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10 hacks for a perfect family beach trip

POSTED: June 25, 2014 1:00 p.m.
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A little sand between the toes always takes away the daily woes.

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For many families, the onset of summer means trips to the beach. I live near the Oregon Coast where it's rarely warm enough to get all the way in the water. My family still enjoys jaunts to the beach for a day of sand and surf, even if we're sometimes short on sun. Having fun at the beach with family members of all ages takes preparation and smarts. Here are my top 10 ways to have an epic beach adventure.

1. Research first.
Choose the right beach for your needs. We once parked at a beach and thought we had a short walk over a dune to see the ocean. Several minutes later we were still trudging over sandy hills with toddlers in tow, arms full of beach stuff and the bathroom back in the parking lot. Look for online reviews and descriptions of beaches in the area you are going to visit. Some beaches are popular and busy, with snack bars, surfboard rentals and lifeguards. Others are secluded and have no amenities.

2. Pack carefully.
Think about what you'll need at the beach and how to get it there. You'll need towels, sunscreen, food, toys at minimum, and you also might want boogie boards, wetsuits, a blanket, chairs, a shelter and extra clothes. I assign each child something to carry or someone to help, and I try to pack only what we'll need. I like to wear flip flops to the beach, but pack sandals for my explorers so they don't cut their feet on shells or rocks.

3. Sunscreen before you go.
If your beach is less than an hour away, put on sunscreen before you go. It's hard to apply sunscreen in the wind, and kids are so anxious to get to the water that they often get in before the sunscreen is dry. Also, sand and sunscreen don't mix well, so getting a good first coat on and set before you hit the beach makes sun safety easier. Use sunscreen on cloudy days, too.

4. Choose sand-friendly snacks.
Our family tells a funny story about a hungry seagull who swooped down and stole a sandwich right out of our young daughter's hand. Playing at the beach works up big appetites, so pack lots of healthy snacks. Do any food prep beforehand, as you might not have a picnic table and sand can blow in your food if it is windy. Finger foods are best, and make sure to close any bags after you are done eating.

5. Don't forget the toys.
Not every child wants to play in the water. Bring a bucket or bag of sand toys (consider a full-sized shovel for teenagers) and watch how entertained your whole family will be. We always pack a Frisbee, too, because nothing beats Frisbee on the beach. Kites are great for flying on windy beach days as well.

6. Keep extras in the car.
There are places that it's warm enough to hit the beach without a jacket, but it's nice to have one in the car in case clouds roll in or you end up staying for sunset. Keep a change of clothes for small children, extra snacks and water and a first aid kit in your car as well, so you're prepared for whatever the day will bring.

7. Put your hair up.
Beachy waves may be popular in hairstyling, but are not practical for those who dislike having hair blowing in their faces all day at the beach. I always put my daughters' hair in ponytails so they can dig in the sand and jump in the waves without having hair get in their way. Keeping sand out of hair is impossible, but tying hair back seems to help a bit.

8. Hats on.
Being in the sun all day is tiring. It's easy to get dehydrated and drained. Wearing a hat will keep your hair in place, keep damaging sun rays off your face and help you feel cooler. Hats are a must for babies at the beach, but are a great idea for others as well, even for just an hour or two.

9. Consider a shelter.
If you have little ones who might want a rest, or older people who can't take too much sun exposure, you might want to bring a shelter. There are several kinds. Some pop up easily and can hold 2-3 small children. Other canopy-type shelters can cover a whole area. A beach umbrella can be placed in the sand to provide a small amount of shade. Wind can be a factor at some beaches, so make sure your shelter can be secured to the ground or is heavy enough to stay upright.

10. Splurge on a beach chair.
The best beach chairs are lightweight, low to the ground, and lean back just a bit so you can sit comfortably as you soak up rays. If you choose one with a strap for carrying, transporting your chair will be much easier. You may also want to choose a fabric or material that doesn't attract sand. For this reason, many beach chairs are made with mesh-like material.

Keep these 10 beach trip hacks in mind as you get ready for your next adventure in the sand and sun. Grab your family and friends, put on your sunscreen and head to the ocean or your favorite lake for a perfect day at the beach. Rinse and repeat all summer long.

Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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