Several people have asked me about our beach experience with a baby and toddler. Was it worth it? How did we manage? That kind of thing. So I thought I would share a bit about how we made it work and whether we would do it again.
When it was just Daniel and I, we would occasionally vacation at the beach but we rarely got in the water. We were content to bike and take long walks on the beach. And we typically went to the beach in the winter to avoid crowds (you won't see us at Disney World any time soon).
With kids, we have discovered that vacations are easier if we actually embrace the beach and take advantage of the water and sand (though we still try to go right after peak season –late summer/early fall– to avoid crowds). Most kids are content to splash in the water and dig all day. Jack (age 3.5) is no exception and would spend every day digging if he could. The beach offers endless sand for this purpose.
Here are some ways we have found that make vacations to the beach with children a little easier:
Our best tip for planning vacations is to decide on a budget before you get started. We have learned that this saves us a lot of frustration (this is a good idea whether or not you have kids). When Daniel and I start on the same page regarding how much we are willing to spend, we don't spend valuable vacation time fighting over the cost of restaurants or outings. Plus with a cap, I don't think we have ever spent the entire amount we have allocated. With kids we spend less money because we spend the majority of our time on the actual beach playing.
One thing we have relied on (for the last 10+ years) is the website vrbo.com (Vacation Rental By Owner). We always book last minute to get the best deals. Daniel is great at calling potential rentals and negotiating a cheaper rate. We have discovered that you have more negotiation power when 1) you are not set on a specific location, and 2) you are willing to go last minute. With kids we think that being right on the beach, with quick access to the water, is ideal (more on that below).
Besides negotiating price, we also ask about the flexibility of check-in and check-out times. On vrbo.com you can see the booking calendar and if you know that no one is checking out the day you are checking in, you can generally ask to arrive early. It's the same with leaving. If you can ask to check out a little later, it makes a world of difference. This year we had a noon check-out instead of 10am. With kids, the extra two hours made a big difference. We had time to go down to the beach one last time. Time to walk Sophie. Time for everyone to get cleaned up without having to rush out the door.
Another way we take advantage of the beach is to book lodging right on the water. On our first trip to Destin with Jack, we were in a condo that was across the street from the beach. This meant lugging all of our gear down to the water, and having to lug it back. We had to plan more and pack more items (like lunch and lots of snacks) so we could take full advantage of the beach. The last two years we stayed right on the beach and it made a world of difference. We could run in and out of our house or condo at our leisure. We could easily take Isaac back inside if he was getting fussy while the other parent stayed with Jack. We found that we were in and out at the beach all day long instead of making one big, arduous trip to and from the beach each day.
For gear we used a small float with sunshade for Isaac and a puddle jumper for Jack. Jack really just needed shovels and buckets to be happy. Having a mat to sit on was nice and we figured with the outdoor shower at our condo, we didn't have to drag towels down to the water with us.
We do wish we had a large pop-up tent (or umbrella) and chairs. My sister had these things in her arsenal last summer when we went to Mexico Beach and it made sitting on the beach more enjoyable (we are learning!).
With Isaac being 4 months old, there were definitely some challenges – Isaac would get hot and we were always trying to keep him shaded so he wouldn't burn. But overall, we are glad we went. The beach is a great place for young kids and worth the challenge of a baby.
Our days went like this:
Sleep in. Eat breakfast. Go to the beach for a couple of hours. Get cleaned up. Go somewhere for lunch. Go back to the beach (Daniel and I took turns taking Isaac back inside and playing with Jack). Get cleaned up for dinner. Take a walk on the beach as a family after dark. Go to bed. Repeat.
Besides having a laid-back schedule that didn't wear everyone out, breaking up our day like this meant that we had lots of built-in potty breaks for Jack.
The biggest things we have embraced are 1) you need a budget, 2) lodging on the beach is ideal, 3) you don't need a lot of stuff (swimsuits and sunblock, check) and you don't have to do a lot of activities to have happy kids, and 4) we need to invest in some beach specific gear like a tent and chairs.
I think my best advice would just be to keep it simple, and if you forget anything, I'm sure you can find a Walmart or Target (we did!).