Some people are born to be on the beach. All year long, they dream about dipping their toes in bright blue water and frolicking on soft white sand, and they return from their beach vacation with sun-kissed skin, positively glowing with beachy bliss.
I envy those people.
While they’re happily soaking up the sun, I’m busy being burned to a crisp, accidentally inhaling mouthfuls of sand, swallowing salt water, freaking out because I saw one single jellyfish, yanking tangles out of my hair, and trying to get sand un-stuck from places that sand should never, ever be.
I am truly the least graceful person who has ever been on a beach. And it doesn’t help that shopping for swimsuits as a size 16, almost 6-foot tall Amazonian woman is an exercise in torture and frustration (what is this, a bikini bottom for ANTS?!). Honestly, somehow I find it easier to pack for a trip to the literal Arctic Tundra than a day at the beach.
So when Cacique Intimates asked me to create a beach vacation packing list, I took a deep breath, reached within myself, and… booked a trip to Hawaii. You know. For research. Look, even non Beach People love Hawaii, OK? Shave ice is universal.
So, dear reader, you can rest assured that every single item on my beach vacation packing list has been thoroughly vetted to the HIGHEST possible standards. I have absolutely no patience for anything that causes chafing, leaves a weird greasy residue and acts as a sand magnet, doesn’t start drying the minute I stop swimming, or leaves me feeling hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable. None. Niet. CANCELLED.
So whether you have a love-hate relationship with the beach like I do (because I really I love it when I’m not on the struggle bus!) or you’re a card-carrying Beach Person, trust that my tips for what to pack for the beach are FULLY tried & tested.
Table of Contents
Need some help packing for your next adventure? We’ve created 5 FREE Printable Packing Lists with everything you need to plan your next trip. We’ll also send our favorite travel tips straight to your inbox! Just sign up below.
OK, let’s dive in. Get it? Like into the ocean! I know, I know, you’re like “Lia, water you doing? Your jokes SINK!” Ok, sorry, I’m done. … FOR NOW.
Psst: Planning a trip to somewhere fabulous and tropical? We’ve got a few more posts that might be helpful:
- The 5 Best Swimsuits for Curves: Comfortable, Cute, & Field-Tested
- 29 Things Nobody Tells You About Travelling While Fat
- 42 Backpacking & Travel Essentials for Hot Climates
- What to Pack for Maui: Essential Hawai‘i Packing List
To All My Curvy Girls, Fat Chicks, and Plus Size Babes
I wanted to start out my beach vacation packing list with a heart to heart to all my curvy girls, fat chicks, and plus sized babes (or however else you prefer to classify yourself or identify).
No matter what size you are, wearing a swimsuit feels incredibly vulnerable. It doesn’t matter how confident you are wearing your cutest clothes: taking all that off and letting the world see your beautiful body is scary as sh*t. And I say this as an incredibly confident, self-loving, card-carrying body positive bada$$.
Which means that going to the beach as a fat chick can feel extra nerve-wracking. Even if you love your body, chances are that someone else on the beach believes the bullsh*t that there’s something wrong with fatness (spoilers: there is not). This tends to result in awkward micro-aggressions, such as but not limited to: stares, cat-calls, small children pointing at you, and that well-intentioned skinny girl who smiles in pity and says you’re “brave” for slapping some elastic on your body and daring to step outside. Thanks, b**tch!
Let me tell you something: f**k those people. Except for the kids, because like, kids just stare at anything that’s even slightly outside the norm, so they get a pass and honestly it’s probably good they see how fabulous you look so they can reframe their perceptions about size & shape before they grow up.
The only thing about your body that matters is how you feel about it. Whether or not it’s healthy or tan or soft or jiggly or able or strong or any of the myriad other things bodies can be, is totally irrelevant. It does not matter. All bodies are good bodies. And all you have to do to have a bikini body is to put a bikini, like, somewhere on your body.
So throw your sassiest f**k-you lipstick in your beach bag, grab a towel, and take your beautiful, incredible self to the beach like the fabulous mermaid you are!
