Beach Vacation Must Haves: A Minimal Packing List
I’m currently packing for a quick beach vacay to St. Simons Island with my sister with the goal of fitting everything in my carryon bag. This is no simple task for me but I’m trying to pack less this go around because I overpack for every trip and I’m done paying for checked bags. (Southwest please come to Marquette, Michigan! I miss you desperately.)
Packing for a beach vacation can be daunting; you want to look good and feel comfortable in the sweltering heat and sun. If you’re going anywhere in the coastal south, be prepared for some thick humidity too. Having lived on a coast for most of my life and done my fair share of sweating due to inappropriate clothing, I feel uniquely qualified to share my packing list of beach essentials to help you keep cool and stay stylish for any summer vacation.
This post contains affiliate inks so if you purchase something from one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Sunscreen is the most important thing to have with you on your beach vacay. This may sound obvious but I’m blown away when I hear people say they don’t wear any or never reapply. I have sensitive skin and don’t love the idea of slathering chemicals all over me so I pack my sunscreen so I don’t have to go searching at the drugstore when I arrive. I got hooked on Blue Lizard when we lived in Maui. This block has a zinc oxide and titanium oxide formula with no chemicals, parabens, or fragrances. It is thick so you know it’s going to stay on. For my face, I like using this BARE mineral sunscreen stick because it goes on smooth and has shea butter, coconut and avocado oils to moisturize. I recently learned about COOLA brand from fellow blogger Kait Hanson. I’m particularly interested in the tinted mineral sunscreen stick and anything in their tropical coconut scent. These sunscreen brands are all reef safe as well!
Make sure you put your block on at least 30 minutes before you swim or go in the sun.
If you’re beach bound, you’re obviously going to need a swimsuit. As someone with curves, I’ve long hated swimsuit season but I feel like the options these days are better than ever. There’s nothing worse than buying a suit you loathe just because you need one. If you can find a cheap suit that’s awesome but I tend to spend a bit more to find a high quality suit that I’ll wear all season and one that will last for more than one summer. You’re likely to spend hours in a suit when at the beach or pool, so finding one that makes you feel comfortable is the best way to go. My go-to styles are one pieces and high waisted bikinis.
If you follow me on IG you know I love Sweet Paradise Club’s vintage inspired suits. The fabric is incredibly smooth, soft, and completely seamless so there’s no uncomfortable gripping on your body. I have this one piece and this high waisted kini and love them both. If you see something you like don’t wait because once the pattern or color sells out they are gone!
Here are a few more that I’m diggin.’
Second most important item is the cover up. When you’re lounging all day by the pool or hanging out by the beach the last thing you want to do is get fully dressed to go grab lunch. Invest in a quality cover up that works on and off the beach. I have a few go-to coverups I never travel without.
My current fave is from BECASA, a beautiful mostly linen resort line made in Georgia. Currently I have this short sleeve linen tunic and it is perfect for the beach; its lightweight and just long enough to throw over a suit. It easily doubles as a tunic that looks great over shorts or jeans. I took it with me on my trip to St. Simons and Jekyll Island and wore it over jeans several times when it was a little chilly. While you’re shopping the BECASA collection check out this stack of beach bangles that are perfect for the beach. I rarely leave home without them because they’re waterproof, sunblock safe and really lightweight making them very packable.
I met designer Emily Raffield at The Southern C Summit a few years ago and I’m thrilled to partner with her with a Mother’s Day promo for my readers! Shop for Mom and yourself this Mother’s Day and take 20% off your entire BECASA purchase using EMSONTHEROADXBECASA now through May 12 at midnight.
I also love this slip from Free People. It is sheer, lightweight and dries really quickly if you happen to get it wet. This one also can double as a tunic. I throw on a bralette or tank under it and pair with a pair of skinny jeans and some jewelry and you’re ready to go out.
If I’m going to be in the sun for hours doing something active like kayaking or stand up paddle boarding, then I always bring a sun shirt or rash guard with a UPF rating. These types of clothing help protect against UVA/UVB rays without having to constantly reapply sunscreen to areas that are covered. I got a swim shirt from Coolibar years ago that I’ve worn many times paddle boarding. They’re out of the print I have but here’s a similar one. All of their clothes have a UPF rating. If you want to see more than one style/pattern, check out all of the options at Athleta.
UPF Sun Hat
Who doesn’t love a big floppy hat? Believe it or not your scalp can burn. This happened to me in Maui and never again! I still have the one I bought in there years ago and the tag is long gone, but I’ve found a few similar ones. This Columbia Adventure Packable Hat is almost identical to the one I have. Coolibar also makes a variety of UPF hats like this woven style and sport cap.
I blame my sister Madeline for my addiction to sunglasses. She worked at one of the swanky Sunglass Huts in Maui that had every designer line you could imagine, plus an amazing discount. While Ray Ban aviators are one of my favorite classics, they’re not my favorite to bring to the beach because I can’t wear them on top of my head without the nose piece getting tangled in my hair. I have been rocking these cat-eye polarized wood frames from Root in New Orleans for the past couple of years and I love them. They’re light weight and the materials have been sustainably sourced. I’m loving Costa del Mar’s their new collection created from recycled fishing nets, just need to decide between the round Victoria frame or the more sporty frame.
I’ve gushed about my love of Chacos many times before but I’ll say it again. They’re so freaking comfortable! I can walk, hike, and bike in these for hours and my feet feel great. I have a basic black pair but I am interested in trying some of their new leather ones to see if they’re just as comfortable. I also love Olukai sandals because they’re fashionable and comfortable. I have these leather ones with a metallic strap that you can easily wear them to the beach during the day and pair them with a dress for dinner.
I’ve been using my backpack as my beach bag lately simply because I use it as my carryon. I do love a big woven tote though to lug your supplies in for the day. Here are a few that I’ve seen lately that are super cute.
What to wear off the beach
For the most part, beach destinations are pretty casual. Unless you’re headed to West Palm Beach or Malibu I wouldn’t worry about getting dressed up. Dresses and jumpsuits are perfect because you can dress them up or down and add a light jacket if it gets chilly in the morning or evening. I throw in at least one maxi dress (love this Free People one) in case of a nicer dinner because I feel like they’re a little easier to dress up. I wore this slinky tank dress (old below, but similar here & here) all day then added a pair of booties and different jewelry for dinner that night. Pro tip: If you have thick thighs like myself, get yourself a pair of these skimmie shorts to wear underneath. These smooth little slip shorts will save your legs from horrible chaffing.
If you know you like to work out when on vacation them pack some workout outfits and go with an all day athleisure look if you’re going to be riding bikes or hiking for most of the day. Most days I wore a t shirt-dress like this or Athleta pants and tanks during my February SSI trip because I went walking on the beach every morning and put on sandals afterwards to run to a coffee shop to work for a bit or run around with my little cousins. I don’t worry nearly as much as I used to about putting outfits together for trips because it just doesn’t really matter. The most important thing is to feel comfortable so just wear what you like.
Most of these photos were shot by Caitlin Lee a local wedding photographer in the Golden Isles area. She’s amazing; go check her out!
What do you pack for a trip to the beach?