I’ve figured out how to survive (and enjoy) a beach vacation with kids. It involves rum. You’re welcome.

Summer is almost here! I’m looking forward to days spent by the pool, leisurely evenings without the rush of bedtime, lazy mornings without the fight to get ready for school….

I could do without the hot humidity of Alabama summer days, but I do look forward to the slowness that summer brings with it. This is also the time of year when I start craving an ocean breeze, salty air, and fresh seafood. But going to the beach with kids is never the vacation we hope it will be, is it?

We were able to go to the beach early this year, and I think it may have been our most relaxing trip yet. I’m afraid to say it out loud or put it in writing….but I feel as if we actually conquered the beach trip with kids this time around. There was some work involved, but there was also a lot of time for relaxing. Unheard of with kids, right??

I keep a running list on my phone of items to pack for beach vacations. Each trip, I edit it, adding some things, taking some things away….but yes, usually adding more things. I think it’s entirely possible that I now have a completed list, that I’ve figured out exactly what to take (and not take) for the easiest kid beach vacation.

The secret is this: take everything you might need, and none of what you won’t need. This is a situation where less is definitely more….but less still requires a wagon. A good wagon. Preferably with fat wheels. We bought one of those folding utility wagons for beach trips a couple of years ago and it worked okay with one kid, but the thin wheels just don’t work well in the sand. We learned the hard way that we’d need to spend the extra money and get a really heavy duty one with fat wheels for beach use. The fatter the wheels, the better it pulls over the sand.

The less expensive utility wagons certainly come in handy for lots of other things, but fork over the extra money and get a good one for beach use. It’s a one-time expense and you’ll use it for years to come.

Of course you’re not just going to throw all your crap into the wagon. You need to organize it! I have 4 bags that I swear by for beach use, and they all fit perfectly into the wagon.

The first bag I always bring is a Thirty-One Cooler Bag I bought years ago. It’s a great size for packing lots of water bottles and sippy cups. And bonus tip: use these awesome rum bags as ice packs! Freeze them the night before, then pack them in your cooler bag in the morning. Tuck the water bottles all around them and everything stays cold, plus mom and dad have a delicious beach beverage!

The second bag I carry is also a cooler bag, but this one is in the form of a backpack. It’s super spacious and keeps food and drinks cold for hours. I use the large thermal compartment for snacks and lunches, and the front pocket (which isn’t thermal, but stays nice and cool since it’s against the thermal part) for chapstick and sunscreens. This also makes a perfect bag for zoo trips and short hiking trips.

For all the towels, snacks, and other necessities, I use this awesome mesh bag. Think Utility Bag from Thirty-One, but add holes for sand and water drainage. It holds all the things and is super easy to clean! It’s the perfect bag for the beach, lake, or pool.

And the final bag I throw in the wagon is this large mesh bag for beach toys. It easily holds a lot of toys and at the end of the day, you can just throw the toys in the bag, tie it up, then rinse it out in the ocean.

Before I show you what we pack in our bags, I’ll introduce the larger items that we never go to the beach without. The first time we went to the beach with our oldest son, we spent quite some time setting up a large canopy. It was heavy to carry and a pain in the butt to set up, so I knew we’d need a better solution. Upon searching, I stumbled on a SportBrella. They’re easy to set up and provide tons of shade (we fit 2 adults and a child under it, and could probably fit another adult).

As an added bonus, they’re also lightweight and take up very little space.

We use a sand screw to give it extra security, but we’ve never had a problem with it budging in beach winds.

For the babies, I wanted a tent for naps. I learned pretty fast that we needed a popup tent for ease of use, but what I didn’t consider was that tents get really hot on the beach. I found this one for our last trip and it was perfect.

It’s a fast pop-up, secure once it’s set up, provides plenty of shade and ventilation, and is easy to take down. It provided the perfect nap location for our one-year-old twins.

During their awake time, we kept them contained and entertained in this little pool.

I just filled it up with a few inches of water, threw in some plastic beach toys, and they stayed occupied in that thing for hours. Seriously, hours!

And of course, life jackets. None of our kids can swim (because we suck as parents), so we don’t allow them to enter the ocean without a life jacket on. These work great for babies and our oldest has a regular life jacket.

Puddle Jumpers are also a viable option for water safety since they’re US Coast Guard-approved.

It may seem like a lot, but all of the above items fit into the big beach wagon when puzzled correctly (except the pool after it’s inflated, of course). On the walk to the beach, my husband and I each carry a beach chair on our backs and a baby on our fronts. I love the Tommy Bahama beach chairs that sit low to the ground. Mine has a nice head cushion, a drink holder, and a pouch for my cell phone.

And the babies fit comfortably in their Airflow LILLEbabies, leaving us hands-free to pull the wagon and catch the 5-year-old.

Now, here’s a quick list of what I put in all those bags:

  • Beach towels
  • Sunscreen

I always apply cream sunscreen before heading outside, but carry spray sunscreen for applications on the beach. My favorites are Think Baby for smaller babies and Coppertone Water Babies for all.

  • Baby powder for getting the sand off (this really works!)
  • Water bottles
  • Sippy cups of milk
  • Snacks

The best snacks we’ve found for the beach are trail mix, granola bars, peanut butter sandwiches, and food pouches. I always buy these in fruit-vegetable combinations and even my 5-year-old loves them!

  • Plastic grocery bags (for trash)
  • Beach toys

Go with cheap beach toys, because you’re going to lose them. One of our favorites is this tall shovel. It’s sturdy and provides lots of fun for the kiddos!

Finally, don’t forget to throw your phone into a protective case. Sand is one of the few things that will easily scratch the screen of a smart phone. This one is also advertised as waterproof, but we’ve only tested it with a piece of paper in the sink, never our phones. The paper test worked, but we’re chickens.

So that’s it! Don’t be afraid to pack everything you might think you need because it’s certainly easier than running back to the condo or car. But try not to over-pack either, because that’s just more junk to dig through when you’re looking for something. A fun beach trip can be had by all!

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