Family travel with flair

Should holidays be educational?

TweetWith news lately of parents being fined for taking children out of school during term time to go on holiday, and MPs debating high season holiday prices, it naturally follows to ask the question: Are holidays educational? And should they be? At base, the important thing is to spend time as a family — something difficult to do as we all get increasingly busy. But in my experience holidays — which involve exploring, seeing new places, trying new foods, doing new things — are inherently educational, for grown-ups and kids. At BritMums, we’re running the #Wales4Kids Linky Challenge, asking bloggers what their children learn on holiday, and giving away a luxury family break in Wales worth £1,000 from the Rare Hideaways collection. Naturally, I can’t win the holiday but it’s an interesting topic and Wales is the perfect place for a fun-filled family break. (You can enter the Challenge yourself but blogging about what your kids learn on holiday.) To find out what has stuck in my daughter’s mind from our travels, I asked her what she has learned on holiday. I thought she would mentions things such as: Learning about installation art at the Cadillac Ranch… This installation is a landmark in the Texas panhandle, and the best thing is you can walk right up to it, climb on the cars, even spray paint them yourself. Very hands-on and it spurred a conversation about art with the kids. Learning about street art in New York City… We toured Bushwick with the excellent guides Levys’ Unique New York. They are full of information and have loads of full-on Noo Yoik personality. We learned about the development of street art in Brooklyn, heard about the artists and even saw some of them at work. My husband thought the educational highlights would be: Challenging themselves on a climb up Wheeler Peak… It’s the highest peak in New Mexico. The walk up is steep, and we had to stop several times to catch our breath, but it was worth it to reach the lake, have lunch and feed the chipmunks. Learning how to fish in the ocean… Hours of fun, this activity. Several fish caught, all released and throwing techniques were perfected. But funny enough, none of these were the things my daughter mentioned first. What sprung to mind for her was: Riding a camel in Dubai. Funny enough, we hadn’t done that before. In addition to riding a camel, she was also very impressed with getting her first henna tattoo, holding a falcon and...

Jewelry that tells your travel story

TweetI’ve always liked the idea of charm bracelets — a piece of jewelry that tells a story. You add to it over time, each element significant in its own way. I begged my mother to buy me one when I was young, imagining the small icons that would rattle on my wrist. These days, a bracelet with little dangling Eiffel Towers or four-leaf clovers is no longer my style. But when I met up with Becki Backpacker at Traverse recently, I fell in love with her modern El Camino charm bracelet. The El Camino bracelets are a chic way to document where you’ve been or to create a wish list of your dream destinations. The bracelet looks equally stylish on the mountain bike trail and at a trendy London restaurant (I know, I’ve tested it). Instead of representational icons, you collect hand-polished surgical stainless steel “steps” engraved with the name of countries, or “small steps” of places that aren’t countries (but maybe should be) like London, New York, Bali…. You string these onto a durable woven cord (available in black, blue, green and other colours) that closes with a stainless clasp and which can withstand the rigours of worldwide travel. You can also collect the 8 brightly coloured region steps beads — Europe, Oceania, Asia, Antarctica, etc — along with oak or wooden spacers to create an utterly personal piece of jewelry. It only gets better: The small business that creates these lovely bracelets is English and it makes them in the Oxfordshire countryside. In a treehouse! The nice guys at El Camino sent me one with some steps I selected — a black bracelet with a red North American bead to highlight my home country, a New York step for my former hometown, and a Japan step to commemorate the amazing trip I took there last year. This is less about bragging rights (it’s so tiresome to hear people boast about where they’ve been). Rather it’s about creating a daily reminder of and motivator for life-changing journeys. I’ve already bought 4 additional steps and am thinking about which travel-mad friends to give them to. In the meantime, there are a few small steps they have yet to offer. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for appearance of Texas, Austin, Cornwall and, one of my personal favourites, Isle of Wight. Disclosure: I was sent an El Camino bracelet starter pack free of charge. I bought additional packages myself. All opinions are my own. El Camino Bracelets are available in 7 colours with 240 different steps....

