The following article has been one of my most requested since I started CF! Since so many of you are traveling abroad or within the country for the summer, tons of you have been writing me and asking what to pack. So here you go – my guide to the essentials you’ll need to bring for a fabulous summer abroad or wherever you happen to be going.
RELATED POST: Summer Essentials: 15 Items You Absolutely Need for Summer 2021
Normally I’m all for packing light, but since you’ll likely be traveling for 3 months, this is one time when you’re going to need a variety of things. I’ll try to keep this list minimal for those of you who want to carry your bag on, but it’s more than likely that you’ll just have to suck it up, check your bags, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.
General Packing Tips For Summer Vacation Abroad
Figure out the weather of the place you’re going.
Go to the country or city’s Wikipedia page and find out the average highs and lows of the months that you’ll be there. Since it’s summer here in the USA, if you’re going to be in the northern hemisphere, you’ll probably need summer clothes. If you’re going to be in the southern hemisphere, pack for winter. The extremes of the temperatures will vary, of course, with where you’re going.
Understand the cultural norms of the place you’re going.
This has implications for the kind of clothes you can bring. For example, in some South American countries, women almost always wear skirts or dresses, while women wearing shorts or pants can often be considered socially unacceptable or even vulgar! Make an effort to know this type of info ahead of time and pack accordingly.
Know your luggage limits!
Find out your flight’s weight/size limits for checked and carry-on baggage ahead of time and pack accordingly. There’s nothing worse than getting to the airport and finding out that your bags are too heavy to be checked. Don’t let it happen to you!
Pack some extra clothes in your carry-on luggage.
Lost luggage can happen to anyone, and if yours is lost or stolen, you’ll be happy you have more than one outfit to wear.
Leave extra room in your luggage for things you’ll buy when you’re there.
I always try to buy something fabulous when I travel. That way, when people ask where I got it, I can tell them, “Oh, in Paris/Madrid/Barcelona”, etc. It’s an easy way to have an instant conversation piece.
The following are my picks for essential clothes to bring for a summer vacation. Bear in mind that the numbers listed are just general ideas – you may want to bring more or less of the following items depending on what you’ll be doing, how much you want to bring, and your own personal style.
2-5 Basic Dresses
I am a huge fan of dresses for summer – they’re an entire outfit in one easy-to-pack piece. Just throw one on, add a pair of sandals and a few choice accessories, and you’re good to go. Perfect for when you have better things to do than worry about what you’re wearing. Of course, if you’re going to be backpacking across Europe, hiking in South America, or doing lots of athletic activities, then dresses won’t be a staple for you.
When it comes to the specific dresses you pack, try to stick to neutral colors like black or white and fabrics like jerseys that won’t wrinkle too easily. I recommend at least one little black dress and at least one white or light-colored sundress for daytime but bring whatever you will wear most.
1 Special Occasion Dress
Even if you’re not planning to do anything special during your trip, it’s good to be prepared! Who knows, you might meet a hot guy in Rome who wants to take you to a fabulous restaurant, or you could get invited to an amazing party at a fancy hotel in Monaco. Keep your options open, and bring at least one standout dress.
2-4 Pairs of Jeans
Denim is the staple of every girl’s wardrobe. Even in summer, jeans are a fashionable and practical choice. They can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion – casual enough for a day of shopping paired with flats and a tank, dressy enough for a night out paired with heels, and a fabulous top. I recommend bringing at least two pairs of nice dark-wash jeans and two more pairs of your choice. Keep these basic so you can wear them for lots of different occasions.
3-6 Basic Tanks
Never underestimate the power of a good basic tank top. It’s the perfect summer top to wear alone during the day or under a cardigan at night. I recommend bringing a bunch of tanks in basic colors: black, white, gray, navy, and brown, plus maybe a couple of brighter colors as well.
2-4 Basic Tees
I’m also a huge fan of basic v-neck tees – you can wear them with everything depending on how you style them up. Basic tees are great for everyday – comfy, casual, and the perfect canvas for all matters of flashy accessories.
2-4 Dressy Tops
It’s always good to bring a few fancier tops for those nights out. While this isn’t an absolute essential, I highly recommend it. It’s fun to get dressed up to go out at night, and dressy tops pair well with denim and don’t require much accessorizing. Dressy tops also pair well with shorts and sandals during the day for a chicer take on casual.