- Psst: want more unapologetic body positivity? I’ve got a whole bunch of practical travel tips & sass in this post: 29 Things Nobody Tells You About Traveling While Fat.
What to Take to the Beach
There’s no denying it: your swimsuit is very likely the #1 most important thing on your beach trip packing list. So like, no pressure.
Here’s a slightly embarrassing fun fact about me: I did not own a matching swimsuit until last year. Yes, y’all: I spent 28 years on this earth cobbling together whatever mis-matched swim separates happened to fit on my body. 99% of my various random swim things were black, so I could at least pretend they came together.
But honestly, it’s not my fault. I mean, yes, it took me 28 years to find a swimsuit that was actually decent. But also, like, WHY IS FINDING DECENT SWIMWEAR SO F***KING HARD?!
Over the years, I’ve squeezed myself into a wide (get it) variety of swimsuits, and I’ve FINALLY found a few brands, sites, and styles that work really well for voluptuous, curvaceous bodies. For reference, I am currently a size 16/18.
Here are few of the best swimsuits & swimwear brands for plus sized women:
- Cocoship: I was shocked to find that Amazon, of all places, is one of the best places to shop for plus-sized swimsuits. Sometimes when I buy clothing on Amazon, there’s no guarantee that what I receive will fit – or be of decent quality. But I’ve found a brand on Amazon that is actually phenomenal, with a wide range of cute swimwear in inclusive (if somewhat odd) sizing! I’ve been wearing these for about five years now (I have like … 5 pairs of the same suits in different colors, because when you find The One, you stock up!) and they’ve all held up over years of travel, saltwater, hot tubbing, mineral hot spring-ing, and wear & tear! This is my favorite suit of all time, thanks to the high-waisted ruched bottoms, which are universally flattering. (Note that with their weird sizing, I’m a 3XL.) I’ve also got this suit (because I’m a sucker for houseplant prints).
- Cupshe: This brand makes budget-friendly swimsuits that are actually cute and well made. I actually found this brand on Amazon first, and then discovered that they have an entire site with even more plus-size swimwear options!
- Cacique Intimates, which is owned by Lane Bryant, sells incredibly cute swimwear in sizes 0-28 – we love the inclusivity! Also, because Cacique is a lingerie company at heart (pro tip: their underwear is amazing too), their swim tops are supportive AF. Their site lets you shop for underwire and no-wire swimsuits, plus every style of swimsuit you can think of, from sexy string bikinis to no-BS activewear. And their cover-ups are hella cute, too!
- SwimsuitsForAll: The name says it all: this site has a huge variety of swimwear in a range of inclusive sizes! Also? As a fat chick, browsing the selection on SwimsuitsForAll’s website just makes me feel f**king awesome. Their models actually LOOK LIKE ME. And my friends. And everyone else, too, because they actually have models of all shapes and sizes and colors. Like, what?! That blows my mind. It shouldn’t, because it’s inclusivity should be the norm, but we’re apparently still not there yet, so in the meantime I’ll just be scrolling through the site channeling my inner Jonathan Van Ness like YASS HONEY! YASS! I’m currently digging this suit.
For more swimsuit recommendations, I’ve created a guide to the best swimsuits for curvy girls, which I’ll keep updating as I find more swimsuits! (Have any tips? Drop a comment below!)
Other than your swimsuit, sun protection is the other most important thing you’ll be bringing to the beach. Whether you’re translucent like me or gorgeously melanated, a day at the beach can cause all kinds of skin damage!
Personally, though, I hate sunscreen. HATE it. I hate the feeling of sunscreen on my skin. I hate that weird coconutty smell. I hate applying it, and then re-applying it. I hate that when you use aerosol spray-on sunscreen, 99% of it ends up in the air and your mouth and only 1% of it ends up in a tiny puddle on your skin. I hate that I can’t recycle most bottles and cans of sunscreen and that most sunscreen is actually harmful to marine ecosystems and ocean life. I just hate most sunscreens!
