Packing Lists and 3 Tips for a Stress-less Family Beach Vacation

What to plan for and how to pack for a successful journey and stay at the beach

By: Jaymee Castle, Maternity Consultant in Knoxville, TN

Summer memory making season is upon us! In the Castle household, we’re actively counting down to our annual beach vacation. A friend of mine once told me to think of these trips as “memory making adventures”. I love the sound of that but as it turns out, I’m not an adventurer at heart. I like to create packing & to do lists and plans and then really enjoy it when things go according to those plans. I also recently read that when babies are born so are mothers. And as a mother I’ve learned that I can attempt to plan things down to the finest detail and can still rest assured that every day will be an adventure.

I’ve embraced these memory making journeys and am grateful to have the opportunity to share in them with my little family. In this post I’ll share some of my “three kid tested” tips for what to pack and how to set up for smooth travel (by air or car!) to the beach so you can snap photos like these and let those memories last a lifetime!

Tip 1: Make a List! (It’s never to early to start)

This is a pretty obvious first tip, but the timing of the list making is what I’ve refined over the last few years. I start making my list of what to pack to the beach several months in advance. I find that this helps me to look forward to the trip and to feel as prepared as can be when it comes time to pack!

In my planner (this could also be a memo in your phone, but yes I still use a paper planner), at the start of the year, I create a space to write down my vacation packing lists. All the usual essentials are covered, but a couple years back I started adding ideas for fun stuff to pack in the carry on. I take note the inexpensive little toys that my kids have begged for that I say “no” to over and over because “who needs more trinkets?”. Kids on airplanes or in carseats for hours on end need trinkets, that’s who! I’ll usually also start to purchase these and tuck them away in my closet. I’ll hold on to things until the kids are asleep the night before we leave and then I’ll tuck a few surprises in their backpack (aka their carry ons) that they can find along the way. This is a simple way to create fun sanity saving surprises for them along the way.

For the “what to pack in the suitcase” section, I note kids sizes – I write down their clothes and shoe sizes so that I can buy things like new flip flops or swimsuits and warm weather clothes when I catch them on sale with less risk of an ill fit. Then I also have a count of how many of each type of item we need to pack that’s edited for access to laundry amenities on the trip. More details on all of the above in the list templates I’m including below!

Tip 2: Plan to Pre-Pack

This is so Type A and is not a joking matter. I start to plan the packing experience a couple weeks ahead of our vacation. So, knowing our beach vacation is 4th of July week each year, I start pre-planning for packing everyone in mid June. I think about cargo space (cargo box on top of the car or checking bags at the airport?), I envision the lodging at our destination (kids sharing rooms? space to unpack or living out of suitcases) and I think about who is lugging all the bags to/from each point along the way.

Once I know the count of suitcases or overnight bags I want to take for my family, I set those aside in my room and then block out chunks of time when kids are sleeping or out of the house to gather what goes in the suitcase for each kiddo. During that hour of time, I grab an empty laundry basket and fill it with all the items from the list for one kid at a time. I let my kids choose their one favorite outfit (this is usually some crazy mismatched situation that may or may not be appropriate for the weather) and the rest is up to me.

Carry ons are the last to be packed. I plan time to do this together with the kids and always try to suggest things that I know are fun but that won’t be heartbreaking to lose (example: a mix of old legos to free build with while waiting for a flight for my son; but definitely not the most prized mini-figure that he spent his tooth fairy money on and waited by the mailbox to receive). Then once they’re in bed I tuck the little surprise items in various pockets along with a new coloring book or sketch pad, colored pencils and some treats such as their favorite snack and candy.

Tip 3: Pack Your Bags and Go!

My goal is always to be packed at the 24 hour prior to departure mark. My kids bags are usually packed by this time and mine never are (probably never will be). I limit myself to only one extra outfit or item that isn’t on the packing list for my kids because the list works well for us. It limits my overpacking tendencies and it results in a mix of choices without getting overwhelming at the same time. This is me being my most adventurous best self!

Now, for the best part of this post and without further ado, here are – the lists!

The List – What to pack in the Carry On (the kids backpacks and my mom tote which doubles as beach bag when we arrive)

This is applicable for travel by any mode of transportation in our family because I try hard not to have to dig into any suitcase while we’re en route to our final destination. The answer to this “what to pack” question used to look a lot like a “what to pack in the diaper bag” lists that are out there. But now that my youngest is hitting preschool age and can handle her own backpack, the list has evolved and is as follows:

  1. Necessities:

  2. Wipes – and a small zip top sandwich size bag of diaper wipes for each person. These are always used whether it be for actual intended purpose of cleaning hands or for some fun game my kids call “let’s clean the airplane seat”

  3. Small hand sanitizer (for school aged kids) – so I can give the mom stare and demand they clean their hands after the “let’s clean the plane” game but before “let’s eat all our snacks” portion of the trip

  4. Small First Aid Kit (I prefer them to all have bandaids, alcohol wipes and neosporin in their bag so we can respond quickly to devastating hang nails or scraped knees)

  5. Extra Diapers/Underwear and Full Change of Clothes – this is pretty self explanatory and again is always used. We’ve had car and plane trips where for one reason or the other at least one child has used the full change of clothes. This becomes more important if you’re checking bags and risk lost luggage!

