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Everything You Need to Pack for a Chill Beach Vacay
It’s funny, I somehow accidentally didn’t take a real vacation (vs. a “trip”…long story, not the same thing) for about three or four years. Then, over the past year I’ve taken three separate beach vacations. So all of the sudden I had to create a standard beach packing list and get myself a bunch of beach essentials—stat!
It took a little trial and error, but I’ve now developed a bunch of critical beach, pool, and tropical vacation go-to items that I can throw in a bag at a moment’s notice.
Which is how I tend to pack…
So from swimsuits, cover-ups, and shoes, to what bag to throw it all in, I’ve got you covered!
You might also like: My Fave Summer Beach & Pool Books
What to put on your beach packing list…
A super cute beach bag
It’s not a beach packing list without the best beach bag ever. I have this one (I think there are a couple styles) and it’s washable, super roomy, zips closed if you need it, and has several pockets for making sure you can find your chapstick, or keep your phone separate from the sandy towel.
The straps are pretty long, which makes it easier to throw over your shoulder. My only complaint is that the straps are…well, strap material, which can rub a little when you’re a tiny bit sunburnt. But that was a necessary evil to make sure it was durable and washable.
I use this as my personal item for flights when I travel to a beach destination…I can fit my computer and a bunch of other stuff in there, and then have my small rolling suitcase as my carry-on.
Look great, be comfy
Cute hat to protect yourself from the sun:
Mine says “Resting Beach Face” and I loooove it. It’s foldable and packs up easily.
Comfy walking sandals:
These are the bomb, so comfy and can be walked in all day. I wear these on any warm-weather city trip as well, if it requires me to walk around on cobblestones all day (and tramped all around Israel in them). They cushion super well, don’t give me blisters, can even be worn comfortably when it’s raining and wet, and are cute (from the front at least…from the back they are a bit more athletic sandal).
I’m a big fan of Aerosoles, because they’re affordable, cute, and still comfy. I don’t know if I’d walk around all day on cobblestones (see the Rockport ones above), but for just walking around and not getting blisters and having some cushioning, these are amazing. You can find them on Amazon but the styles have somewhat limited availability—they come and go. I’ve linked to a couple that I love, but also maybe try Zappo’s. And if you find a style you love, go back and buy a couple more pairs!
These are cute and can be dressy, like at an all-inclusive resort restaurant
Here are two that I have but may not be in stock (the images are clickable)…I love them and have worn them for years! I believe they’re called the Enchlave Gladiator and the Chlose Together Gladiator, so if you find them somewhere else, snap them up!
Honestly Aerosoles in general are great, I just get annoyed that the styles available change so frequently. I need a back strap on my sandals for plantar issue reasons, so here and here are a couple others to look at.
Simple comfy flip flops:
I’ve worn Havianas for years and love them. The top of the flip flop sometimes rubs a little blister on me when sand gets stuck under there, but that’s true of literally every sandal I’ve ever worn so I can’t fault them for that. They’re affordable and last FOREVER, and provide really good cushioning and traction. They come in a billion colors and styles too, if that’s your thing (I’m a basic black girl).
Sun dresses / swimsuit cover-ups:
I generally have good luck finding cheap, cute swimsuit cover-ups at TJ Maxx, so I recommend giving that a try. I also usually get lazy though, and use comfy sundresses as swimsuit cover-ups. I feel a little more put-together, so if I decide to duck into a decent restaurant and have a meal I don’t have to run back and change.
This one was perfect on my recent trip to Belize. I literally wore it the entire trip.
I wore this one in Costa Rica as well, love the pattern!
I have used Victoria’s Secret bikinis for years, and I’m SUPER sad that they recently discontinued their swim line. I’m set on tops for a bit, but will need to be trying out other options.
In the meantime, I’ve had good luck with Athleta . I have the Notsostring Bottoms (they don’t always offer the same styles) in a couple colors and the Aqualuxe Twist Bikini Top in a couple sizes. It’s a more intense bra top (I’m a D+ so need more support), and their styles definitely trend more toward support and helping you do active things while wearing a swimsuit.
I also have a cute golden-colored tankini top (great for things like paddleboard yoga, or snorkling) and a more functional one-piece for when needed. Keep an eye on Athleta’s clearance deals, nice to pick up things on sale.
I recently got this super cute one-piece for my trip to Belize, to help provide a bit of extra coverage since I’m not at my svelte-est. I obviously didn’t wear it when I was going to be laying out and tanning, but it was perfect for the snorkel sailing trip I took. And I got to look retro bombshell.
I also picked up this tankini top to go with my existing bikini bottoms from Athleta, for something where I could roll up the top if I needed a makeshift bikini (for impromptu tanning purposes). This came in handy on a recent trip to Mexico for paddleboard yoga.
When going to a high-sun place, make sure you protect yourself from eye strain and headaches with polarized sunglasses (ideally with UV blocking glass). I use prescription ones myself since I’m blind as can be, but these are cheap and should do a pretty good job.
