Packing for a family beach vacation - advice/tips requested
July 7, 2017 7:46 AM   Subscribe

This is basically a packing question. My husband, 1 year-old daughter and I are a week away from leaving for a weeklong family beach vacation so I'm looking for tips and suggestions regarding logistics (what to pack, rent, etc.).

My husband, baby girl and I are leaving in a week to join my siblings (and significant others, grand total of 7 adults including one pregnant lady, a 3 year old and a 1 year old) for a weeklong vacation in Cape Cod. We rented a cottage with a washing machine. My aunt, uncle, cousins and their children will be staying nearby (likely walking distance). A beach is about half a mile away. When my siblings, cousins and I were children, we used to go to the Cape every summer but for my siblings and I, this will be the first time we've all been back there together in ... 20 years? Plus it's rare that we're all under one roof so I'm cautiously excited.

However, there are a few logistical issues I'd like to deal with so we can focus on fun. They basically come down to whether to rent or buy some specific items when we get to Cape Cod or buying them on Amazon or something and having them shipped to the Cape. In general, my husband is inclined to just buy stuff while I'd prefer to do something else. Money is not a huge concern, especially for something that makes life easier but we'd prefer not to spend a ton on stuff. Here are some specifics.

Linens: The cottage where we are staying does not include linens. My siblings and I are all flying in from out of town. My brother and sister in law are flying Southwest so since they can bring two suitcases for free, they offered to bring some linens. And I thought I'd plan on packing at least one towel and set of sheets for my family just in case something goes awry. I'd like to make sure we remember things like bath mats, kitchen towels, blankets, etc. - stuff that's not a big deal but would be nice to have for a week.
- Bring: I have a small collection of linens that I was planning to donate to the animal shelter so I thought of packing or even mailing those ahead of time so we can use them for the week and then donate them to Goodwill or something on our way out of town. I also thought of buying a bunch of microfiber towels that we could travel with.
- Buy: My husband is thinking of just buying cheap towels and such on Amazon, shipping them to the cottage, and donating them after we use them.
- Rent: Another option is renting towels and such. Part of me feels a little skeevy about that but I can get over it.

Baby stuff: Our daughter needs a place to sleep. She's stayed in a pack n play when we've visited my father and mother in law. A high chair would be nice too. I don't know if we need one but I think it'd help with feeding my daughter.
- Rent: There are places that rent pack n plays, cribs, and high chairs ...
- Buy: ... however, the price of an entry level pack n'play is comparable to that of renting one. I thought if we bought anything baby-related, we could offer it to my pregnant sister.
- Bring: I know there are some lightweight travel pack n'plays but they all seem to be in the $100-200 range so renting or buying a crappy one would be cheaper. And as I mentioned, when we visit family, they've had pack n'plays. A travel high chair might be helpful but I'd want to try it out at home ahead of time so I'd want to bring it.

Beach stuff: We'd like a beach umbrella and some chairs would be nice too. I also thought a tent/cabana might be nice for the baby. We'll be traveling with breast milk so we'll have a small cooler we can use but maybe a bigger one would probably be useful.
- Rent: The same places that rent baby stuff also offer beach stuff.
- Buy: Again, the price of a cheap umbrella and chairs is probably comparable to renting. We could pick up a cheap umbrella and chairs at a Walmart or something.
- Bring: This travel beach tent looks okay. I have a small blanket that folds up well that I planned to bring for the beach. We also have a sand anchor for a beach umbrella - it's pretty small so I thought we could plan to travel with that.

Other packing related thoughts:
- I went through the stuff we store in the bathroom and pulled out a bunch of the things that would be useful on the Cape (sunscreen, bug spray, travel size stuff, etc.). There are some things I'd still like to buy, like face soap and allergy medicine, but that's not a big deal.
- Husband and I plan to do laundry at some point and pack light.
- Baby girl somehow has like seven bathing suits. She also has sun hats and some beach coverups. She doesn't have a lot in the way of shoes since she's barely walking but I ordered her some. We also thought we'd pack a bunch of diapers but plan to buy a box when we land. I thought we'd plan to use her car seat frame stroller when we need a stroller and she's okay about being in a baby Bjorn.
- I'm still looking for bathing suits and sandals for myself. I thought I'd get some Keen sandals for chasing my daughter around at the splash park (I might have ruined a pair of shoes that way last weekend) but suggestions for comfortable beach sandals and bathing suits for self-conscious moms would be appreciated. I don't really have a light jacket right now for the Cape so I thought I might get a jean jacket.

