Planning a Florida Vacation! – 8 Months To Go – Fit for Florida!

**I want to preface this post with my deepest sympathy for everyone affected by Hurricane Irma. The destruction is absolutely devastating. I can only imagine what it must be like to live through a storm like that. Please know that my thoughts are with the families of those affected.**

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

 

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights

8 Months To Go: FiT for Florida

A holiday at Walt Disney World and/or Universal is exhausting. I’m not going to sugar coat this. If you’ve never been before then you need to know. The first time we went I was nursing a 5-month-old baby, so I had to take frequent breaks in the shade to rehydrate myself and feed my little one. It was hard work but I was forced to take care of myself and not overdo it. It was actually a heap load more difficult the next time we went when our kids were 6 and 3 years old!

I didn’t have the “excuse” (it wasn’t, but you know what I mean) to sit down often anymore. I had two young kids with alternating bursts of energy and lethargy in the humidity. We were a large party with varied needs and it was tough to meet all of those.

The walking – oh! The walking! A day in a theme park of the scale we are talking about here involves walking for miles and miles. Are you ready for that? Are your kids prepared?!

What You Need To Consider

When it comes to being physically fit for a Florida vacation, it comes down to a few essentials:

  • The heat & humidity
  • The walking
  • Long days

Adults and kids alike will have varying degrees of ability to cope with the conditions of a Florida holiday. Hubby’s nephews, for instance, coped brilliantly with the long days and heat. I hardly heard a complaint from them and they were perfectly fine staying up late for the fireworks. My kids, on the other hand, were falling asleep at dinner on both previous trips and last time they both slept through different, very loud portions of Mickey’s-Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (with ear defenders on, admittedly)!

So it comes down to your family and what your unique personalities and habits are like. Plan the holiday that is right for your needs.

Planning A Florida Vacation - Fit for Florida, getting fit for the heat and walking

The Heat & Humidity

It is hot. For those of us from the north of England, where 60% of our days are overcast and we rarely see temperatures over 25 degrees centigrade, going to a place with daily highs in excess of 30 degrees is a bit of a shock to the system!

In order to cope, you need to stay hydrated. A lot of us are kind of crap at drinking enough water. In order to rectify this flaw, I began tracking my fluid intake a while back, in my bullet journal, of course! One of my daily habits that I track is to drink 2litres of diluted squash. I have had a lot of trouble drinking water since I was a kid. I remember hating it by the time I was about 5 and for years I would instantly bring up any gulp of water that I tried to swallow. I could/would only drink soft drinks – squash, juice and fizzy pop.

I am determined to change that, but it takes time to re-wire the brain to accept something that it has rejected for 30 years! So I am slowly reducing the amount of cordial that I put into my One Green Bottle, gradually decreasing the concentration so that I can eventually get to only drinking water.

I’m doing pretty well! A few months ago it was almost impossible for my drink to be too strong, now I can’t stand it if it’s more than about 1 part squash to 8 parts water. I’m going to be drinking pure water by next May so that I can stay properly hydrated in Florida.

On previous trips, I have drunk a LOT of cola. The re-fillable mug they give you when you have the dining plan, or that you can buy if you don’t, makes it oh so easy to just keep chugging away on the fizzy drinks all day long. That’s not okay, folks! It won’t hydrate you properly and all that sugar can do terrible things to your body.

It’s also worth considering that the heavier you are, the harder it will be to cope with the humidity. All that extra body fat keeps you warm and you do not need to keep warm in Florida. You need to keep cool! All the water rides and shady outdoor spots in Walt Disney World will not mean a thing if you are so heavy you can’t walk a few yards without breaking into a sweat (this is me, BTW, and absolutely NO judgement directed at anyone reading, no matter what size you are).

Last trip, I found myself almost stumbling, zombie-like, from one air-conditioned building to another, barely able to breathe in the open air. To be fair, it was unseasonably hot for October, locals kept telling us so on all the bus rides around WDW. But it helps to be prepared for these sorts of conditions.

The Walking

Miles, seriously, every day. You will be walking a lot. Having a couple of pairs of great shoes will be essential. But better yet, be fit!

