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Camping with kids is a great way to get out as a family. It’s budget-friendly, and helps kids (and adults) get the outdoor time they crave and really need! The forest is soothing for the soul, and means kids can run, jump, and scream without constantly being hushed, and slowed down. Camping is the perfect way to maximize your family’s time out in the forest.

But the fact is, camping with kids can be tricky! Taking away all the little tools and conveniences that make life with kids, feels intimidating. Plus, dirt-averse parents may cringe at the thought of being out there with no way to shower. But with this clever camping with kids tips and tricks, you’ll be ready to get out and truly enjoy yourself!

1. Keep Meals Simple

The internet is full of elaborate and fun camping recipes involving cooking in the fire, fun outdoors themed meals and more. But if we are being honest, cooking while camping with kids isn’t really that fun.

We love getting out and spending our time playing in the dirt, the forest, the water, whatever. So being stuck close to our camp kitchen chopping, waiting for elaborate meals to cook in the inconsistent heat of the fire, etc. is NOT as much fun as it sounds. Plus, cleaning up after is much tough than cleaning up at home.

Simple Meal Ideals

Simple meals are our jam. Meals that can be thrown together with limited counter space, with only a few dishes, and with only a few minutes. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Hot dogs and fruit
  • Grilled chicken and burgers with raw vegetables and hummus. Prep and season meat at home, and store in disposable bags so you won’t have to wash anything with raw meat.
  • Camp nachos: Cook meat, if using, and shred cheese at home.
  • Chili made ahead of time (for cooler days)
  • Tacos: cook meat, shred cheese, and make pico at home. Then just meat/beans and tortillas will need to be warmed before serving.
  • Chicken kabobs: Cut and prep the ingredients and put them on kabob sticks with ends broken off. Store in a disposable bag so you won’t have to wash anything with raw chicken.
  • Breakfast burritos: I actually find it easier to just prep and cook at the insides at home. Warm and fill your tortilla at camp.
  • Yogurt parfait: Add granola and fruit to yogurt for a special, and simple, breakfast.
  • Pasta Roni with added vegetables and protein for a complete meal
Simple camping meal- hot dogs, raw vegetables, and fruit

SUPER Simple Meals

If you want to simply even more, consider dehydrated camping meals that only require hot water, or foods that require no cooking what so ever and don’t even require refrigeration, so you won’t have to worry about a cooler!

When choosing dehydrated meals, one important thing to remember is that you do give up something when you opt for a simple, only-need-hot-water meal. And that thing is typically texture. One good rule of thumb- a meal that makes good leftovers, easy to reheat and just as good the next day, is a LOT more likely to make a good dehydrated camping meal.

These are some of our favorite EXTREMELY simple meals and snacks.

2. Stick to the Routine for Great Sleep

Getting the kids to sleep while camping can feel a little intimidating for many families. So you’ll want to do whatever you can (within reason) to keep your sleep routine normal. Obviously every step along the way is going to feel a little bit different. But we find that we can go through the same basic steps.

At home, we do bath time, put on pajamas, read books and drink milk, brush teeth, then get into bed and sing one song before sleep. Obviously we don’t do a bath, but we do get cleaned up a bit before bed. We can go through the rest of the routine easily. It helps the kids wind down and gives them a sense of familiarity that can really help them get restful sleep.

We also have blackout curtains at home, and living way up north means it’s LIGHT when the kids go to bed. Yes the amount of light is a bit strange, and they take a bit longer than normal to fall asleep, but they definitely can handle it. Plus, we are normally out playing ALL day, so they are exhausted when bedtime comes.

3. Prepare for Temperature Changes

Even for summer camping, you’ll often have temperature swings of 30+°F. When looking at the forecast, be sure to look at the highs AND the lows. It’s also not a bad idea to look at the hourly forecast to see what time temperatures begin to climb in the morning, and when they start to fall in the evening.

When you are out in the weather, dressing in layers is always a good idea. Pack clothes that work well for layering, consider bringing an extra warm layer just in case your only warm clothing get wet or whatever.

Bedtime Temperatures

Younger kids often go to bed before temperatures really drop for the evening. And without air conditioning, getting to sleep in the heat can be TOUGH. Make sure you bring pajamas that are suited for warmer weather. A portable, electric fan like this one can also really help as well.

And if you are nervous parent like me- don’t worry about them getting cold! As long as they have a decent sleeping bag or some warm blankets you can pull over them before you go to bed, they will be fine in summer temperatures. As much as I feel like I want to put them in thermals or at least really warm pajamas, it’s totally not necessary.

Morning Temperatures

Us LUCKY little kid parents have the pleasure of getting up early enough in the morning that temperatures are probably going to be near their minimum for the day. So even if you are camping in the summer, in many climates, you can expect a couple of hours of cool temperatures (50s-60s°F or lower). So don’t forget some warm, comfortable clothing.

Bring thermals, or something warm, and stick it inside the sleeping bag. That way, when you wake up in the cold of the morning, you’ll have some pre-warmed clothes right there ready for a quick change. Or just slip them over the top of whatever you wore to bed.

Breakfast at the campsite
Breakfast by the fire, on a chilly, early morning

4. Bring the Little Potty

For many of us, camping means using the outhouse for the bathroom, or just going outside. It’s not super pleasant, but it’s a part of camping life. But for little kids, NOT wanting to use the outhouse can be a reason to just try to hold it as long as they possibly can, resulting in potty accidents, tummy aches, whatever.

Bringing a little potty training potty like this one can really help! A familiar potty, or at least a comfortable potty will put them at ease and make them more willing to go potty right when they need to. For easy clean up, line the potty with a disposable potty liner, or just a small garbage bag- these work well for us.

5. Bring Little Lanterns for Everyone

For late night potty trips, snacks, or just to avoid tripping on the walk from the campfire to the tent or camper, it’s nice to have a small light of some kind for everyone. Headlamps are great because they are hands-free BUT little kids might just spend the night shining them in other people’s eyes. Little lanterns light up the area, not just the exact spot where you are shining them making them a great choice for kids. We love these lanterns because they close up small, and they are durable and super bright.

6. Solar Lights for Common Paths

For paths you expect to be taking frequently, especially at night, it’s nice to keep them lit so that kids don’t trip or get scared. This is especially important if you are camping in the winter, or even spring or fall, when you can expect to be out when it’s dark a lot more often. Solar garden lights are a perfect solution to keep things JUST bright enough.

7. Bring Ziplocs for Cleanup

At home, we rarely use disposable plastic bags, like Ziplocs. But for camping, big gallon-sized bags make things SO much easier. They can be used for almost anything, and help you keep things clean and sanitary.

Since you won’t have a variety of Tupperware, washed and ready to use, like at home, so if you have any extra food that needs to be stored, a large ziploc is perfect.

If you kids have a potty accident, or just end up with clothes soaked in mud, stick the wet clothes in a ziploc to avoid getting EVERYTHING else dirty and gross.

If you need to store garbage close to your camp, putting the particularly smelly things in a ziploc first, then in the trash can help minimize the smell (and the animals).

We always just pack a few, and ALWAYS end up needing them.

8. Don’t Forget to Set up a Spot for Hand Washing

Things like handwashing are so easy to forget since it’s something we just don’t really have to think about at home. Little kids just aren’t able to do a good job washing hands with a less than ideal hand washing station. And chances are good those same little guys are out digging in the mud and NEED the handwashing the most.

