The temps are rising, the pollen count is (hopefully) waning and school is nearly — if not already — out for teachers and students alike. All of this means one thing: It’s time to finalize your travel plans and get your summer vacation packing list primed and ready to go.
If you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, you’re not alone. According to AAA, some 39.2 million people are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend — up more than 8% from last year.
“Many people have been holding out on their vacation plans for two-plus years now and this year, travelers are going all out and splurging on luxurious vacations to make up for lost time,” says Kristen Gall, retail and shopping expert at Rakuten. “Even with inflation making prices across all categories skyrocket, consumers are not letting anything get in the way of their summer travels and experiences. From shopping for new vacation wardrobes to planning experiences such as concerts and sporting events, people are ready to travel and willing to spend this summer.”
Whether you’re hopping on a plane and heading to Europe or spontaneously road tripping down Route 66, you want to be armed with everything you might need on vacation, from sunscreen and AirPods Pro to an effortless bathing suit or a quick-dry towel. To get you on your way, we’ve rounded up the most useful, must-have items to stash in your carry-on bag or throw in the back of your car as you head out to the great unknown this summer.
$19.99 at Target
Corral the chaos of your cosmetics drawer into this makeup weekender bag from Sonia Kashuk’s line with Target. Featuring two zipped compartments, a zipper pocket for essentials and top handles, the under-$20 organizer is a no-brainer.
$178 at Vineyard Vines
We love a twofer, and this dress is just that. Made from a moisture-wicking, quick-drying and lightweight fabric that is packed with UPF 30 sun protection, the Harbor Tiered Dress is an ideal cover-up. And should your daytime activities slide into the evening, the dress’s flattering silhouette makes it a great option for date night, too.
$59.99 $29.97 at Aerie
Bathing suits are a summer vacation packing list must-have, but finding one that is effortlessly flattering is no easy feat — until now. We’ve tried Aerie’s wrap one-piece swimsuit in multiple colors and fabrics and have to say that it universally looks great on all body sizes. Strapless (no tan lines) and boasting a full-coverage booty, the suit has a sexy, peek-a-boo cutout that is mostly covered by the crossbody sash. It comes with removable straps and cups, and is available in plenty of additional colors and patterns.
$68 at Fair Harbor
Fair Harbor has dubbed itself as “the world’s most comfortable beachwear,” and its swimsuits for men are making waves. That’s because they’ve replaced the old-school, chafe-inducing mesh liners with a spandex-like interior short that is supportive, soft and chafe-free. Available in more than 20 patterns, The Anchor also boasts nearly 15,000 five-star reviews. They come in kids’ sizes, too.
$44.95 $33.69 at REI
If you’re looking for a heavy-duty dry bag, this is it. Made by Sea to Summit, the bag is rugged enough to tag along for a day of kayaking, rafting or canoeing, and completely waterproof thanks to double-taped seams and a roll-top closure. We love that its malleable shape means you can squash it into a boat nook or a bike basket with ease, and that it comes in seven sizes, ranging from 3 liters to 65 liters.
$130 at Hat Attack
For anyone looking to keep the UV rays at bay, hats are a vacation must-have, and we love this packable option from Hat Attack. Boasting a UPF rating of 40-50 and a cute fringed brim, the tan-hued hat can withstand the folding and crunching your travels will likely force it to endure — all while looking good as new when you’re ready to wear it. Prefer a visor? Check out this similarly fringed, travel-friendly option.
$65 at Away
We never met packing cubes we didn’t like, and that includes this set from luggage brand Away. Available in seven colors, the packing cubes are made of water-resistant nylon that can protect your clothes, with breathable mesh toppers that allow you to easily see what’s inside.
$249 at Apple
Apple’s AirPods Pro are a no-brainer for anyone vacation-bound thanks to their noise-canceling ability. Featuring a customizable fit with three ear tip size options, the Pros boast incredible sound — whether you’re listening to playlists, podcasts or Netflix streams — and they’re sweat- and water-resistant (IPX4), making them great for exercise and adventuring alike. Or, opt for Beats Fit Pro instead, our pick for the best wireless earbuds for Apple users.
