In May the children and I drove to Holland for a fantastic week of pretty luxury camping. Coming from the Isle of Wight the trip included 2 ferries, two accidents (others, not ours) and a motorway entirely closed for maintenance, the 8-hour trip took us closer to 14 hours. Fortunately I’m not a first timer to long journeys, so I was well prepared with car games, individual games, charged tablets and phones, extra cables for on-the-road charging and everything you could possibly need, down to the pencil sharpeners. And then, in a stroke of complete lunacy, I left the whole Trunkie filled with car games and rainy day games and activities neatly by the front door and didn’t realise it until we were on open water with no chance of going back to fetch it! Disaster, right? Well, it all turned out okay, in the end, as I managed to draw on a childhood of car travel in a life before travel-sized games and technology to make for fun travel that was more about the waffle-stop in Belgium than about just reaching our destination.
Just after the recent furore about school holidays, I actually took the children to France for a much anticipated holiday. We booked it back in December, in the doldrums of winter, about to move house, and in the midst of a lot of personal upheaval. I figured if we survived to May, that would be a great way to celebrate making it to this point.
We are home educators anyway, so it being term time made no major difference to our lives but given the whole ‘term time holiday’s debacle, what children learn on holiday was on my mind a lot. Here are some of the things that stood out to me most on our trip:
1) Exposure to new things
Children see new things when they go to a new place. For example, they saw the impressive wind turbines that dot the countryside in the north of France. These gargantuan structures prompted a discussion about fossil fuels and renewable energies among other things. Not something we discus on a random Tuesday in May.
2) They learn non verbal communication
On our first day in France, it poured with rain, so we spent most of the day in the heated pool on site. Six year old Ameli picked up a little friend, an 8-year old French girl called Juliet, and for two days, these two were inseparable. They had so much fun together. They barely spoke a word of the same language. They very quickly learned that they could communicate by gesturing, by describing, by pointing. By the end of the second day, when Juliet was leaving, they had even picked up a few words from each other.
3) They learn new language skills
Which leads me here. They also learn new language skills on holiday. Whether that’s a different dialect in a different part of the country, or a new language, Ameli’s French improved significantly over the course of 7 days. (Considering she could say Bon’jour and Merci on arrival in France.) Ameli found the inability to understand and communicate frustrating, so what did she do? Downloaded an app that translated for her. That came in really handy at times, when we had to ask full sentences to people who didn’t understand any English (there was a fuel shortage while we were there.)
4) They learn about budgeting
We had been in two minds about actually going on this holiday, even though it was fully paid up front, because there are always expenses on holiday and having just moved house, we have very little spare money floating about. As a result we went in with a very tight budget of €30 a day for food and entertainment – and between 3 people, that’s not a whole lot of money, really. So we had to budget and the children had to make decisions and prioritise. After I’d bought our meals every day, we would look at how much was left. Having spent the first two days in the pools and taken some food from home we had a little ‘extra’ money, so our budget went up to just under €40 a day, which suddenly seemed so much more. On the day we went tenpin bowling we had a little less, so didn’t buy ice creams. On the day we went on the canoe and on the motorised race track we had a meat free (but local tomatoes, local mozzarella and fresh baguettes!) dinner, on the day we went to Parc Asterix we were stung a little by tolls we hadn’t realised we were going to have to pay, so only had one ice cream and a tiny souvenir each. But we still got to do all those things, and we enjoyed them all – we just had to work together and decide together what to spend each day’s money on.
5) They learn about planning & cartography
If you want a six year old to learn to read a map, draw an X over the ice cream shop and let her lead the way.
Or sit down together with a big map and find out what’s in the area. We stayed in a really lovely resort. Many people were there and didn’t leave for their entire stay. Others hopped on the day trip bus to Disneyland or to Paris. Those weren’t in our plan for the week – or our budget – so we arrived in Berny-Rivière and unlike me, we had no plan. I had no idea what was around us. So we picked up a map of the commune (county) and poured over it together, making note of big towns, landmarks and tourist highlights. We chose the closest three and decided to visit them. We chose two in the same direction for one day, then another in the opposite direction for a day where we also wanted to attend an event on site. Planning. Together. That’s a valuable life skill.
