Many people take what is known as a 'beach holiday'. Here are a few ideas on how to enjoy and make the most of a trip to the beach, whether it is a single day spent at a sandy bay, or a longer holiday overseas.
First of all you must choose your beach. Time spent researching the World's Best Beaches is time well spent. Do you need seaside attractions or would you prefer the beach to be remote and peaceful? Do you want to travel abroad or stay at home? These days when air travel is known to be environmentally unfriendly it may be that to stay 'at home' is the best choice for those who prefer a greener lifestyle. The 11,000 miles of British coastline include a wide variety of first class beaches and you may well be lucky enough to live somewhere with a sea view.
Many people will choose to get away from the cold and wet weather and fly to somewhere warmer, where the sun shines more consistently. Before you book your holiday, please consult an atlas, as it has been known for certain holiday makers not to know where their plane is taking them, particularly if the holiday is on an island. Are you going to Aegean, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic? Where exactly are the Azores? The Maldives? If you decide that a holiday nearer home is for you, especially if you live in Britain, then you may need to pack a selection of warmer, windproof clothing and some equipment to keep you occupied while on the beach.
Blue Flag Beaches
Some beaches are privileged to fly a Blue Flag. This is a worldwide1 environmental programme to show that the beach has reached stringent criteria. There are over 3200 beaches which are permitted to fly a Blue Flag and this may help you decide between various similar locations. One of the most important factors in attaining this status is that the quality of water should be clean enough for bathing. Life guards may be present who will indicate by flying a green flag when the sea is calm enough for swimming, without currents that may drag a swimmer offshore. A yellow flag indicates that you should swim with caution and a red flag means that swimming is inadvisable. Blue Flag beaches may also provide various other essential facilities, such as a first aid point, toilets, showers and disabled access.2 You should check for these before your departure as these vary from beach to beach.
The Blue Flag scheme does not apply in the U.S. but there is a similar scheme organised by The Natural Resources Defense Council which indicates bathing water quality.
Seaside Towns or Wild and Remote?
If the weather is too hot, cold, windy or rainy then the beach may not provide enough amusement for the whole of the day. In this case it is useful to have the sorts of attractions often found in holiday resorts. Fairgrounds, arcades and souvenir shops may either appeal or appall. On the other hand an old fashioned Punch and Judy booth, decent ice cream parlours and a stroll along a refurbished pier provide interesting diversions - especially if the tide is in and there is no dry sand to sit down on. In addition there will most likely be a first aid post, life guards and toilet facilities as well as seaside cafes or tea shops for additional refreshments.
If natural surroundings are more interesting to you than a popular holiday resort, then head for somewhere on the map that shows a long stretch of sand but without a town on its doorstep. This is the sort of beach where if you are self sufficient, with picnic and thermos flask, then a coastal path walk and a spot of birdwatching may be your ideal day out. Once you have found your get away from it all spot, your day will be free from any calls on your purse, due to the complete absence of ice cream vans and crazy golf courses. You may also be lucky enough to find that your mobile phone is out of range, so you won't be disturbed by text messages or sales calls.
Once you arrive on your destination beach, you should spend the first few minutes deciding where to sit. This will depend whether or not you have children with you and whether you wish to hire beach loungers and parasols. If you have children it is not a good idea to sit within shouting distance of frosty looking middle aged couples. Instead look for somewhere nearby other families whose children seem to be playing happily with each other already. If you see children who are actively fighting, sulking or throwing sand and water at each other, walk immediately to the other end of the beach. This should apply to everyone whether they have children with them or not.
If you are a party of adults, then choose somewhere that seems peaceful - you may sit fairly close to other beach users, but it is impolite to sit so close as to be able to overhear their conversations. If this is inevitable, then the beach is too crowded. On some popular and fashionable beaches however people do crowd closely3, but in this case it seems that the way to handle it is to lie face down on your towel and say little or nothing.