However, I’ve found a few earth-friendly, skin-safe sunscreens that don’t drive me up the wall. I always bring these with me to the beach:
- Mineral Sunscreen: This is least harmful type of sunscreen, according to science. Mineral sunscreens use two natural minerals—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—as active ingredients. They basically simply sit on top of your skin and protect it by physically reflecting away UV rays, like tiny little mirrors. Meanwhile, regular chemical sunscreen soaks into your skin and ends up in your bloodstream (and breast milk, according to this study) which kinda squicks me out. Mineral sunscreens do not soak into your skin (according to this study). So even though mineral sunscreens can feel a bit heavier than chemical sunscreens, I prefer to use them anyway! I use this one for my body, and for my face (which is more sensitive) I use this lightweight mineral sunscreen.
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen: Going into the ocean? You need to wear reef-safe sunscreen. You know, unless you hate coral, fish, and also all of human life. Reef-safe sunscreen is designed to biodegrade and not harm ocean life. Regular sunscreen bleaches coral and ensures humanity’s swift death from climate change. So please, for the love of society’s inevitable collapse, wear reef-safe sunscreen if you’re going into the ocean! (As a bonus incentive, it’s actually required by law in Hawaii and Mexico.) Reef-safe unscreen is a mineral sunscreen, but not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe! Look for “Non-Nano Zinc Oxide” (more details here). This is my favorite reef-safe sunscreen, and I use this lightweight sunscreen from Sephora on my face.
- Mineral Sunscreen Lip Balm: Don’t forget to protect the delicate skin on your lips from sunburn, too!
- Sun Hat: Who says sun protection isn’t cute? This comfortable hat protects your face, neck, and chest from the sun and goes with every outfit. The adjustable band around the rim guarantees that this hat will fit your head perfectly, and the neck cord means you can wear it even when it’s windy! This is my go-to everyday hat.
But wait! There’s actually another option for protecting your skin while swimming or snorkeling: swim clothes!
Yep, that’s right: it’s now cool to wear a t-shirt in the water. Take that, everyone who made fun of me when I was 12 and insecure. But seriously, even a regular t-shirt can effectively protect your skin from sun damage and significantly limit the amount of sunscreen you need to apply. On days when I’m going snorkeling and will be in the water for long stretches of time, I cover up as much as I can.
- Rash Guard: I highly recommend a rash guard, which is basically a shirt that’s specially designed for swimming in saltwater. It feels the same as swimsuit material, dries quickly, and gives you plenty of sun protection. Your arms and chest will stay protected, and if you’re a wuss in cold water like I am, you’ll get a lil’ warming boost, too!
- Swim Leggings: My butt is always the first thing to burn when I’m snorkeling, and I’m getting up close and personal with marine life which means I need to be extra cautious about sunscreen. Swim leggings let you move underwater without restriction while providing sun protection! You could, in theory, just wear normal leggings, but they’d probably stay wet all day (which is not good for your skin) and break down in the salt water. Quick-drying swim leggings are designed to hold up in salt water and chlorine! I love Waterlust’s swim leggings line because the brand is super sustainable and supports conservation and anti-racism initiatives, plus their leggings are 100% chlorine, sun, saltwater and sunscreen resistant and made from recycled materials, and they have POCKETS! Sizes go up to 3XL. For more details about why I recommend these, head over to our Waterlust swim leggings review post!
Remember: the more your body is covered, the better you’ll be protected from the sun, and the more environmentally friendly your beach vacation will be! Psst: For more eco-friendly and responsible travel tips, head over to our Ethical Travel Guide.
- Travel Tip: In case you DO get sunburnt, a bottle of aloe vera will help. But an even better sunburn treatment? Apple cider vinegar! It smells terrible but it works miracles to take the sting out of a bad burn and speed up the healing process. Plus, it doesn’t feel sticky and gross on your skin. I bring a little spray bottle full of ACV on every beach trip.