Milestone Hotel: Family luxury in Kensington

TweetI’ve added a giveaway of some of The Milestone Hotel’s luxurious Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet travel toiletries (bath essence, body lotion, soap, shower gel, shampoo) and Fine Milk Chocolate. Read the post and leave a comment. It’s soooo easy. Go on, then. a Rafflecopter giveaway I’ve heard of dream hotels, but this is ridiculous. After visiting the sumptuous Milestone Hotel in Kensington, touring the richly designed rooms and eating its delectable high tea, I actually dreamed about it.     I was wandering the hotel, slipping into unoccupied rooms and discovering arresting views, gorgeous artwork, and furnishings that make you want to pledge your undying love. At the end, a friend presented me with a box of strange and lovely items, inspired by the woman who owned the hotel, each a treasure that I examined with delicacy. With the real Milestone, the owner Bea Tollman is the glamorous presence everywhere. She’s selected the furniture for each of the individually decorated rooms, she’s chosen the gorgeous and interesting art on the walls (forget what you know about hotel room art; you’ll want to stage a heist to smuggle it out) and she (or at least her people) hosts families in high style.       In addition to making my list of mouthwatering hotels, the Milestone’s just won TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards, which named it the best hotel in the UK. Other kudos include Travel+Leisure’s World’s Best 500 Hotels and a Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Award. I’m always looking for family-friendly hotels to recommend to American friends that embody “Britishness”. You come all this way as a Yank, and it’s nice to check into a hotel with an air of the Empire about it.       Of course, to many Brits, a “traditional hotel” evokes images of threadbare floral carpet, indifferent service and grey roast beef, wheeled at intervals round a staid dining room. Dire. Well, banish the thought. The Milestone Hotel captures the best of British style and quirkiness, with service to suit a queen. Here, the top 6 reasons I’d recommend a stay at the Milestone: 1. A fabulous location in Kensington The Milestone recently hosted BritMums family travel bloggers, where we got the grand tour. The location couldn’t be better. It’s on Kensington High Street and its glut of shops, while just across the road is Kensington Gardens, which beckons with easy outings to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Kensington Palace, the Serpentine and the wonderful Diana Memorial Playground. 2. A real family welcome Lots of hotels...

Silent Sunday

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The top 10 worst people to fly with

TweetWe’re all familiar with the obvious people we want to avoid when we fly — the seat kicker, the crying baby. But there are the more subtle perpetrators who can make your time in the cabin that bit more pressurized. Here are my top 10. What are yours? The Elbow Nudger – For this flyer, the olecranon, radius and ulna are the foot soldiers in the quest to annex the armrest and claim it all. Instead of partaking in the customary unspoken “Mine goes behind and yours goes in front, then we’ll switch” behaviour, he wants it all for himself. The only way to fight is to wait til he goes to the loo, annex the armrest and refuse to budge. The Leg Splayer – You can also find this variety of boor in the Tube and New York subway as well, where he (and it’s always a “he”) sits with his legs spread wide, forcing you to sit with knees clamped  together, shifted awkwardly to one side. Just what could need so much air down there to necessitate the wide angle, is anyone’s guess. Or rather, a figment of his imagination. The Coat Layer – It may look like a regular jacket from John Lewis or TM Lewin. But this worthy garment has hallowed powers and a nervous temperament. That’s the only reason It must because it has been carefully folded and laid gently across the overhead compartment The Queue Hoverer – They’re not in rows 40 and above. They’re not a Gold card member. They’re not travelling with small children. Yet they’re loitering right at the place where everyone else should be boarding. Occasionally the QHs actually join the line in a bid to eke through. When the flight attendant sends them to the back of the line, we silently cheer. The Socialiser – Hey! They’ve got drinks, they’ve got some friends, they’re on their way someplace exciting where they’ll be meeting up with old school buddies. You know how you know? Because they’re discussing it, in Ministry of Sound decibels while standing in the aisle with their companions. Did they notice everyone else’s darkened overhead lights and eyemasks? How could they, with this party going on? The Eager Talker – Stranger on your left: “…Of course I never thought they’d actually got married but there they are and so I’m flying to Greece, which I’d never thought I would do, because I told you I’ve always been so scared of flying…” Stranger on your right: “Yes,...