  6. Empty drink container – in the airport this is an easy way to refill water for all family members. In the car, especially with preschool aged milk drinkers, it’s helpful to have a clean empty cup on hand for worn out travelers begging for milk as they’re running on fumes.

  7. An index card with parents names and contact info that the child is aware of in the event you become separated during travel. This feels more important in busy airports but also is good information to leave in their backpacks year round. It can double as a “travel game” if you’re up for helping your angels practice memorizing your name and phone number – since young kids are tasked with this early in elementary school.

  8. At least one “it’s healthy enough and you know your kid will eat it” snack

  9. A book – this should be something your kiddos can enjoy alone or when being read to during delays in the airport or while stuck in traffic

  10. A coloring book or sketch pad – I prefer some blank paper in the mix for when the suggestion of coloring lands as a form of punishment to squirrelly kids. Tic Tac Toe never gets old (to kids anyway)

  11. The tablets and portable video game devices. Try to make them wait but if things get hairy you’re going to be kicking yourself if you made “screen free travel” mandate from the comfort of home.

  12. Favorite comfort item (lovie blankets or small stuffed animal or babydoll – my max is one item that we have to track like it’s on the most wanted list during the entire trip)

  13. The Fun Stuff (some of my go to items for the surprise items I like to stow away in their various backpack pockets when they’re asleep dreaming of vacation)

  14. Skittles and Ring Pops – two categories of candy that all my kids like. It’s critical that everyone has the same quantity and type of treat so as not to be punished for your good deed

  15. New chapstick or lipgloss – something simple that they get so excited about!

  16. A new pair of sunglasses – our favorite store with the big red logo currently has the cutest sunglasses in their dollar bin for $1-$3 a pair!

  17. New goggles to get them even more fired up for the beach – try not to lose before you see the ocean!

  18. Temporary tattoos – these don’t fit my preferred aesthetic for vacation but they score highly in the “keeping kids occupied” & “wait your turn” categories so they make the cut

  19. Slinky or Koosh Ball – tell your kids stories of the glory days while they look at you like you’re from outer space because you were so easily amused by something that seems so foreign to their little technology loving minds

  20. A small stuffy if your kids love plush toys

  21. A hot wheels car to race their boredom away

  22. Bonus Section! A few of the new items I’m excited about for my kids this year

  23. Travel Spirograph sets for my big kids (this is an idea stolen from the parents of spirograph-engrossed children seated at a table next to us during a particularly crazy dinner out on vacation last year)

  24. Go! Interactive Travel Journals also for my big kids

  25. Travel Spot It – I’ll also keep this in my bag to enjoy during those long waits for tables and meals at busy restaurants

  26. Wooden Lacing Cheese Toy and I Spy from A-Z for my toddler/early preschooler (what is the category for a 2.5 year old that seems 6 some days but also still says “I your baby!”?)

The List – What to pack in the Suitcase (for the kids)

This is my time and three kids later tested list of what to pack to make sure you’ve got what you need and also that you don’t become overwhelmed with choices when you make it to the beach (or the mountains or wherever you’re headed). I focus on the quantities and types of what to bring per child and make specific choices as I pack so that I can use same check list for each child each year.

  1. Underwear x6

  2. Socks x2 (more if a trip to any destination but the beach)

  3. Diapers if needed (enough for two days then buy a small pack when you arrive)

  4. Wipes x1 pack

  5. Pajamas x3 sets

  6. “Nice” shorts or skirt x1

  7. “Nice” shirt x2

  8. Comfy shorts x2

  9. Leggings or Sweatpants x1

  10. Dresses x2 (one play and one dressier)

  11. Tee shirts x2

  12. Swimsuits x3

  13. Rash guard x2

  14. Flip Flops

  15. Dressier Sandals (optional – but my girls consider a must have)

  16. Tennis Shoes (wear these on the plane or in the car to free up space in suitcase)

  17. Water Shoes (my kiddos love wearing to/from the beach and I love that they’re easy to hose off)

  18. One outfit of the kid’s choosing so they don’t fight all the other choices (and yes, let them wear this outfit out in public without any objection)

  19. Travel sound machine for everyone’s sake

  20. Daily Toiletries & Sunscreen – sealed and unopened and in luggage to be checked because it’s cheaper at home than at the beach!

  21. Hair Accessories (a must have for the girls – try to limit the qty and bring things that can get wet)

  22. Floaties – we once dedicated a whole suitcase to our puddle jumpers (and more spare diapers to fill empty space). We’re down to one kid in a puddle jumper now and it’s worth bringing along from home vs. buying there

  23. All the chargers for all the devices (adults pack your phone charger in your carryon)

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