How to Plan for a Long Trip

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On researching how to plan a long term travel itinerary I came across some advice which said to get some big white boards (I can’t remember the reference now as it was a while ago, so many apologies for the absence of a link to the advice). Being a visual person this idea really appealed to me so I’ve gone and set up a ‘travel wall’ in my kitchen. I sourced some big white boards from Rymans (about £10 each although they are probably available cheaper elsewhere to be honest). One of these is half pin board/half white board.

I’ve then attached these large maps of the places where I’m spending a good 3 months so I can visualise my route through and where the various attractions are that I want to visit. I wrote a post on the maps and where to find them previously so take a gander as they are a mega resource for anyone interested in travel or education etc and they’re available in very high resolution, meaning a large print can be done (also a fab teacher’s resource).

It’s also given Aria a great visualisation of these places I keep talking about and next week I’m going to get her her own little white board as she loves doodling on them. Since taking this picture I’ve filled up 2 of the boards with to-do lists and packing lists and no doubt the 3rd will fill up fast too. It’s really cemented in my head now as something ‘real’ that we’re actually going to do next year so a great idea that I fully recommend.

A Day out in Warwick, UK

 

P1020677Well, really it was a day out at Warwick Castle but I won’t quibble over a title; although we did have a little wander around the town afterwards to find a place to eat (as it happens the amazing ‘Aqua’ Lebanese restaurant had incredible food with really great service and can be found at 12-14 Jury St, Warwick CV34 4EW).

P1020685Warwick Castle is actually part of the Merlin Group so I’d decided to go due to the fact it’s free with our passes. I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, however the usual entrance fee is about £25 which is comparable to most of their attractions. I’ve got to say that I was very pleasantly surprised. I’ve been dragged to a lot of castles as a child, and Warwick was probably one of them but I don’t remember it so who knows. It’s definitely one of the best kept castles I’ve ever been to and the attractions were also well organised and well timed throughout the day and some of the best I’ve seen in that setting. I chose to go on a weekday outside of the holidays and the only people there were a few school visits, nothing was over crowded and the sun was shining – a perfect day in my opinion.

P1020751Activities at Warwick include an archery display, the Princess Tower (bit rubbish and dated in my opinion and solely centred on girls hanging around for a kiss for hundreds of years, these ‘princesses’ also have no autonomy or control in their own lives and Warwick Castle clearly haven’t realised it’s 2016 not 1816). However putting the terrible tower of slave princesses aside it’s a fabulous day out. For example, the falconry was one of the best I’ve seen; the birds seem extremely well looked after with lots of information about their lives at the castle. The falconry houses some of the largest eagles in the world alongside falcons and owls, who looked magnificent simply flying around and eating snacks. The archery display was good and interesting and then later on we got to see one of the largest trebuchet’s in the world in action – firing rocks across hundreds of feet at high speed.

The Castle is beautifully laid out and preserved inside with lots of information but also not too much information either. On a sunny day the grounds are really stunning and there was food available in several places along with toilets, the most accessible of which are right by the entrance so it might be an idea to do a good toilet break and baby change

P1020812before you head into the castle grounds. Food is typically expensive so bring a picnic if you can. Prams aren’t allowed inside the actual castle (they are however allowed in the grounds) so try and bring babies in a carrier if possible as it will allow you greater freedom of the whole place.

There’s a great play park which is big enough to accommodate a lot of children and there’s a Horrible Histories Maze which we had good fun completing in-between the various scheduled displays. The Maze is really aimed at the 7+ age group but Aria had fun running round and collecting the stamps even though there was a lot of educational info that went over her head. The falconry show was different each time and there were at least 2 slots to see each show, the princess tower has to be booked in advance but doesn’t cost anything extra. There is parking but be prepared to pay even if you’re in the disabled bay – a blue badge gets you next to the Castle but doesn’t give you free parking (it was £6 for a disabled badge and I think £8 all day otherwise).

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Keep an eye out on the blog for more photos – I got so many great shots of the birds that I’ll do a whole separate post just for them.

A Day at Blackpool Tower

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The home of Strictly Come Dancing during their special ‘Blackpool week’, and with decades of history to its name this is one of my favourite places that we’ve visited this year. Opulent surroundings, a lovely afternoon tea and a sneaky glass of prossecco – you can’t get better than that. It was so lovely watching Aria spin around and enjoy herself; many people came up to me and expressed their delight and said it reminded them of when their parents brought them dancing at a similar age. It really hit home how for some people this ballroom is a staple of their childhood and helped cement a lifelong love of dancing for them.

