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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.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

7 fun skills to learn as you travel

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Here are seven skills to learn during your holidays - many your ancestors would know how to do, others are just fabulous fun. The bonus is you get to think Danish, French and Bulgarian along the way. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Reading Stations Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (a very good book)  in a very old tree at Norsey Woods, Essex.
1 Read in a tree
It's harder than it looks. First you need to find the perfect tree. Then you need to climb it. Then you must get comfy. Once you're comfy I find the atmosphere of tree, birdsong and green leaves immediately lulls me out of the book and into a meditative state. For instance: what was it like being Charles 1 hiding in an oak tree with the roundhead soldiers beneath you?

There are all sorts of tree adventures you can do in the UK:


Photo taken at 5.30am.
2 Learn to ID birds by tune & looks
The May dawn chorus is early, but if you can be in a woodland by 5am you should be rewarded with the wonderful sound of birds singing their territory. Chiff Chaffs are easy - they just shout chiff chaff. But can you distinguish between the tuneful blackbird or the melancholy robin?

Bird sanctuaries are amazing wildlife havens and often have fantastic education (and sometimes a tea room too). The RSPB bird charity has more than 100 sites around the UK, find them here.

3 Put the kettle on, then cook your own supper (a Danish skill)
Denmark is officially the world's happiest country - you can find some insights why this is in The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. Obviously the Danes can block out misery with their genius for Lego, white interiors and tasty pastries, but they are also fine DIY cooks who have no problem grilling fish or boiling up a tea caddy in the great outdoors. These are not difficult skills, but for those of us who haven't honed them yet (and are not patient when it comes to making fires) they are close to impossible.

Great advice about firelighting, plus campsites that allow you to have a go from Cool Camping, here.

4 Explore another cuisine (Let's try Taiwanese)
Family cooking classes are popular - Jamie Oliver's chain runs all sorts of classes ranging from making perfect pasta to bread.

When you are on holiday you might find the place you are staying doesn't have the right equipment to make your own taglatelli, so maybe try building up your cooking repertoire while you are on a staycation in your own kitchen. I ask friends with a signature dish, like these tasty taiwanese noodles, to come over and explain how to cook it. It is flattering to the person invited to share their knowledge... and extremely tasty for the rest of us. Plus it's cheap.


5 Explore the local roads by bike (very French)
Benefits: you learn to read maps, you pare down your luggage, you notice wind direction and you enjoy having a rest.
Possible problem: but you don't have a bike, or enough bikes to fit your family...
Solution: hire a bike (check the local Tourist Information Centre for the nearest then ring up and talk to the cycle shop) or use a cycling company to pre-plan your route. There are some amazing French tours on offer billed as cycling for softies, but you can do something similar in the UK too. PIck an off road route using the national cycling organisation Sustrans' routes and their excellent book Traffic Free Cycle Rides, £15.99, which has 100+ cycle journeys.

My family don't like cycling at Tour de France speed, or burning up hills. They like easy to do rides that let them stop off to paddle at a river or visit a pub. Preferably both. They will go a bit further (15 miles, instead of 10) if I can be certain there is a tea shop open.

But if you enjoy pushing yourself then join a cycling challenge. In May you can pedal from the west to the east coast of the UK along the C2C; in June there's the 1040 mile Land's End to John O'Groats ride and in September a challenging 200mile coasts and castles ride.

The challenge rides are organised by Saddle skeddadle, which have masses of routes in the UK and Europe - a great way of having no idea where you are, but absolute certainty that you will make it home before last orders.

6 Talk to strangers (a peep into a Bulgarian forest)
Returning on the tube from a lovely Sunday walk along the River Thames a couple began to admire our dog. Our dog seemed rather enamoured by them, keenly sniffing their ankles. "We've been in the forest looking at bluebells," said the woman. Turned out that the pair are from Bulgaria and love the British woods. For starters we have bluebells and their forests don't. However Bulgarian forests do have wolves and bears, although she said she hadn't ever seen either while walking because "they don't like people". There's a move in the UK to re-introduce lynx (wild cats), if they promise to stay out of us walkers way then they're welcome.


Woods close to Roald Dahl's Museum in Great Missenden, Bucks.
7 Play in the woods
Now that so much of the country has internet coverage it's hard to escape the lure of your instagram feed. But spending time making your own entertainment is a real pleasure - the stuff of stories and family legend. A lot of my photos of time spent in the woods seem to be because we were hiding from the rain. But the one above is all about the joy of coming across a rope swing and then just spending the rest of the day in that spot often upside down.

Britain still has a lot of publicly accessible land - look for it on a map and then head to the woods for a picnic.  Some of my favourites are:

  • Norsey Wood, Essex are famous for bluebells - nearest train station: Billericay, Essex
  • Marked on OS maps. If you're cycling past stop to explore. If you are taking a walk pick a wood as a picnic stop.
  • Woods along the Chiltern hills - you can reach these from stations like Tring, Herts and even the metropolitan tube line.
Over to you
What do you enjoy doing on your holidays?

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