Free Festive Fun: Places To Visit (Hertfordshire and Beyond) 

We have visited lots of garden centres and a few shopping centres this season to enjoy the festive displays. So I thought I would write a round-up of some free places to visit this season. Ideas range from places to pop to briefly when you are short on time, to places where you could easily spend several hours, or even make it a whole day out… and it won’t cost you a penny! (Except parking in some cases).

Please note additional activities such as ice skating, grottos etc… mentioned are NOT free, there is generally a charge for these activities.

So here are our suggestions…

Christmas display with title 'Free fun festive places to visit (Herts and Beyond)'

Garden Centres

Crews Hill, Enfield

This is a whole row of garden centres, most of which have some festivities. One in particular has a large display, an ice rink, snow globe, grotto with train ride and real reindeer. Crews Hill is somewhere that you can easily spend most of the day if you wanted. You can also soak in the atmosphere in an hour or two though if you are pushed for time.

An interactive elf display at Springtime Crews Hill

Christmas lights at Springtime Crews Hill

A Christmas display at Crews Hill, Enfield

Van Hage, Great Amwell

This is another of the larger garden centres. It has an ice rink (bookable in advance), grotto and lots to see generally. It also has an animal garden onsite too.

Christmas display at Van Hage

Snowman Christmas display at Van Hage, Great Amwell

Notcutts, St Albans

Great for popping into briefly if you are passing or are nearby. The giant snowman is fab! Have tea or breakfast with Santa has a fun alternative to a grotto. (Book in advance, costs apply).

Notcutts, St Albans, Christmas door display

Notcutts Christmas section

World’s End Wyevale, Wendover (Bucks)

We visited this garden centre for the first time recently. There is a mini funfair and a huge Christmas shop, plus a grotto and winter wonderland (entry charges apply). Even if you don’t pay to go into the wonderland, as we didn’t, it is still worth a visit. It has a nice Christmassy feel generally.

Worlds End Wyevale Garden Centre Christmas display

Vanstone Park, Hitchin

This is a fun place to pop to if you have a short time to spare for a quick whizz around. There is a woodland train ride too.

Vanstone Park garden centre snowman festive Christmas display

Burston Garden Centre, St Albans

We popped here for the first time a couple of days ago. Cute displays, worth a brief visit for a little while.

Christmas door Burston St Albans

xmas display at Burston with Christmas trees and seals

Colourful festive Christmas display Burston Garden Centre St Albans

Aylett Nurseries, St Albans

This has lovely displays and some nice little interactive activities too. It is perfect for soaking in the festive atmosphere while on a time limit.

Aylett Nurseries St Albans xmas display

Aylett Nurseries festive display

Aylett Nurseries Christmas small world display

Aylett garden centre xmas festive small world display

Shopping Centres

St Albans

St Albans centre has a nice little display in Christopher Place, a traditional style Christmas Market in the Vintry Gardens next to Abbey Cathedral (with a timetable of events and activities), and there is a fun Nutcracker Trail across the city too.

Santa in a sleigh with reindeer and christmas tree in Christopher Place festive display St Albans

Centre MK, Milton Keynes

Whilst many of the activities here are at additional cost, such as carousel, train rides, grotto and helter skelter, there are also some pretty displays and a brilliant festive atmosphere generally. Plus a little snow area!

Centre MK festive display with igloo

Centre MK festive train ride

Squiggle playing in fake snow at Centre MK Milton Keynes

The Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

I have saved the best until last! This is my top pick this season because I love the theme; Santa’s Waste-Not Workshop focuses on recycling and green living. With awesome displays and cool activities that educate and inspire during what can be a very consumer-based and wasteful time of year, I think this is genius! Squiggle loved lighting up the tree using energy she generated from cycling – such a clever idea. Well done to whoever came up with this, it gets a big thumbs up from us!

Squiggle cycling to light up clean energy Christmas tree The Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

Santas Waste-Not Workshop, Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

Upcycled festive display at Santas Waste- Not Workshop, Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

Snowman display at Santas Waste- Not Workshop, Marlows, Hemel Hempstead

Seasons Geetings everyone!

Where is your favourite festive place to visit?

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!

Dubai, travel, bucketlist, destinations, Living Life Our Way

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.

Dubai, travel, bucketlist, destinations, Living Life Our Way

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!

Dubai, travel, bucketlist, destinations, Living Life Our Way

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.

Aylett Nurseries: Celebration Gardens and Butterfly Corner

One of the free places we have visited a couple of times recently over summer is Aylett Nurseries in St Albans, Hertfordshire. It is good for kids; sometimes they have activities and events specifically for children, and generally is family friendly. 

