How To Prepare For A Holiday

If you haven’t already been on holiday yet this summer, you may well be preparing for a last minute or end of summer escape now, or possibly even an out of season trip instead. Or perhaps you are mega organised and are already starting to think ahead to next year and booking up early for then. Whether you are planning a short road trip staycation or long haul flight to exotic location, or somewhere in between, these tips will help ensure your holiday preparations go smoothly…

How To Prepare For A Holiday. Suitcases in background

Research the Location

Start with researching your location. Obviously you will have likely done this already, prior to booking your holiday, but once the main plans are in place it is useful to research specifics too.

Whilst an itinery might be a step too far for many holidays – although if you are doing a road trip or action packed holiday it might be necessary, or at least certainly useful – having a rough idea of how you may spend your time will help you make the most of your holiday.

Also, researching and finding recommendations for the best restaurants, beaches, and so on will help your holiday to be the best it can be. But don’t forget to also explore while you are there too – you may find your very own secret fave spot!

A beautiful holiday location. Greek style buildings near beach. Ariel photo.

Travel Documents

Make sure your passports are in date. Some countries require them to have at least x number of months left before expiry too, so be careful not to get caught out.

Also check any visa requirements. Make sure you apply for these in plenty of time, incase of any delays.

Insurance

It is important to make sure you have adequate travel insurance, especially if you are travelling abroad. Nobody wants to think about things going wrong, but it is important to make sure you are covered if they do. You can get a Bupa Global – Travel Insurance Quote here for example.

Immunisations

Check your immunisations are up to date and whether there are any additional ones you need for the country you are visiting. Make sure you book them in far enough in advance so you are fit for travel.

If you take prescription medication, make sure you have enough for the duration of your trip. Also bare in mind you might need a Doctor’s note to carry them on the plane too, if you are flying.

Booking Attractions

It is often handy to book tickets for popular tourist attractions in advance. This not only avoids lengthy queues, but can save alot of money too.

Practical Preparations

Call your bank or credit card company in advance to let them know where you will be and for how long, so that your card doesn’t get blocked for suspicious activity. This has happened to us before several times and it is so frustrating!

Change up your foreign currency. Be sure to shop around for the best exchange rate. Remember to be just as careful as if you were carrying cash at home, and don’t have more than you will need on you.

Packing

Most people pack way more than they actually need! Whilst it is good to be prepared, and essentials are a must, it is also much easier to pack light rather than lugging tonnes of cases around. And you don’t want to have to pay for excess luggage either, if your holiday involves a flight – or to find it doesn’t all fit in the car either!

I recommend making a checklist of what to pack, as it can be easy to forget the most obvious – and important – things in the rush and excitement of packing. I suggest you then take that list with you, to help remember to take everything with you when it’s time to head back home.

A row of suitcases and backpacks. Luggage.

My essentials list includes:

• Travel documents – passports, visas, insurance, tickets

• Medications and first aid kit

• Toiletries and cosmetics – I try to keep this minimal and as eco friendly as possible!

• Suncream

• Clothes – capsule wardrobe, underwear, swimwear etc…

• Camera

• Reading material – books and/ or kindle

• Kids essentials – favourite toys, games etc…

• Phone chargers

• Check whether you need to take any of your own bed linen or towels. A beach towel is usually a must even if the accomodation supplies others.

A pile of books, sunglasses on top, on table next to beach

Pets

If you have pets that you are not taking with you, then arrangements need to be made for them. Some people opt for pet boarding. If you prefer your pet to be kept in their familiar surroundings, you could hire a professional pet sitter. Or ask a neighbour or friend to help out.

Last Minute Preparations

Make sure you have booked a cab to take you to the airport, or arranged a lift. If you are driving yourself there, it is often best to organise parking in advance.

Ensure you have considered home security before you go away. If you have someone staying with pets, or just house sitting, this is is ideal. Otherwise ask your neighbours to pop in daily and keep a close on the place while you are gone. Make sure alarms and security cameras are on and working correctly before you leave.

Last but not least…

Relax and enjoy your holiday!

Back of person in large sun hat relaxing in pool

Do you have any tips for preparing for a holiday? Let me know in comments!

*Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

How To Keep Kids Happy On Long Car Journeys

It is the summer holidays and England is enjoying a lengthy heatwave, which most likely means fun days out and sunny staycations. However, it also potentially means braving long road trips with the kids too! If you are wondering how to survive the car journey and all stay sane, here are some of my top tips…

How To Keep Kids Happy On Long Car Journeys

Be Prepared

This motto is not just for scouts! Time your journey for evening, if your children sleep well in the car and don’t mind the disruption to their bedtime routine, or opt to travel whenever they are most likely to be chilled in the car. A badly timed journey is so much more stressful than it needs to be!

Comfort

If you are going on an exceptionally long journey, it maybe worth considering the actual car you are using. Comfortable seats, space and even down to basics such as air con, are more than just a luxury if you are planning a long distance road trip!

Assuming it is not going to be practical to invest in a new car specifically for this purpose, you could consider hiring one. This could also be of benefit for safety, reliability and fuel costs. For example, The New BMW 5 Series was voted WhatCar? ‘Overall Car of the Year’ 2017 and reviews well on space and comfort, and has surprising low running costs too. You could even look at secondhand deals on something like this BMW 5 Series, if you travel long journeys by car often. You can find BMW 5 Series For Sale here.

Interior picture of BMW

Have Essentials On Hand

Have snacks, drinks, (reusable) wipes and other essentials easily available on hand. It is much easier to organise this in advance than it is to have to make additional stops just to find essential items, and is especially helpful if you get stuck in traffic and your plan for a scheduled lunch/ snack/ dinner stop goes awry. Of course the driver will still need to take a rest too, but some careful organisation will avoid the inevitable hunger upsets if you do find yourself stuck in long queues!

Queue of traffic in rear view car mirror

Entertainment

Car journeys tend to be somewhat more relaxing if the children are not bored! Taking a couple of favourite toys to play with is a good start. Books are good in theory, but reading can make travel sickness worse so audio books might be a better choice for the car. A tablet with a favourite film, kids TV programmes or fun apps might well keep them occupied for a decent chunk of the journey, so that may help with at least some of the travelling time, but it is handy to have alternatives too. Travel games and card games (Top Trumps etc…) add some variety to a long journey; there are plenty to choose from. You can also resort to classics like ‘eye spy’ if you get stuck!

Boy sitting on top of car, through sun roof.

Emergency Supplies

It is useful to have some emergency supplies ready, that you will hopefully not need, but just incase of the unfortunate scenario that you do. I wholeheartedly recommend having a sick bucket and tissues in the car, even if your child/ren doesn’t usually get car sick. A change of clothes is also useful. If your child has any medications, keep a dose in the car – in the event of a delay at least you don’t have to worry about stuff like that then. Also keep a blanket in the car for any eventuality.

Last but not least, don’t forget paracetamol incase the journey still ends up causing a headache, despite all your best laid plans – but fingers crossed you won’t need it if you follow this advice! Enjoy your roadtrip!!!

What are your top tips for long car journeys? Let me know in comments!

*Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.

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.

Top Tips For A Plastic-Free Picnic

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the launch day events for Plastic-Free St Albans is a Plastic-Free Picnic at Highfield Park. This is also an awesome way to celebrate Earth Day too. So whether you are planning a picnic for this reason, or having one on any other day, here are my top tips for a plastic-free picnic…

Top Tips For A Plastic-Free Picnic

Shopping

Firstly, choose items that are sold loose or in recyclable packaging. Avoid plastic packaging as much as you can! It is hard to do, which is why there are several campaigns focused on holding shops and supermarkets more accountable for this too. If you are feeling abit rebellious, you could unpackage everything after you pay, before you leave and give the rubbish back to them… maybe it will help them to take the hint!

Better yet, head on down to your local eco store, if you have one, with your refill jars and avoid the supermarkets with all their unnecessary packaging full stop!

(Oh, and wherever you shop, don’t forget to take your reusable bags, obviously….)

