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7 Beachy Buys for Sunny Days

By Maya Stanton
September 29, 2021
Hero Beach Gear
From bags and blankets to toys and tunes, we've got the goods that'll brighten any beach day.

What’s an afternoon at the beach without the right supplies? We found the gear to make the most of the summer's sun, sand, and waves, including the must-pack essentials and fun add-ons that’ll make your day more dynamic—all for $80 or less.

The Bag

Green-Tote-Bag.jpg?mtime=20180723080748#asset:102605(Courtesy L.L. Bean)

First things first: You need a proper beach bag, and L.L. Bean’s classic Boat and Tote is a sturdy option that won’t go out of style. It’s practically indestructible, and that’s no exaggeration—my family has one that’s almost 30 years old, and it’s still going strong. The large version is roomy enough to hold a blanket and a day’s worth of towels, toys, and provisions without being too unwieldy, with long handles that make it easy to throw on your shoulder and go. It’s a bit cavernous, so for more organization, take a tip from my super-smart mom and hit the hardware store for a small canvas waist apron to tie to the handles. For just a few bucks, it’ll provide a couple of internal pockets for those things (sunscreen, lip balm, tissues, phone) you want to keep within reach at all times.

Large open-top Boat and Tote with long handles in dark green, $35; llbean.com.

The Towel

Beach-Towel.jpg?mtime=20180723080740#asset:102600(Courtesy Dock & Bay/Emma Sailah)

Banish thoughts of thick, fluffy terry cloth. This microfiber number from Dock & Bay may not have the same cushy feel as a regular cotton towel, but its powers of absorption are remarkable—it’ll get you dry in no time and won’t stay damp for long. And even though it’s plenty big, clocking in at 63 by 31 inches, it folds away to practically nothing. Stash it in the 10-by-6-inch pouch that comes with it, or toss it in your bag on its own; either way, you’ll hardly know it’s there. Plus, the company donates 10 percent of all Rainbow towel sales to Twenty10 (twenty10.org.au), an Australian organization that supports the LGBTIQA+ community, so you can show some pride all summer long.

Rainbow Skies microfiber towel, $25; dockandbay.com.

The Blanket

Blue-towel-circle.jpg?mtime=20180723080747#asset:102602(Courtesy Slowtide/Willie Kessel)

Sure, this one is a little on the pricey side, but between the Instagram-bait pattern, the extremely plush cotton-velour fabric, and the fun fringed edging, it’s worth the splurge. At five feet in diameter, it works well as a personal beach blanket, though it'll accommodate two people too, especially if they’re exceptionally friendly and/or pint-sized. It not only looks good and feels good, it’s also pampering in the best way: Its materials have been independently tested to meet the guidelines set by the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, so you're free to lounge around and towel off without apprehensions about harmful ingredients.

Radiant Round towel, $80; slowtide.co.

The Cooler

Cooler-beach.jpg?mtime=20180723080747#asset:102603(Courtesy AO Coolers)

As far as soft coolers go, Yeti’s Hopper line is hyped as the gold standard, but with a starting price of $200 for the smallest model, it comes with some serious sticker shock. For those who don’t want to spend that much to transport snacks and frosty beverages, this one from AO Coolers is an excellent option. Thanks to a thick layer of foam insulation and a water-resistant exterior, it’ll keep a case of beer and 14 pounds of ice cold, without leaking, for 24 hours. If you really load it up, though, it gets pretty heavy, and its short, non-padded strap doesn't lend itself to comfortable carrying, so you’ll want to make sure someone with strong shoulders is hauling it, especially if you have a long way to go. (And if you happen to have a nicely cushioned backpack strap lying around, swapping it in here would be a smart move.)

AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler in navy, $70; amazon.com.

The Music

blue-speaker.jpg?mtime=20180723080746#asset:102601

(Courtesy Polaroid)

When you're hanging out on a crowded beach, your fellow sunbathers might not appreciate your loud tunes, so this inexpensive little speaker is ideal: Its sound is great if you’re nearby, but it doesn’t really travel far, so you can put on your Mexican death metal or favorite ‘90s boy band without worrying about who’s going to hear it. Bonus: Its design is super-cute, too.

