Pack Smarter to Save at All-Inclusives

Pack SmartNo, this isn’t going to be a post about how I put breakfast and booze in my suitcase to save money. That kind of packing isn’t necessary here. We’re taking Mr. P’s favorite kind of trip where he can eat so much that people marvel at his ability to not throw up: an international all-inclusive vacation. Now let’s talk packing.

While this is only our third all-inclusive vacation, we’ve gotten pretty good at packing to save some serious cash. First things first. If you’re looking at your suitcase and wondering how everything will fit, let me help. Pack half as much clothing and twice as much money as you think you’ll need. I’m serious. No one cares if you wear the same dress or swim trunks two days in a row. You’re headed on vacation to make memories, not to have a fashion show. Plus, it’ll be hot. And humid. And there’s probably a pool with a swim-up bar and a bartender who your husband will spend more time socializing with than you. I kid. We both socialize with the bartender.

Now, I’m not going to detail every single thing we pack. Instead, I want to highlight what has made our traveling much more pleasant and what has given me a lot of peace of mind. Whether you’re planning on playing beach bum for a week straight or headed out on a bunch of adventures, don’t forget these essentials:

Sun & Pests

  • Sunscreen
  • Aloe
  • Bug spray
  • After-Bite/itch relief

I’ve seen sunscreen, aloe, and bug spray sell for over $30 a bottle each. Ouch. In fact, two years ago, our resort in Punta Cana actually sold out of their sunscreens above 15 SPF. You’ll also want to do your research. There are many places that request or require biodegradeable reef-safe sunscreen. You can scoop up a bottle at Whole Foods for about $8 or you could order online. And Whole Paycheck’s prices pale in comparison to what I watched people pay for one little blob at a cenote last summer.

First Aid

  • Stomach medicine
  • Pain medicine
  • Cold medicine
  • Bandages and Neosporin

We’ve never gotten sick traveling (excuse me while I knock on every piece of wood inside my house), but it never hurts to be prepared. Trip Advisor is littered with proof that people can and do get sick. I suspect a fair amount of people bring these tummy troubles on themselves by drinking the water, but better to prepare for it.


  • Deodorizer
  • Ear plugs
  • Stain remover
  • Clorox wipes

If you’re traveling to a beach destination, there’s a decent chance that your room will have the salty-air smell. Your room might even get a bit damp. A $1 Glade deodorizer mitigates a lot of that smell if it’s really bothersome. And this is super selfish because I’m really tired of reading Trip Advisor reviews of people complaining that their ocean-facing room smells like the ocean. I also throw Clorox wipes and stain remover cloths in my bag — the former because I can be a little obsessive and the latter because I can be a little messy.


  • Snack bars
  • Almonds
  • Gum

I understand it is wholly counterintuitive to pack food in a suitcase when you’re traveling to an all-inclusive resort, but hear me out. If you book a day trip, you are the mercy of your guide, traffic, and horses or ziplines or swordfish in terms of that day’s schedule. Having a few snacks in your backpack can go a long way. You can always eat them on the airplane on the way home, too.

Items for the Elements

  • Ponchos
  • Backpacks
  • Flip flops or water shoes
  • Closed shoes & long pants

It was pushing 95 when we were walking through Chichen Itza last summer taking in all the breathtaking history and a dark cloud appeared out of nowhere, unleashing torrential rains. Without warning, vendors descended on everyone, hawking ponchos for $5 or even $10 each. And people clamored for them! Before I could even contemplate selling mine asking Mr. P to take mine out of his backpack, he handed me my 2 for $1 dollar store poncho. I truly think if we stocked up, we could probably bankroll our vacation re-selling them to unprepared tourists.

As far as the other items go, we’re obviously both fans of backpacks. Sometimes, we both wear ours. Other times, Mr. P wishes we had a prenup with a backpack clause written in. You’d also be surprised by the fair amount of day trips that require or request closed-toe shoes and long pants.

So Tell Me…What are your must-pack items for vacation? What has been your favorite trip, all-inclusive or otherwise?

Pack Smarter to Save at All-Inclusives

12 thoughts on “Pack Smarter to Save at All-Inclusives

  1. Laughed out loud about the $2 for 1 ponchos. I carry them in my purse… Such great suggestions – each and every one of them. I totally get the packing the granola bars too for the excursions. Things don’t always go as planned (and I have trouble eating food on those sometimes) and a few protein bars can get you through the day (and allow you to drink the free drinks too!) Even if you have to pay for a checked bag, your points are incredibly valid. There are just some things to bring from home – it saves time too from having to run around and find all those things! Enjoy your vacation!! Can’t wait to hear about it!

  2. Great tips, Penny! We have never vacationed at an all-inclusive but once you are out sight-seeing at common attractions, the cost of these items can get out of hand. And even at home or vacationing in the U.S., these are great items to have on hand. I always keep sunscreen, bugspray, and snacks in my car so we don’t have to stop for those items or remember to pack them each time we leave home. We love the $1 ponchos–and I love your joke about selling them to unprepared tourists!

    1. A joke. Yes. That’s totally what it was. I actually made the mistake of sharing that thought with my husband, and now I’m going to have to check his backpack! Ha!

  3. That’s a great list of must haves.
    With 3 kids (6 and under) our car is full of items when we go on holidays.
    So at this stage of my life the must have items that we must have for a long trip is entertainment for the kids! and coffee! 😉

  4. Jon and I are both really nearsighted, so back in the pre-kid days when we traveled regularly, we bought prescription snorkeling masks. It definitely made snorkeling (our favorite vacation activity) more fun. While some snorkeling guides/rental shops have prescription masks, they usually only have a limited number and they weren’t always in our prescription, so it was a good idea for us.

      1. stephanie says:

        we actually bought our own snorkeling equipment on Amazon and take it with us on beach vacations – and of course it pays for itself after two uses compared to the cost of renting it in many places – plus, you don’t have something that’s been in someone else’s mouth and cleaned (?). Also, and this is the biggest reason – the rentals 99% of the time don’t have the safety valve at the top of the snorkel to prevent you from inhaling (not swallowing water) which is a drowning risk . . . .

  5. These are great tips! We also bring a little repair kit with safety pins, a small roll of duct tape, and a sewing kit. Extra hair ties, a spare pair of contacts, and a bottle of eye drops come in handy too.

  6. This is bringing up traumatic memories of my wife and I packing for our trip to Colombia until the wee hours of the morning before we left. Aye caramba we packed WAAAAAAY too much!!!!!!

  7. This is both amazing and hilarious! Sunscreen is so important to take with you – I think we took four normal sized bottles the last time we went for two of us. I’m finally starting to get better at packing snacks while traveling – so key if you’re hungry while the restaurants are closed. Two bathing suits if you can is really nice so you aren’t wearing a wet bathing suit the next time. And a bag to carry stuff down to the beach (hello free cloth shopping bags). An Ethernet cable can be useful still while traveling in older places. We also save movies and TV shows to our Apple TV or Roku and then take that with us plus an HDMI cable for entertainment.

  8. Great thoughts on what to pack. My wife is super organized so she’s usually the packer of these sorts of things. My favorite vacation of all was at a Cancun all-inclusive a few years ago. We didn’t make it to Chichen Itza, but that’s just a good excuse to go back! …and we’ll be sure to bring some dollar store ponchos.

  9. Okay, this is an excellent list. I am definitely always forgetting to pack these essentials when going on vacation and end up having to buy things on the spot, especially sunscreen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *