I have spent the last few days dreaming of a beach holiday. The days are getting longer, the air is starting to fill with the perfume of blossoms but my Mediterranean soul is craving that summer feeling that only the beach can give.
If I could, right now I would catapult myself on a Mediterranean island (I am thinking: Spain?), feel the soft touch of the sand under my feet and bask in the sun while my kids scream in delight making sandcastles.
My daydream is of course just that. It is not just that I haven’t mastered the art of teleporting myself yet but also that a beach holiday with kids is not exactly as straightforward as the idyllic image above suggests.
A beach holiday with kids is very much made of sand everywhere, salt-sticky clothes, messy toys and occasionally sunburn. Unless, of course, you follow some tips. After beach holidays in Majorca and Italy, I believe we have mastered the art of family sun holidays and these are our top tips.
Protect them from the sun
I have a dark, Italian complexion and the sun has always been my friend. However, my kids have a delicate skin and I myself, after the long Irish winter, fell the need to protect myself with a higher sunscreen factor than in the past.
I usually invest in good quality, non-oily creams. Apply them before you leave the house and keep applying them regularly during the course of the day: make sure you don’t only use them when you are directly in the sun but also in the shade of the umbrella or if you are in a beach hut etc. While the sun rays may not reach you directly, they are usually not entirely screened and can still cause damage.
With kids, I use specific kids brands and they are usually more water resistant than adult creams, contain fewer chemicals and no artificial perfumes (just check each brand: if unsure what you’ll find at your destination, pack your own from home). Do not use old sun creams: while still possibly strong as a hydrating cream, apparently the protection factor doesn’t last. (Ok, this may be a clever marketing lie to get you to buy more but this is what I read and prefer to be safe!)
While on the beach, always get your kids to wear a hat, regularly cool them down with water (to drink and poured on their heads) and get a large beach umbrella.
Go early in the morning or late in the afternoon
The first time I found myself at the beach early in the morning, thanks to 2 non-sleeping kids, a new world opened up to me. A world of almost empty beaches, gentle breeze and space: to lay your towel, to open your umbrella, even to think!
Travelling in the high season and to popular European destinations such as Majorca or Tuscany means that the best spots on the beach are often taken by the late morning and you may find yourself stuck at the back of the beach. Going early means you can pick you place, the kids can run around without kicking sand on your beach neighbours and they also have more time to get tired, making a mid-afternoon nap more likely.
The same happens if you go late in the afternoons: if you can stretch dinner to a slightly later hour, you can have a brilliant time at the beach just before sunset. The view is fantastic, the atmosphere peaceful and the water usually warmer too.
Pick the right spot
Going back to my previous point about picking the right spot, I have learnt to pay attention to the lay of the beach before setting my ‘home’ for the day.
Ocean beaches terrify me (I am very much a Mediterranean girl) so in those cases, a place near a lifeguard is paramount for me.
In calmer waters, I still pay attention to how deep the water is (sometimes it changes significantly in the space of a few hundred meters) and if there are watersports nearby. I avoid being anywhere with too many surfboards or water games unless my kids can partake in them as this is where injuries happen easily.
Choose the right accommodation
Accommodation can make or break a family holiday and this is true on the beach too. The beach is tiring for adults and even more for kids so after a day of activities having somewhere comfortable and convenient to rest is crucial to make the next day (and more importantly, the night!) easy.
For beach holidays, I am fond of villas as they give you more privacy and space than hotels. I am an advocate for self-catering accommodation too: as much as I like eating out, I find it difficult (and expensive) to keep it up for days on end and I like to have control over the food the kids have.
Get the balance right
I have never been one for long days at the beach. My favourite way to spend time on a sun holiday is to mix beach time, pool time, sightseeing and home time: this when I am alone and even more with the kids.
It is always a bit of a fight to take them aways from the sand but I do find that the mood improves if we mix and match what we do. We start with a morning on the beach (sand time and water time), then we usually treat ourselves to lunch out, spend a few hours in the shade in the house and then go for a walk or a local park. This way, we don’t overdo the sun exposure and get a holiday that makes both us and the kids feel like we are on break.