It’s almost hard for me to comprehend not being at the beach, but I’m sure there are tons of children and adults who will be visiting the shore for the first time ever! For one of our authors here on Main Street, this coming week will be a family vacation to the Atlantic coastline. As we all wished her a wonderful holiday, I began to assemble what I thought everyone should know about traveling with children and the beach. I grew up going to the beach in the summer. And as I’ve probably mentioned, I was a surfer. Then as a teen, I moved to an island off the coast of New Jersey. I was in heaven! After I married, we moved to the SE corner of Virginia, where Virginia Beach provides some wonderful beaches tucked to the Atlantic by the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. So taking my kids to the beach was quite simple.
When you grow up with easy access to the beach, you do things almost without thinking. You assume everyone knows, but they don’t! So here are my tips for traveling with children especially for those headed for the beach!
- Turn off the DVD!
- Grab up a handful of plastic poker chips. The cheap ones from the dollar stores work just fine. (I’ll explain as I go. I know I was a bad mother. I even taught them to play 21. It sharpened their math skills.) Issue each child a few poker chips. Color doesn’t matter.
- Windows are there so children can look out and actually see something!
- It’s time to sing! I promise 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall can kill some time! And it teaches them to count backwards! Okay I really was a bad mother. I should have sung 100 Bottles of Milk on the Wall. But my kids learned to sing beer. They thought it was funny. If they goofed up and said the wrong numeral, they have to give up a chip. If you goof, you have to pay each child a chip.
- License plates are a great way of keeping them glued to what is around them especially if you are driving on a boring super highway. The person who can spot the furthest state/providence/county (must be verified) gets a chip. They learn a little geography doing this. If they are old enough to write them down, the one who sees the most plates gets a chip.
- And the ABC game, I’d forgotten until Pepper brought it up, is quite simple. They must do it in order. A is for automobile, B is for boat or billboard, C is for cat, chicken, corn, or cotton in the field. Take turns and each must find/see whatever starts with the next letter of the alphabet. It’s not easy! Oh, it starts easily enough, but after a while there are few letters that seem almost impossible. If they give up, they have to give up a chip! Then move to the next letter. I always allowed Dairy Queen (an ice cream/fast food restaurant here in the USA) for the Q. The X is another killer! It’s up to you if you will allow Exxon or FedEx – I figured it wasn’t exactly cheating – at least they found an X.
- Always travel with pillows and blankets.
- Super cheap cameras! There are tiny key-chain style digital cameras. Let them take pictures. A three year old can take a photo. These are their memories of their trip!
- When taking the kids to swim at the beach, make certain that they have the brightest swimsuits. No cute blue, white or green ones that allow them to blend in to the ocean! You want florescent orange, brilliant yellow, day-glow red, and super hot-pink ones. When searching the beach, you want your kids to stand out!
- Pack baby powder! And a bottle of alcohol. Baby powder removes the sand from the body especially the toes! Flip-flops and sandals feel horrible when there is sand between the toes! Or between the feet and the straps. Alcohol is for everything from cuts to jellyfish stings. It’s cheap – don’t dab, just pour.
- Bring lots of sunscreen. I love the new ones that come in colors. You can see if you’ve missed a spot when applying. Okay, you’ve now painted your child pink, purple, blue, or green. Of course they look like freaks. It goes away in a few minutes and they will return to their normal color. Be careful, there is a one that does hold the color, but it’s meant more for those who live in the sun such as lifeguards. Don’t forget to do the part or cowlick in their hair, and to go under their suits. Bathing suits have a strange way of slipping down or riding up. And Mom, get your cleavage! OMG! It hurts if you get burned there! There are spots down there that have probably never ever seen sunlight!
- Oh, and salt water will remove sunscreen so darn fast! Reapply frequently. I don’t care what the bottle says. The ocean is full of sand and it just lightly sandpapers off anything on the skin! Reapply when they get out of the water! Remember, when at the beach, they are probably getting triple the amount of sun compared to what they would get in their backyard or neighborhood pool!
- If the children have blue eyes make certain they have sunglasses – it’s harder on blue-eyed children than brown-eyed ones – same goes for adults! Be prepared. Someone will loose his or her sunglasses. Cheap ones work just fine on the beach. The sun is reflected off the water and the sand! But reflected sun in their eyes will make them tired and cranky.
- And, Mom & Dad, don’t forget to wear sunglasses – good ones! Trying to look across the beach or into the water to see your children with all that glare… Nope! You need good sunglasses that will cut the glare. You need to see your children. Wear a really cheap pair in the water if you don’t want to take your shades off. The ocean has a way of snagging that favorite pair of sunglasses!
- If you have three children, but only two adults, take turns taking them out into deeper water. Let the other two splash and play at the edge. No deeper than their knees while an adult takes one out. Mine could swim, so tossing them into the waves or letting them body surf towards shore was fun. (They have to hold their body very rigid with their hands stretched in front of them to body surf. And I guess it helps to know exactly when to push them in front of that wave.) If they aren’t swimmers, just let them jump the waves while holding your hand.
- Never let the children sit in the sand where the water rolls up onto them. That will pack 5 pounds of sand into their bathing suit bottoms and stretch it out of shape! Have them sit on their knees. That also means they can rise up faster if a bigger wave washes onto them.
