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What to wear when you don’t pack a swimsuit (and other bathing suit packing hacks)

what to wear instead of a swimsuit when traveling (+ more packing hacks)

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Going on vacation doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be needing a swimsuit. Not packing one will save you space in your bag, which is great until you are surprised by an opportunity to get in the water.

Don’t despair! Read on for ideas on what to wear as swimsuit alternatives, as well as more great bathing suit packing hacks.

Bathing Suit Hacks

We hate packing items “just in case” at HPL. It’s a sure-fire way to end up with a hard-to-carry bag or suitcase on the trip and a pile of packed-but-unused items when you return home.

If a trip doesn’t call for a dip in a pool or other body of water, it’s okay to leave the swimsuit behind. That said, it may be wise to think about packing other clothing necessities that could pull double-duty as swimwear in a pinch. (Hello, unexpected hot tub!)

It’ll definitely make you feel more prepared and more comfortable leaving the real swimsuit off your packing list.

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What can you wear instead of a bathing suit?

While you can technically dive into the deep end wearing anything- or nothing- some of these bathing suit hack ideas might be better considerations for your needs:

A sports bra and workout shorts

This combo has been a favorite for light packers over the years. Athletic wear is a great option because it’s usually made to withstand harsh use and will dry quickly

Board or basketball shorts will be the most versatile to pack because they can be used as day clothes, if needed. Tight exercise shorts, like bike shorts, can double as thigh-savers under skirts and dresses.

A darker-colored normal bra and underwear

This combo might work as a bikini substitute, but this would look more like you’re wearing actual underwear. They are also more likely to get saggy or see-through when wet.

Depending on who you’re with and where you are, this might not matter.

A swim dress or swim shirt/shorts worn as daywear

If you think water activities might be a possibility, but you don’t want to pack a bathing suit “just in case,” you could pack a swim dress or a swim shirt and shorts to use as normal clothes. Some options are very cute! That way, if you do end up swimming, you’ll have a swimsuit you feel good in. 

If you want to wear a swim dress as clothing, choose a darker color with no pattern or minimal embellishments. This will help it to look like a day dress instead of swimwear.

For cooler weather travel, searching for “modest bathing suits” or “swimwear for Muslims” will give you options for leggings and long-sleeved shirts that are designed to wear in the water and could double as daywear.

Alternatively, look into Nuu Muu running dresses! These exercise dresses work wonderfully in water when paired with bike shorts or leggings. The right dress could also act like an LBD.

NuuMuu Running Dresses can work as swimwear in a pinch!
Check out these awesome Nuu-Muu running dresses that can also act as swimwear.

Men’s swim trunks

Another idea is to integrate men’s swim trunks as sleep shorts, workout wear, thigh-savers, or a swimsuit bottom. I like cutting out the liner if I’m wearing them as daywear. 

The added bonus of wearing men’s swimming shorts is that they tend to have deeper pockets than women’s shorts.

If all else fails…

Buy a cheap bathing suit at your destination. It doesn’t have to be your favorite, just something that will serve the purpose. Remember, it’s the experience, not the clothes, that make the memories.

As a final suggestion, you could swim nude. Of course, be aware of your destination’s norms and your companion’s preferences before using this option. Don’t skimp on sunscreen!

Fabric considerations for your swimsuit alternatives

What makes a bathing suit good for wearing in the water?

You’ll want to consider the fabric of your swimsuit alternatives if you want to have the best experience. Here are some things to consider:

  • Avoid loose fabrics – The fabric and styles of swimsuits are typically designed to fit closely to your body when they get wet. Loose clothing creates drag which can make it harder to swim if you get caught in a current or have another water emergency.
  • Avoid cotton – If you’ve ever worn a cotton t-shirt to swim in, you’ll know how heavy it can get and how hard it can be to move in. It also dries slowly compared to normal swimsuit fabric. Most swimsuits dry in a few hours when wrung out and hung to dry in the sun.
  • Opacity – Whatever you choose should be opaque, even when wet. Bathing suits often have a lining to keep your skin and hair from showing through the suit. Something like normal underwear might fit closely and dry quickly, but it might also become translucent when wet. Darker colors are less likely to become see-through so make better swimwear alternatives.
  • Water source – Will chlorine and other chemicals or heat from a hot tub discolor or damage your clothing? Will the minerals and sand in the ocean damage your clothes? Our advice is to wear something that you won’t be upset about if it gets damaged.

When using something that’s not a swimsuit, try to find clothes with similar characteristics to bathing suit fabric, fit, and function.

Or just pack a swimsuit!

Here are some tips for when you actually pack a bathing suit.

