sandcastleHeading to Florida or an island to relax on a beach can seem like an easy winter family holiday, but once you are out of summer mode, it’s easy to forget a few things.  A little advance planning can help smooth the way.

1. Do a test fit. Make sure the bathing suit from three months ago still fits – nothing like going south & forgetting about growing kids. Same with water shoes and sandals. If the summer gear doesn’t fit, pad the family holiday budget a bit to allow you to buy new once you arrive, since chances are that Wisconsin mall won’t be selling swimsuits in December.

2. Get Grandma to buy some sunscreen. My mother, who lives in Florida, insists that her skin is “used to” the sun, so she doesn’t need sunscreen. That means I have to A.) Check bags so I can carry my own more-than-three-ounce tube of sunscreen, B.) Buy it when we arrive or, C.) Ask my mom to pick some up for the grandkids so we can head straight to the pool when we arrive.

3. Do your homework. If you are visiting grandparents who live in a retirement home, check regulations on pool use, swim diapers, etc.  When my middle daughter was a toilet-trained toddler, a busybody at my mother’s adult community followed her around the pool, making sure she didn’t have an accident.

Aruba14. Come prepared. Bring inflatable floaties and beach toys. These pack easily and you’ll want them at the beach or pool. My mother’s pool has noodles for water aerobics, so kids can use those (we just ignore the dirty looks).

5. Rent, don’t carry. A host of companies rent everything a vacationing family needs, including sites such as www.babyrentals.net, which delivers to hotels and condos in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. In addition to cribs and high chairs, you can rent bicycles, guard rails, razor scooters and plastic Little Tikes cars. Prices are reasonable, though they add up if you rent a lot of stuff.

6. Do your homework again. Scope out local playgrounds so kids can run around and be loud without disturbing anyone.

7. Accommodate the locals. At home, you might eat early with your kids to avoid crowds. In Florida, you will want to eat late – after the early bird rush.

8. Bring warm stuff too. At some point, your family holiday in the warm sunshine will end and you’ll have to return home. If you don’t want to do laundry on vacation, bring a clean cold weather outfit for the way home. We always see someone at JFK in January, shivering in shorts and a t-shirt.

9. Check weather reports. Just because you’re heading south doesn’t mean the weather will cooperate. It isn’t always warm enough to swim in Florida in winter – but it is warm enough for playgrounds and biking – and you can get outside much quicker without having to worry about hats or mittens, although you might want sweaters and sun hats.

10. Beat the bugs. California Baby makes a bug repellent with citronella, in a carry-on size.