We use a water jug like this one with a spout, and bring a pumpable, biodegradable hand soap (and remind the kiddos not to use WAY TOO MUCH like they love to do). And don’t forget a quick-dry hand towel and maybe even somewhere to hang it. Try a Command hook attached to the water jug for an easy hanging hook.

If you are going to need to use an outhouse, I also like to bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer than I can stick in my pocket and use as I’m leaving. I REALLY don’t like outhouses so lots of hand sanitizer and handwashing is part of the process for me.

I also like to do a more thorough hand washing once a day using warm water. We warm water on the stove (then use cold water to cool if it’s too hot) and use a pot or bowl or basin of any kind for washing.

9. Try a Solar Camp Shower

If the whole skipping a shower while camping thing is a deal-breaker for you (or even if it’s just not your FAVORITE part about camping), think about a solar camp shower.

We have this inexpensive solar shower, and LOVE it. Just fill it up with water, leave it in the sun for a couple hours, and you can take a WARM shower while camping.

Obviously, the water pressure isn’t much, and it’s not a TON of water, but you can certainly get cleaned up while camping.

It’s super nice for kids as well. They just get SO dirty and it’s the easiest way we’ve found to at least get them cleaned up enough to avoid dragging 5 pounds of dirty into their sleeping bags.

10. Minimize the Toys

For us, camping is about enjoying being outside. My kids are BIG toy lovers, and we almost never force them to go without ANY toys, but being outside is fun with or without toys. And bringing just a few makes camping so much simpler (and maybe even more fun?)

Bring just a few toys that can be played with a few different ways, and that are tough enough to get dirty and wet, and not too small to get easily lost, or so valuable that you can’t replace if lost or broken. For us, monster trucks, and little construction trucks are favorites.

And even if it seems like you aren’t bringing enough to entertainment, remember, there are sticks and rocks and dirt all around. A tree stump can become a rocket, leaves can become a plate to serve you ‘lunch’. It’s so great for their brains to think creatively, and they will love doing it.

Camping toys
T. rex enjoys camping too!

11. Bring Some Rope and a Couple of Bungee Cords

It’s tough to define exactly WHY you’ll need rope and a couple of bungee cords, but we know you’ll end up needing them for SOMETHING. They are the types of items that come in handy for a variety of things, and are really tough to do without.

Both ropes and bungees can be used to tie down gear in case of high winds.

Either can be used to make a makeshift gear drying line for wet jackets or clothing, towels, swim suits, etc.

Either could aid in the repair of a damaged tent.

A bungee could help keep a food or garbage storage container closed, if raccoons are in the area.

Either can be used to tie your lantern to the top of the tent so you can read your kids a story

Bungees might be necessary to tie down items in your truck for the trip home

If you are bringing pets, a rope tied between trees, with a leash looped around it, will help the dog avoid getting their leash tangled in everything.

And the possibilities are endless. Just bring them 🙂

12. Picnic Blankets for a Clean(er) Spot to Play

Little kids are all over the ground ALL THE TIME, and while camping, it can get a bit old. Sometimes even little kids crave a spot out of the dirt to play or eat where they aren’t covered in dirt.

13. Bring a Table Cloth

Campsites almost always have a big picnic table. However, it’s out the weather, covered by the last campers old food, bird poop, dirt, whatEVER. The point is, it’s not clean. And kids just don’t GET that they can’t eat food that has fallen onto the very dirty table. Bringing a table cloth makes the whole thing MUCH more pleasant.

14. Use Rug for Outside of the Tent or Camper

The amount of mud and dirt you’ll track into your tent or camper can be SHOCKING after really just a few days. Taking shoes off every time you get into the camper or tent helps a TON, but not always easy with little kids. Having rug to knock off at least some of the dirt and mud will make a huge difference as well.

15. Set the Safety Rules Ahead of Time

Camping introduces a few hazards that might not be a part of your regular life. Many kids are more than capable of managing these, respecting the rules, and staying safe. But it’s a really great idea to set rules ahead of time and make sure your expectations for your kids are clear ahead of time.

Fire

The campfire is a camping stable, and a favorite for many camping families. But the first time you light a fire with your child present can be a little bit scary. But even young kids can understand really clear rules and be safe around the campfire. Set clear boundaries, a LITERAL line in the sand marking how far they must stay from the fire. Even at age 2 or 3, kids can understand the seriousness of these boundaries.

Kids around the campfire

Rocks and Sticks

I am forever thankful for my kids’ nature school for setting rules with rocks and sticks that we are able to easily follow while not at school as well. And just as an example of rules that might work for your family, here are ours:

Rocks may never be throw in the direction of a person. While throwing rocks, you need to be at least an arms length away from anyone.

The end of a stick should be touching the ground while walking or playing with others. If more than two arms lengths from anyone, sticks can be up and swinging around.

16. Don’t Forget a First Aid Kit

Little cuts and scrapes are bound to happen when you are out camping. Don’t forget your first aid kit for minor patch ups, bug bites, or whatever. And make sure your camping first aid kit includes something to clean the wound. While camping, any little wound is bound to be caked in dirt.

17. Keep Food and Garbage Cleaned up

When camping with kids, it’s EXTRA important to be vigilant about keeping the camp clean, or at least clean from food or anything that smells like food. Kids are savages and will spill and leave leftovers out all over the campsite, if you let them. If you are in bear country, it can be quite dangerous. But even if you are not, it’s important to keep extra food closed up tight, and garbage and scraps picked up and stored securely to avoid having any unwanted visitors!

Fun story- we once left this camp organizer and storage container outside at night, zipped up. We were nowhere near bear country, and thought things were closed up enough. That was until we awoke to the sound of a raccoon snacking on chips. It had carefully unzipped the container, pulled out and unzipped the drawer, and pulled out its favorite snack to enjoy at our campsite.

Don’t be like younger-me. Use hard-sided containers, and store them securely (inside your vehicle will often work fine). And keep the camp area clean.

18. Embrace Being Dirty

Remember, it’s camping. It’s dirty. It’s best to plan on it, embrace it, and learn to live with it. It’s ok if you clothes are not super clean, or if your kids go to bed still dirty. That’s part of the fun of it, and the sooner you learn to enjoy it, the more you’ll enjoy your camping trip. If you spend the entire trip trying to keep things pristine clean, you will make yourself crazy.

Camping with kids

Any other tips that work for your family? Comment below!

Looking for a great Pacific Northwest camping destination? Check out our top PNW vacation ideas here.

Traveling with your family is a great experience for bonding and really getting time to focus being together. But coming up with money to travel is tough! Vacations can feel impossibly expensive and make you feeling hopeless.

But with these tried and true money-saving tips for family travel, you’ll find a way to cut your budget down to something you can afford so you can actually get out there and travel with your family before the kids have grown up!

1. Drive rather than fly

Road tripping, rather than flying, can help save money on family travel
Family going on summer vacation. Car travel concept

For families (especially big families), driving is almost always going be a LOT cheaper than flying. You pay for gas (and wear and tear on your car) only once for the whole family, and don’t have to worry about all the little costs that go into flying; parking at the airport, renting a car at your destination, overpriced airport food and drinks, and more!

Sure those long family road trips can be tough. But when you consider that you have to arrive at the airport nearly 2 hours before your flight PLUS flight time PLUS the time it takes to pick up luggage and get a rental car (typically over an hour for us), driving starts to seem a bit more tolerable.