Polaroid PBT530 Wireless Bluetooth Portable Retro Speaker in blue, $20; amazon.com.

The Entertainment

Rainbow-kite.jpg?mtime=20180723080752#asset:102608(Courtesy Into the Wind)

Forget building sandcastles—the best seaside activities take to the skies. Thanks to the constant winds coming off the water, the beach is an ideal environment for kite-flying: You’ll barely have to work to get airborne, and the steady breezes give you more room to play, particularly on an empty, open stretch of sand. Traditional Delta or glider-style kites are as low-maintenance as they come (once they catch the right draft, you can even tie them to your chair and let ‘em coast on their own), but stunt kites are much more fun. This colorful little ripstop-nylon number from Into the Wind is easy to maneuver and awesome for beginners, with a light frame and Kevlar enforcing at the nose and tail in case of crashes. Strap on the wrist bands, and you’ll be doing combination turns and backflips in no time.

Prism Jazz Stunt Kite in Rainbow, $55; intothewind.com.

The Insurance Policy

phone-case-water-proof.jpg?mtime=20180723080751#asset:102607(Courtesy PunkCase)

When you drop your phone as often as I do, certain situations are fraught with danger. Giant ocean with currents and waves and splashing children in the shallows? Check, check, and check. A waterproof case can prevent calamity. This one from PunkCase has a slim profile and a built-in screen protector, and it’s not only waterproof, it’s also made to withstand drops of nearly seven feet. Before you go and toss it in the deep end, though, be sure to test it out with a paper towel or a bit of cloth before trusting it with your phone—if there’s any moisture inside when you open it back up, you’ll know there’s a problem. It’s worth taking the time for that extra step, because once you’ve gotten the all-clear, you can go forth and shoot without a care in the world.

PunkCase waterproof Crystal case in teal, from $35; amazon.com.

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Travel Tips

Psst! Studying Abroad Might Help You Land a Job

It turns out that studying abroad offers more than just international hookups and easy, legal access to booze before the age of 21. According to a recent survey by the online hostel-booking platform Hostelworld, which provides students and budget travelers alike with cheap accommodations and the opportunity to rub elbows with people from all over the world, those who spend time across the pond in university may have an advantage in the hiring process. Before you dust off your passport and start planning your escape, here's what you need to know.  SWING THE VOTE IN YOUR FAVOR To be sure, studying abroad requires a measure of privilege, but for those who can afford it, the experience may help them stand out in a crowded job market. Like any travelers who spend an extensive amount of time overseas, students who immerse themselves in a new place return with a bevy of marketable skills, from a strong sense of cultural literacy and the ability to adjust to uncomfortable situations to increased people skills and a working knowledge of the global economy. More than a thousand U.S. hiring professionals participated in Hostelworld’s online survey, and 25 percent of them said that studying abroad makes students better at adapting to their environments and gives them a solid foundation for understanding global businesses. Almost a third of respondents actively look for applicants who have studied abroad, with 23.3 percent reporting that if it came down to two equally qualified candidates, they’d choose the one who had lived or traveled internationally. ADD VALUE TO YOUR CANDIDACY Not that college kids need much of an excuse to spend a semester or two off-campus, but there are monetary incentives to consider as well. Study-abroad students may find themselves on the upper end of the pay scale: 41 percent of the employers surveyed would consider making a better offer to someone who has studied abroad, and 16 percent say they’d definitely command a higher salary. PICK THE BEST DESTINATION FOR YOUR GOALS (Stephane Debove/Dreamstime)It’s not all fun in the sun, though. Undergrads looking for a leg up on the competition would do well to consider which port of call will serve them best in the coming years, and—spoiler alert!—the sandy beaches of the Caribbean probably won't do the trick. Given China’s ever-growing economic power and the proliferation of Americans doing business there, Hong Kong and the mainland are popular with hiring personnel, as are Paris, London, and Mexico City. 