Do you regularly walk 3-5 miles per day? In the hot weather? If you do, then, great, you’re all set! But not all of us are so lucky. I drive almost everywhere and have lapsed into a very sedentary lifestyle. This is something I have tried to change in the past and always ended up reverting to old habits.

It’s hard, folks, I know it is. But with a holiday like this to motivate me, I know I can smash my fitness goals and make healthy choices for LIFE!

With only 8 months to go (just under at time of writing), I need to step things up a notch as I have yet to make much progress on this goal. I have an app on my phone that tracks my steps and my goal is to get my daily steps up to at least 10,000 on average.

Last week I rejoined the gym after about 2 years absence. Just telling myself to walk instead of taking the car wasn’t resulting in actual behaviour change. So it’s time to try something else.

I’m going to be doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) and lifting weights. The HIIT is the best kind of cardio training to increase heart health and build stamina. Weightlifting builds strength, which boosts the metabolism, which helps cope with heat too. I could write an essay on my exercise choices and why they are right for me, but you need to research this and decide what is right for you.

So, have a think about whether you need to increase your fitness to cope with all the walking you’ll be doing. Give yourself enough time to meet your goals too.

Long Days

A big part of why we are going for 3 weeks this time, instead of the more usual 2, is because none of us really manage well with really full, long days. If we’re going to really enjoy everything that this vacation has to offer, we want to be able to really take our time. It doesn’t suit us to hurtle from one ride to another with just the occasional break for food.

We want to enjoy the fireworks and other evening entertainment this time, instead of dozing through it. So we want to have leisurely afternoons at the hotel and head back out to the parks later. 3 weeks gives us more time to do this.

But the days will still be long. None of us is used to actively napping these days, so chances are we will be awake from early morning to midnight or beyond for many days of the holiday. Being fit and healthy will help with this too. The sleep we get will be deeper and more restful (being overweight can cause sleep apnea or snoring – which affects everyone in the room).

The Elephant in the Room

I have to mention this one, which is personal to me and won’t apply to everyone reading. I can’t look back at the photos from our previous trips that include me. I do not like seeing myself that big, and I’ve gotten much bigger since our last Florida vacation.

So my final Fit for Florida goal is to learn to love my body, whatever its size. I want to look back fondly and love the smile on my face in every picture. I don’t want to see a self-conscious, awkward me looking back at me from the photo album. Whether I achieve my physical goals or not (although I WILL), the one thing that absolutely has to change is how I feel about myself.

So I practice daily affirmations to send a little love to myself every day. I have phrases such as “I am beautiful – just as I am” and “I love and accept myself in every way”.

I’m also changing my visual diet. Evidence shows that the images we consume every day shape our feelings about bodies. People who frequently see very thin, unattainable body shapes, will only be attracted to those bodies and often feel negative towards their own body if it fails to measure up. Those who frequently view larger bodies are more likely to be attracted to larger bodies and feel better about their own size.

I’m never going to look like Kate Moss, nor would I wish to, my fitness goals don’t include fitting into a size zero. I want to be healthy, leaner than I am now, physically stronger, but most importantly, happy in my own skin (and fat and muscle).

In My Bullet Journal

Obviously, if you know me, you know I’m tracking all of this in my bujo. Never encountered that term before? Check out my introductory post here.

I have this spread near the start of my current journal to track my fitness goals for this vacation.

There are a couple of goals on this spread that I haven’t talked about in this post yet. Just to touch on them quickly:

Disney is really accessible. There are really no rides or attractions that are off limits due to a person’s size. Universal is a slightly different story. Wide hips can be problematic for some of the seats. So that top goal is about that. I don’t want to have to even worry unnecessarily about whether I will be too big to fit into a seat. It should just be a non-issue.

The other is that I have not always been great at avoiding foods that irritate my gut. I’ve gone through periods of avoiding dairy and gluten, but not stuck with it. I don’t really want our next big holiday marred by frequent dashes to the toilet because I ate something that bothered me! So I just want to increase my discipline there.

Planning a Florida Vacation - Fit for Florida in my bullet journal, bujo fitness inspiration

Having goals isn’t enough, you need action steps if you’re going to reach them, so these are listed here, along with mini-mouse goals at the bottom of the right-hand page ūüėČ

I check back in with this spread often, reminding myself of my “why”, my goals and action steps.