2. Rent a condo or a house rather than a hotel or resort

For bigger families, going on vacation can be hard- you need 2 (or more) hotel rooms, which means $$$$$. Plus it’s just inconvenient to have your family spread out in two spaces. Most hotels can’t guarantee adjoining rooms, or don’t offer them at all. So larger families are forced to book costly suites, or have everyone squeeze in and sleep on the floor. Even for smaller families, hotel prices at popular vacation destinations can be extremely expensive.

Sometimes, hotels just aren’t a great option for families.

Renting a condos or rental homes on VRBO or AirBnb is a wonderful family-friendly option when traveling. Often the cost is lower than a hotel, and you can get a bigger place with a kitchen and more!

3. Cook as many meals as possible

Another benefit of renting a vacation home is that you will likely have access to a kitchen. Cooking some of your meals, rather than going out to eat can reduce your costs BIG time.

For younger kids, or picky eaters, it can also be really nice to stick to your normal routine and a menu rather than trying to find something acceptable 3 times a day, and begging them to eat.

Even if you don’t have a full kitchen, you can buy supplies to make sandwiches for lunch, or just have some hearty snacks around. Even those smaller steps can make a big difference!

4. Skip the rental car

Between car rental fees, parking fees, and gasoline, the cost a rental car can be significant. If you aren’t doing a lot of driving around, take a look at public transit options, airport transfers, and what is in walking distance.

If you are going straight to a resort, or a have a hotel in a great location, there is a good chance you can get by without your car, and save some money.

5. Minimize the souveniers

Take tons of photos, and you’ll always have the memories. You won’t need the souvenirs!

Let’s be honest- most souvenirs are cheaply made, and end up just taking up space when you get home. I know some people adore their souvenirs, and maybe it’s worth the extra money to buy a few. But for many of us, it’s something we feel like we SHOULD buy. But you totally don’t need to! And every dollar you DON’T spend on souvenirs is another dollar saved towards your next vacation!

6. Don’t overpack

Baggage costs add up! Minimize luggage to save money

Bringing a ton of luggage for your family can mean hefty luggage fees that can really make a difference in your travel costs. Be sure to take advantage of any free luggage benefits you might get from your credit card, or loyalty programs. Any suitcases, beyond what you can get for free, get EXPENSIVE fast.

At $30-50 per bag EACH way, the luggage cost for your family is definitely something you won’t want to ignore. And don’t just try to fit into one GIANT suitcase- if you go over the 50 lb weight limit, you’ll have to excess luggage fees of $100 or more each way.

So pack carefully, and check out our guide to packing light even with kids for tips.

7. Travel offseason

When you travel makes a HUGE difference in how much you’ll pay for your vacation. In fact, carefully choosing when we travel is our number one method of saving money on family travel.

Traveling during the high season can mean hotels are easily 2-3 times as much as the low season, plus high season can means crowds are everywhere.

In general, the high season is summer, the 2-3 weeks around Christmas, and spring break (March- late April) – when school is out and families with kids can travel freely.

However, for individual destinations, high and low season don’t always match up. So even if you are bound by the school schedule, just like many families, you can still find a deal if you look carefully.

For example, high season in Hawaii is winter, when many want to get away from bad weather at home for a sunny break. So even though crowds start to pick up again in the summer, you are still in sort of a shoulder season. And if you can get there in early June, you’ll find some great deals.

Summer through Christmas is considered the low season for Costa Rica. Though it’s also considered the rainy season, you can expect to have plenty of sun (typically 5 hours or more a day), and temperatures remain warm at around 80F, so you won’t mind a little rain.

Similarly, Tahiti’s off season and rainy is mid winter. This means lower prices, but still more than 6 hours of sunlight a day, making it a fantastic winter break destination.

8. Fly on off days

Flights can be substantially cheaper if you can fly out on off days, like Tuesday, Wed, or Saturday. MOST people want to head out on vacation on Thursday or Friday, so those flights fill up a lot faster and prices are generally higher.

Google flights has a great feature that helps you compare prices based on the day you leave. If you search in google flights for you dates and destination, and click Date Grid, and then Price Graph, you’ll see clearly which departure days are cheapest.

9. Purchase Flights on Tuesday or Wednesday

The day of the week you actually purchase your flight really does matter! Prices typically go up on the weekends when EVERYONE is browsing flights, and reach their lowest prices on Tuesday or Wednesday. Start looking early, and watch prices for a bit so you can be sure you are getting the best deal for your particular situation.

10. Look for bundles

Bundling hotel, flight, and maybe even car together CAN save you money. Make sure you check for bundles on sites like Expedia, Priceline, or Kayak offer bundling packages that SOMETIMES beat the cost of booking separately. If you have a Costco membership, Costco Vacations has limited vacation packages, but typically good deals on the ones it has.

But keep in mind, these bundles are sometimes a deal, and sometimes they cost more than booking flight and hotel separately. So you have to do your homework and make sure you picked the best option. Also, remember that booking sites often don’t have access to low cost airlines, like JetBlue or Southwest.

11. Use a travel agent

Seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But, in fact, most travel agents don’t charge you anything for their service. And as experts in their field, they can find you the best deals. Travel agents can end up saving you quite a bit of money on your family travel! Pick an agent that specializes in family travel and will make your trip EXTRA special.

Many agents post tons of great deals on social media. So pick a few great ones to follow. You might find a vacation deal that you didn’t expect, and wind up booking a dream vacation! Just recently, a travel agent friend posted a fantastic sale at one of my FAVORITES, Aulani, and we had to jump on it.

12. Look at alternative Airports

You never know which airport will have the cheapest or best flights for your particular destination. Make sure you take a quick look at all the airports in your area for the best deal.

We live basically right in the middle between Seattle and Vancouver. So, of course, we always check both airports for the best deal. However, there are two smaller airports, Bellingham and Everett close to us that we always check out as well. And usually, the flight prices and times out of the bigger airports are better. But, sometimes those small airports have AMAZING deals. We find that flying out of Everett routinely saves us over 30% on flights to California.

If your primary airport is a tiny airport, you MIGHT even think about a longer drive to a major airport. For families, especially bigger families, it’s worth the hassle to tack on a few more hours of travel time, and maybe even a hotel room, to save a couple hundred dollars per ticket.

13. Use flight trackers and sign up for flight deal alerts

Flight deals can be totally random, and deals can disappear quickly. To make sure you always know about these deals first, set up price alerts for any destinations you are interested in on one of the MANY sites that do that. Google flights, Kayak, Travelocity and MANY others. Typically, for these price alerts, you can put in your airport of choice, and you destination. Often you can put in quite a few flights you’d like to track. Then you can set it up to alert you when the price drops by a certain percentage, or a dollar amount.

If you are the type of family that just want to go on vacation anywhere there is a deal, check out some of the flight deal sites, like Scott’s Cheap Flights, Next Vacay, Thifty Traveler, and the Flight Deal. These work at a little bit differently in that they show you ALL current flight deals, so you’ll have to do some scrolling to find anything you are interested in. But it’s a great way to be notified of a fantastic deal even if you WEREN’T looking for it.