$158 at J.Crew
The key to surviving a new vacation climate can be summed up in one word: layers. Throwing a lightweight cashmere sweater into your tote at night as you head out to dinner is always a good idea (even islands can get crazy windy!), and this stunner from J.Crew is something you’ll want to wear long after the vacation has ended. Available in three soft hues and sizes XXS to 3X, the boxy-cut cardigan can be worn solo with shorts or jeans, or draped over dresses all summer long.
$35 at Amazon
IYKYK: Applying mineral sunscreen on squirming kids is no easy feat, which is exactly why we’re loving this silky smooth and oh-so-safe option from MDSolarSciences. Not only is the sunscreen totally invisible on the skin — which is rarely the case with mineral SPF! — it also smells delicious thanks to clean ingredients like cranberry and pomegranate extract. The kids’ sunscreen is also available in stick ($20) and spray ($22) formats.
$34 at Sephora
When it comes to sunscreen for everyone besides the kids, we recommend splurging on some Supergoop! The clean brand’s latest Every. Single. Face. Watery Lotion SPF 50 is worth every penny. Made for men and women of all ages (and all skin types and tones), the lotion glides on the skin — with nary a white cast left behind — and its lightweight texture has a cooling effect that’s moisturizing but not greasy.
$329.99 at Luno
Car camping is being redefined thanks to Luno, the maker of an ultra-durable air mattress that fits in more than 1,800 vehicles. When ordering your mattress, select the make, model and year of your vehicle and receive a product custom-sized to fit. Big enough to accommodate two 6-foot, 2-inch adults, the mattress is dual-sided, allowing both users to adjust their firmness level. Or, if you’re traveling solo, just one side of the mattress can be inflated. It packs down to a size small enough to fit in your carry-on bag — or diminutive enough to keep in your car year-round.
$115 at Buck Mason
A key to packing successfully is picking workhouse pieces that serve multiple purposes — like a quintessential chambray shirt that can be a coverup, a daytime shirt or a nighttime layer. We love this one from Buck Mason, the Los Angeles-based brand known for classic wardrobe essentials that recently started designing womenswear. Relaxed and medium-weight, the ultra-soft shirt will feel cozy and look adorable, whichever way you style it.
$148 at Spanx
Big news: Your summer whites don’t have to be see-through! Spanx to the rescue with a new collection of white shorts and pants in sizes XS to 3X that all boast a silver lining technology, guaranteeing opaqueness. Featuring pull-on designs and four-way stretch, the pieces are also comfortable and tummy-flattening, making them the perfect vacation pick.
$38.99 $29.99 at Amazon
You want to be Instagram-ready on vacation, and wrinkled clothes will definitely ruin that vibe. We recommend this handy travel steamer that weighs less than two pounds and can de-wrinkle your clothes in seconds. Amazon’s No. 1 travel steamer has more than 70,000 reviews and is currently on sale for just under $30.
$325 at Yeti
While we love all of Yeti’s soft and hard coolers, this backpack option holds a special place in our hearts. Why? Because it’s hands-free! Part backpack, part cooler, the Hopper M20 is perfect for hikes, beach days or boating adventures, allowing users to wear their cooler while hauling the rest of their gear with free hands. It can hold 18 beer cans with ice or 26 pounds of ice, and cold-cell foam technology insulation will keep your beverages icy all day long. Looking to spend less? Target’s got a daintier, less-rugged option for $39.99.
From $16.99 at RTIC Outdoors
Never has the phrase, “But first, coffee,” been more apropos than on vacation. Keep your morning brew piping hot in RTIC’s Travel Mug, which comes in 16- and 20-ounce sizes and more than 20 fun colorways. Boasting a no-sweat exterior and double-wall insulation that can also keep your drinks icy cold for 24 hours, this stainless-steel mug is a beast. Looking for a heavy-duty water bottle to go along with it? RTIC has the answer for those, too.
$19.99 $14.95 at Amazon
Safety first! Packed with everything you might need for a minor emergency, this ultra-portable kit will have you covered for scrapes, burns, splinters, gashes and more.
