Ideal Packing List For Your Carry On—For An Effortlessly Chic Vacation

July 20, 2023

Vacation season is fully upon us! I haven’t booked my tickets yet due to an impending jury duty, but I know I’ll be traveling somewhere beach-y soon. I’ve said it before but summer is not my season. When the temperature rises above 80°F, my inner polar bear / husky wants to scream and run away to the Arctic circle. Give me invigorating fall weather and crisp cool air, blankets, books, and a hot mug! But insofar as summer is inevitable, the best way I can weather this storm is by enjoying it as much as possible. I’ve grown to love jumping into the sea, which leaves my skin tingly under the sun. Also the feeling of cobblestones under sandaled feet. There are joys to everything in life (even ~100° weather) if you can have a positive attitude about it!

Without further ado, here’s what I’m packing in my carry on. I think packing light is especially crucial for the summer season. Here’s how I maximize what I bring!

a straw hat, a scarf, a tote bag, and sandals on a blanket on a beach.

Ideal summer vacation packing list

Packable hat

What’s tough is that the better a hat looks, the worse it is for packing. I adore the look of structured wide-brimmed hats, but you know that hat will be destroyed in a suitcase! And wearing one to the airport is doable but somewhat annoying. These packable hats roll up tightly and won’t crease or change shape. Also try a baseball cap or a cotton bucket hat, if you so desire.

a wide brimmed straw colored sun hat by San Diego Hat Company on a white background.

San Diego Hat Company

3 swimsuits

I buy swimsuits infrequently and tend to keep wearing old ones—I even have a black bikini bottom from 20+ years ago, that I got as a high schooler! It still looks great and goes with other tops! When I do buy new ones, I look to recycled nylon suits from eco-friendly brands. Check out this list of 2023 top sustainable swimwear brands.


I have a wide, blue cotton scarf that I got as a gift 10+ years ago. This serves me every summer as a shawl, scarf, and a sarong. You can even use it as a makeshift beach towel or picnic blanket.

2 coverup dresses

I’ve been a big fan of Mara Hoffman for years now. Her cover-up dresses and swimsuits are among the pieces that get the most rotation out of my entire wardrobe. Take a look at this jazzy number! It’s bold, impactful, and therefore dressy, but also completely effortless. Throw it on over your swimsuit right after the beach or wear it to dinner, or even brunch. I can’t think of a more versatile style!

a model wearing a warm red coverup dress with a deep v neckline and tie at the waist.

Mara Hoffman Blair organic cotton dress, $340 $215

2 airy blouses

a woman wearing a white lace up blouse by Loeffler Randall

Loeffler Randall Mindy white lace up blouse, $295 $118

People think t-shirts are the only easy tops for the summer, but I actually think breezy, roomy blouses and shirts are even better. They are easier to dress up or dress down, and most cotton blouses don’t need to be coddled against stains and grime. This romantic number by Loeffler Randall, one of my latest favorite sustainable brands, would look good with shorts or a skirt or a sarong.

2 pairs of shorts

I tend to bring denim shorts for easy, active days and a dressier pair for when I want a dress alternative.

2 t-shirts or camisoles

I tend not to imagine myself wearing t-shirts at all during vacation. But, there inevitably will be days when I’m in no mood to dress up and my chest also needs a break from all the sun. So I bring a more casual round neck t-shirt, and a camisole or a v-neck for when I’m feeling sassier.


The most important thing to remember when packing for a vacation is to minimize the number of shoes! They are way bulkier and heavier than clothes. I recommend bringing a pair of sandals that can be dressed up or down, and worn with dresses or shorts. These vegan espadrilles by Reformation manages to check all those boxes!

close up shot of model wearing raffia sandals by reformation

Reformation Zora platform sandals in raffia, $298


Having said that, my airport shoes of choice are sneakers. Can you imagine running from terminal to terminal in platform sandals, no matter how good they look?! No. I need agility when I’m at an airport. I bought these Cole Haan vegan sneakers made of dandelion “leather” last year and it’s easily paid for itself in that time. Also, you might go hiking or have a long hard day hitting the cobblestone streets, etc etc.

a pink sneaker with a white background


No explanation necessary… I love Badger brand mineral sunscreen that’s made of non-nano zinc oxide. It’s reef-friendly and comes in a forever recyclable tin container.

A cotton totebag

Unexpected, but I’ve found this useful anywhere I go! It takes relatively little space but so useful for going to the beach or grocery shopping. If you bring it, it will get used.

A good book and a travel diary

I don’t always end up reading a good book during a vacation, but when I do, it becomes a memory in and of itself! (Read Americanah on the Amalfi Coast in 2017—a distinctive sensory experience!) I also like to record each day in my travel diary, if I can. A trip changes you in such a way that you don’t even realize as it’s happening. Years later when I read them, the trip’s full meaning becomes more clear.

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Photo: respective brands



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