It’s easy to imagine that idyllic beach trip – the kids are playing nicely in the sand and the adults are relaxing by the sea. However, as most parents know, the reality is quite different. Sand gets in all the wrong places, toddlers have tantrums and the weather doesn't always play along. But all is not lost. Here are our tips for packing like a pro for a family beach trip, along with some lifehacks on how to cope with the sand once you’re there.

Rear view of a family group of three adults and two young children, make their way through sand dunes carrying a lot of beach items
Load them up! Get the kids to help you carry everything © PhotoAlto / Sigrid Olsson / Getty Images

Pre-departure checklist: the essentials

Whatever the ages of your family group – and unless you are visiting a beach on a grey mid-winter’s day – you will need the obvious sunscreen, swimmers, hats, sunglasses and rash vests, plus these key items:

Home comforts

A massive beach blanket is a must. Consider fold-up chairs, extra towels (to double as cushions) and an umbrella or windbreak to offer some shelter.

Refreshments

Bring plenty of water (freeze some overnight so it keeps cool) and bite-sized snacks that won’t melt. Everyone knows it’s the law to have ice cream at some point during a trip to the beach so don’t leave your wallet behind.

Clean-up kit

Wipes, tissues and hand gel are worth bringing on any trip with kids, regardless of how old they are. Reusable plastic bags are handy for rubbish, separating wet and sandy clothes, and scooping up everything else. Bring a fresh set of clothes for everyone, and a small tub of baby powder for sand-free feet on the way home.

First-aid pack

Deal with minor scrapes, bumps and ailments with ease.

Check the forecast, check the tides

Be aware of the elements before you head off. Will you need more sunscreen, or will raincoats and layers be required? Is it safe to swim? When will the tide come in? 

How to pack for a family beach trip - A toddler crouches and points at a rock pool on a sandy beach © Sarah Kelly / EyeEm / Getty Images
Sturdy sandals are ideal for rock pool explorations © Sarah Kelly / EyeEm / Getty Images

Entertainment checklist

  1. Fishing net and jelly shoes/sturdy waterproof sandals for rock pooling
  2. Football or beach paddles for family games
  3. Bucket and spade for digging and building
  4. Bodyboards and snorkel sets for older kids, if the conditions are right
  5. Something to read for the book lovers

Set up a safe, easy-to-find camp

Serial beach-goers go the extra mile when it comes to keeping everyone – and everything – safe and stress-free.

Stand out

Bring loud and colourful beach flag or umbrella to help lost members of your clan find their way back to camp. Set up near an easily identifiable landmark.

Be heard

Having a whistle or other noise-making tool, which family members recognise, is also a good way to keep people together; binoculars for scanning the horizon for wandering children, as well as sea life, can be handy.

Chain up your keys!

Don’t lose the car keys or a wallet to the sandy depths or worse – to a pick-pocket. Use key-chains to keep things secure and hidden and easy to find.

How to pack for a family beach trip - a mother and baby stay in the shade in a tent on the beach © Drazen_ / Getty Images
Packing a bright pink tent is one way to stand out on a busy beach © Drazen_ / Getty Images

Lifehacks for sand tolerance

Some kids don’t even notice the grit in their sarnies, others find it a constant irritation – which then becomes your constant irritation. Here are some lifehacks for beach-living.

Create a sand-free zone

Introduce a ‘no-sand’ zone to your beach camp. Hooks that attach to beach umbrellas or clamps to secure towels in place can work wonders at keeping sand at bay.

Avoid sandy sandwiches

A resealable portable cooler keeps lunch safely in the no-sand zone. Packing food in small containers ensures that if you lose the contents of one to the sand gods it doesn’t ruin your entire meal.

Don’t take the beach home with you

You could buy some sand-removal mitts before you go, or keep it cheap with some baby powder; it soaks up moisture, leaving dry sand that’s easier to brush off. Mesh bags are perfect for toy storage so the sand can drop straight through.

Travel backwards with a pram

Unless you have an all-terrain pram, chances are you’ll struggle to push it on a sandy beach. Turn it round and drag it backwards, and you might make a bit more progress.

Three kids dressed in swimsuits and rash vests run into the sea holding colourful bodyboards
Beach days can indeed be idyllic, if you come prepared © James Braund / Getty Images
 

Know what to leave at home

No one wants tears at the end of a day at the beach. Consider leaving these items behind:

Expensive tech

Sand and water aren’t kind to cameras, smartphones or tablets. Can’t leave the screens at home? Invest in waterproof cases, keep them in a zip-lock bag and stow them safely with other valuables.

Cherished toys

Sure, you can wash a favourite toy if it gets wet or sandy, but things get a bit trickier if the toy is carried out to sea or buried in an unmarked sandy grave. It happens.

Still not sure what to pack? Read out ultimate guide to packing like a pro before you go as well!

Subscribe to our Lonely Planet Kids newsletter and get 30% off your first Lonely Planet Kids book purchase.

Article first published April 2018, and updated June 2019

https://shop.lonelyplanet.com/products/lonely-planet-kids-travel-book-1

Explore related stories