Travel Tips

Take Control of Weather-Related Flight Delays and Cancellations

Nobody wants their vacation delayed before it even starts. But bad weather can sometimes keep planes grounded. Worse, some airlines—and sometimes even hotels and rental-car companies—will invoke bad weather, or "Acts of God" as an excuse for cancellations that may actually be due to mechanical problems or other mishaps. Why would an airline blame the weather for a delay or cancellation? Airlines are not legally obligated to provide travelers with lodging or meals if a delay or cancellation is due to weather. But you are not powerless in these situations. Here, The Air Traveler's Take-Control Cheat Sheet: RESEARCH WEATHER AND CONTINGENCY PLANS  In the days before you fly, check a reliable source such as The Weather Channel for weather forecasts for your departing airport, any connecting stops, and your destination. Also, as a precaution, keep a list of hotels at each of those airports (an app such as Hotel Tonight can put this info at your fingertips). Oh, and stock up on chocolate bars for your carry-on bag (more on that later). STAY INFORMED  Check on your flight before you leave the house or on your way to the airport. For most people, the nastiest thing about a flight delay or cancellation is that punch-in-the-gut moment when you're standing in front of an airport monitor learning that your vacation is not going to start on time. Use TripAdvisor's GateGuru app to check weather conditions and flight schedules before you get to the airport. (And make sure you've got chocolate in your carry-on!) YOU'LL GET BETTER SERVICE IF YOU'RE NICE  If your flight is cancelled or delayed, immediately call the airline's reservations number or visit a gate agent. Whoever you speak with, treat them like your new Travel BFF—sure, you're stressed, but a friendly, calm approach (and a complimentary chocolate bar!) may go a long way. Be the customer who isn't throwing a tantrum! Ask to be booked on the next available flight. If you are worried about missing a connecting flight, tell them—airlines can sometimes offer special services to connecting passengers. If no flights are available, politely ask for a hotel and meal voucher—no, they are not obligated to give them to you, but just might anyway because you were as sweet as the chocolate you offered them. BE A LITTLE NOSY  Some travelers like to ask—politely—whether the delay is purely due to weather or perhaps a "combination of weather and other factors." If your airline rep admits that some other factor, such as mechanical problems, is at play, repeat your polite request for hotel and meal vouchers. (But please don't invoke the legendary "Rule 240," which some travelers believe obligates airlines to book them on the next available flight, or a flight on a competing airline. A holdover from the days when airlines where more heavily regulated, Rule 240 won't mean much to most airline personnel these days.) If you are fairly certain that weather was unfairly cited as the cause of a flight delay or cancellation, you can hire a forensic meteorologist to match your flight data with weather conditions and make the case that you are owed compensation for hotel and meals. ASK FOR A "DISTRESSED TRAVELER" RATE  If, despite your best efforts, you are stuck checking into a hotel while you wait for a hurricane, blizzard, or volcanic ash to blow over, ask the hotel if they offer a "distressed traveler" rate. The Hotel Tonight app specializes in last-minute bookings and can really help in these emergency situations. BE INSURANCE-SAVVY  We get asked all the time if travel insurance can protect you from weather-related cancellations. We recommend that you carefully review conventional travel insurance policies due to their high prices and relatively low reimbursement rates. But if you are booking a package tour or cruise, you can often purchase an affordable policy that allows you to cancel for any reason at any time. And if you're traveling anywhere remotely off the grid, appropriate insurance for medical evacuation should be on your list.PACK YOUR CARRY-ON FOR AN EMERGENCY We recommend always packing a carry-on with “emergency” items, but it is especially important when weather threatens your travel plans. Keep a change of clothes, a jacket, and all medication you might need in your carry-on. A sleeping mask and ear plugs are also valuable items to carry with you - they don’t take up much weight, but they are solid gold to have if  you need to catch some zzz’s at the airport.

