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Family Vacation Recap: Summer Road Trip to the Jersey Shore with 2 Under 2

Jersey Shore LBI NJ family vacation

The first of a new category of blog posts, this is the very first "family vacation recap," where I share the good, bad, and the ugly behind our travels with two under two. Granted it was the middle of the pandemic when I had my two babies, but we have not traveled much at all since they've been born. The intimidation of handling all their needs away from home, worries of spending the time and money and having it not be a vacation at all for me and my husband, and debilitating fear of being stuck at an airport or on an airplane like many of friends in recent years has kept us pretty grounded (literally). But alas, we've got to get back to living our lives as a new family of four, and that means finding a way to make special memories in new places. My hope is that sharing the things we've loved about our stays in different places will help you do the same, and that exposing the things we'd do differently (think IG vs reality vibes) will help you avoid those same mistakes during your travels! *Digital cheers* to many great vacations and tips ahead! So without further ado... My family has been vacationing down at the Jersey Shore for generations. Some of my fondest childhood memories took place on Long Beach Island, and I was so excited to do the same with my kids. After our first attempt to travel as a family of three last year, we learned a whole lot about how babies and beach trips are not always as cute as they seem, and how things like a condo layout can totally make or break your experience. This year we were determined to do it differently. With two under two, we weren't messing around with adequate nap spaces, conducive home layouts, locations that were convenient, and amenities to make our stay as adults more enjoyable.

It's been a tradition as of the last decade or so for my parents to visit LBI during Labor Day Weekend, which we learned to love as well since things are still mostly open, but the crowds have generally dissipated since schools are back in session here. My parents opted to stay at a beach hotel on the water a few streets away, while we rented our own house for the first time. The first half of our trip was made up of some great quality family time, and then for the second half, we decided to treat some close friends to a little end-of-summer getaway with us. So just some context for the rest of my suggestions!

Here are my top 10 tips for a summer road trip to Long Beach Island along the Jersey Shore with two under two:

  1. Pick a Family-Friendly Neighborhood Not all neighborhoods are created equally! Speaking about LBI in particular, though the mileage may not seem far in distance, the actual travel time (especially during peak hours) can be long. Like more than 30 minutes one way to try and see if there's an opening for dinner somewhere that doesn't take reservations... while you're in limited windows between naps/sleep times... while you may have cranky kids in the car... not ideal. Staying somewhere south of the causeway is your best bet, and centralized around the Beach Haven area is a slam dunk for families. Also consider if you want to be on the beachside or bayside. We prefer to pay a little more for beachside, so everything is within safe walking distance with little vehicular traffic, and no need to hunt for the limited parking to get to the sand.

  2. Stay Somewhere With Valuable Amenities Our house had a great backyard space with lounge chairs, dining table, retracting awning, yard games, outdoor shower, garage converted to a huge game room (complete with card table, shuffle board, foosball, board games, and more), washer/dryer, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, crib, bicycles, and all the beach stuff included on site (beach passes, chairs, umbrellas, games, and a few rolling carts to transport it all). Not only was this convenient, but it saved us a TON of space (which is a premium!) in the car. Many homes come with things like this, so make sure you shop around! It makes for fun and easy nights in, less packing, and built-in entertainment and leisure enjoyment. The only thing we would consider next time is a place with a pool so we could enjoy some more water fun while the kids nap in the afternoon!

  3. Home Layout is Paramount Our biggest first-timers mistake last go around was not understanding how a home layout could make or break a trip. Our condo the previous year spanned longways the length of the building, so it went front door, kitchen/living area, bedroom, bathroom - front to back with no hallway in between anything. What we didn't consider was that every time our baby was sleeping, the bedroom and bathroom would be rendered unavailable to us. I'll spare you the dramatic (and hilarious) details, but one sandwich that didn't sit too well with my husband one afternoon let to a minor crisis when the toilet could not be reached mid-nap cycle. Never again! This time we made sure to pick a home with a layout that was conducive to our needs and closer to how we've grown accustomed to being set up at home. Our bedroom was away from the girls' room, as was the game room and outdoor space, so we could talk, play, and be as loud as we wanted. Our master had an en suite full bath, so we could access it often without worrying about noise or being in anyone else's way. And the garage and car could both be accessed from multiple points inside and outside the home so we could pack and unpack easily.

  4. Pack Only What You Need You will surprise yourself when you realize how much kids really need, even just for a few days away. We had to make a lot of tough choices regarding space, but I think we nailed it. Some notable kid items you may want to consider that worked well for us were: our wagon for transport (instead of stroller, since we could use it at the beach too), jumper, travel high chair, baby bathtub, pack and play, no wifi baby monitor, sound machine from home, kiddie pool, collapsible toddler/baby beach chair, and a small cooler bag that folded up. For myself and my husband, we fit all of our clothes into small rolling carry-ons and still had extra space. The days only typically consist of beachwear, daytime casual wear, and possibly some beachy chic dining attire if you plan to go out at night. You don't need much! The clothes and accessories for my 8-month-old and 22-month-old fit into one oversized tote bag. Also important to note: a major downside to renting down the shore is the customary "bring your own linens" experience. This SUCKS. I had SO many extra bags filled with different sized bed sheets, pillow covers, bath and regular towels. I still don't understand why my stay/cleaning fee didn't cover linens like it would when you rent anywhere else, but this is just what it is down there, so be prepared for that curveball too and make sure to speak to the property owner about their policies on this if you're considering booking a place.

