Best Last Minute Christmas Holiday Destinations

Christmas is edging ever closer, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still time to change your plans! If you fancy doing something a bit more exciting this Christmas, why not book yourself a holiday overseas? There are plenty of last minute deals available, and you are bound to have a Christmas to remember by choosing to take advantage of one of them. So, let’s take a look at some of the best places to visit this Christmas…

Faded Christmas festive background with title 'Best Last Minute Christmas Holiday Destinations'

Tromso

There is only one place to begin, and this is with the most magical place in the world for a Christmas vacation: Tromso. Known as the capital of the Arctic, there is nowhere better to capture the magical festive spirit. Of course, you can see the Northern Lights from Tromso, which is the main attraction, but there is so much to experience in this magical location too. The Polar Museum is a particular highlight. You will find out about the Arctic explorers who have passed through the city. For the ultimate Christmas vacation, there is nowhere better.

Maldives

If your purpose for wanting a Christmas break is because you are in desperate need of some sun (aren’t we all?!), then why not head to the Maldives? The Maldives is drenched in sun at this time of year; there are plenty of resorts that are idyllic and perfect for families. With scrumptious festive packages available, you can embrace the Christmas spirit in a unique environment. Imagine Christmas carols across white sands instead of snow. There are also plenty of themed activities going on too, including festive beachside parties.

A picture of a beautiful empty sandy beach with gorgeous clear blue ocean.

Nuremberg

Nuremberg, in Germany, is a place to behold at Christmas. You will struggle to find somewhere with a better festive spirit. This largely stems from the Christkindlesmarkt, which is known all over the world. This Christmas market sees 180 stalls, so make sure you save a bit of Christmas shopping for when you arrive. You will find everything from gingerbread treats to trinkets and toys.

An image of Christkindlesmarkt
Image from Wikimedia

A bit closer to home

If you don’t want to take a trip abroad, you don’t need to. You can still have a magical Christmas vacation in the UK. There are plenty of stunning places across the country, from Edinburgh to the Cotswolds. No matter where you go, there are bound to be plenty of fun festive places you can visit, many of which are free of charge.

Copenhagen

Finally, we have Denmark’s Copenhagen. This is an affordable and vibrant city, which is small but very welcoming. Pre-Christmas activity is a lot easier to navigate here because people set the pace, rather than cars. The Tivoli Gardens are a highlight, with half a million lights transforming the space.

So there you have it: some of the best places to visit this Christmas if you are planning a last minute trip away. But don’t worry if you can’t book one of these fantastic places this year; there is always next year, and these destinations will be just as fabulous in 2018!

*This is a collaborative post.

The Benefits Of Weekend Trips

It seems that vacations are far more expensive now than they used to be, but the one thing that we have on our side now is the luxurious weekend trip. And while we would all love to go and travel the world for months on end, it is rarely feasible! So from the perspective of someone who can only get away for a couple of days at a time, why is a weekend break such a perfect choice?

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It Feels Like A Longer Vacation

If you spend three or four days in a different place, you are more likely to fill those days with activities, rather than usually when on vacation, spacing out the activities, and relax a bit more. Instead, you can cram in so much, that it feels a lot longer than it is. It may leave little time for sleep, but sometimes a short trip can be just what you need to feel rejuvenated.

You Can Have A Few Vacations A Year

A lot of people take weekend trips because their timetable only allows for a few days at a time. But by going on a few weekends away, you get to see more places every year. This means that you’ll be able to explore different locations and at different times. Plus if you pack in lots of cultural and local experiences while there, you can get a true feeling for somewhere in a quicker space of time.

The Benefits Of Time Away

Sometimes, a weekend away is all you need to reset the balance. Just 48 hours in a new city can give you the opportunity to take a look at your life and reflect on what is really important to you. By spending a bit of time in a new place, you truly get to see a different type of life and sample the delights of another country or culture. The benefits of this is that it can deeply inspire you; who knows, you might even think about moving there! If you do consider relocating, there are services like Monaco Relocation Services just as an example, that can help you to realise your dream. So time away isn’t just great for your state of mind, it may actually inspire you to start a whole new life!

