Going to the beach is probably one of the most popular things for families to do in the summer, but every parent knows that vacations with kids are still hard work! The majority of the time is spent making sure everyone has sunscreen, food, hydration, and entertainment. At the end of a long day, there isn’t much time leftover for Mom and Dad to relax.
While any vacation with young kids is going to be a lot of work, there are some ways to make your family beach trip a little easier! This article lists some of my favorite family travel hacks that I have used over the years. Hopefully you will find some of these valuable on your next trip as well!
1. Order groceries ahead of time
If you are staying anywhere other than a hotel/resort, then there is a good chance you are arriving on a Saturday. Nothing adds more stress to the long trip than having to fight through a packed grocery store for some milk and bread.
After years of doing just that, we discovered that there is more than one way to utilize grocery pickup services. We did it a couple of years ago and it was awesome! Just make sure you order a few days early so you can have your pick of the best time slots.
2. Forget the hotel
Or, at least forget it if you have 4 or more people in your family. I don’t know about you, but sharing one room with my children for multiple days in a row is not my idea of a vacation. Resort hotel suites can be pretty pricey just so that you can have a separate bedroom and a small kitchenette. Not only are you cramped for space and privacy, but you are forced to spend a lot of money eating out.
While most people know about airbnb, there are PLENTY of other options for finding a beautiful house, condo, or villa. I typically use homeaway.com or vrbo.com to find properties I like. Many times other companies use those sites to list their properties, but you can go directly to those sites to book direct without paying additional fees.
A couple of property management companies we have used are Wyndham Vacation Rentals and Vacasa. You can also search for rental companies using Google and find some businesses local to your area.
3. Portable DVD players are awesome
If you are one of those parents that think screens are the devil then please skip ahead to tip #5.
I really do not know how I would make it without having the enticing glow of an electronic device in front of my kids every so often. Long car ride? Need to keep your toddler awake in the car so he will take a good nap later? Well, say goodbye to “Are we there yet?” and grab yourself some portable DVD players.
They will be quiet and happy with their headphones and favorites flicks. You can jam out like it’s the 90s again (instead of Baby Shark) while you dream of the margarita in your future!
4. Stop at the Redbox
Now that you took my advice and got some DVD players, you need to get some new movies. While the $5 bin at Walmart is a great place to start, a lot of times the movies are pretty old.
Head to a Redbox the morning you leave, and drop it off at a Redbox wherever you are staying once you arrive. For a few dollars your kids can see some new movies. Even better, you don’t have to add clutter to your DVD collection (that is probably gathering dust, am I right?).
5. Rent baby gear
I already wrote an article about this which you can check out here. If you are at that stage where you have to practically bring your whole house with you, then there is a solution!
Don’t waste the gas and the space and bring the pack and play, baby gates, highchairs, bouncy chairs, etc. etc. Most tourist towns have companies that will rent out everything from toys to cribs to strollers. It’s a lifesaver! Especially if you’re flying or don’t own a minivan.
6. Make a loose and flexible plan
While set schedules may ruin spontaneity, you do not want to do a ton of research when you arrive. Make a list of must do attractions and restaurants, and be familiar with events happening the week of your trip.
Using Facebook to find events is very helpful since the app will send you reminders of events you’ve saved.
7. Schedule some reservations or eat at off peak times
The wait time for dinner during vacation time can be a real bummer, especially if you have tired hungry kids in tow! We NEVER wait more than 20 minutes because of two very simple rules.
First, if we want to eat during “standard” meal times (11:30 – 1 for lunch, 5:30- 7 for dinner), we only go to places that take reservations. I typically make my reservations a month or more in advance on Opentable.
For dining options that don’t take reservations, the only way to avoid a wait is to avoid the peak times.
At lunchtime, we always try to get there right when they open (typically around 11am) or wait until after 1pm. For dinner, it’s always best to arrive between 5-5:30. If you are looking for a scenic seafood dinner at sunset, definitely book a reservation well in advance!
8. Bring baby powder
This is a pretty popular hack, but I am listing it here for anyone that might not know about it.
A great way to get the sand off of wet sandy hands is to use baby powder to quickly dry and remove the sand. Yes, you can use water bottles to rinse instead, but then you have less drinks!
9. Waterproof your phone
Make sure you put your phone in something safe to keep the water and sand out of it. The cheap and easy way is to just use a ziplock bag. However, if you are staying in a small hotel you might not have lots of kitchen items at your disposal.
We purchased waterproof cell phone cases a few years ago and keep them in the glovebox of the car. That way they are always there and easy to find every year. You simply slip your phone into the clear plastic pouch and seal it at the top.
10. Don’t skip the shade, but make sure it’s legal
So how can shade be illegal? Well, many counties on South Carolina’s coast have bans on canopies and certain size umbrellas.
Make sure you check the canopy laws for whatever town you are going, and make sure your shade item of choice is compliant.
If that means having to buy all new gear, you may want to check for local beach umbrella rentals first. Check and see if the place you are staying offers umbrellas at the property. If you are staying in a hotel or resort, they usually offer beach chair and umbrella rentals. The downside is they are typically not in an ideal location, not family friendly, and they cost money every day!
