A trip to the beach is only carefree for kids, who don’t notice their parents packing, checking, loading, unloading and hauling all the essential items for a day in the surf and sun. Those steps aren’t always quick and easy, but once you have your beach bag packed, every member of the family can plunge his or her toes into the sand and relax knowing everything you need is within reach.
The Bag (and Extra Bags)
Maybe you already own a perfect beach tote, monogrammed with your initials and filled with sand from your last trip to the shore. If you don’t, feel no obligation to spend a fortune on a designer bag. Look for a nylon or canvas tote with a wide opening, flat bottom and sturdy straps. The ideal bag will have interior pockets and a zippered top. The tote itself isn’t the only bag you need. Pack a garbage bag to collect your trash at the end of the day, along with several resealable food storage bags to keep your electronic devices protected from the sand and surf.
Food and Drinks
Feeding a family of four at beach stands geared toward tourists might require dipping into one of the kids’ college funds. And there’s no telling how long those hot dogs have been sitting in the sun. Save your cash and worries by packing more than enough food in your beach bag. Freeze not-quite-full bottles of water and lemonade so they’ll be frosty but liquid by lunch. Spread peanut butter between crackers, freeze bags of grapes, and pick up bags of pretzels and nuts. If coolers are allowed at the beach, fill a small one with gel ice packs, cheese sticks, squeezable yogurt and sandwiches of lean cold cuts. Bring wipes to clean sandy hands before meals.
A warm breeze and hot sand might be all it takes to keep you happy. The typical kid won’t feel the same; so pack plenty of accessories to keep little sun worshipers busy. Bring one bucket and shovel for each child — don’t expect anyone to share in the cutthroat world of sand-castle building — and a few other small beach toys. Little ones like exploring sand using sifters, while slightly older kids love throwing around a soft ball or wearing goggles and snorkels to explore the water. Cram a book or MP3 player into the bag for yourself in those moments when another adult is supervising.
Now that you’re a parent, you can spot dangers anywhere, and the beach — with its waves, sun and strangers — is no exception. Even if your kids are strong swimmers, consider water safety. The American Red Cross suggests that inexperienced swimmers and small children wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets near and in the water. Pack water shoes if you’re visiting a rocky beach or one that tends to be dirty. Bring sunscreen and plan to reapply it every time the kids climb out of the water, and pack sunglasses and brimmed hats to protect those big eyes and the soft skin you love so much. A basic first aid kit with bandages, disinfectant and aloe and your charged cell phone should fulfill most of your safety needs.
If kids wear their suits to the beach, pack dry clothes to wear home; if they’ll wear their play clothes to the beach, pack their bathing suits. Towels can double as a beach blanket, or you can pack a blanket too. Stock the beach bag with swimming diapers, wipes and a portable changing pad for little swimmers who aren’t yet potty trained. Shade is essential, especially for small children — their bodies can’t regulate temperature as well as adults’ bodies can. Bring an umbrella or pop-up canopy, and gather up beach chairs when you’re done packing the bag.