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I’m heading to the beach with my baby girl this morning! We’ve got the windows down, the radio on, and we’re singing along to Half Full Dixie Cup by Darius Rucker. Download the song if you haven’t yet, it’s a feel-good song for sure. This care free feeling got me thinking about my system for traveling to the beach with little kids, and the fact that it really can be done with very little money. I do it all year long and have no regrets.
When it comes to summer time fun, there are two types of people: people that love the beach and people that hate it. And truth be told, people that hate the beach really can’t be trusted.
I grew up within driving distance to the ocean, and spent most of my summers at my Grandma’s house near the beach, so I know a thing or two about beach going. When I was younger, I would just bring suntan lotion and a towel…Oh, to be sixteen again! As I entered my twenties, I started protecting my skin a little better and drinking more water, so I added an umbrella and small cooler to my beach essentials. And as my twenties carried on, I got married and had a baby, so the beach bag grew just a little bit more.
Going to the beach with kids is very different from going to the beach solo. It can still be a ton of fun, but it takes a little more money and a little more preparation.
If you’re a mom on a budget (and who isn’t?) you don’t need to shy away from beach adventures for fear of spending too much money. In fact, beach trips can be some of the cheapest and most wonderful memories your kids will ever have. I know, because I grew up as “that kid” and those are the kids I’ll be raising: kids that love inexpensive, outdoor fun! Don’t let those Pinterest and Instagram moms fool you, beach-going does not have to be elaborate, expensive, or stressful.
I’ve come to learn that even parents can go to the beach and enjoy the whole day with their kiddos on a very small budget. When I had my first baby, I knew there was no way I’d be giving up my beach adventures, even if having kids changed the experience a little bit. And now that baby number two is on the way, I have to make sure the saltwater runs through his veins too! So I put together this list of real essentials for any mama (or daddy) that wants to enjoy beach days on a budget.
There are a few things that you really do need whether you have kids or not, and that includes shade, sunblock, towels, snacks, and water. All of this can be found at discount stores like Big Lots, Burlington, Ross, TJ Maxx, or Wal-Mart for pretty cheap. Thrift shops are also great for beach towels, beach toys and large tote bags. There’s no need to go crazy and spend a ton of money; the whole idea of a beach day is inexpensive, stress-free fun!
Beach Essentials for Mom and Baby:
- Shade. It’s definitely a bigger investment than the rest of your beach stuff, but it’s going to be worth it. The main shade options are beach umbrellas, large canopies, and pop-up tents. It really just depends on how many people you have with you and what kind of setup you prefer. I have the Pacific Breeze Easy Up XL Beach Tent, which was a major investment for me. But we spend a lot of time on the beach and I hate chasing runaway umbrellas and wrestling with kids to put on their sunglasses and hats. It’s a worthwhile investment in my opinion, because you can carry it over your shoulder and set it up all by yourself. Beach umbrellas, canopies, and beach chairs with built-in umbrellas are a few other options. I definitely recommend choosing something that comes in a case with a shoulder strap for easy carrying. Canopies provide tons of shade, but they are heavy, they take 2+ people to put up, and they have to be anchored down so they don’t fly away. I chose shade that I can carry and set up by myself, and that’s just the way I like it! Second hand apps like Offer Up are also great for finding beach gear, if you prefer shopping around for the cheapest options.
- Sunblock. Any brand, including the generic stuff, will do just fine. Get something with 30 SPF or higher so that nobody gets a sunburn. I just buy a huge bottle of sunblock lotion and lather everyone up before we leave the house, and then bring sunblock spray to reapply throughout the day. I only have one baby of my own, but on any given beach day, we have 5+ kiddos and friends with us. If your babe has sensitive skin, go with a gentle mineral sunblock like this one.
- Swimsuits and rash guards. We’re water people in this family, and we’ll play in the ocean water any time of year. If you plan on taking a dip (and you should), bring a comfortable swimsuit and coverup. I put my daughter in a little rash guard with shorts to protect her from the sun as much as possible.
- Diapers and wipes. I usually bring two regular diapers and two swim diapers per child, and a small zipper bag with baby wipes in it.
- Towels. Everyone should have a towel, and anyone that’s old enough to walk on their own should carry their own towel over their shoulders…makes it a little easier for the mamas! Towels can double as pillows during nap time, so don’t forget them.
- Snacks and a small cooler. You’ve got ravenous kids now, so food is necessary. But you don’t need as much as you think. We spend most Spring and Summer weekends on the beach, and I swear it used to feel like we were going home with more food than we brought! So go easy on the snacks. Bring enough for everyone obviously, but try to bring nourishing snacks and skip the junk. No one will sit there binging on bags of chips that take up half your beach bag, but what they do eat will actually give them energy and keep their blood sugar stable. Bring nuts, trail mix, fruit, cheese sticks, beef jerky, sandwiches, chicken, veggies with dip, rice cakes etc. Keep it simple and bring just enough food to keep everyone satisfied, there’s no need for excess. If we’re hungry when we leave the beach, we all go out for dinner or go home and eat sandwiches. Keeping the food supply light and cheap during your beach day is the best way to go. For snacks, I have a lightweight cooler like this one that has a strap for carrying. Remember, straps are your friend!
- Water. Bring at least one water bottle for each adult and one sippy cup for each kid. I leave a case of water in the trunk just in case we stay late and everyone runs out of water. I used to bring it down to the shore with me, but quickly learned that my people don’t typically drink more than one or two bottles during our beach days. Yes, we probably should drink more, but we just don’t when we’re busy playing, and that’s okay! Less crap for me to carry.
