My ultimate packing guide for a beach vacation with your baby, toddler or preschool-aged kids. Here’s a list of everything you need to bring with you to ensure a fun time while keeping your kids happy and safe. Plus, all of my travel hacks!
Beach vacations are by far my favorite. We took our first trip as a family of four last year and my son has still not stopped talking about it. Summer is approaching again and I think we’ve all got a bit of beach fever going on. We went to Carolina Beach in North Carolina for six days last September. My parents live in Raleigh so they drove up and met us there for the last few days. It was great to have the extra help and my kids LOVED seeing their grandparents again. We used VRBO.com to get an AMAZING vacation rental right on the beach. It was perfect. No packing and unpacking loads of beach gear and driving aimlessly for parking. Instead we just dragged everything out in a wagon and set up camp for the entire day.
I HIGHLY recommend renting a condo or house on the beach (or as close as you can get) if you are planning a vacation with young children. Can we say, bathroom-breaks? Oh, and snack-breaks? Nap-breaks? Mommy-breaks….? You get it.
You’ll also have a larger living space for everyone to hang out and relax, and a full-sized kitchen and fridge for storing all the food and snacks you will be needing. There was also stacked washer and dryer – essential for rinsing swimwear and washing towels and messy kid’s clothes. We got a two bedroom condo so the kids had their own room as the little one still took consistent naps. We did have to rent linens and towels though, but the owner provided us with a great company to do so. We rented a crib and booster seat from them as well.
We were traveling with a one and four-year-old and let me tell you, we definitely had some exhausting and frustrating moments. For the most part though, they were pretty well-behaved considering that we had two flights in one day to get there. We flew into Wilmington and rented a car to drive down to the beach which took about 30-40 minutes.
Travel Hack 1: CHECK YOUR BAGS. Nowadays its often cheaper to check a bag with an airline than it is to bring a carry-on. Also, when you’re traveling with kids you’ll already have a million different toys, snacks and water bottles to carry, so it’s better to keep yourself unburdened by luggage as well. We packed everything we needed in just two large suitcases.
A word of caution on flying into small airports with children: In the case of cancelled or delayed flights in or out of the airport, there are substantially less available flights for you family to catch later. Flying in to Wilmington was fine. On the way back however, our flight to Chicago was delayed for weather-related reasons. Then it was delayed longer, and longer still. We finally boarded a plane nearly 8 hours later. YES, EIGHT. And then we were stuck in a freezing cold airport in Midway for another 4 hours before catching the LAST flight back to Denver at nearly 2 AM. My son was sleeping on a dirty airport bench rolled in thin, crappy blankets and my daughter was stuck in the baby carrier. I walked that airport for HOURS and she didn’t sleep until we boarded the final plane home. We had entered the airport initially at around 11 AM the previous day and finally found ourselves at home at 5 AM the next day. It was AWFUL. I’ve never been so happy to be home in my life! Which was a bummer too, because we LOVED the beach and it was honestly a really fun trip. And despite the terrible travel experience, it was still totally worth it.
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One of the best things I brought with me, that was honestly a life-saver, was our baby carrier. We use an Ergo 360 and without it I would never have survived that 18 hour travel nightmare. If you’re on the ledge about bringing one, JUST DO IT. They are essential for airport travel. You can keep your child safe and still have your hands free for pulling luggage, carrying snacks and holding hands with your other kids.
Backpack Diaper Bag
The other great thing about baby-wearing is you can also wear a backpack. I use this backpack diaper bag and I LOVE it! It’s adorable, zips all the way open and has lots of pockets for organizing. It’s also versatile enough that you can use it later, after you babies have outgrown it. For myself, I also like to bring along a small clutch to hold money, cards and lip gloss that can multitask for a date night but I can also throw into the diaper bag. Then I’ll pack a simple cross body bag to use when I’m not bringing along the entire diaper bag during short family outings. This cute bag functions as both!
A Double Stroller
We went back and forth with this one but decided to bring it. I got it for a steal on Amazon so I figured it was worth the price of lugging it around with us. We did use it in the airport to help transport the kids and extra bags we didn’t want to carry, although all the unfolding and gate checking got a little tedious at times. It was great for strolling the boardwalk with two young kids though! This Jeep stroller is the one we purchased and it was awesome. It folds up small, is super sturdy and well-made and most importantly, it’s comfortable for the kids. It also reclines and has a storage area! I’m holding onto it for future trips because older kids can ride in it as well (maybe a Disney trip in our future!) Plus, it’s under $90!
