Savvy travelers know how to pack a week's worth of wardrobe changes into one carry-on year-round, but even the most packing-challenged among us can do it like a pro when summer rolls around. See ya later, bulky sweaters and jeans, make room for gauzy tops and easy dresses. Summertime shoes and sandals are light, so you can always get away with bringing an extra pair. The key is zeroing in on pieces that work together and in different ways. We've packed a carry-on full of ideas that will take you from the beach to the museum to dinner, with enough room left over for a few little luxuries.
Pack These Wardrobe Staples in Your Carry-On for Summer Travel
Whether you're stretched out at the beach or beating the big-city pavement, a physical shield between you and the sun not only keeps you cool and shaded, it's an absolutely necessary barrier that prevents sun damage. (And, we admit, hats really come in handy on those less-than-perfect hair days.) We love this foldable straw visor by Simplicity Women ($14.99), with its bow-tie backing and open top design. It comes in several colors and easily rolls up to fit in any bag.
If you're looking for a piece to pull double duty day in and day out, a cotton tunic is as versatile as it gets. It can go from poolside, where you can throw it over a bikini as a cover-up, to a casual dinner, where you can wear it with leggings. If yours is a little longer, pair it with sandals or flats for an easy dress. One of our favorite looks is a tunic worn over wide-legged pants for a casual-but-polished outfit. We're crazy about this striped linen tunic by Eileen Fisher ($156.45 - $178.80), especially because it's also available in such a wide range of sizes.
Who knew anything this simple could be so indispensable? Whether called a pareo, sarong, or shawl, this large oblong stretch of fabric is the do-all workhorse in your luggage. On the plane, you can wrap it around your neck for warmth. Once you land, it hits the ground running, too. It's a quick cover-up over a swimsuit—just wrap it around and tie or tuck it in the front. Wear it as a shawl in the evenings. We even use ours to sit on for impromptu picnics and, in a pinch, as a towel. Best of all, you can simply wash it out and hang it up and it will be dry in a matter of minutes. We like this sleek black embroidered pareo by Melissa Odabash ($123) because it goes with so many different items in our bag.
Espadrilles are a summertime classic, evoking sailboats, tanned legs, and Greek islands. We particularly like the way See by Chloe has gussied up these classic espadrille platform wedges with lace uppers ($114.75), or, if you prefer, in standard leather ($194.99).
Do you know anyone who has only one pair of sunglasses? We don't either. But if we had to choose just one to put in our bag, it might very well be these Ray-Ban Cat-Eye Sunglasses ($163). These sturdy but stylish glasses have a more sophisticated look than the brand's classic Wayfarer style, making them a strong choice for casual and dressy occasions. And unlike some trendier styles, these are flattering to most face shapes. And let's not to forget how these soft-brown-colored lenses will make your eyes go "ahhhhh" with relief the second you slip them on. Also available in classic black, beige tortoise, or bottle green.
We're going to assume that wherever you're headed, you're probably going to take a sundress with you. And since you can easily roll a sundress up into the size of a deluxe burrito, it leaves room for a dress that's classy enough to take you from day to night. The Simonetta Tunic ($120) in tried-and-true black flatters almost every figure, with a V-neck that's not too plunging and draping fabric that hides almost all bumps and bellies. For daytime, add some cute flats and simple earrings, and step it up for night with metallic sandals and bold jewelry.
The best thing about buying travel-sized toiletries is that it allows you to test products before going "all in" and paying for the full size. One to try is Patchology's On The Fly 4-Piece Travel Treatment Kit ($20), with masks and eye gels to get your skin back in fighting shape after a long flight. If it's hair that's troubling you, Aesop's Calming Shampoo ($29) will set things right. And we always throw in a few sticks of Burt's Bees Replenishing Lip Balm with Pomegranate Oil ($12.34 for 4 tubes) to add moisture and just a touch of color to lips. Last but not least, make sure you bring along a good sunscreen, such as Supergoop's SPF 50 Antioxidant-Infused Sunscreen Mist with Vitamin C ($19 for three ounces).
When we travel, we want sandals that not only look great but are as pleasing to our toes as they are to our eyes. Flats, wedges, chunky heels—choose the style that works best for you, but whatever you do, wear them a few times to make sure the pair you take isn't going to chafe or give you hot spots after a full day of sightseeing. (Providing the fit is right, we like a sandal with a toe thong because it helps keep the foot from sliding in the footbed, which can cause blisters.) The Gizeh Birko-Flor ($99.95) from Birkenstock fit our sandal criteria to a T: seriously stylish, with smooth leather contrasted by a comfy cork footbed.
Jeans are a staple of most closets, but they're not always the best choice for travel, especially if you'll be hand-washing your garments in your resort or hotel room. That's why we opt for a pair or two of wide-legged cotton or washable linen pants. And of course, they're as easy to wear as they are to care for—they look equally smart with silky camis or boho blouses or tunics. The Lola Wide-Leg Linen Trousers ($150) from Velvet by Graham and Spencer are an ideal choice for summer nights out.
Just because you're traveling light doesn't mean you can't travel pretty. Statement necklaces and chandelier earrings are good for a bit of drama but can feel a little heavy when the weather heats up. These watery-blue Cuba hoops ($70) by Rachel Comey bring a little bit of the beach with us wherever we are.
If there's one thing more frustrating than helplessly watching your smartphone or tablet bleed its charge before your very eyes, it's the mad search for the nearest place to plug it in. That's why we never leave home without the Mophie Powerstation Duo ($34.95). With two USB ports, it can simultaneously and fully recharge both a smartphone and a tablet (or any other device with a USB charger) in an hour or less—while you're on the go. Trust us: At under 12 ounces and just slightly larger than a deck of cards, this sleek little beauty has proven to be a lifesaver many times over.
There are times when you just don't want to—or can't—put your headphones on. The Wonderboom Waterproof Speaker ($54.89) features a tough shell that protects the speaker from water, and comes in several fun colors (we're partial to the cheerful yellow). The up/down volume controls are big and easy to adjust. We use it to listen to live radio or podcasts while getting ready for the day, or we set it to a Spotify playlist while poolside with friends.