However, it’s important to note that all except the Flight Deal are paid services (and Scott Cheap Flights has a paid and a free version), costing around $40/year to be notified of exceptional deals. But if you are a frequent traveler, and consider family travel an essential, spending a little could end up saving you a lot in the long run So it’s something to consider!

14. Shop around for your deals on activities

For families, activity costs can be huge. Those $50 per person tickets to the zoo, or $100+ per person amusement park admission tickets add up FAST, so every bit of cost savings makes a difference, and there are certainly deals to be had.

Purchase ahead of time

Costco often has gift cards that offer a discount off of tickets or admission fees, sometimes 20% off or even more for certain activities. Check your local Costco- sometimes they have surprising deals. Or you might need to hit Costco at your destination.

Sometimes, you’ll even find a significant cost savings JUST by booking online before you arrive.

City Pass or Combos

Many cities offer CityPass deals or combo tickets, where you can get admissions to 2 or more of their main attractions for a significant discount in price. This is only a good deal if you intend to do several of the areas main attractions, of course, so make sure you really did plan to use everything in the combo deal.

We recently used a combo pass in New Orleans to receive admission to both the Zoo and the Aquarium, for $40 per adult. Buying tickets individually would have cost about $55 per adult.

CityPass usually saves you 40-50% off the list price IF you are planning to do all the main attraction. Prices are usually $80-100 per person and include all 4 or 5 of the main attractions for that city.

Membership might make sense?

If you are visiting a zoo, aquarium, or museum, look into memberships. Sometimes a family membership pays for itself with only 1 or 2 visits. For example, if you are a big fan of the Seattle Aquarium, and love to visit with your family of 5 (2 adults, and 3 children over the age of 4), EVEN if you qualify for the Washington resident discount, you’ll pay the same for an annual membership as you would for ONE visit. Plus you’ll get membership benefits (like discounts on food and the gift shop and free guest passes). And if you have a larger family, the membership is actually cheaper than a single day admission.

And some of the membership programs are HUGE. For example, the North American Reciprocal Museum Association has museums, aquariums, zoos, and more ALL over the country. So if you become a member of this association or others like it, you’ll get free or discounted admission to every other participating program. It can add up to some serious savings.

15. Come prepared

Make sure you have water, snacks, diapers, or any other necessities before you get to a resort, or other high-cost area. You can end up paying a significant ‘convenience fee’ for these smaller items if you wait until you are at a theme park, zoo, resort, or whatever. And often, it’s totally fine for you to pack these things in.

It can end up saving you quite a bit of money if you stop by a grocery store for some basic snacks, bottled water (or else we pack our water bottles), and any other necessities we might want.

We’ve found that diapers are marked up 200-300% at resorts. Bottled water markup can be even higher at theme parks, or top attractions. And even just a granola bar for a hangry kid can end up costing $8+. So even these small things can really add up.

If we are vacationing at a resort, we make sure to pack in some quick breakfast foods, easy snacks, and milk, if we have a mini fridge, at a minimum. For visiting theme parks or similar all-day outings, we pack water bottles, Clif bars, and maybe one or two other snacks to keep costs down without much effort.

16. Stay at a particular hotel or vacation rental longer

Hopping around from hotel to hotel, or vacation rental to vacation rental can end up adding a significant cost to your total vacation budget.

Hotels often offer deals if you stay at that hotel longer. For example, 5th night free, deals or discounts on stays at least 4 nights are fairly common if you keep your eyes out for them.

For vacation rentals, staying longer can be even more important. Many vacation rentals charge a one-time service fee, cleaning fee, owners fee, etc. So if you stay only one or two nights, the nightly cost can be outrageous. But if you stay a week, the nightly cost goes down significantly.

Of course you aren’t going to save money by making your vacation longer. But, staying at just one hotel or vacation rental rather than moving around on your vacation can end up reducing the cost more than you’d expect.

17. Consider ‘renting’ a timeshare

There are SO many ways to book lodging these days. Browing different booking sites, or searching VRBO or a lower-cost vacation rental are a given. But did you know that many even major hotels and resorts have timeshares, so you can ‘rent’ the timeshare from an owner, often at a much cheaper rate?

Las Vegas has a TON of high-end hotels (MGM Grand, Venetian, Vdara, Tahiti Village) have a timeshare/condo component. So deals can be found on these resorts if you can find an owner looking to rent them out. Sometimes, service is more limited (no daily cleaning, etc) than just booking a room from the hotel, but the cost savings can be SO big that it’s totally worth the inconvenience.

Disney also offers a timeshare-type program (though they don’t consider it a timeshare) called Disney Vacation Club. The program works a little bit differently than a traditional program in that members purchase points that can be used at ANY Disney Resort. Of course, some members aren’t able to use up all their points, so they can ‘rent’ them out.

Using services like DVC Rentals, you can check prices for any Disney Resort, and request to book rooms, if available. Note that they only have suites and villas. BUT because the costs can be so much lower, suites on at the DVC rental price can be the same price, or even cheaper, than a regular room booked directly.

You might even find that a friend or a family member has a timeshare they aren’t able to use one year. Or, do an online search- there are TONS of timeshares for rent all over the world, often for a great price.

You want to be sure you understand all the differences between a timeshare and a regular hotel. For example, DVC members don’t get daily room cleaning, but they DO get free parking, and garbage removal every day. Each timeshare is going to be a little different, but usually you aren’t giving up anything TOO huge.

18. Understand all the costs

When making family vacation decisions, make sure you understand all the little fees. They can really add up and skew the prices you THINK you are paying.

Sometimes, hotel can tack on daily ‘resort fees’ exorbitant parking fees, wifi fees, and more. So a hotel that APPEARS to be cheaper can actually wind up costing quite a bit more by the time you check out. We’ve seen extra fees over $100/day tacked on at the end of our stay. You defintely won’t want to overlook those costs. Be sure to read the fine print and understand the TOTAL costs before making decisions based on costs.

All-inclusives SEEM like a great deal up front, but when you add up all your costs, you might find that they end up costing you MUCH more than you’d pay to buy everything separately. Now perhaps the benefit of an all-inclusive is more in the convenient than in price, and that’s totally ok! But make sure you don’t fall for the ‘cost savings’ myth because that isn’t always the case! Especially if you aren’t planning to take advantage of all the higher-priced activities included.

On trip to Norway, we were warned there would be tons of tolls, making driving expensive. But we definitely didn’t understand just how expensive it would wind up being. The tolls for a couple of days of driving was around double the price of the (already pretty expensive) rental car cost.

Another example of package deals that don’t always make sense would be amusement park meal plans. If you are really careful, and make sure you use the ENTIRE benefit, they CAN be a good deal. But for most, you end up eating what/when you want. So the meal plan can end up costing more than just purchasing a ‘la carte.

19. Maximize the free activities

The BEST way to save on activities is to not pay for them at all. There are tons of free activities EVERYWHERE you go. Often those free activities are the best ones out there.

Most of the time, heading out to the beach, or the park won’t cost you a dime and you’ll have a ton of fun. Hiking, or exploring the outdoors is a favorite for our family, and it really helps us get to know the area we are visiting. And science agrees – being outside makes kids happy. My kids are TOTAL beach babies, so we can easily spend a week playing in the sand for no cost (beyond the cost of getting there!).

Cities are packed with amazing free activities for families. Many museums offer free days, and some are actually free all the time (though we recommend leaving a donation if you can). Public libraries often have TONS of really great free activities.

