How To Pack For A Beach 🏖 Vacation (When You’re Not A “Beach Person”)

How to pack for a beach vacation, cruise or warm-weather resort. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

This may surprise you, but even though we live in Southern California, I avoid the beach. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ocean, and being near it. I’d happily walk along the boardwalk all day. Or bike. Or hike along the bluffs. But lying in the sand, baking in the sun, spending the day covered in ocean salt and grit…it’s just not for me.

Above: Hat | Sunglasses | Tee | Shirt
Swimsuit | Pants | Jeans | Sunscreen
Sandals | Sneakers

It doesn’t help that skin cancer runs in my family, so I have to constantly re-apply sunscreen, and seek out any bit of shade I can find. I also hate most bathing suits, and find them hard to fit and really uncomfortable.

But, we will be going to Puerto Vallarta in early March to meet up with my Brother-in-law and Sister-in-law who will be there with their boat. ⛵️ (You can read about prior vacations to meet up with them HERE and HERE.)

In addition to seeing them, I’m actually looking forward to this beach vacation!

Travel Wardrobe Planning: A Week At The Beach

For one thing, I know we’ll get to do some sailing, which I love. For another, I know there will be lots of shady palapas on the beach close by, where I can hang out on a chaise lounge with a book and a cold cerveza. The weather should still be pleasant: warm but not sweltering. And…I’ve found a bathing suit I can tolerate. (So I bought two colors.) Plus options here and here.

So aside from a bathing suit and a pareo, what to bring?

I’m often asked about packing for a warm weather destination or cruise, and it’s not possible to come up with a single wardrobe that will cover all possibilities. Take into account your activities, the level of formality, and your own personal style preferences. A few guidelines to help:

  • Start with the shoes! Be sure you have comfortable options for your activities in warm weather.
  • In general, I usually pack two tops for every bottom.
  • Plan that you may need to launder or at least rinse out your clothing more often than when traveling during cooler seasons.
  • If you get chilly in air-conditioned interiors, be sure to bring a lightweight sweater, jacket, or wrap.
  • Don’t forget a hat and sunglasses!

Our trip to Puerto Vallarta will be mostly very casual. We may go into town for dinner once or twice, but “put-together casual” should cover it. Though I haven’t yet chosen all of the specific pieces, here’s my general packing plan:

Shoes

Bottoms

  • a pair of relaxed, lightweight white jeans*. I like these. (Sizes 24-37).
  • a pair of linen trousers (these are similar to the pair I purchased in France last summer)
  • a pair of slouchy tencel pants in navy (these can dress up or down)

*While white isn’t in my color palette, I haven’t yet found a pair of cream or ivory jeans that work for me. This is one of those “wear what you have until you find what you want” situations.

Tops

Swimwear

My number one suggestion for any warm weather travel is to include linen pieces. It’s really the most comfortable fabric in the heat. Last summer during the “canicule” in Paris, I was so happy to have easy-fitting linen pieces.

Other Options

I’m not much of a dress/skirt wearer, but I know many of you are, especially in the heat. I’ve included a few options in the widget below. Another style you may want to consider is a lightweight jumpsuit. Many styles can be dressed up or down.

Keep an eye out for more warm weather styles as the Spring/Summer collections start to roll in this month.

Do you have any travel planned for a warm destination?

Warm Weather Travel Style

Stay in touch.

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33 Comments

  1. Shari
    February 3, 2020 / 5:05 am

    I’m a new reader and THANKS! Great ideas!
    I’m just coming back from a cruise and wish for a print tee shirt so stains don’t show!
    I have several cool weather travel shirts in knit that are super……now for some light weight summer ones??
    Maybe animal print??
    Ideas?

  2. February 3, 2020 / 6:02 am

    Lands End bathing suits are the best! I’ve worn them for years: so comfortable and the fit is just right for “women of a certain age.” I’ve also recently found Talbots to have good tankinis….