Having something positive to look at is inspiring and is helping me to get closer to achieving my goals.

So, let me know in the comments what your fitness goals are for your Florida vacation! Had you given this a lot of thought already? Or are you just realising that this might be a good idea?

Next month I’ll be back to cover how we go about choosing which attractions top our wish lists and I’ll give you a sneak peek at my Trello board for planning this vacation.

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Planning a Florida Vacation! – 9 Months To Go – Saving & Booking Flights!

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

 

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan

9 Months To Go: Saving & Booking Flights

So, you’ve booked your accommodation and it’s starting to feel a bit more real now. You’re actually going to Walt Disney World!

If you’re super sensible, then you didn’t even book until you had the total sum of your budget for the holiday in the bank. Or maybe you’re reading this well in advance of ever booking and are looking for saving tips to get you ready for booking. That’s fab. But if you’re anything like me, then you already booked and you’re realising now that you need to save thousands in time to pay for the damn holiday. Eek!

It’s okay, you’ve got this.

Your Budget

By this point you should be familiar with your budget; you know how much your entire vacation is going to cost. So now is the time to look at how much you have already paid up front for the deposit and how much you have already got saved up for the rest. The Worksheet that I shared back in the first post in this series will help you if you feel a bit lost here.

Your budget will be unique to you, so I don’t want to put figures into your head. Just remember to consider:

  • Accommodation
  • Flights/travel (inc to and from airports)
  • Travel expenses (food on the go, books or magazines for the journey etc)
  • Car hire
  • Parking
  • Food
  • Souvenirs
  • Park Tickets
  • Extra paid events e.g. shows like La Nouba (if you’re going to WDW this year, it finishes forever on 31st December 2017!) or seasonal parties like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
  • Laundry – some rooms and resorts have free laundry facilities, but you may need to budget for the machines and detergent

I’ve made a handy Florida Vacation Budgeting Worksheet¬†for you to help you figure all of this out.

Saving Up

If you don’t already have several grand in the bank set aside for this, then you’re going to need to figure out how much money you need to put aside each month in order to be able to cover everything.

Take the total cost and divide it by the number of weeks or months until you need the total (remember that your bill for the accommodation will be due a few weeks before you travel, but you won’t need souvenir money until you’re actually there). This gives you a saving schedule to follow. So for example, if you need ¬£5,000 and have 35 weeks to save up, you will need to put away ¬£143 per week.

You can flip this around and start with how much you can realistically put away each week or month. Say you can manage £400 per month and have 9 months, then you can save £3,600 in total.

Using My Bullet Journal

If you’ve been following my other blog posts, you will probably know by now how much of a fan I am of the bullet journal! My bujo is used for all aspects of planning in my life, and this vacation is no exception. I have a spread for tracking my savings, another my fitness goals and various pages dedicated to planning notes.

There are an infinite number of ways you could track your savings and there are fantastic ideas on Pinterest, so check there for inspiration.

This is my spread.

Bullet journal spread for tracking my savings for our Walt Disney World vacation

Booking Flights

Flights tend to start being available to book around 10 months ahead of travel, so it’s around now that you can organise this part of your travel plans.

Prior to this, it’s impossible to get an accurate quote for the cost of your flight. You can search flights with different dates to get a rough idea, but as flight prices vary so much by season and how far in advance you are booking them, this isn’t a reliable method. This is the most significant hitch when it comes to budgeting for your Florida holiday. As a general rule, when we are planning a year in advance, we estimate flights at ¬£500 per person. When it comes time to book flights, we try to find an airline offering flights for around this price.

While it is possible to get late deals on flights much closer to the time of travel, I don’t recommend relying on this in your budget. You might not be able to get flights for the right dates, and they might not be as cheap as you were hoping. It’s better to overestimate the cost and get a nice surprise saving, leaving you a little extra room in your budget for souvenirs or extras.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share on booking flights? Or on budgeting for a big family vacation like this? I love to hear from readers, so drop a comment below.

I’ll be back next month with my top tips for getting Fit for Florida!