Just taking a stroll around town and taking in the sights costs you nothing, and can be a great way to explore a new city.

20. Try Camping

Consider camping to save on family travel costs

The cost of lodging is often the BIGGEST portion of your vacation cost, and can be a killer for families. Even if camping isn’t your thing, cutting your lodging down to a FRACTION of the price might change your tune. Many families that prioritize traveling choose to camp as it allows them to travel much more frequently even if their don’t have a huge vacation budget. Camping can open up TONS of destinations to families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it, and it’s definitely worth considering.

Sure there is an initial investment- you’ll need a quality tent, sleeping bags and pad at a minimum. But you’ll easily pay off your investment after just a skipping hotels just a handful of times.

Other families make the bigger investment of purchasing a camper. That will lock you down to only traveling where you can drive, but staying in a camper is easy and convenient for families. You can keep whatever you need in your camper, and just be ready to go. It becomes a familiar place for your kids, making sleep easier.

21. Plan Ahead

Start the planning process early- we’d recommend 6 months to a year in advance. That gives you plenty of time to browse for good deals, watch flight prices, and never end up in a panic paying last minute prices.

If you have the basics planned, you can sign up for low-fare alerts and be ready to book whenever a good price pops up.

For low season and shoulder seasons, hotels will often offer sales or discounts, but you have to carefully watch for those deals to be announced. Same goes for activities- sales are periodically announced. If you give yourself plenty of time to wait and watch, you’ll be sure to catch any sale that is announced.

Waiting until the last minute, or purchasing in a panic because prices are going up is a sure way to overspend on your vacation. Give yourself plenty of time. Relax and enjoy the process knowing you have plenty of time.

How does your family cut costs on family travel?

Taking a fantastic vacation with your family can fuel your soul and give everyone some really fantastic memories. But, it’s so easy to overspend, and end up with credit card debt, or other financial trouble. With careful budgeting, you can make sure you understand your vacation expenses so you won’t end up overspending. With this family vacation budget guide, you’ll be able to make accurate and realistic budgets that’ll get you on track! No matter if your budget is large or small, this guide will help you make sure you stick to it!

Setting your Budget

The first thing, and the toughest part of budgeting, is setting your budget. The truth is almost everyone wants to spend more on their budget than we can really AFFORD. But it’s not worth getting yourself into financial trouble for one great vacation.

Take a look at your monthly household budget to determine what you can save towards your vacation. If you have any extra money coming your way, like a tax refund, overtime pay, or a bonus at work, perhaps you’ll want to put that extra cash towards your vacation. Or perhaps you are willing to give up some conveniences, like your daily Starbucks coffee, or eating out every weekend, to add a little extra to your savings account.

Save those pennies and it’ll really add up! If you can save $250 a month, you’ll be able to afford a $3000 vacation in one year. Setting that goal can be really helpful in motivating you to stick with it. Track your savings, or maybe even open a second savings account for your vacation fund so you can watch it grow.

Low budget vacation – can you tell? Everyone was happy as clams!

Even if the number that you determine isn’t as big as you hope, don’t get frustrated. You can wait a little bit longer to get that budget up. Or just go for it and realize you can have fun on vacation with ANY budget. You won’t regret sticking with your budget and coming home refreshed instead of stressed out because you overspent.

Planning

Once you’ve got your budget set, the fun begins! Planning your vacation! As you start looking at your vacation options, doing a quick initial budget will keep you on track.

When I’m vacation planning, I pick a couple of vacation options I’m interested in and do a quick budget estimate for each of them. From there, I might find that some of them are over budget, and I’ll (sadly) take them off my list of options I’m considering. If some are a BIT high, I might assume I can cut some costs (stay at more budget-friendly hotel or cook rather than eating out) to reduce the costs to within my budget.

So lets jump in. Once you’ve chosen an option, or a few options, time to start taking a look at the costs.

Expenses to consider

One of the biggest problems with budgeting for a family vacation is that there are SO many (not so) little expenses that are easy to forget! Often, we think about just the hotel and flights, and forget how much we spend on ALL the other things, which can really get us in trouble. Here are some of the things you’ll need to consider when budgeting:

  • Lodging: This can be a hotel, motel, resort, vacation rental, campsite, or potentially, the cost of a host gift, if you are staying with friends or family
  • Transportation to Destination: Plane, train, or bus tickets. If you are driving, gas costs plus any hotel stays required for multi-day road trips
  • Transportation at your destination: rental car fees and hotel parking fees, or airport to hotel transfers, Uber/Lyft or taxi fees, bus fares.
  • Food and drink: Restaurants and groceries while on vacation
  • Activities: Park passes, zoo tickets, admissions for any vacation activities
  • Cost incurred at home: extra costs just because you aren’t at home, like pet sitting, house sitting, or lost wages if you need to take unpaid time off.
  • Gear: Any gear you need to purchase or rent for your vacation (ski gear, hiking shoes, etc.)
  • Miscellaneous expenses: This would include souvenirs, vacation insurance, any additional medical or medication costs, or any other costs.

Initial Budgeting

When you first begin to plan a vacation, one super important step is to figure out if this specific trip falls into your budget.

Perhaps you have a maximum budget in mind. Perhaps you are planning well in advance and you need to know how much you need to save. Either way, you need to get a rough idea what the vacation will cost before you dive in. Otherwise, you can end up thousands over your budget, and in financial trouble because you’ve committed to costs that are way more than anticipated.

And for this first step, I like to do a really quick and simple estimate. It’s not perfect and has a LOT of room for adjustment, but it gives me some idea how far my money will go for this particular vacation. I can usually get an idea what a particular vacation is going to cost in about half an hour.

Step 1: Lodging costs

For a really quick and easy cost estimate, you can just go off of average room rates. For a standard hotel in the US, my family typically pays about $150/night. In the city (particularly for downtown or near attractions), prices go up to about $200. Resorts with pools and beach access typically cost more – $250 upwards.

Another easy way to start building a quick budget is to look at sites like these to get an initial estimate. They can give you an average estimated daily cost per person for your vacation, or a budget breakdown for hotel, meals, etc. When traveling with kids, I prefer to look at the broken down estimates to get a better idea.

If you are looking at particular (high end) resorts, vacation rentals, or other types of lodging, you might want to take do a quick Google search to get an idea on the costs. The prices can vary so much, so it’s best to just take a quick peak.

Step 2: Transportation to the destination

If you are flying:

If you just want a quick estimate, assume $200-300 for short flights (2 or 3 hours), $500 for longer domestic flights, and $800-1500 for international flights.

If you are driving

Estimating costs for long road trips is pretty straight forward. You can use Google maps to determine the miles you’ll need to travel. You can assume it costs about $0.25 per mile (not including any wear and tear on your car) for a road trip.

If it’ll be a multi-day road trip and you’ll need to stay at a hotel, you may want to add that cost as well.

Step 3: Transportation at your destination

If you are planning to rent a car, or will need transportation in one form or another, I typically would just plan on spending $300-500 per week.

Step 4: Food costs

Eating Out

When estimating food costs, travel cost estimators are super useful for estimating restaurant costs, especially for international destinations where costs are significantly different than here in the US. Or, for most destinations in the United States, I will often just assume the daily restaurant cost is $100-150/day for my family of 4 (two smaller children that don’t eat a ton) You might adjust this number based on what you’d typically spend at a restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

If you are planning to purchase groceries and eat out, I’d expect that groceries costs will be slightly higher than the cost at home, since you might need to purchase a few extra staples you’d already have at home. Also, you might want to buy some extra, pricier snacks since you’ll be in vacation mode. For a week away, plan on your normal weekly food budget x 1.3.