6) They learn about different fauna and flora
A few days before leaving home we picked up a book about popular British trees in the Poundshop (like a Dollarstore or the Reject Shop). Ameli decided to take it with and see if we could find any of the French trees in our book (we did). But we also discovered trees that aren’t found in the UK. (Or at least not in our book.)
7) They learn their limitations
Aside from the fact that (at least this part of) France is much more relaxed about Health and Safety, and Aviya was allowed to go down a water slide she has never been allowed on in the UK holiday parks, she discovered very quickly which ones she liked and which ones she wasn’t ready for. We’ve been in a park in the UK where they didn’t allow her to go down the water slide and she spent the entire week sulking about it. On the contrary, in this park she was allowed to go down the slide with parental supervision, and she only did it one time, deciding it was too fast for her and she didn’t like it. That was the end of that conversation and it was her choice.
8) They experience a bit of history
Remember the three towns we decided to go to? One was called Soissons – I’ve never heard of it, but what we did learn was that it was actually the capital before Paris was! The girls learnt all about Clovis and his wife Clotilda and the Vase of Soissons and it’s legend. At ages 6 and 4 they know more about French history than I did before this trip (although if you’ve been watching Vikings on Amazon Prime it’s a great place to visit as it must hail from roughly the same period!) We climbed up a castle turret called Septmont. We discovered a magical chateau in Pierrefonds. History, all around us, alive and basked in Spring sunshine. In the future we will return again, because there is so much World War 1 history in that part of the world too.
9) They unplug
Having no wifi for a week meant no TV for a week either (since we only watch Netflix or Amazon). It also meant no computer games, no phone games, no ‘white noise’ from having the radio on. It meant reconnecting with nature, with each other. It even meant reading to themselves when they wanted some down time.
10) Family Time
Of course it’s entirely possible to have a holiday with not a single one of these things happening. You could spend all holiday on the park by the pool if that’s your thing. There were families that did just that. They had board games, books, picnics. They swam together, ate leisurely meals, played games. They had good, quality, family bonding time. And that is valuable for a happy life.
Bonus: And as an added bonus, for me, my step counter counted almost double the amount of steps I do at home every day of the week we were away! So there’s a health benefit to throw in there too!
Are holidays of any value to children? Shouldn’t they be in school instead? Or learning at least? I don’t know – I think there are many things children learn on holiday.
Ameli never stood a chance, really. She was born to a mother with itchy feet, and by her second birthday she had been to 20 countries. That’s more than many people see in a life time! Unfortunately our circumstances changed and our travelling slowed down somewhat, but I like to think the impact of all those travels have landed and she will always be a little world traveller.
When we were offered a 3-month subscription to Little Passports I was really excited, because I knew she’d love it.
Being six, Ameli receives the World Edition for 6 – 10 year olds. The first parcel contains the blue and green cardboard suitcase, a ‘passport’ and a wall-sized world map. It also includes a welcome letter from Sam & Sofia (which I’ve managed to convince Ameli are real people!) and stickers to decorate the case, (later boxes include stickers for ‘passport stamps’ for the passport) a photo of the two friends and an activity sheet. There’s also a boarding pass with an access code for online games in the Boarding Zone.Read more: Create Little Explorers With Little Passports Subscription Boxes
A couple of months ago, my family and I were invited to visit Leicester on a Stay Play Explore overnight break, and as avid travellers and day trippers, we were more than happy to hop the ferry to the mainland and spend a night in Leicester. Now, Leicester may not be the first play you think of when you’re planning a mini break, but hopefully by the end of this post you see why you should.
What is Stay Play Explore?
The premise is simple: book your Stay Play Explore Family Fun or Adventure holiday, and choose from three ‘activities’ that you can do during your two days in Leicester, as well as spending a night in a hotel with breakfast included in the price.
We opted to book a different hotel near Leicester the first night so that we could get a bright and early start to the first day of our Stay Play Explore Family Fun break.
