It’s been a long time (approximately one feral child ago) since I put together a packing list for a vacation. Growing up in New Jersey, we would make an annual winter trip down to Florida to visit my grandparents — including the one pilgrimage to Disney World many northern children take in their lifetime — and one week on Cape Cod during the summer. For me, trips to Cape Cod are a bit like a homecoming. I have relatives that live on the Cape. I was married on the Cape. The Cape is my happy place.
Capsule Wardrobe Checklist For A Cape Cod Vacation
Like most, I have not been on a trip (like airplane, pack your suitcase, fret over who will watch the elderly dog trip) since the pandemic began. With vaccinations comes the hope of a normal(ish) summer, so we’re optimistically looking ahead to a trip to Cape Cod to visit family. I’m going to share with you my tried-and-true packing list for summer beach trips like this one.
I have 3 kids. I can’t afford to overpack. I find it helpful to pack with a capsule wardrobe in mind. Pieces I can easily mix and match to create different looks and account for changes in weather. The key is to have a washer/dryer at your hotel/AirBnb, etc., so you can wear things multiple times. It isn’t hard, it just takes knowing your closet and taking a little time to plan ahead.
1| Linen Pants
I adore the “Spring Stupid Pants.” There are tons of ways to style these Cabo Wide-Leg Linen Pants, which I demonstrated in my recent “12 Ways To Wear…” blog post. These pants call for, “you know mixers, formals, clambakes, trips to the Cape” (Legally Blonde deep cut right there). Wear them out to dinner or throw them on as a swimsuit cover-up. They’re a must-have for any summer trip.
2| Simple Tee Shirt
Casual tees are essential for any summer vacation. My favorites are this Whisper Cotton V-Neck Tee from Madewell and the James Perse Deep Scoop Neck Tee. Tee Honorable Mention: the Organic Cotton Icon Tee from Everlane. They are easy to care for, lovely on their own, but also perfect for layering under a jean jacket or a brand-new Cuffy’s sweatshirt (if ya know, ya know).
Nothing’s worse than being cold on a summer vacation. I always have a sweatshirt with me, and I love the color of this Marled Pleat-Sleeve Sweatshirt from Madewell in Fresh Blueberry (how perfect of a moniker is that?). I basically live in the MWL AiryTerry Hoodie Sweatshirt (also from Madewell). It is just the right weight for cooler mornings and breezy summer nights around the firepit in my aunt & uncle’s backyard. You can even get matching sweatshorts.
4| Jean Shorts
After trying on an absurd number of shorts, I discovered The Denim Shorts from Everlane and they are GOOD. Under $70, slouchy fit, unfinished hem that you can roll to different lengths to change the look. They are the perfect shorts. I love them so much that I ordered another pair in black. My suggestion is to read the measurements and consider sizing down. They do have some stretch, so you might find your regular size feels too loose after a few wears. I’m typically a 30, but prefer them in a 29.
5| Swimsuit You Feel GOOD In
I always pack two suits when I go on vacation; one for play and one for the day I’m sunburned (jokes, sort of). I’m intrigued by Everlane’s new swimsuit line (made primarily of recycled plastic!), in particular this Square-Neck One-Piece in a color color that I call “spicy brown mustard.” Another option is this Jungle Book Knotted One-Piece Swimsuit from BLEU by Rod Beattie (I own it, size up). It’s a LBS (little black swimsuit) with a twist. Here’s the same style, but with an animal print. I also love Becca by Rebecca Virtue for one-pieces. Their high-neck crochet swimsuit is one of my all-time favorites. For those sportier days/days my skin needs a break, a pair of high-waisted bikini bottoms and a rashgaurd (both from Athleta) fit the bill.
6| Swim Cover-Up That Doubles as a Duster
I stopped buying traditional swimsuit cover-ups a few years ago and opt for dusters like this Magic Dance Duster by Free People. I like dusters because I can wear them over a swimsuit or throw it over a tank top and jean shorts for a boho look. I have a few from Free People that I’ve had for years. Nothing I like more than a multi-purpose article of clothing! Other options are this FP Spellbound Tie-Die kimono and Amazon has some cute choices under $25.
7| Waterproof Sandals
I lurrrveee these Birkenstock Arizona EVA Waterproof Sandals (Nordstrom | Urban Outfitters). They are like my regular Arizona’s except they’re cheaper, waterproof and machine washable. I mean, yes, please, and thank you. These Birks come in a slew of colors (I opted for lilac) but these watermelon color look (and sound) delicious for summer. These are a fabulous alternative to thong sandals, and they’ll last for many summer trips to come.
