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How I Get Two Toddlers Packed and Out the Door For a Beach Day In 20 Minutes or Less

You already know that we’re always in a rush.

So it’s no surprise when I leave the house at 9 am, two kids in tow, with the intention of grocery shopping, returning home to put the food away, making a picnic, packing for the beach, and being out the door again by 10:15.

Little Bear's favorite beach activitity: solo exploring!

Little Bear’s favorite beach activitity: solo exploring!

You see, when it’s mid-October and a beach day presents itself, you simply cannot ignore it.  It’s an unwritten rule that beach days in mid-October must be taken advantage of.  Especially when said gorgeous, 70 degree sunny day happens to fall on a holiday Monday.

This is exactly what happened today.

And we did it! I pulled up to the gate at the beach parking lot at exactly 10:30.  Mission accomplished.

So what magic trick did I use to propel me and two children faster than the speed of light?

Well, we arrived home with all the groceries at 9:45.  That left me half an hour to put away groceries, pack a lunch, pack a beach bag, change the boys into beach clothes, and get everything and everyone in the car, ready to go. And believe me, when I’m in a hurry these kids have a tendency to move about as fast as a glacier.

But hope isn’t lost.  I’m lucky enough to be a pretty experienced beach-goer so I’ve got a system in place, for days like this when it’s just me toting along a two-year old, a three-year old, and all our  gear.  And I’ve refined our system enough this summer that I think it’s share-worthy.

So here we go.

"Look at this hermit crab, Mama!"

“Look at this hermit crab, Mama!”

There are three ways to fail at beach days with the kids:

  1. Too cold.
  2. Too hungry.
  3. Too bored. (I take issue with this last one because I really believe that the beach in and of itself should be enough entertainment, but I’m keeping this real so just bear with me.)

I have fallen victim to them all. This is of course made worse by the fact that your toddler will have zero ability to tell you what is actually bothering him or her.  Conversations with my kids when they are about to lose it typically go something like this:

  • Mama:  What’s wrong?
  • Child (lips blue, teething chattering):  Nothing.
  • Mama:  Would you like to sit on the towel with me and warm up?
  • Child:  No. I want to play dinosaurs.
  • Mama:  Ok, I will be a t-rex.  What kind of dinosaur do you want to be?
  • Child (face turning purple and heading rotating 360 degrees):  I’M NOT A DINOSAUR.  I’M A BOY.  I WANT TO PLAY WITH REAL DINOSAURS! I WANT A REAL LIVING DINOSAUR TO PLAY WITH RIGHT NOW!!!!!!

This might be no big deal at home, but at the beach it’s a whole different story.  The worst part about failing at beach days is that once you’ve failed, you’re stuck on the beach with a giant bag of unpacked stuff spread all over the sand, and a child who seems to have lost all muscle control by the edge of a tide pool and is shrieking at piercing decibels.  Your car is probably parked about a mile away.  So good luck.

See what I mean?  The stakes are high, my friend.

My ace is our beach bag.  I keep it packed with the essentials and in the mudroom, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The contents of my beach bag - all we need for a day at the beach!

The contents of my beach bag – all we need for a day at the beach!

Here’s what we keep in our beach bag all the time:

  • Two towels.  These are larger sized beach towels, but thin.  I love them because they provide a ton of space for seating but don’t take up a ton of space in the bag.  I know some people are really particular about fluffy towels, but we are not them.
  • Sunscreen
  • Baby powder.  I have never used baby powder on the kids or myself in any kind of routine personal hygiene, but I do use it all the time at the beach for removing sand.  It is magic.  Sprinkle it on their hands, rub briskly, and voila – it’s like they just washed!  I also use it on their feet before they get into the car.

    Keeping cozy in wetsuits

    Keeping cozy in wetsuits

  • The boys’ wetsuits and rashguards.  Today, both boys wore t-shirts with their board shorts.  I brought their rash guards so that they’d have something long-sleeved to put on while playing if they wanted. The wetsuits are always ready when the boys want to splash around.  The water is pretty chilly right now, but even in the middle of summer it’s never that balmy so these are a must for long days in the water.
  • A little diaper pack.  Both my kids are potty trained, but Little Bear still sometimes does not give much notice when he needs to go.  When it’s just me and the two little ones, I don’t see myself scooping him and Junior up and sprinting up the path, through the parking lot, and to the port-a-potty in any timely manner.  Also, I admit it.  I have an unreasonable fear that he will fall in.  So, I bring a few pull ups and some wipes.  If he needs to go, I put the diaper on him, and then change it as soon as he’s done.  I used to bring an actual potty with me (and we still do when we’re out on our boat) but I stopped bringing it to the beach once I realized that if he did drop a doozy, I’d have to carry it all the way to the port-a-potty to dump it anyway (duh).  I keep the diaper stuff and an empty trash bag in a little wet bag that can be used for sandy, wet bathing suits if needed on our way home.

To get going, I only need to add:

Murphy's Law: Someone will always require a complete change of clothes.

Murphy’s Law: Someone will always require a complete change of clothes.

  1. Complete changes of clothes for the boys.  I make sure to bring extra cozy clothes that I know they’ll wear.  They really only want to change their clothes if they are cold, so I pack sweatshirts and thick cotton shorts.  I also always have an extra change of clothes in the car too, just in case.
  2. Water bottles.

    Snacks keep everyone happy!

    Snacks keep everyone happy!

  3. Food.  I try to pack things that can be eaten in multiple small portions so that it’s not a huge deal if anything gets dropped in the sand.  I cut sandwiches into small two-bite chunks.  I break up bananas.  I give them two pretzel sticks or half a cheese stick at a time.  Other popular beach snacks for us are cereal bars, applesauce or yogurt packets (the kind you drink), and just about any kind of fruit.

I’ve whittled this packing down a lot this summer from a much larger pile that required one of those cumbersome beach carts that I eventually hated.  I used to bring a huge beach tent.  It is an awesome, lightweight, easy-to-set-up tent so none of that was the problem.  The issue was that it was awkward to maneuver down the boardwalk on the beach cart, and I could never get the kids to sit under it. It really just provided personal comfort for me for about ten minutes a day so it was more trouble than it was worth.  The same goes for the beach chair that I used to bring.  I miss it sometimes, but when I’m by myself at the beach with both kids, I don’t get much time to lounge anyway.

Our old beach setup- way too much stuff for me to handle on my own! We reserve this gear for boat trips now!

Our old beach setup- way too much stuff for me to handle on my own! We reserve this gear for boat trips now!

Other things that I’ve removed from our beach packing include the huge shovels, buckets, nets, and trucks.  Instead, we now have a small mesh bag that Junior carries himself.  It contains a few small trucks, some small sand tools, and one small bucket.  Anytime he wants to bring something else, I tell him to go ahead as long as it fits in his bag and he can carry it. Sometimes Little Bear carries a ball too.

So, there you have it.  That’s how I get out of the house, to the beach in less than twenty minutes, with two kids under four.  It doesn’t take tons of stuff and a full camp setup to enjoy a day by the ocean.  A full day beach day on my own with both kids used to overwhelm me with packing and prep work.  These days, I keep it simple so that we can be out the door, and enjoying the day, in almost no time at all.

A beautiful fall day at an empty beach!

A beautiful fall day at an empty beach!


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  1. Nana Bear

    I may have had your energy once upon a time, but I think your maritime career honed your organizational skills to a sharp, precise point! Good going Mama Bear!

  2. This is an amazing idea to have my beach bag packed and ready anytime we decide to go to the beach. My husband and I always decides at the last moment to go out so I can’t afford to forget my daughter’s belongings. Thanks for the post:)

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