Anyone who doesn’t love a beach either hasn’t been to one or has deeply confused priorities. But then, my literal idea of heaven is lying in the sun from dawn until dusk with a good book in my hands.
There is actually factually nowhere I’d rather be than somewhere with hot rays and an ocean view, so I might be a little biased.
If you share my love, though, you get it. From the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, Panama Beach to Myrtle Beach, nothing beats sand, surf, and seashells – as long as you’ve got the right gear to keep you company.
Let’s take a look at what constitutes the best beach bag ever… and everything else but the kitchen sink!
Bare (Beach) Necessities
Here are the basics for a day at the beach:
It hardly bears saying that you’re going to need your swimsuit with you when you head to the seaside. However, here are a few smart tips to keep in mind:
- If you’re traveling internationally, bring two suits. It’s expensive to replace clothing abroad, and it’s not always easy either. If you lose one in the wash, snap a drawstring, or otherwise suffer a mishap, it’s nice to have another option already to hand.
- Bring mix-and-match swimwear. If you like bikinis, bring two tops and two bottoms that coordinate with one another. If you wear trunks and sunblock tees, then bring two of each as well in coordinating colors.
- If you’re going somewhere that has chancy weather, consider bringing a suit with more coverage. For women, searching “swimsuits for Muslims” will yield lots of options that cover the legs and arms to keep you warm. This is ideal for Caribbean vacations in the winter, for example, when the weather can be hot or cool with rain showers.
- Bring your swimsuits in your carry-on bag. That way, if your luggage gets lost, you can still hit the beach while you’re waiting for it.
Shorts are the perfect accompaniment to a swimsuit: layer and go. Bring several pairs of shorts with you on your trip, but make sure they’re the kind that’s easy to wash and wear.
Jeans aren’t usually the best choice, since they are hard to rinse out in the sink of your hotel or resort and they dry slowly. Instead, try linen, light cotton, or a poly blend that dries out quickly and wicks moisture away while you’re walking around.
It’s annoying to plonk through the sand with large shoes on your feet, which is why everyone brings sandals to the beach. Again, this is obvious, but what’s less obvious is that you should avoid flip-flops.
These are a bad choice for people who follow the hallowed two-shoe rule because they don’t work for nice meals out or walking around town. They’re also a bad choice because they can break easily, and sandals – like suits – are expensive to replace on vacation.
Instead, bring beach shoes where the upper is stitched to the sole rather than just shoved through a hole. That makes it much more likely your shoes will last the trip and help you avoid an expensive replacement.
A beach cover up is the perfect middle ground between a towel and a shirt. It’s easy to put on, wicks water away, and keeps the sun off.
A large shawl will do nicely if you want maximum ease, but a quick search online will yield you some nice options for cover ups with sleeves. Think cover ups are only for women? Think again!
Cover ups are getting more popular for guys and those who enjoy masculine wear, providing all the same services without the gauzy appeal.
A beach bag should be big enough to carry all your gear, including your towel, but not so big that you dread picking it up. Here are some of our favorite choices.
Always bring a water bottle to the beach, and don’t assume that you’ll be able to find drinks to buy where you’re going. Many beaches don’t have concession stands, especially the more unspoiled ones.
Even where concessions are available, they tend to be expensive and limited, without proper options for hydration. Instead, bring a bottle that filters water like this portable LifeStraw system.
Note: LifeStraw and other water bottles with filtration systems do not work on pool water or salt water, so don’t try. All you’ll have is one less LifeStraw and a stomachache.
Skin cancer is an ever-present danger for beach bums. The face is a very common place for cancer to develop, so it’s important to protect it.
Choose hats that:
- Have a large brim so you can cover your entire face, neck, and ears
- Are made of thick material that blocks all rays – especially important if you have any patches of thinning hair
- Fold up nicely in a carry-on; like suits, you want them as soon as you arrive
Solar Charger or Power Bank
Am I betraying my beach obsession if I recommend bringing a solar charger for your cell phone? Seriously, then you never have to go inside. Like, all day.
Solar chargers give you the option of charging your phone while you lie there. Power banks are another option, providing enough juice to keep your phone going all day without the solar panels.
Some people choose to use the towels provided by their hotel or resort, while others like to bring their own.