Optional- Step 5: Activities

If you are planning a trip to Disneyland or something similar where tickets are going to be a huge portion of your total vacation cost, you’ll definitely want to consider the cost even in your initial planning. Typically those costs are easy to figure out upfront, and then you can look for discounts later on.

If you don’t anticipate huge activity costs, you can just leave this cost out for now.

Optional- Step 6: Gear

If you KNOW you’ll need a bunch of gear, take a quick guess at what that costs. For example, if you are planning a ski trip, or just a trip to somewhere very cold, and no one in your family even owns a winter jacket, you’ll definitely want to include that cost in your budget.

But MOST of the time, you won’t need to consider the cost of gear. If you just need a few things (maybe one or two of your kids could use a new swimsuit), you can rent any gear you need, or you aren’t SURE if you need anything, just ignore that cost for now.

Step 7: Add everything up

Once you’ve accounted for the major expenses, add them all up, and 10-20% to account for some of the extra costs you DIDN’T estimate yet. This method isn’t going to give you a rock-solid number, but it gives you some idea what you need to save. And the great thing about it is the estimated cost is likely going to be high – so if you don’t like it, you can probably cut costs here and there as you start doing detailed planning to bring it down a little bit.

Detailed Budget

As you begin detailed planning of your vacation, budgeting is easy because you’ll know the exact costs of much of your vacation. However, it’s still really great to keep track of what you have already spent, and make sure you know what you still NEED to spend while on vacation.

Step 1: Weigh the options

As you begin detailed planning, and budgeting of your trip, make sure you have enough information to make decisions.

Flying vs driving

Super long road trips can put some significant wear on your vehicle, so considering those costs in your budget may be wise. You also don’t want to forget about hotels for multi-day road trips, the extra cost of food on the road, or even extra time off of work, if driving means extra travel time.

But, there are plenty of extra costs for flying too; luggage fees, overpriced airport food and drink, parking fees, and the cost of transportation AT your destination since you won’t have a car.

While driving is almost ALWAYS cheaper, it still makes sense to compare all the little costs when making a decision

Big resort or simple hotel

Big resorts come with a BIG price tag, BUT some have SO many amenities included that you won’t spend a dime on entertainment for your vacation. While simple hotels come with nothing more than a place to sleep, so you need to head out to find (and likely pay for) your own entertainment.

Renting a car or not?

When comparing rental cars to other modes of transportation, consider ALL the costs. For the rental car, you need to consider the cost of renting the car, parking fees (resort parking fees can be HIGH), the cost of gasoline, tolls, and more. If you choose to skip the car, look at the cost of airport transfers, expected Lyft/Uber rates, and if you have small children, also consider the hassle of moving a car seat every time and having to take it with you everywhere you go.

Gear

If you need any special gear, compare the cost of renting gear at your destination, versus the cost of bringing it with you (oversized luggage fees, shipping costs, or just extra luggage). And maybe the cost doesn’t matter- sometimes it’s just about convenience or personal preference. But definitely include any costs in your overall budget.

Pets

Paying a pet sitter can be expensive. But, if you chose the bring them, you’ll have to choose a hotel or vacation rental that allows pets, and even then, they may add a pet fee onto the nightly rate, add a nonrefundable pet cleaning fee, or both.

Travel dates

Sometimes moving your dates by just a day or two can make a significant difference in the price. Or, for even bigger savings, consider moving your trip from high season (Summer, spring break, or Christmas) to low or shoulder season.

There may be other options you’ll need to consider, but hopefully you understand the basic idea now and can continue with this analysis for your trip.

Step 2: Sum up known expenses

As you progress in vacation planning and budget creation, you’ll likely have nailed down at least some of your costs. Make sure you keep track of all those costs, and write them down to understand the complete vacation budget.

Flights

If you haven’t yet booked your flight, you’ll still want to make sure the estimated cost is in your budget. Do a quick Google search for the flights on or around the dates you want. Google flights has this great feature where you can see how the current flight cost compares to typical costs for that flight. Plan on costs being in the ‘typical’ range, rather than ‘low’ because you never know if they’ll drop that low when it comes time to book, and it’s better to have a little extra money in the budget than not enough. If you are looking only a few weeks in advance, flights will likely be higher than average.

Keep in mind that flight prices vary by day of the week, so if you are dead set on flying out on a Friday, look at Friday flights since they are often the most expensive.

When estimating flight costs, do a quick scan, but don’t plan on being able to buy the CHEAPEST flight out there, especially if you are traveling with younger children. Just get a realistic idea what the costs will be. Then round up a bit because things always end up costing more than you expect.

Hotel

If you haven’t yet chosen your hotel, do a deep dive into what type of hotel you want. Beach hotels are going to cost a lot more than those a mile inland. Hotels on-site or walking distance from Disney will cost more than those which require driving. So as you create your budget, make sure you are considering the right type of hotel.

My family typically picks a hotel or a place to stay pretty early. So perhaps, you’ve already chosen or at least narrowed it down to a couple of options. Great! That just means you have a better number in your overall budget

Other costs at home

Don’t forget about those un-fun costs that you incur just because you aren’t at home. You might need a pet-sitter, or a house-sitter while you are gone. Perhaps you don’t have paid time off so you’ll need to take unpaid time off for your vacation. Consider any other costs that my apply to you and your family just because you aren’t at home.

Step 3: Estimate the costs for what you’ll spend ON vacation

The next part of your family vacation budget process is a little bit trickier. Even though you may have already accounted for the BIGGEST costs of your vacation, you can end up spending a LOT more than you expect on things like food, parking, souvenirs, and more.

Food and drinks

For resorts, or tourist areas that are known to be high-cost, like Hawaii or Disney, I like to spend a little bit of time, before my vacation, looking into some of the restaurants at which my family might eat. For resorts where we plan to eat on-site most of the time, I look over the prices at all the restaurants to get an idea what we’ll spend every day. That gives me an idea what costs will be, AND helps me determine where I can reduce my expenses.

I am a classic overplanner, but honestly, it’s really helpful to do some planning, even with restaurants, to make sure you end up at a place you and your family will enjoy, and you won’t end up spending more than you wanted to.

You probably won’t want to spend hours coming up with a food budget. But if you come up with a reasonable daily budget, and add in any meals you expect will be MUCH more expensive, you should have a pretty good idea what you’ll end up spending.

Parking and Transportation

Don’t forget to look into parking fees at your hotel. Resorts, or downtown hotels often have parking fees at high as $50/night. Because the fees can be so high, you’ll definitely want to add those fees into your overall budget.

If you’ve chosen not to rent a car, spend a few minutes taking a look at your other transportation options, and get an idea of what you can expect to pay for your outings.

Activities

If you are heading to Disneyland or Disneyworld, you probably already considered your activity cost since they’ll be a BIG portion of your overall budget. But even if your activity costs aren’t going to be HUGE, you’ll want to consider them. For families, even a day at the zoo or aquarium can be a pretty big cost.

