When travelling the world, it can be hard to know what to pack, especially if you will be visiting a variety of different climates on your travels. Whether you’re navigating your way through a tropical Sri Lankan jungle or exploring Norway’s ice-cold snowscape, you’ll want to make sure you have the right clothes and items in your pack to ensure you’re prepared for all weather extremes.
If you’re planning to travel the world either by yourself or on a world cruise, read on to find out what to pack for each climate zone in our handy guide.
Climate zone packing guide
What is a tropical climate?
When we think of tropical climates, we think of warm, humid terrains that have both dry and wet seasons. Rainforests, jungles and savannas are the typical ecosystems of a tropical climate, with more notable destinations including parts of Eastern Central America, South East Asia, the Caribbean islands and South America and the Amazon. Temperatures sit at around 32°C during the day and drop to 22°C at night.
“Much of the equatorial belt within the tropical climate zone experiences hot and humid weather,” says The International Sustainability Council (ISC). “There is abundant rainfall due to the active vertical uplift or convection of air that takes place there, and during certain periods, thunderstorms can occur every day.
“Greatest rainfall occurs when the midday sun is overhead. On the equator, this occurs twice a year in March and September, and consequently, there are two wet and two dry seasons. Further away from the equator, the two rainy seasons merge into one, and the climate becomes more monsoonal, with one wet season and one dry season. In the Northern Hemisphere, the wet season occurs from May to July, in the Southern Hemisphere from November to February.”
Travelling to a tropical climate
“The climate in Sri Lanka is extremely diverse and changes a lot throughout the year. Luckily, there is always a good time to visit Sri Lanka because the two main monsoon seasons cross over, therefore when one side of the island is wet, the other side is dry which is pretty unique in my opinion!
“I visited Sri Lanka in August which is the height of the low season and midway through the south-western monsoon. Whilst the south and the west of the island were wet, the east and central part of the island was generally dry, and I benefitted from lower prices and fewer people because it was the low season!”
“The climate in Malaysia is different depending on which part of the country you’re going to. The weather is hot and humid most of the year with an equatorial climate. The rainy season is between November and February on the east coast and April to October on the west coast. When there is rain on one coast, the other coast is experiencing dry and hot weather.
“Overall, Malaysia is a great place to visit at any time of the year, and there is so much to experience. If I should give you one good reason to visit, it would be the natural beauty of the country. Visiting local tea plantations, beautiful beaches and islands, wildlife, caves or underwater life, there’s plenty to choose from for everyone.”
How to pack for a tropical climate
“I'd recommend packing a dry bag when visiting a tropical climate to keep all of your tech and valuables dry,” says Ellie. “I used my dry bag when on a snorkelling trip in Trincomalee which came in handy, but it came even more in handy when it decided to rain, and I got soaked whilst on the boat!”
“Considering the climate, don’t forget to pack a poncho for the rainy season that can save you from getting soaked, and mosquito spray for avoiding too many bites in this tropical weather,” says Melissa.
Packing list for a tropical climate
- Sun hat
- Dry bag
- Light raincoat/poncho
- Bug spray
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Light, full-length trousers
What is a dry climate?
Dry climates are exactly what they sound like – dry, with little rainfall. According to an article by Sciencing, “deserts and prairies comprise the regions that are characterised by dry climates. These are arid and semiarid areas that have three main characteristics: very low precipitation, high evaporation rates that typically exceed precipitation and wide temperature swings both daily and seasonally. Dry climates are found throughout the globe, particularly in western North America, Australia, southern South America, central and southern Africa and much of Asia.”
“In this climate, summers are hot to very hot and it seldom rains,” says ISC. “Winter days may be cool or warm, and winter nights can be very cold. The air is dry, there is little cloud cover; sunshine is intense, and glare can be a problem. There is a big temperature difference between day and night.”
Travelling to a dry climate
Image credit: Nele, The Navigatio
Although well-known for its palm trees and exotic climate, California is actually home to some of the world’s most exquisite dry climate terrains. Blogger Nele from The Navigatio told us more about the state’s intriguing climate.
“The dry climate in some parts of California make for some impressive and unusual landscapes. Most of California has a Mediterranean-like climate, but that doesn’t count for the whole state. California’s deserts are incredibly hot during the summer, reaching some of the highest temperatures on the planet (40-55°C).
“If you’re planning to hike through a Californian desert, like Death Valley, always take a guide with you if you’re not very experienced and make sure to do it very early in the morning. The temperatures are almost unbearable to walk in after 10am!”
