Family Adventure Ideas for the Bold Parent

Having kids comes with its fair share of chaos at times! And going on a family holiday, or travelling with kids in tow, is certainly no exception. But there are a lot of things that can play a role in helping you make things more pleasant for the whole family, and the first thing to remember is that you need to consider their needs and pick the perfect vacation choices for them.

It is important that your kids enjoy themselves as much as possible, and that they have a fun and enriching time, which still having plenty of opportunities for everyone to relax too. There are a few things you can do that will help you to take your holidays to the next level, so make sure you think about the best family travel ideas you possibly can. These are a few of the best and most impressive family adventure ideas for the bolder parents out there…

Family Adventure Ideas for the Bold Parent

Check Out London

There are so many excellent places in the world that you need to visit, but London is definitely one of the best. There are so many amazing things to experience and enjoy in the UK capital, and a day out in London with the kids can be one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable family adventures you are likely to have. There are so many things you have to bear in mind if you want to get this right, and you will need to plan your day well. The London Eye is often considered a must- do attraction for families. It is fun for all ages to see the sights of London in this unique way! You can also choose from museums, galleries, parks, tours, restaurants and other exciting attractions to create the perfect adventure for your family based on everyone’s particular interests; with so much to choose from, you will certainly find plenty to suit your specific family! The great news is that there are also a lot of family-friendly things you can do in London that are free of charge these days too, so it doesn’t have to work out expensive.

Tower of London, London Bridge, Thames, London attraction

Go Somewhere Exotic

If the big cities don’t take your fancy, it might be a good idea to check out somewhere a little more exotic. This is the perfect chance for you and your family to jet off across the world if your budget allows and absorb a new culture for a while. Check out G Adventures Costa Rica travel experiences to help you understand how exotic trips that you can take as a family make an enriching experience all round. There is nothing like learning about geography and cultures by being immersed in it first hand, so it is an excellent experience for children and adults alike.

Scenic photo of mountain in background, green fields and forests

The Beach is Your Friend

As a family, you have to think about what you can do that is going to provide hours of enjoyment without clearing out the bank account. One of the best options these days would be to head for the beach. This is something that allows the whole family to enjoy a day of sand, sea, and hopefully sun! It is brilliant for the entire family’s wellbeing to spend time enjoying the fresh air, sea breeze and therapeutic effects of the water. Plus you’re really only going to have to pay for parking (and possibly food). The beach is the ideal family adventure, so is definitely one to consider when making travel plans.

Gorgeous blue sea and sky, tropical island

It is so important to make the right choices when you are trying to do what is best for your kids. There are a lot of travel experiences that can enrich their lives and at the same time, help the entire family get the most from their vacation. This is why you need to think hard about the different family adventures, as careful choices can really make things ideal for the children and boost the experiences of the whole family.

*This is a collaborative post.

Beginners Guide To Mountain Biking with Halfords

When it comes to mountain biking, are you more likely to go shredding, or end up OTB? (Hint: if you don’t know what these terms are, check out the guide below!) If you are a novice, or are yet to try it out but are keen to have a go, then this is the post for you!

Mountain biking is an excellent way to get outside and enjoy spending time outdoors. It is an excellent way to keep fit; fantastic for health and wellbeing. Not only that, with so many tracks to choose from throughout the UK, it can also inspire and motivate people to see more of the country too. Plus it is a lovely clean, eco- friendly hobby (or is it a sport?!) as well. So basically, it is pretty much perfect!

Whilst I am somewhat of a beginner myself, I do have some excellent expert tips to get you started, thanks to this very handy Halfords Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking, and also with the help of some very experienced fellow bloggers too…

Beginners Guide to Mountain Biking

Choose The Correct Bike

There are several factors to consider when choosing a mountain bike; style of frame, wheel size, type of tyre and what type of mountain bike itself. The Beginner’s guide talks you through these considerations, so check that out for further details. Halfords stock a great range of mountain bikes, so you’re bound to find the ideal one for you!

With regard to the type of bike; there is front suspension, full suspension and electric. I have noticed that electric mountain bikes can sometimes get negative press, as they are seen as ‘cheating’ or somehow missing the point. However, there are also benefits to them, as this article explains. I particularly wanted to give them a quick mention though, because I believe they might potentially make mountain biking more accessible for some SEND people, so that is certainly worth noting.

