How to Survive a Beach Vacation With a Baby
Traveling with a baby can be challenging, but here are a few tips that will make your beach resort experience stress-free.
Summer has officially begun, and with it, vacation season for millions of American families — many of whom will be headed to the beach. My husband and I thought we had perfected the art of the beach vacation many years ago: what flights to take (anything early, so we could be on the sand by 2:00 pm, latest), how many books we would bring, even what cocktails tasted better by the sea (negroni for him, margarita for me).
Once we had our son, Bobby, all those old rules went out the window. Traveling with an infant —flying, checking-in to a hotel — is never easy, especially for first-time parents. But traveling to a beach resort with an infant or toddler presents a whole different set of challenges than your average trip, thanks to the ingredients of sun, sand, and swim diapers.
Now that we’ve done this beach rodeo a few times, I’m going to share the things we’ve learned, and more importantly, the mistakes we’ve made along the way, so that your trip can hopefully go smoothly.
Don’t expect to catch up on your reading
Your first beach trip will crush you, if you don’t acknowledge this rule. On our first vacation with Bobby, who was one-year-old when we went to the Turks and Caicos, Rob and I were still thinking like our old selves. We packed magazines, books, Kindles, you name it, with the idea that we would have silence and downtime to catch up on all the important information (and sleep) that we miss at home.
Wow, were we off. So off, I laugh at myself now. No sooner had I read one page of my novel than Bobby needed to be fed, or changed, or just wanted my attention, because that’s what babies want: Your undivided attention. They don’t care that you want to read the book of the summer.
Full disclosure, Rob and I both got irritated — with him, with each other, with life. This was supposed to be the setting of our mental recharge, where we would emerge as rested, smarter parents. But then we realized that life was too short, we were actually in paradise, and there would be time to read Marie Kondo when he was seven.
Pool vs. beach — pick your poison
Parrot Cay, one of the resorts we stayed at in the Turks & Caicos, is known for being a honeymooners haven. They have a gorgeous infinity edge pool, and it’s truly the perfect place to relax.
On our first two days of vacation, we chose to park ourselves there, only to feel anxious at every turn. Was Bobby bothering the older couple next to us, the couple who was clearly trying to catch up on their reading? (Answer: he probably was.) What if Bobby accidentally crawled away and fell in the pool? What if he rolled off the lounge chair and hit his still bald head on the wooden deck? In short, we felt like we didn’t have space to sprawl out and were constantly on our toes, worrying about something.
Then, we walked the additional five minutes to the beach. It was wide. The sand was soft. There was a healthy distance between our chairs and the water, and even if he was tempted to crawl away, we could catch him. He could throw toys on the ground and it wouldn’t make a sound. This was our happy place. I’ve heard from other young moms that their kids like to eat sand, which is why they shun the beach. If you are one of those people, then yes, make straight for the pool. Bobby preferred to eat fries, so we were in luck. Beach people, we were.
Naps in the sun may be easy for you, hard for baby
During our Turks trip, Bobby was still taking two naps a day. On a later visit, to Kamalame Cay in the Bahamas, he was down to one. During that first beach vacation, I had fantasies that he would fall asleep in the lounge chair and nap outside — giving Rob and I an hour or so to talk and maybe get a tan. Well, surprise! He didn’t want to nap outside. In hindsight, I don’t blame him: a cool, dry crib, a fresh cotton onesie, and a dark room was probably preferable to sweat, bright sun, a long-sleeved rash guard, and the stimulus of a new environment, any day. So we often stayed in our room while he got a nap in. I missed my beach time, but my son was happy, so in the end it was a win. On that trip in the Bahamas, we were lucky enough to have an outdoor deck. It came in handy, because I could sit there in the sun and (finally!) read while still keeping an eye on him.
Stay as close to the action as possible
Bobby wasn’t walking on either of these beach trips. So while I carried him, Rob carried all the gear we needed: diapers, changing pad, diaper cream, beach toys, sunscreen, towels, an extra set of clothes, a second set of extra clothes, and probably other stuff that I’m forgetting now because it felt like a suitcase worth of items. Because it was. So a word to the wise: the closer your room is to the beach or pool, the happier of a family you will be.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
It goes without saying, but you have an infant at the beach, in the hot hot sun. Putting sunscreen on is a given, but it’s just as important to make sure they get enough milk, formula, and water to stay healthy and hydrated.
Change that swim diaper as soon as you can
I’ll admit: I got lazy on this one. We took Bobby in the ocean, and after drying him off we stayed in our loungers for a bit, and then headed up to the beach bar get a snack. Two hours went by before I realized I hadn’t changed the diaper. Huge, huge, mistake. All that salt water and sand down there meant he got a wicked diaper rash, and I was slathering Triple Paste on him for the rest of the trip. It happens. I am not the worst mother in the world. But now I know that a dry bum is critical.
Lunch may be at 11:00 am, dinner at 5:30 pm or 6
This rule holds true for all parents with small children, no matter the destination: you have to get used to odd dining hours. Well, odd in the context of your old life. Now that I’m nearly two years into this gig, a 5:30 dinner reservation is actually preferable because I don’t have to worry about crowds. The best thing about many beach resorts is that they understand our predicament and have multiple restaurants to suit all age groups. Also, many of them offer incentives where kids eat free — which is wonderful for those of us who have experienced ordering a $15 grilled cheese for their child, only to have it sit untouched.
Splurge on a sitter
Again, we were afraid to do this on our first beach vacation. Leaving him alone with a stranger seemed scary. In hindsight, the money would have been well spent, because we would have had a couple nights out as sane adults. We insisted on taking him with us to dinner, and about 50% of the time it was a disaster—crying, meltdowns, stares from other guests. We were those people.
In the Bahamas and on a recent trip to Charleston, we didn’t hesitate. And once you rip off that Band-Aid, there’s no going back. Unlike city hotels, many beach resorts have babysitting services on-site. And if they don’t, here’s where traveling with family comes in handy: someone you trust can watch the baby while you get a much-needed night out. My parents came with me to the Bahamas, and I have to say, having them there was a huge help, because we could all take turns keeping Bobby occupied.
Rob and I are judicious about hiring sitters; it’s not an every night kind of a thing, because we are, after all, traveling to spend time with our kid. But a wise friend once told me that traveling with children is a trip, not a vacation. Getting a sitter allows for that vacation mindset to make a comeback. At least for a couple of hours.