It’s Easier On The Diary

Depending on your high pressured working environment, you might find it difficult to block book two weeks away, especially if it’s during the height of summer when everybody else wants time off too! But if you book a weekend away, it means that time off is easier to get. Also, it makes issues like pet sitters an easier option too.

It’s Easier On The Wallet

The prime benefit of having a weekend break is it will cost a lot less than a major holiday abroad. Of course, there are plenty of weekend packages you can purchase online, meaning that you can take advantage of a last-minute bargain deal, to drop everything for the weekend and get away for a bit.

We all deserve a rest from time to time, and this is why weekend trips are so useful!

*Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

8 Tips for Taking an Eco-Friendly Vacation (Guest Post by Samara at Tiny Fry)

What is Eco-Friendly Tourism?

Trends come and go, but here’s one we hope will stay: eco-friendly travel!

What does this actually mean? Well, the terms “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” are often used interchangeably, although it’s possible to be eco-friendly without being sustainable. However, for the purpose of this article, we’ll be using both terms to mean a form of travel that does not negatively impact the natural environment or culture.

Why Should I Do It?

Choosing an eco-friendly vacation means you’re in for a unique adventure, experiencing a place through an authentic lens. You’ll enjoy places without the slick tourist spiel, and learn what really goes on in a community. What’s more, you’re helping locals. For example, you can show your support by shopping locally and choosing activities that won’t harm the environment.

A picture of someone hiking through the countryside with a camera in hand.

How Should I Do It?
Planning an eco-friendly vacation requires some research and preparation. Here are 8 tips to get you on your way…

1. If You Travel by Air

Obviously, taking a plane isn’t “green” but if it’s your only option, search for direct flights that require less fuel than ones with stopovers. Once you reach your destination, you can walk, ride a bike, or rely on public transportation to get you where you need to go.

2. If You Travel by Car

Choosing an energy-efficient vehicle can reduce emissions by up to 50%. Make sure the car is in good shape and as efficient as possible (for example, clean the air filter, fill the tires). Pack only what you’ll need (lighter cars are more fuel efficient!) and plan your route before you go so there’s less of a chance you’ll get lost and waste both fuel and time.

A photo taken from the inside of a car. Out of the windscreen there is a view of mountains.

3. If You Camp

Camping is probably the “greenest” option and also may be the most cost-efficient. That said, it does require some careful packing. You’ll want to be as self-sufficient as possible and carry the essentials with you: your own water bottle, snacks, toiletries, and utensils (disposable cups and utensils are wasteful). If you’re traveling with kids and plan to hike or bike, assume you need to bring your own gear (bikes, strollers etc…)

A picture of a tent and sunrise scene.

4. If You Prefer a Hotel

Sustainable hotels are popping up in major cities and towns. What to look for: low-energy light bulbs, non-toxic fabrics, non-toxic cleaning supplies, recycling programs, bikes for guests, locally sourced menus and a green certification from a bonafide agency. If possible, green hotels should be built and furnished with reclaimed or renewable resources and they should definitely employ locals. Another tip: ask if the hotel has a volunteer program that allows you to get directly involved in the community (for example, plant trees or work in a garden).

5. If You Hire a Guide

Rather than joining an exclusive tour group, hire a local guide. Certainly, a guide who lives in the area has more invested in the surroundings than a company that’s only interested in making a profit off of your trip. The best guides promote ethical practices, explain how to support the community, respect the natural habitat, plus show off the most authentic and “behind the scene” spots!

6. If You Book an Experience

There’s so much to get excited about when travelling to a new place that it’s easy to overlook stuff. Overall, you never want to be disruptive or disrespectful when playing the role of tourist in any community. What’s more, if you want to get up close and personal with the wildlife, make sure you aren’t in any way harming or disturbing the creatures or their habitats.

A photo of someone taking a photo of a beautiful canyon.

7. If You Buy a Souvenir

Double check that your souvenir of choice is 100% ethical. For example, you don’t want to take home anything that may have come from an endangered species or was made with enforced labour.

8. If You Want to Make an Impression

Be mindful of what you leave behind! Don’t mess with your surroundings and pick up your trash wherever you go. The goal of eco-travel is to make only a positive impact on the area; in other words, leaving behind nothing but some dollars for the local businesses and a tremendous amount of good will!

The Evolution of Travel

Eco travel has been a hot vacation option for some time now and it’s growing in popularity. It’s easy to see why. Traveling responsibly is as good for the tourist as it is for the host.

It offers an authentic, educational, and inspiring look at an unfamiliar territory while supporting and promoting local resources. By booking a sustainable vacation, you’ll be doing your part to ensure that vacation areas will be protected for the next generation of travellers.

A photo of Samara and her family.

Author Bio

Samara Kamenecka is a New York-born freelance writer and translator living in Madrid. When she’s not busy trying to mold her two kids into functional, contributing members of society, she can usually be found enjoying a glass of wine (or three), or eating ice cream straight out of the container. You can find her blogging over at Tiny Fry.

Car Safety Checklist: How To Prepare For Long Journeys #CarSafetyChecklist

How often do you check your car? They should really be given a quick once over regularly, every few weeks ideally. This is true of all cars, but especially older models. And it is even more important to do some essential safety checks before a long journey. That is why kwik-fit.com have set up a #CarSafetyChecklist campaign.

A picture of a white landrover with the caption Car Safety Checklist: Things To Check Before Long Journeys #CarSafetyChecklist Kwik Fit campaign image designed by Living Life Our Way.

Since it became part of the practical driving test to be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of vehicle safety a decade ago, most people should feel confident giving their car a basic check themselves. However it can also be helpful to take it in for a service periodically, to proactively avoid any potential issues before they become more costly – or dangerous.

Whilst researching, I came across a handy acronym to remember 6 key areas to check: FLOWER.

Fuel

Don’t let your fuel run too low. Make sure you top up before a long journey, or at the very least when you pass the first petrol station along the start of journey. Too many people make the mistake of trusting a faulty fuel guage or simply underestimating how long it will take to get to the next services!

Lights

Make sure your lights are working. Give them a clean too if needed so they aren’t dimmed by dirt!

Leaks

Ok, so flower does not have two ‘L’s. But I would also like to add that you need to check for leaks too. Condensation from the air con is normal but anything else needs investigating.

Oil

Don’t wait for the red oil warning light to come on – check it regularly!

Water

Check your coolant level and screen wash.

Windscreen Wipers

Again, there might not be a double ‘W’ in flower but I am going to add another one regardless! Check your wipers too, especially in winter/ wetter months.

Warning Lights!

Ok, I am going for a triple W infact. This one should definitely go without saying, but incase it doesn’t; always make sure there are no warning lights on before any journey!

Electrics

Ensure that the radiator’s electric cooling fan starts running when the engine gets hot by running the engine with the car stationary. Also make sure your battery isn’t too old and worn out, especially baring in mind that battery problems are the most common cause of roadside callouts.

Rubber (Tyres)

Last but certainly not least; Check your tyres – pressure, tread and spare!

Essential Items

As well as doing the above safety checks, it is also helpful to have some essentials in your car too, especially for long journeys. Here is a list of handy items to keep in your vehicle…

  • Manual
  • Recovery details
  • Jump cables
  • Tools
  • Warning triangle
  • Water
  • Blanket
  • Phone charger
  • Light/ torch
  • Ice scraper

Do you have any other car safety tips? Let me know in comments!

*Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with Kwik Fit.

Dubai: My Ever Increasing Travel Bucketlist 

This is my travel bucketlist of must- do things in Dubai. From beaches to brunches, and from malls to Mosques, this list has something for everyone! Dubai is yet another destination on my bucketlist of travel goals. Read for inspiration and ideas on what to do in Dubai.

I have had Dubai on my bucket list since Squiggle was very young, after a friend moved out there and we talked alot about to going to visit her. We didn’t make it over to see her, but I did do many hours of research whilst we were seriously considering it, and in doing so it somehow found a little place in my heart.

Far more recently, my Sister in Law lived and worked in Dubai for a year or so. During that time, seeing her beautiful pictures and hearing her adventures reaffirmed its place on my travel bucketlist!

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I don’t really know what it is about Dubai that I have such a soft spot for; with its man-made beaches, so many imports and lack of public transport, it almost feels like a guilty pleasure! However, The Clumsy Colibri offers some great tips about sustainability in Dubai so I will get some inspiration from there, if and when we go! Destination2 also has some brilliant ideas and useful information about Dubai generally too. But anyway, here is a list of must-do things when visiting Dubai, as told by my sister in law…

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Beaches

Dubai beaches are probably the main attraction. Dubai has year-round sun and many free, clean, white (man made) beaches. In addition, many hotels and bars have their own private strip of beach, which are even nicer. Kite beach is a favourite because it has a great view of the Burj Al Arab and offers activities as well as a chance to relax.

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Indoor Activities

There are lots of indoor activities to do in Dubai, to cater for the incredible heat. Visit the Mall of the Emirates with its well known large indoor ski resort and snow centre. Or hang out at Dubai Mall, where there is an aquarium, ice rink and VR experiences. And of course you can shop, eat or catch a movie too.

Dubai Mall Fountains

Catch the evening water fountain show with moving music which is sure to give you goosebumps. Be wary you’ll need to get there early for a good spot!

Relax

Many hotels offer day access to their spas for some lovely relaxation time. That’s always worth it!

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Brunches

Brunches are where it’s at in Dubai. You can choose from party brunches at Atlantis or more sophitisticated affairs at places like Le Meridian.

Abu Dhabi

While in Dubai, it is relatively cheap and easy to take a trip to Abu Dhabi to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

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That sounds like quite the list! Have you been to Dubai? What is top of your list of things to do? I would love to hear more ideas too!

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*Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

Cycling Adventures: Exploring St Albans 

Now, I am the first to admit that I am not a regular cyclist. However, I do love being outdoors and I also like a challenge! So when Inntravel set a cycling adventure challenge; to explore our local area by bike, creating a cycle route, then share what we discovered, I was more than happy to take this on!

Inntravel are a holiday company that have been offering cycling holidays in Europe since the late 1980s. They arrange the hire of a high-quality bike and you cycle self-guided from one welcoming hotel to the next, following detailed maps and route notes while your luggage is transported ahead. Inntravel plan all their biking holidays carefully, making sure that each route is tried and tested, preferably using quiet roads and country lanes. They try to ensure the routes are enjoyable and interesting, giving you the chance to take in the beautiful scenery and gorgeous views.

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Our cycle route went from London Colney (Hertfordshire) across St Albans to Verulamium Park, via Highfield Park then onto the Alban Way. This is a fairly short linear route that covers approximately 5.5 miles each way, so only about an hour or so of cycling in total, but with ample opportunity to pause and take in some of the nearby attractions, or stop for food and/ or refreshments.

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Heading from London Colney high street, the route takes us over a fly-over, which cyclists need to dismount for, onto Nightingale Lane then into Highfield park. The park is a lovely place to explore or have a picnic. There is a tree trail and history trail, as well as a maze.

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Highfield Park
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Highfield Park (with maze to the left)

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Leaving the park, the next step of the route takes us down bike lanes until we reach the Hill End Garden of Rest that leads onto Alban Way. Alban Way is a cycle path that has been created from an old railway line that joins Hatfield to St Albans.

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Alban Way cycle path

The Alban Way disjoints briefly at Orient Close where we cycle down a quiet street. There is generally very little traffic though so it is a peaceful ride back onto the Alban Way again.

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Alban Way by Orient Close

Just past here is an opportunity to dismount if you wish to and follow the footpath along a small section of the River Ver Trail to discover the wildlife and explore Sopwell Nunnery. We loved doing this! Alternatively you can stay on the cycle path until you get to Cottonmill Lane.

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At this point there is some road cycling including crossing a fairly busy intersection (there are traffic lights though). On the other side of the road, is Westminster Lodge and the entrance to Verulamium Park using the cycle path that runs from the athletics track, through the park – where we take in the beautiful views of the Abbey Cathedral in the distance, as well as the scenic views and historical attractions across the rest of the park – onto the Roman Verulamium museum at the other end.

