The Best Beach Vacation Packing List (& Tips) for Families
A few weekends ago, we braved a 3-hour road trip with a fussy toddler and 2 kids for some “relaxing” beach vacation time. The traveling part aside, the whole trip went rather smoothly, and that’s because of good planning and packing (on my part, THANK YOU!).
Packing for a 4-day beach trip doesn’t have to be complicated, you just have to make sure to pack everything you need without leaving anything behind… Easy, right?
In all seriousness, forgetting to pack things can result in spending more money and sometimes, not being able to enjoy your vacation.
And don’t get me started on all the stuff you need to lug through the sand and back… Some of it you DON’T need… or there’s an EASIER way! Through trial and error, I’ve found the perfect collection of items that work perfectly for our family beach trips. They don’t only make our beach trip enjoyable, but fun!
Through plenty of packing experience, I’ve learned what to pack for family beach trips and I’m happy to help other parents enjoy their vacation without all the stress, so here are some packing tips, recommendations for products that WORK, and a FREE printable packing list to make sure your beach vacation runs smoothly…
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Beach Vacation Packing List & Tips
THE NIGHT(MARE) BEFORE VACATION…PREPARATION
There I was on the night before our trip- screaming and yelling with clothes strewn about everywhere, while the whole family sat watching from the couch. (Thanks, guys.) But despite all the pre-vacation stress, I was able to pack smartly because of prep and planning. Here’s what I did:
We had the laundry going all day long- washing everything we needed for the trip (plus, I didn’t really want to leave dirty clothes sitting around in the house for a few days and wanted to get as much clean as possible before we left).
The clean laundry was folded and placed on my bed, the suitcases lined up on the floor, and I went person by person (or suitcase by suitcase) packing what we would need for each day starting with the first day we got there (pjs, underwear, etc…). When you do this train-style, it’s helpful because it ensures that each person gets what they need.
Everything that was going into the trunk the day of our trip was neatly situated in the garage, ready to be thrown in the car the next morning. Items like the canopy, wagon, picnic blanket, beach toys, pool bag, and the stroller were stacked and ready. All we would need from inside were the suitcases and snack bag.
I packed a separate bag with towels, swimsuits, sunscreen, and pool toys. This way, if our room wasn’t ready when we arrived (we were set to arrive 3 hours before check-in), we could easily change and get our energy-full kids out of the car and into the pool right away. With everything in one bag, there was no searching or ransacking through suitcases necessary.
Instead of packing individual sandwiches, I bought a giant French loaf (cheaper than a loaf of sliced bread- and tastes better, too!) and made one giant sandwich that I cut into smaller portions and threw in a large ziplock bag. (I had packets of mayo on the side.) Between that sandwich and all the snacks I threw in our thermal, we had more than enough to get us through the 3-hour trip, and for a while thereafter. In all honesty, we didn’t really need the snacks because it was a shorter drive and we didn’t want to encourage the kids to drink anything for fear of having to make stops. BUT since our hotel didn’t allow check-in until later in the afternoon, it worked out perfectly to have food (lunch) ready to eat as soon as we got there- which just so happened to be lunch time.
PACKING IN “BAGS”
It helps to pack in bags, or dedicate each bag to a certain event during the trip. Each person has their own clothes bag (suitcase), then come the shared toiletries bags (Kids & Parents), and then you have the pool bag, the snack bag, and finally, the beach wagon to hold them all. Curious about what goes into each bag? Well, I broke it down for you… (and don’t worry, I know this is a lot to take in, so I created a FREE PRINTABLE for you. Check it out below.
In Our Suitcases…
Only pack what you need and pack clothes that are versatile… that can be worn in different ways to save some space!
Kid’s Toiletries Bag
They don’t need as much as Mom & Dad, but keeping their stuff separate comes in handy at the end of a long day… when all you want to do it bathe them, put them to sleep and enjoy some relaxing (quiet) vacation time…
Mom’s Toiletries Bag
I ALWAYS keep this bag packed so that I’m ready to go anywhere fast or with last-minute notice. This comes in handy in emergency situations, too- I once ended up in the hospital with one of my children and was able to tell my husband just to grab me an outfit and the toiletries bag. It made things a lot easier. I also prefer to have doubles of everyday things for traveling. For example, I don’t have to put wet toothbrushes in the toiletry bag right before we leave and I won’t forget anything- like deodorant, or toothpaste, or facewash- before a trip. Here’s what goes in the toiletries bag:
Anything you will need for the pool area!