Beachwear is my favorite part of going to the beach. I live in freezing cold Northern California, where a day at the beach means bundling up in 18 layers of your warmest clothing, so I LOVE being able to finally wear the only pair of shorts I own!
I’m not going to get super specific here like “you need this exact dress” because I trust that you know what you like.
That said, I do happen to have a degree in fashion design, so I know a thing or two about clothing or whatever. So I’m going to give you a few guidelines that will help you make smart choices in addition to specific product recommendations that I’ve personally vetted.
From adorable sunglasses to breezy cover-ups, here are my favorite must-have beachwear items:
- Adorable Swimsuit Cover-Up: I live in swimsuit cover-ups on beach vacations. I know they’re supposed to go over your swimsuit or whatever, but you’ll catch me wearing them everywhere! This is my favorite cover-up thanks to the breezy, lightweight, cotton-y fabric (… and because there’s monstera leaf print). When I’m off the beach, I pair it with jeans or shorts and a tank top. I’m also a huge fan of rompers like this one as cover-ups, because having some protection on your inner thighs cuts down on the dreaded Chub Rub!
- The Dress: You know what I mean when I say The Dress, right? The Dress is the one in your closet that makes you feel adorable, comfortable, airy, and free. It’s the dress you can throw on with a pair of sandals and have a complete outfit ready to go. It’s the dress you’re gonna want to wear every single day on your beach vacation. If you don’t have The Dress yet, get shopping! My favorite dresses, as a curvy girl, are A-line cuts with swingy skirts that hit me just above the knee, like this one which I have in XL, or this one which is the same as the dress pictured throughout this post. Bonus points for sweetheart necklines, travel-friendly fabric, and pockets!
- Bike Shorts with Pockets: Girl, I’m a size 16/18. You think I can just throw on a dress and go?! HA. No. #chubrublife Underneath my dresses, I wear a pair of comfy, stretchy bike shorts with pockets. They’re as close to leggings as you’re going to want to get on the beach. If you don’t like bike shorts, at least pack a stick of body glide to help with that vacation-ruining inner thigh chafe.
- Rompers: Have I mentioned how rompers cut down on chub rub? I also adore rompers because once you throw one on, you’re wearing a whole-ass outfit! Lately, I’ve found a ton of plus-size friendly rompers with pockets and plenty of room for. my belly. I have 3 of these linen-blend rompers from Old Navy in various colors (it also comes in plus sizing) and they’re my go-to hot weather outfit! I’m also in love with this leaf-print romper (it matches this swimsuit!) and I wear it constantly.
- Wear-Anywhere Sandals: By now you can tell that I am lazy and I like my clothing to be multifunctional, and I feel the same way about my shoes. I need a pair of sandals that’s down for a day at the beach, a long hike, scrambling on sharp lava rock, AND a romantic evening out. Luckily, my favorite pair has been up to every challenge I’ve thrown at them for the past 10 years (er, to clarify: I’m on pair #4 of the same style, but still). I’ve got more details on these sandals, and my other favorite shoes for travel, this travel shoe guide!
- Adorable Sunglasses: Not technically clothing, but just as important! You’re gonna be wearing your sunglasses in every photo, so the cuter, the better. I love these rose gold heart-shaped sunglasses that literally help me see everything through rose-colored glasses (ba-dum-ssh). They are SO cute!
Travel-Friendly, Hot Weather Clothing Tips
PSA: Not all textiles are created equally when it comes to hot weather and travel! Certain fabrics will let your skin breathe even if you’re sweating or wet and can help you regulate your body temperature so you stay cooler naturally. If you’ve ever had a rash or been overheated on a beach vacation, you know why this is important!
To stay cool in the heat, look for light-colored clothing (which naturally repels the sun) made from cotton, linen, rayon or viscose, or hemp. Natural fibers are naturally better at temperature regulation!
That said, if you’re going hiking or doing other athletic things, look for moisture-wicking athletic wear with a polyester or nylon blend – they’ll hold up better for athletic activities and dry faster, avoiding unpleasant skin irritation.
