With the spring break season upon us and summer quick on its tail, a lot of people will be packing up and heading for the beach. But that raises the question, what do I need to pack and what will just be a waste of space?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I consider myself lucky that I’ve lived close to the beach my whole life. For us, it’s only about an hour drive for a day in the sun. While I won’t tell you what to pack to keep the kids busy for your road trip to the beach, mostly because who knows, I will give you pointers on what is necessary for your time there.
I love those diaper commercials that show how neurotic a first-time mom is. Then it shows the same mother with her second child being completely laid back. Those are so true, aren’t they?
When my oldest was young, I used to pack everything but the kitchen sink just to visit friends. Heaven forbid we actually stay the night. The same happened when packed for the beach. I’d pack extra towels, extra sunscreen (like, every bottle I had), even extra food. Now, with three kids in tow, I know better.
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Here is the list of things I always bring with me to the beach. Anything else has to pass the test of whether its worth having to carry it from the car, over the dunes of loose (not to mention hot) sand, and to the water’s edge. Usually, nothing else makes the grade.
I know this is a “duh” suggestion, but I list it because it is the single most important thing to bring. Also, remember that the sun at the beach is way more brutal than a day in the backyard. Make sure to reapply regularly, even if it’s waterproof. Trust me on this one. Another thing to remember is your poor sensitive lips. Most lip balms have an SPF factor, so they’ll protect your lips from the sun and the saltwater.
While towels are also important, you will want to have somewhere to rest, and with the strong breeze off the ocean, a towel just isn’t going to cut it. You could bring a chair, but then you would have to carry that chair. A full size (or larger) sheet is plenty big enough for multiple people to congregate. And unlike lounge chairs, it’s super lightweight. Just throw it in your bag with the towels and viola, instant seating. Another good tip is to dig the corners of the sheet into the sand. Fold them under, digging into the dirt, and put a good glob of sand on top of the folded part. That will keep the wind from blowing it away.
Bring plenty of water. If you want your drinks to remain cold, it requires a cooler. This is by far the heaviest item you’ll need to carry. I know it’s a pain to lug a cooler across beach sand, but if you opt to leave it in the car, you’ll make tons of trips. The last thing you want to do is skimp on the H²O at the beach.
As for snacks, remember that there is sand everywhere, and a wind that will constantly be blowing it up on you, not to mention the salt water added to the mix. Unless you’re at some resort (If so, I’ll try not to be jealous), there won’t be a way to wash your hands. Also, the usual standby, hand sanitizer, won’t do a thing for moist sand. While most public beaches have restrooms, it’s unlikely you will be close enough to one that you’ll want to walk to it to wash your hands often. Need I remind you that walking across beach sand is like wearing concrete shoes after running a marathon.
A small pack of wet wipes works in a pinch, but I like to pack food that doesn’t have to be touched a lot. You could even pack sandwiches cut in two. Place them in a zip top bag and show your kids how to hold the bottom of the bag. Fold the top over so they can eat their sandwich without actually touching it.
Toys and inflatables
I loathe driving with a bunch of floats blocking my view out the back of my car, which is why I invested in an electric pump. It plugs into the cigarette lighter, and while it doesn’t work fast, it gets the job done. Now, I can bring a couple of floats without taking up so much room.
Another option would be to bring a foam boogie board or a large noodle, though the noodles do take up a decent amount of space. Most dollar stores sell them, and the kids won’t play on them too long once they realize how hard it is to float on something that’s being plummeted by waves.
A bucket and shovel for each kid is a must. However, the buckets can double as holders for any small items your kids might want to bring along too. Just know that anything very small has the potential to never be seen again. Beach sand likes to swallow stuff up sometimes. That’s probably why I see people combing the area with metal detectors every other time I go.
A beach umbrella is one more thing regular beachgoers invest in. Like I said before, the sun at the beach is brutal, so any shade you can create will be a lifesaver after a couple of hours of the hot sun beating down on you.
While most beach umbrellas are lightweight, they are kind of awkward to carry. If you pack it right, though, it’ll be well worth the effort.
What To Leave Home
Now on to what isn’t necessary. Unless you’ve planned a snorkeling excursion or you know from previous experience that the beach you’re going to is on the sound side, meaning that there are no waves or very light ones, then there won’t be any use for snorkeling equipment. Most of the time you have to swim pretty far out to get past the waves and then you’re so deep it’s hard to see the ocean floor. My advice is if you want to go snorkeling, look into renting a boat and find a nice shallow area or you can pay for a snorkeling trip. Then you know you won’t be washed over by waves while you’re trying to see what’s on the ocean bottom.
I’ll give caution on a couple of other things. Be wary of bringing electronics to the beach. Even your cell phone could fall victim to the sand that gets everywhere. While the sand itself shouldn’t present much of a problem, the salt that is in every part of everything at the beach could corrode your phone’s delicate circuitry faster than you can walk across the sand dunes.
I know in this day and age it’s hard to disconnect from electronics. If you feel like you need your smartphone for entertainment while the kids play, take it old school instead. Stop by the library and grab the latest book by your favorite author. Unless you bring it into the water with you, there’s not much risk of damaging it, and it’ll fit easily into your bag. You never know, you just might fall in love with old fashioned paperbacks once more.
Again, I’ll warn about small items getting lost. Even your car keys could get lost among the sand so be sure to put them in the bag or, even better, in the pocket of a pair of shorts inside the bag. That way you know exactly where they are.
That’s it. Anything else is negotiable. The kids are bound to have a great time, and as long as you’re all thoroughly coated with sunscreen, you shouldn’t come back looking like a particular crustacean that’s delectable dipped in butter.
I’d love to hear about what essentials you just can’t go without at the beach. Did they make my list?