When planning out your daily activities, take a look at the admissions costs for all of them. Even if you aren’t 100% sure which activities you’ll do, it helps to keep track of the costs, and include them in your budget, where it makes sense. It’s easy to overspend when you don’t have a plan.

Souvenirs

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of souvenirs. But my kids love getting something, and I know it’s a big highlight for many people. However, since it’s a not a necessity, you can 100% choose your budget. Then the only tough part is sticking to the budget you’ve chosen!

Look back

After you’ve returned home from your vacation, hopefully after an amazing family trip, it’s great to look back on what you spent. Add up everything you spent and compare it to your budget. How’d you do? Were you way off on any of your estimations? You might also take some time think about if the costs were worthwhile. Was the expensive resort or tour, or a fancy restaurant worth the cost?

Going over your actual costs will help you create a better family vacation budget in the future, and make sure it’s one you’ll actually be able to stick with as well!

What it’s like to fly out of Paine Field

Paine Field airport has been around for ages, as a military airport, and then a test airport for Boeing. Only recently has it opened as a regular airport for commercial airlines. At the moment, it’s served by only Alaska Airlines and United Airlines

Parking

Parking at the Everett Airport is like parking at most small airports – which is glorious! It’s so easy. You drive to the airport, follow the directions for long term parking, park your car and WALK to the airport. The prices aren’t LOW, but compared to major airports where you have to park offsite, wait for the bus, get all your stuff ON the bus, drive 10 minutes, get all your stuff OFF the bus, then repeat on the way home, etc., we think parking right at the airport is great.

And if you don’t want to walk at all, you can even get valet!

Entering the Airport

When we first walked into Paine Field, the first thing that I noticed is that it’s NICE. The airport is newly remodeled and it shows. Obviously it doesn’t really matter if the airport decor is up to date, so it’s not really on our list of considerations when choosing an airport. BUT, it is a nice airport and we enjoyed that.

Check-in

Another little thing we noticed is that the employees at the Paine Field Airport were extra friendly and really helpful. We noticed that they took extra time to help out everyone checking in and did it with just a touch of extra kindness. This may be, in part, because the airport isn’t extraordinarily busy, so they HAD the time, but it was appreciated.

Security

Just like most small airports, going through security at the Everett Airport is super easy and quick. We spent only about 5 minutes in line.

The Terminal

Once you get through security and into the main portion of the airport, there are definite differences from larger airports. Again, the decor is updated, and kinda fancy. The area is quite small, with only 2 gates. Because there are no main hallways or truly open spaces, it can feel a bit crowded.

The space is pretty well laid out, with lots of tables, and seating areas perfect for groups to sit and chat (i.e. not just rows of uncomfortable airport seating). The whole vibe of the airport was very relaxed. Most people were at ease and more charmed by my (often noisy) young kids than people typically are at the airport.

Right in the middle of the airport, there are a couple of glass cases filled with model planes, and historical airport items. My kids LOVED this, and spent quite a bit of time looking at all the items, and talking through everything that they saw.

Comparing Paine Field to SeaTac

These airports are honestly night and day, so it’s a little bit tough to compare.

Paine Field doesn’t have a TON of amenities. There is a nice little bar, with cocktails, wine, and a few snacks and entrees. On the other end of the airport, you’ll find a little place to get coffee and pastries, as well as a few grab-and-go things (bottled drinks, granola bars, etc.), and a restaurant with sandwiches. You will not find the typical airport convenience type stores, with tons of packaged foods or electronics or toiletries that you may have forgotten. And DEFINITELY none of the retailers for clothing, gifts, etc.

Getting There

Ease of getting to the airport definitely varies based on your origin. My family is coming from north of Seattle, so getting to SeaTac is really far, and typically means a lot of terrible traffic, and sometimes some pretty big delays. We typically always drive because traveling with little kids is tough, and being in our own car gives us more control. Plus, when you have 4 people, the cost of parking is often lower than the cost of a shuttle.

For us, getting to Everett is a breeze. We can typically make it to the airport without encountering any substantial traffic, and it easily cuts an hour off of our drive.

For travelers from Seattle, this may not be the case. When getting to SeaTac, you have the option to take the light rail, Sound Transit Bus, or a taxi or Uber/Lyft, or, of course, drive yourself. For the Everett airport, options are a BIT more limited; you can use the Swift bus system, taxi, Uber/Lyft, or drive yourself.

So ease of getting to the airport is 100% dependent on your starting point. For us, the Everett airport is a clear winner.

Parking

Comparing parking at SeaTac vs Paine Field is just night and day. Parking at the SeaTac airport itself is very expensive, but there are tons of offsite parking options, which involve a shuttle from the parking area to the airport. So for families with young kids, that means unloading all your luggage from the car, loading it onto the bus. Then unloading it again and walking into the airport. You get used to it, but it’s definitely a process.

Read our tips for how to minimize your luggage even if you are traveling with young kids.

At Paine Field, you can opt to park closer in the premium parking, or farther away for economy. The difference is only how far you walk to the airport. Neither walk is long, and you won’t need to transfer luggage.

For my family, parking at Paine Field is MUCH easier.

Experience:

Flying out of Paine Field is just SO much more pleasant than flying out of SeaTac. It’s quick, easy, and even RELAXING. You don’t feel like you are being shuffled around from place to place like cattle. With the kids, the space is small and it doesn’t feel like your kids could easily get lost in the crowd and just be gone forever. So I felt like I could let my kids explore the teeniest bit beyond arm’s reach.

Flights and Pricing

The main downside to flying out of Everett is that there are currently only 11 destinations and two airlines (Alaska and United). They do seem to be building their schedule, but at the moment, don’t offer a huge variety of flights.

Departures board at Paine Field

However, you can fly direct to lots of destinations in California, Portland, Phoenix, and Denver. And for the destinations available, the prices are great! We saved about 30% on a recent flight to LA, when compared the price from SeaTac. Lots of flights are under $200 roundtrip.

Final Word?

For our family, coming from north of Seattle, flying out of Paine Field in Everett is fantastic! We definitely prefer Paine Field over SeaTac, and will chose it whenever we can. If flying to one of their direct destinations, we’ll pick Everett (probably) every time.

However, because they do have limited direct destinations, it still makes sense for us to choose SeaTac for most of our flights.

Still, we are super happy to have another airport in the area, and love flying out of Everett whenever we get the opportunity!

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The sun is out, and hopefully, that means you have a little beach time coming up! Our family lives for beach time! We put together this helpful beach packing list to make sure you have everything you need (and some of the things that are just really nice to have) to make your next beach trip a success.

beach baby

Must haves

Beach Bag

Pick something large, comfortable to carry, and gender-neutral. You’ll want gender-neutral so that NO one in your group will be afraid to help carry that bag (otherwise mom might end up carrying it every time and can’t have that!) Don’t pick anything too fancy since it’s going to get covered in sand and potentially saltwater. You don’t want a beach bag that will get ruined by actually being used on the beach. You’ll also want either some smaller pockets in your beach bag, or a smaller bag you can stick inside to organize electronics, wallets, or any other smaller items you don’t want floating around the bottom of the bag. And if you can find something insulated, even better.

My preference is a simple mesh bag. The mesh ensures we don’t bring home ALL of the sand from the beach, and means minimal cleaning of the bag. I love this simple bag.

Somewhere to sit

No one wants a sandy butt, so bring anything you can to sit on. Bring a beach blanket that is large enough for everyone in your group, plus extra space for the stuff. We love this travel-friendly beach blanket that folds up small, and is big enough for a family.

