How to pack for a beach vacation with only a carry-on bag

Save on luggage costs by taking a small bag to the beach
By Natalie Koch  Published on 06/12/2018 at 10:56 AM EDT

Now that summer is nearly here, you might be jetting off for a vacation on the beach. With airlines doing their best to gouge you with fees anyway they can, consider skipping the checked luggage and packing only the bare essentials in your carry-on bag. This method works best with beach vacations of one week or less, but if you’re especially good at minimalism you can make it work for longer trips.

Some tips:

  1. Roll your clothing to save space
  2. Check to see what is provided at your hotel/Airbnb/grandma’s house—maybe you can skip the shampoo and body wash
  3. Plan your outfits ahead of time so you don’t overpack
  4. Try to leave a little space to bring back souvenirs
  5. Buy things like sunscreen and bug spray once you get there

So what should you actually pack? We’ve gathered some suggestions in the below gallery and included even more tips. You don’t need the exact items we’ve picked out—hopefully, you have most of these things already!—but use them as a guideline when choosing what does, and doesn’t, go in your carry-on.

Safe travels!

Left: ModCloth, Right: Amazon
The bag

Your carry-on bag is key to this whole process, so it’s definitely where we should start. Be sure to check with your airline for the specific dimensions of allowed carry-on luggage. On the left is a perfectly beachy bag that’s a little smaller and perfect for quick, weekend getaways. On the right is a slightly larger bag from Amazon which gives you some wiggle room for a longer trip.

Revivals and Departures Bag | ModCloth

Amazon Basics Underseat Luggage | Amazon

Left: Paper Source, Right: ModCloth
Luggage tags & personal item

If you’re traveling to a beach abroad you’ll need your passport, and this matching set of passport cover and luggage tag is a classic option.

Plus, don’t forget you can take a personal item in addition to your carry-on! It could be a purse, a small laptop bag (don’t work on vacation!) or a shopping bag from the duty-free shop. This colorful, straw clutch pulls double-duty as a lightweight spot for your important items and will look right at home in a beachfront bar.

Navy Passport and Luggage Tag Set | Paper Source

Take Color Straw Clutch | ModCloth


Travel size neccessities

Find travel bottles that are TSA approved so you don’t have to worry about having your liquids confiscated at security. Just add your favorite shampoo, conditioner—even sunscreen and moisurizer!—to these squeezable bottles. Then use a roll-up bag, like the one on the right, to store your makeup (like you even need any on the beach, pfft), toothbrush and other toiletry items. Just keep an eye on your liquids per TSA rules!

ZOADLE Travel Bottles Set | Amazon

4kits Hanging Roll-up Bag | Amazon



If you’re going to the beach you most likely want to pack a swimsuit. Do you need more than one? Probably not! Maybe you’re the type of person who likes to have a different suit every day, and by all means, you do you. But otherwise, stick to one swimsuit that fits well and makes you feel comfortable.

Beach Betty High Neck Bikini Top | Target

Clean Water Retro Monokini | Target

Left: Old Navy, Right: Target
Beach cover-up

A good cover-up can double as a dress (or vice-versa) in many beach towns, so take into consideration the kind of place you’re vacationing. Rompers and chambray dresses are good options as is a simple maxi dress! These two cover-ups are lightweight and flowy, perfect for a walk along the shore or seaside shopping.

Embroidered Gauze Kaftan in Navy Tropical Print | Old Navy

Smocked Waist Tassel Trim Cover Up Dress | Target

Cotton On

Hopefully, you’ll be on the beach in your swim gear your entire vacation, but in case you need to go somewhere bikinis aren’t appropriate you should pack some alternative bottoms. Black shorts or skirts are easy to match with a variety of tops to create different looks. Choose breathable fabrics like cotton or linen that don’t trap odors so you can wear the items a few times!

High Rise Classic Stretch Denim Short | Cotton On

Woven Ryder Midi Skirt | Cotton On


Pack 2-3 lightweight shirt options: short sleeve, tank tops, dressy, casual…whatever floats your buoy. Keep the design fairly simple so you can mix and match different outfits together. Again, we like linen for the breathability. It also air dries nicely in case you need to give it a sink bath. Consider packing shirts that are slightly looser fit—there’s nothing worse than getting a sunburn (heaven forbid!) and having only tight clothing to wear.

Metallic Graphic Crewneck T-Shirt in Linen | Gap

Dreamwell Embroidered Crinkle Tank Top | Gap


This might be painful, but try to only pack 1 dress. Remember, your cover-up should hopefully count as a dress, too! This is where you can have fun though—go all out with a pattern or something super colorful. Frills, tassels, bells, whistles, whatever you want! These dresses from Desigual are a resort-wear dream come true with some seriously bold patterns and flattering silhouettes.

Brigitte | Desigual
$119.98 on sale!

Leyla | Desigual
$79.99 on sale!

Left: Keds, Right: Zappos

Wear one pair and pack the other because shoes can take up the most space in a carry-on. Slip-ons and sandals are your best bet for beach footwear. Select a dressier flip flop or sandal to go with the dress or skirt you’re packing, but keep in mind it’ll be getting sandy as well. A vegan leather option, like the one on the right, works great!

Chillax Striped A-line Jute | Keds

Billabong Beach Braid | Zappos
$21.68 on sale!

Hat and sunglasses

The sun will be shining every day of your beach getaway (this is the power of positive thinking at work) so you’ll need a hat and sunglasses. There are plenty of rollup beach hat options out there, but you don’t have forego style for function! Pop a pair of sunglasses into your personal item and you’re good to go.

SOMALER Foldable Sun Hat | Amazon

AEVOGUE Polarized Sunglasses | Amazon

Left: ModCloth, Right: Lucky Brand

Throw some small, not-too-valuable jewelry pieces into that rollup bag you’re taking to dress up your outfits! Obviously, we don’t think you’ll lose things, but just in case you do we want to make sure you won’t be heartbroken. These tropical options are cute, understated (for the most part) and pair well with our planned outfits.

Unstoppably Tropical Earring Set | ModCloth

Palm Leaf Cuff | Lucky Brand
$24.50 on sale!

Left: Paper Source, Right: ThinkGeek
Beach towels

The beach towel is either going on the bottom or the top of your carry-on. If you’re staying at a very kind Airbnb or hotel that provides a beach towel for you, you can skip this step entirely! If not, it’s wise to pack one. You can go for Instagram-worthy, like the left, or one tailored to your interests, like the right. Different strokes for different folks!

Wish You Were Here Beach Towel | Paper Source

Star Wars BB-8 Beach Towel | ThinkGeek
$12.99 on sale!



Like we said earlier, don’t bring your work on vacation. If you can’t stand to leave your laptop at home and need something more substantial than a smartphone, consider a tablet. A case like the one on the right is waterproof, can hold charging cables and earbuds, and plenty of other electronic things you might need including many tablets. The bonus of the tablet, of course, you can read e-books or listen to audiobooks on the plane!

Amazon Fire 7 Tablet 8 GB | Amazon

Eloves Electronics Case | Amazon

Did we forget anything? Would you leave anything else out of the bag? Do you have budget-friendly travel tips? Let us know!

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