Traveling with a toddler: Beach Vacation – tips and thoughts on letting go of the fantasy and embracing reality

In the last post in this series I talked about how my expectations for this vacation were so vastly different from reality. Once I was able to let go of my (ridiculous but real) fantasies I was able to embrace and enjoy the trip for what it was, not what I wished it could be. Here are a few of the lessons I learned the hard way:
1. Let your child take the lead

I’m not talking about kid-centric parenting here, I just mean you need to let go of control. Trust me, this will make you and your toddler so much happier. I had visions of Baby Girl laughing and splashing in the waves, but in reality she was overwhelmed and scared of the ocean. No matter how many times I tried or different methods I used to get her to overcome her fear she just was not going to enjoy the water this time around. When I finally let go of that expectation I was able to cheerfully join her in the activity that she did love: digging in the sand.

We made castles and dug holes, filled buckets and dumped them out. The best part was since I knew she wasn’t going to venture into the water by herself I could actually relax and read a book while she played happily beside me. Oh, and the most precious sight I’ve ever seen?

Watching my husband build a sandcastle with his baby girl. Oh my heart.

2. Allow for plenty of down time

We set a loose schedule that followed the pattern we use at home: get up, have breakfast, get ready, head to the beach or other activity, come back and eat lunch, nap, swim at the pool or get ready and go out to dinner, bath, bed. I’m so glad we didn’t try to pack too much into each day. C definitely needed that afternoon rest time, even though she didn’t always fall asleep, and my husband and I loved the quiet time as well. The times when Baby Girl was cranky or had meltdowns was because we were expecting too much from her (an early dinner at a sit-down restaurant when she hadn’t taken a nap? Epic fail.) I really tried to reign in my inner cruise director and just go with the flow, and that made for a much better experience!

3. Find some kid-friendly activities in the area in case it rains or you need a break from the beach

As I said in my last post, we all got a bit too much sun on our first full beach day, so we decided to take a break from the beach and head to the Moody Gardens aquarium. Baby Girl had been asking every day when we were going to “find the fishies,” so this was the perfect excursion for us! Charlotte made it her mission to find every character from Finding Nemo (which is her only real frame of reference for fish) which made for a fun “scavenger hunt.”

There were several school groups at the aquarium too, but since they stayed together it was fairly easy to avoid them. We almost had a crisis when we couldn’t find Nemo (!!!) but eventually we stumbled on a whole tank full of clown fish (whew). C loved everything she saw, especially the seals, penguins, turtles, and sharks (??). The only thing that freaked her out completely was the diver in one of the big tanks who was feeding the fish (thanks again, Finding Nemo).
A couple of days later, when the seaweed was really bad, we went back to Moody Gardens and toured the rainforest zoo, which is another excellent activity for toddlers.

C got to see monkeys, birds, an ocelot, giant otter, insects, lizards, and snakes. She found everything fascinating, except for the giant anaconda (I don’t blame her a bit!).

4. Embrace the unplanned and remember what memories are made of

There were so many things that happened on this trip that I didn’t plan for, some good, some bad. But it’s the unexpected that make for the good stories and memories! Like how C felt the beat in the music outside the Rainforest Cafe, and just broke out into a spontaneous dance party.

Or after Charlotte face planted in the water while we were strolling along the beach after dinner, drenching herself, but we just just stripped her down and took her to get ice cream anyway. And yeah, C wasn’t up for running around in the ocean by herself, but she was perfectly happy to let us carry her out into the water.

As long as we held on to her she loved it. I’m sure there is a lesson there about how our reluctance to be brave and trust God hold us back from the adventure he has waiting for us, but that’s another post.

I hope my experience helps you be a little more prepared for your own family trip, and that it didn’t scare you away from ever planning one! We really did have a wonderful time, made so many fantastic memories, and learned some lessons along the way. What has your experience with traveling as a family taught you?


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