If you are intending to visit a beach on your own you will be pleasantly surprised as to how acceptable this is. If you are a woman you may discover this is one of the few places where being alone is not a handicap. Just choose a place that suits you, settle down and enjoy whatever else is happening. You may find that other kind beach users will keep an eye on your belongings when you go for a swim.
It is a good thing to take note of other people's towels and shoes when they go for a swim, especially if they are gone long enough for the tide to come in and wash their stuff away. Be prepared to rush down and rescue anything likely to be swamped by the advancing waves. This is a sort of beach game which will gain you brownie points, and you will get to meet lots of other kind members of the public as half a dozen complete strangers leap to the rescue of shoes, bags and clothes. When the oblivious swimmers return to their neatly re-arranged beach camp they will express gratitude all round and this whole section of the beach will have a rosy glow of satisfaction.
If the sun is shining then the most important thing to put on is sunscreen. For it to be effective it should be applied 30 minutes before going out in the sun. It should be reapplied very frequently (especially after swimming), following the instructions. Sun damage is unsightly, and skin cancers are a danger. Sunburn is not a good look. If you burn yourself at the beginning of the holiday you may have to spend the rest of it wearing bandages and zinc ointment. You may even end up confined to your hotel or apartment.
The best sort of sunscreen to use on a sandy beach is one that is non-greasy, because of the tendency for the sea breeze to waft the sand onto your skin. You may find that oily sun lotion acts as a sort of glue, giving you a sand blasted look. Whatever sort you go for make sure all your skin is covered evenly, preferably have another adult check those bits of you that are difficult to reach by yourself.
The places most likely to be get sunburnt fall into two categories; those that are constantly exposed to the sun, such as your nose, tops of your ears and the back of your neck and those bits of you that never usually see the sun except on holiday, such as the tops of your thighs and the middle of your back. Get into a good habit of applying sunscreen first thing each morning, as you can burn even while taking breakfast on the balcony. Do not overlook your feet - if you burn them you will be in agony.
As well as high factor sunscreen you should pack some sunblock for sensitive areas and some aftersun lotion to moisturise your skin in the evening.If you have children, it is an extremely bad idea to let them burn, so be doubly vigilant in the use of sunscreen. It is possible to buy UV protecting beach wear, which is especially useful for babies and toddlers. Whatever age your children are keep them out of the midday sun, in a beach tent or under the parasol. Encourage older children to wear T shirts, even when swimming. If your child has a fair complexion and is prone to sunburn, it may be better not to take your family holiday in a place where the sun is very fierce. Sunburn and heatstroke are miserable for children and it is known that sunburn in childhood increases the risk of skin cancers in later life.
Depending on whether you are taking the sort of holiday where appearances matter, the choice of bathing costume may have great significance. If so, an Italian designer swimsuit may be essential, but beware, as the cost of some of these tiny scraps of miraculous styling may well exceed your entire week's wages. If so, and you are insistent on owning some designer swimwear, please don't get it wet. 400 euros worth of wet costume, bedraggled with sand and seaweed is not a good look and is a downright waste of money. For swimming and general beach wear a much cheaper costume should prove perfectly serviceable. It is better to take a change of costumes, so that you don't have to sit in wet pants for the rest of your stay. Also, and this is directed at both sexes, please make sure your swimsuit does not suffer from transparency when it becomes wet.
If swimming is not the primary reason for going to the beach, then it pays to take trouble with your appearance, making the most of the wide selection of beachwear available. Accessories such as bangles should be cheerful, but not likely to cause panic and dismay if lost in the surf. For women, cotton sarongs provide a multipurpose item, being additional sun and wind protection as well as being a flattering and modest way of standing in line for the conveniences or beach bar.
Men can now choose from a good selection of casual jewellery to accessorise their Speedos, suitable for a beach holiday but the day has still not returned when gold medallions are considered sexy. Especially not against a hairy chest. Likewise men, remember that socks worn with sandals has still not become a chic look.
Children need at least three complete changes of outer clothing because:
- The arrival outfit will immediately get wet, before they change into their swimsuit, at the thrill of seeing the waves.