Now, let’s start with the hotel. I know you’re thinking budget family hotel, right? You’re wrong. Our hotel was the beautiful Sketchley Grange Hotel complete with swimming pool, kiddies pool, jacuzzi, steam bath and sauna. The room was exquisite. The view was beautiful. We’ve stayed in some nice hotels in our time, but I pretty much think this one took the cake. Booked independently this family room would have cost us £160 for the night according to the sign at reception. Read a detailed review of the Sketchley Grange Hotel by clicking here.
What does Stay Play Explore Family Fun include?
Aside from your bed & breakfast in a four star hotel, there are five activities you can choose from as part of the Family Fun package:
You can choose any three of these, so since we had two full days, we chose Conkers for a full day, the National Space Centre for a half day, and Stonehurst Family Farm for the other half day. You do not have to do all three activities in two days. Your tickets are valid for several months, and if you’re able to you can come back another time and use the one you haven’t yet on a different trip. Or you can choose to book an extra night’s accommodation and use the third on a third day.
We worked out that for two adults and two children, the National Space Centre would have cost us £37 (£48 with two children over 5), Conkers would have cost us £32.95 (under 2’s are free) and Stonehurst Family Farm would have cost £18 (under 2’s are free). For our family of four with one under 5, the total for these three activities would have been £87.95 (£98.95 with two over 5).
(My partner and I are pretty certain we remember the price of the hotel being £160 a night for a family room, but looking on line right now rooms are available for as low as £79, with an additional £37.50 for breakfast.) Add the beautiful hotel with the evening swim, king sized bed and full breakfast in the conservatory and our total would have been (based on the website price) £204.45, (£215.45 with two over 5’s).
So… how much does the Stay Play Explore Family Fun break cost as a package deal, for all the above? Three activities, the hotel and breakfast will set you back: £129. For our family with the activities we chose, we saved £75.45.
If we had opted to go to the zoo or the theme park instead of the animal farm, our savings would have been £108.03 or £119.96. Those are huge savings for a two/three day break!
TIP: One thing to note if you are booking this is that you must print out the vouchers that will be emailed to you. We assumed that – like with the 100’s of other places we’ve been, the electronic voucher would be okay, but no, you have to print the voucher out THREE TIMES so that you have one for each attraction. Even the forestry venue, Conkers, insisted on printed vouchers, which we found rather ironic!
If you’re trying to find short breaks to fill up your summer, I cannot recommend Stay Play Explore Leicester enough. I know we’d love to go back for the Family Adventure package when my girls are a little older, and I’m just waiting for that first girly weekend occasion to come along so we can book on the Gourmet Taste package too!
*We enjoyed two beautiful days in Leicester in exchange for this review. All thoughts and opinions are our own.
This week we read Away In My Airplane a sweet little book about a boy who takes his airplane out for a spin through the rain, through the sunshine up and down. It’s a journey of imagination and the repetition of the phrases and concepts of ‘through the rain’ and ‘through the sun’ make the book almost rhyme like.
Written bybeautiful, bold, deep and striking. I love full page, bright colours in children’s books, and I think – for me – this book does it just right.
As I said, there’s a lot of repetition, which makes it nice for children. Nursery rhyme like. It’s nice.
Each page has sun and rain/night and day/light and dark.
It’s the perfect book for kids preparing for a long haul flight, specially as you can draw parallels to the upside down time zones, and flying through the clouds, above the clouds, shortened or lengthened days.
The only negative from this book, in my opinion, is the font – it makes it quite hard to read upside down, which I often end up doing with two children who both want to sit in front of the book!
I like doing a craft activity with the children when we’ve read a new book – it gives us time to discuss the themes in the book, and it gives us time to mull over a story, rather than just move on to the next thing. For this activity I Googled a template for how to fold a paper plane, which the girls then took time decorating with stickers and paints before we took them outside to see how far and high they could fly.
