the sea life when you’re not surfing.


Surfboards aren’t easy to travel with. Do you need your own or should you hire them? This depends on your surfing ability and how easy they are to rent.

  • Boards – we can get a couple of shortboards and one soft-top board in one board bag. Longboards are more difficult to travel with and some airlines don’t accept them. Always check the airline’s surfboard or sports equipment policy when you book your flight.
  • Board bag – remove the fins and pack your boards in the most padded board bag you can afford, with nose, tail and rail protectors (we use pipe lagging). Pad them out with towels, sarongs, wetsuits and any other clothes you can fit in your board bag without exceeding the weight limit.
  • Soft roof rack – some surf destinations, such as Sri Lanka, now seem to have roof straps on every tuk-tuk and taxi. However, if you’re hiring a car you will usually need your own soft racks. Try some from Northcore.
  • Ding repair kit – take a handy ding repair kit (try Solarez) and a roll of waterproof gaffer tape to fix any minor dings.
  • Wax – no one likes slipping off their board on every wave, so make sure you get the right wax for the water temperature (we love Butta eco-friendly surf wax).


bahasa bottle
  • Water bottles – essential to combat plastic pollution. In countries where you have to buy bottled water, reduce your impact by buying large bottles of water and decanting it into your own bottles. We love Bahasa bottles.
  • Reusable bags – whether you’re shopping for groceries or souvenirs, bring your own bag.
  • Stainless steel or bamboo straws – say no to plastic straws when you’re sipping a coconut or cold drink.
  • Bamboo toothbrush – a simple step to reduce plastic.


  • First aid kit – essentials are tea tree oil, iodine, antiseptic and antibacterial cream, sterile water, plasters, dressings, tweezers, bandages, travel sickness pills, painkillers, Biofreeze gel, tiger balm and rehydration sachets.
  • Travel insurance – make sure it’s a comprehensive cover that includes surfing and water sports.
  • Mosquito net – dengue fever is rife in the tropics.
  • DEET spray and/or citronella oil – DEET is more effective while citronella is a natural mosquito repellent and much better for your skin.


beach tent for kids
  • Booster seats – while the kids still need booster seats when we hire cars abroad, they use backpacks that double-up as car seats.
  • Blackout blinds – nobody wants a 5am start every morning on holiday, unless you’re getting up for a dawn surf.
  • Wristbands – when you’re on a busy beach or sightseeing, tag your kids with a wristband with your phone number (and country code) written in permanent marker.
  • Floatation device – depending on the age and swimming ability of your children, use a buoyancy aid for stress-free days by the sea or the swimming pool.
  • Travel tent – essential for babies and toddlers – get a UV one with a mesh cover so you can use it at bedtime and on the beach.
  • UV suit – and/ or light cotton, long-sleeve vests or shirts and trousers to protect tots from the sun without having to constantly put sun cream on.


  • Compact camera – get a robust, waterproof model. Go Pros are popular and we also love the Olympus Tough range for quality pics in and out of the water.
  • DSLR – If you’re sitting on the beach and want some pin-sharp shots of each other surfing, you’ll need at least a 100-300mm lens.
  • Adaptor – make sure it suits your destination.
  • Power pack – charge your devices even when you don’t have an electricity supply.
  • Kindle/ tablet – books, audiobooks, games and movies all rolled into one handy device. Don’t forget non-digital games such as Uno, Chess and Dobble.

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