Anticipate toting wet items.
Consider a wheelie bag designed specifically for trips where water is involved. Brands like Timbuk2 (www.timbuk2.com) and Eagle Creek (www.eaglecreek.com) make versions with separate lined pockets for damp items like bathing suits.
When you're traveling by car and have more room, an easy way to carry wet items home is in a heavy-duty garbage bag. "Just dump all the wet towels, bathing suits, and other items in there -- just remember to dump them in the wash as soon as you get back home," says Elizabeth Thorp, founder of Poshbrood.com (www.poshbrood.com).
Plastic grocery bags will also do the trick for smaller items like clothing and bathing suits, so it's always good to stash a few inside your beach tote. You might want to pick up a few reusable wet bags if you travel to the beach often. Planet Wise (http://planetwiseinc.com) makes zippered styles with more than one compartment.
Go for brightly colored extras.
Opt for a beach tote in standout colors or patterns so it's easier to spot on a crowded beach. The best beach totes have lots of pockets inside and out. Choose lightweight canvas, straw, mesh, or nylon beach bags.
The same goes for beach towels and mats. If you're traveling by car, bring enough for each family member and at least one extra. If you're flying, don't bother -- use the ones provided at your hotel or pick up a cheap one at your destination.
Another great item to bring is a soft, insulated tote for snacks and drinks. It's less bulky than a cooler and easier to carry with you to the beach. "I love Scout bags by Bungalow (www.bungalowco.com)," says Poshbrood's Elizabeth Thorp. "They make a whole bunch of cool, insulated totes that are super lightweight and the fabrics are so fun."
Keep your bathing suit with you.
You don't want to lose precious hours taking in the sun and sand if your luggage is lost or delayed -- or if your hotel room isn't ready when you arrive. Wear your swimsuit on the plane underneath your clothes, or pack it in your carry-on and place it at the very top. Remember to bring a spare bathing suit so you can alternate between the two while one is drying.
Wear versatile shoes and sandals.
With the goal of being ready beach-ready on the plane in mind, wear sandals or slip-on canvas sneakers. TOMS (www.toms.com), Converse (www.converse.com), and Sanuk (www.sanuk.com) all make stylish options that are perfect for the beach. Go with sneakers if you want to keep your feet covered, and stash a clean pair of socks in your personal bag for extra warmth.
It's always a good idea to bring a pair of flip-flops, but you may want to stick to a neutral color like black, brown, or metallic gold or silver. They will be more versatile than a pair in a bright color and will work in different settings. Jeweled sandals are an easy way for women to add glamour to a beach outfit.
Cover your gadgets, or invest in waterproof versions.
Be sure to protect any gadgets from water and sand damage. Keep items like your cell phone and camera either in a lined pocket of your beach tote or in a separate waterproof camera case. Ziploc bags also work great, as do plastic makeup bags.
It's also a good idea to use waterproof covers whenever possible. M-Edge (www.medgestore.com) makes such cases for e-readers and tablets, and DiCAPac (www.dicapac.com) makes waterproof covers for cameras and cell phones.
You may also want to consider investing in gadgets that are actually waterproof. Companies like Kodak (www.kodak.com) and Sony (www.sony.com) make waterproof cameras and camcorders. You can also find waterproof speakers and MP3 players from brands like Speedo (www.speedo.com), H2O Audio(www.h2oaudio.com), and Grace Digital Audio (www.gracedigitalaudio.com).
Air-tight pouches, cases, and Ziploc bags are great for protecting your tech while you're outside, but be careful when returning to your air-conditioned hotel room. Moisture buildup in the bag caused by the change in temperature may damage your gadgets. As soon as you get inside, take items out of their bags and cases and allow them to cool until they reach room temperature before turning them on.
Cover up, and don't forget to wear sunscreen.
Cover-up pieces should be made of thin, cool fabrics like cotton or linen, and slip on and off easily. At the very least, bring enough sunscreen to get you through the first few days of your trip. If you are going to be at your destination longer, it's usually best to just buy larger bottles while you're there.
Drugstores typically stock travel sizes of popular brands like Aveeno (www.aveeno.com) and Neutrogena (www.neutrogena.com). If you can't find the brand you like in a tiny bottle, buy an empty one and fill it yourself.
If you have sensitive skin, you'll want to bring separate formulas for your body and face. Be sure to test out any new sunscreen products at home before you travel. Irritated skin is an easy way to put a damper on your trip. Don't forget to bring lip balm with SPF, too. Lips burn easily.
Try sunscreen towelettes.
Sunscreen towelettes (wipes that are pre-moistened with sunscreen) are another great option. They're easy to use and they won't count toward your allotted liquids. Supergoop! (www.supergoop.com) is one brand that makes packages in different sizes. If you prefer individually-packaged wipes check out the La Fresh (www.lafreshgroup.com) brand.
When you're packing bottles of liquid sunscreen (especially if you're toting full-size bottles), be sure to pack them carefully so they don't explode all over your clothes. Avoid this by placing a couple of pieces of tape over the top of each of your bottles. Once you've taped each of your bottles, place them in a Ziploc bag. Don't pack them in a fancy toiletry bag.
Remember a pair of sunglasses.
Bring at least one pair of sunglasses with you, but if you have room, it's always good to have a backup. Consider bringing a cheaper pair if you plan to do anything more active than sunbathe.
Pick shades that have 99% UVA and UVB ray protection, especially when you're wearing them outside for prolonged periods of time. Unless it's a brand you trust, ignore those "UV protection" stickers. They aren't regulated, so anyone can slap one on. Instead, get the lenses tested by an optician (it's usually free) to make sure they're safe.
Don't forget a hat.
If you sunburn easily, wear a hat for added sun protection. Go for a chic straw hat or a lightweight cotton or canvas version. Brands like San Diego Hat Company (www.sandiegohat.com) make stylish, versatile options that are specially made to block UV rays.
In general, leave anything home that you'd be devastated to lose, but do bring jewelry like beaded bracelets and statement necklaces. They're an easy way to kick casual outfits up a notch, especially if you plan on going out to dinner or out dancing.