Heading to Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Games? Here’s what you need to know before you pack your bags.

First things first. Remember, for all of its rich history and iconic status as one of the world’s most interesting cities, it is simply a city built on a beach.  That makes a pair of comfortable walking shoes a necessity, and clothing that may be lightly layered up to easily adjust from hot days to evenings with cool breezes.

The most important part of packing for Rio de Janeiro is understanding Rio de Janeiro

But that’s just your starting point. Rio, more than any other city we’ve visited, is a place where you want to blend in and look like a local. Why? After having spent about two weeks there, we couldn’t help but notice those wearing baseball caps and branded t-shirts — you know, those looking uber American — were constantly discovering they were missing something. Like their wallets.

Ipanema Beach from Copacabana InfluentialInsiders.com
Ipanema Beach. Say it like a local: ee-pah-neh-ma — InfluentialInsiders.com

That brings us to the next point. The most important part of packing for Rio de Janeiro is understanding Rio before you get there. Should you leave put your purse on the table and turn around to speak to the person in the restaurant behind you, expect your purse to be gone when you turn back around. Crimes of opportunity run rampant in Rio, so be forewarned. But understand the mentality, too. If you provided the opportunity for your belongings to be stolen, then the fault lies with you. See the way that works?

To continue with that train of thought, you’ll want to carry as little as possible when you’re out for the day. Be sure your valuables, your semi-valuables and anything of sentimental value and your passport are locked up in your hotel safe. (Better: Leave your sentimental treasures at home. And memorize your passport number, just in case.) Pack clothes with pockets, like cargo pants and shorts with zippered pockets. Divvy up your money and your credit cards so if you do ‘lose’ a wallet, you don’t lose everything.

Read Up to Stay Safe

A few more safety tips, just because: Don’t walk the streets alone, especially at night. Don’t let anyone on the street hand you anything. Drug crimes happen, even in the light of day. And if you want to visit the famed Copacabana Beach and Palace Hotel, where celebrities like Princess Diana have stayed, stay on the beach and inside the hotel.

Rio is home to a very high crime rate. It’s not unusual for visitors to hire a driver to take them around town and keep a watchful eye over them. If fact, it can be a great bonus, especially if speaking Brazilian Portuguese is not your thing. Few Brazilians speak English fluently, even in the cities. The school systems there only teach English for a 10 to 15 minutes a week, so expect some things to get lost in translation. A good driver will teach you pronunciations and local customs, to help you blend in.

Due to concerns about the Zika virus, you’ll need to get a good insect repellent. Check out camping stores or search online for the best you can find — the quality will be better than what you will be able to find in your local drugstore, and this is definitely an area not where you can skimp on price. It’s also highly recommended to remain as covered as possible while you’re there, but don’t overlook the need for sunscreen, even when covered.

At the Copacabana Palace Hotel
At the Copacabana Palace Hotel

We’ve always preferred traveling with just a carry-on, as it makes getting in and out of airports faster and easier. And Rio makes for an ideal test subject for light travel: Pack only your essentials and a few interchangeable outfits (make it easy on yourself and go a mix-and-match route. For instance, if you pack only black and white clothing, you have endless possibilities).

Here’s the Goal

But here’s the goal: You want to pack a carry-on bag that’s only half full, because what you’ll need to get through your trip will be available and easy to find in the city. Once in Rio, pick up the toiletries you need — small sizes that you can use up and throw out instead of carrying back home — and get a few pieces of clothing that you can mix into your wardrobe.

Voila! There you go, looking like a local. Because you only half-packed, you’ll have room to carry it all home, and clothing makes for an interesting travel souvenir. Treat yourself to a swimsuit, too. The Brazilians know a thing or two about beach style.

You'd be amazed what you can buy on the beach in Rio - InfluentialInsiders.com
You’ll be amazed what you can buy on the beach in Rio – InfluentialInsiders.com