Top tips for travel bloggers

Tweet  World Travel Market (WTM) in London is a must-attend event for any travel blogger or journalist. Every year I dread it. It’s vast, held in the ExCel Centre in far east London and utterly exhausting with all the stands, crowds, opportunities and ideas. That said, I also wouldn’t miss it for the world. I always come away energised and excited about covering travel and about all the possibilities. This year I met several bloggers there in addition to appearing on a panel for Social Travel Market, which explores what’s happened in blogging, social media, and online in travel. It’s organised by my friends Steve and Mark at Travel Perspective, and their knowledge and passion for travel shines through. There are great speakers (I’m not counting myself), packed rooms and intelligent questions asked. There was even a table football tournament after-party, at which @vegemitevix and I squared off against a brother and sister team. I’m happy to say it was not a rout; we scored 1 goal. Over on the BritMums blog, I write today about the top monetisation tips from leading travel bloggers – great advice from some real heavyweights. If you’re interested in travel blogging and attend WTM, you don’t want to miss Social Travel Market. Mark your calendar and see you there next year!   Read Money-making tips for travel bloggers (and other kinds too)  ...

Disney Dream cruises: good for family – and adult – fun

Tweet All cruise ships are big but on the new Disney Dream ship (1,250 staterooms, 14 decks) if you want a break from the children as they play on deck 5, you can have a drink in Hong Kong. Or New York or Paris, depending on the day. A panaromic LCD screen at The Skyline bar (deck 4 aft) provides the vista; the knowledgeable young bartender pours the cocktails. Among the other 4 bars and nightclub in “The District” area for over-18s are a champagne bar (the you-are-inside-the-flute bubble effects go live in February), a lounge with pianist and torch singer, and a disco with flashing floor lights (eat your heart out, Tony Manero). At the other end of the age range and ship is the Oceaneer Club for kids up to age 10 (with playscapes, themed rooms, organised activities and an innovative interactive PlayFloor – more on that later) and Vibe, a teens-only area with groovy furniture, TV and games and a teens-only sundeck. There are family musical theatre shows and casual restaurants as well as a spa, an adults-only pool – with swim-up bar of course – and high-end French and Continental dining. To a “Disney virgin” like me (am I even allowed to say those two words together?), it’s a surprise that a cruise originated by the Mouse – the company’s first ship to launch in 10 years – is as adept at amusing adults as it is the kids. “It’s gotta be a great fun vacation but let’s not treat the family as a single unit,” is how Tom Stagg, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resort, describes the philosophy. Yet the ship’s real trick is that it feels friendly, cohesive and enjoyable no matter which demographic you fall under at any particular time. Your parent self doesn’t have to exist on another planet from your adult self. Just, perhaps, on a different deck. That’s easier than ever on the Dream. It’s vastly larger than the company’s other ships – two decks taller and 1,900 beds bigger. (This review comes after of a press trip* on the ship’s chistening voyage.) Playing Goofy Golf on deck Sunbathing, schmoozing and cocktails at the over-18s pool A view of Hong Kong at the Skyline bar Private dining room in Palo Starck Louis Ghost chairs in Pink Kids play on the PlayFloor in the Oceaneer Lab (Diana Zalucky, photographer) A lounge in teen area Vibe Waterbikes at Castaway Cay Andy’s Room in the Oceaneer Club   Expect the kids...