Get the Gear

Any experienced mountain biker will tell you, having the right equipment is absolute key! Safety gear – helmet, elbow and knee pads, and gloves – are essential. Welsh Mum also suggests mudguards so your legs don’t get covered, waterproof gear, a comfortable backpack, and the right shoes and socks all make a big difference. Check out the gear list in the Halfords guide.

Chronicles of Theo mountain biking

Image: Chronicles of Theo mountain biking.

Bike Trails

There are trails all over the UK and they are helpfully colour coded to a standard grading system, so you can pick the right level of difficulty. Green is the beginners route, if you are just starting out. You can find out more about locations in the Halfords guide. (Told you, it’s super useful!)

Expert Advice

Miss LJ Beauty spends a huge part of her life mountain biking, and has been lucky enough to travel the world. Here is her advice:

Why not join a local mountain biking group? To find like minded people of all ability’s The key to learning is have fun! Mountain biking is progressive sport there are always new things to learn. No matter what level you are. Also don’t be afraid to ask someone on a trail! We are a friendly bunch And are more than happy to help!

Get on your bike and come shredding!

Miss LJ Beauty Fort William down hill

Image: Miss LJ Beauty on Fort William down hill.

Have you been mountain biking? Why do you love it? Where is your favourite trail? Tell me in comments!

*Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with Halfords.

Forest Holidays: Our Winter Retreat to Forest of Dean

Back in January we decided to book a last second escape to the Forest of Dean for a winter retreat at Forest Holidays. This was our first time visiting but it came recommended from friends who have stayed at a different location on one of their other sites. Squiggle’s anxiety was high, so we figured some extra time relaxing outdoors might be just what we all needed. It didn’t work miracles in that regard (but then again, I am pretty sure they don’t claim to either though!) but it was still a lovely holiday! Here is our review…

Title written on image of Forest Holidays cabin.

The Cabin

There are three main styles of cabin; golden oak, silver birch and copper beech. The main differences between them are that silver birch has a hot tub, and golden oak has both a log burner and a hot tub. We intentionally wanted to avoid having a log burner for personal reasons, and silver birch was fully booked, so that made it pretty easy to choose!

Despite copper beech being their cheapest (and most basic) option, we were absolutely amazed by the size of the cabin! The whole place had a wonderful air of luxury about it, whilst also feeling very homely. I loved how beautifully in keeping the decor is; very natural. I was very impressed! And everything is eco- friendly wherever possible too, which we were really glad to see.

Eco friendy kitchen kit

I was quite worried that it might be chilly in winter but the underfloor heating took care of that! If anything, it was actually abit too warm when we arrived but the thermastat was easy to use and had separate settings for each room too, so that was soon remedied. I don’t know how hot the cabins might get in a heatwave with all that glass though! But given that they seem very well designed overall, I am assuming there are measures in place to maintain optimum temperatures. We were certainly able to do that during our winter stay anyway, despite having both sunny days and snow in the time we were there! They are really cosy and it is easy to feel right at home there.

Here is my video tour of the cabin…

The Setting

The cabin we had was in the meadow so it was very open, whereas some of them are tucked away amongst the trees. Honestly, in my opinion, regardless of where your cabin is situated, you can’t go wrong.

Our view from the cabin. A meadow with cabins spread out.

The site is in a beautiful location, in the Forest of Dean, with stunning scenic walks all around. Regardless of the time of year we visited, even in Winter, we couldn’t fail to be in awe of the forest setting. Here are just a few of my pictures taken, the first onsite and the others literally a few moments walk off the main site…

Stunning forest setting of the Forest Holidays site.

Beautiful views at the Forest of Dean

Winter scenes at Forest of Dean

Forest of Dean

By the way, the sheer drop on the above photos is less breathtaking and more heartstopping when your autistic child suddenly bolts!!!! Especially if you happen to suffer from vertigo as well, like I do! So I recommend if you explore this area with a young child, or one with SEND, that you not only have nerves of steel, but a very tight grip of their hand!

We don’t have a dog personally, but the site is very dog- friendly and it would be the ideal holiday to take a dog if you are an owner. This is probably also worth noting though if you are nervous around dogs though I guess! Squiggle loved seeing all the dogs about going for walks, she was delighted!