Bathing Suit Packing Tips (and Hacks!)

How to pack a wet swimsuit

The easiest way to pack a wet swimsuit is in a zippered plastic bag, like a Ziploc, or a wet bag. There are lots of companies that offer different sizes of zippered waterproof pouches in fun colors and patterns. Search for “cosmetic bag,” “toiletry bag,” and “small diaper bag” for options.

Wet Bag Options for Packing Your Swimsuit

Matador Droplet water-resistant stuff sack for wet swimwear
Matador Droplet Water-Resistant Stuff Sack


Stasher Bag for wet swimwear
Stasher Bag


rainbow stripe wet bag by fashionable farm girl etsy
Wet Bag from Fashionable Farm Girl on Etsy


If you didn’t plan on having to pack a wet bathing suit, a plastic grocery bag would also work to keep your wet clothes separated from the dry ones. Roll up your swimsuit in a towel to squeeze out as much water as possible. Tie off the bag to keep your damp clothes from falling out. 

If you’re very concerned about getting your other clothes wet, you could tie the grocery bag onto the outside of your luggage.

In fact, if your mode of transportation accommodates it, you could even use a carabiner to clip your wet swimsuit to the outside of your bag to dry during travel. How good are carabiner clips?!

Another option for packing a wet bathing suit is to try drying it with a hair dryer. This option would be best for when you have plenty of time before you need to leave. At the very least, using a hair dryer could dry your swimsuit enough to keep it from soaking your other clothes.

Be aware that the heat from the hair dryer could damage your bathing suit, especially if you keep the heat in one spot for too long.

As a last resort, wrap your bathing suit in a towel or t-shirt that you don’t mind getting wet. The clothes closest to the towel might get a bit damp, but this should keep anything from getting soaked. Again, roll your swimsuit in a towel first to get rid of as much water as possible before packing it.

Whatever packing method you choose, be sure to remove the wet bathing suit as soon as possible so it doesn’t build up a nasty, musty odor. Yuck.

How many bathing suits should you bring?

In most cases, you’ll only need to pack one swimsuit. If you know that you’ll be in the water all the time, you might be more comfortable bringing two bathing suits. That way, you should always have a dry one to change into.

Here’s a tip to help you bring two swimsuits while still packing light: Incorporate the bathing suit into your normal travel wardrobe. For example, wear a tankini top as a tank top or camisole.

If you simply want the look of packing multiple swimsuits, try a reversible swimsuit!

What to Wear at the Beach When You Don’t Have a Bathing Suit (and aren’t swimming)

On a water vacation when you don’t want to swim or wear a bathing suit, you still have options for staying cool and looking beachy.

The first thing to decide is: Do you want your skin covered or exposed? 

If you prefer to cover more skin, try a t-shirt dress or a t-shirt with shorts, a skirt, or loose pants. You might like a swim shirt that has long sleeves but is made to keep you cool. These shirts often have UV protection built in.

These options are also great for any type of travels in the Australian summer or other destinations where the sun is harsher.

coolibar sun-protective clothing for wearing at the beach
Coolibar sun-protective clothing for wearing at the beach. Check these out on Amazon: Seacoast Swim Cover-Up Dress, Shelly Shapeable Travel Hat, Sanibel Everyday Beach Shawl

If you like to keep even more covered, consider wearing looser clothing in lightweight fabrics. Loose clothing allows for airflow while the longer sleeves and pant legs will help protect your skin from the sun. Of course, you will still get exposed to UV rays through the clothing, but covering up offers more protection than bare skin.

If you find loose clothing designed to protect against UV radiation, that’s even better!

If you like to feel the sun and breeze on your skin, consider wearing a convertible skirt worn as a strapless dress, a tank top or sports bra with shorts or a skirt, or a sports bra and underwear covered by a pareo or skirt.

Finish off your outfit with a straw hat or packable sun hat to keep cool while protecting your scalp from sunburn and sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV damage. 

And of course, always wear sunscreen on any skin that is exposed to the sun.

Even if you didn’t pack a bathing suit, don’t despair!

You can still get in the water with these swimsuit hacks. And if you did pack a bathing suit, you now have tips for how to pack a swimsuit without getting the rest of your clothes wet.

Happy water travels!

Written by Jill

Jill Hames is a freelance writer, musician, and ESL teacher who, at the age of four, said she wanted to learn every language in the world. She hasn’t managed that yet, but is proud to have taught herself enough Swahili to understand context from native speakers. She's too busy having fun with music and language to be found online.

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Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

Handbag Packing Masterclass – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing class run by HPL founder, Brooke.

Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)

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