Packing for a Beach Vacation with Littles

The ocean stretches out for miles and miles in front of me, so expansive that I can still see it when I close my eyes. I finish the chapter in my book and fold the corner down so that I can remember my page. Stretching my arms over my head, I drink up one last bit of sunshine before I put my sunglasses on and go to join my children who are quietly working on a sand castle complete with moat and draw bridge, giggling with glee and passing the buckets and shovels back and forth in choreographed efficiency.

And then I wake up.

Going to the beach with kids, though a fantastic foundation for life-long memories, is not and never will be the same as going to the beach without them.

My husband grew up going to Port Aransas every summer, so keeping with the tradition, we’ve bellied up on the seaweed-strewn Texas shore since our first-born was only six months old.

While I have adjusted my expectations to accept the fact that I probably won’t be spending hours soaking up the sun while getting lost in a book, I have found a way to make vacationing with toddlers pleasant. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

1. Pack light.

Approach packing for a vacation as if you’re preparing for the Apocalypse. Take only what you absolutely need, keeping in mind that unless you’re venturing into Mexico, most American towns have a place where you can restock on diapers. Even though it feels very secure to pull out of your driveway knowing you’ve tightly packed all the comforts of home into your vehicle, it adds more stress when you haul it all into a hotel room or a rental house and are then forced to keep up with it all week.

Find out beforehand if the place you’re staying has a place to do laundry. Don’t get all WAAA WAAA whiny and say that you don’t want to be doing laundry on vacation because the truth is, you’ll be doing laundry regardless of how many clothes you bring. No one wants to leave cheeto crusted, sand crammed swim shorts in a wadded pile on the floor for a week. So bring less, cycle through, and let your kids run around in their underpants as much as possible. It is summer, after all.

You can see my packing list here.

2. Think big, not little.

If you’re driving, don’t pack all sorts of video games and battery-operated toys, dump trucks, or ride-ons. Save the space for things that will make life easier when you’re actually on the beach. Our must haves are an easy-up canopy that provides shade all day long, and an inflatable kid pool that keeps the kiddos satisfied when the grown ups are tired of corralling them in the tide. And baby powder, not a small canister, the biggest you can find. It’s a lifesaver when it comes to getting sand out of all the chubby crevices of your kids.

3. Have a plan.

In the “good ol’ days” you could stay in the sun until 6 o’clock, until your nose was numb either from the extra UV exposure or the drinking. Didn’t matter which, you could mosey on back to the house, take a nice little shower, grab a late dinner of fried this with a side of fried that, sleep in until 10:00 a.m. and then hit it again.

Those days will come again. In approximately 15 years. When you and your spouse return to the beach by yourselves.

A plan is particularly important when you’re vacationing with extended family. No one’s day should revolve around your kids or their moods, so establishing from the onset what you will or will not participate in leaves others free to do the same. It also protects our sanity by keeping our kids well-fed, well-rested, and content without being pulled here and there on a whim.

4. Tag team.

While we would all love to be nine kinds of tangled up in the arms of our true love underneath the swooning moon, a beach vacation with kiddos is hard work and involves full participation.

But it shouldn’t be all work and no play. Establish before you go what are two or three things that you really want to experience and work together to make sure those happen. For example, I really enjoy reading on the beach until my eyes go blurry. My husband likes riding his moped around the sand dunes like a hooligan. We make sure there’s time for both.

5. Take pictures.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of capturing moments on film. It’s so bad that even my 1.5-year-old, who only has a few words in his vocabulary, looks proudly up and says “Cheese!” any time he knows he’s doing something cute (or ornery).

But here’s the thing about pictures: they immortalize the good memories, and conveniently leave out the awful ones. Take enough photos of the baby eating sand and you’re bound to forget how bad the resulting diapers were. Catch your mother-in-law with a kid in one hand and a margarita in the other and you won’t think about how much she criticized your parenting.

Talk about a first-world problem: Vacation is hard work. But summertime memories are like taking a sharpie to your kids’ souls and scribbling out the word “ENJOY.” Worth the inconvenience, if you ask me.


What are you favorite beach tips and tricks?

Jody hid in the hills of Missouri until her husband, Caleb, rescued her and made her a Mrs . . . at least that’s the story he tells. A mere four years in and they’ve added a brilliant, big-hearted boy, Jude(2010) and an equally endearing, Oliver(2013) to their family. Still pretty amazed at the fact that she grew too tiny humans when she can’t even keep a rubber tree plant alive, Jody recently stopped traveling with a ministry conference team to stay at home and rough and tumble around with her boys. She loves Jesus, coffee, and big sunglasses, and keeps her inner gypsy alive by traveling whenever she gets the chance.


  1. I love this article! We are about to take off on a family vacation to Gulf Shores, AL with our 12 month old baby boy. I’m absolutely dreading the 12+++ hour long car ride each way with him, especially considering a trip down the road to Target is usually a mini battle for this car hater. Any advice on how to entertain littles in the car? I’m in the middle of posting a new article on our website and would love some new ideas! I’m off to narrow down my huge packing list and rethink our “everything but the kitchen sink” strategy now 😉 Thanks!


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