Facilities

Forest Retreat

The Forest Retreat is the main hub where you check in and book activities, and is home to the shop and restaurant. It also has pottery activities for children.

The shop sells a lovely range of gifts, books and activities that are carefully chosen to be perfectly on theme for the nature of the holiday. It also sells a wonderful selection of food and drink; including an extensive range of cider, wine and beer, fresh produce and a range of Cook meals for easy self- catering dining options.

Forest Retreat photo strip showing selection in store.

Food

The menu has plenty to choose from, to either eat in the restaurant or take away. The food was consistently good and service was prompt.

Bike Hire

Bike hire is available onsite from £28 per break per adult or from £25 per child. It is recommended you book these in advance. We didn’t hire bikes on this occasion but Squiggle did ask about it (towards the end of the holiday!) so we would definitely consider it next time.

Cycle Hire building from the outside.

Play Area

The play area was sectioned off during our visit as they were carrying out work on it. It looked more suitable for younger children, but Squiggle would have had a quick go if it were available no doubt!

Bug Hotel

Granted not really one of the facilities per se (at least not for humans!) but I wanted to mention the bug hotel anyway. We have seen these in many places but this one is particularly well made!

Large bug hotel with information sign. Squiggle is stood next to it.

Activities

There are a range of forest ranger led activities available for various ages. Some are shorter at 90 minutes in duration, whilst one survival course is half a day. As well as daytime activities, there is also a night-time ranger adventure so you can spy on the nocturnal forest inhabitants after dark! Dogs are allowed on some of the activities but not all courses, and some have a minimum age for children, so do check details before booking. There are also a selection of activities off- site that can be booked through Forest Holidays as well.

Squiggle on the winter trail.

Squiggle wasn’t up for any of these due to her anxiety, so we opted to do their self- guided seasonal trail instead. This cost £6.95 and she got a prize at the end for completing it. This was a really engaging activity. She started off reluctant to join in but as soon as we got to the first few stops and solved the clues she was hooked! We really enjoyed it and it was definitely one of the highlights of our holiday.

Seasonal trail clue

Local Places To Visit

There are numerous walks nearby surrounded by beauty and tranquility. Aside from that, there are several local places to visit that might be of interest. Forest Holidays have some suggestions of what’s nearby. I would really love to visit Clearwell Caves and also Puzzlewood sometime in future.

We did go to Beechenhurst, mainly to go on the sculpture trail. However, Squiggle was very near tired and nearing meltdown, so we didn’t actually find any sculptures and ended up just having a quick wander instead. I would love to return when it is better timing for her though; it looked like a lovely place to spend a day and I really want to see the sculptures – from the photos they look brilliant!

One thing I will remember from our trip though was that, as we drove up into the carpark, something moving in the forest caught my eye. As I turned to look I thought at first it was dozens of rabbits scurrying into the bushes. But then I realised, whatever they were, they weren’t hopping – they were running. It was a huge group of baby wild boar!

Now I know they are very common to the area and especially at that time of year, but I had never actually seen any before. I was so excited! They were gone in a flash; no time to grab a camera or even point them out to Squiggle, but that was a personal highlight that I will always remember.

We also visited Symonds Yat briefly, on the bank of River Wye. I took a few photos, but I could have taken many more of these stunning scenic views…

River Wye

Stunning scenic view of river Wye

Symonds Yat

In Summary

We really enjoyed our stay at Forest Holidays and loved exploring Forest of Dean. We are very keen to return here sometime in the future, and also would like to try other Forest Holidays locations too. We would definitely recommend it – at any time of year!

Last but not least…

Here is a video clip I put together summarising the highlights of our holiday:

*Disclosure: I was given a discount when booking this holiday in exchange for a review post. However, as always, I have expressed my honest opinion and all thoughts are my own.

A Day Out in London With Kids: Guest Post by Emma – Wanderlust & Wet Wipes

I love London. I loved living there when I lived there (even though I was always ready to leave for our next adventure). Now that we live away, I especially love going back there to visit. It really is a city with something for everyone with millions of outdoor and indoor options for every eventuality.