Of course, once you get to the hotel, you’ll be able to put some of these items in the refrigerator so that you can take only what you need to the pool and/or beach. This bag will vary according to your vacation, but we generally try to stay at places with a kitchen to cut down on food expenses while on vacation. And these places rarely have ketchup, mayo, etc…
Get Your FREE PRINTABLE:
WHAT TO BRING TO THE BEACH
The following is a list of what we packed for the beach. It was the most efficient packing system I have had to date and despite a few minor items that could have been included (see those below) this was the perfect packing plan. Many of these items can be thrown in the car the night before so your only worry before the trip is the suitcases…
- Wagon- Because I’m not carrying a bunch of stuff. The wagon held everything and was perfect for transporting it all. I had gotten the wagon with a removable canopy which was great because it shielded our items (and kids) from the sun when needed and last year, my son was able to take a nap in it.
- Canopy- Because of the sun. We had 4 adults and 3 kids- the 10×10 slanted leg tent with removable canopy worked perfectly. We were able to set it up quickly, and during the hottest point of the day, we just removed the canopy- packed everything else up, but left the frame on the beach (it was a private beach and this was allowed) for later use.
- Oversized Beach Blanket- Because I wasn’t going to wash a million towels. While the kids (and adults) spent very little time on the blanket, it was nice to have something to sit on while relaxing under the canopy (and it’s even nicer that the sand doesn’t stick to this particular blanket!). It was an oversized picnic blanket that folded up into a neat carrying case. Worked perfectly.
- Plastic Bag for Trash- Especially if you have a little one in diapers or if you brought snacks to the beach with you, a plastic shopping bag is great to have to keep the trash from flying away. (TIP: Attach it to your wagon or canopy so it doesn’t fly away.)
- Ziplock Bag- For waterproofing or sand-proofing things that need to be “something-proofed”. Your kids will also want to collect shells. Ziplock bags work great for this. (TIP: Make sure they’re only collecting old shells and not living things that will die in your garage and leave behind a horrendous odor).
- Mesh Bag- Because you want to keep all the wet stuff together, but able to dry and most importantly, you want the toys in, but the sand out.
- Goggles- Because beach water stings the eyes. They are relatively small and easily portable.
- Towels- Although I packed 7 (1 for each family member and 2 extras), I only brought 4 to the beach because we could share, they dry quickly and I wanted to reserve some clean ones for the rest of the trip.
- Sunscreen- Don’t forget to bring it with you! It should be applied 30 minutes before heading to the beach, and should be reapplied frequently especially during water play. I prefer a sunscreen lotion for the face so as to not get in anyone’s eyes. I also prefer to spray it on outside or on a balcony so as to not get the room smelling like it.
- An Extra Bucket- Keep one bucket at the canopy for washing hands of sand. We had a collapsible one that was easy to store. I definitely recommend it!
- Water Bottles- Stay hydrated! (The insulated water bottles work wonders if you fill them with ice… the Yeti seems to be a popular choice.)
- A Washcloth- For washing eyes if sunscreen/salt water gets into them. I bring a washcloth and pour water from the water bottle on it to clean eyes.
- Sunglasses- BUT don’t forget to take them off before you get in the water!! I lost a pair that way this trip.
- Snack Bag- The kids almost always want a snack, so I bring a large ziplock of heat-proof snacks while we’re on the beach. If you’re going to spend the day and need to bring lunch, a collapsible cooler instead of a hard one is better for lugging around.
- Waterproof Bag- If you’re not comfortable with just using the Ziploc, get one of these for your phone, room key, and keys- it’s easier to have a small waterproof bag to carry around instead of a purse.
FOOD PACKING FOR THE TRIP
We planned our stay at a place with a fully-stocked kitchen because we wanted to keep food costs down. The first night we got there, we ate out and afterward went to HEB (grocery store) to pick up food. We didn’t bring too much from home because our check-in was at 4 pm and we were arriving at noon. We weren’t sure if we’d get into the room early and didn’t want food to spoil, so leaving the shopping trip for when we got there seemed like the best thing to do. Here’s what we brought and/or bought to save money on food:
From what we brought from home and this list, we were able to feed a family of 5 for 4 days (with the exception of going out to eat once). We had frozen breakfast sandwiches or breakfast tacos for breakfast, salads, burgers, hotdogs, or sandwiches for lunch, and spaghetti and meatballs, or brisket for dinner.
Our hotel had an outdoor grill area, so it was easy to cook outside. We bought the spaghetti and meatballs just in case of bad weather, and it worked out perfectly. Although all the planning went well, the food menu was done on the fly and the goal for the next trip is to plan for healthier meals.Check out this #beach vacation checklist and packing tips! Click To Tweet
I hope this post has helped you prepare for your beach trip. We always have fun going to the beach and as the kids get older, there’s less to carry and more fun to be had!
For more tips and tricks, check out How to Plan a Cheap Family Vacation and How to Swim Safely with Multiple Kids (When You’re Alone).
What do you bring to the beach that makes your trip easier?