Mexico Travel

Mexico Packing List: What Worked and What Didn’t

February 9, 2015

This is the last post I’m going to squeeze out of my Mexico travels, I swear. But for once, I impressed myself with my own packing efficiency and style. My goals for this packing list were twofold:  To avoid looking like a tourist (to the extent possible one can with blonde hair in Mexico) and to fit everything into a carry-on. For the most part, I feel like I succeeded. Now I think I have a good grip on what works for the different types of weather and altitudes in Mexico, what’s comfortable enough to wear for a full day of walking, and what doesn’t make you look like an absolute dweeb in a foreign country (no white tennis shoes were packed, guys).

So this is my packing list for the colonial city of Guanajuato, the beaches of Huatulco, a Mexican wedding in Celaya, and Oaxaca at the end of October.

Before my trip, I found this post from Travel Fashion Girl which contains some tips for attire in the cities and beaches of Mexico. It provided me some inspiration for outfits included in my own Mexico packing list, which I’ve fine-tuned a bit since my trip.

Below are the things I ended up wearing or using a ton, along with a list of what I totally could’ve left at home.

Basic Staples

Solid tanks, a white T, and skinny jeans or jeggings. I know, such a profound idea. Throw in a maxi skirt and a black, racerback maxi dress and there you have it, my uniform for the trip.

I found that having solid, basic tops that I could wear repeatedly, paired with summer scarves (2 from Bevello), worked best. I had a stretchy, black tank from Old Navy that I wore with a maxi skirt for two days of the trip – I wish I’d bought that tank in every color dammit. I also brought my favorite shirt ever – a soft white James Perse T-Shirt (found at TJ Maxx) that I wore multiple times with jeggings or some skinny black pants like these, but from H&M. A Free People asymmetrical tank was great for pairing with those same jeans or a pair of jeggings… and it was loose enough to accommodate our constant eating. My long black maxi dress from H&M was a good call too – and especially versatile for the day that involved flying to Oaxaca, wandering for hours, and eating a fancy dinner out. I know, I know, these aren’t exactly fabulous brands, but I don’t really buy nice things you guys.

In the realm of shoes, I packed Rainbow flip flops, black Bamboo sandals (found at Rugged Warehouse for $4, you know, for more dressy occasions where flip flops aren’t acceptable), and gray Toms. I also had to pack a pair of heels (and a nice dress) for Bertha’s wedding, but there’s really no reason for heels in Mexico. Yes, all of the local women love them, but I personally felt like I’d just hurt myself trying to walk around in public in them. And while you’re at it, tennis shoes aren’t everyday apparel here either. I bought that pair of Tom’s specifically for this trip. I needed something that would be comfortable for walking around a lot, but as with traveling anywhere, something that didn’t scream, “I’m a huge goober carrying around tons of cash!”

Pants, Not Shorts

I know what you might be thinking. It’s Mexico, why are you wearing jeggings you fool? Well, although I cannot explain to you the reasoning behind it, Mexicans do not wear shorts that often. After speaking with some locals on this topic and doing some Internet research, it seems that Americans (and Australians!) are pretty much the only folks who do wear shorts in public all the time. Of course, I did wear shorts at the beach where it’s more common. Obviously it’s hot as hell on the beaches in Mexico and there are lots more tourists on the coast, but in the cities, you want to look a little more… fashionable? European? I don’t know, but just say no to the shorts unless you want to look like a painfully obvious tourist.

So I Bought Some Accessories There

I couldn’t help but buy some things for my wardrobe in Mexico (because souvenirs). I got a flowy navy scarf with skulls on it for 60 pesos (~$4) on the street in Guanajuato and, of course, a fedora for 80 pesos (~6) which I proceeded to wear everywhere – it really made me feel like a seasoned, fancy traveler. In reality, I’m sure it made me look even more touristy, but it also made it that much easier to not wash my hair.

The Best Carry-On

I got a sweet Samsonite, hard-sided 20″ spinner carry-on from TJ Maxx (see a trend here?) for $80 before we left. It’s silver with brown leather accents and it is a beauty. More than being aesthetically pleasing, it’s super convenient, as it spins and glides around the airports with ease and holds up on cobblestone streets. If you’re not taking a backpack, one of these is your best friend. It fits a ton and can even expand. Just don’t pay full price for one because they can be outrageously priced. I’m posting a similar one in the collage below since I can’t seem to find the color I bought anywhere on the Internets but this Samsonite 20″ spinner is extremely close (same interior and everything). But trust me, these things are so practical. Charlie was so jealous. Aside from that, I’d recommend the Le Pliage Longchamp Tote in large (I got navy); I have it in navy and have used it for law school, for work, and for every flight I’ve been on in the past few years.

Things I Packed That I Didn’t Wear

Jean shorts. I know. It’s in my “About Me” – I love jean shorts. I don’t know if they were just in the bottom of my bag and didn’t catch my eye or what. But even at the beach where it would have been socially acceptable to wear my perfectly worn out, sorority hand-me-down, loose J. Crew jean shorts, I did not break them out once. I blame it on the heat, humidity, and constant sweating. This gave me an extreme fear of chafing – it’s a real thing. Also, the sand. We went to the beaches every day, and I just couldn’t bear the thought of sandy jean shorts combined with walking unknown distances. I threw on my quick-drying Patagonia shorts instead.

