What to pack for a beach vacation with kids.
Whether you are heading on a roadtrip up the coast, or a destination abroad, what you pack can often make or break your family beach vacation.
Knowing what and how to pack can be less than relaxing. Dare I say stressful even. I’ve put together my list of 30+ Essentials to Pack for a Beach Vacation With Kids, to help get your holiday off to a relaxing start.
Because, let’s be honest, travelling with kids requires a little more prep, and a whole lot more patience than that trip you took around Europe in your 20’s. Ok maybe that’s just me.
So put on your sandals and let’s get your sun, sand and surf adventure started.
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Family Beach Vacation Packing List
SUN SAFE UV BLOCKING PRODUCTS FOR A CARE-FREE BEACH VACATION
Sun safe uv blocking products are an essential part of any family’s beach kit.
Most people think of sunscreen as the first line of defense. In fact this should be one of the last. There are many other things you can do to avoid too many uv rays, before even applying the sunscreen.
- Wear protective clothing (long sleeve shirt & pants, hat, rashguards)
- Find or make your own shade
- Avoid going out mid day when the sun is the hottest (10am-3pm)
- Check the UV index.
When choosing a sunscreen for my family I consider three things; ingredients, effectiveness, and impact to the environment. A day (or week) by the ocean shouldn’t end up with lobster coloured skin.
Ingredients. Like a lot of parents, I worry about the impacts of what I choose for my kids. Is the sunscreen safe for their bodies and skin? Does it have as few ingredients as possible? I also have chemical sensitivities, so I can’t have any products around me with synthetic scents, or I get migraines. Luckily pure essential oils cause no problems.
Effectiveness. Hands up if you have ever put on a supposedly water resistant sunscreen on your kid, only to have it wash off in 5 minutes? Water resistant sunscreen, with adequate broad spectrum protection is a must for a family beach vacation.
Environment. As a family we try to minimize our impact to the environment. Is the sunscreen reef and ocean safe?
The Environmental Working Group website (EWG) is the place I go to do my research on sunscreens. They put out an annual Sunscreen Guide to help people find safer, more effective products.
The sunscreen products we have consistently used for UV protection since our daughter was a baby, are by Badger:
- Baby / Toddler: Badger Baby Active Sunscreen Cream, Chamomile & Calendula, SPF 30
- Kid / Adult: Badger Clear Active Sunscreen Cream, Lavender, SPF 30 or an unscented version Badger Clear Sport Sunscreen Cream, Unscented, SPF 35
Pro Tip: Mineral sunblocks are the best choice if you are trying to avoid chemical sunscreen. Also pack a lip balm (or two) with SPF to avoid burnt lips.
Hats. Could there be a more contentious item of clothing for kids then a hat?
While the struggle is real to get a hat to stay on the head of kids both young and old, sun hats with UPF protection are another must. Preferably pack at least two, in case one goes missing, or gets washed out to sea, or the tag itches their head, or any of the many surprising things that can happen with hats.
Pro Tip: We recommend bringing at least two sun hats per child, one for the water and one for on land.
Before our Cuba trip I found Wallaroo Hats. So many fun styles for adults and kids with UPF protection. As a bonus, many are designed to be packable.
I loved the Scrunchie Hat and the Naomi Hat I bought for myself. Stylish, easy to pack, and reshaped nicely once unpacked. Miss Six wore her rainbow striped Petite Nantucket hat and Mermaid Water hat non-stop.
Swimsuits & Rashguards
Rashguards are an ideal choice, for when you want to reduce the amount of sunscreen you have to apply to your kids.
Choose one with a higher SPF rating for more sun protection and throw it over top of a swimsuit, or wear on it’s own. I prefer the long sleeve version, however they come in a variety of long/short sleeves, and one piece outfits for babies and toddlers.
Miss Six and I pack our Kanu Surf Rashguards for all beach days. The looser Women’s Solid Long-Sleeve style works well for beach lounging, sandcastle building and swimming. They have different styles of rashguards and bathing suits for the whole family.
If your children are still in diapers, a reusable swim diaper is a good eco-friendly option.
Pro Tip: If going for more than a day trip, bring at least two swimsuits / rashguards per adult and child to avoid having to pack and wear a cold, wet suit at the beach.
FAMILY FIRST AID KIT FOR BEACH HOLIDAYS
Safety First. With a family, it is always a good idea to bring a basic first aid kit that covers all the usual suspects like band-aids, antiseptic wipes and cream, guaze, and tweezers. Bites, slivers, scrapes, and stings happen.
I also like to include a few beach specific items.
After Sun Lotion
Aloe Vera gel is soothing for the skin after a hot day in the sun, or in the unfortunate event that someone gets a mild sunburn.
Bug Spray & After Bite
Don’t let a few bugs ruin your vacation. Bug Spray and After Bite cream are two other essential items to pack in your first aid kit, for your beach vacation. Our daughter prefers the kid version of After Bite, as it stings less. Citrobug as a natural bug spray option or Badger have worked well for us, even while camping in mosquito country.