$54.95 $29.99 at Tom’s
A walking shoe with some serious style, Tom’s new Mallow Crossover is lightweight, water-friendly and quick-drying, making it the perfect option for a beach or boat day. We love the oversized sole and the nine colorways that range from bold neon orange to soft beige.
$65 at Freyrs
If you want to look cool on vacation, aviator sunglasses are a sure bet — except for the fact they tend to get stuck in (and rip!) your hair. Enter: Freyrs. The Chicago-based company’s top-selling style is the Shay, an aviator style minus the metal nose pads that tend to cause all those aforementioned problems. Crafted from sturdy polycarbonate lenses that are packed with 100% UV protection, the shades also come with a one-year warranty.
$29.99 $22.99 at Amazon
Gone are the cumbersome terry towels of yore, and replacing them are lightweight, thinner options that are equally absorbent and way easier to travel with. We like Wetcat’s Turkish Beach Towel because it’s super easy to pack in a carry-on and the sand shakes right off of it. With more than 8,000 positive Amazon reviews, the towel is a winner all around.
$449.95 at Bloomingdale’s
This we know: Traveling with babies is not easy. Nuna is making the journey a bit easier though, with its travel stroller that weighs just under 14 pounds and can accommodate infants to 50-pound babies. Super-sleek in design, the stroller can self-fold into a freestanding position with the simple push of a button on the handlebar. We love that the buckle is a self-guiding magnet — no more buckle frustration! — and that it comes with a handy carrying case. The Trvl can even pair with all of Nuna’s cult-favorite car seats, including the Pipa Lite. Did we mention no adapters are needed? Say it with us, parents: Amen!
$139.99 at Amazon
If a Kindle isn’t in your top-five packing musts, well, you’re doing it all wrong. Seriously though, opting to bring your Kindle eliminates packing bulky books, and the Paperwhite’s glare-free screen reads like real paper, importing books from your virtual library or adding new ones on the fly. It also comes packed with 10 weeks of battery life.
$120 at Nordstrom
Proving that men’s sandals can be fancy, the Hiapo set will give him all the ventilation he needs, while simultaneously bringing a slightly more formal tone to his footwear thanks to the full-grain leather straps, whipstitch detailing and the footbed that is laser-etched with a Polynesian Moko-tattoo style design. Looking for something a little more casual? Check out the Tuahines, which are waterproof and $20 cheaper.
$84 $74 at Cadence
Consider streamlining your summer packing process with Cadence, a system of buildable, customizable, refillable and leakproof magnetic containers that are designed to keep your personal care products (and trinkets!) in order. Sustainable in concept — say goodbye to single-use travel-sized items — the containers have a soft hexagonal shape, a wide opening and a rounded floor, all of which makes for easy filling and scooping out. Did we mention they look super pretty on a hotel bathroom counter? You can read our full review of this travel game-changing set here.
$98 at Kibou
A diaper bag in a fanny pack? Yes, it exists, thanks to the Kibou unisex bag, which not only includes a detachable changing pad, but is also stocked with a big waterproof pocket for wipes, credit cards and cash slots and a hook for keys (or pacifiers). Wipeable on the interior and exterior, the bag can be worn as a fanny pack or cross body, making it a hands-free tool for traveling parents everywhere.
$35 at Target
Sometimes a simple crossbody bag is all you need for travel, and this one from Target fits the bill. We love the timeless straw detailing, the fact that the bag has enough room for your phone and wallet and that the zip-top closure will keep all your belongings safe and sound.
$35.99 $25.99 at Amazon
If you don’t want to break the bank on a travel backpack — we get it, the trip alone breaks the bank! — Amazon’s got you covered with this anti-theft option. It comes with a fixed lock, can fit a laptop and has pockets galore. In addition to its luggage strap, the backpack also has a top handle, a USB port and adjustable straps.
$16.99 at Amazon
If you’re packing for summer, chances are you’re packing for hot weather. And whether you’re standing in line for a ride at Disney World or lounging poolside at a resort, staying cool is key. This battery-powered, rechargeable handheld mini fan, which comes in five different color options, offers up to 21 hours of cooling time on one charge.
Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards.