Your Ultimate Guide to Planning the Perfect Summer Beach Vacation

What says summer better than escaping to a sunny beach? Spending days by the water, soaking up the sun, and trying new restaurants can allow for a stress-free break. On the contrary, planning a summer trip, especially when the little ones are involved, can often be stress-inducing. Taking a trip is essentially, for a short period of time, living in unfamiliar terrain without a sense of routine. While it can be a lot to handle, choosing the right place, vacation style, and packing lists can make a stressful trip turn into a much-needed relaxing summer vacation.

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Choosing Where to Go

Staying Nearby

So, you decided it’s time you took a relaxing beach trip. Now what? Depending on your motivation for taking a vacation, you might want to take a trip close by or maybe far, far away. If you just need a stress-free weekend away from home or want a beach that’s a short driving distance away for the kids, the DMV area has many great options.

North Beach, Maryland, which is just about an hour away, is a great option for those hoping to get a tan or just lounge with the family at a smaller beach. There are kayaking, paddle board, and bike rentals for those wanting a more active getaway, as well as a half-mile boardwalk and an array of novelty and antique shops in town to make for an eventful trip.

Similarly, Sandy Point State Park, a beach about an hour away and about 40 minutes from North Beach, offers something for everyone. This Maryland beach shows fantastic views of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and is a popular area for fishing, picnicking, and spending the day on a boat.

Although Delaware is not part of the DMV, they have plenty of excellent beaches, many of which are within a three-hour drive. Rehoboth and Bethany Beach are nearly a 30-minute drive from each other, making it easy to visit both during your trip. Both of these beaches are filled with numerous amenities to keep you and the whole family busy, and both areas have large downtowns that allow you to wander around for hours.

The Farther the Better

Sometimes, you just need to get away. Luckily, the assortment of beaches is not few and far between as you head south or north of the area.

If you want somewhere that feels far from home but don’t want to leave the state, Cape Charles could be a perfect match. This Virginia town is a four-hour drive away and located on the Chesapeake Bay, offering a free public beach to all visitors. And with the Chesapeake Bay’s shallow, calm waters, this is a great spot if you have small children.

Cape May is a similar distance away, except the drive takes you all the way to New Jersey. This seaside town offers some of the prettiest beaches on the East Coast and is known for its various wineries, making it the perfect coastal escape.

Want to be even further from home? Emerald Isle is a quaint beach town in North Carolina known for the best fishing spots, surfing, scuba diving, and even golfing for those who want to take a day off from the beach. With this coastal town a six-hour drive away, it is certain to say you will feel like a true vacationer.

Finding Your Stay

Your Best Bet: Vacation Rentals

With a kitchen to make food, everyone having their own room, and potential amenities like pools and large balconies, it’s difficult to choose anything over a vacation rental.

However, with all the perks that come with renting a vacation home, it’s important to remember that there are additional factors to consider than when you book a hotel.

A necessary measure to take is checking the safety of the neighborhood before choosing your rental. Many vacationers would prefer paying for a cheaper rental, but a cheaper price can sometimes equate to the rental being less desirable and safe location.

Another consideration that may not always come to mind is if you are driving, check beforehand if parking is provided. Otherwise, you might end up having to walk farther than needed just to get to your car.

It’s also helpful to look for rentals further away from the beach. Even a few blocks away will get you a rental with the same amenities but for a cheaper price.

Just a Weekend Trip? Check out the Hotels

Vacation rentals are usually the best option if you want privacy and a lot of space, but rentals may not always be best suited for your specific trip. Before researching where to stay, compare beach rentals with hotels in your vacation spot. Some destinations are better rental spots than others. At beaches like Cape May, you will have better luck going with a vacation rental since most beach towns on the Jersey Shore rely on rental homes rather than hotels. On the other hand, since the summer is a popular time for vacation rentals, many of these places will require a weeklong minimum stay, meaning finding a hotel to meet your weekend trip needs might work better.

lifeguard on the beach
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Staying Safe

While the beach is often a seemingly safe choice for a summer vacation, there are still a myriad of dangers that come along with staying by the shore.

It’s important to look into the beach where you will be staying to see if there will be certified lifeguards present. Beach lifeguards will not only act as a level of security for young swimmers in the water, but they will also warn beachgoers of dangerous tides and stinging creatures.

However, even with the presence of a lifeguard, it’s still imperative to keep these stinging animals in the back of your mind as you plan and go about your trip. While jellyfish and stingray attacks are usually rare occurrences, it’s best to be prepared. Research ahead of time to see if your beach is known for these stinging creatures or ask locals if they know what areas of the beach to avoid.

Another safety concern that doesn’t always cross minds is the severity of thunder and lightning. Even after a sunny day at the beach, thunder and lightning can make an appearance, and being by the water can increase your chances of being hit. If you hear thunder or see lightning while on your trip, you may need to head back to your rental or hotel to stay safe.

Keeping Busy

Relaxing by the beach may be all you’re looking for on a summer vacation. But while it might seem excessive to plan events or create an itinerary for a beach trip, it can not only make your vacation feel more organized, but also ensure you’re making the most out of your time away.

Preparing Ahead of Time

Most beach towns have a plethora of diverse activities that can keep people of all ages busy. From surfing to kayaking and jet skiing to boating, you can make each day of your trip entertaining. However, if you want to take a surfing lesson or rent a boat, these activities can often sell out during the busy summer months. After you have secured where you will stay and your form of transportation, research different activities available at your beach and check to see if you can book ahead of time. Also, a benefit of booking earlier is that you might pay a cheaper price than if you were to buy it the day of the activity.

If your family struggles to choose where to eat for dinner, it can also be beneficial to get restaurant reservations before your trip begins. Research restaurants with your family beforehand to decide what places appeal to everyone. This process will allow you to deal with the frustration of choosing where to eat ahead of time so you won’t have to deal with it while actually on vacation.

Fun But Frugal

If done correctly, being economical on your vacation while still having an entertaining trip is certainly possible. If you are staying in a rental home, this often means you’ll have access to a kitchen. Packing snacks and drinks from home to bring to your rental and eat at the beach can minimize your food budget while away. If you’re staying in a hotel, you can pack premade snacks and store them in your room, as well as in any provided mini fridges. You can also find free things to do around your beach town, such as walking tours and historical museums, by asking locals or doing a quick online search before you leave.

This story originally ran in our July issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.

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