  3. February 3, 2020 / 6:24 am

    I actually know how to pronounce these words: Puerto Vallarta. Very famous.
    Your advice for beach packing is very sound. I was really in love with one of the jumpsuits you were linking to (with a skirt down to the ground at the back, which would cover my small behind). Only, it looks so chic and I haven’t got any place to wear this to. Besides… ordering from the USA.. you know.
    I have a beach holiday with 4 girlfriends planned in June: to the village of Javea in Spain. I still use all my really hot summer stuff which I have had for years. Might need some updating…
    Greetje

  4. Linda Lennon
    February 3, 2020 / 6:25 am

    I have bought only Lands End suits for years. The fit is always spot on. I would suggest you purchase the rash guards that coordinates with the suits or at least a solid or a stripe. They will keep the sun off your arms and back; they’re surprisingly cool as well. After several tries I found my size and now own 3. I’ve worn them kayaking, at swim aerobics and at the water park with the grandkids.

  5. Sheilah McAdams
    February 3, 2020 / 6:34 am

    Many stores in Puerto Vallarta carry attractive inexpensive cotton gauze clothes, which I have found to be the coolest items to wear in high heat, as they are lighter and a looser knit than linen. They also come in colors and styles to suit every palette and styles for any body size and shape. They are good for travel, also, since they take up little room, can be thrown in the washer and dryer, and never need ironing, as creases and wrinkles fall out in minutes in a humid climate. The Maria de Guadalajara shop specializes in these, but they can be found in most boutiques there. I hope you have a lovely vacation, Susan, in one of my favorite cities on Earth!

    • Anon
      February 3, 2020 / 7:04 am

      I just found out from a link that Nordstrom is getting a “.ca” site soon. That’s good news.Thanks.

      I am really liking casual dresses for the hottest weather of the year. Shorts get moist at the waistband. Dresses flow.

      • Lagatta de Montréal
        February 3, 2020 / 5:00 pm

        Anon, I agree, though I’m more a skirt than dress person in Montréal summers. Like casual comfy dresses but dread the muumuu effect. Bout time, no Nordstrom in Montréal yet, but they do have a store in Ottawa. I do have lycra undershorts (to wear under skirts in the summertime). Those are wicking and don’t get too moist.

  6. Lee Rosenthall
    February 3, 2020 / 7:06 am

    Love all your suggestions! I, too, love the ocean and walking on the beach, but I hate lying in the sun and burn easily. I’m visiting SW Florida next month with some girlfriends. I am in LOVE with that green paisley on ecru J. Crew blouse. It’s a little pricey for me right now and is on backorder anyway, but I’m keeping my eye on it. Those colors are totally me (that is as close to the coloring of my youth as I’ve ever seen on a clothes model – is she a winter or an autumn? I still can’t figure out what I am!). We’re going to a couple of spring training ballgames, so in addition to a few cute tops in support of my favorite team, I’m packing lots of lightweight jersey clothing and a pair (or two) of FLAX “Floods”. I’m going to try to build around navy, although it’s hard for me to travel without black. I splurged on the FLAX trousers when they were having a sale, and they are everything I hooped for. (Similar style to the wide-leg Eileen Fisher crops you’re showing.) I would also love to try a linen or tencel track pant, but with knit cuffs. Unfortunately, the only ones I’ve seen that I like are from Johnny Was, and they’re out of my price range right now. Looking forward to your photos from Puerto Vallarta and the special treasures you’ll find there!

    • Rondi
      February 3, 2020 / 11:12 am

      I have found some very good do it yourself tests for color analysis online. Pinterest has a lot. Maybe that could help you determine your season if you are not able to do professional analysis at this time. Have fun!

      • Lee Rosenthall
        February 3, 2020 / 3:09 pm

        Thanks, Rondi! I found one that actually made sense on a website that caters to women going through chemotherapy and need hair replacement and make-up assistance. It’s called Headcovers.com. It has a test you take (and it wasn’t one of those where they ask you about your favorite vacation destination – how is THAT helpful???). I think it determined I was a Deep Autumn who could wear a lot of Deep Winter colors. I’ll have to try to find the link. Tremendous resource!

        https://www.headcovers.com/resources/beauty/how-to-find-your-color-season/

        • Rondi
          February 3, 2020 / 3:33 pm

          Yes! That’s the one I wanted to recommend.The site has an excellent flow chart. It helped me tremendously to discover I was a soft autumn and to clarify some issues I had been confused about.

    • Lagatta de Montréal
      February 3, 2020 / 5:04 pm

      I also hate that, though I don’t burn easilyl It is uncomfortable and bores me to death; when in Italy I loved seeing sunny landscapes but preferred to be in a shady nook where I could read and paint.

  7. Renee
    February 3, 2020 / 7:19 am

    Thank you! Very helpful!!