There are museums and parks, soft plays and cafes, buzzing restaurants and historic sights, shopping galore and sniff new buildings…. Not to mention the ever popular riding public transport (true story – we actually did this one afternoon)! You could spend a couple of crazy busy weeks there and still not do everything! If you’ve only got the one day, here’s what I would do for a day out in London with kids…

A Day Out in London With Kids - a guest post by Wanderlust and Wet Wipes title with faded image of London background

Early morning
We’re usually pretty jet lagged when we arrive so the kids wake up crazy early. A cup of tea on the sofa while they watch CBeebies makes me feel right at home! Since we stay in Putney, I usually try to go for a walk or a run along the river. The views are stunning across the water and you can usually watch rowers skimming along as you run.

Breakfast
Back home and we are ready to go pretty early having been up with the birds. Living the Middle East, we always go for big breakfasts with lots of pork products! My current favourite places are Muriel’s Kitchen and Carluccio’s.

Morning
There’s so much to do in London with kids, it’s ridiculous. I’m a huge fan of the museums partly because they are free but mostly because they are such amazing resources for parents. Our favourites are the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum which are conveniently right next to each other and down the road from Muriel’s Kitchen! I really want to try out the Transport Museum next time we are home as I think the kids will be the right ages for it by now.

Lunch
If the weather is nice, I say you can’t beat a pub lunch in a place with a really nice beer garden. Sitting in the sun with a proper pub grub type of meal is one of my ideas of heaven!

Afternoon
In the afternoon heading to the Tower of London is always a winner. You can download their app and complete a digital mission or you can do one of their activity trails. Alternatively head over to the London Eye for spectacular views of the capital. If the weather is nice and you want to make the most of being outside, take advantage of one of the many hundreds of parks (1700 apparently!) and let the kids run off some energy.

Dinner
There are literally so many options if you’re just coming off the Eye. The South Bank is packed with family friendly restaurants like Wagamama, Giraffe and Ping Pong. My kids can be quite fussy eaters so it’s great to have a place where I know there’s somewhere that we can all eat something!

Head home via public transport (to keep the kids happy) for a well earned, good night’s sleep.

Aerial image of London river Thames

About Emma
Emma’s a pushing 40, travel-mad mum to 2 young kids (aged 6 and 4) and a crazy dog. Originally from the UK she’s lived in 10 cities across 5 continents all over the world. She currently lives in Doha, Qatar. Emma started blogging about her family travels in 2017 when she had an epiphany about how to have successful adventurous family holidays.

You can follow Emma at:

Blog: wanderlustandwetwipes.com
Twitter: @wanderwetwipes
Facebook: facebook.com/wanderlustandwetwipes
Instagram: instagram.com/wanderlustandwetwipes
Pinterest: pinterest.co.uk/wanderlustandwetwipes

Days Out in Newcastle Upon Tyne

Are you planning a trip to Newcastle? If it is your first time visiting (or even if it’s not!) here are my ideas for a fun packed, family- friendly day out in Newcastle…

Days Out in Newcastle title with image of Tyne below

(Please note I have not yet been to all of these places myself, some are still on my travel bucket list for next time we visit Newcastle!)

Life Science Centre

This science museum is situated in Times Square right next to the train stations and is also close to a large carpark, so it makes a good starting or finishing point for your day if you are based outside of town (Toon!) It looks like an absolute must if you have kids; it is full of hands-on activities. Be warned though, I hear it gets busy!

Quayside Walk/ Open Top Bus Tour of Gateshead Quays

From the Life Science Centre, take a walk along the Quayside to enjoy the scenic views. Once you arrive at Guildhall and Merchants Court, jump on an open top bus to cross the Swing Bridge then continue your sightseeing along Gateshead Quays.

Quayside walk with views across the Tyne river.

Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art

Jump off the bus tour at Baltic Art Centre to take in the sights of River Tyne from new heights via their viewing platform. You can also grab a bite to eat for lunch while you are here. If you have time, check out their current exhibits too of course!

Open Top Bus Tour (Continued)

After lunch, hop back onto the open top bus tour to travel past the impressive Sage building and across the famous Tyne Bridge. I am not a fan of heights myself, but despite that I still recommend it! End the tour at Market Street.

Sage Gateshead

Sightseeing or Shopping?

Depending on how late in the day it is, you could fit in a quick visit to Laing Art Gallery. It also has a recently refurbished play space for younger children, so good if you have little ones. You could also see Greys Monument or check out Blue Carpet Square. Another option would be to take in a theatre show at Theatre Royal.

