Lessons Learned from a Beach Vacation

beach vacation with kids
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It’s January. It’s cold. It’s dreary. It’s the dead of winter in Iowa. Perhaps a beach vacation is sounding pretty good right about now … but you have little kids.

If the idea of a beach vacation with littles sounds intimidating, I’ve been there! If traveling internationally for an all-inclusive experience they probably won’t even remember sounds frivolous, I hear you!

We recently embarked on our first international beach vacation as a family with our 4-year-old and 1-year-old and it sure was a learning experience. I was very resistant to the idea leading up to it; both because I thought it would be more of a headache than it was worth, and also because it seemed crazy to pay all-inclusive prices for a trip they wouldn’t remember.

But – let me tell you – it was worth it.

If you take the time and do your research, you can find family-friendly all-inclusive resorts that are very reasonably priced, sometimes even a steal if you look in the right places and at the right times. The burdens lifted by having everything included make traveling with little kids so much easier, and you’ll definitely want all the ease you can get.

My concerns about the experience not being memorable for the kids quickly disappeared when I saw my 4-year-old’s face light up when we started to hear the waves crashing on the beach as the ocean came into sight. There’s a limited age window where there is still magic in playing mermaid on the beach, wonder in hunting for seashells on the shore, and joy in building sand castles.

Even if they don’t remember those moments, you sure will and those memories are absolutely priceless.

Tips for Taking a Beach Vacation with Kids

With all that being said, here are the top lessons I learned from this experience. I hope they will come in handy for you if you decide to go on a beach vacation with kids!

  1. Bring all the snacks!

If your kids are anything like mine, food is a comfort and snacks are a necessity. Rather than paying exorbitant prices for snacks at the airport, bring your own and bring plenty. This will come in handy not only at the airport but also on the airplane. Baby food, including pouches and purees, formula, and toddler milk are not subject to the TSAs carry-on rules. Be sure to also bring plenty of your kids’ favorite snacks in your checked luggage to consume during your stay. While all-inclusives are great in that food is easily accessible at multiple locations, you’re going to want snacks on hand when you’re at the beach or by the pool and don’t want to walk to the nearest snack shack or buffet.

  1. In-flight entertainment

Screens can be great entertainment for kids who are old enough, whether it’s a tablet or the TV on the back of the airplane seat. But if your kids aren’t old enough to sit through a movie, or you just don’t want them glued to a screen for very long, then you’ll need to pack other forms of entertainment for them.

Crayons and coloring books are classic and work great, but you’ll want to buy the triangular crayons because these won’t roll off the airplane table tray! Gel window clings also provide great entertainment and will stick to the back of airplane seats if you’re not at a window. Disposable placemats, like these, can be stuck on the back of the seats as well and are a source of fun. Plus, they will also come in handy for use at buffets and restaurants so you don’t have to bring your own kid-friendly plates.

  1. Poop bags FTW

Bring a roll of doggy poop bags! If you’re a dog owner, you probably have them already. If you’re not, they’re not very expensive and worth the purchase for these trips. The baggies are great for disposing of soiled diapers on the airplane. It’s a nice courtesy to avoid just tossing it in the tiny garbage can and stinking up the tiny airplane bathroom for other passengers. They’re also great for carrying the kids’ wet swimsuits, clothes, or swim diapers when needed.

  1. Beach totes are your friend

Listen to me – DO NOT bring your diaper bag to the beach! You will be cleaning out sand from it for months to come. I would suggest bringing the things you need for the few hours you’ll be away from your room in a tote. If you absolutely think you need a diaper bag, bring a different diaper bag that is not the one you use on a day-to-day basis back home. Trust me!

  1. Don’t pack more, bring a laundry bar

You don’t need to bring a different swimsuit and cover-up for each day of your vacation (for yourself or your kids!), but they can start to develop a unique smell from the chlorine, salt, and sweat combination the longer you use them. This is where traveling with a laundry bar is a game changer! You don’t need to pay an arm and a leg to have your laundry done at the resort. With a laundry bar you can handwash swimsuits, coverups, and any clothes you might need cleaned right in your own room.

  1. Minimize where you can

Traveling with littles inherently means traveling with more – whether it’s the stroller, snacks, spare outfits, or diapers. Unfortunately, more stuff does not mean more hands. If your situation is like mine and you’re not traveling with extended family, then it’s just you and your partner hauling things around so it’s important to cut back where you can. Also keep in mind there are weight limits and fees for extra luggage.

Call your resort ahead of time and see if they offer complimentary beach toys. Ours did and I wish I would have known that before I made room in my suitcase for a bunch of Dollar Tree beach toys that weren’t nearly as nice as the ones provided by the resort and didn’t get used! Many resorts also sell or rent floaties and life jackets on-site. The prices at the resort we stayed at were surprisingly comparable to the quality ones available on Amazon so we could have done without bringing our own.

Skip the noise machine. I thought it was going to be crucial to bring “owl,” our white noise maker, on this trip. I even brought extra batteries and a tiny screwdriver to change them with. However, the entire airplane is its own noise machine and the A/C at these resorts runs so loud and often that a separate noise machine is truly unnecessary. Skipping on this allows room for more necessary things, like a stroller fan, which you’ll definitely be glad you brought.

Lastly, if you have a baby under 2, take advantage of them traveling for free on your lap. If your child is old enough to require their own seat, I would strongly suggest leaving your car seat at home. My experience in traveling with littles is that bringing a car seat on the plane is more of a hassle than it is beneficial. It takes up unnecessary time and space. Besides, I am no expert, but I’m pretty sure if the plane goes down, the car seat is probably not making much of a difference! You should be able to find a transport company that has car seats available upon request, making it even more unnecessary to bring your own.  

  1. Mindset is everything

Going into your trip with the right expectations is key. Vacation is defined as something like “an extended period during which activity is stopped for leisure and recreation.” The reality is when your kids are little, these kinds of trips aren’t truly “vacations.” It’s just parenting on a beach in a different country but with the added stress of having littles around multiple bodies of water. Don’t expect a lot of leisure or downtime on your end. Do expect a few tantrums and meltdowns after a day of sun, heat, and disrupted nap times. Don’t expect smooth sailing, but do expect that the memories made will be magical and last a lifetime.

What tips do you have for taking a beach vacation with kids? 

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Eva Morales
Eva lives in WDSM with her husband, Zack, and daughter, Kate (2019). She is a prosecutor with the Polk County Attorney's Office where she handles primarily child welfare cases. Outside of work, Eva enjoys recreating Pinterest recipes that are beyond her level of expertise, trying to find the perfect skincare routine, and buying way more on Amazon than she needs to. Eva shares openly about her experiences involving Zack's deployment, her high-risk pregnancy, Kate's NICU stay, and just about anything else you might care to ask about. She's a big fan of podcasts, personality tests, the Shark VacMop, and ordering her coffee "kid temp" at Starbucks. Connect with her on Instagram @evaateresaa


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