The Ultimate Packing List for Beach Vacation: What To Bring and What To Leave at Home

packing list for beach vacation surfboard in sand

Beach vacations are the perfect opportunity to de-stress by the ocean or take part in some fun water activities. But packing for them can be tricky. You'll want to bring enough to enjoy your time in the sun but not so much that you're weighed down by a heavy beach bag.

For this reason, we've put together a packing list for beach vacation that'll help you make the most of your seaside experience, including a few items you likely won't miss when you're lying in the sand.

Beach Vacation Packing List: The Categories

Knowing what to take to the beach is easier when you break it down into categories. So, we've divided our list of must-have beach items into the following sections:

1) Swimwear & Sun Protection

2) Beach Essentials

3) Entertainment & Electronics

4) Water Activities

5) Food & Drink

Ready for the ultimate beach day? Let's get packing!

Packing List for Beach Vacation #1: Swimwear & Sun Protection

No beach packing list would be complete without swimwear and sun protection. Here are a few key items to add to your bag:

  • Swimsuit: Of course, you'll need a swimsuit! If you're packing light, opt for a two-piece that can double as a crop top or pair of shorts.
  • Sunscreen: Slather on some SPF 30 or higher to protect against the sun's pesky UV rays.
  • Lip balm with SPF: This is easily the best minimalist beach item that is often overlooked or forgotten. A lip balm with SPF will protect your lips from sunburn while taking up hardly any space in your beach bag.
  • Hat: A visor, baseball cap, or wide-brimmed sunhat are great options for your beach vacation packing list. They'll keep the sun out of your eyes so you can better enjoy the view and shield your scalp from sunburn.
  • Cover-up: A loose-fitting sarong, kaftan, linen shirt, or even a large scarf can come in handy when you want to take a break from the sun.

Lastly, consider a lightweight travel blanket for your beach packing list. It can keep you warm on windy beach days but also function as a cover-up.

Packing List for Beach Vacation #2: Beach Essentials

The following items will make your time at the beach more enjoyable and comfortable:

  • Polarized sunglasses: We recommend polarized lenses for any beach packing list. Not only do they protect your eyes from the sun. They also reduce the glare from the water, which is ideal for watersports.
  • Sand-free beach towel: When choosing what to take to the beach, consider a quick-dry or microfiber towel that's lightweight and doesn't collect sand.
  • Beach bag: A beach tote or mesh bag is perfect for carrying all your beach essentials. You'll want one that's big enough to fit everything but not so large that it becomes a nuisance to carry.

Lastly, a sun umbrella or beach canopy won't hurt if you have the extra room. Just be sure you pack the right one for your needs.

Packing List for Beach Vacation # 3: Entertainment and Electronics

There's nothing like reading the latest bestseller on a windswept beach or listening to your favorite jams as you lounge in the sand. Here are a few ways you can stay entertained and still pack light:

  • E-reader: A lightweight and portable e-reader is one of the best packing items for beach vacations hands down. You can store an entire library of classics and new releases on a single device. Just make sure the battery is fully charged before you head to the beach.
  • Portable speaker: A small Bluetooth speaker can get the beach party started. (Just try not to disturb your neighbors!) For a more low-key option, consider bringing wireless headphones and pairing them with your phone's music app.
  • Beach games: A beach ball is a must-have accessory. It's lightweight, easy to pack, and you can play a suite of fun and creative games with it. If you want something a little more challenging, try a frisbee or paddle ball set.

Honorable mentions in this category include a journal and pen, playing cards, and a sand toy set for the kiddies.

Packing List for Beach Vacation #4: Water Activities

Knowing what to take to the beach also means packing for the water activities you plan on enjoying. Here are a few things to consider when packing light:

  • Water shoes: If you plan on doing any hiking or exploring tide pools, a pair of sturdy and comfortable beach shoes can go a long way, ideally one with a breathable mesh material that dries quickly.
  • Goggles: If you want to go for a swim, packing a pair of swim goggles is a good idea. They'll keep the saltwater out of your eyes and help you see underwater.
  • Snorkel: If you're packing for a beach vacation with snorkeling on the agenda, check if there's an option to rent snorkeling gear at your destination. If not, packing your own gear is the way to go.
  • Wet suit: Catching some waves? A wet suit will help you stay warm in the water and provide extra protection from the sun's UV rays.
  • Floaties: Inflatable floating devices take up little space in your beach bag. They can help you stay afloat and enjoy the water without tiring yourself out. They're also great for kids who are still learning to swim.

These water activities at the beach can work up an appetite. Next up on our beach vacation packing list is food and drink.

Packing List for Beach Vacation #5: Food and Drink

A beach day without snacking is like a movie night without popcorn: it just doesn't feel right. But packing too much food can be a drag, literally. Here are a few tips for packing light and eating right:

  • Non-perishable snacks: Non-perishable snacks like nuts, granola bars, and dried fruit are great for any beach packing list because they don't need to be refrigerated. Plus, they can keep you energized throughout the day.
  • Compact cooler: A small soft-sided cooler is great for packing sandwiches, fruit, and other perishables. Just make sure you pack it with ice or cold packs to keep everything fresh.
  • Reusable water bottle: Staying hydrated is key, especially in the heat. But water can easily weigh you down. To travel light, try packing only half of all the water you need to stay hydrated during the day, making sure to drink the other half before you go. That way, you won't have to lug around heavy water bottles all day.

Bonus tip: Pack a frozen water bottle along with your perishables to keep them cool all day long.

7 Items You Can Leave Out of Your Beach Bag

Here are a few things you can leave out of your beach bag to save even more space:

1) Flippers

2) Beach blanket

3) Paperback or hardcover books

4) Extra sunscreen

5) Bug spray

6) Beach chair

7) Camera (phone cameras are getting pretty good these days!)

Now that you have your packing list for beach vacation, all that's left to do is enjoy the sun, sand, and waves. For more travel tips, check out the rest of the Gravel Travels blog. And for some cool travel gear, visit our shop!


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