Baby Wipes, not just for babies. Baby Wipes are handy for long car or airplane rides, and wiping off sandy hands before beachtime snacks. They can also double as toilet paper in a pinch, for those inconvenient emergency pit stops.
We’ve used Aleva Naturals Bamboo Baby Wipes since Miss Six was a wee babe.
Pro Tip: Write out the local emergency numbers and keep a copy in your first aid kit, as well as add them to your phone contacts. You don’t want to be scrambling to find these numbers in an emergency situation.
CLOTHING ESSENTIALS TO PACK FOR YOUR BEACH VACATION (WITH KIDS)
While it’s easy to remember to pack sandals, shorts, t-shirts, and summery dresses for warm weather, there are a few other clothing essentials not to miss.
Long sleeve shirt and pants
Long sleeve shirts and pants offer some sun and bug protection and are handy for cooler mornings or evenings on the beach.
Pro Tip: Choose light coloured cotton, linen, or light merino wool clothing that hang slightly off the body, for hot and humid destinations.
Avoid clothing made with synthetic fibres, unless it’s specifically moisture wicking.
Light Jacket or Sweater
For cooler weather or chilly nights, a light jacket or sweater is a must have and small enough to pack in your suitcase without problems.
My new favourite merino wool sweater is the J Crew Tippi sweater recommended in this Best Merino Wool Sweaters article. Travel Fashion Girl is my go to site for checking out ideas for ‘fashionable’ women’s travel wear. I am in sore need of some fashion help. I love this sweater so much I have just put in my third order for two more colours.
Bring comfortable sandals for wandering the beach and town. Water shoes are also a good idea to protect little (and big) feet from scrapes and bruises, especially if the beach will be rocky.
Our family found Crocs to be the ultimate beach shoe for our last vacation. I know. Don’t judge us too harshly. I too swore to never wear them, BUT, they are quick to dry, good in the water and comfortable for strolling the beach, and town.
I like to think of raingear as preventative packing. If I bring raingear, it won’t rain, right?! Unfortunately weather isn’t always predictable, so it’s best to be prepared.
Rain ponchos are a light weight versatile choice. As ponchos are roomier, they fit over top of you, keeping your clothing, backpack and electronics protected from rain. They also can be used as a tarp, or a ground cover.
A rain jacket would be a better choice if you are expecting strong winds and heavy rains.
The Tuffo Muddy Buddy all in one rainsuit was a favourite for our daughter from 12 months, until she outgrew the largest size (5T). The rainsuit is light, waterproof, and easy to pack.
I am pretty minimalist when I pack for the beach. I like to encourage my daughter to play with whatever natural objects she can find. So toys, buckets, floaties etc. aren’t included in the list below. Although feel free to add them to your essential list if they are a must have in your family. Especially if you are driving to your destination and have lots of room.
Fewer items, also means less for the adults to carry. Let’s face it, it’s not usually the kids who have to carry the bulk of the supplies. A win-win in my books. Now only if there was a fool proof way to avoid bringing home sand.
While most vacation rentals will provide beach towels, there are times when you may need to bring your own. Check with your hotel, or rental before you leave. Cuba was one of those times for us that was hit or miss.
One towel for each person is ideal, or at least one per child.
Microfibre Towels are quick drying, and roll up fairly small, making them easy to pack, and are a popular beach towel option.
Hooded beach towels for babies and toddlers, are not only adorable, they can also double as a coverup. Anything that can do double duty, is an advantage for travel. Dinosaurs, Mermaids and Stripes, oh my.
Pro Tip: Bring a compact Travel Clothesline to hang up wet items at the end of the day. Do you really want to keep throwing your family’s wet stuff over the chairs, couches, tvs at your rental?
Bring a wetbag to stick all those wet, sandy bathing suits and towels into. They come in many fun patterns, and you can avoid the pitfalls of plastic bags.
Start your sand free quest here. Use a sand-free mat, so you can bring home the mat, not the beach.
Hot sun and beach fun lead to thirsty beach goers. Taking a refillable water bottle is good tip for any type of vacation, but especially for a beach destination. If water quality is an issue, choose a waterbottle with a filter. Don’t forget a sippy cup if your kids are little.
Pro Tip: Freeze water in your waterbottle overnight. This keeps your water colder, longer for a day at the beach with your family.
Swim Goggles or Snorkel
Swim Goggles and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly. If you ever forget them, be prepared for some unhappy kids! A snorkelling set is a good option for older children that can keep them entertained for hours.
Life jackets are a good idea for kids under 12, especially if your family is planning on participating in watersports. Even on calm days, the ocean can be dangerous.
Beach Tote or Backpack
OK, now that you have all your beach supplies gathered, you need something to put them in. Beach tote, bag or backpack. So many options depending on your preference.