I got this assortment and loved
Other items to including in your bag
Anti-Chafe glide to prevent heat rash
Thigh rub is real!! I’ve tried both BodyGlide’s and Gold Bond’s, and I’m perfectly happy with both/either (though tend to use the Gold Bond’s more). This works great not only for your inner thighs, but also for under-boob, underarm, feet, and more.
Metal reusable straws
Many resorts (and destinations overall) have either completely eliminated straws or switched to paper ones. I’ve started traveling with a couple of these metal straws in my purse and suitcase so I can sip on drinks conveniently at the pool or beach without my straw getting all sog-ified.
They clean really easily and are super convenient. (hint, pack a few because you will 100% forget one or two when the server takes your drink).
Cross-body purse for adventuring:
You’re not always going to want or need to haul your beach bag around. I’ve used this cross-body purse for years and it always does exactly what I need it to do. It packs flat, so I can throw it in my suitcase and then pull it out as needed. It’s super roomy, water-resistant, cleans up easily, and the strap is really comfy. I’ve taken it hiking, all around cities, to the beach—literally everywhere.
I wrote a whole post about how much I love it, if you want to know more. The link above is from eBags (it’s an eBags brand purse), but you can also get it here on Amazon (and know that the price fluctuates so you can snag it for like $35 there if you keep an eye on it).
Loooots of sunscreen:
I’ve written an entire post about the 9 sunscreens I love most for travel. I hate having to wear sunscreen, but it is an absolute must. So I’ve tested out a ton of different ones and these are what I use every time. I often actually check my carry-on suitcase when going to a beach destination just so I can bring gobs of sunscreen and make sure I have enough.
Also, if you’re a solo traveler, SPRAY SUNSCREEN IS YOUR FRIEND!!! Learned that one the hard way…
That post has your covered, including best high and lower SPF face sunscreens, my favorite sprays, lotions, reef/coral-safe ones, and even for lips (my lips are the one part of me that burns sooo easily).
I’ve also more recently fallen in love with Korean face sunscreens and moisturizers. I wrote a whole post about some of my favorites and why I love them so much!
A few other items that are necessary for your beach packing list in my opinion:
- Shorts & a tank top for heat rash, or to protect your back while snorkeling
- A microfiber towel for easy drying off (it doesn’t hold water, dries quickly); I never travel anywhere remotely beach/pool-like without this!
- It can pay to bring your own water bottle and just refill it. You can go collapsible, Camelbak, whatever floats your boat.
- Band-aids, for blisters (or any other mishaps). I always find that the amount of sand and moisture you deal with on a tropical vacation is a recipe for lots of rubbing, so band-aids are your friend.
- Hydrocortisone cream, for rashes and such (my skin is sensitive and heat rash or similar is common).
Things that will make sure you have fun
Waterproof phone case:
Duuuude, protect that phone. You can go a little more low-fi with the Joto case if you don’t want to remove your normal case (I don’t). Only downside is it’s a little more cumbersome to use sometimes in the water, see the buttons as easily, etc. Does the trick though.
GoPro-like camera for snorkeling, hiking, etc.:
The great thing about a tropical destination is that you’re around water. The bad thing about a tropical destination—from an electronics standpoint—is that you’re around water. You can go a step beyond just a waterproof case and get a camera meant to take in the pool, take snorkeling, and under waterfalls.
Paul from TraveliIsLife.org has also done some great research and testing to provide good, cheaper alternatives to the GoPro, so check out his post here! I bought mine for $100 off a co-worker, it’s an older one, so doesn’t have all the bells & whistles but when it inevitably dies I’ll be referencing this list as well.
I recently got this Crosstour underwater/adventure camera for some tropical trips and have been really happy with it! It’s much more affordable than GoPro but I haven’t felt like I’m missing anything.
To me it’s a must on my beach packing list if there’s even the tiniest chance I’ll want to do snorkeling or even get cool pics in the pool.
Consider getting these filters (these are GoPro, make sure you get ones that work for your brand) for snorkeling or diving to offset the green and blue tint that underwater photography has, and make sure you get a set of different accessories (including a selfie stick!) so you can use your camera in tons of different ways.
I literally don’t go anywhere without it (like, even the dentist’s office…), but it’s especially perfect for the beach because 1) it’s not backlit so the sun isn’t your enemy, 2) it holds hundreds of books and weighs almost nothing (if you’re a romance or urban fantasy/romance fan, these are some of my faves), and 3) you won’t be dealing with soggy pages.
So there you have it—the ultimate beach packing list, everything you need for your next beach, pool, rainforest, or other tropical vacation! If you’re planning a more active trip (including Central America during rainy season), I have a modified packing list for that too!
Looking for more travel tips & tricks? Here’s a link to all my best tips!
You might also like:
- Finding My Happy Place…My First All-Inclusive Resort
- Sailing & Snorkeling Adventures on Aruba’s Black Pearl
- What to Listen to On the Beach: The 15 Best Full Albums
- Monkeyin’ Around in Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park
- 15 of the Best Summer Beach Reads
- A Perfect Day Sailing Belize’s Barrier Reef
- My Favorite Korean Face Sunscreens & Moisturizers
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