Plan and Prep: A guide to hitting the beach and reconnecting with friends and family this summer.
New Jersey’s beaches and parks are reopening, so is it safe for our kids to immerse themselves in the carefree joys of summer? Here are some tips for how to make this happen for your family.
Memorial Day weekend is the Jersey Shore’s unofficial start to summer, and despite the cancelled parades and commemoration services, people came out in droves to enjoy the sunshine and the waves, and certainly to reconnect with their fellow man. Most people followed social distancing rules (New Jersey beaches were restricted to 50 percent capacity), yet many threw caution to the wind. So, how can we navigate those awkward situations that are sure to arise as we head out this summer, particularly if we are traveling with small children?
Moving around outdoors: Make sure to keep up to date with the various restrictions. The science seems to say that it’s relatively safer to go outside this summer than it is to remain in indoor public spaces, if we wear a mask and social distance. Always remember that safety comes first. The consensus is that it is wise to avoid crowded pools, locker rooms and enclosed outdoor dining areas.
Before heading out, check the New Jersey official site for up-to-date news, and remember that various municipalities and counties, as well as beaches, have restrictions of their own. U.S. Travel Association guidelines as well as the CDC are also good sources for travel tips and updates regarding summer travel and geographic hotspots. And make sure to call ahead to your selected restaurants, museums, parks, and any other destination locations, just to make sure they have opened to the public.
The Practical Kit: Most people already know what essentials they need when heading for the shore, whether it’s just a day trip or for the entire weekend but traveling since the pandemic requires more strategizing than usual.
Start with a pre-travel checklist (because now is not a good time to get stranded):
Service your car so that it operates at maximum performance level when you’re out on the road. Check your car’s tire pressure, oil and other fluids, brakes, hoses, battery, air filter, lights, and even the wipers.
Make sure your registration and insurance are up-to-date and in the glove compartment.
Keep a supply of (EPA-registered) disinfectant in the car.
Find out if your travel insurance covers cancellations during pandemics.
Carry miscellaneous automobile supplies: First aid kit, flashlight, swiss army knife, jumper kit, tire changing kit (roadside services are experiencing delays), emergency thermal blankets, water-resistant ponchos, reflective vest, 12-hour light kits and flares.
Amp up your packing essentials, because access to stores and hotels might be limited:
Multiple sweat wicking face masks, and make sure to replace them before bacteria and viruses build up.
Reusable and/or disposable gloves (for public restrooms and pumping gas)
Sealable silicon zip locks (eco-friendlier than Ziplocs)
Individual hand washing kit (bar soap, soap storage container, paper towels, silicon Ziploc for storing each kit)
IDs and non-touch payment method credit card
Double everything, including changes of clothes, extra flip flops and shoes packed in shoe pouches to keep germs at a minimum while traveling (shower caps make great shoe protectors). Pack an extra pair of flip flops to wear in the car. By now everyone is accustomed to banning outdoor shoes in indoor spaces.
Extra beach towels
A cooling towel, like RiptGear, to absorb extra sweat and also keep you cool when traveling.
Clothing for dressing in layers, in case weather conditions change.
Rain- and wind- resistant jackets
Pillows and extra pillowcases for everyone traveling.
Blankets, including a heated travel blanket, for the car in case you get stranded or the weather changes.
Extra-large (duffle) bags for trash and dirty clothing
Protein bars, jerky and bottled water
Charging devices for everyone; battery packs and charging phone cases
Extra batteries for battery-operated items
Next, let’s get the issue of bodily functions out of the way. If the thought of using a public porta john in the post-pandemic era is less than unappealing, a travel potty might just be the least unappealing option, especially with multiple children in tow.
The OneDone portable potty for children and urinals for men and Go Girl Go Girl portable urinals are small enough to pack easily. There are also a large number of full service portable toilets on the market, of varying sizes, and some of them offer composting capabilities, like the Thetford Porta Potti.
Yes, you might need to store bodily fluids in your car until you manually dispose of them, although some potties are more tech-advanced than others. Depending on the size of your vehicle and your requirements (there are even dry flush, compostable and leave-no-trace options on the market), there is certainly a potty out there for you and your family.
Food and Beverages might be an issue if you still aren’t ready to venture into stores or restaurants for takeout. Make sure to pack what you need to stay well hydrated and reasonably fed.
It is important to take a break from the summer heat and drink more water, particularly while wearing a mask, which makes it imperative to carry the perfect water bottle. The Cactaki 32-ounce, BPA-free water bottle is time marked to help you hit the 32-ounce mark every day. It also includes an infusion filter and a wrist strap. Make sure to pack aqua tabs water purification tablets in case you find yourself without fresh water.
Pack individual color-coded utensil packs so each traveler has the proper tools for eating. Go-Ware is a cheap option and Bamboo Essentials includes a straw, chopsticks and a cleaning brush. Both come with a c-clip pouch for portability. Don’t forget to bring compostable single-use plates and to pack food in temperature safe containers. [see “Zero Waste Hacks“]
Beach essentials are the fun part, but make sure to check beach guidelines ahead-of-time because some beaches have restrictions on chairs, tents and umbrellas.
If a beach tent is allowed, the Pacific Breeze XL beach tent with extendable floor, is a great pick because it provides automatic social distancing and is roomy enough to fit two beach chairs. The front flap closes, a bonus if you’ve decided to bring along your portable potty!
Cooking can be as simplified or as adventurous as you want. Not everyone is comfortable getting take-out, although the experts believe that the risk to public health from eating out is very low.
If you nevertheless prefer to make your own meals, just be careful that food is not left out longer than 1-2 hours (under an hour if it’s mayonnaise). Food poisoning is a real danger and it’s easy to lose track of time if traveling with children.
For the die-hard grill fan who prefers to cook while on the road, there’s the portable Firepod Outdoor propane oven for grilling and pizza. The set includes a lava stone.
Maybe you aren’t adventurous enough to use your cooler as a cooking vessel (although it is a great hack for cooking corn on the cob for a crowd at the beach), but there are other great ways to feed the kids without making a huge production out of it. Let the kids pick out their own favorite individual size bag of chips, add their favorite taco fixins to each bag for an instant taco/nacho meal packet.
Pack an insulated picnic basket and a cooler filled with both ice and frozen water bottles for hydrating.
And finally, don’t forget some old-fashioned road trip fun: Our tech devices might have become integral to every aspect of daily lives, but sheltering at home with a constant barrage of Zoom homeschooling and social gatherings certainly gave us a new appreciation for shutting it all down.
Be sure to pack up musical instruments for sing-a-longs, and maybe even bring back the license plate games we grew up with. For fun conversations, check out Chuck Klosterman Hypertheticals: 50 Questions for Insane Conversations, a pop journalist’s fun book of questions that seem tailor-made for road trips. Although some of the questions are more adult-themed, many are easily simplified and edited down into age-appropriate discourse.