How to pack for a dry climate
When visiting dry climates, make sure to pack clothes made of lightweight fabric,” says Nele. “Light maxi skirts and dresses are great for women because they will cover a lot of skin, protecting you from the sun and keeping you cool.
“Apart from having enough sunscreen, it’s also recommended you bring a reusable water bottle. With soaring temperatures, it’s important to stay hydrated.”
Packing list for a dry climate
- Reusable water bottle
- Linen clothing
- Maxi skirts and dresses
What is a temperate climate?
Temperate climates have generally comfortable temperatures and weather that doesn’t waver too much, particularly when it comes to the changing of seasons. Temperate climates sit in the middle of the scale – temperatures never reach extreme levels and there are minimal snow and rainfall.
“There are two types of temperate climate: maritime and continental,” says ISC in another article. “The maritime climate is strongly influenced by the oceans, which maintain fairly steady temperatures across the seasons. Since the prevailing winds are westerly in the temperate zones, the western edge of continents in these areas experience most commonly the maritime climate.
Travelling to a temperate climate
"In Italy, seasons are well-marked and vary from region to region. You’ll enjoy hot summers and mild winters in the southern regions of Sicily, Puglia and Calabria and milder temperatures as you venture further north to the alps and Venice.”
Italia.it also agrees that Italy’s climate varies up and down the country. “The climate varies considerably from the north to the south of Italy. In the north of the country - the area between the Alps and the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines - the climate is more harsh, with very cold winters and very hot, particularly humid summers.
“In central Italy the climate is milder, with a smaller difference in temperature between summer and winter and a shorter and less intense cold season than in the north; summers are longer, but the sultriness of the northern cities is mitigated by the sea.
“In southern Italy and its islands, winters are never particularly harsh, and spring and autumn temperatures are similar to those reached in the summer in other areas of Italy.”
How to pack for a temperate climate
“It’s a good idea to bring a collapsible water bottle that you can stash in your bag,” says Katy. “You’ll save some money buying water and avoid buying disposable plastic bottles. We always suggest bringing mosquito repellent if you’re visiting a temperate climate like Italy in summer and practical shoes for the season.”
Packing list for a temperate climate
- Reusable water bottle
- Bug spray
- Comfortable shoes
- Athletic wear
- Light coat
What is a continental climate?
Continental climates have significant seasonal temperature differences with common terrains being forests and prairies with tall grasses.
“Continental climates usually experience hot summers and colder winters, being far away from the moderating influence of the ocean, which keeps climates milder in winter and cooler in summer,” Says Enviropedia. “This is because soil and rock have a much lower heat capacity than water, and therefore gain and lose heat much more quickly. Continental climates are often found to be relatively dry. Most of the moisture carried by air masses originating over ocean regions far away is lost due to rainfall earlier in its journey. Regions of the Earth that have continental climates include Siberia and central Russia, and much of North America.”
Travelling to a continental climate
Image credit: Adriana, Czech The World
“The climate in Alaska is very specific, and the weather highly depends on when you are visiting. It is always good to be prepared for cold and quickly changing weather. Like other continental areas, there are four seasons.
“The longest season is the cold, dark winter period with temperatures dropping far below freezing point. Snow generally covers Alaska from October till April. May is usually wet but temperatures may reach 20°C as the weather starts to warm up.
“The warmest months are June and July. Temperatures may reach over 25°C. Summer days are long and sunny, and you can experience what is called midnight sun (north of the Arctic Circle).
“Autumn comes in the second half of August with amazing colours and great light for photography. Unfortunately, it’s getting colder and wetter again. It is also the beginning of ‘Aurora Season’ – nights are getting dark again and the Northern Lights can be seen again.”
“The climate in Norway is quite unique, depending on where in the country you are travelling. Naturally, it is colder the further north you go, and some of the country is above the Arctic Circle, making for some long, freezing winters and short summers (but with 24 hours of sun). In the south and middle of the country, you’ll find that there are four seasons, all quite distinct. Yet, compared to other climates, Norway is cold. Summers can have temperatures up to 25°C on a sunny day, but 17-20°C is more normal. Autumn and early winter are typically quite windy and rainy, whilst the winter itself is long, cold and the chance of snow is high.”
Kelly, travel blogger at Girl With The Passport has also travelled to Norway. She also agrees that the Norwegian climate can vary depending on where you visit and the time of day.
“If you’re in a coastal city, like Bergen, be prepared for a more maritime climate where summers are cool, winters are mild, and there is a lot of precipitation all year round. In contrast, the more eastern parts of the country are shielded by mountains and prevailing ocean winds, and so tend to experience warm summers, cold winters and much less annual precipitation.
