A-Z activities

A-Z countries

What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Greens on planes

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola.

Planes aren’t just carrying passengers with sunscreen and travellers cheques – there’s an increasing amount of planes arriving each day that are stuffed with crates of exotic fruit and vegetables destined for our supermarkets and market stalls. If you can't resist holiday, work or love miles using a plane, then you can at least reduce the amount of CO2 emissions you create from your weekly shopping basket by choosing UK grown produce. This is easy if you read the label, and great for your children's geography too. Admittedly it makes your trip round the supermarket a little bit slower at first...

Sometimes a packet of salad leaves, can contain produce grown in as many as five countries – all flown in from different corners of the world. This is definitely not what's meant by having your five a day.

Less miles from farm gate to your plate is even easier if you grow a few items yourself. At Lola and Nell's school the Climate Club planted strawberries and blueberries back in March in the hope that they'd be able to enjoy snacking on their own grown produce. They might even share the crop with their friends, so long as someone keeps remembering to water the containers.

Cross fingers that our housesitters will also be watering our window boxes of basil, tomatoes, Romanesco cauliflower, fennel and mint while we are away. Has anyone got any tips about how to make watering really easy, and fun enough for children and guests to want to do it? Or can we get away with a thick layer of mulch?

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Travel surprises

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola.

If you're a fan of holidaying in the UK then it's hard not to feel smug when friends say they flew off to Majorca for a week of the Easter holidays and it rained non stop. "People knew the weather was warm and gorgeous in England and they were trying to get planes back,' admitted one Dad. "It was too cold and horrible to even go to the beach. And then when we got back home to Cambridge everyone looked a lot more tanned and healthier than us." As you can see there are some spring benefits to this year of the climate changing - and definitely worth enjoying while we all can.

It's not just the weather that can surprise travellers. Did you know it's quicker to take the train from London to Paris than it is to fly, http://www.eurostar.com/ ? And it's also good for your conscience because the train notches up your annual carbon dioxide emissions by a far smaller amount:
BY PLANE: journey is 3.5 hours. There and back uses up 244kg CO2.
BY TRAIN: journey is 2.75 hours. There and back uses up 22kg CO2.

We know that train hopping is going to cost us a lot this summer - an amount I hope to ease by buying tickets in advance (walk ups can be disastrously expensive) and using our family railcard. We could save by avoiding the sleeper to Scotland, but I think that's one journey everyone in my family will enjoy too much to drop. Pete will like the glamour of getting into Scottish mood with a whisky in the dining car and the kids will adore the bunk berths. I'm usually happiest doing at least two things at once - and sleeping flat as the miles spin by on a train is at least meant to be possible for normal salaried folk in the way that flying first class is absolutely not!

What's your favourite journey? We'd especially like to hear about trips that don't take too long from your doorstep.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Can you offset flights?

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola.

The new trend for offsetting your carbon emissions by planting trees or donating a couple of quid to a worthy project cannot salve the jump in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that each plane trip will bring to your yearly total. It's better not to get on a plane than to pay a sop at take off time. Here's why. If we are trying to reduce our CO2 emissions planes rack up the figures. For example an average household will clock up about 10 tonnes (!) of CO2 emissions in a year - but with a bit of thought/planning (see ideas 1-3 below) it's not difficult to half this amount. Apparently even the boffin members of the Royal Society of Arts are all promising to aim for five tonne annual totals, good on them).

There's a few people that reckon carbon offsetting is a ridiculous concept designed for money wasters. I do too and for that reason adore a fab website that sends up the carbon offsetting idea beautifully. At http://www.cheatneutral.com you can "offset" your dating indiscretions - or choose to get paid for not having a boyfriend or girlfriend. Already more than 60,000 people have signed up as cheaters/singletons, which just shows how irresistible the allure of offsetting is at the moment...

If we really want a solution for sorting out climate change then the answer is not to be part of the problem. Stay away from flights and offset fees.

Tackling climate change needs political will, of course, but people also need to:
1) sort out the energy needs of your home
2) hang the car keys out of reach occasionally and
3) get to know your bus stop, train station and (London travellers only) get an oyster card.
First homeschooling challenge will be to get the kids to be marketing gurus and think up a snappier anti-plane phrase for use on tickets (just like the warnings on cigarette packets) while we are on one of our longer train trips...

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Why "no planes"

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola.

Just before Lola (now eight) got her first tooth getting around the UK was a simple decision - you drove. Students used coaches or railcards. Heroics cycled. Trains had moments in and out of fashion. Plus there were boats to visit neighbours on the island of Ireland, the Isle of Man, France etc. Then came staggeringly cheap plane travel and the mini break, begun and ended in an airport terminal.