- A dry going home outfit will be needed so they don't get the car seats wet or drip seawater in the hotel lobby.
- You will also need a reserve outfit for when the other spare clothes have vanished, been blown out to sea or are being worn by one of the siblings.
A beach hat is an essential part of your seaside outfit. Not only will it shade your eyes it will keep your head cooler and prevent your scalp becoming sunburnt. At the time of writing the choice of summer hats has seen a great improvement. Besides the ubiquitous baseball cap and straw sunhat there are a whole host of pretty cotton styles in the shops. Take a friend to check which sort suits your face. A good brim is essential, and it is much better if your hat fits firmly so that it doesn't get blown out to sea.
There are two further reasons for wearing a hat on the beach. The first is so that your hair (if you are lucky enough to have any) does not become shrivelled by the hot sun. If your hair has been coloured, then the sun will strip the colour from it, so cover it up. The other reason to wear a hat is so that you can be recognised by the other members of your group. Once you are lying face down on your towel, wearing only your smallest bathing costume you will become just another body; your individual hat will therefore be essential for others to find their way back to you with the ice creams.
Eyes need protection too from the glare of the sun and this will help against the development of cataracts in later life. If you squint too much in bright sunshine the skin around your eyes will develop wrinkles, so unless you want to look old before your time, get some high protection sunglasses and remember to wear them. Children should also be given sunglasses, but check that they are guaranteed as suitable for the age of the child.
Naturism and Topless Sunbathing
Please check with the local regulations before attempting either nude or topless sunbathing. Revealing too much bare flesh can land you in the local jail4, so make sure you get your local customs sorted out before stripping off. Some beaches are designated for use by naturists and others may be found where clothing is optional. These are often secluded, little known beaches in countries where the naked human form is not considered offensive. If you accidentally find that you have turned up on a beach where everything is taken off, try not to stare. Put on your dark glasses and focus on your book. Naturists usually only look at each other in the eyes.
It also helps to take at least two towels per person, reserving one to dry yourself with while using the other to lie on. The second can double up as a pillow whilst you are sunbathing. Whilst those lovely thick beach towels are luxurious to lie on, they take ages to launder and dry. So it makes sense for the one used for swimming to be a lighter weight towelling. If you have babies and toddlers, these spare towels can double up as blankets whilst they nap in the shade. What self respecting hitchhiker would travel anywhere without their towel?
Fun and Games on the Beach
Building sandcastles, making sand forts, burying your uncle and other sand digging constructions are de rigeur on any sandy beach. Make sure there are always more spades than children, as they will quarrel with you when you try to take a turn yourself. You may find that after a while, you will be the only one left finishing the sand palace that everyone started, all the children now playing with the bats and balls or fishing for tiddlers in the sea. Do not be down hearted, just get in touch with your inner child and enjoy returning to the land of make believe. You are building this for the kids anyway, aren't you?
Rock pools provide education and fun in one easy to achieve session. If you are lucky to be able to spot living creatures in a rock pool please leave them there and do not use them as trophies caught in those sand buckets. Nor should you use a crab as a sort of scare device for ageing aunties gently dozing after lunch. Take your children down to a pool and let them sit and watch, preferably with a wildlife spotting pocket book so they can identify molluscs and small fish. If a child falls in, you have packed that extra clothing haven't you?
Depending on the local regulations it may be possible to play different types of bat and ball games, but check the notices as it is really annoying to have someone run through your lovingly prepared picnic after a stray cricket or football. If there is space and you have the energy, then beach cricket is a team game, involving all sorts of rules and equipment, that is great fun and should give everyone a healthy appetite. Don't forget to take photographs so you can remember in years to come just what fun it was.
You may even find a purpose built Volley Ball court on some beaches, and you will be sure to find other energetic people willing to play with you.
