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Beach Vacation Packing List: What to Pack for the Playa!

Beach Vacation Packing List: What to Pack for the Playa!

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This beach vacation packing list is something that I’ve been trying to perfect for years. I am lucky enough to travel to the beach several times a year thanks to cheap flights from Mexico City, and yet I always manage to forget something.

This beach vacation packing list is made up of things to wear at the beach, things to wear after the beach (or before!),must-haves for sun safety, things to entertain you, and a few things to make the end of the day easier, too.

The Ultimate Beach Vacation Packing List

What to Wear at the Beach

This is what you’ll want to have on your beach vacation packing list to wear during the day. Whether you’re staying at a resort or you’re in a little Airbnb by the beach, you’ll want to have plenty of casual, comfortable warm-weather clothes to throw on. 

This is what I always pack for a beach vacation.

1. Bathing Suits

I usually take three bathing suits with me on a beach trip. This is because you’re obviously in a warm place and usually this means humidity, too.

When you’re in a really humid place, things simply do not dry quickly. So if you went for an evening swim, it’s unlikely that your bathing suit will be dry by tomorrow morning.

I also like to bring a few different swimsuits so that I don’t end up with one really bad tan line. I opt for strapless or one-piece tank-suits anyway, so the tan lines don’t tend to be too bad, but if you only wear the same suit all week, you’ll end up with some seriously dark tan lines.

My current favorite one-pieces are these budget-friendly options from Amazon. The material is pretty nice and the fit is great for a short curvy gal like me. It’s got an 80’s style bottom and the scoop at the front is fun and sexy without being too low. They also come in tons of colors.

things to wear in puerto rico

Me in my Dixperfect one-piece loving life on a Puerto Rico beach vacation!

2. Flip Flops and Sandals

You’ll want a comfortable pair of flip-flops for going between the beach and your hotel. I’m a huge fan of Rainbow flip-flops. They’re made of durable leather, they have an arch, they come in different colors, and they are seriously comfortable for walking in.

You’ll likely also want to pack a cute pair of sandals to wear for heading out for lunch or dinner. I usually opt for wedges because I think they look cute with shorts or dresses.

Sam Edelman makes my favorites and I always check out what other sandals are available for the season from that brand because they are usually simple, comfortable, and super stylish.


3. Beach Cover-Ups

Obviously, you’ll want a cute cover-up to go from hotel to sand on your beach vacation packing list. 

I usually try to get dresses that I can wear both as a beach cover-up and as a day time dress for excursions out. I want to feel stylish as well as cover my bathing suit when I walk around. 

My first port of call is usually just to check out all of the beach cover-ups on Asos. They tend you have seasonally stylish and on-trend pieces in case I want to change things up.

If I just want a classic beach cover-up, I’ll head to either Nordstrom during the summer sales or look at the JCrew website. They both carry great classic pieces that won’t go out of style and are great quality so they’ll last, too.

a beach packing list has to include a hat, bathing suit and shorts!

Sometimes I just throw a pair of shorts over a one-piece bathing suit, especially if I’m somewhere casual or going for a walk near the coast!


4. Jean Shorts

These are my beach vacation packing list essentials. Heck, these are my warm-weather vacation packing list essentials. Any time I’m going somewhere warm, my favorite jean shorts are always in my suitcase.

I tend to make my own shorts out of old pairs of jeans, but I also have a few stores that I swear by for a good pair of jean shorts.

In my opinion, denim doesn’t get much better than Madewell. The pair of jean shorts that I bought from Madewell has lasted me almost a decade (no longer available, but similar here).

I swear by their jeans, too, but this is about shorts.

The only problem with jeans shorts at the beach is the above-mentioned humidity. You’ll want to pack at least one other pair of shorts in addition to jean shorts because if they get a bit sweaty or in any way wet, they will take at least 24 hours to dry.

what to pack for puerto rico

I love wearing patterned shorts when I head to the beach like here in Puerto Rico!

5. Lightweight T-shirts and Tank Tops

My mantra when it comes to t-shirts and tank tops in a hot place is the lighter the better. I want airy linen shirts in white and beige. Light pink at a push.

The darker the color, the more you’re going to feel the heat. The brighter the color, the more likely you are to see any sweat marks.

That’s why I love white and beige. They reflect the sun and when I’m sweating in that beach heat and humidity, you can’t tell.

I’m a pretty simple gal when it comes to t-shirts. I usually buy my plain white shirts from either Madewell (when on sale you can get them for as low as $6!) and JCrew – they make the best linen t-shirts I’ve ever found.


Sun Safe Necessities

It took me many years of sunburn and a few too many freckles that never went away to realize how important sun safety was when planning your beach vacation packing list.

I find it’s always best to pre-pack these things instead of trying to buy them once you get on vacation. This is for two reasons: 1) I can never find the products that I like on vacation and 2) it’s always so much more expensive in a beach destination than it is at home.

Here’s what’s on my beach vacation packing list when it comes to sun safety.

1. Natural Sunscreen

I’m a big fan of natural sunscreens. The fewer chemicals I can put on or in my body, the better.

For my face or when I’m doing any sort of water sports, I always go for the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Zinc sunscreen. It’s very thick and doesn’t feel greasy. It also doesn’t leave you looking really white like many other zinc sunscreens.

This is the sunscreen you want to use if you’re going snorkeling. Alternatively, you may want to consider a waterproof top or rashguard so that you don’t put any outside things in the ocean (even natural sunscreens like zinc can affect coral reefs).