  8. Lynn
    February 3, 2020 / 7:39 am

    Your travel wardrobes are usually spot on but I must warn you PV is hot even in the winter. Temperatures there are usually 85-90 degrees with matching humidity by March. I have spent six weeks every winter since retirement 6 years ago in PV. Comfort trumps fashion and I wear things like shorts I’d never wear at home! You’ll likely not want layers, long sleeves ,or long pants. Loose fitting, sleeveless dresses are more breezy and comfortable when your skin is damp all day. You’ll rarely find restaurants air conditioned, especially in Old town, so an evening wrap is unnecessary. Took me years to stop carrying one! If you must, a large, sheer cotton scarf makes a good wrap. Leave thin sole strapped sandals at home. Cobblestone streets and patchwork sidewalks require good walking shoes or better yet sandals as they are cooler. PV is a wonderful safe city with great food and people. My recommendation for all who visit is to get beyond tourist areas and explore the real Puerto Vallarta! Enjoy your trip!

    • Susan Blakey
      Author
      February 3, 2020 / 7:42 am

      That’s interesting, as we’ve been there before in early March and it wasn’t that hot (or humid). But I’ll be keeping an eye on the forecasts, thanks!

      And the suggestion for air-conditioning wasn’t specific to Puerto Vallarta, but a more general warm weather consideration.

    • Lagatta de Montréal
      February 3, 2020 / 5:07 pm

      Do local women of a certain age wear shorts?

      • Jill Ann
        February 3, 2020 / 7:38 pm

        Not sure what you mean by “local women”. But I’m of a certain age (63) and I definitely wear shorts. I live in Houston, TX, and it’s brutally hot here about 6 months of the year. So shorts are extremely appropriate! I do also like loose dresses for the hot summer months.

  9. Lyn
    February 3, 2020 / 7:58 am

    I like the Lands End tankinis because the separate bottoms make bathroom breaks so much easier. There are so many mix-and-match possibilities. You can get the kind of top you like and pair it with whatever bottom style you like, including my favorite, a swim skirt. Even with a one piece suit, there are coordinating options. Yours has matching shorts, for example. (I love that print!)

  10. Ann
    February 3, 2020 / 9:02 am

    Hi Susan
    I was just looking at your February 4, 2019 blog. It’s at the bottom of this page. I know you’ve spent a lot of energy, time and money on your new look but you look great here. Young and vivacious. I like your hair a little longer and this lighter color. I know these are probably not your colors but the jacket and white silky shirt look great on you.

    • February 4, 2020 / 12:03 pm

      I’m not a beach gal, either. I burn even on cloudy days. It’s more than my very fair skin can tolerate. A shady cabana with a book is much more my style.
      Here’s another shout out for Land’s End! I HATE swimsuit shopping. No suit has ever fit, torso too short or flimsy unsupported bra tops. How many of us have tried on every single suit at Macy’s and not found even one to come close to fitting? Like Erma Bombeck used to say, the best swimsuit was an overcoat. I figured it would be next to impossible to find a good fit online. Last year LE had a great sale with free shipping and free returns, so I picked every style I thought would work in 2 sizes, sent back most and ordered some others. I am so so thankful they have suits with underwire and larger cup sizes. It took a few weeks of back and forth, but I’m delighted with the 2 tankinis I ended up keeping. My girls feel supported and the suit stays in place. I’m also very happy with the high waisted brief, swim skirt and quick dry shorts. I also love the UV rash guard tops. They’re great for traveling. I can wear them with jeans or pants and don’t have to wear tons of sunscreen. Even though they have long sleeves, they’re not too hot unless it’s really sweltering.

  11. Susan M
    February 3, 2020 / 10:01 am

    Another cheer for Lands End tankini’s. I prefer the swim shorts in lieu of the skirts and bikini bottoms, although they have changed the shorts recently to make them sportier. I also love the sleeveless cover-up shifts which often coordinate with the swim pieces and can even be warn to a casual dinner.

    P.S. I have been waiting for your beachwear blog for quite a while now and was about to make a request. I am so glad you finally did one.

  12. Barbara
    February 3, 2020 / 10:37 am

    Really enjoyed your suggestions on packing for a beach vacation. Very helpful. However, I sincerely believe your best advice ever is ‘pick the shoes first’. Without shoes that make you happy, nothing else works.

