If you’ve been reading my articles here and in print magazines for the last ten years, you’ll know that I’ve been on a quest to find the most beautiful beach in the world for about all of my adult life. After visiting some of the most amazing tropical paradise beaches such as Bora Bora, Seychelles, Zanzibar, Koh Phi Phi (Thailand), Whitsunday, Tulum, Maldives, Mauritius, Bali, Bahamas, Caribbean, and many others, I’ve become somewhat of an expert on beach items to pack and what to leave at home.
Of course, there are variables, such as if you’re in a country that is very conservative, on a road trip, just a weekend with limited luggage space, etc. The list below is designed so that you can pick and choose what is right to pack for any kind of beach trip.
This beach packing list is functional, yet fun and stylish. I accept no less.
Be sure to bookmark this post so you can use as a checklist in the future!
I never go on a trip without using these packing cubes. Never. They allow me to keep my clothing organized by color, type, day/night, etc. And don’t forget to tightly roll your clothes to save room and avoid wrinkling.
In lieu of or in addition to a beach bag, is a daypack (small, lightweight backpack), especially if you plan to do some walking, hiking, or exploring in addition to time on the beach. In it, you can easily stash your camera, reusable water bottle, smartphone, sunblock, mosquito repellent wipes, camera lens wipe, snacks, and other necessities. My daypack can also fit inside my beach bag if needed.
If are planning to do any snorkeling or scuba diving, a dry bag is something in which you can protect and keep dry your technical equipment and other items.
I always bring a small, lightweight purse that I can stick in my daypack, my beach bag, or over my shoulder at night. It contains such things as my phone, medications, reading glasses and cash.
My go-to color for shorts/pants for beach vacations is white. By choosing one neutral color, I don’t have to pack a lot of different shoes, jewelry, or accessories. And it gives me an opportunity to pack a lot of colorful tops that I can mix and match.
Silky Tank Tops
I love these tops! Mine are mostly 95% polyester 5% spandex so they feel like silk but are machne washable. You can get them in an infinite variety of colors and prints, but the best thing is that unlike tee-shirts or knit tops, they roll up so tiny you can fit them in the palm of your hand! That means I can easily bring a different one for each day and never have to wash them or wear the same one twice.
Beach destinations are the perfect place for those flowy, showy, Instagrammable dresses! I love wearing them in the evening, and when exploring markets, historic sites, museums, etc., during the day. They’re easy to pack and I generally take a few. I have a lot of bodyform dresses but never bring them to hot climates — they’re too uncomfortable and absorb sweat. Lightweight, brighly colored, loose dresses are much better for beach travel.
This item essential has a lot of variation with consideration of personal style as well as the local customs where you are traveling. For example, on tropical islands such as Zanzibar which is overwhelmingly Muslim, bikinis are fine at your resort, but if you plan on swimming elsewhere, you might want to consider a cute one-piece. I always pack two swimsuits so that I always have access to a dry one.
I never travel without a sarong. It’s the essential go-to item that I’ve used as a beach cover-up, sundress, head covering for religious sites or conservative destinations, scarf, wind shawl, towel, pillow or seat covers, makeshift purse, privacy curtain, window shade, and packing padding.
God forbid, but it could also be used as a bandage, sling, tourniquet, or to tie a splint until you can get proper medical attention.
I love these so much I probably have at least 20, with no regrets.
Rain can break out at any random, unplanned time, but it doesn’t have to ruin your trip. I pack a compact plastic travel rain jacket into my daypack. It doesn’t take up much room at all, and I have several that are cute and photograph well.
Perhaps you prefer to sleep in the buff, but on the occasions where you’re traveling with friends, you’ll need summer pajamas. I often pack pajamas with longer pants because I get cold easily and my idea of comfortable air conditioning is not always shared by roommates. You’ll also need a pair of PJ’s to slip into quickly if room service knocks on your door!
I usually bring three – a pair of white ones that are more dressy, lightweight flipflops for the beach, and a pair of good walking sandals for exploring and light hiking. I swear by my Teva’s which I’ve had for at least 10 years and are still as comfortable and look as good as the day I bought them.
My Ex-Officio travel undies are a lifesaver. I pack several of these breathable, quick-dry undies which can be washed by hand at night and are dry and ready to wear the next day.
My caftan hs multiple uses. I use it at the beach, at night walking around the resort and exploring in town. They are extremely airy and comfy and fit right in with tropical island dress.
You’ll need a hat as protection from the strong sun. I’m not a baseball cap kind of girl at all, but I love wide-brim sunhats. My favorite is a stylish UPF50+ neutral wide brim hat that I can add flowers to or wrap a scarf around to coordinate with my outfits.
Don’t forget to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. I always make I always wear very stylish sunglasses since you can see them in basically every photo that I’m in.
You’ll definitely need a tote when off to the beach. When forced, I can always use my daypack but prefer to have a large beach tote with lots of pockets to store my towel, phone and/or camera, sunglasses, snacks, and sunscreen. I use a lightweight one that doesn’t take up much space or weight in my suitcase.
Check to see if your hotel allows you to take towels to the beach. If not, this sand-free Bohemian microfiber travel towel by Tesalate is a great lightweight option. They’re thinner than standard terrycloth beach towels, but have a quick-drying profile.
Many women can do without jewelry at the beach or on a beach vacation. I’m not one of those. Naturally, I never bring expensive jewelry on any trip, but because I always go with white on a beach vacation, a couple of pair white earrings (one fun, one dressy) and a couple of fun, colorful earrings to match my outfits will usually suffice and doesn’t take up a lot of room.