- Baby powder. I consider this essential when you have kids. My daughter hates sand on her hands, and sprinkling baby powder over any sandy body part immediately allows you to brush off the sand painlessly and effortlessly. If nothing else, keep some in your car for those post-beach diaper changes.
- Hats and sunglasses (for anyone that will wear them). I’m a California girl and never leave the house without my sunglasses anyway, but the beach glare feels so much stronger than your typical sunshine. Get some cheap sunglasses from a discount store or dollar store so that you don’t get too attached to them, and wear them on your head so they don’t get crushed in your beach bag. I used to bring a hat and sunglasses for the baby, but she’s going through her resistance phase right now and the beach is just not a place that I want to deal with that. So I lather her in sunblock and let it go.
- Beach blanket. A big comfy beach blanket is just the best. Stretch out in the sunshine, feed the kids without getting sand into everything, rest and read a book, or just have somewhere to set all of your junk. I would choose a big beach blanket over beach chairs any day. I have this JJ Cole outdoor blanket and absolutely love it.
And now for the non-essentials. Let me start by saying that we’re frequent beach goers that live just 30 minutes from the ocean. I have never had to pack for an actual beach getaway and I always go home to my own bed at the end of the day, so take that into consideration when making your own list. If you’re traveling to a beach destination, you’ll certainly need a few more things, but the idea here is to save money and keep your load light.
- Beach chairs. They’re nice to have, they’re useful if you have back problems, but they’re bulky and they usually cost a good $40+ a pop. If you’re a mom on a budget, beach chairs are just not essential. I bring chairs on occasion if I have help carrying stuff, but I never miss them when I don’t have them. Spread out on a big comfy beach blanket and soak up the real ocean experience!
- Sand toys. When my kids are old enough to carry all of their own crap, they can bring big bulky beach toys. If I’m doing most of the carrying, my kids can play with small cups and spoons that fit easily into my beach bag. I have never bought real sand toys in my life, and we’ve never missed them. Occasionally, I’ll just throw a few plastic cups and spoons into my beach bag and the kids always have a blast with them. There’s nothing wrong with bringing sand toys, and I’m sure older kids love them, just keep in mind that less is more when it comes to beach trips.
- Kiddie pools or DIY kiddie pool supplies. These “beach hacks” drive me absolutely crazy. We’re at the ocean, sitting in front of a huge body of water, and you want me to haul a blow-up pool onto the beach so that my kids can play in water? That’s kind of dumb. Leave the kiddie pools at home and let your kids enjoy sand and salty ocean water. One less thing to carry or worry about.
- DIY facial mists and sea salt sprays. They’re not necessary or helpful and they’re a waste of precious space. If it doesn’t protect you from the sun, keep you dry, or feed your hunger or thirst, it’s taking up precious beach bag space. Leave it at home, and save it for a spa day.
- Change of clothes. Not everyone is going to agree with me on this one, but here’s my thinking: the sun is powerful and it dries wet clothes very quickly. If you wear light weight, comfy clothing that dries quickly, you won’t need to change outfits at any time during the day. Think soft cotton cover ups and beach dresses. I can honestly say that I’ve been to the beach thousands of times over the years and I rarely bring a change of clothes with me. Extra clothes are heavy to carry. I do bring a change of clothes for the kids, but I leave them in the car for the post-beach routine. My whole mission for beach days is to relax and carry as little stuff as possible.
- Grills and propane. Let me contradict myself by saying that grilling delicious food during your beach day is awesome! But, truth be told, the grill is just not essential for a pleasant beach day…you can have just as good of a time with some fruit and veggies, or chips and sandwiches. Sometimes we mix it up and have a huge grill-out for our big family beach days, but most of the time, it just isn’t worth hauling all that extra stuff. Keep it simple people, and you won’t regret it.
- Makeup and other toiletries. I never wear makeup to the beach, we play too hard and it melts right off. Some moisturizer with SPF and lip balm with SPF to protect your skin is more than enough.
I do have a few other things that I consider “almost” essentials. I bring these along and leave them in the car. If they’re needed at some point during the day, they are close by, but we don’t have to haul them down to the shore. My almost essentials are: change of clothes for each kid, a case of water, an extra towel, extra snacks, a phone charger, a small first aid kit, a hair brush, moisturizer with SPF, diapers and wipes.
My larger beach investments, including the shade tent, blanket, towels, and beach bag probably cost me about $150 and should last many summers to come. The smaller necessities, like the sunblock and snacks usually cost me about $50-$100 over the course of the entire summer, so I say that’s a pretty cheap summer adventure!
My system is simple and practical. I need to get some pictures of this in action, and I promise to update my post with tons of pictures for you when we take our next trip! But in summary, I have my tent, my beach blanket, my beach bag, and my beach cooler over my shoulder in their individual carrying cases. They’re a little heavy for one girl, of course, but they’re manageable and they make for an easy day at the beach once you’re all set up. I can even hold my baby in the other arm if she gets tired of walking! We’ve been doing this regularly since she was about 6 weeks old and it gets a little easier every time.
If you just bring the bare necessities and focus on the adventure of the simple things in life, I guarantee you and your kiddos will have the best beach day ever! Give my list of essentials and tips a try, and then come back and tell me how it went, what you would add or do differently, and if you had a great beach day like I’m hoping for!
Enjoy your summer, lovely Mamas!