At the moment, they currently have a butterfly corner but you will have to hurry – it closes on 17th September! It is very small but is still a lovely little experience that adds to the visit. It is interesting to watch the butterflies feeding on the fruit and having them fluttering around you. Here are some of my favourite photos taken in their butterfly corner last week…

butterfly, insect, pollinator, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

butterfly, insect, pollinator, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

butterfly, insect, pollinator, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

butterfly, insect, pollinator, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

butterfly, insect, pollinator, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

butterfly, insect, pollinator, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

butterfly, insect, pollinator, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

According to the website, the Celebration Gardens are open all year round but the best time to visit is when the flowers are in bloom of course. We have only just discovered the Celebrations Gardens over the last month, which was perfect timing! Their multi award winning Dahlias are particularly beautiful, and we also love the wild flower section too. Here are a selection of photos from the Celebration Garden in August…

Celebration Gardens, Dahlias, flowers, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

Celebration Gardens, Dahlias, flowers, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

Celebration Gardens, Dahlias, flowers, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

Celebration Gardens, Dahlias, flowers, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

Celebration Gardens, Dahlias, flowers, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

Celebration Gardens, Dahlias, flowers, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

Celebration Gardens, Dahlias, flowers, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

Celebration Gardens, bug hotel, wildlife, insects, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

Celebration Gardens, wild flowers, flowers, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

Celebration Gardens, Dahlias, flowers, outdoors, get outside, nature, places to visit, Aylett Nurseries, Hertfordshire, Living Life Our Way

For more information about opening hours, news and events see Aylett Nurseries website.

Cassiobury Park, Watford: Paddling Pools and Splash Park – BRAND NEW 2017

Cassiobury Park in Watford, Hertfordshire has been undergoing a huge restoration project over the last year, thanks to a £6.5 million investment with help from the Big Lottery and Heritage Lottery Fund. The transformation includes brand new paddling pools and splash park, which we were keen to check out soon after it opened! 

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There is a main paddling pool and a smaller one, as well as a splash park and various water play features too. It has push button controls suitable for all abilities and seems to be mostly accessible (although we didn’t have any wheelchair users with us). Users can enjoy a variety of sprays and fountains of differing heights and styles, plus paddle in the pools themselves too of course! There is plenty of space both in and out of the water, and a (very) small amount of shaded areas. 

Cassiobury Park, paddling pool, splash park, water play, Blue Mind, places to visit, Watford, Hertfordshire, summer, families, days out

Cassiobury Park, paddling pool, splash park, water play, Blue Mind, places to visit, Watford, Hertfordshire, summer, families, days out

Cassiobury Park, paddling pool, splash park, water play, Blue Mind, places to visit, Watford, Hertfordshire, summer, families, days out

Cassiobury Park, paddling pool, splash park, water play, Blue Mind, places to visit, Watford, Hertfordshire, summer, families, days out

There is a sustainable park hub building that includes toilets and changing facilities, as well as a café. The hub also has a community and exhibition room, plus education facilities. For more information about the wonderful transformations that have taken shape at Cassiobury Park, see Watford Borough Council website.

Rock Hunting: Nature’s Answer To Pokemon Go! #30DaysWild 

Have you heard of the new craze? Painted rocks have been hidden all over our local area to encourage people to get outside and explore to find them. And to spread some love and positivity around; like a little act of kindness for the person who finds it. What an amazing way to put a smile on peoples’ faces! Of course, we could not wait to go out on a rock hunt to see what we could find!

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It turned out to be much harder than we thought! We knew very rough locations, and had vague picture clues, but looking for small rocks in a very large area is… well… abit like looking for a needle in a haystack! But that just encouraged us to look more closely, stay out longer, walk further and explore different areas – which is great!

Just a little note to anyone considering doing this as a set activity (e.g. home educators or organised groups for example): it would be easier, and an awesome educational activity, if they were mapped out in advance. Great for developing old school map reading skills too! (I guess this would make it more of a geocaching style activity). Of course this would rely on people not removing, or relocating, any of them. (Hopefully no one will remove them anyway though obviously, as it is meant to be an activity for everyone to enjoy!)

Also, if you were doing this, a handy suggestion might be to map them out with a small circle radius rather than a precise location, so that it still gives abit of freedom to rehide them elsewhere – as long as it is within close proximity to the original spot. I say this because Squiggle was really keen to move one to a new hiding place so we compromised and she hid it right by the next tree instead, less than a metre away!

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Anyway, they are just little tips if anyone is thinking about doing it as a home ed activity or setting it up as an ‘organised’ event. But back to our fun of rock hunting…

We were incredibly lucky to find not just one, but two painted rocks! Squiggle was delighted that she spotted them!!! The first was a beautiful heart rock…

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The second was a pretty colourful rainbow…

painted rocks, rock hunt, St Albans Rocks UK, Hertfordshire, get outside, kids need nature, outdoors, 30 days wild, #30dayswild, #staywild, #livinglifewild

We had so much fun! It is such a lovely activity and a brilliant, creative, inspired idea – love it!!! Thank you so much to the wonderful people who came up with this initiative and organised it in our area. We are so grateful! For more information, check out St Albans Rocks UK.

