11 Must-Packs for Your Summer Vacation


Summer vacations are both refreshing and exhausting. It seems that no matter how hard you try to plan ahead, summer's barbecues, softball games, and happy hours always get in the way. (Contrast this with winter vacations, where you've packed your shorts and sandals weeks in advance because you can't wait to escape the cold.) So, when it's time to pack your bag for your summer trip, you're left scrambling. With last minute packing you may forget something critical that will cost you hard earned vacation money. Here are 11 things you must pack for your summer vacation and a few things to leave at home. (See also: 5 Cheap International Vacation Destinations)

1. A Bottle Opener

If your idea of a summer vacation includes sipping cold beer, be sure to toss a bottle opener in your bag. There's nothing worse than getting to a campsite after a long drive and realizing you can't open the local craft beer bottle you bought in town 10 miles back.

2. Cooler

For road trips and camping, a cooler is a must. It keeps expensive grilling meat from spoiling and will keep your beer cold. If you're traveling to a beach location by plane, consider bringing a small (lunch-sized usually works) collapsible cooler bag.

3. Reusable Water Bottle

Whether you're traveling by plane, train, bike, or automobile, don't forget a reusable water bottle. I prefer stainless bottles because they don't leach any chemicals and they chill faster in the cooler or fridge. Either way, packing a water bottle will save you a ton of money on bottled water over the course of a vacation. Plus, you'll be less likely to get dehydrated, which could really ruin your vacation and drain your wallet if you were to end up in the hospital.

4. Sunglasses

How many times have you had to buy sunglasses at a gas station or airport because you left them on your dresser? Pack these early to avoid having to spend extra cash on something you didn't need to buy.

5. Hat

If you forgot your sunglasses, a hat will shield your eyes from some sunlight (at least until you can hit the local Target). Plus, it protects your face from damaging sun rays — saving you money in the long term on wrinkle creams or skin cancer treatments.

6. Reusable Bag

A compact, reusable bag always comes in handy on a trip — but especially a summer trip. If you're headed to the beach, a reusable bag doubles as a beach bag. If you're headed to Europe, many European markets charge you for bags. Plus you can enjoy your vacation a bit more without the guilt of your eco-conscious half.

7. Inflatable Ball

Whether you're 3 or 33, you'll want an inflatable ball on almost any summer vacation. (Unless you're headed to a European city.) A beach volleyball or beach ball is great for camping or a beach vacation. Why spend money on renting a jet ski when you can pretend you're a gold medal Olympian while playing a game of pick up with your friends?

8. Deck of Cards

You probably won't be able to see solitaire on your computer screen while sitting out in the sun, so a deck of cards will fill that void. And after the sun has set, there's nothing like a deck of cards to provide free entertainment for the whole family.

9. Trashy Book

Perhaps the epitome of a must-pack item for summer travel is a trashy novel. Whether you like romance, suspense, mysteries, or sci-fi, reserve a copy from your library before you hit the road.

10. Travel Rewards Credit Card

If you're headed abroad, be sure to pack a credit card that doesn't charge conversion fees. (I use a Capital One No Hassle Rewards.) And for U.S. travel, if you'll be renting a car check to see if your credit card covers your insurance (see a complete list of credit card perks here) and remember to use a rewards card that pays a higher percentage reward for gas.

11. Cash

There are three great reasons to pack extra cash for your summer trip. First, many small shops in resort towns don't take credit cards. Second, even when they do, you'll save the shop owners money on credit card fees when paying in cash. (I know, I like my credit card rewards as much as the next person. But when you're buying a $3 ice cream from the local shop, the nicer thing to do is to save them the fees.) Finally, it will be easier to keep your vacation budget in check if you use a cash method for at least some of your expenses.

What Shouldn't You Pack?

When you're packing last minute, it sometimes seems easier to just throw everything in the suitcase. But there are plenty of things to avoid bringing. Here are a few:

  • Your accommodations should provide you with a towel. Don't waste the room in your bag with this bulky item.
  • If you're traveling by plane, buy the sunscreen and bug spray when you arrive.
  • Don't over-pack the snacks. I don't know about you, but have a tendency to stock up on peanut butter M&M's before a car trip. Instead, buy local snacks (like Wisconsin cheese curds) at gas stations along the way.
  • Here are 10 other "must-haves" that you should leave at home.

Finally, if you've been so busy enjoying the summer that you still haven't planned a trip, there's still time. Here are 8 Cheap Summer Vacation Ideas and another 50 Vacation Ideas for Family Travel.

Where are you headed on your next vacation? Anything you absolutely must pack in your suitcase?

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