Between you and me this was an interesting lesson in following instructions too: I had two pieces of paper, and followed the same instructions, and yet the planes came out different! Neither flew particularly well either, between you and me, but the kids didn’t seem to notice. They laughed and played and had fun. It was great, really.
*We received this book as part of the Paragon Book Buddies programme. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
One of my favourite memories and photographs of my grandmother is of her crawling on all fours in a camp site after a 7 month old Aviya. Every birthday my gran has had since I was a kid was her 100th birthday but if I had to hazard a guess, I think she was around 75 when this picture was taken. Since then she has done two long haul flights to Australia, shared a house with 3 grand children and 2 great grand children, driven in a combine harvester, and a whole bunch of things that most roughly 80-year old’s just don’t really do.
Travel can be a huge undertaking, but if you go through a provider like Saga Travel you should be well taken care of, leaving you with a worthwhile vacation you can appreciate every step of the way.
It is essential to shop around and compare prices for the best travel deals before committing yourself. Whether you are considering a budget cruise for the family, a traditional package holiday or a group tour by coach or rail, discounts are often available. Early birds can often take advantage of discounts of up to 30% while those who have the flexibility to pick up last-minute bargains often get the best bargains of all. Look out for deals on extras such as airport parking and car hire; holidaymakers can save money by booking these items in advance and shop around when it comes to your insurance – on our recent trip to Australia we found annual travel insurance for the whole family to be cheaper than a single trip insurance!
Consider how you will manage your luggage at the airport. A wheeled suitcase avoids the need to carry heavy bags. Packing only the essentials makes sense for seniors as it is much easier to manage a small bag than a large one. You will also save money by avoiding having to pay for extra bags. Many seasoned travellers avoid baggage charges altogether by packing just one carry-on bag. Roll rather than fold clothes, buy miniature bottles of toiletries and seal in a zip lock waterproof bag, and take an e-reader rather than heavy books. Consider wearing the bulkiest items that you will need on your holiday while travelling. Also using air lock bags (those that you suck or roll the air out of to compress the contents) mean you can pack more into a small space. And don’t be ashamed to ask for wheelchair assistance at airports – that way you don’t have to carry anything!
Look After Your Health
Travel insurance is an essential for many destinations, and seniors with health problems should protect themselves from expensive medical bills with a policy that covers pre-existing conditions. Make sure that you take a good supply of any regular medications and pack these in your hand luggage. Travel can be tiring, so if you are not usually very active try to gently build up your levels of exercise in the weeks before you travel. Also, travel insurance for seniors can be exorbitantly expensive, so make sure you both factor the extra into your travel budget and make sure to shop around!
A little planning and preparation should help you make the most of your travels and hopefully the memories you make will transcend generations.
Travelling is, in general, exciting. People love it. We love it. But have you ever gone away and returned home seeing nothing more than the top five, ten, fifteen things in the tourist brochures? The things every tourist sees in the same place?
Have you ever wondered how people find out about gorgeous secret locations? How other people seem to find the best breakfasts, or know what’s happening in town as it happens.
Here are our top three tips for finding hidden doors to ‘local’ gems:
This is the most obvious one, but make it less obvious. Look for ‘Must see attractions in Paris” sure – you should at least see the Eiffel tower up close once or twice – but then Google the unusual “hidden bars in Croatia”, “Best beaches in Perth” and so on. Be specific, and seek out the headings that attract your attention. Gloss over them and find all those ‘hidden gems’ those in the know often seem to struggle to keep hidden.
Pinterest is a place of beauty. Almost every picture is exquisite, almost every destination looks heavenly – and pretty much every place on the map has had someone visit it. Start a pin board where you list all the beautiful and unusual, off the beaten track places that others have written about. Some you’ll get to, some you wont, but it’s a great way to find especially natural spectacles that you will probably never find in most travel guides. (Click on the Pinterest link, and replace ‘Isle of Wight’ with your destination.)
Hashtags are your friend. Often when we find ourselves in a place we’re unfamiliar with, once we’ve done the ‘what’s on in XYZ’ and found ourselves uninspired, I’ll go on Instagram or Twitter and search by the name of the place we’re in. We’ve found festivals, outdoor concerts, and all sorts of entertainment – often free, too – this way.