Plastic Free St Albans eco friendly reusable bag organic cotton sustainable bag

Packing Your Picnic

Transporting

Use an old style wicker basket to carry your picnic! Or choose from one of the many reusable bag options available. This one is easy; just don’t use a plastic bag! Moving on…

Containers

Tuppaware containers are ok as they aren’t single- use plastic. However, there are even better alternatives! Stainless steel containers are more environmentally- friendly and will most likely last you longer too.

Keeping it Fresh

Rather than cling film, use sandwich bags or reusable wax wraps. These keep food fresh very effectively and are much kinder to the environment.

Reusable sandwich bag

Plates, Bowls and Cutlery

Taking your own cutlery that you use at home is a good choice. You don’t actually need different cutlery just because you are eating outdoors! But if you do prefer to use something else, invest in a reusable bamboo cutlery set if possible.

For disposable cutlery options, as well as bowls and plates too, choose eco- friendly items such as from The Blue Speck. They are 100% biodegradable and sourced directly from plants.

Drinks

Take a flask along with a reusable cup for hot drinks. For cold drinks, take along a reusable drinks bottle. If you need a straw, invest in a reusable one made from metal or bamboo, or buy disposable alternatives to plastic, such as paper straws.

Reusable eco friendly cup

Other Useful Info

Low Tox Box also has a fab zero waste starter kit. It contains several reusable bags, spork, cup and straw for £30 plus P&P. They also plant a tree for every box sold and send a certificate too.

Enjoy your plastic- free picnic!

Click here for more zero waste tips

Random Acts of Kindness Day & Valentines Day: Spread Some Love!

Happy (belated) Valentines Day and happy Random Acts of Kindness Day everyone! Firstly, an apology. I had good intentions, I genuinely did. My ‘Spread Some Love’ theme for this year was meant to include a bunch of giveaways for you all; I contacted companies, started to arrange the details… then we were hit with a family bereavement and that sent Squiggle’s anxiety spiralling. With a mental health crisis on our hands, naturally everything else just got thrown to the wayside. So I hope that you all appreciate the sentiment ‘it’s the thought that counts’ and know that I would have done this – and will as soon as we are back on top!

However, in the meantime, Squiggle wrote a message…

Paper heart cut out with message 'Happy Valentines Day! I love Everbody!' written in pink felt tip with hearts over it.

Squiggle had her own ideas about how to spread love too, which fitted in perfectly for both Valentines Day and Random Acts of Kindness Day combined! These were entirely her own initiative of course, which is particularly why I was so touched by her thoughtfulness.

Her first idea is to buy some small plush hearts to give out to people wherever and whenever the mood takes her. So sweet! She also told me to put the heart message (pictured above) in my coat pocket so she could randomly hand it to someone. Lastly, she made a point of smiling, waving and verbally greeting or complimenting everybody she saw in some way. For an autistic child with severe anxiety disorder this is huge! She pushed herself out of her own comfort zone in order to be friendly to others – I am so proud of her!

As for kindness to her family, she gave us this…

Happy valentines day message with lots of colourful hearts drawn and written by Squiggle.

Two hearts - one sweet and one chocolate - in a bowl.

Now this may not seem like much, but Squiggle bought these in Ikea a few days beforehand and thought ahead to Valentines Day by saving some heart ones specifically that she had chosen for us. The fact that she went out of her way to do that and chose to give away something she had meant so much! Like the saying goes; ‘if a child gives you a rock, cherish it. It is all they have to give!’

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.

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.

Sports Challenge: Great British Tennis Weekend

Today we had a lovely time playing tennis (for free!) as part of the Great British Tennis Weekend. I found out about this event through social media and was pleased to discover that there were various opportunities to take part locally. Booking was easy via the online system and our family time session could also be easily amended if/ when needed. Equipment was also available to borrow during these sessions free of charge. This was also brilliant timing, as Squiggle was so excited to be able to include it in her #SportsChallenge

During our session at Verulamium park, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and the instructor was very understanding of Squiggle’s needs. We had a great time! For more information, check out the Lawn Tennis Association website here