Sand in My Bathing Suit: How to Survive a Beach Vacation with Littles


My family loves the beach. Our DESTINation of choice (pun intended) is the Florida panhandle, and we are fortunate enough to get to make it an annual thing. I’m not going to lie to you – planning, prepping and surviving a beach vacation with three kids under the age of 6 is not for the faint of heart. It often feels less like a “vacation” and more like a “trip” (the person who first made this distinction is a genius). As we prepare to embark on this year’s pilgrimage, I do have a few tried-and-true tips to share that have made the experience more pleasant:

  • Traveling, whether by car or by air, is not the time to practice minimalism

    So, you read an article romanticizing the road trip days of yesteryear with families playing ‘I Spy’ and ‘The Alphabet Game’ all the way across the map…forget it, or at least don’t count on it lasting you longer than about five minutes. Preschoolers have a hard enough time grasping rules of a new game, and throw in some toddlers who can barely talk (let alone read) and you’re heading for a dead end quickly. Embrace technology, pack ten different kinds of snacks, and prepare to listen to the Moana soundtrack on repeat. Do whatever it takes to get you through that road trip. And for the aviators, repeat after me: don’t forget the headphones.

  • Packing lists, meal plans, and grocery lists are your friend

    A devil-may-care attitude may work well enough on an adults-only vacay, but throw in the juice box and diapers set, and you’d better bring your A game. I keep a checklist on my computer for anything and everything I’ll need for me and the kids and refine and update it every year: from toothbrushes to diaper cream, it is comforting to check each and every essential off the list and know that I haven’t forgotten something. And it’ll save you time, money, and sanity to know ahead of time how many meals you plan to eat in your condo versus eating out. Knowing the meal plan in advance also allows you to bring certain dry goods, paper products, or cooking essentials that would be too expensive or inconvenient to have to worry about once you’re there. And this girl loves making grocery lists, so you can bet I’ve already got a draft going while on the drive down.

  • Bring reinforcements if space and budget allow

    I’ve always been fortunate enough to make our yearly beach trips with my parents, who graciously chip in to help with the kiddos. I’ve traveled enough with my brood on my own to appreciate what a gift that is! I know other families who bring along in-laws, adult siblings, or the nanny to help bring the adult-to-kid ratio up. While you may have some work to do with spelling out the arrangements (financial or otherwise), it could be well worth the effort in order to have the ability to head out for a date night, read a book in peace, or just take a nap!

  • Always pack aloe (despite conscientious sunscreen application, someone always burns)
  • Find out where the closest urgent care center to your condo/house/hotel is located and whether they accept your insurance (trust me, stuff comes up!)
  • And finally, the most important thing is to BE FLEXIBLE!

Be flexible with your expectations and the unforeseen circumstances that will inevitably happen. Whether it’s airport delays, your accommodations (the pictures never tell the whole story, do they?), or the weather, your ability to handle the curveballs will dictate how your family will remember the trip and whether everyone is still speaking to each other when you return home at the end of the week. Also, now is not the time to institute new rules or to double-down on all existing rules. It’s a vacation for the kids, too, so loosen up a bit and have another margarita! (“it’s five o’clock somewhere…”)