Exciting as taking a trip by plane may seem to be, it is terrible for the environment that you can now fly from London to Cornwall, Birmingham to Cardiff or Manchester to Glasgow for pocket money prices. Even short trips can rack up half a tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

At the moment aviation's CO2 emissions are rising because millions of us can't resist planes for mini-hols. The tickets are cheap as chips because the Government allows the aviation industry #9 billion in tax breaks (think what you could do with that if you ran the country!). Although the Government says it is keen to tackle climate change, bafflingly it has refused to add aviation pollution into the basket of carbon dioxide emissions that could be cut. That’s why you can read a newspaper story telling you about the extinctions and major changes to habitats and weather patterns that climate change will bring… but still see an advert on the facing page from an aviation company with another fare for a tenner or less.

It’s not just the carbon dioxide emissions that are the problem. Both Pete and I grew up not far from Stansted Airport in Essex and know how noisy planes can be if you want to sleep later than sparrow-fart or talk to a friend in the garden.

We like travelling, but think it is best to resist plane temptations – especially don’t try to kid yourself that as a flight is going anyway, it really doesn’t matter if you swell the passenger list by just one more. That's because practically any long haul return flight will double the amount of carbon dioxide emissions your household creates in a year.

WAY TO GO: Here’s a few ideas to help you succeed with next year’s plane-free resolution. For Europe try using Eurostar – it’s so glamorous, and there’s often 2 for 1 ticket deals. You can find out how to get across Europe on train using an inspiring website like http://www.seat61.com/. Or how about booking longer holidays so you don’t get tempted to take two or three return flights when you could just take one? Now that's what I call temptation...

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Power tour

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola.

Part of our Grand Tour will include counting the hundreds, yes hundreds, of wind turbines generating renewable electricity along the coast and skyline of the Barrow – Carlisle railway. This area is also home to Sellafield’s nuclear reprocessing plant and the Drigg nuclear waste dump. In this part of the Lake District there are strong feelings about the best ways of generating electricity that is clean, green, sustainable and will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) which are causing our climate to change. The nuclear industry is a big employer in the area and we are looking forward to going to the Sellafield visitor centre to see how the industry’s operators can explain away the problem of having toxic waste that lasts for years? Had the Romans stationed along Hadrian’s Wall been using nuclear power, their waste sites would still be toxic all these centuries later.

At home we already have an electricity tariff provided by Good Energy because it is one of the few companies that only generates electricity from renewable sources. Good Energy http://www.good-energy.co.uk/ gets its supply from wind turbines. As all power companies have an obligation to produce some renewably generated power (eg, from the sun, water or wind) it means that whoever you buy your electricity from can offer you a "green" tariff. If you only do one thing to tackle climate change buying renewably generated electricity is a great decision.

Even with a renewable electricity supplier there is still more that we can do to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions our home produces. When we moved in I applied for a 50 per cent matching grant (approx #200) to insulate the loft. Roof insulation is just like having hair or wearing a hat: it keeps you warmer. You can tell which houses in your street are not losing a quarter of their heat through the roof because they are the ones which retain the snow for longest during those very few snowy days in winter/spring.

We’re also vigilant home energy efficiency freaks thanks to a combo of draught proofing, thermostat reducing, timer setting and jumper wearing measures. We also have double glazed most of the windows.

Next step is to add solar panels to the south facing roof so that the sun will heat up our water rather than the gas boiler. Unfortunately there is a lot of administrative pain to get to this solar gain – partly the time it takes trying to find an installer (although our local Energy Advice Centre helped) but also completing the council’s planning permission. At least six, multi-page forms need to be completed and then submitted in quadruple quantity. It’s a horrible task, and it takes ages. But if done then the council offers a grant covering a third of the cost of the solar panels (approx #1,000); our energy bills go down again (especially good if the price of gas goes up) and we know that our home’s carbon footprint is cut as the amount of CO2 emissions it releases shrink, whatever the weather and whoever is housesitting in it for us.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Where shall we go?


Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This is the first post, and it's from Nicola.

Six weeks to go and the usual pre-journey panic is on, even though we won't be needing passports or visas. Our plan is to be away for three months. During that time we hope to travel the world. Highlights will include a trip to Canada's Arctic salmon rivers (via Dalmally, Scotland); Germany (via Aberdeen's woodlands) and even go Indian elephant hunting (via Birmingham).

We're also looking forward to going back in time and into the Romans' mindset as we walk the full length of Hadrian's Wall. There is sure to be a day when we pretend the 84 mile (135km) barrier is in fact the Great Wall of China.

Priority number one is to enjoy the sites and eccentricities of the UK. But we also want to keep our carbon emissions low, try tasty locally-grown food and give Lola & Nell good memories for life. If they can read maps and bus/train timetables at the end of the summer that will be an extra bonus!