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The ballroom is part of the Merlin group, so once again it was something we could enjoy for free and I simply paid for the afternoon tea as a birthday present for a friend. Afterwards we headed to the Tower circus which is really entertaining and well worth a visit as well… all part of the Merlin group so if you do decide to invest in a pass you would get in free to these attractions and be able to go to ‘Jungle Jim’s’ soft play centre too. Aria always loves the silly 2p machines and arcade games so I always let her have a go as a treat.

It’s only possible to book for a 90 minute slot from 12pm at various times throughout the day in the ballroom. I picked the earliest time so we could go to the 2.30pm circus show and still be able to drive back and miss the traffic at rush hour. If it’s a nice day you could easily come earlier and wander along the beach or walk down the seafront as it gets dark and see some of the illuminations come on. There’s also all the pier attractions and the pleasure beach. i’ve yet to go on the big dipper but it’s on my list before we move away next year.

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Alton Towers and the unforgettable forgotten gardens

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I took the monkey to Alton Towers today for her first go on a roller coaster and to generally just go mad in CBeebies land – being 2 years old the only ‘grown up’ thing she could go on was The Runaway Train, 4 goes later and I can safely say she loved it. She’s spent all day reenacting ‘the scream’ she did the whole way round… not a real scream just the performed scream she thought everyone had to do when they rode a coaster!

Anyway, it was whilst we crossed over the gardens in a cable car that I realised that every time I go I think ‘wow these gardens are stunning’ and then I carry on my way and find another ride to go on. Alton Towers gardens are pretty well known for their breathtaking beauty but you almost ignore them within the excitement of going to the UK’s best theme park (well, before the horrific Smiler incident it was). Next time I visit I’ve made a promise to myself to go and enjoy the incredible gardens and have a picnic with the monkey….. hopefully I’ll have lots more photos for you next time too!

Hatching the Past: Archeological Findings

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The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum dinosaur exhibition has some great hands on activities for smaller children. This monkey had loads of fun searching for dinosaur eggs hiding in the gravel. There were also lots of other opportunities for her to touch and play with things and get a really good experience for someone her age (2 years).

See ‘Hatching the Past‘ for more information.

Science on the River Clyde: Black & White Series

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Taken outside the Glasgow Science Museum on the River Clyde yesterday.

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Lighting Kelvingrove

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A Trip to Edinburgh Zoo

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Having been incredibly patient these last few weeks whilst I write university essays, I decided to pack as much fun as I could into my little monkey’s weekend. So we went on a trip to Edinburgh Zoo! It’s a great family day out; however, it’s built on a very large hill so it involves a lot of walking. Also it’s probably not that suited for those who are differently abled, which is unfortunate. It does have some stunning views of the Edinburgh hills though. The zebras seem to enjoy the best view!

I’m never quite sure how I feel about zoos despite their conservation work. I tried to take photos that were good photos of the animals, but that also reflected their captive status.

The tiger enclosure was a bit small here so I’m hoping it’s due for some further development. The panda breeding program the zoo is part of has had considerable success though, with 200 more pandas in the wild now – the panda’s are definitely the biggest pull here as they’re the only ones in the UK, here on a 10 year loan. They were having a relax when we saw them but there were videos available of them playing around and doing somersaults.

There’s a new dinosaur exhibition on the way, with some special ‘adult only’ night time events coming up – I’m really hoping to make it to one at the end of June.

Edinburgh Zoo doesn’t quite live up to the welfare standards of the fantastic Gerald Durrell Conservation Park I reviewed here, but still worth a visit:

http://backpacksandbabygrows.com/2014/08/30/somewhere-that-surprised-me-jersey/

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The 1st Day of Spring (did not disappoint)!

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After weeks and months of cold, windy, rainy and generally rubbish weather, Glasgow’s first day of Spring was definitely worth the wait!

Stunning blue skies and a warm sun that invites bare arms and legs to join in with some March madness. I love snow, but never feel truly energised and happy until I’m in the sun and feeling some warmth. Plus the British Winter isn’t often snowy where I am, instead it’s weeks of cold, wet and windy weather.

