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The Best New York Packing List for Summer

When in doubt, vacation. I was lucky enough to find this piece in Spain recently, and it’s basically my life motto. Tomorrow I’m leaving for New York and I couldn’t be more stressed. 

I have SOOO much work to do while I’m flying across the pond, school is right around the corner, and I’m torn between taking a carry-on (my go-to) or a medium-sized suitcase to smuggle all of my favorite American goodies. IT’S JUST SO HARD GUYS. 

I am definitely always here for packing light and saving money on those annoying airline baggage fees, but when the opportunity arises to bring all those American favorites back with me, it’s hard to resist the extra fees. That being said, I am a slave to budget travel, so carry-on luggage it is!

So let’s start with the basics, shall we? I’ve curated the ultimate carry-on packing guide for a summer in New York so all of my international readers know exactly what to expect when they come about…. Rain. You should be expecting rain.

When it comes to packing for summer in New York City, it’s a tale of two halves: rain and humidity. You’ll either be roasting alive or getting drowned in the rain. Either way, you want lightweight, breathable fabrics and a rain cover close at hand!

After four years of hard times in Boston for college, I became pretty aware of how lucky I was to grow up in California, where there’s zero chance of rain on an everyday basis.  You have one wardrobe that will last you year-round. It just made sense. 

Packing for New York is not so easy, but there’s a simple break down on how you can bring everything you need in a carry-on, or smaller. Take it from me, I’m a carry-on packing pro!

1) Rain Shell (Not a Jacket)

The East coast is hot as HELL during the summer because of the unforgiving humidity.  It’ll just rain and thunder randomly too, super casual.  

To keep dry without melting under the humidity, try buying a wind and water-resistant shell to wear over your normal clothing.  It should be super light and easily folded up and shoved into a medium-sized backpack or purse.

I’d say bring an umbrella, but in a city as busy as New York, you’re likely going to spend more time moving it around to avoid poking locals in the eye. Rain shells are crucial for New York in the summer, and you can get plenty of cute ones nowadays that fold up into basically nothing. That’s what we want to see!

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2) Sleeveless Vest

This is CRITICAL for those odd mornings where you’re on your way to yoga, but your organs are cold… but it’s still hot? and you just can’t decide whether or not to wear something with sleeves.

Dramatic, but definitely probable.  Vests are also a good way to keep your phone/valuables close to you to avoid pickpockets in the subway!

They’re also a lot smaller and more lightweight than bringing a full jacket or extra layer, so they take up less space in your day bag if you want to take them off and carry them around with you.

You can get some lightweight and cute versions from a lot of different activewear stores, so you can match it to your existing wardrobe and look like the ideal put-together New York native. Comfort and style without having to sacrifice pockets? I am in love.

3) Pants/Shorts You Can Wear on a Fat Day

Nothing kills a good mood faster than a good fashion FAT DAY and when you’re on the road, it’s annoying to have to hit a shopping mall or boutique store to buy more things that you don’t need or have a budget for.

Since you’re practicing minimalism anyway, leave the dream jeans at home for another time when you have more wardrobe flexibility and bring only the pieces that are the most faithful during dire times of need.

Besides, who wants to wear jeans when it’s either super humid or raining all the time? Not me. I want to be cute and comfortable all the time.

That’s my aesthetic, especially when I’m traveling in the summertime. I also want to enjoy that $2 New York pizza and big glasses of crisp, refreshing wine, and we all know that tight jeans are not sympathetic to that kind of NYC summertime dream.

4) Shoes: Heels, Track Shoes, & Sandals

I hate wearing heels with the very core of my being; but with that being said, some posh NYC establishments will not allow you in without heels. Whomp. Bring a classic pair of black or nude heels for nights out, track shoes for walking around and sports, and sandals for rainy days or casual wear.  

Heeled boots are a great option if you want to stay comfy and hit the criteria to get into the fancier New York restaurants, bars, and clubs. Sandals are a great option, but closed-toed shoes might be a good idea if you don’t accidentally want to get your feet stomped on in the crowds around the popular sights or if you’re trying to get to a busy bar in the downtown area. 

Bringing a large chunky pair of rain-boots will be difficult to carry during your travels AND they will smell hella bad after a while because of humidity. My advice? Bring a pair of non-leather sandals that can be worn while you’re running from bar to bar under the cover of a damp newspaper when it’s raining. Or stay in and watch Netflix instead.

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5) 3 Day-to-Night Transition Pieces

There’s something about a good dress that can transition from day to night seamlessly without a second guess.  

The perfect day dress or romper could be worn to a last-minute Tinder date or to lunch with your Mom, but it’s sure damn hard to find these flawless pieces! Invest a few D2N transition pieces so you won’t have to second guess your daily schedule when scheduling meetings and dinner with your besties.

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6) Packing Strategy

Opt-in for a military-inspired packing regimen that involves rolling clothing into tiny tacos and then playing Tetris with the different pieces. In the softest part of your carry-on suitcase, pack all of your malleable clothing (i.e. not shoes) so you can keep everything clean and away from your potentially dirty shoes.  