In case you aren’t a huge cardigan fan yet, please read Top 5 Reasons You Should Own a Cardigan. Cardigans are PERFECT for summer travel because they’re easy to pack, automatically create tons of new outfits, and are the perfect lightweight layering piece for warm weather.
1-2 Light Jackets
Depending on the weather where you’re going, one of these might need to be waterproof. In general, a great spring jacket will be the perfect thing for the occasional chilly summer day. Bring one that will go with most of your wardrobe.
Quality knee-length cotton jersey skirts make great casual yet chic outfit options. You can wear them to work, out walking around during the day, or out to dinner at night. I recommend bringing at least one black jersey skirt. If you have extra room, a patterned option will pair well with one of your basic tanks and some jewelry.
1-3 Pairs of Shorts
Shorts are always a summer travel staple and are even more important to bring if you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking or walking. I don’t recommend bringing denim cutoffs – instead, go for a chicer option with a pair of cuffed black or khaki shorts. That way, you can dress them up or down and wear them for more occasions.
2 Weeks’ Worth of Underwear
You can get by not washing a pair of jeans for a week or two, but there’s no negotiating when it comes to undies. I’m a fan of bringing as much underwear as possible, as well as a variety of different bras – strapless, racerback, etc. They don’t take up much space in your suitcase and will save you some trips to the laundromat.
2-3 Sets of Sleepwear
I’m ALWAYS forgetting to bring PJs when I travel and end up sleeping in my underwear or borrowing some from a friend. This is fine if you’re staying in a hotel, but not so cool if it’s a group hostel. Make sure to bring a few pairs of PJ pants or shorts and a few tank tops or tees to wear to bed. 2-3 sets would probably be best.
1 Bathing Suit
Swimwear is another summer essential that you’ll need to bring almost anywhere you go. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, bring a swimsuit – it won’t take up much space in your suitcase, and you’ll be happy to have it should the opportunity arise.
1-2 Pairs of Comfortable Sandals
Such a summer is essential. Whether it’s a pair of ultra-trendy gladiators or plain old Havaianas, you’ll need a pair of summer sandals for days at the beach. These are great because they’re comfy and don’t take up too much space in your suitcase.
1-2 Pairs of Ballet Flats
Another year-round shoe is essential. I would bring at least one pair of ballet flats because they can be worn with almost anything and are a chic alternative to sneakers.
1 Pair of Sneakers (if you must)
You guys all know that I’m not a big fan of sneakers. If you have to bring a pair because you’ll be walking a lot or don’t like flats, at least bring a cute pair of Converse All-Stars. Don’t do the running shoes-as-casual-footwear thing unless you’re actually an athlete who will be at practice later. Seriously.
1 Large Everyday Bag
You’ll want to bring a large bag that’s big enough to hold your daytime essentials. If you’re traveling abroad, steer clear of tote bags because they’re easy targets for pickpockets. I recommend bringing a large, sturdy, basic black bag that zips closed and isn’t too expensive.
1 Small Bag for Night
Bring at least one small chain purse, wristlet purse, or clutch to hold your essentials when you go out at night. Again, don’t bring anything that you couldn’t stand to lose if you’re going abroad or will be in an area that’s unsafe.
Costume jewelry is your best friend during a vacation because it’s the simplest way to dress up a basic outfit. If you’re going abroad, don’t bring expensive or valuable stuff. Instead, stock up on cheap, fun, colorful pieces that can be used to dress up your basic clothes.
1-2 Pairs of Sunglasses
Protect your eyes from the sun, or just disguise tired eyes with a great pair of shades. Don’t bring expensive designer ones abroad, though – they’re too easy to lose, and they could get stolen. Stick to the knockoffs when you travel.
1 Pair of Fabulous Heels
Because you never know when an opportunity to dress up might present itself. A great pair of high heels can be worn with dark denim, a dress, a skirt, or shorts to add instant glamour. Bring a basic black pair if you want versatility.
This is different for everyone, but for me, it includes – mineral foundation, bronzer, mascara, undereye concealer, 1 or 2 eyeliner pencils, and lipgloss. Try not to bring any makeup you don’t wear regularly, and be sure to have a good quality travel makeup bag to hold it all.
A must-have if you have bleached, dyed, or damaged hair and don’t want to wash it every day – dry shampoo is a lifesaver! Besides, who has time to wash and style their hair every day when they’re traveling? Not me. Invest in a good dry shampoo, and your hair will thank you.
