Sun and sand top the list of favorite summer vacations. But it's hard to feel fully free when you're dragging too much stuff around. Let other people sweat the small stuff, and streamline your list of hot weather must-haves so you look cool, even when the temperature isn't. Here's what to pack for the beach -- without overpacking.
Overall Plan: Light and breezy items should dominate your wardrobe choices. While you want to be comfortable, skip the faded and raggedy T-shirts and instead aim for a summery look that's polished, not dumpy. And while you may want to concentrate on getting there, make sure you spend some time thinking about how you'll transport wet and sandy items back home. There's nothing worse than a suitcase full of sand.
What's Essential? You might hate shopping for them, but no beach vacation is complete without a swimsuit. Buy more than one so there's always something dry to wear, and bring them along in your carry-on. Women should pack cute cover-ups, both to wear on the beach when it gets too hot and to walk along the boardwalk without too much exposure. In the evenings, costume jewelry can add just enough glamour to a sundress. Men should bring a lightweight button-down shirt for nicer restaurants; Tommy Bahama is always an upscale choice. For your feet, bring flip-flops, sandals or canvas tennis shoes, depending on the type of beach you're on.
Choose a mesh or nylon beach bag with a distinctive pattern so it's easy to spot among the crowds, and make sure it has inside pockets, preferably waterproof, to store valuables and small electronics such as your cell phone. Speaking of gadgets, make sure that they're waterproof or have protective covers. A soft-sided insulated tote for drinks and snacks is easier to carry than a bulky cooler. Pack some disposable wipes for quick clean-up. Plastic bags can be your best friend: Use them to bring food to the beach, and then carry wet swimsuits and towels on the way home.
Secret Weapon: If you wear corrective lenses and your beach sessions involve exploring reefs for colorful fish, you'll want to invest in a prescription snorkel mask. Having your own mask can also prevent communicable diseases (I once got a wicked case of pinkeye from a tainted snorkel mask in Costa Rica).
Safety First: No matter how good it feels, the sun is not your friend. Load up on sun protection with a strong sunscreen that you can reapply often. If you're traveling to your destination by plane, look into sunscreen towelettes that won't explode or leak. When you're lathering up, don't forget your face. Add lip balm, and wear sunglasses and a hat.
Leave at Home: Being on the beach is an excuse to cut loose; avoid bringing clothing that's too stuffy or structured. If you're staying at a hotel, find out ahead of time if towels and other beach amenities are included. Many vacation rentals also have "house" items such as camp chairs and barbecue grills so there's no need to bring your own.
--written by Chris Gray Faust