Also, if you have the option of visiting local markets during your trip you can buy some of the hand-crafted items that serve as dually as jewelry to wear on your trip as well as a memento of your visit.
I also bring a large-faced inexpensive watch daily, so I don’t have to dig out my cell phone every time I wanted to check the time.
Reusable Shopping Bags
These large, nearly weightless, eco-friendly shopping bags are great for shopping at local outdoor markets where vendors will unlikely not have plastic bags. They are inexpensive, strong, can hold heavy items, and come in fun, colorful prints!
Some resorts provide these and others allow you to rent them – which I’d recommend unless, like me, you need vision correction to read your scuba diving gages. As a certified scuba diver, this is one of my most important beach items to bring with me. And…they come in lots of different colors!
If you are not snorkeling but want either protection or to open your eyes underwater, these are my favorite goggles. I will not put my head underwater without them!
Filtered Water Bottle
Water is questionable in many remote places so don’t risk contracting traveler’s diarrhea. But rather than buying plastic water bottles everywhere, filtered bottles are great for purifying unsafe water when you are away from your resort. I love this one because when empty, it can be folded up and doesn’t take up precious room in your luggage.
Most beaches don’t allow alcohol, but if you feel like you need a little nip, you can camouflage your vice in a sunscreen lookalike flask. Of course, if you get caught, I’ll deny ever have recommended this!
It’s a great idea to bring a guide book for your destination with you in case you don’t have access to WiFi.
For me, bulky camera gear is a thing of the past. I recently gave up using my big Nikon DLSR and purchased a Canon mirrorless 35mm camera. I love it! It’s so much lighter and easier to use. Note, you can also get zoom lenses for the Canon if you so desire.
Underwater photos are my favorite! If you’d like to take videos or pictures underwater, or while doing a water activity such as kayaking, jet-skiing, or surfing, then a micro Go Pro action video camera is a must! You can get some really cool accessories to facilitate your creativity, such as a wrist mount, surfboard mount, chest or head mount. Kary used a head mount when we were diving in the Great Barrier Reef and caught a once-in-a-lifetime video of friendly sea turtle engaging with us!
Never leave home without it, right? My Samsung smartphone takes exceptionally great photos and it’s become my go-to camera.
If you’re traveling with someone else, a combination tripod/selfie stick is a great way to capture memories with both of you.
For American electronics and chargers to work internationally, an adapter/converter is a must-have. Don’t leave home without it.
I always have a high-capacity SD card in my camera, and one extra one in case the first gets filled or damaged.
Insider’s Tip: I download the photos from both my camera and my phone to my laptop’s hard drive every night. You never know when your equipment will malfunction or get stolen and you’ll lose precious photos. You can also download to the cloud if you prefer.
The sand and sea air are bad for your phone or camera lens. In order to obtain the best-quality photos, clean your camera and phone lenses intermittently throughout the day.
If you love reading at the beach, a kindle is a good gadget to have. With a kindle, you don’t have to bring multiple books in your luggage. You can load your guide books to educate yourself about your surroundings and/or favorite fiction all on one device. Now there’s a waterproof model, too!
HEALTH & BEAUTY
I love the beach but do not like staying in direct sunlight for long periods of time. During my sun exposure, I use an eco-friendly sunscreen that does not pollute the water or harm marine life. Win/win scenario.
Malaria is a problem is a lot of tropical destinations. It helps to wear long sleeves and pants or long dresses at night and pack at least 30% DEET spray or wipes. I prefer the wipes on my skin because the scent is not as strong as an involuntary inhalant. It’s easier to get full coverage with the wipes. Alternatively, the spray works well on clothing. I brought both with me.
If you’ve ever had Traveler’s Diarrhea, you know it’s terrible and can lay you up for a day or more. Over-the-counter medications like Imodium can help stop diarrhea, but I always travel with a prescription of Cipro, an antibiotic that stops the root cause.
Misc. First Aid
First Aid Kit with Band-Aids, antibiotic cream, ibuprofen, cream for bites, and any medications you normally take.
Most hotels and resorts provide their own hairdryers, so no need to ever bring these. As far as curlers, straighteners, etc., while on a beach vacation, I just do without. The vibe is casual anyway, so I just put my hair in a ponytail. I also often braid it at night so that it’s crimpy in the morning and looks good long.
I can’t sleep unless it’s pitch black, and a lot of hotels have lights on their ceiling sprinklers, light that seeps beneath the door, and night lights outside around the resort. I can only enjoy good nights’ sleep while wearing my silk sleep mask which blocks all light as well as forces my eyes to stay closed.
I’m a grazer and like to snack every couple of hours, so bringing food to the beach is a must for me. Naturally, anything that melts is not appropriate, but for me, it’s even more complicated because I follow a ketogenic lifestyle. My favorite packable snacks are Diamond’s seasoned nuts (Sweet Chili Thai, Soy Wasabi, Sirocha) which come in single-serving packets, teriyaki beef jerky, sugar-free peanut butter crisps, and keto cookies.
Please note: it’s important to take only what you need and resist the temptation to overpack. When in doubt, take this advice
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” (~Susan Heller)
INSIDER TIP: Never travel to any foreign country without travel insurance! Random, unplanned things can happen. I was involved in a horrendous car crash in South Africa in 2014. Click here compare pricing for travel insurance plans.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.