This will also maximize the amount of space you’ll have on the bigger side of the carry-on for bulky items.  When you start packing the bulky items, save your underwear, socks, and trinkets for the end to shove in between the empty cracks and crevices.

7. Keep Your Technology and Important Items in a Backpack

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I always try to avoid separating my super important items and documents whenever possible. Someone could easily swipe your rolling luggage, but a backpack (that’s on your back) will always be 12 times harder to steal.

Play it safe by keeping your most important documents and technology physically touching your skin when traveling through New York, because you just never know what might happen.

A SUPER safe travel hack would be to keep your phone in your bra for easy access, but keep in mind that you’re probably sweating, and that sweat could lead to future water damage to your phone… I know this because it happened to me.

8. Dress Like a Local

This is a great rule for traveling anywhere, but especially in somewhere as tourist-heavy as New York City. You can spot tourists a mile off with their dad shorts, New Balance trainers, and fanny packs. If you can spot the tourist, you can bet that any pickpocket can do the same. 

Don’t make yourself a target, and leave the fanny pack at home. Bring a normal handbag, backpack, or purse. By and large, wear the same kinds of stuff that you’d wear in the summer months at home so that you look like you fit in.

Not only will you be more comfortable, but you’ll end up feeling safer. 

9. Buy Toiletries When You Get There

Carry-ons have tiny toiletry allowances, it’s super annoying. Luckily, you’re in one of the most shopping-friendly cities in the world.

Buy your shampoo, conditioner, and other toiletries when you get to the city. It’ll save much-needed space and weight in your carry-on, which you can fill up with more clothes and shoes!

10. Cycle Shorts Will Save Your Life

Right, it’s no secret that New York in the summer is a sweaty hellfire of a city. If you want to look cute in dresses and skirts, it’s going to be kind of inevitable that you’re going to fall victim to the dreaded chub rub. Nothing ruins a summer trip quicker than having to waddle around the city like a duck.

Enter the game in shorts. These shorts are everywhere now, you can wear them on your own, dress them up, or wear them underneath midi or maxi dresses to stop your thighs from sticking together.

They’re the most underrated piece of clothing in any travel carry-on, and I don’t go anywhere hot without them.

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Five Extra Packing Tips for New York in the Summer

Let’s finish off with a few final packing tips for spending the summer in the Big Apple. You can thank me later!

1. Bring Versatile Options

One of the best tips I can ever give for traveling with just a carry-on is to bring plenty of versatile options. I’ve mentioned dressing for day to night, but make sure you can swap and change your tops and bottoms between each other so you can get multiple outfits out of a few key pieces.

Also, if you’re staying in a place with a washing machine, take advantage. Things get sweaty in the city in the summer, so you can bring less stuff and still feel fresh and clean while you explore all the amazing sights.

2. Breathable Fabrics are Your Friend

If you want to stay cool in New York City, you’re going to want to bring plenty of breathable fabrics. Athleisure is a great option if you’re planning on doing a lot of walking, and you can always dress these options up.

You don’t want to wear anything that’ll keep you warm, so no wool blends or anything like that. Denim also isn’t great for this, so maybe leave the denim shorts at home and swap out your jeans for something more lightweight and cute, like breezy linen pants or cute skirts. 

3. Small Bags are Best

One of the easiest ways to look like a tourist is to wander around with a giant bag. Yes, you want to keep your valuables on your person, but you don’t want to look like you’re about to go backpacking around midtown.

Bring a small crossbody bag for going out around town that can fit your passport, wallet, keys, and other small essentials in it. Also, bringing a light jacket with a lot of secure pockets is always a good idea.

Big, bulky bags are not only heavy and cumbersome, but they also stand out, and that’s not always a good thing!

4. Pack Light and You Can Buy the Rest

I’ve mentioned that you can buy stuff like toiletries when you get to the city, but honestly, if you forget things don’t worry – New York is full of amazing stores where you can get essentials in a pinch.

If you’re unsure whether you’re going to need something, leave it at home, you can always go out and get it if you’re really in need.

Firsthand, I know all about this. My luggage got lost when I went to New York once, and the rush around Macy’s for underwear and vest tops was real. This is a pretty extreme example, but if you want to pack light, there’s plenty of opportunity to buy more stuff when you get there.

5. Comfy Shoes are the Best Thing You Can Bring

I cannot overstate this enough, comfy shoes are the best thing that you can bring to New York City during the summer. You might want to look the part with heels and fancy shoes, but walk three blocks and then ask yourself if it was really worth it or not. 

With the heat and the amount of exploring you’re going to be doing, you’re definitely going to want to bring sneakers or other comfortable shoes that you’ve already broken in before you travel. Do not try and break them in while you’re in the city, you will be full of blisters, and there’s only so much that plasters can do after the fact!

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Pack Now for New York City!

So, if you’re thinking of heading out to New York City during the summer, learn from my years of experience and pack accordingly. I love exploring New York, but dressing for the summer season can be tricky. I get it!

No one wants to be running around the city when the humidity is criminally high. Pack lightweight clothing and comfy shoes, and make sure you can switch up your outfits from day to night in a pinch. I’ve got you.

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