Have you seen that article in The Onion: "Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming all Household Duties in Closer Proximity to the Ocean?"
Yeah. That pretty much sums it up.
You can still have a good time on vacation, though. I think a beach vacation is one of the best ways to spend time as a family. You get tons of time outside, and the kids have a way to stay super active with minimal effort and planning on your part. All while listening to crashing waves and feeling the ocean breeze on your face. If you're still not convinced, did you know research suggests that the negatively charged ions released by falling water might actually be good for your health?
Last year we went to South Carolina for a glorious week of not doing much but lazing in a pool, watching sunsets, walking on the beach, eating, and watching TV. It was the most relaxed I’ve been in six years. The key was planning. I love to plan. Maybe you don't. If not, read on for help. Or if you're a planning nerd like I am, read on for organizational porn.
Top tips to make your vacation feel like a vacation* - because, let’s face it: you’re the one making this whole damn thing happen.
Split the trip up into manageable chunks. The drive to South Carolina is about 11 hours for us. We could technically make that in a day. But to save our (read: MY) sanity, we broke it up and slept in a hotel halfway there.
Pack an overnight bag that has your stuff + the kids’ stuff in it so you don’t have to unpack the entire car for one night in the hotel.
Get the kids vacation goodies that they won’t see until they’re in the car. I usually hit the Target 1-Spot and stock up on sticker/activity books and tchotchkes I think the kids will like. When we hit the road, I present each of them with a goody bag. NOTE: don’t give them everything all at once. Hold stuff out for the return/second legs.
For a pre-schooler and older: load up an MP3 player (we use an old iPod shuffle) with books on tape. Little child-sized headphones with volume limits - so they don’t blow out their ears - are great for this.
Snacks, snacks, and more snacks. I keep one of these freezer packs in the car filled with milk, applesauce and juice boxes, and anything else they can’t choke on while we're rambling down the freeway, unaware because we have Freakonomics turned up too loud.
Let the kids get their wiggles out before you leave - take them to a park, or even consider taking them to a wide open field to run around for 20 solid minutes (not kidding). If they're still restless on the road, stop at rest areas every few hours to let them stretch their legs, go potty, get diapers changed, etc. (see #1 about breaking the trip into manageable chunks).
Use clear plastic bins to pack - this makes it easy to see what is where, and super easy to unload and load. I usually divide mine between household goods, beach stuff, food, clothes, bath/toiletries, and toys.
When the kids start acting like turds: screen time. You officially now have permission; go ahead and enjoy your peace.
We didn’t eat out much, and that was completely fine with me - it meant more time on the beach, and no pressure of getting everyone out of their wet suits, dressed, pottied and diapered, and no gathering of pacies, strollers, diaper bags, lovies, entertainment, etc., then ushering everyone out the door like a drill sargeant only to wait for an hour to eat. We ate a lot of sandwiches and pizza, and fresh fruit, veggies and crackers. Basically anything that required minimal prep.
Rent whatever you can: baby equipment, beach chairs, beach carts, bikes, etc.
Bonus-- here is one thing we brought that isn’t life-or-death, but it was nice to have: our Roku. That way we could watch movies on Netflix and HBO on a big screen, and the kids could have cartoons without commercials, and/or getting a penchant for some horrible and obnoxious show you don’t want them to watch.
*quick disclaimer: by "vacation," I mean the kind that involves little kids. Not the kind before you had small humans: basically a solid week of reading, sleep, sex and beer.
Picking out where to stay
I spent hours and hours figuring out the best place that would fit the needs of me, the hubs, our pre-schooler and 1-year-old. Here is what we ended up doing, and it was worth every penny.
Was a condo on a resort - this meant it was quiet, and we could walk/bike with the kids without a lot of traffic. It also meant we had plenty of space.
Had a washer, dryer, and dishwasher.
Had a separate bedroom for the kids - so that we could do whatever the hell we wanted* while they were sleeping. *usually binge watching Property Brothers and drinking beer
Was ocean front - we are/were still slaves to naptimes and schedules, and dammit, I was going to enjoy the ocean even if it was while I was making mac and cheese. It also meant I could have the hubs stay with the kids during nap and easily slip out for a walk on the beach.
Had a pool - and a baby pool - right on the property/complex, steps from our door. This meant that we had a way to keep the kids happy and occupied that didn’t require me to chase them/hold hands every second, I could still hear/see the ocean, I didn’t have to worry about the kids getting sucked under a giant wave, and we could easily go inside if bad weather hit, someone needed to poop, or we were getting hungry. All without 45 minutes of packing and prep and begging for shoes to be put on and "GET IN YOUR SEAT - NOW" and driving and walking, with 10 bags and beach chairs strapped to our bodies.
So that’s it. Take it, pass it on. And enjoy your vacay - you deserve it.