...beach vacationing with a kid... is nothing like those days. Aside from the location.
Let's break it down into 10 easy steps. (Also, anything we took with us that was really helpful for our trip, I'm including links to. I don't get anything for endorsing these*, they were just really awesome.)
1. Getting There. I expected this to be horrible. But it was actually not that bad. (It's entirely possible that my gauge of "not that bad" has changed since being a mom, FYI. Remember that I have touched poop that didn't make.) We loaded the car the day before, all except for our bathroom bags, ourselves, and the kid. We then woke up before the sun, put the kid into the carseat while still sleeping, carefully loaded him into the car, and set off at 3am. He then slept until about 7am--BAM, we're already a third of the way there!
Once he woke up, he played with his toys for about 45 minutes until he announced he was hungry. We stopped for gas, fed the kid, and then I took over driving for a while. The kiddo happily played in his carseat for about an hour...
...until he started scream-crying. Totally upset, sudden onset, no obvious reason. The Hubs climbed into the back seat to soothe him. Since it was around his normal morning nap time we assumed he was just tired, and he did eventually fall asleep...for about 30 minutes, and then woke up just as upset as before. We pulled off at a rest stop...where The Hubs discovered our poor kid had an eyelash in his eye.
After some additional screaming at Dad for sticking his finger in his eye, the eyelash was retrieved and our kid was happy again. We let him play for a bit, then put him back in the carseat and continued on down the road. We stopped for lunch in Birmingham, and managed to get some additional food into the kid before he snuggled in for his afternoon nap, which lasted about 3 hours (cue the Hallelujah chorus). Another bottle in his carseat when he woke, and then I just hung out in the back seat with him for the last couple hours of the drive to help keep him entertained. We got to Destin around 5pm, relatively unscathed, just in time for dinner (which the baby slept through) and a sunset walk on the beach. Total travel time: 14 hours.
2. Sleeping. Our son does pretty well in a Pack 'n Play (PNP), thankfully. But setting up the perfect sleep station takes a little work. At home, he's got blackout curtains and is in his own room. In Florida, he shared a room with us, and woke up at 6am the first morning because well, the sun was up! So the following nights, we draped our beach towels over the windows to try to keep it a bit darker. There was also an A/C vent that blew right into the area where we had the PNP set up, so we had to close that--which ended up making the room kind of hot, so we had to keep the ceiling fan on. We were right next to the beach, so the waves made for some really lovely white noise.
But still...he's sleeping in a strange place, with a new wonky schedule, and discovering all sorts of new things like sand and the pool and how to drink out of a straw. So his sleep was far more erratic than at home. One night, he woke at 11:30, 1 am, 3:30am, and then again at 5:30am, at which point we put him in his bouncer on the floor and I laid next to him, bouncing him until he fell asleep (This took a while. I actually dozed off a few times, and would then open my eyes to find him staring at me), and then by the grace of God he slept til 7am (at which point I heard my in-laws awake on the balcony so I went out, passed him off to them, and we went back to sleep for an hour). We had to resort to this bouncer trick only one other time, thankfully (and Dad took that turn).
3. Bring Your Village. My in-laws met us down there and we shared the condo, a lovely two-bedroom place in a 10 story complex right on the beach. And I'm super grateful that they were there, because if it had only been The Hubs and I, this would not have qualified as a vacation. "Relaxing" with a child is WORK. First off, 90% of the stuff in our beach bag was for him:
|Kid's Stuff||Our Stuff|
|Baby Sunscreen||Adult Sunscreen|
|Beach Tent||Phone in Waterproof Case|
|Spray Bottle Fan|
So first, you get down to the beach. My MIL had thankfully saved us chairs and an umbrella earlier that day, so at least that part was already taken care of. But then someone has to hold the kid while you set up the beach tent for him (so he has a nice shaded, sand-free place to play).
NOTE: If you're going to get a beach tent for your kiddo, I recommend an "instant" version, rather than what we have. Ours has poles...that are not the same length...and we ended up breaking one because of COURSE the first time we set it up EVER was there on the beach. But ours was free courtesy of Wednesday Night Trivia Winnings from our pre-baby days, so...eh.
Then there's the toys, and keeping him cool (thus the fan/spray bottle) and hydrated (I actually have a nipple that screws onto a water bottle and I totally left it at home, but he did okay drinking straight from the bottle...and if he didn't, who cares! It's water, it spilled all over him and helped keep him cool.
And there's keeping him entertained, and let's not forget that he's still at an age where he can only go 2-3 hours awake without needing a nap, and we weren't quite at the "just let him nap on the beach" phase (though my in-laws, who are total beach bums and would stay out there 9am-6pm if they could, definitely petitioned for it).
But with 4 adults, this is much more manageable. Grandpa takes the baby down to the surf while we set up the tent, then Grandma plays with him in the tent for a while while Mom & Dad go out into the water. Then we tag out and one of us plays with him in the tent while the other relaxes. And so it rotates for a couple hours until it's time to go in for lunch.
