After a long winter, it’s likely the anticipation of your first summer beach vacation is akin to the same giddy excitement you felt as a kid during the countdown to the last day of school. But alas, you’re an adult now and can’t rely on your parents to pack your pool floaties for you anymore.
If you’re staying at a resort, it’s safe to assume you won’t have to pack essentials like beach chairs, umbrellas, and towels. But if you were lucky enough to snag coveted reservations at an Airbnb beach house this summer, double-check with your host to see what amenities they include. To make sure you don’t show up unprepared—or overpack—use this beach vacation packing list to guarantee you have everything you need for a week-long trip.
Avoid overpacking with this easy formula Wendy Mak, author of The Capsule Wardrobe: 1,000 Outfits From 30 Pieces, uses when she travels: Simply multiply the number of tops with the number of bottoms you plan to bring and that’s the number of outfits you’ll be able to create (as long as each top coordinates with each bottom).
“As a general rule of thumb, if I’m going away for a seven-night beach holiday, I’d pack two to three pieces of swimwear (so that they have time to dry in between), a pair of shorts and a couple of skirts, four tops that match all my shorts and skirts, and a dress in case I go somewhere special,” Mak told AFAR in 2017. In addition to the swimwear, this eight-piece wardrobe will give you at least 13 outfits for when you’re not lounging on the beach in your suit.
If you plan on working out, don’t forget your workout gear and sneakers. And even though it could be warm during the day, be sure to check the weather and pack additional layers to keep you comfortable at night in case the weather dips after the sun goes down. You wouldn’t want to miss the beach bonfire, would you?
Clothing to pack:
2–3 swimsuits (We like Summersalt suits, $45–$145, which are made with recycled polyamide fabric and include a range sizes from 0 to 24.)1–2 swim cover-upsRashguard for additional sun protection in the waterPolarized sunglasses, like the Maho Positano shades ($195), which include subtle yet effective grips on the ears so you don’t have to worry about them falling off your face into the water.Sun hat (the wider the brim the better)Four T-shirts or casual topsThree pairs of shorts or skirtsPants for eveningsSweatshirt or light sweater for eveningsNicer outfit (dress or button-up and slacks) for dinners outSocks and underwearSleepwearSmall purse or belt bagWorkout gear and running shoes
Flat sandals for daytime, like Nisolo’s woven huaraches, which come in both men’s and women’s sizes ($138–$150) and are made with Leather Working Group Certified leather that’s also water resistantFlip-flops or other rubber beach sandals (Indosole makes rubber sandals, $26–$60, crafted from recycled tires for men, women, children, and toddlers.)Nicer shoes for evenings out (Espadrilles like the Soludos classic 3.5″ wedge, $115, elevate your look but are still lightweight and let your feet breathe in warm climates.)Water shoes to protect your feet from rocks and coral
Before you pack, check to see what amenities your hotel or vacation rental includes. Most provide beach chairs, umbrellas, and towels you can use during your stay. Otherwise, you’ll just want to stick to the essentials for keeping you and your family entertained, hydrated, and comfortable during a day out on the sand.
Beach bagWaterproof portable speaker, like the JBL Clip 3 ($50), with a built-in carabiner clip Beach blanketCoolerReusable water bottleInsulated travel mug (As more resorts ban single-use cups, we like keeping our rum punch cold on the beach in a reusable Yeti 20 oz. Rambler, $35.)SnacksReusable utensilsBeach games and sand toysBooks, magazines, or e-readerDry bags, like Osprey’s Ultralight dry sacks (from $18), which come in various sizes and can be used to keep valuables safe or separate your wet clothes from everything else in your bagPower bank and charging cordsAnti-theft beach bag or lock box
In case your accommodations don’t provide, pack these items:
Beach chairsBeach umbrella or tentBeach towels (We like the Nomadix Original Towel, $40; its ultralight and quick-drying micro-terry fabric is made from postconsumer recycled materials.)
You may also want:
Snorkel gear (Tour operators may provide them, but after living through a pandemic, you may want to BYO for peace of mind.)Underwater camera, like the GoPro Hero11 Black ($350), which is waterproof down to 33 feet and comes with accessories like a floating hand grip if you purchase it in a bundle directly from GoProInflatable floats for lounging in the waterToddler swim floaties for families traveling with small childrenSwim diapers for babies
Beach toiletries and hygiene items
In addition to the basics you pack every time you travel—toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razors, etcetera—you’ll also want to be sure to pack additional toiletries to keep you protected from the sun and any germs you encounter at the beach. Choose a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or greater that also is water resistant and broad spectrum so you’re protected against both UVB and UVA rays.
You’ll also want to use a reef-friendly formula that doesn’t use oxybenzone and octinoxate, two ingredients that are banned from being sold in destinations like Hawai‘i and Key West. To calculate the amount of sunscreen you’ll need for your beach trip, the American Academy of Dermatology Association says most adults need about one ounce to fully cover their body and recommends reapplying every two hours or after swimming.
SunscreenSPF lip balmHand sanitizerWet wipes for disinfecting your hands and getting all the sand off them before you eatAfter-sun lotion (Kelty makes a CBD After Sun Lotion, $30, infused with aloe vera and 200 mg of CBD to give sun-exposed skin extra relief.)
>> Read more: You Can Travel With CBD—Here’s How
You may also want:
Bug spray for evenings (Kinfield’s Golden Hour mosquito repellent, $22, is DEET free and actually works. Its mix of citronella, lemongrass, and clove also smells amazing.) First aid kit, like the Vssl First Aid ($135) which includes adhesive bandages, gauze, tweezers, and more in a waterproof cylinder that doubles as a flashlight
After-sun leave-in hair conditioner, like Sun Bum’s Revitalizing 3-in-1 Leave-In Treatment ($16), which detangles, conditions, and protects hair from the damaging effects of the sun and salt water.
This article was originally published in January 2019; it was most recently updated on March 8, 2023, with current information.
Lyndsey Matthews Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.