Another great option is this amazing inflatable lounger. They are actually super cool! They have a huge opening, you can inflate them in a matter of seconds (no blowing into a tube forever), and they are surprisingly tough, and comfortable. Plus they fold up semi-small for travel.

Towels

Beach towels are kind of a given. But make sure they are on your list so they aren’t accidentally forgotten! It’s best to bring one for everyone in the group, plus maybe an extra for those that are in and out of the water all day. But if you love traveling light, don’t mind air drying, and you have a great place to sit, you can probably get away with fewer towels.

Often vacation rentals or beach hotels will stock beach towels for your use. We always look for places that include beach towels because packing your own takes up SO MUCH valuable suitcase space. However, for little guys, we sometimes make an exception. Our boys have these adorable poncho-style fox towels and they LOVE them. They are really great for kids who need to warm up and dry off, but do not want to sit still. Plus they really are cute!

Fox towel is awesome for the beach

Sunglasses, hats, and sun-protective clothing

Make sure everyone in your family is protected from the sun with UV protective gear. Wearing UV protective clothing is the best way to protect your skin from the sun and it minimizes the amount of sunscreen you need as well, to protect the reef, ocean animals, and your wallet.

Rash guards are great because they dry quickly, are comfortable to wear swimming or as soon as you get out of the water, and are available in all styles and colors.

You’ll also want a great hat to protect the top of your head. And sunglasses with UV protection for you and your kid’s eyes. We love Babiators for kids because they are indestructible (and if you DO manage to destroy them, they will be replaced for free), and offer 100% UVA/UVB protection. Plus they are super cute!

Babiators- perfect for a day at the beach

Sunscreen

The state of Hawaii and the city of Key West are mandating only reef-safe sunblock be sold beginning in 2021. But no matter which beach you are visiting, it’s important to do your part to protect sea life and reefs. And it’s easy to do now, with tons of great reef-friendly options! We love Sun Bum products– they have tons of great options that will make the switch over to reef-friendly easy for your family!

Elastic for hair

If you or anyone in your family has long hair, the sun and the wind and the water is gonna tangle it just 100%. Pull it back to try to manage SOME of the tangles, or at least keep it out of your face until you can properly deal with it.

Chapstick

The wind and the sun can do a number on your lips. Bring chapstick for the whole family to keep those lips from cracking.

Hand Lotion

When getting in and out of the water and playing in the sand, my skin gets SO dry. Hand lotion helps keep me more comfortable and prevents any cracking from extreme dryness after a day at the beach

Toys

The beach is the best place to play with toys, according to my kiddos. And if you are traveling to the beach, beach toys don’t have to be anything special. Small monster trucks are always on our travel list because they are such a hit with my boys, and can be played with nearly anywhere.

monster truck should be on your beach packing list

Buckets and shovels are also so great to have. If we can’t take buckets and shovels in our suitcase, or rent them at a resort, we stop by a Target, or similar, and pick up a set. Typically, we can find something for around $10-20. At the end of our vacation, we look around for a family that is just beginning their vacation and doesn’t have sand toys. We love passing the toys on to someone who will love them ensuring that those toys are getting at least a few more days of use.

For trips where we can bring our own gear, we like quality buckets and shovels that can stand a little digging in the sand or rocks without snapping or bending. We love these strange looking, but very sturdy shovels.

If you are looking for something a little bit different, bigger bouncy balls that float are a surprisingly fun beach toy. Big beach balls are perfect for all ages. Boomerangs, kites, construction truck toys, or any favorite toy you don’t mind getting a little sandy are all great options.

Life jackets

Don’t forget life jackets, especially for younger kids or kids that are heading out into deeper water. If you are heading out in a kayak, paddleboard, or any kind of boat, they are often required.

Footwear

The footwear you need depends on the specifics of the beach you are visiting. For rocky beaches, tide pool beaches, or anything that isn’t just soft sand, you’ll want a quality sandal. My kids absolutely love their Crocs– they protect their toes, have enough traction for climbing around, and are totally fine to go 100% into the water. Plus they come in so many fun colors and prints. And Crocs are great for adults too!

Crocs are great for the beach

Another great protective sandal are Keens. They are comfortable and high quality, and perfect for playing in the rocks, or even hiking.

If you are visiting perfect sandy beaches, you will just want something to protect your feet from hot sand, and to wear home. I love Sanuk flip flops because they are SO comfortable and well made- I am completely obsessed with mine and wear mine constantly in the summer (even when people are telling me I NEED sneakers, like while walking around Disneyland)

An insulated water bottle

On a hot day, a bottle of water that has been heated in the sun just ISN’T what you are gonna want. Keep your water ice cold with a fantastic water bottle. ” target=”_blank”>Hydroflask water bottles will keep your water ice cold all day, and they can stand up to all kinds of abuse. Both the kids and I always have ours nearby.

If you are REALLY thirsty like me, you’ll want to bring some extra water to refill. Just make sure your Hydroflask is FULL of ice so you’ll be able to cool the warmer water that you are refilling with.

Snacks that don’t melt in the sun

When you are traveling, you probably won’t have a cooler to bring with you to the beach. But you can be sure the kids are gonna work up an appetite out there swimming and playing in the sand. So make sure you bring some snacks that aren’t going to get smashed or melted in the sun. We love Clif bars (ok they might melt a TINY bit but they’ll be fine), dried fruit, and nuts because they can take a beating and still taste great.

A small first aid kit

Probably just some baby wipes, some Neosporin, and a few bandaids will be enough. It seems like someone is going to end up with some kind of cut or scrape. It’s nice to have everything you need to fix them up on the spot.

Nice to have items- if you have the space

Beach chairs for everyone

Having a chair for yourself and all your stuff is luxury at the beach! You can hang your beach bag on the back, and keep everything (relatively) sand-free, and dry. It’s great to have a really comfortable spot to watch your kiddos play while you relax, and maybe even read a book or something

Beach Umbrella or Shelter

Having a spot for some shade is so nice to have at the beach. At some point, everyone gets kinda sunned out, it seems. Or at least could use a few minutes break from the sun. Taking a few minutes in the shade can help you feel refreshed and ready for more. A 3-sided tent is great for families with babies or younger toddlers who need more shade. Standard umbrellas tend to get blown around and won’t stay put, so you’ll want something sturdy. We like ""” target=”_blank”>this combo shelter/umbrella.

Cooler with yummy snacks

A cooler with cold drinks, and cold, fresh snacks is such a refreshing treat at the beach. I love eating fresh fruit, and maybe a nice picnic lunch while relaxing on the beach. I like bringing a lightweight, roller cooler, or cooler bag to the beach. The extreme coolers that can keep things cold are just not necessary for a day at the beach, and the extra weight makes lugging stuff from the car that much harder. The Yeti cooler bag is perfect for a day at the beach.

A cheaper cooler that’s not too big, and has wheels to help with transport to the beach is also a good option. It’ll keep snacks cold for the day no problem, and it doubles as an extra seat.

A camping table

A little table for the great snacks and beach picnic mentioned above means so many LESS plates accidentally knocked in the sand by an excited child. Or a place to put your water bottle so that sand doesn’t get into every single crack and stay there forever. It’s a super nice-to-have item if you have the budget and the space to bring it.

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