When it comes to travel-friendliness, certain fabrics just won’t hold up on a trip as well as you’d like. For example, linen – my FAVORITE hot-weather textile – wrinkles if you so much as look at it and tears easily. And yet I find myself buying a new pair of linen pants each summer anyway…
Cotton and viscose/rayon will also wrinkle easily, but I still love them because they’re lightweight and breezy in the heat. Not sure if a fabric will wrinkle easily? Crease it with your fingers – if the crease stays, you’re gonna get wrinkles.
So, I take a few steps to cut down on luggage-induced wrinkles. First of all, I roll my clothing instead of folding it! If you’ve never tried rolling your clothes, let me be the first to welcome you into the club of people who will never fold their travel clothes ever again – it makes SUCH a difference.
Another handy way to never have to worry about wrinkles is to look for wrinkle-friendly weaving techniques. Basically, if the clothing is designed to look textured, wrinkles won’t show up as easily. One example is cotton woven into seersucker.
Another tip is to look for fabric blends: a polyester/cotton blend is less likely to wrinkle than 100% cotton, for example; a blend with stretchy spandex or lycra is even less prone to wrinkles!
Other than wrinkles, my biggest irritation when it comes to travel clothing is how often I need to wash it. Yep, y’all: I don’t like to wash my clothing while I travel if I can help it.
If I’m traveling for less than a week, I REALLY don’t want to have to haul my whole travel laundry kit with me and spend an hour of my time washing stuff in the sink. No thank you!
So I look for clothing that’s naturally anti-microbial – meaning it doesn’t smell. It’s the difference between smelling my own BO at the end of a long day (lookin’ at you, polyester) and smelling my yummy honey-scented natural deodorant for a week straight! It also means that your clothing won’t smell like mildew if you throw your damp swimsuit into your bag.
My favorite naturally anti-microbial textiles are: hemp, which feels & functions almost exactly like linen and is super environmentally friendly; and merino wool, which is stretchy and soft and not at all hot (it’s actually naturally temperature regulating, even when wet).
You won’t find me dragging a family-sized umbrella to the beach, but there are a few beach vacation must-haves that always come along with me on beach trips:
- Carry-On Luggage: No trip is complete without great luggage! We love both the carry-on and medium sized suitcases from Level 8 luggage. Their suitcases are beautiful and well-made, with a durable, scratch-resistant exterior, super smooth glidey wheels, and plenty of pockets to help you stay organized!
- Travel Towel: There is absolutely no guarantee that the towels at your hotel are going to fit around your waist. Frankly, they rarely fit around my left thigh. So just to be safe, I always bring my own travel-friendly, lightweight, quick-drying travel towel!
- Sand Repelling Beach Mat: I hate sand SO MUCH, but this cute beach towel/mat is made with magical sand-repelling qualities. Plus, it dries quickly and makes a cute background for all of your casual ~lounging beachy photos (as modeled by my dog above, in Cali Sunset).
- Snorkel Stuff: I have yet to be provided with a pair of snorkel goggles and fins that don’t completely suck on a snorkeling tour, and I take a LOT of snorkeling tours. These days, I bring my own snorkel gear and a little bottle of anti-fog spray.
- Travel Clothesline: Newsflash: your hotel’s moist, dark bathroom is the absolute WORST place to hang your clothing up to dry. Instead, hang this tiny travel clothesline up somewhere that gets plenty of airflow and sun – like on a curtain rod in front of the window! Your wet swimsuit and travel towel will be dry in no time.
- Insulated Water Bottle: Reusable water bottles are not only an environmentally friendly choice but they have a major advantage over cheap, clear plastic water bottles: they actually keep your water COLD, even sitting in the hot sand on a sunny day. Look for something insulated with steel or vacuum-sealed to keep your water ice-cold, and drink up all day long: swimming in the ocean can really dehydrate you!