It’s also helped us discover some fabulous places to eat – say someone says they’ve found the best milkshake ever, then we know the place they’ve tagged is a good place to try out. And we’ve rarely been disappointed.
Okay, for all that about guide books, there are a few that are actually great. We have 1000 Places To See Before You Die, which has some of those you’d expect – but also many that you wouldn’t always think of first.
There are also many specialist books – if cream teas are your thing try AA Britain’s Best Afternoon Tea, if you want to follow in the footsteps of stars, The Ultimate Hollywood Tour book will make sure you don’t miss anything, and so each country and many interests are catered for – but don’t forget your web searches, and your hashtags.
Our time here in Australia is careening to a screeching halt, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad about that. The kids are sad, I’m sad and well, we’re all a bit bummed. I’ve learned from the past though, and one thing I know for sure is that one way to deal with the sad disappointment of circling Heathrow in the cold/dark/gray/rain/snow is knowing that you’ll be jetting off somewhere soon again. And while our tans will quickly fade, the hopes and dreams of another new horizon keep us ticking over every time. While Australia and a 19-hour minimum transit time was very much a family requirement (my brother was getting married), there are many child friendly travel destinations, and here are a few that might not ordinarily spring to mind…. but they’re on our short list.
We’ll spend a few night time hours in Qatar on the trip back, but I kind of wish we’d chosen Dubai, since we have family there. We’d really love a stay on a private island though, like the Burj al Arab Hotel. This Dubai hotel ranks as the most luxurious hotel in the world, and it really knows how to spoil guests of every age! While you pamper yourself in the luxury spa, the little ones can spend some time in Sinbad’s Kids Club, where they will be looked after by the hotel’s babysitters giving them something to do in between trips to Wild Wadi waterpark, camel rides on the beach, and visits to the aquarium.
Egypt is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, and for inquisitive kids, it’s entirely mesmerising. Not only can children learn about Egypt’s impressive ancient and modern history, but there are many extraordinary things to do that you can’t in other holiday destinations. Exploring the insides of pyramids and catacombs would be fascinating for kids – especially Ameli who surprised me at four years old by asking what a sarcophagus was! – but you can also do simple things like wander through local markets and explore the desert landscape.
Egypt is also home to 21 protected areas of natural habitats where you can see elephants, hippos, leopards, and cheetahs, and there are excellent child-friendly resorts. Plus, you can feel good about supporting an economy that is still in recovery—there are many completely safe parts of the country to visit, and your travel cash will help local businesses to grow.
Los Angeles has it all. By all means, experience the magic of Disneyland in nearby Anaheim, but don’t miss out on other exciting experiences for children. Dive into movie history in Hollywood, but you don’t even have to go to movie capital to find plenty of entertainment. You can catch live performances of plays geared towards children in several L.A. based theatres, or take a backstage tour in the magical El Capitan Theatre. And with a host of kid-friendly restaurants that allow children to eat for free, Los Angeles ranks highly for culture loving families.
With a tropical coastline, dense jungles, fascinating Mayan temples and turquoise water, the Caribbean resort of Belize is a superb destination for all the family. Touted as one of the best snorkel and scuba diving experiences in the world, white-sand beaches provide a bevy of water sport activities, whilst the Belize Zoo and Baboon Sanctuary gives you a close encounter with animals. The chance to explore the underground water system in ancient Maya caves or a jungle trek should not be overlooked either and is a memorable experience for all the family.
When a country has a national hero like children’s story writer Hans Christian Andersen, you can guarantee there will be plenty fun things to do with kids. So don’t overlook Denmark when deciding where to go on your next holiday. Regarded as the happiest country in the world, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, Denmark is home to Legoland, (no wonder they’re so happy!), an adventure park made from 59 million pieces of Lego celebrating the “toy of the century.” Closer to the capital of Copenhagen is Tivoli, a fairy tale amusement park which puts on live music and nightly firework displays. Just north of the capital is Bakken, the oldest amusement park in the world, where you can enjoy a horse and carriage ride to see the wild deer that live in the surrounding woods.