    I have one complaint. It’s not about you, and I know you can’t change the world, but I cannot believe I’m the only person who is tired of tops that are such lightweight fabric that they are see-through. There’s nothing attractive about a bra or dark colored pants showing through a top that is not tucked in. Tell me I’m not alone..

  13. Rondi
    February 3, 2020 / 10:55 am

    I am so glad you are featuring the Lands End tugless tanks! They are simple, reasonable, and flattering! I sometimes try other brands but always come back to the Tugless Tank. I live in Florida in a beach community. I obviously love the beach. I found your packing suggestions excellent. I, personally, would take one pair of gauzy pants and a couple skirts. Skirts in the midi length are flattering and the breeze blows right through. The same t shirts can mix and match with the skirts, pants, or shorts. Definitely take a wrap for air conditioning. Even the grocery stores are freezing here! Lands End used to carry a short sleeved terry cloth cover up dress. It was a t shirt style. It was perfect for going straight from beach to restaurant. But I am not seeing them this year. Thanks for a great post. I think I’ll order a new Tugless Tank!

  14. ac
    February 3, 2020 / 10:59 am

    I’m also not a beach person (don’t care for warm-weather destinations), but I’m trying to be a good sport since my husband and kids love the ocean. Thank you for these tips.

  15. sf-dre
    February 3, 2020 / 12:40 pm

    Another not a fan of warm weather destinations and going on an Alaska cruise in May. A quick search shows temps in the mid 50s, which is pretty close to winter in SF. Thinking about a rash guard or tankini top and swim leggings (with or without a skirt), even if only to sit in a hot tub.

  16. MARLA
    February 3, 2020 / 2:11 pm

    Susan, I know how busy you must be. I’m writing to ask for some suggestions for a hot summer travel wardrobe for size 3X who doesn’t want to show upper arms. 3/4 tees are great. I’m lost when it comes to shifts (preferrably longer) because they all seem to be sleeveless. I wear a lot of EF and have a darn nice wardrobe but not for warm weather. I’m also here in SoCal. I’m 70 and although not pleased with my weight I still love to dress and travel. Suggestions???

    • Susan Blakey
      Author
      February 3, 2020 / 2:21 pm

      Hi Marla, have you checked out Flax Clothing? https://shopflax.com/collections/classics-2020-womens-linen-clothing They have a pretty good selection of linen tops and dresses with sleeves. Most are available to size 3G (24-26).

      A good friend of mine gets a lot of her clothing there and likes the quality and selection.

      • Lagatta de Montréal
        February 3, 2020 / 5:22 pm

        Do local women of a certain age wear shorts?

        • Susan Blakey
          Author
          February 3, 2020 / 5:23 pm

          Where? In LA?

  17. February 4, 2020 / 4:22 am

    Barbara – you are not alone . I think it is all part of the increasing skimpiness of women’s clothing . I don’t think the intention is to make us reveal more , just to buy more . And yes I now have camisoles or slips in 5 colours to cover these eventualities . Once I only ever had waist slips . About 30 yrs ago !

  18. Téa
    February 4, 2020 / 3:51 pm

    We have a 2nd home on the beach so SPF clothing is second nature to me! May I recommend the brand ICKULS? They are 50 SPF tops with a 1/4 zip neck…I usually bring 2 along on every trip, as they’re good for golf, tennis, pickle ball, boating, – all the activities I usually have to slather on the sunscreen…they come in fun patterns and camouflage the sweat!

  19. Lisa B
    February 6, 2020 / 8:49 am

    Looking at those J Crew white boyfriend jeans. Are they a bit see through? I’ve found with the Talbots white petite jeans that the fabric is a bit sheer and cellulite (MINE) is visible. I usually order a size up to avoid this. Would be interested in trying these as they’re available in petites. Wondering if I should order up a size to avoid the clingy, cellulite revealing factor. From history I know I usually wear a size larger than you so I was wondering if you’d mind revealing what size you purchased.
    PS I agree with the bathing suit comment. NEVER felt comfortable at the beach even in my younger aerobic teaching decade.

    • Susan Blakey
      Author
      February 6, 2020 / 9:32 am

      Hi Lisa, they’re pretty opaque, which is one of the reasons I kept them. They’re a relaxed fit, so I didn’t feel I needed to size up, my usual 28P was a good fit. Not snug, not baggy.

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