We went the minimal route for our last family beach vacation. We took a small light weight, foldable backpack which also doubled as one of our carry-ons and day pack. This likely wouldn’t work if you have a baby or toddler, but a backpack diaper bag would work great, as it has all you need anyway.
Extra Beach Supplies for Babies and Toddlers
Other items that may be helpful to have on hand at the beach if you are heading out with a baby or toddler. Some of these may only be suitable if you are travelling by car.
- Extra diapers, bottles, snacks
- Baby / Toddler Beach Shoes – perfect for wading
- Beach Tent or Umbrella – for shade
- Beach Wagon – for carrying all your stuff.
- Baby Wrap – This lightweight mesh wrap looks perfect for beach days
- Fitted Sheet – For babe to lie on. Anchor with beach bags for a sand barrier
- Wet Bag or Disposable Bags – for wet swimsuits or soiled diapers. This is such a sweet waterproof wetbag.
- Mesh Bags & Baby Beach Toys – keep the sand at the beach, shake out before bringing home
ENTERTAINMENT TO BRING ON YOUR BEACH VACATION WITH FAMILY
Perhaps bringing entertainment on a beach vacation, seems like a fanciful dream for those with young babies / toddlers / kids. Hopefully the kids will be worn out from all the sun and fun, and you’ll have a few quiet moments at the end of the day to sit on the porch and read a book, or enjoy the view.
Book / Kindle
Bring a book, or a Kindle for a little quiet reading time. I prefer a Kindle as it allows me to carry hundreds of books, and it weighs hardly anything at all.
There are are also great Kindle options for kids. We like the comfort of knowing the Kindle Kids edition comes with parental controls, and is designed only for reading. There is even a dashboard where parents can adjust age filters, add books, and view reading progress.
Or try out the Kindle Fire Kids Tablet if you’re looking for a nearly indestructible device, that also gives access to not only books, but apps, games and more.
A portable charger is essential for charging your cellphones and other devices when out for the day. We have an older solar powered one, which works well for sunny beach days, but weighs a bit too much for our liking.
Choose a lightweight portable charger that can charge a variety of devices multiple times, and there will be one less thing to worry about.
Waterproof Cases for Electronics
When heading to the beach you definitely want to make sure your phone, camera, e-reader etc. are protected from water, and sand with waterproof cases or sealed plastic bags.
We like the waterproof dry bags for cellphones with a lanyard. Cool thing is they also float.
It’s also a good idea to have a back up plan for rainy days, or for times when your children want to hang around the hotel or beach rental.
Some of our favourite travel friendly essentials include:
- Card Games ( Uno, Sushi Go, Deck of Cards, Qwirkle,
- Blank Notebook and pencil crayons or pens
- Mess Free Art (Melissa and Doug or Crayola)
- Kids Books
- Craft supplies (stickers, beads & cord, small craft kits)
STEAM Subscription Boxes are our favourite way to bring learning and crafts on the road. Portable all-in-one boxes of fun science, technology, art, math activities. Our favourites are:
- The eco-friendly Green Kids Crafts box. Without a doubt this is an awesome set for budding scientists, who like to also get crafty.
- KiwiCo, for it’s age and box flexibility. They have crates for ages 0-104. Learn about other countries, create masterpieces, tinker with science and engineering projects, craft away.
- Little Passports, for the explorers in the family.
Pro Tip: Use a soft pencil case with a see through mesh or plastic front, to keep activities such as the craft supplies organized and easily accessible.
Here’s a quicklist of all the essentials to bring, plus some extras for babies and toddlers if there is space.
What A Family Should Pack For A Beach Vacation
Here is the list of must-haves to pack for your beach vacation with kids:
- Sun Hat
- First Aid Kit
- After-sun lotion
- Bug Spray
- After Bite
- Baby Wipes
- Long sleeve shirt
- Long pants
- Light Jacket or Sweater
- Rain Gear
- Beach Towels
- Wet bag for swimwear
- Sand-Free Mat
- Water Bottle
- Swim Goggles or Snorkel
- Life Jacket
- Beach Tote or Backpack
- Book or E-Reader
- Portable Charger
- Waterproof Electronics Case
- Indoor Activities: games, blank notebook & pencil crayons, kids books, journal
Here is a list of additional items you may want to bring if you have a baby or toddler:
- Extra diapers, bottles, snacks
- Baby / Toddler Beach Shoes
- Beach Tent or Umbrella
- Beach Wagon
- Baby Wrap / Carrier
- Fitted Sheet
- Wet Bag or Disposable Bags – for soiled diapers
- Mesh Bags & Baby Beach Toys
While this is a list of items we feel are essential for beach vacations, you don’t have to bring everything if it doesn’t work for your family.
Are there any other beach vacation essentials you won’t leave home without? Let us know in the comments below, or or social media. We would love to connect with you.
Related family vacation articles
- Thailand: What you need to know to have a safe family vacation
- One Day Havana, Cuba Itinerary
- Easy ways to save for your next family vacation
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