Hmmm.. if it’s up to the kids, it’ll be Denmark for sure, but I think we’ll have to put names in a hat, ’cause that spa in Dubai is sounding pretty good to me.
It may seem like we’ve fallen off the face of the earth, but actually, we’ve been spending a bit of time at the bottom of it. The last five or so months have been a roller coaster for our family as we decided we wanted to do some slow travelling around Europe so that we could keep working, but move our walls and explore some of our world. A week after giving up our house, however, my husband was told that his job would be ending and then his contract was ended a month early too, so all our plans came to a disappointing and grinding halt. More so because we were set to visit Australia for my brother’s wedding, but with the loss of income we could no longer do it.
Fortunately my little brother has a big heart and he bought four tickets for our family to cross the oceans. Aren’t I a lucky big sister ?
So, for the last 6 weeks we’ve been bumming around Perth, trying to spend as little as possible – no small feat in December, with Christmas and feeling a little bit holiday-ish.
Like many people around Christmas time, we’ve spent a lot of time running around:
And a lot of time just trying to keep our heads above water:
We’ve been hiding in the shadows:
Watching movies late into the evening:
Yep, this has been a rather more austere Christmas than we had imagined:
And we’re really looking forward to returning to the UK and leaving scenes like this behind us*
P.S. In case you weren’t sure, I’m trying reverse psychology on myself, psyching myself up to leaving Perth!
Going on holiday soon?
Last Minute.com offers fantastic breaks, getaways and treats on your holiday.
Before your trip, sign up with Groupon.com to find discounted offers while you’re away. We found a dinner and a day trip for our stay in Perth.
If you’re stuck for something to do this summer – whether it’s with your kids, your friends or your other half, museums are a great way to pass the time. We all know that the British weather – even during the height of summer – can’t guarantee unending sunshine, and when it is looking a little overcast and glum outside, museums are a perfect option for a cultural afternoon.
A little while ago, the girls and I spent a day in Birmingham, and I was really surprised by it. For some reason I’d imagined it as a very industrial city, but it is really beautiful and a lot of work has gone into making the city centre people friendly.
The Midlands city of Birmingham is also packed with stunning museums and galleries and over the summer months, there are plenty of events, activities and exhibitions that can keep people of all ages amused. Book into one of the Travelodge hotels in the city centre and make the most out of your time in Birmingham. Here’s some of what you can enjoy:
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery offers a wealth of craft activities for creative kids to enjoy. Fees apply, but it would be a perfect way to pass an hour or two with small people. There’s also a sensory gallery where you can experience a variety of artworks through touch, sound and light.
Step inside a 17th century painting, eavesdrop on Albert Einstein, or squeeze yourself into a chair in the shape of a 19th century corset.
There are also family fun trails which you can enjoy for free – it’s a great way to introduce children to a variety of art styles.
Thinktank is well worth a visit regardless of the additional events and temporary exhibitions that it may have over the summer period. Spend some time in the outdoor Science Garden – perfect on a sunny day – and get hands-on with some of the interactive displays and objects.
Gas Hall is home to incredible exhibition that features work by Rowland Emett, who was the creator of the contraptions in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s the largest exhibition of its kind, and will engross the imaginations of everyone, no matter their age.
If your kids like active challenges, take them to one of the Circus Academy workshops that are scheduled around the city throughout the summer. There are workshops being held at Soho House and Blakesley Hall in August.
Birmingham Sea Life
We actually never made it beyond the entrance of the Sea Life Centre, but even that was quite something, with huge fish tanks adorning the room. Very beautiful and the girls were thrilled with even just the 20 minutes we spent there.
If you’re planning on making more than one visit over the year, the Birmingham Museums Annual Pass (this doesn’t include the Sea Life Centre), set at £85 per year for families, gives you the chance to visit various museums across the city, as many times as you like.
I was pleasantly surprised by our day trip to Birmingham, and look forward to the next one!