After reading an article that recommended spending $1,300 on 'must-have' beach gear, it's time a serious talk about what's necessary and what's not.
A headline caught my eye this morning. It said, "Taking baby to the beach? 15 must-have products." I was immediately interested because I live next to a beach. I have also spent nearly every warm day of the past decade on said beach with my children, so I consider myself somewhat a 'beach parenting' expert.
My curiosity rapidly transformed into horror. While the list contained a few good suggestions, i.e. a reusable swim diaper and sun hat, the rest of it consisted of ridiculous, over-the-top items with price tags that made my eyeballs nearly pop out of their sockets. For example, a cooler, only $399!
"We hear you, babies are demanding and fickle — sometimes they want grapes, sometimes they want yogurt, sometimes they want cheese sticks! Be armed with all of the possibilities by bringing Yeti's Tundra Haul cooler to the beach with you."
Or this wagon, a mere $599!
"Throw your towels, totes, buckets — and, oh yeah, your babes! — in here and your trip from the car to the sand will be smooth sailing. (And don't worry if a little sea spray gets on Veer, it's water-resistant!)"
Cheaper but equally silly items included 'minimalist beach toys' (I think another name for these is rocks, sticks, and shells), a hooded poncho for warming up (since when did towels stop doing the job?), wet bags for stashing damp bathing suits (roll them in your towel), and baby powder for helping to unstick sand from skin (while contaminating the beach).
Out of curiosity, I added up every item on the list. It came to a whopping $1,354.90... to take a baby to the beach! I don't know about you, but in ten years of beach-going with my brood of three, I haven't come close to spending a quarter of that on beach-related products. Nevertheless, we've had a fine time of it.
I realize that each of these items serves a purpose, and I understand how these shopping roundups work in the online media world, but I am bothered by the message behind this article:
It makes access to nature sound incredibly complicated.
It's hard enough for parents to get their kids out into nature these days, with busy schedules and competing distractions from handheld devices, but lists like this one make it even harder. They create the erroneous impression that you need tons of stuff in order to navigate the outdoors, that you're essentially outfitting yourself for battle, and that's not true. You just need to get out there and start enjoying it.
All of this stuff creates a physical burden on parents; imagine how many trips back and forth to the car you'd have to take to move all this crap from trunk to beach and back again. It's exhausting just thinking about it, a disincentive to get outside. This sends the wrong message to kids – that outings to the beach (or anywhere, for that matter, if this is how you operate) are a chore.
There's no need for it to be so expensive, either. Price tags like these make a beach sound elitist, inaccessible to anyone without superfluous cash. It's a beach, for goodness' sake! You show up, you play, you go home. There is no need for a $1,300+ outlay to get out there, as long as you're willing to put up with a little bit of grit, a little bit of damp, perhaps a faint sunburn. Welcome to what real beach life is all about.
Resist the commodification of the nature experience by paring down your 'must have' lists to the stuff you actually need.
In my experience, that includes a towel, bathing suit (or reusable swim diaper), and sun protection (hat and/or sunscreen). If your kid's older, throw in a life jacket and a shovel. Added luxuries are something to sit on, if you don't want to use your towel, and a clock (to time your beach outing to avoid peak sun, which isn't recommended for young children).
As for toys, you can pack a basket of shovels and buckets (I buy these for a few bucks at garage sales), but kids are often content just to beach-comb. Snacks? Sure, pack a few, but there's no need to haul a mini refrigerator along. Your kid isn't going to die from hypoglycaemia from the time they say "I'm hungry" till you get to the ice cream stand – and yes, you should totally buy them an ice cream when you're at the beach. That is a necessity.