If shopping is more your thing, there are plenty of shops around to choose from and a large shopping centre or three. Whilst the huge intu Metrocentre is further away, you could grab a bus or cab there. Or just head to nearby Eldon Square intu instead. If you prefer boutiques and specialist shops, then definitely pop to Eldon Garden Shopping Centre. Alternatively, visit Grainger Market for something abit different.

Eating Out

After all that, finish off the day enjoying a delicious dinner at one of Newcastle’s many restaurants. There are loads to choose from! If you are looking for discounts on food, as well as activities and attractions, then check out Groupon to see what deals they currently have on things to do in Newcastle. Enjoy!

A photo of Newcastle at night. Colourful lights illuminate the river Tyne

Have you been to Newcastle? Where would you recommend? Tell me in comments!

*Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

Beautiful Accessible Reservoir Walks in Yorkshire – #RediscoverReservoirs

Yorkshire is a beautiful county filled with many stunning scenic sights and lovely walks. As the second largest landowner in Yorkshire, Yorkshire Water is currently striving to
enhance access across it’s reservoirs. These are some of the most gorgeous walking spots in the entire UK, and their aim is to ensure more wheelchair and mobility aid users are able to enjoy them too. They are therefore developing routes that are accessible to those with mobility needs by improving the paths around reservoirs, by making them flatter and addressing surfacing issues, allowing all visitors to fully experience these amazing, tranquil countryside spots.

Swinsty Reservoir.Image credit: Busy Mum Lifestyle

These routes may be of particular interest to disability rambler groups, inclusive outdoor groups who wish to ensure all members can participate, and those individuals and families with mobility needs who enjoy seeking out the countryside. Here is a map of the accessible reservoir routes for reference…

A map of accessible reservoir routes

This project is close to my heart because, although the nature of Squiggle’s disabilities are largely invisible, she does also have some mobility issues. But mainly it is important to me personally because, as an SEND parent, I am very aware of the various barriers that can prevent even a simple activity from being accessible. Whether it is because it is physically inaccessible for a wheelchair user, or for one of the many other less obvious reasons, it can be difficult for those with SEND to participate in things that others may well take for granted. Inclusion matters.

I also think the benefits of being able to access these routes should not underestimated. After all, there is far more to being outdoors than just getting some fresh air and exercise. It is just as essential to our mental health to be able to enjoy spending time outside in pretty, natural surroundings. And water in particular is very therapeutic. As Dr Nichols, who coined the term Blue Mind explains, there is science behind how being near water helps people to be “happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do”. I firmly agree that being around water, such as these lovely reservoir walks, is very relaxing and supports our health and wellbeing in far more ways than we might realise. So of course it is crucial that everyone can benefit from this!

Map of Swinsty Reservoir route and facilities

One example of these accessible reservoirs is Swinsty. It offers stunning views and has picnic areas, a disabled carpark and facilities. It is a fabulous way to spend the day, as Rosemary at Busy Mum Lifestyle agrees: “I stayed just outside Harrogate on a girls’ weekend last year. We spent one day walking around Swinsty Resevoir and it was absolutely beautiful. It was a gorgeous May Day and the bluebells had just come up.”

A photo of the bluebells in the woodland at Swinsty reservoir

Swinsty Reservoir (above and below)

Image credits: Busy Mum Lifestyle

A photo of the reservoir - Swinsty

I think it is fantastic that Yorkshire Water are ensuring that these lovely surroundings are accessible to all. A wonderful, relaxing day out that can be enjoyed by everyone!

Have you visited any of these Yorkshire reservoirs? Join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #RediscoverReservoirs and/ or let me know in comments!

*Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with Yorkshire Water.

Holidaying at home whilst pregnant: 5 of the best British destinations

Pregnancy can be tough on expected mothers, and their families. Increasingly, people try to get away for a holiday while pregnant; it’s a chance to enjoy some time together and, more than anything, relax. I remember when I was about 7 or 8 months pregnant with Squiggle, we took a short holiday together as a couple. I loved having a fantastic time relaxing by the beach and eating dinner at the harbour on the British south coast.

However, you won’t want to travel too far. Staying in the UK has loads of benefits. There’s no language barrier, travelling times should be reduced and you’ll be familiar with the food. Plus, there are some great destinations you might not have considered for a holiday before. It’s no surprise Britain is increasingly fond of staycations!

