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Here’s What To Pack For Tulum If You’re Only Bringing A Carry-On

I’m ready for the warmth.

Marina Liao
Tulum Outfits

If there’s one national holiday that holds a special meaning for me, it’s Groundhog Day (Feb. 2). That’s because my birthday also happens to fall on this day. Yes, I’m an Aquarius and this year marks an especially important celebratory milestone: I turn 30. I knew I wanted to spend the day on the beach and in the sun, so I booked a trip to one of my favorite nearby tropical destinations: Tulum, Mexico. Barring any flight cancellations or a national shutdown, I’m full speed ahead in planning mode, which includes compiling a list of outfits for Tulum that I’ll need to pack.

The region is known to attract an ostentatious crowd of influencers and celebrities, which means it’s a hot spot for in vogue beach fashion, like ruffled, sheer dresses and ultra sensual swimsuits. However, having traveled there once before, this time I know to pack beach essentials that speak more to my personal style over me trying to recreate the elaborate, but not comfortable, outfits I saw on my Insta feed. (Note to self: Do not pack eight pairs of shoes for a five-day trip and only wear the same three pairs.)

Ahead, I share what will be in my carry-on suitcase for my week-long trip. Consider this a smart packing list for your own trip to Tulum, or to any tropical destination in the, hopefully, near future.

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Special Occasion Dinner Dress

Tulum’s beach strip is filled with trendy restaurants and bars, so it’s a good time to dress up if you plan to go out for a meal at night. Since I’ll likely spend my birthday dinner at the nearest hot spot, I’m packing at least one fancy dress that will make me feel fabulous. Currently, I’m gravitating towards frocks with sequins, cutouts, and elaborate details — like Markarian’s Brocade Mini Dress. Don’t be afraid to be a bit extra with your going-out look, especially if you’re celebrating an important occasion.

Jumpsuit For Beach Parties

At night, when I’m dancing in the sand at the beach parties, the last thing I want is to worry about my dress getting caught under someone’s foot. Hence, for these gatherings, I prefer to wear a one-piece outfit. I can still look effortless and dressy while feeling comfortable in a cutout jumpsuit like the one from Faithfull the Brand. Or, if I want to cover up my slightly sunburned shoulders, I’ll go for the chocolate-brown number from Fanm Mon.

Insta-Worthy (But Practical) Swimsuits

I’ve learned my lesson in packing swimsuits: While they may look great in an Instagram photo, they’re not always functional to swim in. For Tulum, I’m packing a mix of bikinis and one-pieces that are suited for both a photo session on the beach and for swimming in at the nearby cenotes. I can’t wait to sparkle (literally) in my Triangl bikini. Metallic swimwear was a major trend last summer that I missed out on so I’m more than ready to make up for it.

Mule Sandal

If you’re not renting a car, most people get around Tulum by biking, walking, or hailing a cab. Personally, I love to walk on foot down the strip (and in town) or hop on a cruiser bike. This means my carry-on luggage will not contain any stiletto heels. Instead, I’ll make do with mule sandals that have a slight heel (two-inches and under), but aren’t uncomfortable to stroll around in. In addition to a goes-with-everything neutral shoe, I’ll bring along more vibrant options like Rejina Pyo’s Malia Sandals.

Elevated Beach Slide

The one shoe style I wear the most in Tulum is a pair of easy slip-on slides. I prefer to pack elevated options that match with both my more casual and dressy outfits. (This also saves me a ton of space in my suitcase.) Look to Prada’s electric blue footwear for a luxe touch to your poolside look. If you’re worried about getting your slides wet, opt for Tory Burch’s pillowy, waterproof Shower Slides.

Matching Sets To Wear Into Town

Unlike the main beach strip, when you venture into town the vibe is more casual. The focus is less on what you’re wearing and more on what you’re consuming. (The food is better in town than on the strip, IMO.) Thus, I’m opting for one-and-done matching sets I can wear while eating al pastor tacos from Antojitos La Chiapaneca — they’re the best in the area. Any set with stretch and a loose fit will be perfect as I plan to also drink the night away with sugar cane margs at Batey’s.

Bucket Hat For Sun Protection

I don’t have a head for toppers except when it comes to bucket hats, so they’ve become my go-to regardless of the season. Because the weather will be hot and sticky in Tulum, I’ll opt for styles that provide breathability like Free People’s craftcore number. Bucket hats that come in fun colors and prints, too, can serve as the final statement accoutrement to any beach-ready ensemble.

Colorful Sunglasses

When I’m visiting a tropical destination, the environment inspires me to wear more color than I usually do. This bleeds into the type of sunglasses I pack because a simple black pair of shades won’t do. Instead, I’m loving the maximalist styles from the likes of Velvet Canyon and Nroda.

Goes-With-Everything Jewelry

I always overpack (and lose) jewelry on beach vacations, so this year I’m scaling back and bringing only the essentials. For me, this means packing a total of five jewelry pieces — from necklaces and rings to anklets — that I can wear with both my dinner outfits and bikinis. A pair of minimalist gold hoop earrings is a must as well as a more playful Y2K-inspired pick from the likes of Grigri or BONBONWHIMS.

Printed Button-Downs

To save space in my suitcase, I like to pack button-downs that double as a beach cover-up. I look for printed options that I normally don’t get to wear (because it’s winter in NYC) and they must also be lightweight. (The garment gets bonus fashion points if it also dries quickly when wet.) I’m not a tunic or sarong type of gal, so a casual shirt, like the picks below, helps me stay true to my personal style while I’m on vacation.

Backpack For Active Excursions

Although I’ll spend a majority of my time at the beach, I do love to partake in activities around Tulum like zip lining. For trips like this, it’s rather impractical for me to bring my tiny straw clutch or shoulder bag to contain my belongings in. I always bring a backpack, instead, for these more active excursions. Thankfully, these days, backpacks have become as stylish as any other going-out bag.