- Ask the lifeguard if there is a shelf where the land drops away, sandbar, or anything you should know about. Each beach is different and most of the time lifeguards are assigned to a particular beach. They know the water and where it drops off or if there is any undertow. (I promise, most lifeguards are very well trained!) Where there are waves, there will be undertow. Most beaches will shut down if there is sufficient undertow to be a problem. But it can happen quickly and without warning. Never go out where you cannot touch the bottom!
- Take an overcast day and people think they won’t get any sun. Ha! You can burn quicker on an overcast day. Some people think the clouds filter something out which allows the burning rays to come through. (I have no clue!) See that person who is fried to a bright lobster-red crisp? TOURIST!!! But sometimes people just don’t know. Ever try to get a severely sunburned child to sleep? They are miserable! Prevention is everything! Sunburn is just as bad a burn from anything hot. Pink is a first degree. A burn that blisters later is a second-degree burn (quite common among sunbathers) and third is an instant blister. Those with super fair skin, usually found on blondes and redheads tend to have third degree burns.
- Mom, if you are pregnant…beware! I’m not sure what it is about the female body and hormones, but you will burn like crazy if you are pregnant! Read over all medications, including birth control before you hit the beach!
- If someone does get burned…Apple cider vinegar feels good and is cheap! Aloe straight from the plant or a bottle of pure Aloe juice is the most healing. There are also commercially prepared sprays available at any drug store.
- Bring a couple of long-sleeved shirts with you. I promise someone will start to burn and those long sleeves will keep everyone much happier! Grab hubby’s long-sleeved, dress cotton shirt. It’s a great beach cover-up! It’s sexy, and with those long tails, it can hide all sorts of bumps, bulges, cellulite, and extra pounds! 🙂
- Always make sure the children have bathed after being in the ocean. A shower may work fine for adults, but children usually do better with a bath, especially little girls. (They have all those little nooks and crannies where sand and seaweed will get caught.)
Naps, Evenings, and Meals:
- Plan for the children to take early afternoon naps. Or what we called siesta! My girls had to be quiet. Maybe watch TV in the hotel room? Or you could go completely quiet and have them read or do puzzle books. Do this hotel time at 12:30 until about 2:30. After siesta they can do the beach thing again. You don’t want them out during the hottest, sunniest part of the day. This also keeps them out of the strongest sunshine. If they are older, try visiting a museum or a lighthouse.
- Be prepared to get chilled in the evenings! Extra warm skin from the day’s sun and a cool breeze off the ocean is a recipe for getting the chills. Someone will wind up with the shivers and blue lips! And I’m not talking about blue from the cotton candy.
- If there is a boardwalk, let them do it at night! The lights, the sounds, and the fun! A few rides and they are in heaven! There’s something about cotton candy, saltwater taffy, fudge, etc., while walking the boardwalk! It will never taste better! Try not to buy cotton candy on a really humid night! Oh does that turn into a sticky mess! If they get it in their hair, it will wash out! If it goes down the front of that pretty white dress, it usually washes out without a problem. It’s sugar and food coloring! (We won’t discus red food coloring, which seems to stain everything!)
- Remember, it’s vacation. Try not to fuss too much. If all they want is french fries for dinner – it’s vacation. It’s a few days. They aren’t going to get rickets from it or die of malnutrition! If they are really picky eaters consider getting one plate of food and an empty plate so that the food can be divided or order off the appetizer menu. My kids hated the children’s menus. They wanted the good stuff! Don’t buy what they won’t eat! If they want codfish balls, and crab cakes let them eat it! I had one that would inhale a 1/2 pound of shrimp and one that wouldn’t touch seafood, Chinese, hamburger, hot dogs, or pizza. Go figure! I’d rather spend a little more and have them eat it, than to fuss when they refused something.
- Ask! Most restaurants can fix the tuna without blackening it! They can fix a steak without seasoning, etc. If your kids drink skim milk and the restaurant is serving 2%, the kids will balk! ASK!
- Kids feel stuff. If you are uptight, they will be uptight. Remember it’s a vacation. It’s supposed to be fun! It’s supposed to be filled with good memories, and lots of giggles!
Back to those poker chips! At the end of each day, give them some additional chips. If they’ve been extra good, they get five chips. If they had a melt down at breakfast, they get four. Tell them why. But give them a chip just because you love them. On the last day or evening, allow them to turn in poker chips for fun stuff. Let them buy that silly, twirling, whistling, whatnot with their chips! A value can be assigned to the chips depending on your budget. That twelve-year-old daughter might want a puka bead necklace as her souvenir, whereas a son might want a plastic shark! This is their decision and let them make it. It’s their money that they earned. It gives them a chance to understand value and earning something. And it’s a great bribe!
Take advantage of whatever the area has to offer! If it’s morning bike riding on the boardwalk or an aquarium, do it and have fun! Mornings on the beach and afternoons at the hotel pool, and if you think you are tired at night? For every step you take, they have taken probably two or three. If their idea of a perfect dinner is pizza and yours is lobster, have the lobster one night and pizza another. Everyone is supposed to have fun on vacation!
Will things go wrong? Of course. There is no such thing as a perfect vacation, especially with children. The number of things that have gone wrong while I was on vacation would fill a book and no one would believe me. (A crash landing in a jet? Yep!) But I promise a vacation is what you make it. So be sure to bring your sense of humor, look at the bright side, and count your blessings. At least you aren’t home looking a the same old walls!