This is a matter of personal preference, but beware that you can sometimes find yourself without options other than to rent a pricey chair if you haven’t brought a towel with you. In fact, some folks are even protesting the whole beach chair thing.
The safest bet, if you can spare the space in your bag, is to bring your own beach towel.
Choose one that is large enough to fit your whole body on so sand doesn’t stick to you while you’re lying down, but small enough that you can roll it into a bundle the size of a loaf of bread.
Always bring sunscreen with you on vacation. It’s one of the most expensive items to replace in foreign countries, especially when you’re part of a small captive audience.
Two tubes per person is a good estimate if you’ll be gone for 7-10 days somewhere warm. If there are coral reefs nearby, opt for a reef-safe option that won’t hurt these delicate ecosystems.
These use physical blockers to the sun’s rays – such as zinc and titanium – rather than chemical ones. Here’s a complete guide to the safest choices.
Mosquitoes can really spoil a day at the beach if you’re not careful. You need bug spray if you want to enjoy the beach at sunrise and sunset in many places, such as Mexico and the Caribbean.
You may also want mineral oil for your legs to protect you from sand flies, which are a misery in some parts of the world. Do your research on exactly what to bring before leaving.
Other Necessary Beach Items
In addition to the above, make sure to bring lip balm, deodorant, snacks, sunglasses, and reading material. With the exception of reading material, which isn’t that hard to acquire while you travel, these are all items you should put in your carry-on.
Optional Beach Items
If you’re driving to your beach destination and have more space to bring luxury items, or if the beach is your only vacation priority, you might wish to bring some of these optional items as well.
Are you a photo enthusiast? Then it might kill you to think of going to the beach without your camera gear. Just make sure to bring lens protection, a plastic sheet to protect your camera when on the ground, a paintbrush to get sand out of cracks, and an air blaster for stubborn grains.
Chairs are an especially luxurious option if you’re driving. These can give your back a needed break from lying down, and they make it easier to enjoy the view.
If you’re taking a family or plan to spend the entire day at the beach with a friend or partner, a beach blanket is a nice addition. It gives you more space to spread without worrying about sand getting in your gear.
Need entertainment? Beach games won’t steer you wrong, especially if you choose from among these fun options.
Sun and salt aren’t the best for your hair, even if they make it look amazing. If you plan to spend hours at the beach every day, I highly recommend some leave-in conditioner.
This makes brushing out the tangles at the end of the day much easier while simultaneously protecting your hair from tough rays.
Some people really react to the sun. If you’re used to hiding under an umbrella while your loved ones loll in the sun, it can feel frustrating to plan a trip to sunnier climes. This is especially true for those who not only burn, they also break out in a rash with too much exposure.
Sunscreen shirts and rashguards can make a big difference. These block the rays from the sun physically, and are a lifesaver on delicate areas such as the chest and forearms.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few more questions about packing smart for a beach trip:
What must I have on a beach vacation?
The bare necessities for a beach vacation are two pairs of swimsuits, shorts that dry quickly, sandals where the tops are stitched to the soles, a comfortable cover up, a large beach bag, a water bottle with filtration, a hat, a solar charger or power bank, a beach towel, reef-safe sunscreen, bug spray, lip balm, deodorant, snacks, sunglasses, and reading material.
What is nice to have but not necessary?
If you’re flying from far away, you may have to make harder choices than the traveler who’s simply hopping into their car. In that case, you may want to bring some but not all of the optional items listed above. These include camera gear, chairs, a beach blanket, games, leave-in conditioner, and Rashguards.
Can I get towels on a beach?
Whether you can get towels on a beach depends on where you’re staying. Typically, you can’t rent them, and public beaches provide no amenities except access and sometimes public bathrooms.
If you’re staying in a beachfront resort with private access, you can just get your towels from the resort. However, these may not be luxurious enough to want to lie in the sand. Don’t rely on an Airbnb or hotel that’s farther from the beach for towels.
What should I watch out for at the beach?
Always do your research about the conditions of a beach before you swim there. Many beaches have jellies, sharks, rays, riptides, or other dangers of which to be aware. In some cases, people swim anyway but follow certain rules. In others – including places in South Africa or Australia, both popular travel destinations – the beaches are more for walking and looking.
Without Further Ado, to the Beach!
Now that you know exactly what to bring on your next trip, you can get planning and packing. Have fun!