Denim Shirt. This is a toss-up. I definitely could’ve worn this on the chillier nights in Celaya or Guanajuato, but I ended up wearing my beige, open-front Gap sweater instead. I just didn’t want to be locked into wearing long sleeves all day, as it was usually warm or hot in the daytime and cooler during the nights in Guanajuato and Oaxaca.

Leather Jacket. Okay, this was a stupid call. Shouldn’t have packed it. I did wear it to dinner in Oaxaca one night, but it was mostly just to get SOME use out of it and to avoid wearing that same damn sweater. I’m pretty sure Charlie told me it was unnecessary and/or stupid-looking.

Black Pashmina. Brought it for the wedding. Turns out you don’t have to cover up for all Catholic ceremonies and it didn’t get old enough to need it at the reception that night.

Good Ideas

Anti-Itch Stick or Ointment. I got bitten my SO many mosquitoes in Mexico. I don’t know if it was my blood type, or what I was eating, but I got eaten alive. Multiple times I thought, “If there is a rampant mosquito-transmitted disease going around in Mexico right now, I surely have it.” I counted thirty bites on my legs alone after we arrived in Oaxaca. Some nights at the beach I would stay awake because I was itching and constantly scratching. We brought a little stick called “StingEze” but I’d totally recommend any type of after-bite, anti-itch medication. Jeez. It was a life saver.

Minimal jewelry. I packed one bracelet and a cheap pair of stud earrings. Why bother packing, untangling, and worrying about losing unnecessary stuff? I didn’t even bring my watch.

Small, cross-body purse. I bought a small, black, two-zipper bag ($27) from Bevello before we left. It was so nice not to have a heavy purse to carry around all day and it really helped me minimize what I normally carry in my pocketbook. Cash, Charles Schwab debit card (no ATM fees or international fees), iPhone, chapstick, done. Also, the strap was removable so it became a decently dressy clutch for the wedding festivities.

Not Pictured

Way too many bathing suits. Pajamas. Underwear. Cheap $5 sundress from H&M that’s on its last leg. A raincoat (debate-ably necessary – it sprinkled once and I wore it out one night when it got chilly). Two books: Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer and To Hellholes and Back, both solid, hilarious, travel-related reads by Chuck Thompson.

A few of the links above are Amazon affiliate links to the exact products I packed, used, and recommend. Those below this point are just links to Polyvore and may not be exactly what I brought, but super similar.

What Else I Should’ve Packed

Nothing. Well, maybe a nice cover-up. Instead I threw on Patagonia shorts, aforementioned ratty sundress, and a sheer black tank top that has no valid place in my wardrobe and should probably be thrown out. You know, the good stuff.

If you want to see more of the items in my bag now that I’ve been on the road for some time, check out my South America Packing List and my Travel Gear page.

Mexico Packing List: Guanajuato to the Coast to Oaxaca


Note: This is my first attempt at using Polyvore to make a collage or “set” as they call them, and it’s amateur so I apologize. While many of the items are the exact ones I packed, some are just lookalikes. And if you know me, you know I’d never spend $90 on a tank top. Also, you should never do that. And that the cross body purse was actually black and costs $27, not $100 like it says. Lots of things were picked up at TJ Maxx for much cheaper. And I got the Ray Bans on Ebay. I’m not fancy.


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  • Reply Yvonne @ Lost with Yvonne February 10, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    I love reading what other travelers wear on trips. I agree that solid and basic colors are the way to go when it comes to clothing and doing the bare minimum. Loved your travel outfit choices.
    Yvonne @ Lost with Yvonne recently posted…Meeting Samantha Brown – My Travel IdolMy Profile

    • Reply Rachel February 11, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      The solid tops were so crucial. And oh my gosh, you met Samantha Brown?! That’s awesome. Reading that post now…

  • Reply Sara @ Simply Sara Travel February 10, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    What a cute and useful post! I love how you get right down to the nitty-gritty of what worked and what didn’t! I am definitely realizing over the past few years that you really don’t need to pack that much – I like to pick either brown or black shoes and stick to that color scheme. Like you, I like to stick to solid colors and bring a scarf or two to add some color.

    I was surprised that shorts aren’t a thing in Mexico – never would have thought! Thanks for filling me in 🙂
    Sara @ Simply Sara Travel recently posted…Simply Sara Eats: in WarsawMy Profile

    • Reply Rachel February 11, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Yeah, haha I’m not ashamed to admit I packed a couple of useless items. I’m getting a lot better at minimizing, though it did take a lot of convincing to get the boyfriend to believe he could really get everything in a carry-on.

      So the shorts thing – I’d read about it beforehand, and then it proved to be really true. I have no idea why. Must not be fashionable in Mexico. It’s not frowned upon or anything, just an obviously touristy thing to wear. So odd.