Travel Hair Dryer / Flat Iron
I learned the hard way when I tried to use my $100+ CHI flat iron with a converter in Scotland – converter plugs do NOT always work with hair tools and can often RUIN them, leaving you down $100 and stuck with bad hair for the rest of your trip. To be on the safe side, I recommend purchasing travel-specific hair tools so you don’t risk ruining your good ones.
Shampoo, Conditioner, etc.
Shower stuff. The pretty obvious one. You can try to buy some of this stuff when you arrive, but if you’re traveling abroad & are partial to certain products, it’s best to bring them with you.
Sunblock – Need I stress the importance of this one? Buy yourself a good-quality sunblock with SPF 30 or higher and slather it on religiously. Your 40-year-old future self will thank you.
Cell Phone and Extra Cell Phone Charger
If you’re bringing your normal cell phone on your trip, bring an extra charger in case you lose one. I can’t tell you the number of times people leave their cell phone chargers behind when they travel, especially if they’re staying at multiple places. Just bring an extra, and you’ll be glad you did.
iPod and iPod Charger
Totally essential for long plane rides or car trips. No further explanation is needed.
Camera and Extra Camera Battery
Bring a camera to document your trip! And if you plan on taking lots of pictures, keep an extra charged battery in your purse. You never know when the one in your camera might die, and the extra will come in handy.
Depending on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, of course. But personally, I never travel anywhere without my Macbook Pro, and I don’t know what I’d do without it! So obviously, it made my list.
Don’t skimp on your health just because you’re traveling. Make sure to bring vitamins with you and remember to take them. Getting sick while you’re on vacation is no fun.
Unless you’re staying with friends or at a hotel, the place you’re staying probably won’t provide very good towels. It’s always smart to bring a couple of your own if you have room in your suitcase.
It’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re traveling, so having a reusable water bottle on hand is a smart option. But plastic water bottles are bad news, so I recommend Sigg‘s aluminum bottles – they’re Earth-friendly, virtually indestructible, and won’t harm your health.
A Way to Document it All
Whether it’s a journal, a digital camera, pastels, paper, or whatever, keep a record of what you did on your trip! Make the time to do it, and you’ll thank yourself later.
You’ve seen my packing list for a summer abroad – now I want to see yours! What would you add to the list? What are your summer vacation essentials? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!
If you like these packing tips for summer vacation, be sure to read our related posts below —
49 thoughts on “What to Pack for a Summer Vacation or Summer Abroad”
One essential item missing: a small flashlight, especially for travel in developing nations. I also include a COPY of my passport and/or divers license, in case they are stolen or lost. Underwear: take less… wash it out in the shower. Remember khaki shorts and skirts and slacks. They provide a basic for EVERY T shirt or top you pack. Water shoes that are well made can double as walking shoes. take a flat thin nylon tote and use it as a camera bag. Protect your camera by lining the bag with a t shirt. This replaces a heavy camera bag. I also try to pack clothes that I can leave (donate) when I depart the country I am visiting. Makes the luggage lighter and provides room for some of the things I purchase on the trip.
Well, i live in Denmark(Europe) and we wear shorts, jeans and all kind of pants, so you can definitely wear that!
thanks for the amazing tips , i’ll follow them all 😀 <3 <3
That’s only like… my whole wardrobe.
Love the post, it was really useful. A few thoughts here. Like a few people mentioned, if you are going to do any walking invest in a good pair of sport sandals, Chaco has some cute ones for women.
Also take along a sleeping sack at the very least, ya travel blanket mabe too, if you will be staying in hostels and/or cheaper hotels.
Thank you! This post has helped me so much as I pack for my trip to Austria!
oh gosh, you are a life saver!!! i’ve been planning on my trip to GA for months now and have been planning on what to pack little by little. i’ll be there for 3 months so i’m glad i came across your post. very extremely helpful!! thanks so much! (:
-Happy Travels everybody!
Thank you so much for this post! I am going to Italy for the fall and this made packing so much easier. The comments are great too!
thank you so much for this extreamly helpful post. I am going to UCLA for a 6 week summer program and I didn’t want to forget anything, but i also didn’t want to over pack. This article was exactly what i needed.
i live in china. and im going to be returning to my home in the states in a couple of days to visit family. this list helped me soooo much!
every time i go to the states i over pack. like i literally take half my closet. anyways. i just finished packing (with the help of you). thank you so much! you saved me. i officially love you.
oh and even though this is for overseas it technically counts for me right?