Holidaying at home whilst pregnant: 5 of the best British destinations caption with a photo of Katie from Living Life Our Way holding her large bump next to a UK harbour.

The fantastic destinations you should try include…

The Peak District

If the countryside is your true home, head to the Peak District. The great outdoors doesn’t get much better. Whether you’re happier exploring the quaint villages, enjoying some time in a cosy country pub, or exploring the peace and quiet with your muddy boots on, the Peak District is the perfect place to escape while pregnant.

St Ives

Fancy being a big kid again and making sandcastles on the beach? St Ives is a grown-up coastal destination, which has a beautiful and charming town next to the beach. Enjoy bracing walks and local food, or visit the numerous galleries and exhibitions in the town.

Plus, taking a trip to the seaside has great health benefits according to this pregnancy guide, including:

• Heightened relaxation
• Better sleep
• Healthier skin

Whitstable

Another coastal town, just on the other side of the country, Whitstable is a fishing and harbour town in Kent. It’s only about an hour by train from London, yet still feels peaceful and relaxing.

Enjoy fish and chips on the pebble beach, walking past the candy coloured beach huts. The tranquillity – conveniently located – is just what you need later in pregnancy.

Edinburgh

If you fancy a city break while you’re pregnant, Edinburgh is a fantastic choice. Whether you time your visit with the world-famous Fringe Festival or would rather a quieter time in the city, Edinburgh offers a huge range of things to do.

You can explore the fascinating architecture, visit Michelin-starred restaurants, climb Arthur’s Seat, or enjoy a concert at the castle. Edinburgh is an exciting city, with a lot of stuff going it – it’s one to plan well, to make the most of your trip. Just remember to schedule in a few breaks!

Bath

Another fantastic UK city, Bath will blow you away. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with huge cultural significance and beauty wherever you look. It’s also quite compact, so you can get around most of the main attractions on foot in a day – perfect for pregnancy.

Without a doubt, you’ll want to visit the original Roman Baths. You might not be able to take a dip in there, but the Thermae Day Spa’s rooftop pool comes highly recommended.

Have you been on holiday in the UK while pregnant? Share your experiences and recommendations with us.

*This is a collaborative post.

Costa Rica: A Nature Lover’s Paradise

Have you ever considered visiting Costa Rica? This Central American eco country is famous for its rainforests and biodiversity, so is an absolute dream for nature lovers. It has been described as “the most biologically intense place on Earth” by National Geographic because it crams 2.5% of the planet’s biodiversity into just 0.001% of its surface area. And with roughly a quarter of the country made up of protected national parks and areas, which are home to over 840 species of birds, around 2000 plants and hundreds of mammals too, it is an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Costa Rica even aims to be the first country to eliminate all single- use plastics; it takes environmental issues very seriously!

It is also a great place to travel generally. As explained in this article by The Telegraph, it is a cool country to visit for loads of very good reasons. For example, in 2016, it was named the happiest place in the world by the Happy Planet Index; that is pretty awesome to say the least! Who wouldn’t want to visit?!

Title Costa Rica: Nature Lovers Paradise on faded background image of Costa Rica coastline.

Where To Stay

Enjoy a spot of luxury in one of these beautiful Costa Rica rentals. Or you could spend time travelling around different parts to fully appreciate the diversity of this fabulous country. Honest advice suggests that perhaps the capital, San Jose, is not the best place to stay and it is probably a good idea to plan as little time there as possible. However, the rest of Costa Rica sounds absolutely amazing and there are lots of fantastic location choices.

The west (Pacific side) tends to be hotter and is the more touristy side, especially with American visitors, so this might be considered easier with kids. Manuel Antonio National Park, for example, is situated right in the centre of the west coast, and is a great place for seeing an abundance of wildlife.

Costa Rica National Parks map

Source: Go Visit Costa Rica

Places To Visit

As I have said, Costa Rica is all about the stunning scenery along with an incredibly vast range of plants and wildlife. These can best be found at the numerous national parks and nature reserves, and each one has its own unique qualities. I have already mentioned a couple of places briefly, but here is some further information about a selection of the must-see, must-do nature spots…

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Puntarenas Province

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve sounds like a truly spectacular place where you can not only see an amazing array of wildlife, but you can also walk across a hanging bridge to view the forest canopy from magnificent heights. You can even zip wire over the forest!