This weekend has been fabulous with all the celestial events that took place (the eclipse, the supermoon  etc). And now with this stunning weather we’ve been given, it’s definitely one of the more memorable weekends of the year so far.

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Emotional Landscaping

heartmapquoteThe last few months have been a massive change emotionally for me. After deciding to step out on this path of travelling and working abroad I’ve really had to take stock and it’s had a big effect on my thoughts and feelings surrounding what I want for myself and my daughter. I think in a way, entering into the final year of my degree or even just coming back to university after giving birth, has been the biggest catalyst to all this emotional change.

If you’ve had kids then you may have had a similar experience to me, where during the pregnancy and straight after the birth it’s not really possible to really know what you want. I was pretty scared and a lot of things were going on that were outside of my control. I just didn’t know what I wanted pure and simple. I knew what I had wanted in the past intellectually speaking, but it was put on hold in a strange way that I’ve never experienced before. There was an unknown entity on the way and I was really conscious that the minute they came into being and ventured into the outside world things would change – I don’t mean in the obvious ways, I mean more in the sense that there would be a person who would eventually have thoughts and opinions that would change the decisions I was going to make. This mentally put me in some sort of freeze hold and I just couldn’t conceive of much beyond the birth. Even after she was born I spent the usual few weeks recovering and acting like a hormonal wreck and then I started to focus on getting back to university.

It was at this point that I really started to ask myself what I wanted, I found myself caving in to those invisible societal pressures that surround us as parents and even just as people. Those pressures that tell us to conform, take a normal path, provide for our family and not take risks. Despite having never wanted to follow a ‘normal’ path in my life I suddenly found myself looking into ‘normal’ graduate schemes and ‘normal’ jobs. I was convincing myself that having my daughter meant I needed to make the ‘responsible’ decisions and not do the outlandish things I’d always wanted to do. Whilst in the early stages of my pregnancy, Monkey’s Dad and me discussed things that we wanted and we both expressed a wish to travel. I said I wanted to finish my degree and give myself the option of further study, but I said that travel was definitely a part of my future. He seemed to need something more than this and I just couldn’t give it to him. Now, the reasons he decided to leave are way more complex than I can do justice to in a blog post. And I don’t think it would be fair to him to claim that this is all there is to it. But I think a small part of it was that I was too busy trying to control everything, whilst he was too busy trying to force me to commit to things I just wasn’t ready to commit to. We were both panicking and we didn’t know each other well enough and he didn’t give me or himself the chance to find out what we wanted, together as a family. Within weeks of finding out I was pregnant he’d gone. I often wondered what would have happened if we’d just given ourselves the time to get used to the new situation we were in; instead of trying to force each other to be the people we thought we needed the other person to be….

Since that point I have changed and developed so much as a person I’m partly unrecognisable. I’ve gone through such a lot having my daughter on my own and coming to terms with the effect that will have on both out lives. As I said, I really ended up convincing myself that I needed to do the ‘normal’ thing for the sake of my daughter. It was only as I got further down those paths, and truly started looking at things like the NHS graduate scheme or civil service as a realistic option that I knew it was never going to make me happy – and that would make Monkey unhappy. It was this realisation that made me really start thinking about what I actually wanted – and that’s to travel. I know without a doubt that if I get to the end of my life without travelling, without living in another country and possibly without learning another language then it will be my biggest regret. So to allow that to happen whilst knowing that would be a big crime against myself.

A while ago I did a post about how big my safety net should be: http://www.backpacksandbabygrows.com/2014/07/03/how-big-should-a-safety-net-be/ . In this post I discussed giving myself a back up plan that involved completing a Masters at the same time as saving to do a RTW trip, so that if travel didn’t happen I would have other options to fall back on. Options that I actually wanted to take, such as postgrad study. Since writing that post though, I’ve realised that actually, I just want to go. I don’t want any other distraction; I just want to save up as much as I can and head off into the unknown with my wee Monkey. This trip and travelling has somehow evolved into so much more than ‘just’ a trip. I know that thought is probably echoed in the minds of countless other travellers or wannabe travellers. So much so, it’s become clichéd – but it’s clichéd because it rings so true for so many people. For me this trip is about finally starting my life. That probably sounds strange, but I’m a late starter in life – my own potential and personal development has been delayed and diverted time and time again. Mostly due to circumstances out of my control, particularly as a child and teenager. My 20s were spent coming to terms with this, and it’s only been since starting college and going back to university that I’ve become the person I always knew I could be. Having my daughter has finalised that in a way nothing else could. Making these steps to travel and jump out into the deep end, as a single parent is really the first step in what I feel is my ‘true’ life, the life I’m meant to have. So there’s a lot riding on it. It’s not that I don’t want the postgrad stuff anymore, it’s that I’m acutely aware they will be there when I get back, I can do those at any time, anywhere in the world. But it’s travelling that will help me to be who I need to be emotionally; it’s travelling that will let my daughter be the person she can be….