8| Walking Sneakers
In terms of what’s going to get more use on this family trip, fancy sandals or sneakers — sneakers win. I love Cole Haan sneakers, like these Mindi Lace Ups. I have a similar pair I wore on our trip to Europe a few years ago. Nary a complaint of aching feet. Adidas Superstars (Adidas| Neiman Marcus| Nordstrom) are also perfect for a brisk walk to get some exercise, but fashionable enough to wear out. If I were going on a vacation with just my husband (note the difference, when you’re traveling with kids it’s a trip, when you’re childless it’s a vacation — I know all y’all with younger kids feel me) I would pack a cute pair of sandals, like these Free People Collection Vacation Day Wrap Sandals or something with a heel, like these BC Footwear Never Ends Fisherman Sandals that I’m really digging this summer. Again, it depends on your needs. A trip with kids where I’d like to get some good long walks in? I need sneakers more than fancy wedges (le sigh).
9| Joggers aka Loungewear
I will never be over the joggers trend. These Relaxed Vintage Cotton Terry Joggers from J.Crew are perfectly preppy in ocean blue for a trip to Cape Cod (wear them on the plane!). If you prefer wicking fabric or a sportier pair, try the Athleta Salutation Jogger (inclusive sizing). I bought a second pair so I have one to wear while the other one is in the wash. If you want to make it a set, pair these joggers with the corresponding color in Athleta’s Conscious Crop Top (built-in bra, extended sizes, D-DD here).
10| Date Night Tank Top
There’s something about a simple white top, like this Organic Poplin Camisole Top, that says, “Date night: dinner for two at the Old Yarmouth Inn, yes I’ll be needing a lobster bib or five.” I’ve been drooling over this Linen-Blend Ruffle-Strap Button-Up Tank Top and…OK…lobster. Mostly lobster. If you prefer more coverage, I also have this Central Drapey Shirt and Patchwork square-neck top (both from Madewell), and love them. Both shirts are dressier, but the fabric is lightweight for those humid summer days.
11| Easy Summer Dress
The only thing more Cape Cod than hydrangeas might be gingham. OK, nautical would be a close second. The feminine tiers and pretty neckline caught my eye on this J.Crew Tiered Ruffle-Sleeve Cotton Dress. If you prefer a sportier look and you read my Athleta haul post, you know that the Winona Support Midi Dress was the sleeper hit of the order and perfect for travel.
I’ve been eying (get it) Le Specs since Emily wore a pair and turned into Meghan Markle. These Air Heart Sunglasses by Le Spec have a timeless cat eye frame with a stunning tortoiseshell finish. An excellent under-$100 option!
13| Beach Hat
I have a difficult time committing to hats. I don’t wear them a ton because I always end up looking a little goofy. Nevertheless, skincare is important and this Textured Summer Straw Hat will keep you protected and stylish. For a different style, this Fedora Beach Sun Hat is cute, functional (SPF 50+) and under $25. If you’re more of a ballcap kind of person I’m digging this Saltwater Washed Baseball Cap from Free People.
14| Vacation Tote Bag
Whether you’re bay-side or “Beach Bound” this Vacation Tote Bag will get you through long days among the dunes of the Cape (name that song). It is MASSIVE, which is good when you’re lugging towels, sand toys, a vat of SPF 10,000, diapers, can’t live without dolls of the moment, etc.,. I don’t know if I look like a mother or a doomsday prepper with this tote. What I appreciate about this bag is it has several pockets inside for smaller items, can fold up in your suitcase AND it comes in multiple patterns/sayings (I have Après Swim). I plan on using it as my “Baby/Catch-All” tote (for baby items, not the literal baby) when we go away and throwing my Clare V. Midi Bag in it for the cards and such. I like to bring a small bag or fanny pack on the off-chance I might steal a few, child-free hours out and about whilst on the Cape.
15| Tinted Moisturizer with SPF
The Oil Free Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 20 by Laura Mercier is a favorite of mine that I will not allow myself to run out of. I bought it when we went to Europe a few years ago hoping it would consolidate my makeup products. I loved it so much that I ended up incorporating it into my daily makeup routine. It doesn’t take much, but it provides wonderful coverage, doesn’t get stuck in any creases or fine lines, AND it has SPF in it. It looks very natural too. For extra protection, I also put Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen on my face first. I typically don’t wear a lot of makeup, especially on a summer beach vacation. If anything, the only other makeup products I’ll pack are waterproof mascara, my beloved Anastasia Brow Wiz (for a night out) and my Biossance Squalane + Rose Vegan Lip Balm for hydration and a little shine.
16| Statement Earrings
I wear a lot of neutrals, so earrings are a great place to have some fun and add a pop of color. These Rosalind Drop Earrings from Anthropologie caught my eye because of the sea glass blue (they also come in other colors, I ultimately ordered the yellow) and the wood + beads just reminds me of summer. These are definitely going out (sans baby) earrings. If you’re not looking to tempt fate (or lose an earlobe), I would recommend these Aria Crawler earrings or these Deco Moonstone Circe Studs.
There’s something about just putting together a packing list for a summer beach trip that makes me excited. The anticipation. The planning. The promise of new scenery and new people. A return to some normalcy. And steamers. Definitely steamers.