Well, I feel exhausted after typing this. Hopefully you don't feel that way after reading it. Anyway, if you have thoughts or suggestions, please let me know. Thanks in advance and happy summer!
posted by kat518 to Travel & Transportation around Massachusetts (16 answers total)
I have a friend who regularly travels from Canada to the US and stays a month, with her three kids. Money is not much of a concern for her. She usually just hits up a Walmart when she lands and gets everything she needs. That's one way to do it.

My personal bias is that at the end of a trip I don't want to spend my time running around dropping off / donating things, so I am more inclined to rent (particularly if the rental place has drop-off / pick-up service.

The linens thing is really tripping me up. We've done lots of AirBnB's, and while I understand bringing towels, it's pretty unusual to ask guests to bring a houseful of linens. Is there any way to contact the home owners and ask them what people usually do?

Otherwise, with laundry available you don't need much for baby. A couple of bathing suits, no more. With family on hand to help you don't really need a high chair. A pack n play seems important if you don't co-sleep. Anything you offer to your sister, she will need to have a way to get that home, and you're not likely to be buying quality items, so she might not be really interested.

For the most part I would focus on how you regularly pack (ie, clothes and toiletries) and wait until you get there to get everything else. You might find that the rest of the family has already taken care of some of these items, or that they want to pitch in to help you out.
posted by vignettist at 8:24 AM on July 7, 2017

Response by poster: Not to threadsit but re: linens, the rental company encourages people to rent. I was surprised but it seems fairly typical as there are a few companies that offer rental linens. That said, we recently picked up more pillows from Walmart while visiting my father and I was surprised by how cheap a set of decent sheets were. I just feel like it's a little wasteful to buy stuff just to use there but it seems like our choices are waste money buying stuff we'll only use for the week, waste money renting stuff we own that we'll only use for the week, or waste money checking a suitcase.
posted by kat518 at 8:33 AM on July 7, 2017

Let me add to your stress and suggest two things that I've been happy to have when at rented beach cottages with baby: A waterproof mattress pad if the baby is likely to sleep in your bed at all, and some sort of disposable window covering (redishade is the brand I've used) to help the baby sleep later in the mornings -- although be careful about how you mount it so you don't pull down paint when you're done.

You may be able to rent beach umbrellas and chairs at the beach; that's way easier than trying to sent them up yourself.
posted by wyzewoman at 8:42 AM on July 7, 2017

Also: if you bite the bullet and check luggage, you can get a big old duffle and just fill it up so that you are only checking a single bag. We've almost always been lucky enough to fly Southwest in similar situations but once I've decided "screw it, we will check a bag", I've seen my packing stress go way down.
posted by wyzewoman at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are you driving or flying? If driving, and your aren't trying to cram everything into a Corolla, I would bring as much as you can with you. That was always our approach for beach vacations when the kids were younger. It's easier to shove stuff back in the trunk than return or get rid of stuff.

If flying, I'd be much more inclined to pack light and buy or rent when I got there.
posted by COD at 8:46 AM on July 7, 2017

Just rent. It's far less stress for you to pick out the items then have someone else deliver and pick them up. You're going on vacation. Do your best to enjoy it.
posted by adorap0621 at 8:56 AM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would rent the beach stuff because they're likely to have things most appropriate to that location and that kind of thing would be a pain to drag around with you.

I would buy and ship ahead linens via Amazon and just leave or donate them when you get there. If you have laundry available you can limit the number of towels and just do some loads while you're there. A load of towels every other day for the whole crowd wouldn't be too bad. Alternately, you just check a bag of your old linens one way and leave them there.

I would bring your personal items and the things you need for the baby - not having those available and having to worry about the right things or if something doesn't arrive on time seems like it would be the most stressful.
posted by marylynn at 9:00 AM on July 7, 2017

We've traveled on a number of beachy vacations with a <2>
Linens: Bring 'em. They're not taking up much space and then you don't have to worry about them anymore. If we're talking about towels too, buy cheap ones at your location, since they're bulky.

Baby stuff: Buy a regular pack-and-play and pack it in a big duffel that is now your new favorite carry on. Also buy a cloth baby seat that can convert any high-backed chair to a high chair. Use both of these things the next time you want to travel out of town.

Beach stuff: I wouldn't be surprised if they have this at your rental unit. If not, but at your location. I haven't had a ton of luck with beach tents with baby; they often get hot enough that it's not a great long-term solution. Others probably disagree.

Travel toiletry stuff: bring it if you have it, but they probably have a Walgreens on the cape.

Diapers: Buy at the Walgreens, or ship ahead, though deliveries at an AirBnB can be spotty.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:10 AM on July 7, 2017

Just rent the stuff and let someone else worry about the logistics of pack n plays and sheets. We used a baby gear rental service for a Hawaii trip and it was so convenient. Yes, you can find stuff for nearly the same cost at Wal-Mart, but as you rightfully point out, it's potentially pretty wasteful. Rent!
posted by stowaway at 9:16 AM on July 7, 2017

waste money checking a suitcase
$40-$50 to bring a ton of stuff is not a waste. I think you would spend more renting the things you can fit in a suitcase and you don't have to worry about picking up or dropping off anything.
posted by soelo at 9:49 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't overthink it. Since you have access to a washer and dryer, don't bring a crazy amount of clothes and pack half of what you think you need. Just throw your shorts, swim suits, t shirts and towels in the washer when you get home from the beach. Allow your family to bring bed linens in their luggage and just pack a couple towels. The cottage likely provides pillows and the comforter. No need to haul bath mats or kitchen towels on a plane. Go to Walmart for paper towels and various sundries. Buy a sweat shirt or fleece as your souvenir. Go ahead and rent the baby and beach stuff if not provided at the cottage but between all your family members you'll probably have what you need.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 11:18 AM on July 7, 2017

A weeklong trip to the beach with a baby? I wouldn't think twice about checking luggage.
posted by radioamy at 11:49 AM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, just to clarify, we are flying but we have to pay to check bags. I thought husband and I would plan to each check one bag. We can do two but we just flew and it was hard with two bags and all the baby stuff.
posted by kat518 at 12:20 PM on July 7, 2017

We packed a lot of our stuff in large Rubbermaid bins. When we determined that the house only had showers, and we wondered how to bathe our baby, we learned that a Rubbermaid bin can easily be turned into a bathtub for a small child. Consider the bin option as a tub option when you are there, especially if you find one already there.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 12:32 PM on July 7, 2017

We've done similar trips, and I would say definitely consider the value of your time in terms of rentals. If you can pick up everything you need, including food, in a single trip to a big-box store, great. But when I ran the numbers recently, it was something like $1 per waking minute for a cross-country family trip. So I was more than happy to pay $150 to rent linens, beach umbrellas, etc. since they did pick-up and drop off. I really like the Baby Bjorn travel crib, though it is in the price range you mentioned. Super easy to set up and, more importantly, get back into the travel case, we took that thing everywhere. Popping over to someone else's beach house but they don't have a crib? No problem! We even used it on the beach. I eventually got the knack of the Pack N' Play but it was a huge hassle, especially bringing it from house to house. You might confirm that there is no pack-n-play, that's a common thing to have in family vacation rentals.
posted by wnissen at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2017

I just went to the beach with two toddlers, and snickerdoodle is on point. Rent as much as you can. Esp. if they do drop off and pick up.

1) Rent a crib and a high chair. There is going to be a lot of change for the kid, so having a reliable place to sleep and eat will be priceless. But ask about crib sheets.

2) Linen rental at beach houses is a thing. These services will usually rent you all of the linens you need, including kitchen towels and beach towels. In my experience it isn't someone washing random linens in their home washer. These are businesses that have industrial washers and the sheets are clean. It's kind of like a hotel washing services - but the sheets aren't as nice.

3) Black out shades are really a must. My toddlers got up every day at 5:30 from the sun. That was no fun. The redi-shades mentioned above seem really cool. Another mom mentioned she just brought a couple of yards of blackout fabric and some stick on velcro whenever she travels. If I had limited space this is the 1 thing I would absolutely bring in my luggage.

4) The cottage may have some beach stuff. So rent that, but wait until you get there if you can. A good umbrella, or canopy may allow you to spend much more time on the beach than you could otherwise. I think you are going to want to have much more coverage than the shelter you mention above. A few lucky beaches even have rental companies that will set up canopies and chairs on the beach for you!

5) Buy the diapers/ toiletries when you get there. You are inevitably going to end up needing to get something from the drug store no matter how well you pack. Alternatively you can amazon all your toiletries to get to you the first day. But you may want to ask the rental company because delivery to rental houses sometimes has issues.

6) 1 pair of beach shoes for baby that she can also use at the splash park. And I would only pack three suits for her as well.

7) As for dressing mom - I always go with Lands End for bathing suits and cover-ups. Unless you are a person that likes to tan, I highly recommend a rash guard with sun protection. I don't like to wear keens on the beach because the sand gets trapped in the bottom. I just wear flip flops to and from the beach, no shoes on the beach.

Have fun. I underestimated how much my toddlers were going to love the beach. They loved it so much. The sand! The water! It was a great experience, although exhausting!
posted by donovangirl at 6:53 AM on July 10, 2017

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