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Views of Verulamium Park (from Roman Hypocaust)
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Cycle path near The London Gate

 Verulamium park has a wealth of Roman history to enjoy, including the mosaics/ hypocaust, remains of the Roman wall, theatre and the museum. If history is not your thing, you might enjoy a walk around the lake or visit the Wildlife Trust centre instead.

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Before heading back home along the same route, you can also stop for refreshments at the Inn on the Park, nip into Ye Olde Fighting Cocks (rumoured to be the oldest pub in Britain) at the other end of the lake, head down past the museum to pretty St Michaels Village that has a selection of delightful pubs, or grab a bite at the well-known Waffle House.

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After our local cycling adventure, I really the idea of a cycling holiday. Slow paced and relaxing, yet active, with plenty of time to be outdoors and a chance to enjoy exploring new places; that all sounds ideal to me! Plus I like the fact that with a cycling holiday, you don’t need to stick to circular routes or have to turn around and head back to your original destination because your luggage is forwarded onto your next destination. Also as they are not groups cycles, they can be personalised with your choice of selected routes for the day and travel at your individual pace. It sounds great for any level of cyclist, including very occasional complete amateurs like myself!

Disclosure: This post is in collaboration with Inntravel.

Camping Guide: Get Organised With Halfords

We have been on many outdoor style holidays, staying at campsites or holiday parks. We tend to be caravanners and often, but not always, opt for locations by the beach. We have had lots of precious moments from waking up to see rabbits hopping about outside our window, to exploring Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door for the first time last year, and discovering adventurous nature paths from our holiday site to the beach.

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Dorset

However, I reflect back on our very first holiday as parents – a caravan trip to the seaside – and we were so unorganised and unprepared! Don’t get me wrong; there are lots of special memories from the trip – Squiggle’s first touch of sand, putting her toes in the sea for the very first time, sleeping away from home with her for the first time ever. It was wonderful in so many ways.

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First paddle in the sea.

But the caravan was basic with no heating, so it was very much like camping in a tent. Plus it was out of season too, so not very warm- and as new parents we forgot so many camping essentials! We even had to dash out in the evening to get supplies; we were literally banging on the window of the nearest store just as they closed up, begging them to let us in for 2 mins to make a quick purchase – cue a supermarket sweep style grab for blankets and extra thick sleeping bag! Oops!!!

Halfords have created a useful Guide To Camping with lots of helpful essential packing tips, so luckily you don’t have to make the same Rookie mistakes as we did! There are also suggestions for campsites; from beach lovers to cycling and outdoor adventures, wild camping, and caravanning sites, plus other camping ideas too – there is even a playlist if you need some musical inspiration!

What are your top camping tips? I would love to read them! Leave me a comment.



*Disclosure: This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Halfords.

Eco Travel: My European Bucketlist 

I admit that many of past travel adventures have not been organised with sustainability in mind. In my younger years, I was far less environmentally minded than I am now, so if I had ever used an eco- friendly company or visited a ‘green’ city it would have been nothing more than a happy accident to be honest! 

However, I do remember with fond memories one trip along the west coast of USA, which included a stay in San Francisco. Whilst I didn’t realise it back then, I know now that this consistently ranks high up in the greenest places within USA. This doesn’t surprise me with its sustainable food choices, a clear emphasis on the environment and clean transport system. Having reflected on the many places I have travelled, I think this is probably the one that was most eco- friendly. I would definitely love to visit again and see how it has progressed even further in the last decade!

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San Francisco, California

Of course times change and these days I am far more mindful of how my actions impact the environment. For future travel, it would definitely be a major factor in our plans. I would love to explore the world in the most eco-friendly way possible, maybe driving around in an electric camper, visiting beautiful scenic spots off the beaten track, as well as lovely environmentally-conscious towns and cities too. I have a long bucketlist of places I would love to visit all over the world, with Galapagos Islands (closely followed by Alaska) at the top of that list. Closer to home though, there are two places within Europe that are also high on my bucket list; Amsterdam (Holland) and Reykjavik (Iceland), both of which are very eco-friendly. 

