Some of my happiest childhood memories were spent on the lake. When the Alabama summer heat was too unbearable, everyone jumped in their cars (or more accurately, their pickup trucks) and headed just 45 minutes away to spend weekends and holidays at Lake Martin. My family owned a Sea-Doo and we would often retreat to the lake houses of friends and family. After imposing on their hospitality too long, my parents finally bought a lake house and a boat to call our own.
Lake days were lazy, filled with lots of water-skiing, swimming, and plenty of good Southern barbecue. There were no electronics, unless you counted the oldies music we played from the boat radio. The goal was relaxation and family bonding. We rarely looked at a clock. Sunset was our only limitation.
In many ways, these lake vacations were the opposite of the way I often travel with my kids today, rushing from site to site trying to make the most of the little vacation time my husband and I have between us. There’s something so valuable, however, in these simpler getaways.
We’ve luckily been able to take our kids on a few old-fashioned lake vacations so far, from places like my childhood stomping grounds in Alabama to Lake of the Woods in southern Oregon to lots of places in between. With the current state of the world right now, I’d imagine that a lot more of these kinds of low key and remote vacations are in the future for many families. (Related: What Travel Will Look Like When it Opens Up Again)
If you are a regular reader, you know I’m all about trip planning and list-making. So this seemed like the perfect chance to put those skills to work for you. Keep reading for all the tips you need to know if you are more of a beginner to lake vacations, complete with a a comprehensive packing list for anyone headed to a lake destination (and there’s also printable below, so don’t miss it!).
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Tips for Lake Vacation Newbies
If you are new to lake vacations and this kind of travel, a few important tips before we get to the packing part…
1. Decide what kind of a lake trip you want: Lake vacation experiences can be very different depending on the destination you choose. Some lake trips are all about motorboats and water sports and others are more about spending quiet time swimming on the shore of of a secluded lake cabin. Be sure to do your destination research so you get the lake experience you want.
2. Check your state’s rules & regulations: If you plan to operate any kind of motorized vehicle on the water at the lake or go fishing, make sure you have checked your state’s and destination’s applicable laws first. An increasing number of states now require a special license for piloting boats and personal watercraft like Jet-Skis. And lots of bodies of water around the country may not allow fishing (or allow it only with a license).
3. Plan well in advance: Although lake vacations are easy and simple in so many ways, they do require preparation. A few of the supplies you’ll need for a successful lake vacation might not be easy to buy on the fly in a lot of places. Be prepared to do some ordering online or hit up an outdoor supply store like REI. Additionally, if you need a place to stay or plan to rent a boat, you’ll need to make reservations for that. Availability can be tight on popular summer weekends, so plan early.
4. Safety first!: As with anything around water, safety is essential – especially if you are traveling with kids who might not be water safe yet. Have all the right gear like life jackets and first aid supplies. Be sure to not overload your boat or operate it unsafely (yes, DUIs can be and are given to intoxicated boat drivers).
Related: Water Safety Tips for Kids
Packing List for a Day at the Lake with Kids
What do you need to pack for a successful family day trip to the lake? Here are the essentials, with a few tips for where to buy them (or download the printable below).
- Swimsuits & rash guards
- Dry change of clothes
- Coast-guard certified life jackets (we like the Puddle Jumper for swimming but a traditional toddler life jacket with a head up float feature may be safer for boating)
- Swim goggles or masks
- Floats, inner tubes, & noodles
- Sand toys
- Waterskis, kneeboards, wakeboards, & tube with appropriate pull ropes
- Snacks & food
- Cooking utensils or supplies if needed (plates, serving spoons, knife, cutting board, grill and related supplies like matches, charcoal/propane, tongs, aluminum foil)
- Drinks (especially bottled water)
- Cooler & ice
- Paper towels
- Trash bags
- First aid kit
- Ziploc bags (put dry items in them to protect against splashes!)
- Swiss army knife
- Flip flops and/or water shoes
- Bug spray
- Flashlight & batteries (this floating waterproof flashlight is an inexpensive choice)
- Swim diapers (for babies & toddlers)
- Fishing supplies & license
- Boating license & registration (where required)
- Boat trailer
- Cell phone waterproof sleeve (we swear by this one for our iPhones, even while taking photos underwater!)
Is some time on the water with your family usually part of your summer travel plans?