I have always loved the water. I grew up about 200 miles from the Texas Gulf Coast so weekend trips where I could dip my toes in the surf and collect shells are a nice childhood memory. I've traveled to lots of places since I was a child and experienced all types of different beaches. While the Texas beaches aren't my favorite all the beach trips I can remember taking have one thing in common: they're more fun if you pack correctly. This Ultimate Beach Packing Guide has been road tested several times and I'm excited to share it with you in the hopes it will make your future days at the beach run a little more smoothly.
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HOW TO USE THIS BEACH PACKING GUIDE:
This is the beach packing guide my family uses for our beach trips. We’ve road tested it several times (after a handful of trips where we found ourselves saying “Why didn’t we bring XYZ?”
First, click on the link below. You can download a copy to your computer or just print it out. Cross off/line through anything you know you won’t need to take. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to packing and what you do and don’t need will vary by location.
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Next, write in anything you need that isn’t included on my beach packing checklist. As you stage what you’re going to pack – I usually pile what we’re taking in a designated area of my house or garage until we’re ready to pack it or load it into the car – you can check things off. My husband and I usually run down the list together just before we leave because there’s usually something we’ve skipped over as we’re getting ready.
We are definitely not perfect and it’s rare that we don’t forget something but we’ve found this list works for us and we’re always pretty satisfied with how we’ve prepared for a trip. Also, keep in mind this beach packing list is one we've used when we're spending at least one night away from home. If you're doing a day trip to the beach – and lucky you for living so close! – you won't need a great many of these items.
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DISCLOSURE: I’M A MINIMALIST
More disclosure: I really, really hate the term minimalist but I am pretty spare with what I pack when I go somewhere. That comes from lots and lots of travel and lots and lots of time spent packing and unpacking but I am not a “There’s a 32-percent chance we might need XYZ so I’d better pack it” kind of traveler. I do my homework and I take what I think I’ll need based on my homework. I check out the nearest store in case I forget something or if someone gets sick and if we’re in a more remote location, I might pack some extras, but I’ve traveled and packed enough that I usually get it right. If you don’t travel often or if you’re a less experienced traveler, you might not be comfortable with this minimal approach.
Caveat: I am very careful with my beach packing, probably more careful than I am with any other type of packing. Most of the beaches I've been to are set fairly far away from superstores, like a Walmart or large grocery store but have a lot of smaller shops. While I support local whenever I can, I'm not OK with paying a jacked up price (like $7 for a package of BandAids) because a merchant wants to take advantage of tourists. Most anything I forget is probably available at a beach shop but since my choices are do without, drive half an hour or get price gouged, I'd rather take the extra time on the front end to make sure I don't forget stuff.
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BEACH PACKING CHECKLIST BASIC ESSENTIALS
We have three portable canopies, in various sizes. We take this one to the beach and we take either this one or this one when we go camping or to the river. If I'm traveling without my husband, I'll take the small one because I have a hard time setting them up on my own.
A canopy is the single most important thing we pack for the beach. Unless you plan to stay out for a very short time, you need a refuge from the sun.
The five-gallon buckets, bungee cords and empty milk jugs are for anchoring down a canopy. If it's windy, we fill the large buckets with water and anchor them down to the canopy with hooks like these. The beaches in Texas are often windy which doesn't inhibit our enjoyment but our canopy blowing across the sand into someone else's setup sure does. The milk jugs come in hand to help fill the buckets or for sand play and you can recycle them when you're done with your trip.
Depending on how far you have to walk to get from your car or condo to the beach, these wagons can come in really handy. We have several of these and we love them. They fold up flat and they’re easy to pack in your car. I’ve also seen a lot of folks use these metal gorilla carts. If you have a truck or a larger vehicle and don’t need to conserve space like we do, this seems a more durable option. I know a lot of beach rentals come with golf carts but if you stay beachfront, like we always try to, having one of these wagons eliminates the need for a golf cart. Of course, golf carts are still really super fun.
This is another thing that’s pretty easy to pack. I love these chairs because they’ve got the drink holder in the armrest.
If you're going to go to the beach, you need water shoes. The ones linked below are snug but comfy and come in lots of colors:
If you’re gonna go to the beach of course you’ll need beach towels. By the way, going cheap on beach towels is a bad idea. The more expensive ones are more absorbent. If you are staying at a condo or hotel, beach towels typically aren't included and if they are, they typically don't want you to take them off property. We stayed in a vacation rental in Broken Bow OK recently that had plenty of towels for the hot tub but there was a house rule against taking them to the nearby lake.