Some beaches, particularly the wilder and remoter sorts are made for kite flying. However unless you are fairly skilled and patient and the wind is blowing just so it may be difficult to get the kite to fly. So if flying a kite is what you really want to do, be prepared to wait until the conditions and the space available are perfect before launching.
Using a pair of binoculars and a camera on a crowded beach, particularly those with topless sunbathing is not recommended. If you are a keen birdwatcher, consult your bird guides and seek coastlines where you are likely to find interesting waders and seabirds. Take your birdwatching pocket book and a notepad. If you try this in a busy resort, do not be surprised if you are apprehended by the local police.
Beach Equipment and Paraphernalia
If you are taking your own windbreak or sun parasol the best advice as to how to erect it will be to watch the seasoned regulars put theirs up. Look which way the wind or sun shades are being angled and follow suit. If you are lucky, or look extremely inept a charming and helpful nearby person (usually male, but not guaranteed to be hunky) may help you out by lending you their sand shovel. The reason that help is given in this situation is not altruistic or because they want to flirt with you. It is solely because a poorly anchored windbreak or parasol is a lethal weapon as it hurtles into the next family whilst they are taking a nap, so that 'helpful chap' is only looking out for his own welfare.
A beach tent is a wonderful invention, providing shade, wind protection, privacy and somewhere to store all those spare towels and clothes. You can even sit the children in it whilst they eat their lunch, out of the hot sun. If the erection of it proves difficult, look on it as a family team building exercise, or look helpless and hope someone nearby will come and hold down a few edges for you whilst you struggle to make sense of all those bits and pieces, guy ropes and carbon fibre rods. Alternatively you may discover a pop up tent is more manageable, although 'popping them down' is not quite as easy as it sounds as once their springs are out of the bag they resist all sensible attempts to squeeze them flat again. Whatever sort of tent you decide to take, make sure that it is weighted down. A spare Granny comes in handy for this purpose.
You may be able to hire a deck chair, but the best chair to look for if you want to purchase one is the sort that is designed for use on sand. These have very short legs, and support your back and neck whilst you are reading.
Something to lie on in addition to your towel is often an optional extra. There are purpose made beach mats of various sorts which roll up, but you still need to place a towel on top of them for comfort. Occasionally these mats can be used as a beach bag as well as a mat which makes them fit for neither purpose. If you have room and spare arms to carry beach mats, then choose a plain, cheap mat made of natural materials.
Airbeds and Beach Balls can be fine - providing there is no current whatsoever nor a wisp of wind. Usually on most beaches there is usually a stiff offshore wind. If your airbed or beach ball should be whisked away into the waves, then stand there in the shallows and wave it off with good heart. Do not try and rescue it, the lifeguards won't help and you will be embarassed if they blow their whistles at you and drag you back to shore ( minus the floating object)
Of course you will need to take all of this paraphernalia on and off the beach with you, so you will need a capacious beach bag. Choose bags with different compartments, zip closings and good shoulder straps. Pack some spare plastic bags inside for wet clothing and to carry your rubbish home in.( unless there are recycling bins on the beach itself)
Enjoying the Sea and Surf
Swimming and paddling are two ends of a spectrum, with wading and splashing occurring somewhere in between. If you are a competent swimmer you should still always use commonsense, taking local conditions into account. Even strong swimmers can get into difficulties. Less experienced swimmers should remain close to shore, preferably within their depth. A good tip is to swim parallel to the shore as it is easy to lose track of the distance when swimming. There are various beach flags which may be used to indicate hazards and you should familiarise yourself with their meanings by reading the local notices. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution provides some further information on beach safety.
Children should always be closely supervised in the sea. There are risks of your child getting lost as well as being drowned. But do not let this worry you unduly - make them wear swimming aids and brightly coloured clothing so that you can recognise them from a little distance. And stay close. Playing with your children in the sea is the best of fun, so make the most of this time together.