  5. Don't Expect a Pre-Kid Beach Experience If you think you're going to shut your eyes, or get into a juicy novel while listening to the waves crash, you're sadly mistaken. Those days are gone for a while, friends. BUT you can still have a great time with babies at the beach. My big mistake last time? Bringing too much. I had every high-tech, state-of-the-art tent, chair, umbrella, accessory, and baby transformer-looking contraption you can imagine. The result? A miserable and sweaty couple taking turns holding our baby trying to get things set up and usable as quickly as possible. (After already taking way longer just to get to the beach than you budgeted for.) By the time we'd set it all up, it was literally 10 minutes until we had to break it all down again to get back for nap time since my baby refused to sleep in the travel bassinet I brought. (Literally screaming and shrieking and wow I think my heart rate is increasing just reminiscing about this as I type...) Never again! This time, we took a couple chairs, one umbrella, a few beach bags, one small cooler, a small pail of beach toys, and a collapsible kiddie pool, and that was it. All of it fit in our awesome wagon, which also doubled as shade cover to and from, and for feeding, which was really nice - since it has an adjustable canopy overhead. This plan was so much better this year, and we actually had a great time. Mostly because our time was spent experiencing the beach with our bright-eyed kids, instead of feeling bothered by their needs while we slaved over a setup we didn't even need in the first place.

  6. Take Advantage of Every Nap/Sleep Time Vacationing with kids is so special and rewarding, but also naturally takes it out of you. You must take advantage and plan enjoyment for you and your partner and/or guests during the times your kids are sleeping. Even on vacation, we were pretty militant with maintaining our schedule, and I'm so happy we did. The kids were pleasant because they were rested, and we got to enjoy each other, meals, games, tanning, reading, and more as a result. Our afternoons and nights were a blast. And it felt great knowing our children were safe and sound just a few rooms away.

  7. Plan For Unexpected Non-Beach Days Everyone thinks of the shore as a total beach paradise, but no one really considers that the island is not really set up well for non-beach days. Last year, we had rain during half our trip. Everything to do is outside. That meant no water fun, bike rides, outdoor shopping malls, Fantasy Island Amusement Park (which is a must-do!), excursions, mini golf (another favorite of ours all over the island), nothing. This is another big reason to make sure you pick a place to stay where you can have fun inside too. This year, we had an unexpected wind shift pattern occur (like what does that even mean?) that resulted in the first intense bout of horseflies all over the beach, brought in from the bayside. It was awful. Literally impossible to enjoy the beach. They would swarm and bite nonstop; even bug spray wouldn't deter them. The locals said this was the first time it's happened all summer. (Cue: "Of course only when we're here" choir.) So instead, we enjoyed the pool where my parents were staying and we all actually had a fantastic (fly-less) time! Again, another reason I would suggest either paying up for a place with a pool, or seeing the options nearby for pool use at a hotel if available. There's also bowling, shopping, and all the normal types of activities you can find anywhere else if you choose to head back to the mainland for the day, though the drive isn't ideal as it does take around 45 minutes or so one way to get most places.

  8. Book at Least One Excursion There are so many fun things to do, visit, and enjoy on LBI. My favorite thing we did this year was rent a boat for the afternoon. It was so much fun for all of us! We opted for a pontoon so it would be most family-friendly (and did not require a boating license to drive!), and we enjoyed beautiful views of the bayside of the island, eating picnic-style out on the water, sweet tunes with the integrated Bluetooth they had on board, and a great customer service experience with Beach Haven Watersports. (They've also got jetskis, stand-up paddleboards, and kayaks too!) This was the highlight of everyone's trip.

  9. Set Aside Additional Budget For Food, Gas, Restaurants, and Entertainment File under one of those "I can't believe I paid this much to go to New Jersey, I could have gone to Europe for this" moments, just be prepared in advance that LBI (or anywhere nice on the East Coast in the summer for that matter) is not cheap. And anywhere that is cheap, you definitely don't want to go! 😂 But LBI is an amazing place, and so special to our family, plus you can't beat the convenience of such a close drive for a week of sweet beach life. Most decent homes will start around $5,000 for the week, and get into the +$20,000 range. (I'm not joking when I say it's expensive!) But this is also largely because after the hurricane hit years ago, the properties were built back up much bigger than they used to be. The homes are designed to have multiple families staying together under one roof, and that's how it is more affordable for most people. A lot of folks I know that go always travel with multiple generations of family, cousins, other couples, and lots of kids to fill the rooms. Totally doable with some planning, but definitely important to know going into it. A single (affordable) small family stay on LBI is not really a thing anymore.

  10. Book Next Year's Trip Immediately And lastly, the biggest reason I wrote this article just after our stay, is because you must book far in advance to have the chance to visit! A few years ago, we waited until the late winter to look into options, and there were less than 8% of homes left available by that point... over 6 months out!! Everyone I know books their next stay immediately after their last, a whole year early, in order to secure their vacation for next summer. If you think you may want to book a shore trip for you and yours next year, I'd suggest researching ASAP and not hesitating to book any place that fits the bill, or close to it. They will all sell out, no question. Plus, many apps like Vrbo give highly generous cancellation policies that include full refunds as long as you're not changing your mind too last minute. So you have some security knowing that also, in case you're not totally convinced with your initial choice. But a summer down the shore is a summer well spent I say, and with all these tips in mind, you can rest assured that a memorable family vacation is only a few clicks away!


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