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Reykjavik, Iceland 
Photo Credit: Beckie Gate

I have heard all about Reykjavik from various friends who have have visited this gorgeous place recently, and I admit that I have spent hours pouring over their stunning photos. As Green Tourist explains, a major source of the city’s power is from the geothermic activity in this area, which makes it very energy-efficient. Cycling and walking are the most popular forms of transportation, plus hydrogen buses are used rather than vehicles that rely on fossil fuels too.

The geography of Iceland is interesting and makes it a wonderfully unique and breathtaking place to explore, with the geysers and beautiful waterfalls, as well as the point where you can walk between two tectonic plates. I would love to stay in one of their glass domes and hopefully maybe even get to see the Northern Lights if we are lucky. That would be incredible!

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Solfar statue (sun voyager) 
Photo Credit: Karen at Tickets, Passport, Kids

The second on my European bucketlist is Amsterdam, Holland. I know a couple of people who have lived here and they have shared many stories about what a brilliant place it is! Most people either walk or cycle around the city, there are very few cars, making it a clean place to visit or live in that sense. Apparently most residential homes and businesses also use, and often generate their own, clean energy too. 

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Amsterdam, Holland 
Photo Credit: AF

There are lots of unusual places to visit in Amsterdam, such as the KattenKabinet (cat art gallery) and the Bloemenmarkt (flower market), as well as lovely quaint little cafes and eateries. I am sure visiting Anne Frank’s house would be a truly memorable experience too. Apparently there are also many wonderful outdoor walks to explore, taking in the pretty sites. And I personally would love to stay in one of the fantastic houseboats on the canal, that I have seen in many photos. They look amazing!

Of course there are many other European destinations on my bucketlist, as well as travelling the rest of the world too, but these are two places that particularly capture my attention – and my heart! Happy travels everyone!

Where is top of your travel bucketlist? Or have you been to an absolute dream place? Tell me your story in the comments!

*Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. Thank you to the friends who have contributed their wonderful stories and lovely pictures, fuelling my wanderlust further! 

All- Weather Camping: Why You Should Get Outside (in any season!)

We love being outside, whatever the weather. It is a wonderful way to relax, a natural stress reliever; great for mind, body and soul. It feels good to connect and engage with our natural environment, and the fresh air certainly blows the cobwebs away! As this article from The Independent explains, going off-grid i.e. turning off devices and relying on natural light, combined with staying outdoors can really help sleep too. And we all know how enough good quality sleep makes all the difference to everything! So it really is true that any and every season is the perfect time to go on outdoor adventures.

From motorhomes to caravans and log cabins to pop-up tents, there are a huge range of options if you want to plan for a more natural outdoor getaway. Whether you will happily pitch up on any basic available space, or you are more of the glamping type, you will find a selection of sites to choose from throughout the UK (and elsewhere!) open all year round. 

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Stock image

For example, there are lots of lovely places to camp via Camping and Caravanning Club, such as this wonderful Tavistock site in Dartmoor National Park, Devon – which is somewhere I haven’t been to since I was a child myself, but I would love to return and take Squiggle too. 

More locally, this campsite in Hertford is very popular amongst our local home ed friends! Also closer to home, we really love Aldenham Country Park, which also has camping facilities on-site too. 

Another area we have passed through briefly but would love to stay longer is the New Forest. I spotted this fab place called Setthorns Campsite that has a stripped back, closer to nature feel about it. For somewhere a little more luxurious, Sandy Balls Holiday Park has been recommended to us by various friends numerous times. 

Or check out this eco-friendly campsite, Skyside, set in a gorgeous spot of Penrith, Cumbria. Situated in the valleys of the stunning Lake District, you can use this base to explore (in my opinion anyway!) some of the most scenic parts of the country. It has been years since I last visited this area, but I can assure you it is absolutely beautiful at any time of year! 

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We firmly believe that there is no such thing as the ‘wrong’ weather for spending time outside, all you need is suitable clothing and the right equipment; be prepared with the necessary gear and there is nothing stopping you! Oh and don’t forget to grab yourself some insurance before you head off, such as Camping and Caravanning Club insurance for example. Now, what are you waiting for?!

Do you have any top camping tips? What are your outdoor essentials? Where is your favourite campsite or overnight outdoor spot? Share in the comments, thank you!

*This is a collaborative post.