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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 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.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

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.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ways to ski in UK snow

This blog is about low-carbon family travel. Will it or won't it snow this year? With  Facebook friends publishing endless pix of far away spots where the snow is falling (from Serbia to Sheffield) how do you guarantee kids can have a taste of  Christmas holiday snow when it's not snowing where you are? Here Nicola Baird tries out snow in a snow dome.

Did the picture on the side wall fool you? It's easy to imagine
you are in the mountains, not Hemel Hempstead.
It's not just snowy weather that inspired me to write this post - there's also this amazing TEDx (teen) talk from ski fan Logan LaPlante who talks about how to hack life (ie, make cool changes). Worth having a look at too... here http://youtu.be/h11u3vtcpaY

I love the way snow messes up the UK - as kids we all long for it. As commuters we loathe it. As a mum I worry most about school ski trips. I've never skiied but I'd love to do so - it's just fiendishly expensive. However if you can collect the money together (and lots of schools give you as much as 18 months warning before a ski trip) the school ski trip is the way to let your kids have a taster. Mine are going to France and Italy in 2015 - both via coach.

Kitted up.
Turns out there are even better ways that guarantee snow and don't involve sacrificing the February half term or part of the two week Easter holidays... getting a taster session at a snowdome. The Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire has two slopes - one looks huge, the other is a teaching slope. The centre offers lots of opportunities to learn how to ski and snowboard. You can hire equipment and buy it too. There's even the option of toboggan parties! And it's open all year - so you can learn to ski in the summer (when it's not going to be so crowded) or you can learn in the winter knowing there will be snow in the dome.

Kids can start snow lessons incredibly young - there are plenty of two year olds with snowboards at the Snow Dome. But my daughters joined a holiday class for 12-16year olds. It's nice to see them both trying something new together again as for a while that hasn't been possible. It's £55 for a two day course (two hours on two consecutive days) for 4-6 year olds and £99 for 7-16 year olds. There are good discounts for members though.

The verdict: learning to ski in the UK is still an expensive treat but the beaming smile on the kids' faces as they gradually learnt how to plough and slalom down the slope (so far without poles) was wonderful to watch. My motto is definitely becoming if you can give people the chance to learn to do a new skill, then do it! It was fun to watch their progress through the huge windows lining the Snow Centre's roomy cafe too - all in all a perfect ski taster which made me feel I could just have easily been in Andorra, Finland, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland... or any of those fab skiing mountain resorts.

Travel tips: Take the train to Hemel Hempstead. A taxi from the station to the Snow Centre takes less than 10 minutes for the two mile journey and costs around £6 (it would take about 40 minutes to walk). And don't forget that if you are going skiing in Europe you can book a train via voyages-sncf.com thus avoiding the hassle of a plane or long car journey.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Maybe it's time to learn a little Chinese?

This blog is about low-carbon family travel. Staying home shouldn't be a barrier to getting prepared for meeting people. Here Nicola Baird considers whether to challenge the family to take a few Chinese lessons with the aid of a new Mandarin book.

In my house language is learnt via the washing up sink - the moment I put on my rubber gloves on goes a different radio channel. For the past few months the dishes have been soaped, scrubbed and rinsed to a lot of terrible French pop music. Perhaps it's time for a change?

Learning Mandarin has never been top of my to do list - but I do like celebrating the Chinese New Year and in 2015 it will be Thursday, 19 February (when the honours go to the goat.) Perhaps there's time for me - and the kids - to learn a few phrases by then? It'd be fun to listen to people greeting each other in China Town or start to hear the words used at a Chinese restaurant.

If you love to eat delicious Chinese food (pork and fish in this pic) isn't it just courtesy
 to have a go learning a few words as well as how to use chopsticks? 
As a friend, Elinor Greenwood, has recently written a book to get children learning Chinese maybe I should give her language lessons a go? I like the way they are described as "fun" and "easy". As for the stickers and app that it comes with, well they'll be a great way to ensure my daughters join in too...

You can order Fun and Easy Chinese from Amazon.