On some beaches it is possible to enjoy the waves with a bodyboard, or even a surfboard. You should make sure that your surfboard is not a danger to other swimmers or surfers and use it only in marked areas, if these exist. On more remote beaches with long stretches of sand it is even possible to try kite surfing, but this should only be attempted with professional tuition. Likewise the use of flippers, goggles and snorkels can give the other beach users something amusing to watch. Consider yourself to be a cabaret act and walk from your towel to the sea wearing flippers, goggles and snorkel. Be prepared for cheers and applause once you reach the water's edge. If you should dive out of sight for more than a moment or two, do not be surprised to find your nearest and dearest looking anxiously from the shallows.
If you are lucky enough to be going to an Australia you can read 'How to Survive an Australian Beach'
If staying long, especially if you have a group of children, then some sort of food will be essential. It is best to take simple home-prepared finger food. Sandwiches, cold chicken, cheese, salad ( in baton sized pieces ) crisps and cold drinks are all well received by hungry mouths. Do not try to prepare the food on the beach or the sand will inevitably find its way into the best of cuisine. A cold box, with ice packs, is terribly useful. It keeps the drinks cold and also can be used as a seat. Store it in the shade, covered up by the spare towels. (you did remember those spare towels?)
Remember to take lots of napkins, paper or linen or both, for accidents. Baby wipes are useful, even if you no longer have a baby - to wipe sand off your hands before eating, and wipe the butter off when finished.
Even if the trip to the beach is not an all day affair, it is always nice to eat something. Simple jam sandwiches, a cup of tea from a flask and a piece of home made sponge cake make the shortest outing just so much more fun.
Take a Camera
Photographs are such treasures, years later when hairstyles have changed and children grown up and left home, they will bring back these moment so clearly. Nowadays it is essential to remember to check that the batteries are fully charged before arriving, and that the camera card has space for more photographs to be taken. Keep the camera handy, but safely inside a beachbag, ready for use when one of your group decides to do something that will embarass him or her in years to come. It hardly needs saying that you should not take photographs of strangers, especially other people's children lest you are considered a pervert and run off the beach by local vigilantes.
Choose with care! This is not the time to read Dostoevsky or Proust. If you do you will look like a poseur. If you have to read Serious Literature because you are studying it at college, then place it inside another dust jacket. Beach reading matter should be so light weight that you can look up at the (hopefully) entrancing view and then down at the text without having to re-read from the top of the page. Also, do not take signed first editions to the beach, as sand has a horrid habit of spoiling the spines of books, combined with the (hopefully) hot sun, pages become loose and fall out. The best thing to do is to go to a charity shop in the weeks before your holiday and look out for thrillers, romances, last years best sellers and those book prize winners that you never had the time to read when they were first published. If you need extra room in your suitcase when you return home then give them away to grateful newer arrivals, or the hotel receptionists to dispose of however they wish.
Time to Go Home
Once your day on the beach has come to an end, the time will come when you have to gather yourselves together to make your way home, or back to the hotel. It does help if you know where the car keys are before you leave the beach to save you searching through all the bags once you reach the parked car. Gather everything together, dress the children and yourselves, check around twice for any stray items. Shake the towels thoroughly, preferably so the loose sand does not annoy other beach users and remove as much sand as possible from the buckets and spades and other items. Load the children up with as much as they can carry, (why else did you have them if not to make them do some fetching and carrying?) Set off homewards, but look back over your shoulder in case one of your party has left something behind.
Before you strap the children back into the car, tip them all upside down to empty their pockets of sand. You will be surprised what a difference this makes to the laundry once you get home. You may also find it useful to remove their sandals at the same time. It is one of life's little mysteries that there is always more sand than you first thought and that no-one knows how it got where it did.
It should be emphasised that you should dress before leaving the beach as nipping into the supermarket or garage on the way home whilst still wearing your bikini and beach wrap is tending towards the eccentric, even if your body is as svelte and sun-kissed as any celebrity in Hello magazine.
Hopefully you will have enjoyed your day at the beach without calamity and be ready to go back and enjoy it all over again.
Life should be full of happy days.
...and remember to fix this to your bumper 'Life's a Beach'