Great post! I traveled to Europe for 3 weeks once on an 8 country tour. Needless to say I barely unpacked and had to make sure all my stuff could be mixed around–very very important! Totally agree with the cardigans, and last summer I studied in England and my solution to cute yet comfortable flats were these Lacoste ones I found on sale that were athletic-feeling, but were cute enough to wear with skirts, etc. My feet hurt a ton from all the walking, and I brought cute embellished sandals for evening wear when I only went for three weeks. You also end up buying stuff when you’re there usually, so don’t forget you can wear those things. I recommend a fabulous pashmina type scarf that goes with everything (even a cool pattern dresses up every outfit) and you can find those in markets all over. It’s a great alternative to a cardigan for a cool night where you don’t want to wear a cardigan. My tip with jeans is to bring your pairs that don’t stretch out after one wear. And people wore shorts in London, however they were not Hollister type shorts–they were dressier and usually (almost always actually) worn with tights underneath, even the jean shorts I saw a girl wearing at TopShop. Cheeks definitely don’t hang out. That being said, sheer black tights were everywhere and worn with everything. They are lightweight and dress up every outfit. I noticed style wasn’t about trends as much as it was about individual expression and looking/feeling chic. Very classy but interesting at the same time. Kinda like American Apparel mixed with Chanel. We bought a blow-dryer while there, and my friend’s straightener fried so I would buy that too. We found a 10 Pound blow-dryer at the grocery store that worked well enough. Also, my friend’s laptop fried while there, and internet cafes ARE EVERYWHERE in Europe. Those are my two cents having been abroad for 3 and 6 weeks at a time! AND DON’T FORGET PERFUME. I completely forgot some and I felt so incomplete. Overlooking little things like that can be costly (helllooooo exchange rate) and frustrating when you want that extra something to make your outfit.
BUT I have a question. In your pictures, where is that fabulous special occasion dress from?! I love love love it.
I love water bottles. I am a believer or water being a very important part of almost everything good you want for your body. I kind of collect them. But every single one I own is made of plastic. So I have to know. Why are they bad news? Thank you. xO
I usually love your posts, dear Zephyr, however I am kind of confussed you mentioned in your post that women in South America never wear pants. I´ve been there several times (Im Mexican,so I am half South American) and they dress as normal as in the US (I´ve been there several times too) . It is not considered vulgar to wear pants or shorts at all.
I understand what you meant by the remark, so don´t worry. I just wanted to make a point out of it.
A couple of comments. I live overseas/travel a lot so hopefully they’re helpful.
1. I agree with the Europe = No shorts really. Basically in Europe most people dress up everywhere they go and that does not include shorts unless you’re in a Mediterranean climate and in that case they’re usually longer than those you can get at AE or somewhere along those lines. If you’re going anywhere in Africa or Asia you probably shouldn’t wear anything shorter than Bermuda Shorts and even then it may be better to cover you knee.
2. Check up on customs especially if you’re going to a Muslim country. Things like, using your left hand or pointing directly at someone can be considered very offensive.
3. Sneakers, if you’re in Europe you’d be fine wearing Pumas or Adidas or converse, but not like, Asics or Nike that look like running shoes. Cobblestone can be hard on your feet.
4. I have been on 5 flights so far this year and have checked bags each time and none have gotten lost. So don’t be too worried but definitely I agree with keeping one pair of underwear/clothing with you.
5. Be aware of MONEY. With this crazy economy you really need to keep any eye on the exchange rates. You may want to change a large amount of money at the airport before you leave and have all of that or do it as you go, it’s just something to watch.
Also, as a side note, Americans are known for being loud in Europe, try to not speak crazy loud or rather just match the environment you’re in. They’ll appreciate it.
Rayna – I’m partial to suitcases with wheels because I have zero upper-body strength to carry a duffel bag around. But a duffel could work for summer camp, especially since wheels don’t work so well on non-asphalt surfaces. It’s really up to you. I’d bring a suitcase, but whatever you’re comfortable with will work fine.
Doris – Batiste and Samy make good ones that aren’t too expensive. You can get Batiste at most drugstores, and Samy is available at ULTA. Klorane and Oscar Blandi both make good ones too!
awesome! I’m going to Taiwan for 3 weeks this summer and now I’m super excited cause I know exactly what to pack 😀 Thanks!