11. Create a baby friendly space
If you have a young child, you have the added struggle of providing shade and water play at the same time. However, if you fill up a hole with water, then it will just get absorbed by the sand.
You can stop this from happening by bringing a plastic or vinyl shower curtain to lay in a hole you dig out yourself. Also, you can by beach items specifically geared to solve this problem like an inflatable pool or popup pool.
12. Rent beach items
If you haven’t noticed, I love renting things so I don’t have to add more stuff to the car!
Baby gear, umbrellas, and chairs are not the only items you can rent. You can usually find companies that rent out beach carts, bikes with wagons, and even beach toys!
13. Bring a mesh bag for beach toys
The easiest way to clean out your beach toys is to buy a cheap mesh toy bag. When you are ready to leave then you can pile all of the toys in the bag and rinse them out. The sand and water will drain through the mesh, and then the holes will allow the toys to dry.
14. Don’t forget a beach cart
The first year we went to the beach, we didn’t have a cart. Boy, did we regret it!
The second year, we borrowed a wagon, and it was IMPOSSIBLE to pull through the sand!
So, year 3 we finally invested in a cart MADE FOR THE BEACH. Big wheels, a spot for hanging chairs, and ergonomically designed for pushing and pulling through sand. This is a lifesaver, especially if you have a ton of items to bring to the beach.
15. Wrap valuables in a diaper
I have never personally done this, but I have heard about it and thought it was brilliant..
You may worry about leaving valuables unattended for long periods of time. Use a clean diaper and wrap it around your valuables so that it looks like a dirty diaper. No one will want to go digging through that!
16. Buy a sunshade for the car
The worst part about going to the beach is the trek through hot sand and loading up a hot car. Then, when you leave you end up burning your hands on the steering wheel. Invest in a sunshade for your window so that you can actually drive your car. It will also knock a few degrees off the interior temperature.
17. Bring extra towels for the car
If you are worried about soaked sandy seats, make sure you bring extra towels to put down on your seats. The towels everyone use after the post-beach rinse off will be wet.
18. Make your kids wear sun protective clothing
The t-shirts that come with kids’ bathing suit sets are really good at blocking the sun. Plus, the material is cool enough that they don’t seem to be bothered by it at all.
19. Apply sunscreen before you leave and make sure to reapply
This one is pretty self explanatory, but sunscreen is a must. While I’m not here to debate sunscreen ingredients, I will say you should do your research.
Either way, make sure you use SOMETHING. Put the first coat on before you go and your kids are all sandy and hot. Then, make sure you don’t lose track of time!
It is very easy to lose track of time, so if you need to, set an alarm to go off every 80 minutes.
20. Go to the beach in the morning
There are many reasons why going to the beach in the morning is so beneficial
First, parking is more available first thing in the morning. Secondly, there is more space on the beach to pick a perfect spot. Third, the sun is less intense prior to 2pm.
Finally, you will have time to relax before going out for dinner and enjoying local shopping, events, or attractions.
21. Bring multiple bathing suits
It is always helpful to bring at least 2 bathing suits per child. If you go to the beach in the morning but then want to hit up the pool later in the day, there’s always a clean, dry, non-sandy bathing suit ready to go.
22. Avoid riptides
I heard about this one the other day. Rather than try to explain it on here without visuals, head to weather.com for some handy charts and images.
23. Wear hats
I was never a hat personm but now I always have one at the beach and feel miserable if I forget to bring one.
If you can convince the kids to wear them, even better! They really do help avoid the cheeky sunburn that a lot of us get. I don’t care how much sunscreen I put on, if I don’t wear a hat my face turns red!
24. Pack a bag for trash
This is such a simple thing, but I almost always forget to do it when we go to the beach! Pack an empty grocery bag so you can easily collect your trash and take it to the trash can.
What should my kids bring to the beach?
While you are busy packing all of the necessity to take care of you and your family, it may be easy to forget the “fun” things.
In addition to renting beach gear, you can also rent beach toys through many of the local rental companies. You can also look for a local dollar tree or Walmart and pick up cheap boogie boards, kites, inflatable beach balls, and plastic beach toys.
If you don’t have room in your car to take them back home, pay it forward and leave them for the next guest to enjoy. I’m sure they won’t mind!
Can I take my baby to the beach?
Babies under 6 months old should definitely be sheltered from the sun, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Also, it is best to avoid bringing babies under 2 months old to the beach due to the fact their immune systems are very vulnerable.
Don’t forget, their skin is super delicate and fragile, and they can burn and/or overheat very easily! If you must take your baby to the beach, make sure there is plenty of shade but lots of airflow. Resist the urge to cover them completely in a tent or even a baby carrier, as the material can create a furnace-like effect. Try to go early in the morning or very late in the evening to avoid the hottest parts of the day and the most intense sun, and only go for shorter periods of time. Make sure your infant stays hydrated and wears very loose and light clothing (if any).
Hopefully this list is helpful to you whether you are a seasoned beach-goer or heading to the coast with babies and/or kids for the first time.
Please comment below if you have any more helpful tips to add!