Travel Tips

Travel 101: Read This Before You Buy Trip Insurance

Do you need travel insurance? When a natural disaster strikes—such as the hurricanes, floods, mud slides, and wildfires that have hit the U.S. in recent years—travel arrangements get disrupted across the country. Airports shut down. Highways close. Sadly, now is a good time to get up to speed on travel insurance. When you’re traveling, it’s important to have the proper protection in case something goes wrong, like a flight cancellation, lost luggage, or medical emergency. Yet only 21% of Americans purchase travel insurance, according to a study from The Points Guy. Why? “When people are planning a trip, they don’t plan for the unexpected,” says John Cook, founder of QuoteWright.com, a travel insurance comparison site. “They don’t think about the risks that are associated with travel.” Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United, agrees: “People don’t think twice about buying car insurance or homeowner’s insurance, but a lot of people just overlook travel insurance,” he says. Another reason people don’t purchase travel insurance is because “it can be a complicated topic, which can make the product less accessible for a lot of people,” says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, a U.S. travel insurance provider Granted, travel insurance isn’t right for everyone. Whether you should purchase it will ultimately depend on the type of trip you’re planning, what type of coverage you need, and how much you’re willing to spend. Here’s what you need to know before you purchase travel insurance. There are two types of travel insurance You have “named peril” policies and “cancel for any reason” policies. A named peril policy only offers coverage for certain events, or “perils,” such as a cancelled flight, lost luggage, or death in the family prior to the trip. Each policy spells out exactly what’s covered and what’s not (these are called “exclusions”), says Cook. The second type of travel insurance is a “cancel for any reason” policy, which is exactly like it sounds—the insurance company will pay you a percentage of any nonrefundable travel expenses regardless of why you cancel your trip. Naturally, this extra coverage costs more; Cook says it can add up to another 50% of the cost of the insurance policy. But be aware you won’t get reimbursed for the full costs of your trip. “Generally, you get $0.75 on the dollar,” Cook says, “but there’s a blackout period of two days before your departure during which you can’t cancel for any reason.” Therefore, you still need to be diligent and find out what your “cancel for any reason” insurance plan would cover. Planning an international trip? Buy medical coverage Most health insurance policies, including Medicare, don’t offer medical coverage when you’re traveling outside the U.S., which is why Elliott strongly recommends buying medical coverage. Typically, covered medical expenses are costs incurred for necessary services and supplies, such as a doctor’s visit, prescription drugs, or hospital stay, but coverage will depend on the type of policy you buy. One thing you want to make sure you get is coverage for an emergency medical evacuation, since it can cost you “well over $100,000 if you don’t have coverage,” Cook says. “It’s especially important if you’re going on a rock-climbing trip or something adventurous,” he adds. You may already be covered Some credit cards offer trip cancellation, medical, and/or baggage insurance if you pay for the trip with the card. For example, if your travel is interrupted or canceled due to injury, sickness, severe weather or other conditions, you can be reimbursed for prepaid travel expenses such as flights and hotel rooms for up to $10,000 per trip with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. However, some credit cards only offer “very basic coverage,” says Cook, so be careful when evaluating what coverage your credit card company provides. Typically, there’s a limit for expenses incurred from flight cancellation If your flight gets cancelled, your travel insurance company will normally provide for lodging arrangements, meals, and transportation to and from the airport so that you're not stuck in an airport waiting for your next flight. (That’s assuming the airline doesn’t pay for these costs.) But policies have coverage limits. “With most policies, you get up to $150 a day per person,” Cook says. (Read: you better review your policy before you check into the Four Seasons!) Keep your receipts Let’s say your luggage gets lost or stolen. If you purchased baggage coverage, you’ll most likely have to pay for essential items (e.g., clothes, toiletries) out of pocket and then submit a claim to the insurance company when you get home. However, you’ll need to submit receipts to get reimbursed. “If it’s under $100, you [typically] just email the receipts and the company will transfer the money to your debit card or cut you a check,” Elliott says. “It’s a fast process.” If it’s a large claim though, you may have to submit the paperwork by mail and it could take several days for the insurance company to process the claim. The moral: before you leave for your trip, make sure you have enough cash with you (or on your debit card) to pay for essential items. Why travel insurance costs vary Cook says travel insurance prices are based on three factors: your age, the cost of your trip (generally in $500 increments), and the length of your trip if you’re traveling for more than 30 days. Hence, the same travel insurance policy (assuming it has medical coverage) could cost a 70-year-old person more than it would a millennial, since older people have more health risks. In general, however, travel insurance costs 5% to 7% of the price of the vacation, says the Insurance Information Institute, so a $5,000 trip would cost roughly $250 to $350 to insure. Travel a lot? Consider buying an annual policy If you’re a frequent business traveler or take more than two vacations a year, it may be worth purchasing an annual travel insurance plan, Elliott says. Most annual plans offer a year's worth of protection for medical, property, and trip costs. You can use a website like QuoteWright.com, TravelInsurance.com, or SquareMouth.com to compare policies. Of course, you always want to read the fine print—and don’t simply sign up for the cheapest policy. As Sandberg says, “travelers need to find the right plan, at the right price for them.” 

