How to plan the perfect beachcombing vacation

By Meg Carter

beach vacation planning tips

Most people daydream of vacations that include tropical drinks, sunbathing and relaxing by the pool, but if you are a beachcomber, your vacations also include an adventure with a particular treasure in mind. For some, the longing to find the best beach doesn’t end within driving distance. Introducing the beachcombing vacation.

Taking a bit of time before you book your trip will pay off when making the most of your time treasure hunting and having fun. First, choose a place to travel. As you probably know, some locations are more welcoming to beachcombers than others. Various levels of protection are placed on particular beaches; these rules or laws may vary from country to country, and from beach to beach. If you are intending to do more than look, and would like to take some of your finds home, it’s important to do your research and make sure you will be able to do so.

Once you have selected a location, the next step would be to choose a time. When you have a schedule that is open to make your trip any time of the year, plan accordingly by following these tips:

  • Stay away from the crowds. If you are headed to a vacation area that may have a tourist season, choosing to go on the off-season, before the crowds come in, would be ideal.
  • Pick the right season. Certain times of year may be better than others for beachcombing a particular location. For example, heading to Davenport, California, in the summer is not going to yield those beautiful colored sea glass nuggets we all drool over. A visit to Sanibel is also better in winter if you want to collect shells thrown up by stormy seas. Conversely, you may also want to consider visiting the shore at a time of year that will have the longest days in terms of daylight. 
  • Look to the moon. Once you have a month narrowed down to travel, check what time of the month will have the lowest tides. Depending on the month, you will probably have two periods with the lowest low tide. This is usually during a spring tide which takes place during the full and new moon. During these times, the tides will be around 20% lower than a regular low tide.
  • Don’t forget the high tide too. At some beaches, the search can be just as rewarding after a high tide. Luckily, spring tides not only produce the lowest tides, but also the highest. So, if you can select dates during a full or new moon, you will get the best of both the low and high tide.
  • Early bird gets the worm. If possible, choose a time of month that has a low tide that is early in the morning. Being the first to make footprints in the sand is always a magical experience and will surely result in the best finds. If you're lucky, a low tide in the morning might also give you a low tide in the evening. Selecting a time of month that has two low tides during daylight, instead of just one during the day and one in the middle of the night is always a good plan. Although, beachcombing a low tide in the middle of the night with a head lamp and black light is not unheard of.
  • Go at the drop of a hat. If you lucky enough to be able to travel at any given time, watch the weather. Traveling to your dream beach directly following a storm and catching the first low tide can be key to some unique finds. Exercise caution with this idea because it might not be best to travel post-storm. The area will need time to clean up and possibly even rebuild to be ready for tourists again, so it is best to stick to only small storms.

Once you have selected your location and dates of your trip, it is time to pack your bags! When heading to an area that is foreign to you, it is important to be prepared. If it’s going to be cold, pack for the arctic. If you are used to a warmer climate, it will feel extra cold to you, so pack layers. You don’t want numb fingers or toes to cut a great hunt short. The same applies to the opposite. If you are accustomed to colder temperatures and headed towards the equator, don’t forget your SPF and proper attire like sunglasses and a hat. A sunburn may ruin your well-planned vacation.

Check out the ultimate beachcombing trip packing list.

Don’t forget your hunting essentials. Not knowing what the conditions will be like is tough, so it’s good to be ready for any type of collecting. Having both hands ready to pick up glass is a must, so bring a bag that can go over your shoulder. Also bring a backpack to carry other items like your phone, sunscreen, water and snacks. If the conditions are so that the glass is right at the water's edge, a scooping kind of utensil and boots are ideal; if the water is warm, you’ll be thankful you brought some snorkel gear. If you are the type that likes to investigate the origins of your finds immediately, make sure you’ve packed your black light, magnifying glass, and your travel size Carter Sea Glass Color and Rarity Guide.

See the checklist of gear for a beachcombing day.

Any kind of travel poses safety risks, but a beachcombing vacation can possibly create more than normal as you may be headed to areas off the beaten path where help may not be close by. It is easy to get caught up in the hunt and get distracted. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times while beachcombing. Having a beach buddy is not only more fun, but also much safer. If you are uncomfortable with your surroundings—whether it be others on the beach or the conditions of the surf—listen to your intuition. Always keep an eye on the time, tide and weather. Not being familiar with an area can be dangerous, especially when the shoreline can change drastically with the tide or an isolated storm. A great cave honey hole during low tide can be a water filled danger at high tide. Always bring your phone while beachcombing. You can download the app Tides Near Me and keep track of not only the tide in your area, but tides all over the world. Before you start your search, set an alarm for every half hour to remind yourself to check the tide and weather conditions. You don’t want lose track of time and the land that you expected to walk back on is now feet under water.

Learn about keeping your four-legged buddy safe on the beach.

When the trip is done and the finds were great (because of your great planning), you will likely want to bring them home with you. Depending on your mode of transportation, you may want to consider shipping your glass home. Some airlines, cruise ships and TSA agents have been known to confiscate sea glass. This is not always the case, but it has happened for various reasons. Depending on where you are shipping to and from, you can even prepare a flat rate shipping label for the last day of your trip and bring it with you. Then all you will need is the box. Finding the closest mailing center near your hotel will help you plan your route as you depart.

You may have to pick and choose from these tips as it is unlikely they will all be relevant, but they should certainly help in your planning. It is unfortunate that most of us don’t live right next to the best sea glass beaches, but it is a perfect excuse to travel and explore. The best tip to plan the perfect beachcombing trip is surely, Have Fun!

What’s on your beachcombing bucket list?

What's on the top of your list for a beachcombing trip? Here are the top five sea glass and seashell beach destinations from our reader poll.

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine July 2017 issue.

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