My other go-to and the one my boyfriend uses every day (he works outside) is the Banana Boat Sensitive Skin sunscreen. It only comes in SPF 50, so if you’re really bothered about that suntan, then this might not be for you. However, it is low in chemicals and spreads nicely.  

2. Natural Bug Spray

Like I said, avoiding chemicals or strong bug sprays that contain DEET isn’t just good for your skin, it’s good for the environment.

My favorite ones that I’ve found are actually just in my local supermarket here in Mexico City, but you can buy similar natural bug sprays on Amazon

swimming at the beach in bacalar

I was so glad to have this hat when we went kayaking in this amazing water in Bacalar

3. Hat

Just as important as covering your skin is covering your head in that heat. 

I usually have two hats on my beach vacation packing list: a beach hat and a baseball cap.

I wear the beach hat, well at the beach obviously. It’s usually a big-brimmed hat that covers my face from the sun and keeps my head cool.

The baseball cap is for day trips. If I head out on a boat trip or go hiking or walking somewhere, I want to make sure I protect myself from sunstroke. A beach hat is usually a bit too big to walk around with, so I like to bring a cute baseball cap instead.

4. Sunglasses

A good pair of sunglasses is essential on any sunny vacation (or if you live in a sunny place like Mexico!). A pair of sunglasses that protects you from UV and has polarization is a good place to start.

It took me a little while to feel comfortable making the investment in really good sunglasses, but I’ve never looked back. The difference it makes to wear good sunglasses is huge.

I no longer squint when I wear them, no longer how sunny it is, and I never get sunburn on my cheeks like I used to when I wore cheap sunglasses.

My go-to brand now is Ray-Ban. I try to wait until they have a sale at somewhere like Sunglass Hut (which is almost always, to be honest!) or Net-a-Porter.

You can usually get the polarized sunglasses for the same price as the non-polarized and on a good day, you can buy one and get the second pair half price.

I also love their newer styles for women. They’re much cuter and it’s nice to have a choice in colors rather than just black. 

hotel that we stayed at in bacalar

Other Beach Essentials

These are the other little bits that I never leave off my beach vacation packing list.

1. Sarong 

A sarong is a must-have when I pack for my beach vacations. I bought one years and years ago (we’re talking well over a decade) in Bali and I fell in love with just how great they are.

They are, above all else, my favorite type of beach blanket.

They are also great shirts, dresses, shawls, and blankets. You can find them in any beach store these days or on Amazon for less than $20

2. Foldable Cooler

If you enjoy a few cold snacks and even colder beers while you sit on the beach (depending on where you are of course, some places don’t allow public drinking), then you should definitely pack a reusable cooler.

Unfortunately, the most popular option in Mexico is for people to buy single-use styrofoam coolers and it’s horrific.

If you travel to beach locations pretty regularly and you like a cooler, then investing less than $30 on a foldable cooler from Walmart or Amazon is really a great idea for your wallet and the environment. 

Before I bought this cooler, I actually just used to use one of those bags you get from the grocery store to bring home your cold items. Add some ice and cold beers and you’re ready for a day at the beach.

enjoying sun and sand at the beach

Even in the evenings, depending on where you are traveling, the sun can still be warm enough that you need sunscreen, but you’ll definitely need bug spray!

3. After Sun Lotion

I like to bring aloe or some other type of cooling lotion, even though I do my best not to get burnt. 

Even when I try my hardest, if I haven’t been exposed to a strong sun for several months and then I hit the beach, I inevitably get some sunburn. This is another one of those things you want to bring with you because it tends to be quite expensive to buy once on vacation.

It’s also a really great way to extend your tan, even if you don’t burn. Putting on plenty of moisturizer after a day in the sun will help keep your skin happy and will avoid any drying or peeling that inevitably happens towards the end of the trip.

My go-to budget option is just the Walgreen’s after sun lotion. I love the smell and you really can’t beat the price.

If I’m feeling fancy, I love the Sun Bum after sun lotion. It’s not break-the-bank expensive, but it feels luxurious and thick on the skin and is about four times more expensive than the Walgreen’s option.

4. Hair Oil

I don’t travel anywhere without my hair oil, never mind how much it’s needed on a beach vacation packing list. 

If you have colored or processed hair or it’s quite long you will definitely want to get a good hair oil. 

Between the sun, the salty sea, the chlorine in the pool, and the hard water that tends to exist in these cute beach towns, your hair is going to be Dry with a capital D.

I always make sure to bring a good conditioner with me. I usually just put my favorite one into a travel-sized bottle.

Then after a shower, I always put a penny-sized dollop of hair oil into my hand and run it through my hair. My current favorite is the Hask Repairing Shine Argan Oil

The bottles are travel-friendly and the oil lasts for about six months with near-daily use.

5. Kindle or One Great Book

One of my favorite things about a beach vacation is all the time you have to sit under an umbrella and read. I usually get through at least two books on a one-week beach vacation, sometimes three.

That’s why a Kindle is my best friend. Often my beach vacations are in other countries where English is not the main language, so finding a book when I’ve finished my last one can be difficult.

With a Kindle, I can just purchase the next one that’s on my list and keep reading in the sun without having to take a break, except to sip my piña colada of course.

Get the latest Kindle here (it’s even waterproof!)

what to do in cartagena


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