I remember the days when vacation meant sitting on the beach with a cocktail in hand listening to my headphones, undisturbed, while the only thing I was worried about was if I was getting tan lines.
Weren’t those the days!
Now when my husband and I talk about going on a beach vacation, the first thing that pops into my head is all the STUFF I have to pack for my toddler.
And not just the beach stuff. I mean, EVERYTHING:
The clothes, the toys, the books, the diapers-
There are just so many things to think about when preparing for a vacation with a little one.
So I finally got organized and made a complete packing list for beach vacation for my 2-3 year old. You can print a free copy of it here.
In this post, I’m going to talk about not just the STUFF but the tips I’ve learned to make packing and vacationing with a toddler a breeze.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST ON THE PACKING LIST FOR BEACH VACATION: BEACH CLOTHING & ESSENTIALS
Starting with the most obvious of “the stuff” on my packing list for beach vacation is appropriate clothes for the weather. But aside from the usual shirts, shorts, pajamas, etc. (which I list out in my printable checklist), consider if you need to purchase any beach essentials for your kiddo for the trip.
If you’re going to be having fun in the sun, you’ll want to be prepared to protect your little one’s skin with a high SPF and protective clothing.
I’ve always preferred a rash guard for my son. This way, most of his skin is covered, and I’m really just applying sunscreen to his face and legs.
We usually go to the beach or pool both in the morning and afternoon, so a rash guard helps me avoid having to slather him up all day – it’s tiring!
They make some really cute rash guards for girls as well (like this one!)
As for sunscreen, make sure to pack at least an SPF 50 for your little one. Personally, I prefer a lotion sunscreen over a spray so I can visibly see that I haven’t missed any spots on my son’s skin (plus, spray wears off faster in water).
Nobody wants a burnt babe!
The Baby Bum brand sunscreen is really good for this- the lotion is THICK. But for my son’s face I like this sunscreen stick that’s SPF 50. It’s super quick to apply, and I no longer worry about lotion creeping into his eyes.
Of course, a sun hat is also a must to keep the sun’s rays at bay and out of your little one’s eyes.
And what about those little feet?!
The dry sand or cement around a pool might feel hotter for younger children, which is why I always pack a pair of water shoes. I usually try to find a shoe that can double as a regular shoe and a pool shoe, so I’m killing two birds with one stone (something like this).
If you have room in your suitcase, consider bringing a floatie or water wings. I have a Paddle Pals vest for my son, which I prefer over a traditional life vest because it keeps him more upright in the water. (Never leave your child unattended though.)
Now that all the beach essentials are out of the way, you might be wondering:
How much regular clothing should I pack?
This depends on how long you’ll be gone and whether or not there will be a washer and dryer at your destination.
If you’re trying to pack light (I know, an oxymoron for sure), think about what your kid wears in a day and then maybe just bring a couple extra outfits. Items can certainly be worn more than once if needed (unless you’ve got a really messy kid!)
You can always pack a couple of SinkSuds for doing laundry in the sink.
In my experience, you’ll be glad you have them if you get into a pinch.
Speaking of sink laundry, we have definitely had to do this especially because we’ve been on vacation during the early phases of potty training.
We did the Oh Crap potty training method which meant no pull-ups. So you can imagine that there were some accidents.
Accidents = pack extra shorts + washing
In fact, our son was potty trained at 24 months so we’ve been on several vacations where we had to consider all the potty stuff. (If you’re not there yet, skip ahead to diapers).
We definitely toted one of these potty seats through the airport in a plastic bag more than a few times (yuck!)… as well as anywhere we went outside of the hotel.
Our son was just too small to sit on the big potty without it (and even at 3 years old he still sits on it to pee).
I wish I had found this potty seat here much sooner though as it’s a much better travel option.
If you have to bring some form of potty seat, whatever you do, don’t forget to pack Clorox wipes!
Haven’t tackled potty training yet? Bring on the diapers!
If you can buy diapers and wipes when you get to your destination, this will save you a whole lot of room in your suitcase. I personally prefer to just pack them though so when we arrive we’re ready to vacay and not running errands.
If you’re wondering, how many?:
Think about how many diapers your child uses in a day and then bring double. Because… ya never know. I’ve never regretted having extra.
Also, don’t forget to pack swim diapers as well for the pool or beach. Regular diapers do not work against leaks and actually just fill up with water the minute they get wet.
I learned this the hard way. At least it was just in my sister’s kiddie pool!
Let’s talk toys!
This is probably the hardest thing to keep at a minimum so your suitcase doesn’t weigh a gazillion pounds. But you also don’t want to have a bored child without sufficient entertainment at the same time.
I love picking out a few new things to surprise my son with when we arrive at the hotel.
I’ve discovered some highly entertaining toys that are lightweight and don’t take up much room in the suitcase. Meaning… I can fit more!
And more toys = happier, busier kid.
One of my favorite things to pack are reusable stickers. I actually have two favorite sets of reusable stickers for vacation. These are the first ones and let me tell you why:
They come with scenic picture boards but they also stick to windows. I’m talking airplane windows, airport windows and hotel windows.