  • Reply Anna | slightly astray February 11, 2015 at 4:26 am

    I had some of the same realizations for Santiago, Chile! I packed leggings, skinny jeans, denim shorts, and a cute dress. It was REALLY hot some days, but absolutely nobody there wore dresses or shorts, so I spent the whole time sweating in leggings and long tanks. And ended up sending back the clothes I wasn’t wearing. I brought a chambray jacket too, and loved it for wearing with black leggings!
    Anna | slightly astray recently posted…January 2015 travel re-cap: month of the best food ever!!My Profile

    • Reply Rachel February 11, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      Yeah, I noticed it was the same in Argentina too, lots of pants. Though living there as a 20-21 year old, I’m sure I cluelessly wore some terrible ensembles!

      I am a huge fan of leggings (they ARE pants!) with long tops, though I’ve struggled recently finding tops and tanks that are longgg enough. That is the ideal travel outfit! (I’m doing it in the winter here with flannel shirts. It’s pretty much all I wear.)

  • Reply Anna | The Blonde Banana February 17, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    Completely agree on not needing a jacket – I packed one on my trip to Yucatan and never used it once!
    Anna | The Blonde Banana recently posted…48 Hours in Tulum, Mexico: Paradise an Hour From CancunMy Profile

    • Reply Rachel February 19, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      Definitely. I wore a rain jacket once and a light sweater was about all I needed for the cooler evenings. But at the beach – totally unnecessary. Hot as hell.

  • Reply Laura March 4, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    Really detailed post! I am really trying to do better with looking fashionable when I travel, so it’s nice to see what other people do. I also pretty much only bring a carryon bag so it’s good to know you can still bring a decent wardrobe if you plan well enough!
    Laura recently posted…Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff, Yoho and Lake LouiseMy Profile

    • Reply Rachel March 7, 2015 at 5:30 pm

      Yeah, I hear you with the trying to be more fashionable. I struggle with the desire not to look like a tourist and also wanting to bring athletic, sporty practical clothes. Somewhere in there, I just hope I can look a little bit stylish.

  • Reply Monica March 25, 2016 at 12:26 am

    Hi, I know this post is over a year old, but it’s my first time seeing it (researching packing for my upcoming Mexico, Central and South America trip).
    I found this post very helpful; thank you.
    About the shorts: I live in Houston, and I never wear shorts. A lot of people do, but it’s normal to see pants every single day on tons of people. One reason for it here, I think, is because A/C is so cool indoors, and most of us are going from our house, to our car, to a building. Another reason is that it protects your legs from bug bites and sun exposure. Lastly, you just plain get acclimated to the heat 🙂 Besides all of that dress>>>shorts, by a landslide.

    • Reply Rachel March 26, 2016 at 2:32 am

      Thanks Monica! I knew ahead of time that shorts weren’t a thing there, but I was surprised that I never wore them except at the beach. And my jean shorts not once! (Though I did end up wearing them on my South America trip.) Shorts are SUPER common in North Carolina. Let me know if you have any questions!

  • Reply Manuel Monge February 19, 2017 at 12:45 am

    As a mexican (living in Mexico, Mazatlan) this post is like the typical white american tourist, Mexico is HUGE ok? is not only the beaches and a couple of colonial towns, NO!, you cant put all Mexico in a package, if you travel to Puebla, Mexico City, Zacatecas, Durango, you are going to need cold climate clothes, if you travel to a beach city, shorts are ok, you are putting Mexico as a small country with only hot climate so stop stereotyping us, like most of your post based in Mexico (that we are lazy, violent and not punctual) miss american perfect lady!

    • Reply Rachel February 19, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      Hey Manuel, thanks for reading! I stated the destinations I visited so that people would know what climates I was packing for. Obviously in two weeks I wasn’t able to visit the whole of Mexico (because, as you say, it’s huge) since this trip was planned around a friend’s wedding in Celaya. I said shorts were okay at the beach – I’m not sure you read my post? Mexicans in the cities just seemed to dress a little nicer than Americans at home, so pants and long skirts worked better in Oaxcaa and Guanajuato where it also got a little colder at night. I loved Mexico and I don’t believe I ever said anything stereotypical about the country – I never met anyone violent or lazy there for sure.

  • Reply Karen August 7, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    We are going to zacatecas next week. Ideas for evening restaurant dress. I don’t wear dresses. In a pants, tee and sweater girl who is over 60! Ugh. No old lady clothes. Help.

    • Reply Rachel August 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      Sorry Karen, I’m probably really late on this. I’d say maybe a pair of black jeans would be fine (skinny jeans maybe?), or any sort of leggings and long top. A nice pair of jeans will be fine most places unless they’re super fancy! I also like long skirts, but not sure if you’d put them in the same category as dresses!

  • Reply Karen August 7, 2017 at 7:32 pm


  • Reply Matt @ Pickleball November 20, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Good advice about wearing pants and not shorts…not just in Mexico but traveling in general good to have at least a light pair of pants. I was in Rome, summer, super hot…wearing short and couldn’t get into some churches .
    Matt @ Pickleball recently posted…Pickleball Clothing & Apparel | Best Women’s Pickleball Skirts & SkortsMy Profile

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