A magical night of Christmas storytelling in Henley

TweetAvril Lethbridge was disenchanted with Christmas seasons animated by the latest Nintendo or Apple accessory. As a result, this granny decided to do something about it. “I dreamt up this very silly idea of a walk around trees, which are lit, and the trees tell you their stories.” A simple idea: to create a holiday experience connected to nature and storytelling rather than frenetic stores and shopping. And she’s realised it with Britain’s big-time, brand-name thespians and theatre-folk, all to benefit charity. In the gathering darkness of the evenings of December 1 -4, guides with lanterns will lead groups round the grounds of Henley Business School, along paths that lead to trees festooned with lights. At each stop, the tree tells its story, via short clips recorded by a host of talent. Barry Humphries voices the spirit of the old oak tree. Mark Rylance, the actor, theatre director and playwright, recounts a Cherokee story of why some trees are evergreen. Bill Nighy, Andrew Wincott from the Archers, Zoe Wanamaker, Miriam Margolyes, Lucy Fleming, and Rolf Harris, among others, have volunteered their voices to the project, which benefits KidsOut Charity as well as Oxfordshire Playbus. “Each person feels that they’re talking to them,” Lethbridge explains. “I hope that one day someone looks back and says ‘Do you remember when that tree spoke to me?’” In addition to the trees there are also Christmas-themed mise-en-scene: a nativity scene (Natascha McElhone tells a French nativity story), elves working on toys and pretend reindeer. Everyone is a volunteer, Lethbridge says, including the lighting designer, Mike Atkinson (he’s also in charge of lighting at a little thing called the National Theatre). The program runs rain or shine and booking is essential. Tickets are £2.50 each, free for under 5s. The entire walk takes about 30 minutes. There are still slots available but act fast. While it was created with children in mind, Lethbridge says they’ve even had adults booking their tickets to experience an evening of magical storytelling on their own. “If you don’t have children, borrow some or let the child in you take over,”she says. Stories by Starlight 1 – 4 December, 2010 01525 385 252 Henley Business School, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 3AU If you’re interested in Stories by Starlight events, contact Avril Lethbridge at avril (dot) lethbridge (at) googlemail (dot) com....

Travel: Should there be child-free flights?

Tweet Nobody enjoys hearing the wail of a child on an airplane – it wakes you from your fitful uncomfortable doze, it drowns out even the sound of the engine, sets your teeth on edge and makes it hard to watch the reruns of Frasier. For parents, the problem is figuring out not just to keep your child happy but to keep them from making others unhappy. Is the solution segregating passengers with child-free flights? An article this past weekend in the NYTimes quoted child-free passengers extolling the perceived virtues of such an arrangement. (Guess what, there’s a Facebook group for it.) Of course, as a parent, in theory I’d love to have a special area where kids could talk loudly, walk the aisles without my worrying about them bodging people, play on the floor. The NYT article quotes an industry expert who’s sceptical anything like that could come about, with an industry fighting for its life and the associated logistics problems. Feministing suggests what we need isn’t child-free flights but family-friendly culture, where everyone amps up their tolerance levels and acknowledges that kids cry (you did too, when you were young). That’s a good rule to apply to everyone onboard – some people stand in the aisles, clueless, during boarding; some people hog the armrest; some people carouse during the universally acknowledged “sleeptime”. It’s easy to feel self-righteous about the person ruining “your” flight – although depending on whom you fly with, the airline might have already beat them to it....

Should you buy an iPad for your kids?

TweetThe burning question we had on holiday this year had nothing to do with sunscreen. It was whether we should invest in an iPad. Or rather, should we invest in an iPad now or wait until there’s 3G here in the UK or wait until they improve the battery life or perhaps even wait until they come in different colours. All these questions necessitated lingering in the Apple store whenever we visited Barton Creek Square mall or the Domain in Austin, mainly to play Plants vs Zombies. The problem of course is that everyone in the family really wants an iPad. I want to use Flipboard and cart it around London. My husband wants to be able to comfortably surf on the sofa. The children have plans to download games onto it (thanks, Uncle Ian, for showing them your library of mindless time-wasters!). My fellow CyberMummy partners Susanna and Sian both have them and love them, so I know it would be a huge hit. That’s really the problem. My husband would want to use it, I would want to use and the children would develop withdrawal symptoms when separated from it. Whenever one of them picked it up, I would be seized by an urgent iPad task I had to perform. I would grow resentful about having to be “grown up” about it and let them have a go. Sure I could read books on it, assuming I’d ever get that much screen time. If only we lived in Australia. We could book a domestic flight on Jetstar Airlines and rent iPads for the entire family for $40. Which begs the question, just how much would you pay for an iPad. A trip down under is way too much, the price in American still feels a bit dear, but £10 and the cost of a domestic UK flight? I’m sold. UPDATE: Susanna has written about her iPad and its use as a kiddie networking tool. Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net...

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