We usually pack a utility shovel, a rake, and a utility tool like a Leatherman. These come in handy if you have to dig a hole in the sand to help anchor your canopy or to build a fire on the beach, if that's allowed. You might not need these tools but they’re handy to have. This probably falls in the “just in case” category but the tool packing is in my husband’s domain and we pack them. He's more of a just in case person than I am.
PORTABLE GRILL, CHARCOAL, FIREWOOD
You’ll need to check out the fire situation before you pack these things and also check out any restrictions on building fires on the beach. Some beach rentals will offer gas grills or charcoal grills or access to a grill. These little single-use disposable grills are pretty handy dandy for building a fire at the beach. And, the matches, lighter, newspaper and fire starters seem like basic things to remember but we’ve forgotten them more times than I care to admit.
For us, firewood is usually a “buy it there” kind of thing. Some places have restrictions on bringing outside wood in because of bugs and besides, it's usually way too bulky to pack.
BEACH AND WATER FUN: SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT EQUIPMENT
You’ll obviously tailor this to what your family likes to do. Most of the things I've listed are fairly compact and don't take up a lot of space. I like having lots of options for when your kids get tired of something or make new friends on the beach. We really love this portable cornhole board and washers game. They are great “go entertain yourself” tools for your kids when they tell you they’re bored. Sigh.
When we set up at the beach, we're usually committing to be there for the entire day. Even when we have a beach front condo, we usually go out after breakfast and don't come in until just before dinner. I like setting up our base camp at the beach and enjoying a little mini camping trip.
We always take my kids' boogey boards, pool and water toys (although those are usually reserved for the pool at our beach condo, not the actual beaches) a football, soccer ball, lots of molds and shovels for sand play and shelling nets. Sand toys are usually inexpensive if you buy them off Amazon or at a dollar store. You can usually find these types of things at beach shops but you'll end up paying twice as much.
Most beach areas have restaurants that offer freshly caught seafood, so if we plan to eat out, we plan how much food we pack around that. How much food we pack (versus buy at a grocery store near our destination) depends on how long we’re going to be driving to get where we’re going. What works well for me is to plan our complete menu in advance – to include any meals out – and to bring whatever non-perishables we’ve got on hand, i.e. canned goods or boxed macaroni and cheese. If we can easily and cheaply buy groceries near the our rental we do. If not, we’ll take everything in a cooler. It really depends on what we’ve got on hand at home. During this time of pandemic travel, I'm trying to minimize my trips to the store and our stops when we're traveling so lately, I've been packing almost all of our consumables.
If we’re taking a longer trip, we’ll freeze milk and take frozen juice concentrate…they’ll thaw on the way and keep the rest of your food cool. My food packing goals are to pack (or have a plan to buy) what we’re going to eat during our trip and to not bring any food home.
Tip: If you're going to freeze milk in a plastic gallon jug, open it up first and pour about four ounces out. I mean…don't waste it, drink it or something but don't freeze your milk without doing this because it will expand when it freezes. A frozen solid container of milk does a great job at keeping the rest of your food cold and will probably need to be set out to thaw a little bit when you get where you're going. We drove from San Antonio to Oklahoma recently – about seven and a half hours total in the car – and our milk was still halfway frozen when we arrived.
Beach Packing Checklist Highlights
Here are a couple of things on my checklist that I want to highlight because they're so darn useful.
While you can't completely eliminate tracking sand in your car or condo, baby powder makes cleaning up sandy feet and legs so much easier. Throw a small container in your beach bag and dust off your dry legs and feet before you get back in your car or go back into your hotel or rental. There is nothing fun about trying to go to sleep and feeling grains of sand between the sheets.
Waterproof Cell Phone Pouch
You don't want water and sand in your phone and you'll want your phone on the beach to snap pictures so grab one of these waterproof cell phone pouches. Bonous: this one floats so if you drop it in the water, you'll have a better chance of getting it back.
I love, love, love this JBL Clip Portable Speaker. It's got great sound quality but it doesn't blast your tunes into the next person's beach setup. We can rock out under our canopy without disturbing anyone else around us. There are a lot of other portable speakers out there but what makes this one awesome is the little clip. We hang it directly on our canopy but you could clip it to literally anything – a bag, a chair, etc.
By the way, I have the paid version of Spotify and I love it. I can play playlists I've made, complete soundtracks or choose from lots of the already curated playlists that are on there. You can just put “70's beach music” in the search bar and presto. They also have loads of audio books and podcasts which make getting to your destination much more pleasant.
Really Awesome Coolers
I know Yeti Coolers are super pricey but they're also really well-made and durable. If you're going to go to the beach early and stay the day, you'll want to keep your drinks and snacks cold.