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Beach Bag Bingo for the Relaxation-Challenged

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The beach is the best, but devoting one's entire day to enforced lounging, defying open container laws, and swimming takes some planning--you can't just go, plop down in the sand, and relax! You have to make lists and go shopping and be very, very organized about it.

(Or at least I do.)

If you're like me, the planning and the doing and the list-making is almost as (more?) fun than the relaxing end game--and this list is for you!

Step One: Beach Bags

Root around in your closet for your old beach bag. Do you love it? Proceed to Step Two. Do you hate it? Shop for a new one!

Backpacks make great beach bags: lots of little pockets, zippers to keep out excessive amounts of sand, and usually a little key fob to protect your keys from a beach burial. If you want a more traditional tote, but you're looking for something with more pockets than your average beach bag, consider a diaper bag. They come with lots of built-in pockets for diapers and bottles, and diaper bags are usually done in fun, bright colors. This Storksak Tote in yellow ($132, diapers.com) also fits a laptop, so you can stash your electronics; an insulated bottle holder will help keep a tube of sunscreen, or a small drink, cool for up to four hours.

Step Two: SPF

Sunscreen is not optional, so don't opt-out. If you've ever had a freaky looking mole, you know what I'm talking about. Bring a two sunscreens--one for face, one for body--and use liberally; like, Rachel Maddow liberally. If you aren't wowed by this list of five new sunscreens to try this summer, check out some other options:

For Face

Kate Somerville Daily Deflector™ Waterlight Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ ($48, Sephora.com) is lightweight, powerful, and free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates. Great under make-up, and Shiitake Mushroom extract is said to offer anti-aging benefits. If you're looking for a little coverage, Dr. Brandt Signature Flexitone BB Cream ($39, drbrandtskincare.com) has an impressive SPF 30, and a tint that "blends seamlessly with most skin tones." It's also kind of fun watching the formula change on your skin. Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreens ($10-$14, drugstores) come in SPF 30 or SPF 55, go on with a matte finish, and use natural ingredients like cinnamon and cedar wood to help prevent breakouts at a fraction of the price of high-end skin care brands. Buy a bottle or three for the golfer in your life.

For Body

The general rule for sunscreen is a one ounce serving slathered generously over one's body, to be reapplied after periods of swimmin' and sweatin'. The spray-on versions from Neutrogena are a favorite with golfers and tennis players, but they are also great for the beach--no rubbing on a handful of sand with your SPF 50.

Sunscreen isn't the only sun protection you need to tote--sunglasses are a must, a hat to shade your face (and neck, and ears), and a beach cover-up are all de rigueur at the beach.

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Step Three: Entertainment

Books (or electronic reader of your choice), plus magazines, music, and your favorite beach toys: Frisbee, perhaps, or a beach ball. Why people bring bocce to the beach is beyond me--and not just because I like alliteration; they are heavy, the pollino gets lost in the sand, and it's pretty hard to find a stretch of sand where the balls will roll instead of plop.

Your playlist: Heavy on Beach Boys (natch) and '80s rock.

Your magazines: Keep it simple--super simple. The more Kardashians on the cover, the better.

Your book: Swamplandia! is all the rage right now, and for good reason; a 13-year-old narrator keeps things light, even when the subjects are dark. The story is set in Florida, but you'll be glancing around for crocs no matter what beach you're on. My beach bag usually has a few titles--in addition to Swamplandia, I've packed Gulp by Mary Roach, and will probably stop by Brazos Bookstore and Murder by the Book to stock up on new titles for weekends in Galveston.

Step Four: Rand-o Things You May Forget

The Oh-My-God-Why-Didn't-I-Pack-[insert item here] step. Think beer koozies, Chapstick with SPF, dental floss, Band-Aids and Neosporin, wet wipes, camera, comb, bug spray, meds (Advil for the sunburn, prescriptions, etc.), and so on.

I'm absolutely, positively obsessed with travel organizers from Eagle Creek. I have several that I just leave packed and ready to go for the beach, and for business travel.

Step Five: Post-Beach Recovery

Start with Aloe vera, but don't stop there. A heavy-duty moisturizing mask--one each, for hair and face--is great for the ride home, or for lounging in the hotel room après sun. This year my Air Repair kit will double as a beach recovery system--I'll definitely be ordering a new kit soon.

To extend the life of the tan that fought its way through sunscreen to attach to your dermis, try Kate Somerville's Somerville360 Tan Maximizer Lotion ($48, katesomerville.com). It smells heavenly, is soothing on skin, and kept my backyard gardening tan looking fresh for the last few weeks. A few other great post-sun products for skin include the Clarins After Sun line for face and body, and Alba Botanica's after-sun gels and lotions.

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