1. Food. Lots and lots of food. More food than you think is humanly possible to consume in a week. Sun and surf make my usually ravenous kids so hungry that I have actually looked up tapeworm on Google just in case. True story.
2. Donuts. Yeah, I know that donuts technically count as food, but trust me, the benefits are so precious that they deserve their own shout-out. Yeah, I know. Sugar, preservatives, all that crap that’s bad. I care about that the rest of the year. But donuts are the only thing that will keep my kids from waking me up every day at the beach to make them bacon and eggs. On vacation, your kids consuming sugar is worth the sleep. No question.
3. A friend for each kid. Seriously. This is the most important thing you can pack. And worth every penny that it costs in extra food. Your kids are happier and you get to have alone time with your spouse. And fewer sibling arguments. Bonus if their mom sends snacks (or better yet, donuts).
4. Wine and beer. Maybe some frozen fruity mix and umbrellas so you can make virgin drinks for the kids when teaching them poker (see item No. 7).
5. And a corkscrew. So you won’t be forced to try to open the wine with the steak knife (not that I tried this or anything). Apparently a shoe works as well, but I wasn’t brave enough (read: desperate enough) to try that one.
6. One T-shirt, one swimsuit and a pair of shorts will do for teen or tween boys. Oh, and flip-flops. That’s all you need. Everything else I packed for my 12-year-old son came home clean and untouched. And attempts to get him to change are futile. It’s vacation. Who cares. You can always Febreze them if the stench becomes unbearable. I’m no help for girls since I apparently know nothing. Just ask my 13-year-old daughter.
7. Playing cards or a board game. Anything to keep them from spending the evening in their room texting their friends. In a pinch, teach them poker or blackjack. It’s fun. A good life skill. And odds are you won’t meet with too much resistance. I’m still thankful for the evening in Hilton Head many years ago spent learning poker with my parents.
8. A book. A real book. It can even be a long book. You will have time to read when your kid is mad at you, ignoring you or sleeping in as late as you will allow. Most likely, all of the above. Bonus points if it is the same book you brought on vacation years ago but never had time to read because you were too busy chasing kids to make sure they didn’t drown.
9. Towels. Pick out the number of towels you think you need then quadruple it. My kids must eat towels when we don’t feed them enough. Regardless, no one can ever find a towel when they need one despite me packing my entire linen closet.
10. Yes, more towels, but hide these under the sink just for your use. Nothing is worse than stepping out of the shower after a day at the beach and drying your sunburned body off with a towel filled with shells and sand. Oh well, except getting those shells and sand in your nether regions. Just hide some clean towels, trust me.
11. Secret stash of snacks to hide under your secret stash of towels. Then when you have had too much wine to drive and the kids have eaten all the snacks, you can stop their hunger whines without paying for pizza delivery.
12. The big straw hat that your kids say makes you look like a farmer. Sun protection and embarrassing your kids in one fell swoop. Jackpot!
13. A boogie board. For you. You are not too old to boogie-board. It is a blast and your teens will secretly enjoy teaching you to do it. Or maybe not. But trust me, it is a blast to catch a wave and feel like you are 12 again.
14. Lots of money. Or willpower to constantly say no to the five million requests for mini golf, go-karting and arcades that seem to be on every corner. Your choice. I do have to say that racing (and beating your kids) in a go-kart is a fantastically fun way to blow some money.
15. Extra chargers. Our family has a ghost whose sole mission is to steal all of our chargers so no one can ever find theirs. So just in case your personal charger-stealing ghost follows you to the beach, bring a few extra. Nothing makes a teen grumpier than a dead electronic device.
16. Did I mention wine? Especially if you forget the extra chargers.
17. A neutral-colored household bucket, kitchen bowls and utensils. You will be tarred and feathered if you carry out the neon kiddie sand buckets they seemed to love five minutes ago.
But last week when I sat down on the beach with my kitchenware under the guise of making a sand castle myself, my kids soon wandered over. They insisted that they had to help me with the sandcastle because I wasn’t doing it right and I knew nothing about sandcastles. Hours later (miraculously with no eye-rolling, arguing or requests for money, food or electronics), we happily admired our intricate castle city as my kids took all the credit for saving me from myself. Best of all, I never once had to worry about anyone drowning.