Beach Vacation Packing List

At last, summer is here and the road beckons!

Road Trip

If you’re planning a road trip along a coast, you’ve got tons of options as far as where to go, but your beach vacation packing list will be different depending on the climate where you’re going. A coastal trip up to Maine is a lot different than a trip along the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

No matter where you’re going, I recommend you find out if any of the beaches you’ll be visiting allow bonfires. There is nothing like gathering around a bonfire by the shore, watching the sunset while roasting weenies and marshmallows on sticks, and staying until it’s just you, the stars, and the moonlight on the water.

If you decide to do this, do not assume you will find wood on the beach! There are too many driftwood collectors combing the beach for there to be much left for a fire. Instead, buy your firewood in town - even better, combine it with a Duraflame log. It’s hard to light a fire on a windy beach, and a Duraflame makes it so much easier. Once you’ve got it really going, you can add the wood a few pieces at a time.

So what should you pack for your beach vacation?

Beach Vacation Packing List: Hot Climate

  • Bathing suits – at least two. Bring just one and it will always be clammy and damp when you put it on. Plus, you’ll need to wash it regularly, making it even slower to dry.
  • Woolite/gentle soap for washing bathing suits.
  • Beach towels – ideally two for each person. Why? Just like bathing suits, towels don’t always dry as fast as we’d like them to, so having an extra is essential.
  • Sunglasses for everyone.
  • Lots of sunscreen and aloe gel. Don’t feel like you have to have enough for the whole trip, though. Every beach town sells sunscreen and it’s rarely marked up in any significant way.
  • Hats for everyone.
  • Flip flops or other beach shoes.
  • Beach cover-ups/outfits for each day and a fresh outfit for every evening. If you want to minimize the amount of clothes you’re bringing, just pack a fresh t-shirt/top for the evening.
  • Sweatshirts/hoodies/light jackets for cooler nights.
  • Two coolers, one large one for your trip, and one smaller one for the beach.
  • Sun umbrella. Some beaches offer umbrella rentals, but not all. Unless you’ve researched every beach you plan to visit and every beach offers rentals, you’ll want to pack an umbrella or two.
  • Large beach bag with napkins, lip balm with sunscreen, and a small amount of cash for concession stands. You can use this bag to carry your sunscreen and other items on the list. If anyone in your group has long hair, put some hair elastics in the bag for pulling hair back on hot or windy (or both) days.
  • Lots of reading for those inclined. This is a road trip where you’ll really get to all those books and magazines you’ve been meaning to read.
  • MP3 players with headphones/Earbuds.
  • Disposable camera or two. Whatever you do, don’t bring your digital camera to the beach! The salt air will destroy it. Even a baggie can’t save the day.
  • Beach games and toys. I love inflatable toys/mattresses and boogie boards for playing in the waves.
  • Plan on some rainy days, as they will inevitably happen. Pick one rainy day activity for each of the beaches/towns you will be visiting on your road trip.
  • If you insist on bringing your laptop, leave it in your hotel room/car. First of all, just like your digital camera, salt air (and sand) destroys laptops. Second, it’s kind of hard to take in the beauty of your environment when you’re staring at a computer screen. It’s not like you live on the beach, enjoy it while you’re there!
Beach Vacation Packing List: Cool/Cold Climate
  • You’ll only need one bathing suit unless you like swimming in frigid water, in which case, you’ll need two and you’ll also need to bring a bottle of Woolite/gentle soap for washing your suits.
  • One large towel per person for the occasional invigorating dip in the ocean.
  • Layers! You will need a lot more clothes. Set up each outfit with layers (especially on top) like so: t-shirt, light pullover/fleece, heavy sweater, jacket. This way, you can adjust your outfit as the day warms and cools. If you must wear shorts, bring jeans/long pants too.
  • Lots of socks – thin cotton as well as thicker wooly socks.
  • Sunglasses for everyone.
  • Sunscreen. Unless you love freezing, you probably won’t be lying on the beach for long, so you probably won’t need anything for sunburn.
  • Sneakers and socks will serve you better than flip flops, which most people will find too cold.
  • Hiking boots, thick socks, and a compass if you’re planning to hike some of the northern parks. Make sure to get a trail map, and bring your cell phone in case you get lost. This is one of my favorite things to do on a trip up north.
  • In addition to hiking, you’ll want to figure out one activity for every day. Colder weather will probably make the beach itself a quick visit that will take no more than an hour out of your day. Consider checking out local villages and interesting sights. Take a ferry ride to nearby islands. It can also be fun to try out a local sporting activity like sea kayaking or horseback riding.
Use my general packing list and The List articles to round out your beach vacation packing list. Now you’ve got everything packed and you’re ready for a wonderful road trip!

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