Back when I was still in the corporate world, I traveled a lot for business. And I was a superstar packer if I do say so myself. I had a standard formula: black jacket, black pants, 2 coordinating work appropriate tops, and 1 or 2 tops that I could change into for dinners. Pumps. Workout pants, a hoodie and flip flops (which I finally learned to pack after one too many times of having to get entirely re-dressed in my work clothes if I needed to run down to the lobby for anything). Boom. That’s it.
Admittedly, packing this light was made easier by the fact that my days and evenings were pre-scheduled and entirely predictable. I knew exactly what I needed and, depending on the number of days I’d be away, I could throw in an extra jacket or pair of pants to mix and match.
Vacation packing was another matter entirely. The anticipation of a week in a sunny climate or a fabulous city suddenly filled me with the desire to pack every favorite thing I owned. The fantasy! The glamour! Seven days away meant 14 changes of clothing - 7 for day and 7 for night. And the shoes! Let’s not even go there. I honestly think I became deranged. One time I packed for a week in Mexico in a suitcase so large a family of 4 could have used it.
I knew this was at best impractical and at worst ridiculous. I was going to have to teach myself how to apply the same formula for vacation packing as I did for business travel. With a bit more leeway of course, because on vacation you want to have some spontaneous fun and you may need or want options. Just not SO MANY options.
Lucky for you, dear readers, I’m happy to share my formula with you. It’s springtime and before we know it, it will be summer, so let’s start with the Beach Vacation.
Disclaimer: This is not a completely minimalist list that tells you to bring one bikini, one tee shirt, one top, one sarong, one pair of sandals, etc. I see those lists all the time and to me they’re unrealistic. Sorry, but no way am I going to lay on my sarong on the beach and then use it later that night as a wrap or a skirt. Eww. It has sand and sunscreen all over it. I’m not shipwrecked, I’m on vacation! Rather, it’s my idea of the ideal items to pack to get the most options out of the fewest items; in other words, the most bang for your buck.
The 15 Piece Beach Vacation Packing List
- Swimsuits (obvi). No fewer than 2, no more than 4.
- Kimono. This is actually an incredibly versatile piece. It can double as a beach coverup and an evening layer (just keep it off the sand).
- Pull-on pants. In my mind, vacation is the perfect time to leave the jeans at home. But if you must, go ahead and throw in a pair. Just make sure they’re either white or light wash.
- Fabulous dress. Cause you’re fancy like that.
- Casual sundress that you can wear either day or night. These are great for daytime sightseeing trips as you can throw them on over your swimsuit just in case a last-minute dip in the ocean is calling you.
- Midi or maxi skirt in a solid color. Incredibly useful and versatile. I'd go for a solid color.
- Shorts. Denim if you like, or maybe a mid-thigh length with a tie waist for something a little different.
- Fun tops to go with the skirt or pants . I recommend 3.
- Basic tank top. White is the most versatile option but black works just as well. Wear this with the skirt, pants or shorts.
- Large tote bag. This is your carryon and your beach bag. Make it a fun one.
- Small flat clutch. Pop it in the tote to carry your wallet, phone and makeup. Use it as your purse for evening. A neutral straw will give you the most versatility, or you may want to have fun with a tropical beaded version .
- Comfortable flat sandals. Whatever this means to you. Birkenstock style, strappy leather, or slides. Just make sure they’re neutral.
- Wedges or chunky heels in a neutral shade. I prefer a metallic (yes, metallic is definitely a neutral). Let’s face it, some of us want a little bit of help in the height department. Don’t judge.
- Sneakers. For obvious reasons. You seriously don’t want to be caught without a pair. You can never go wrong with white.
- Flip flops. Again, I love a metallic because they can do double-duty at night.
I know you are doing the math in your head right now and thinking, um, that’s actually up to 20 items once you count the multiples. I told you this list was realistic, not minimalistic! Hey, if you think you can go on a week’s vacation with only 9 items or whatever, more power to you! I envy you. But I just can’t do it. Limiting myself to just 20 items or less was a Herculean feat of restraint for me.
Oddly enough, packing lighter gave me more freedom rather than less. There is a phenomenon I like to call “profusion confusion”. Too many choices can cause anxiety. This, or that? Having a limited selection freed me up to think less about my wardrobe and more about having fun and living in the moment.
Try it the next time you travel.
I dare you
Author's note: New place, same me! About a month ago I joined the team at Smith and Scott. In addition to creating the emails that land in your Inbox, I get to indulge my twin passions: styling YOU and blogging about fashion. I’m over the moon to be here! To new readers, welcome! To my dear faithful readers, I hope you continue to enjoy my fashion musings and advice.
~~ Fern Baker-Guy