We then also painted our own rocks when we returned home, so we will be hiding those in our local park soon too! Thanks again!!!

painted rocks, rock hunt, St Albans Rocks UK, Hertfordshire, get outside, kids need nature, outdoors, 30 days wild, #30dayswild, #staywild, #livinglifewild

Happy rock hunting! 

Gobions Wood, Hertfordshire: A Magical Place To Explore

Today we visited Gobions Wood in Hertfordshire for the first time, which we discovered from a useful list of local nature reserves on Herts Wildlife Trust website. 

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The first section of our walk took us past beautiful meadows, where moths and butterflies fluttered around us as we walked. 

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We then reached the entrance to the wood…

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Honestly, I have never felt quite so overwhelmed (and almost intimidated!) walking into a wood. I literally got tingles down my spine and a surge of excitement in my tummy. 

Two huge ancient trees guard either side of the path as you enter, towering above everything, watching over the rest of the woodland…

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It looks like something out of a film; like walking into a Lord Of The Rings set or somewhere…

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I love the colours and the way the lower leaves create a whispy appearance, almost motioning to the path…

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Squiggle found this and asked me to take a photo…

She loved exploring…

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It is a magical, enchanting place to explore and we hope to return soon! 

Pick Your Own: Fruit Farm Visit #30DaysWild

Today we visited a local pick your own fruit farm. We love growing our own food at home of course, but we also love the fun of visiting the PYO fruit farm too! It had only just opened for the season so there were quite alot of people there, but there was an abundance of delicious fruit that was ripe for the picking! I took some pictures of the fruit, which you can find in my photo gallery. And here are some of Squiggle collecting various fruits…

childhood unplugged, fruit farm, pick your own, PYO, places to visit, Herts

childhood unplugged, fruit farm, pick your own, PYO, places to visit, Herts

childhood unplugged, fruit farm, pick your own, PYO, places to visit, Herts

childhood unplugged, fruit farm, pick your own, PYO, places to visit, Herts

childhood unplugged, fruit farm, pick your own, PYO, places to visit, Herts

By the way, does anyone else see a smiley face strawberry with a big nose…

strawberry, smiley face fruit, fruit farm, pick your own, PYO, places to visit, Herts

What have you been doing so far this weekend, and what plans do you have?

Our Latest Wild Adventures – #30DaysWild

Ok, so I got abit behind in blogging about our 30 Days Wild adventures. We have still been very much taking part, and I have posted on social media about a couple of things, I just hadn’t got as far as writing about it here! So I thought I would do a quick round-up post instead to catch up!

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On Friday, we went for a lovely family walk through a local nature reserve called The Wick. It is a lovely area of ancient woodlands that local residents are working hard to protect and preserve. 

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The highlight was when we came across this old log and Squiggle looked at it and declared it looks like a rabbit – which it really does! I love her creative mind.

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Squiggle exploring…

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I also paused to grab a few photos during our walk too…

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30 days wild, #30dayswild, #livinglifewild, The Wildlife Trusts, stay wild, nature, wildlife, natural environment, photography, get outside, outdoors

30 days wild, #30dayswild, #livinglifewild, The Wildlife Trusts, stay wild, nature, wildlife, natural environment, photography, get outside, outdoors

On Saturday, we took a day trip to Whitchurch for the annual Sylvanian Shopping Weekend. It is a pretty village and the event is surrounded by beautiful natural settings with lots of wildlife. We had a wonderful time!

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On Sunday, I planted a virtual seed on Grow Wild UK. Squiggle also took this photo in a local park…

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Also on Sunday, one of our furbabies went off exploring and hadn’t returned for several hours. By evening I was wondering where he had got to, so I went out to call him. I heard a high pierced sound and when I looked up there was a bat circling right above my head!!! I have seen lots of bats round here before, but I have never heard one – to be honest, I didn’t think humans actually could hear them! I thought their pitch/ frequency was out of the range of human hearing… but I know what I heard; I was shocked, but very exciting!

Earlier this week, I spent time looking into more sustainable products to help us progress with our journey towards a more plastic- free and less waste, green living, lifestyle. I am hoping to collaborate with some brands soon to write an essentials guide – so more on that soon hopefully!

Today Squiggle enjoyed splashing around in the lake at Ruislip Lido

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(Please note: swimming not allowed!)

And that brings me up to date with our wild adventures!

What adventures have you been up to recently? Tell me in comments or leave your posts in my linky! 

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.

camping, caravanning, Halfords, travel, holidays, places to visit, outdoors, beach, blue mind, childhood unplugged, get outside, Dorset
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.

camping, caravanning, Halfords, travel, places to visit, outdoors, beach, blue mind, childhood unplugged, get outside, memories, parenting, holidays
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.