Travel Hack 2: When traveling with young kids, it can be easier just to rent a car seat or booster from your car rental place. We rented a toddler-size car seat for Little T and just brought our own infant carrier for Baby Bun since it’s fairly compact. It was a lot better than dragging 2 giant car seats through the airport. Airlines are required to check these for you for free if you do decide to bring your own.
Packable Toys and Games
Here’s a great list for kids ages 1-5:
- Dover Little Activity Books are adorable and there are tons to choose from.
- Water WOW by Melissa and Doug and Imagine Ink coloring books are always a win!
- Magnet travel games and tins like this one about cars, plans and trains.
- Small board books that are also lift-the-flap such as “Open the Barn Door”.
- The Last Mouse Lost Game is simple, compact and fun to play!
- Matching card games – bring only 6-10 pairs and store in a plastic bag.
- This Buckle Toy in the mini version so it fits in your diaper bag.
- These super cute lacing cards.
Toddler Entertainment Hacks
Your odds of a baby one and under actually being entertained on a plane by a toy is basically slim to none. This can also be true for younger toddlers. I find it’s often better to bring a whole artillery of random sensory objects. I packed a gallon-size bag full of: post-it notes, rolls of ribbon or string, foam stickers, wiki-sticks, play-doh, a slinky, crayons and stretchy/sticky/squishy toys. All of these things can be found at the dollar store and are perfect for travel. They are small and no one really cares if they get lost or destroyed.
Travel Hack 3: You can tear coloring or paint-with-water pages out of books and fold them up so you’re not carrying a whole coloring book around. Use the pens from the Water WOW books for painting with water.
Typically it’s pretty obvious what type of clothes you’ll be needing for a beach trip, so instead of a specific packing list I’m including some of my favorite choices for kids wear.
- Water friendly shoes like Crocs, which are easy to slip on and run out to the beach. You can also wear them in the water, but my kids preferred to be barefoot.
- Sun hats that hold up in salt water and stay on. I like this super-affordable brand for toddlers and preschoolers and i play for babies.
- Swim diapers – again go with i play for all the super cute designs and colors to choose from.
- The MOST adorable swim suits for little girls are made by RuffleButts.
- And don’t forget sunglasses and cover-ups like this awesome one which also serves as a towel.
Travel Hack 4: Don’t bother bringing anything you can buy once you arrive. We purchased extra diapers and wipes, beach toys and cheap towels at a local store after we landed in NC. We had to pick up food anyway, so we got nearly everything we needed in one stop at Wal-Mart.
- Pain relivers for yourself and the kids – such as Infant Tylenol.
- Sunscreen for everyone! I like Baby Bum and Babyganics which has a great spray-on feature. I use Alba for myself.
- A mini first aid kit like this one.
- Baby powder to help get the sand off.
- Tear-free shampoo and body wash. Grab a travel-sized bottle and it should last the whole vacation for two kids.
Travel Hack 5: If you’re bottle feeding, bring one in the carry-on and pack two more in your checked bags. Three should be enough for each day as long as you wash after each use. Pour powdered formula into a gallon size bag and double bag it. Bring just a manual breast pump unless you’re an exclusive pumper, then I’d definitely bring your electric pump.
Other Useful Items
Food and Drink
We bring a water bottle for each kid that we can refill between flights as well as bring to the beach. I like these ones the best. They don’t leak and are super sturdy. Plus they sell replacement valves and straws. Reusable snack containers are great for on the go – we bought cheap ones from the dollar store.
A trusty mesh bag for toting your beach toys and snacks back and forth. A lightweight mat for creating a sand free area, we used this one. It folds up super small and now we keep it in the car for picnics.
Travel Hack #6: There are so many great deals on Amazon for beach gear. If you have Amazon Prime, you can order an item and have it sent right to where you are staying! That way its still less gear for you to travel with, but you’ll have it once you arrive. This baby beach tent, for example, would be a great choice! Any items we didn’t want to bring home we left for the owners in their beach storage area (ie sand toys), and gave the others to my parents to hold on to.
Vacationing with kids can, at times, hardly be called a vacation. But the memories you create and the pictures you take are forever. I can’t wait until our next family trip!