Monteverde Cloud Forest hanging bridge above the forest canopy.

Monteverde, Costa Rica by Haakon S. Krohn (Source: Wikimedia)

There are other cool things to do at Monteverde as well; such as eat in a quirky treehouse restaurant, exciting horse riding treks or visit Don Juan’s Coffee Farm. Costa Rica Experts detail this tour on their website: “This tour gives you a closer look of the production of Don Juan’s coffee. After learning the drying and roasting process of the beans, explore other food staples of Costa Rica. Embark on a culinary journey. Discover the history of cocoa pods and make your own chocolate using traditional Costa Rican recipes. Yes, you will get to try your creations! This sweet experience continues to the “El Trapiche” (a mill made of wooden rollers), which is used as a tool to extract sugarcane juice and make tasty sweets and much more. This visit wouldn’t be complete without the chance to buy an authentic cup of Costa Rican coffee at the souvenir shop.”

Tortuguero National Park

This is home to nesting sea turtles, and respect for their needs is to be priority if visiting this park. For this reason, the area is out of bounds after 6pm unless you are with an official tour guide. During these night tours, you will see most likely see adult turtles coming onto the beach to lay their eggs. However, if you are lucky, you might even spot a newly hatched turtle heading toward the water!

As well as turtles, there are plenty of birds, fish, monkeys and other wildlife to see at this National Park. A good way to do this is by taking a boat ride along the canal. Or you can hire a canoe and paddle down.

La Fortuna, Alajuela

This is perhaps one of the best known tourist spots, because it is situated at the centre of several wonders. Top of that is Arenal Volcano, an active volcano that regularly erupts. There are also hot springs to bathe in, heated naturally by the thermal activity from Arenal. Then there is the most stunning waterfall too. Plus there are day and night tours at nearby Ecocentro Danaus, a private ecology reserve, for wildlife watching. With such breath-taking scenery and experiences, it is hardly surprising that it is a popular choice. For this reason though, I am told it can get very busy! Check out quieter times to visit if you prefer to avoid the crowds.

La Fortuna waterfall, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park has a wealth of wildlife to discover. You can explore independently or get a tour guide. As A Strong Coffee To Go explains, even just sitting on the beach you will see animals such as sloths, monkeys and iguanas without going to any effort. But if you are keen to spot more hidden creatures, as well as gain greater insight and knowledge, then you might find a tour guide beneficial. They carry telescopes and know where and what to look for, which gives a somewhat huge advantage over an inexperienced traveller with their naked eye. Of course, you don’t need a telescope, or an expert, simply to bask in the beautiful surroundings though!

One of the beautiful birds that can be spotted in Costa Rica rainforests.

Obviously these are just a small handful of the wonderful places to visit in Costa Rica. But wherever you choose, and whether you cram in as much as you can or take things at a more leisurely pace, it is bound to be an unforgettable experience! It truly does sound like a nature lover’s paradise.

*Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

Top Family Vacation Destinations 2018

Are you looking for inspiration for your next family holiday? Or maybe you feel swamped by the many choices available and are struggling to narrow it down? When travelling with kids especially, picking the right destination really makes all the difference. So I asked some travel experts and fellow bloggers for their top travel destination picks, and tips, for this coming year. Here are some great ideas for your 2018 family vacation…

Top Family Vacation Destinations 2018 image of beautiful clear blue water, blue skies, mountains in background and green evergreens bordering the edge of the photo.

Top Tips For Choosing Your Destination

The one thing that came up again and again is to choose a location that matches your family interests and consider carefully what there is to actually do locally. Family holidays often flow better and are more relaxing when there is a balance of activities available, as well as plenty of room for downtime.

Whilst children don’t generally need entertaining all day, and I am a firm believer that so much can be gained from even very simple (and often free) experiences, it is helpful to put some thought into what options there will be and how you can spend your time there. So focus on researching the sightseeing opportunities and other activities available when choosing your destination, and consider how they match up to your own family’s interests.

Along similar lines, alot of families pick a destination with a wealth of different culture to explore. There is no better way to teach children more about the world than to immerse them in it! For example, A Strong Coffee To Go is heading to Thailand with her boys this year to show them something different to usual.

