Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Top 10 Ways to Beach Vacation with Kids Like a Boss

I have three small humans (SHs), ages on vacation 2, 4, and 7 years old.  I am married to the best BH1 (and stay at home Dad) who desperately wanted to forgo our annual cold ocean Southern California small expensive hotel room seven day beach trip for two weeks on the much closer, warm water shores of Rocky Point, Mexico.  I am admittedly not a Mexico fan with the perceived threat of death, kidnapping, or imprisonment.  I prayed to God to change my heart (seriously I prayed this ALOT), so that I could be excited to go.  As the vacation planner, my "on-boardedness" plays a huge role in our fun adventures. 

It took some time but my heart was changed and I started to get excited about the trip as I looked into beach rentals in Las Conchas on (vacation rental by owner listing #340111).  We wanted to vacation with my sister's family and sharing a large-ish house with five kids under 7 years old seemed the best way to go.

Welcome to my very own top 10 list (a must for any respectable blogger) on
The top 10 ways to beach vacation with a zillion kids like a boss:

1. Location Location Location, this is the most important factor.  Seriously.  We rented a house a 3 minute walk to the shoreline.  This allows for time to run a kid up to take a poop or refresh your margarita cup.  Someone losing their shit on the beach from exhaustion and too much sunshine? Walk them up to their bunk bed for a mid-day snooze.  Spend your money on this and ask questions before shelling out the cash.  Is the beach rocky?  Is it deep? Are the waves child-crushingly strong?  Are you going to be there during Portuguese man o' war jellyfish season?  Do you decorate your home with priceless antiques that I am going to spend five hours hiding from my kids when we get there?
We were directly behind the house that was on the water,
which we thought would be a little safer if there were escapees
Comfortable, sturdy furniture that we were not terrified of ruining the whole time
2.   Food, the second most important factor.  Duh.  Scientific research has shown that a kid on vacation has to eat (or beg for food) every three minutes and when there are five kids that equates to no less than three kids eating or begging at all times, 16 hours a day.  The “beach castle” we rented had an outfitted kitchen with full size refrigerator and dishwasher with large pots/pans to prepare those family meals.  We divided the work load of making meals and cleaning up after meals according to skills of the adults.  I am more of a cleaner-upper than a chef, so my role was clear.  My BH1 makes amazing pork chili verde which in turn makes a great soup one night, tacos another night and even breakfast burritos.  My sister is a master of slow-cooked beans.  Three days before we left Arizona to go on the trip we learned that Rocky Point has a Sam’s Club and we bought a membership.  My sister and BH1 went there and for pesos on the dollar bought two grocery carts of food that was held to US packaging/handling standards.  Yes, I live in fear of pork from Mexico and Neurocysticercosis.  We purchased a ton of snacks, fruit, juice boxes, beers, etc to keep parents and kids happy for long days on the beach. We prepared every single meal for 2-5 families for 12 days in the house and it was beautiful in its simplicity and cost savings. Pro tip:  We planned the meals and themed them around kid favorites and family that would be there.  Also in Mexico, filtered drinking water is important, but most places that cater to Americans know this and accommodate.
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The Sam's Club haul

3.    Family.  We have several immediate family members who are in school, living on a fixed income, missionaries and etc that could never afford a beach vacation.  We rented a house bigger than we needed and for a few days here and there invited those family members to get a passport and come and stay for free.  We played games on the patio with the ocean waves crashing a few feet away and laughed well into the night.  To have all those extra hands to love and nurture your kids while you take a walk on the beach with your beloved contributed to a magical experience for all.  The more people to build castles with, show your prettiest shell too and help you catch 15 man o’ war jellyfish the merrier.  Caution:  Do not make visiting family members your on-call babysitters, this is their vacation too. 
My newest nephew should be here any day now...
Mountain of fun
Favorite game with a new friend

My dad, my son and my nephew looking for man o' wars
4.    Take an EPIC selfie and a million other pics of everything in between.  I picked two times in the morning when beach play was a little slower and told individual families to head to beach for impromptu family photog session.  I am NOT a photographer but I see so much value in pictures.  I used my simple camera phone to help them make a memory and without fail the end result was always a few of my favorite pics of the whole adventure.  Pro tip: I kept my phone in a Ziploc bag the entire trip and took it out only to take pics.  I could read my Kindle app and update Facebook through the plastic bag.
MY FAVORITE of the entire trip

5.    Some beach toys you do need but most of them you don’t.  You know how they say you should get a bunch of new toys before you go on a long car ride?  The same goes for any trip.  We bought a couple boogie boards (less boarding and more pulling a cousin on the inch deep water of low tide until they fall off screaming with laughter), a beach aquarium, a bunch of nets, and a book on beach games and the results were perfect.  Don’t get nuts with buckets and shovels.  Kids want to explore and building the castle consumes 8 minutes of a 9 hour day on the beach.  Have contests to find the most beautiful shell as judged by grandma, play sharks and minnows in the sand and make art of found beach treasures.  Also flotation devices for the less strong swimmers to be worn AT ALL TIMES so if they are swept out to sea, they float.  Pro tip: For baby, I cannot recommend the inflatable duck bath enough.  You fill it with ocean water, give them some cups and they splash at your feet for hours.  GENIUS. 

