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Planning a trip to the beach with kids can be relatively stress-free -- if you ask the right questions. (Photograph by Margo Szabo)
TravelTraveler Magazine

Planning a Beach Trip With Little Kids

As beach season — at least here on America’s East Coast — comes to a close (farewell, soothing surf and sand-covered watermelon slices!), I’m reflecting on how planning a beach vacation requires a different way of thinking when you have little kids. It’s less about packing the perfectly curated selection of books (good luck trying to get any reading done!) or the just-right shade of pedicure polish, than it is about keeping your family happy and safe — and making things as easy as possible.

The next time you’re planning a beach trip with little ones in tow, here are a few good questions to consider:

How windy is it? I had my first beach-with-baby experience when my oldest was three months old. After driving to Kitty Hawk, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, my husband and I walked down to the beach with our daughter only to have her make gasping noises as the unfamiliar brisk wind blew in her face. We walked quickly back up to the car. Windy conditions may be ideal for the Wright brothers, not so much for overly cautious first-time parents. Nowadays, after two more kids, we probably would have just ignored her and set up our beach umbrella. But you might want to consider wind conditions — especially if you’re traveling with a baby.

Rocks or sugar? A few months after our Kitty Hawk trip, our lives took us to Croatia. A book should be written on the Adriatic Sea’s 50 shades of blue, but the beaches on Brac Island were downright pebbly. We goose-stepped carefully on the smooth little rocks and it was awkward to put our five-month-old baby down on the bumpy ground, so she lounged on a beach chair. Research what kind of ground cover you can expect at a given beach before you go: sugary sands might be better for little kids than coarse ones.

How big are the waves? This summer we planned to visit Rehoboth Beach, on the Delmarva Peninsula, but a colleague here at Traveler who knows my kids suggested that we try Lewes instead because waves there on the Delaware Bay were mild compared with the Atlantic. We took her advice and it made all the difference; instead of hovering around the kids to protect them from strong surf, we were able to relax and let them play waterside. Other gentle-surf beaches we’ve enjoyed with our rugrats: Sapphire Beach in St. Thomas; Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas; and the Peconic Bay side of the Hamptons.

How far do you have to walk? My beach load tends to include diaper bag, stroller, towels, extra change of clothes for everybody (including myself), beach tent, beach toys, beach noodles, cooler, bags of groceries, and a hopeful book. Long expanses of sand are great for photos and Chariots of Fire-type jogs but when you’re lugging stuff from the car or summer rental to the water you begin to appreciate narrower beaches. Google Earth is a great tool for spotting them.

Is there a pool? We recently spent a weekend at the Sanderling Resort in Duck (also in the Outer Banks). The two older kids (ages seven and three) loved splashing in the tumbling waves on the beach, but then practiced their burgeoning swimming skills in the on-site salt water pool. Any kind of pool will do, really, but it’s good to have options.

IS there a beach? Kids usually love water and are drawn to it like magnets. But sometimes you may find yourself in proximity of a body of water that doesn’t have a beach — or one to speak of, anyway. When we were in Lake Como, Italy, with my wiggly nine-month-old son, he kept trying to pitch himself from our arms into the lovely blue of the lake. And although we went on a sightseeing cruise — and craned our necks for a sighting of George Clooney at his lakeside villa — and were clearly near water, we did not have access to a beach. And it was frustrating.

But each kid is different: some kids love to be buried up to their neck in sand, others can’t stand the feel of it between their toes. Now it’s your turn to share your beach tips with little kids in the comments section below.

Amy Alipio is an associate editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow her story on Twitter @AmyTravels.