- Travel-Friendly Duffel Bag: Stick your water bottle, towels, sunscreen and other beach-day essentials in this travel-friendly duffel bag! This isn’t your typical duffel bag: it has a waterproof pocket to stick your wet swimsuit in, can be worn as a backpack, and is designed to fit on top of your luggage for easy transport.
- Beach-Friendly Camera: Fact: sand and cameras do not go well together. But also, you look cute AF in your swimsuit and the world deserves to see you in all of your adorableness on the ‘gram. So grab a beach-friendly camera that can handle sand and water! This point-and-shoot camera can go underwater down to 100 feet and takes great pics on land, too. If you’ll be taking video, especially underwater, you can’t get any better than a GoPro (or this much cheaper action camera that isn’t a GoPro but also isn’t unlike a GoPro).
Beach Beauty Must-Haves
I struggle to look attractive in the heat. I’m far more likely to look like a sweaty, sunburnt mess with a head full of tangles than a carefree Beach Babe.
That said, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve when I need to pull myself together after a long day at the beach for like, a luau or whatever.
- Tinted Moisturizer: This is 99% on the makeup I wear on a beach vacation, honestly. It’s sunscreen and foundation in one and I cannot be bothered with anything more complicated than that. (Note: If I’m going swimming, I wear this reef-safe face sunscreen instead.)
- Travel-Friendly Makeup: If I’m trying to get real fancy I’ll throw on a little cream blush (you know, for the 5 minutes before I’m sunburnt) and some waterproof mascara. And there you have it: my beach vacation look in a nutshell.
- Bold Lipstick: My favorite shortcut for looking put together is to throw on some bright, bold lipstick! It instantly tricks everyone into thinking you’re a makeup goddess, even when the rest of your face is a dry, flaky mess and you have a snorkel mask imprint burnt onto your forehead (see photos above). In the winter, I’m all about a bright red lip, but on the beach I tend to go for a ridiculous bright pink instead, like this one. I prefer to wear long-lasting lip stains or these liquid lipsticks because I’m too lazy to reapply.
- Moisturizer: My skin feels SO dry after a day in the sun, so I take special care to moisturize like crazy on beach vacations! I recently
turned 30started a legit skincare routine and taking better care of my skin, and this Evan Healy moisturizer is my absolute HG ride-or-die favorite. I also like to use really lightweight moisturizers in hot weather, like pure, lightweight argan oil which soaks right into my skin (and hair!) without that greasy oily feeling and doesn’t break me out.
- Curly Hair Supplies: I’ve recently embraced my hair’s natural texture and gone all-in on the Curly Girl Method – read my guide to traveling with curly hair for my full routine – so my usual low-maintenance “f**k it, I’ll brush it when I get home” hair has transformed into bouncy, shiny curls. Like, who am I, seriously? Here’s what I bring with me when I travel: all this product, a travel blowdryer, a travel diffuser, and a microfiber hair towel. YES I know it’s super extra. But my curls look flawless and this is the first time in my life I’ve ever had good hair!
- Travel Toiletry Organizer: This hanging toiletry organizer comes with me on every single trip. The compartments help me stay organized, it’s easy to hang up in a hotel bathroom, and it packs up into the perfect size to throw into my suitcase and go!
Before I leave you to go frolic like a goddess on the white sands of some exotic shores, I have one last thing to help you pack for your beach vacation. A few of the recommended products I use and love are sold on Amazon, so I created a handy dandy Amazon list to make things easier. Check it out!
Are you ready to throw on your swimsuit and hit the beach yet?? What’s a must-have essential on YOUR beach vacation packing list? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Planning a trip to somewhere hot, tropical, and sunny? We’ve got a few more posts that might be helpful:
- 42 Essentials to Pack for Hot Climates
- The Ultimate Guide to Travel Makeup & Beauty
- 29 Things Nobody Tells You About Travelling While Fat
Psst: Did you find this post helpful? Save it for later on Pinterest!
Disclaimer: This post was originally created in partnership with Cacique Intimates. All bad jokes, sass, unapologetic self love, and opinions are 100% my own and absolutely not their fault.