Travel Tips

Traveling With a Disability: What You Need to Know

Consumer Affairs recently reported that the Government Accountability Office, an independent federal watchdog agency, found that in the air travel industry, disability-related complaints doubled from 2005 to 2015, topping out at more 30,000 complaints for the most recent year that data was available. The situation for disabled travelers is never simple, but with growing public awareness and activists working for change, the future might hold and easier trip for everyone. Shrinking aircrafts, growing problems In airlines’ efforts to pack more passengers into each flight, one thing that’s been sacrificed is bathroom space. In the newer model planes that are flown by Delta, United, and American, bathrooms in coach are a meager 24 inches wide. While it’s a struggle for tall or obese people, the task of squeezing into such a compact space can be even more difficult for someone with a physical disability. But according to the aircraft manufacturer, the smaller restroom accommodates six more passenger seats. And that’s to say nothing of shrinking seats and less aisle space in newer-model jets. Disabled passengers’ complaints on the rise Maneuvering an aircraft is only one challenge that physically disabled travelers face. In addition to structural and design limitations, there are plenty of other issues that can be a hassle, if not a nightmare, for people with limited mobility. Earlier in November, Consumer Affairs reported that “customers with disabilities say that they are regularly mistreated during air travel, with one of the more common problems being airline staff that lose or break their personal wheelchairs—leaving passengers who can’t walk completely stranded and without a medical device worth thousands of dollars.” This is especially problematic because unlike lost or mishandled luggage, there are no reporting requirements under federal law for wheelchair damage. But being prepared can lead to a speedier solution should the worst case scenario come to fruition. The Department of Transportation recommends taking a photograph of your wheelchair or assistance device ahead of travel to capture its condition and providing written instructions detailing the disassembly, assembly, and stowage of your device. The federal government’s protections According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website, a disability is defined as a “physical or mental impairment that impacts a major life activity—such as walking, hearing, or breathing.” This applies to temporary disabilities, like a broken leg, as well as permanent ones. The DOT is responsible for enforcing the Air Carrier Access Act, the federal law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. Airlines are required to provide disabled passengers with various means of assistance, like wheelchairs or other guided help to board, deplane, or connect to another flight. They must also offer seating-accommodation assistance that meets passengers’ individual needs and help with loading and stowing assistive devices. Further protections could be coming down the line. In 2016, the Obama administration said that by 2018, all US airlines would be required “to report on how often they mishandle wheelchairs so air travelers with disabilities can easily compare carriers and make informed travel decisions.” After initial agreement from the airline industry, companies requested the new rules be put on hold under the new administration. Advice from disabled travelers When it comes to planning a trip, accessibility concerns are first and foremost, from hotels and tourist attractions to public transportation and taxis. In interviews recently published by Healthline, a health and wellness website, disabled influencers offered their recommendations for dealing with travel’s many challenges. Vilissa Thompson, a disability rights consultant, writer and activist who founded Ramp Your Voice (rampyourvoice.com), an organization focused on empowerment, notes that when planning a trip, she double-checks her flight reservation days before she flies to make sure her wheelchair use is noted, and she makes it a priority to figure out public transit and airport transfers ahead of time. Cory Lee Woodard, a prolific blogger (curbfreewithcorylee.com), notes that taking direct flights reduces the risk of his wheelchair being damaged. Australia-based blogger Stacey Christie (lovemoxieblog.com) says the best way for disabled passengers to negotiate travel challenges is via personal advice from the many disabled travel blogs on the web. Her own site is a great place to start.