My Parenting Journey suggests exploring a place you particularly love at different times of year. For example, they have already spent Christmas in the Philippines and discovered their wonderful Christmas traditions. Now they want to explore nature in the summer time and spend time on their beautiful white beaches. Money Saving Journeys had a similar idea too. Having visited Venice at different times of year previously, they are looking forward to going back in summer this time.

Even if you opt for a general beach holiday, think about what you can do when you aren’t lazing around on the beach, such as some gentle sightseeing. Or if you prefer something more active, participate in some watersports. While you are enjoying the therapeutic affects of being outdoors by the ocean, you could even consider doing a quick 2 minute beach clean to help protect it for our future generations too!

Please Leave Nothing But Your Footprints sign by beach

Where To Stay

With sites in France, Spain, Holland and Italy, as well as 6 other European countries, Eurocamp is extremely popular for families. These tend to have great facilities and camping holidays generally are often perfect for children, as they offer plenty of time and space outdoors. And they are a relatively economical choice for families.

Centre Parcs also have several European sites, which also come highly recommended too. Household Money Saving points out that they are far cheaper than their UK sites and also suggests that kids might love travelling by tunnel as a great alternative to flying.

Popular Destinations

Spain is a top choice for families. This is unsurprising given there are cheap, short flights from a range of airports, a range of family-friendly accomodation options, and a huge variety of lovely locations to choose from. Whether you opt for the castles and history of Granada, or somewhere more obvious such as Malaga, Alicante or Barcelona, you are sure to find somewhere ideal for your family. Neighbouring Portugal is also a good alternative, loved by many families. Or The Spanish Islands, in particular Balearic Islands and Canary Islands, are also just as popular.

Greece and the Greek Islands are another preferred option for families. Filled with history and culture, beautiful scenic views and friendly tavernas, it is understandable why these are a strong contender for alot of families.

Other European countries are also a firm favourite with families for similar reasons. One example is Amsterdam, as suggested by Autism Kids On Tour, who has this on the list as one of their 2018 travel destinations. I have written about some of the fab things to do in Amsterdam before.

Last but not least, Copenhagen got a very enthusiastic mention from several families too. Yet another great place for families!

Beautiful Mediterrean buildings by a clear blue sea.

Staycations

When it comes to Staycations, Centre Parcs is a clear favourite for a number of families. Holiday homes are also very popular, either on independent sites or at well-known holiday parks, such as Haven. Of course UK camping (or glamping if that is more your thing!) is also a winner too!

Lamb and Bear also recommends Bluestone Wales. They reviewed it a couple of years ago and can’t wait to go back! She said it’s perfect for families and gives lots of options to keep the kids entertained.

For something abit different, Monkey and Mouse suggest booking a cottage up in Isle of Mull. This beautiful Scottish Island is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. It has stunning scenary in a tranquil setting with a range of attractions. A lovely choice to enjoy some peace and an abundance of outdoor beauty, as are the other islands surrounding it.

A row of colourful beach huts.

Packing Essentials

For the journey, especially if it is a long one, a little busy bag full of interesting items, games and activities that are compact and easy to do in a confined space is really useful. Wrapping them up to make it more exciting can be a handy tip too!

Whilst on the beach you might be mainly in swimwear, it is handy to have something lightweight and simple to throw on just to get there and back, or incase you go for a wander in between soaking up some vitamin D. A stylish kaftan is perfect for this and can help shield your skin from too much sun too. For kids, I recommend investing in SFP swimwear and hats. This helps protect them, especially when they are in out and out of the water.

Remember to take a favourite toy or two, especially if your child/ren would benefit from the familiarity. And anything else needed for routines, bedtime and so on. If any of your children are quite picky about food and you are travelling abroad, taking a small selection of their usual snacks if possible might also be useful.

Last but not least, don’t forget your usual toiletries etc… too of course. And meds if any of the family needs it. Sometimes the obvious things get missed in the excitement!

A picture of a stunning empty beach with clear water and blue skies.

Thanks to the following bloggers for contributing to this post:

The Money Whisperer, Captain Bob Cat, Life With Boys, Me Him The Dog And A Baby, Katy Kicker, Lylia Rose, Mummys Diary, Mummys Knee, Our Fairytale Adventure, Sinead Latham, Five Adventurers, Back With A Bump, Five Little Doves, From Rachael Claire, Battle Mum, Trips With A Tot, Yorkshire Wonders, LesBeMums, Reo Life.

*Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

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?