Ceviche with Plaintain chips and a beachside view...perfect.
We also actually got to have a DATE NIGHT while we were there! Grandma & Grandpa stayed in with the kiddo and we went out, had dinner, walked on the beach, tried some new brews, all sans kid. It was LOVELY. When we got home, he was PJ'd up and snoozing peacefully in his PNP. Good job, grandparents.
Complete with dessert: vanilla bean creme brulee. YUM.
4. Eating: We ate out quite a bit while we were in Destin/Fort Walton Beach. Our son thankfully does great at restaurants: he either sleeps, or just hangs out, plays with his toys, makes sweet-eyes at the servers, and eats whatever you deem acceptable to give him: french fry guts, bites of hushpuppies, little chunks of fried fish, occasionally his own actual food. He was a pretty happy camper.
For eating at the condo, we brought his trusty travel high chair, snapped it onto one of the dining room chairs, and he was set. In addition to his regular baby food, he got to try bits of watermelon, cantaloupe, egg, biscuit, and toast. The only thing he didn't like was a piece of crab-boiled new potato--guess we're gonna have to build him up to spicy foods. :)
Eating from his bottle was a different story. WAY too many distractions. Plus he is ridiculously temperature sensitive. He likes his bottles WARM. Really warm. We were fighting to get him to drink 10 ounces from a bottle a day (he usually eats 12-16 oz from bottles in addition to nursing at morning/bedtime) because he wouldn't sit still and we couldn't keep it at the right temp being on the beach much of the day. We gave him lots of bottled water so I wasn't as worried that he would get dehydrated, but I still didn't want him being hungry. Finally, I had an "aha" moment. He's really into straws right now...so we pulled the straw out of a fountain drink we'd brought down to the beach and stuck it in his bottle. Success! He still didn't drink a LOT, but it was better than nothing.
5. Play time: As with most beach condos, the main rooms were tile floor--not great for an infant that still doesn't have the best grasp on gravity. But we managed--we used blankets and spare cushions to build him a little play area. The beach tent worked well for play time outside. Though I'm not sure why we bother with toys--he'd rather chew on a plastic water bottle the entire time.
6. Stylin' Sun Wear: I snagged up some baby swim trunks and rash guards at a consignment sale prior to our trip--he had three full beach sets and two hats which worked well for our one-week trip. Only had to do laundry one time (small washer & dryer in our condo).
7. Pool time: This was Baby J's first experience with the pool, so I was a little nervous, but he was totally chill about it. It took him a little while to get used to his floatie, or just hanging out while we held him, but eventually he realized he could splash the water if he swung his arms around. Also, Daddy is way more entertaining in the pool than Mama (as with all things. Le sigh.) The sunshade and his hat kept him nice and cool and no baby sunburns!
I also got a partial pack of disposable swim diapers at a consignment sale before the trip (there were a LOT, which leads me to believe that no one ever goes through a full pack), and I found one cloth swim diaper at a baby thrift shop for about $3. We used the latter more.
NOTE: if you didn't already know, swim diapers serve exactly one purpose: keep poo in. Pee passes right through. So you're supposed to change them into one right before you get in the water, then change them out of it once you get out. Our last day at the beach, I put it on him when we got down to the water so Grandpa could take him out into the surf. Then he came back and Grandma wanted to hold him. I noted, "he's only wearing a swim diaper, so he may pee on you if we don't change it." Five minutes later, Grandma shouts, "he peed on me!" So there's that. (Then again...you are at the beach. There's a giant body of water out there filled with fish-pee...just go take a dip to rinse the human pee off. File this under "things that are 'not that bad' now that you're a parent".)
Deciding whether to pee on Dad while wearing the swim diaper.
9. Getting home. This was pretty uneventful, thankfully. We used the same strategy as Step 1 left around 4am, which got us about 3 hours down the road before he woke up. He was a little more fussy on the way back, so we spent a little more time in the back seat keeping him entertained. But ultimately it was really pretty bearable. We stopped outside of Memphis on the way back and had lunch, and made it home around 6:30pm. Travel Time = 14.5 hours
10. Getting Back Into A Routine: Once you're home, of course there's the unpacking and the laundry and such, but just like you always take a while to get back into gear after a trip, so does the kid. Our normally 'sleep through the night' baby was waking 2-3 times a night, and got some sinus issues from the change in climate/locale. It also took him a while to go back to eating well from a bottle during the day. All in all, I'd say it took a full week and a half before things were back to "normal" for him.
This gives me a lot of hope for future travels with our son. I know things will change--he'll nap less and need to be entertained more, but we DID it. We survived a beach trip, travelling in a car, through 6 states, with an infant. I'm thinking this may have to be an annual thing.
* I actually CAN'T get anything for endorsing Amazon products, because I live in Missouri. So there you go--you know I'm speaking truth, yo.