My first piece of advice is to plan ahead. Last minute is no good, especially if you are going abroad; you need to allow yourself time to organise flights and accommodation, especially if you want to pay a reasonable price. Also as soon as the bands launch their costumes they sell very quickly; it is not unheard of for sections to sell out within a day. Existing members and VIP's get priority, so you need to move quickly, believe me it's more than just getting a costume, it's getting the costume. Also if you're jumping with friends (of course you are) choosing a costume is a shared decision and therefore much harder, especially if your tastes differ.
If you are going abroad to play mas and don't have any friends or contacts in that country, don't worry as there are plenty of bands that offer hassle free online registration, this includes any customisation you require such as additional shorts, or a monokini instead of a two piece, or a wire bra for the brave! Once you have chosen your costume, make sure you send the correct measurements, I would recommend carrying a mini sewing kit in case you need to make adjustments, but hopefully you get an accurate fit.
Baje Carnival Band Breakaway Frontline Costume (baje-intl.com)
Frontline vs Backline
For some it's all about playing frontline or in the VIP section, however I personally hate the excess feathers and pieces that accompany the frontline (and sometimes mid-line) costumes, for me it's not a parade it's a time to free-up and party hard, why on earth would I want a giant pair of wings to hold me back?! I'm not against the idea of playing VIP, in fact when choosing my costume for St. Lucia it was a toss up between the Fallen Angel section (VIP) and Phoenix, the latter won simply due to the more vibrant colour, although I loved the Fallen Angel costume. In VIP you get extra privileges that vary among bands such as crossing the stage alone, a separate drinks/meals truck and an exclusive party for that section. These perks are great but not necessary to have a good time- with that being said I'm team backline all the way! (Although I've seen bands that only offer wire bra with the frontline costume so I'm partial to change...)
This is another area where time is of the essence. First of all if you plan to wear mas tights (please note these are not ordinary flesh toned tights) you will probably have to order these internationally as it is impossible to find them for darker skin tones in the UK. If you are thinking about ordering any less than a month before your flight, expect to get slapped with super expensive premium shipping rates to ensure they arrive on time, believe me, I know! Tights can be purchased upon arrival, but again this takes planning; either way you need a solid game plan! Some masqueraders go bare-legged, it's really a personal preference depending on how comfortable you feel, however for those who like to indulge in some form of madness such as rolling on the ground...wear tights!
This is also the time to consider any jewellery you may be wearing: simple earrings such as a chandelier-style or even studs should suffice as arm-candy is often included with the costume, I also would strongly advise against wearing any jewellery of value on the road.
Carnival Boots are extremely popular, not only do they look nicer than trainers/sneakers but they also come in various colours which and can be decorated to match your costume. This year I decided upon Converse inspired footwear in a cream colour that compliment my costume, I chose comfort over fashion but I think the flat and wedge boots some of the ladies wear are extremely sexy, so if you can handle it definitely opt for those instead. The veterans recommend going half a size up for comfort and wearing gel insoles for extra cushioning!
Again this is often an area where ease and practically go head to head; the bare minimum
The Vicarious Traveler
Face gems are extremely popular with masqueraders, I personally love the look of these as they add immediate glamour to your overall look, even if you choose not to wear a full face of make-up, Nyree of The Sweet 7 recommends Spirit Gum to apply these in case you were wondering! Last but not least...hair and nails: I will be opting for a weave as it's a low maintenance option for the Caribbean, however for those ladies who are rocking their real hair a low bun that accommodates your headpiece is perfect for keeping your hair out the way but still cute. I'm obsessed with nails so I'm opting for a matching orange polish with gold glitter on the tips, however all that matters is well groomed nails whether you opt for a chic nude or a bold colour!
You will only need to carry the bare minimum whilst on the road, this includes: emergency money, a cheap phone, a cheap camera, sunglasses, sunblock, wipes and deodorant. Most bands provide a waterproof bag to store your phone/camera, however it's best to be prepared, a waterproof side bag is fine and will allow you to keep your hands free. Another item strongly worth considering is Fletch Dry Powder for waterproofing your headpiece, see here for a great tutorial on this, this can be ordered online or purchased locally. Last but not least don't forget your flag, and you're ready for the road!