“But, regardless of where you are in Norway, the weather can vary greatly from day to day. That’s why, while visiting Norway, you can expect to experience all four seasons in a single day and so need to pack accordingly.”
How to pack for a continental climate
Image credit: Adriana, Czech The World
“If you are visiting Norway or another continental climate in the winter, I would advise you to bring some wool socks (several pairs, actually), as keeping your feet warm is key,” says Lisa.
“Additionally, it is important to bring reflectors during the winter if you can. These will ensure that you are seen by cars, as Norway and other countries with continental climates can get very dark.”
Not an item as such, Adriana recommends downloading an app if you are looking to chase the northern lights. “Regarding visits of northern regions in general, I would highly recommend downloading a northern light forecast app to your smartphone. There are few apps which alert you when there is a good chance of seeing the northern lights so you don’t miss them.”
Above all else, Kelly says to ensure you have enough layers. “Typically, I pack high quality, wool products that are easy to layer. This quality, natural product that will help keep you warm in the winter and absorb excess sweat in the summer. With this in mind, always try to wear a light, wool t-shirt close to your body, followed by a layer of insulation from a fleece jacket, and then an outer layer, like a windbreaker, to help protect you from the wind and rain.”
Packing list for a continental climate
- Hiking boots
- Warm fleece
- Thick socks
What is a polar climate?
With year-round snow, ice and freezing temperatures, polar climates are a constant winter wonderland. In the polar regions, the sun is never high enough to cause considerable melting and temperatures rarely ever reach above freezing point.
“During long polar nights, which last six months at the poles, temperatures can fall to extremely low values,” says Enviropedia in a separate article. “The lowest temperature ever recorded occurred in Antarctica, where a value of -88°C was reported.
“The north polar region includes the ice-covered Arctic Ocean, the Greenland continent and much of Northern Canada and Northern Siberia. In the Southern Hemisphere, the vast mountainous continent of Antarctica is covered by snow and compacted ice several kilometres thick.
“Polar climates tend to be dry because the descending air is cold and lacks significant moisture, precluding the formation of clouds and snowfall. Some polar regions receive less than 10 inches or 250 millimetres of precipitation each year and can be as dry as the hot deserts of the subtropical climate zone.”
Travelling to a polar climate
Chad Carey, Latin America and polar travel specialist at Chimu Adventures, describes the polar climates of Antarctica as ‘highly unpredictable’.
“Sparkling sunshine may abound one day, while katabatic winds may cast their fury the next. Antarctica has some of the coldest temperatures on the planet, but it is also one of the driest places on Earth – so dry that it can be classed as a desert.”
Travel blogger Sue from Travel For Life Now has three words to describe Antarctica’s climate and weather: “Changeable. Unpredictable. Unexpected.
“Travelling to the seventh continent takes place during the Antarctic summer. Temperatures are surprisingly moderate (when I was in Antarctica, it was colder in New York City)! It rarely snows or rains - it’s technically a desert. It can be very windy, and the weather can change in a flash.”
How to pack for a polar climate
“The UV radiation in the polar regions can be surprisingly harsh,” says Chad, “so be sure to pack sunglasses (complete with cord – you don’t want to lose them off the side of your cruise ship) and sun protection for any exposed skin. Even on what may seem like a milder day, be sure to wear enough layers for any shore or Zodiac excursions – conditions can change in a heartbeat, so it is important to always be prepared.”
Sue says that your hands and face are very important considerations when packing for Antarctica. “It’s likely that you’ll be taking a lot of photos, so you need gloves that warm, waterproof and allow you to manipulate your camera. You definitely don’t want to be taking your gloves off to take pictures.
“Since the ozone layer is damaged near the Antarctic, you also need to have high SPF (and environmentally-friendly) sunscreen for your face and plenty of lip balm. I had a pair of ski goggles that fit over my prescription glasses which really came in handy.
“My last piece of advice is to bring an extra pair of gloves and a second hat in case one goes missing or gets wet. A trip to Antarctica is a trip of a lifetime - you don’t want to miss anything because you are cold or wet.”
Packing list for a polar climate
- Insulated coat
- Thermal layers
- Thick gloves and hat (and spares)
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Sunglasses/ski goggles with a cord
- Sunscreen (face and lips)
Are you looking to tick off the different continents and climates of the world? Take the strain out of planning and packing for different climate zones and join us on an around the world cruise where you need only unpack once. Contact our cruise specialists today.