Another thing I’ve slowly admitted to myself is that I don’t want to put monkey into the daily grind that is the school system. I know there are some amazing teachers out there; my sister is one of them. But there’s also some terrible teachers out there and the school system is there to cater for the middle ground; it’s there to create an obedient workforce who behave themselves, turn up on time, don’t question authority and basically live life with a set of blinkers on. The world does not need any more of those people, that I do know – if it’s to survive, if we’re to survive as a species we need the mad, creative, wild and inappropriate types. I know too many people who had every last bit of creativity and individualism drained or pummelled out of them at school, to be OK with signing my child up for that. I really want to do something that probably lies in between home schooling and unschooling – (although as with most of the other unschoolers I’m not that keen on the name, as it implies no learning whatsoever which couldn’t be further from the truth). Admitting this to myself has made me realise that those are my 2 core beliefs and aspirations in my life: travel and home schooling, so the rest just needs to somehow fit around them. Or I need to make it fit around them because in the end it’s me that’s in charge of my life. No one else can do these for me. I would love to start working for myself, writing and making a living by piecing together all my skills in a way that makes me happy. Whether that’s teaching English, writing, doing photography, or a bit of all these things and maybe some other things too, I don’t know. But I’m definitely not a Monday to Friday kind of a woman. I would also love to meet someone who shares my dreams, I’d like to let go enough to fall in love again and maybe (just maybe) expand my little family, as having monkey has been the best decision I ever made. Finally realising that these are the things I truly know has given me emotional freedom that I’ve never felt before. It’s given me a purpose and something to aim at. I don’t need riches (not that I ever wanted them), I do want to have the finances to travel (obviously) and to provide my daughter and myself with a half decent standard of living but beyond that I really don’t care. I don’t want her to grow up in the consumerist mess we have in the UK, where how we view our own worth and the worth of others is somehow inextricably linked to what we own and how much money we have in the bank. I want her to know that there is so much more to life than money and possessions. Poverty is horrific but so is having all the materialistic things you ever wanted, only to realise that you’re still looking for something that can’t be bought and now you’ve not got the time to find it.

So this is where I am today, embarking on this adventure is a strange thing for me at this point in time. I’ve still got a year of my degree to complete. This will undoubtedly be one of the most intense years I ever experience but it’ll be worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears that I shed and have shed over the last 7 years. The RTW trip still feels completely imaginary – because it is. It probably won’t feel in the slightest bit real until I actually book us those tickets, and maybe it won’t feel real until we step off the plane and head into our first country on the list (hopefully China). To keep myself focused on the long-term future I keep looking at this big map online and planning where we’ll go and when, I’m reading all these travel blogs and talking to my closest friends about my plans. But on the flip side, I also have to keep my feet firmly on the ground and focus on the here and now. I HAVE to get this degree; I’ve worked too hard to fall at the last hurdle. Not only that, I know I’m capable of getting a 1st. It’s where my grade point average is lying at the moment and I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say a 1st is what I want. Although saying that, I do now know that it’s not the be all and end all, any degree will be a massive achievement for anyone let alone someone in my position.

So this is my bit of emotional landscaping – making that decision to travel has just brought on an avalanche of life choices and realisations that I could never have expected. I’d love to hear if any of you have had a similar experience in the comments section! I suspect that travel and making those massive decisions takes on this huge role in nearly everyone’s life – especially if it’s something you end up turning into a lifestyle choice rather than just a holiday. I’m so excited already at the thought of the adventures to come and the experiences me and my daughter will have together – I’ll have to increase my vocabulary and powers of articulation just to put into words how I feel when we actually go!!