So I’ll pack a sticker board in my suitcase (which is like a thin piece of card stock) and a handful of the stickers in my carry-on for play while traveling too.
My second favorite set of reusable stickers for traveling are these ones here. They are perfect entertainment when you’re dining at a restaurant.
And let’s face it. Mama needs those little hands to keep busy because mama needs a drink!
I also love to play games with my son during our down time in the hotel. He is obsessed with this Match Up Game and Puzzle. It’s essentially a deck of cards for playing the game Memory and the other side of the cards makes a puzzle. We’ve even played a quick game of Go Fish with these!
Can you tell I love multi-purpose toys?
For all of the other bigger toys you can’t avoid packing because they’re your kid’s favorite, I use 2 or 3 gallon ziplock bags. These are things like legos, play food, cars, play doh and figurines. Once the bags are full, that’s it.
You might be surprised to know that I don’t actually have beach toys (bucket, shovel type stuff) on my packing list for beach vacation!
Let me explain:
I once tried stopping last minute at a drugstore on the way to the beach hoping they’d have a bucket and shovel set to no avail. All we had was a paper coffee cup and a plastic spoon from the hotel room and you know what?
My son was completely entertained with just that.
We collected shells in the cup and he scooped sand into it over and over. We dipped our toes in the water, ran around the beach and enjoyed snacks.
Besides, any toy that can be rinsed off later can be a “beach toy”. Right?
Figurines are great for this. My son was really into these dinosaurs on our last trip. We took them to the beach and did a “dino excavation”. Then later they became “bath toys”. After that they were ready for play in the hotel room again.
So as you can see, when it comes to packing toys, it’s all about multi-purpose and compact!
My son loves to read so when it comes to packing books, I try to take the same “fit more for less” approach as the toys. The problem is, most books for 2 year olds are bulky board books.
I pack a few of his favorite board books and then surprise him with some fun new reading material that’s paper thin. Highlights magazines are a perfect example.
He loves the hidden pictures in those!
We also enjoy the Little Critter books, which are great for travel since they’re thin paperbacks.
You can also check your local library for some new reading material that might fit the bill.
Mealtime while on vacation is always a challenge. Depending upon your accommodations, you might consider whether your kid will be “picnicking” on the hotel floor or if a high chair is needed.
I always try to have my son sit down for his meals because:
- I want to teach him table manners
- I think he eats better sitting down
- I don’t want him to choke while running around
- I don’t want to have to chase him and shove food in his mouth (I’m on vacation!)
I don’t want this to change when we’re out of town so I always pack his Inglesina. It does take up some room in my suitcase, but it folds up to lie flat, is machine washable and only weighs about 4 lbs. (Note, it’s not good for glass tables or tables with lips). We’ve gotten tons of use out of it when we go to see friends and family as well.
In addition, I pack my son’s water bottle, one plate, a fork and spoon, and his silicone bib that I can rinse off and reuse at each meal. A little dish soap is great for washing his dishes in the hotel too.
As for packing food and snacks, that’s a whole other can of worms.
If thinking about what your little one will eat while away from home stresses you out, I’m working on a post for that… coming soon!
The things you’ll need to pack for bed time will certainly depend upon where your kid sleeps.
If you’ve still got a crib sleeper, be sure to request a pack n play at the hotel or bring one if staying with friends.
I personally like to bring our own sheet and travel mattress for the pack n play. We all know the “mattress” they come with is hard as a rock! Maybe I’m a little over the top with this one. It is an extra piece of luggage to tote along. But I’d rather be sure my son will be comfortable than waking me up in the middle of the night!
At a minimum, you’ll want to pack a favorite stuffed animal and a sleep sack or blanket that your child sleeps with. This will help them feel more at home so everyone gets a good night’s rest.
If your kid is used to sleeping with white noise at home, you can also use the White Noise app on your phone.
Personally though, I’m not about to leave my phone all evening at the crib side to play white noise! Instead we bring this cute little owl, which plays white noise and also has a night light.
Thankfully, bath stuff can be kept really simple. I like to pack a travel sized bottle of my son’s body wash/shampoo just because he’s always had sensitive skin (and hotel shampoos are always so perfumed anyway). But that’s really it.
You do not need to bring “bath toys”. My son is perfectly happy just using a couple of cups or water bottle for pouring water while he’s bathing.
Any toys that you bring that can get wet can double as bath toys (remember the dino toys I mentioned before?).
You will want to pack any toiletries your kid uses such as their toothbrush, toothpaste, and comb.
It’s also a good idea to pack any medicines your child requires (in carry on) or a thermometer and Tylenol at a minimum in case of a sudden onset of fever. This has happened to us while on vacation and of course it was the one time that I didn’t pack those things- Murphy’s law at work. My husband had to venture out late in the evening to buy them. It wasn’t the end of the world, but would have been much easier if I had just packed them.
CONCLUSION + PRINT PACKING LIST FOR BEACH VACATION
Our kids require a lot of stuff to keep them safe, entertained and happy on vacation. Being prepared is the best way to ensure everybody has a great time! If you’re here, you’re obviously doing a great job thinking ahead, mama!
So get packin’ and don’t forget to print my free packing list for beach vacation here.