Internal view of beach aquarium with some catch and release treasures 

6.    Do stuff you NEVER do at home.  I hate art projects at home with glitter, glue and buttons everywhere.  I hate it.  Sometimes I think that 90% of the reason we send anyone to preschool is so that they can play with play dough there.  For my niece’s birthday I bought her a glitter tattoo set and we spent an entire morning on the beach applying glitter tattoos to whatever arm or body part was thrust in our faces.  The best idea (my SH2 endorsed it as her most favorite thing the entire summer) was bringing washable non-toxic paint and collecting shells to paint right there on the beach as the extra paint washed away into the ocean depths.  I had a container of air dry clay that had been sitting on the shelf for 1.5 years and I brought it along for each of us to pick and press our favorite shell into and take home as a tangible memory of the trip.

Sometimes we colored shells but most of the time we colored us

Beautiful disaster

7.    Celebrate everything and nothing.  My daughter’s 3 year old birthday fell a few days into the trip and what a wonderful way to celebrate surrounded by a bunch of family.  A plastic tablecloth and pretty garland and viola a birthDAY is made.  We celebrated her from dawn until dusk with her favorite cereal for breakfast, dinner choice, movie, and desert choice.  Admittedly this took a little bit of coordination (I brought her gifts wrapped with us, and purchased cereal and cake mix on the Arizona side), but it was really fun and worth it.  We subsequently chose a different birthDAY for my niece and nephew who are also July birthdays and did the same thing with wrapped gifts and their special day using the same garland and table cloth.  News flash: 3 years old don’t know that it is not their ACTUAL birthday and nor do they care.
Goofy party favor sunglasses selfie

Note insta-party with banner and tablecloth

8.    Outdoor shower.  Yup, it is that simple.  YOU MUST HAVE ACCESS TO AN OUTDOOR SHOWER.  This cannot be over stated.  Every single person rinsed feet and bathing suits off in the outdoor shower before he/she every considered ascending the steps to the house.  I brought kid shampoo that was good for chlorine or ocean water and left it in the shower as well as a kid conditioner.  Swimsuits were rinsed and hung immediately and sand sprayed out of every nook and cranny a minimum of twice daily.  My kids did not take one single shower inside the entire 12 days,  My husband thinks my obsession with the outdoor shower is a little ridiculous but if I am being honest it made the trip for me.  I would be remiss in not saying that for anything over a three day vacation with kids, you also have to have a full size washer and dryer at your disposal.  For bonus points, we had opportunity to hire the cleaning crew of the home where we stayed to clean the house mid-stay for a small fee and it was worth every penny to have clean, non-sandy sheets even just for a night. 

9.    Bring every article of sun protective clothing you own and if you are sure you have enough stop and purchase more before you go.  I went so far as to have Amazon send another rash guard for me to my brother’s house so he could bring it with him when he came down a week into our trip.  Everyone in our party had at least one long sleeve and several short sleeve rash guards that were worn at all times. Everyone had hats that they were forced to wear  Yes, we religiously applied sunscreen (each family brought at least 3 large tubes/cans/sticks) but for the close-to-the-equator sun we were exposed to no amount of sunscreen would have been enough.  Not a single child was sunburned or even “pink” which made us feel like awesome parents to be truthful.  Also I brought shorts and t-shirts for everyone to wear in their down time that no one wore; they just took up valuable space in suitcases.  It was swimsuits or pajamas/lounging clothes for all.  And while we are talking about what to wear, every family member should have a water shoe that can scramble over tide pools and protect your feet from stepping on a jellyfish.  

Also shade, BRING SHADE!
All I see in this picture is 3 kids without their hats on
10. Go to the beach.  Get up, apply sunscreen, and just go to the beach.
Here was our daily schedule:
6:30am – Kids wake up
7:00am – Parents finally get up too (check tide schedule and inform house of low tide/hide tide), make coffee, poor cereal into bowls for kids
7:30-8:30am – Make breakfast with eggs and/or tortilla of some kind
8:30-9:00am – Wrangle kids into swimsuits and sunscreen the hell out of them, prepare first cocktail of the day to take to beach
9:00am-12:00pm – Beach
12:00-3:00pm – Shower the crew, lunch everyone, and put all kids down for a nap.  Adults go to corner store for ice and beer or walk back down for solo beach time or take a nap or read a book or play a game on the patio.  Pro tip:  With so many adults there was always one or two willing to stick around and keep an eye on the house while kids napped.
3:00-3:30pm – Wrangle back into swimsuits and reapply sunscreen
3:30-Sunset – Beach.  Pro tip: Bring cash for mango guy and ice cream bar guy who inevitably found our crew on the beach.
Sunset-8:00pm – Shower the crew, dinner, read books or watch TV and off to bed
8:00pm-?? – Porch games (our favorites were Rumors, Apples to Apples, Dominos, etc).

Have no agenda or set schedule.  I learned this from BH1.  He is master of shoving kids out the door and making them figure out what to do.  BH1 was first on the beach each morning, shoveling the ever popular sea wall for all to climb on, build tunnels through, and destroy.  I know you know that kids don’t care about fancy dinners at restaurants; they don’t want to have to sit down, behave, and color with four crayons.  Do they wish we went to Disneyland instead?  Yes, of course, but since they have yet to go they have no idea what they are missing and for as long as I am able to make the outdoors “the best vacation ever” then I am going to do it.  

What makes it a family trip vs. a vacation?  Anything you do at this stage of the game is “work”.  Ensuring that your kids live and are safe is a lot of work, but in the middle of that work is watching them experience the world and if you can enjoy the view and relax a little it really can be a vacation.  Don’t misunderstand me, there is no way the whole trip will be a vacation, but there are a few hours and even a whole day or two that can be. That being said the 1:30pm daily cocktails on the Margarita deck certainly helped. 

See you next year Mexico.  

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