Budgeting and saving money for your Walt Disney World Florida vacation
Budgeting for your Florida vacation - printable PDF worksheet

Unschooling – Why We Don’t Need Holidays

We’re an unschooling family.

With the schools breaking up for the summer, it seemed like the right time to talk about the fact that we don’t take a “school” holiday. There a lot of myths around home education, one of which being that we have to follow school terms. We don’t!

home education homeschooling taking vacations, we don't need holidays

What Is Unschooling?

There are a lot of special terms, or jargon, around education. So let’s just get this one out of the way. I described us as an “unschooling family”. What on earth does that even mean?!

Unschooling is an educational philosophy or style based on the principle that children have an innate curiosity and desire to learn and that traditional schooling actually damages this. The idea is that when children are allowed to direct their own education, they will gladly learn anything they are interested in, and crucially, retain the information far better than they do if they are force fed information.

When children come willingly to a topic, they genuinely want to know all they can and they will absorb the information, or develop the skill, with no need to be “taught” by someone else. They can acquire the information through a variety of sources, and it is the parent’s role to provide access to those sources.

No limits are placed on education, or no arbitrary ones, at least. We don’t follow a schedule, or have a bell that tells us “that’s enough maths, time for geography”. If they want to spend four hours measuring things, they can do so. If they want to obsess about dinosaurs for eighteen months, they can do so. This actually happened. The four hours measuring never did, that was just an extreme example to illustrate the point.

Educational Value in Everything

Those eighteen months where all the Munchkin and the Bean were interested in was dinosaurs were AMAZING. The level of obsession was a bit intimidating, sure, but they came through it with encyclopaedic knowledge.

We read books, looked at pictures, watched videos, did volcano experiments. They learned so much about the history of the planet, geology, palaeontology, fossilisation, and reproduction! Not to mention special effects in filmmaking.

That knowledge has stuck with them. The Munchkin is now reading, totally self-taught, and can confidently read words like “Carnotaurus”, “Diplodocus” and “Tyrannosaurus”.

Children are learning all the time, so by not placing limits on their learning, we don’t ever prevent them from learning something. That would damage their relationship with education, put them off, or hold them back. Likewise, we don’t insist on them learning anything.

We appreciate that learning is lifelong, they do not have to cram everything they will ever need to know into a fixed time frame. If there is something they need to know, according to their needs, not some prescribed idea imposed on them, they will learn it.

As they go through life, they may decide they need to know how to run a business, or bake a cake, or fix a car, or design a web page. Once they decide, they will know how to find out. That is the central ethos behind unschooling: ensure they love learning and know how to learn. Then they’ll be set for life.

We have never forced numeracy or literacy. Both of them are particularly attuned with numbers. We talk about maths all the time, we explain principles, we illustrate with examples – when they ask questions. As a result, the Munchkin has a profound grasp of the theory of mathematics. So he can figure out the answer to any sum he needs. He understands the principles. If we had drilled him in his times tables and made him learn by rote, I don’t believe he would a) love maths the way he does, or b) understand it.

Likewise with reading. I’m a writer and hubby is an avid reader, so this is super important to us. I was adamant that our children would love stories. I never wanted to put them off reading or writing. So there is no pressure to do either. The Munchkin is 8 now (yikes!) and has been read to almost every day of his life. Our home is filled with books and he sees his parents and grandparents reading all the time. In his own time, in his own way, he has learned to read.

It really only clicked this year, but I wasn’t worried because I knew that this is really common. That when children are given the space to direct their own education, they typically learn to read when they are ready, sometime between 6 and 10 years old.

Our education system pushes reading at ever younger ages. It was bad enough that four-year-olds were having to do reading home work. I hear now that some preschools are forcing toddlers into phonics lessons at two or three years old (parents talking in Facebook groups, I wish I could cite a source as I find this really shocking). To me, this is madness and the only certain outcome is a generation of people who, at best, tolerate reading when they must, at worst, despise it!

Learning While Living

Unschooling families don’t divide up learning from living. Education isn’t something that happens Monday to Friday, from 9 am until 3 pm. Learning happens all the time. When a child isn’t squashed into a time table, they are open to learning from all sorts of activities, at any time they are awake! Their brain even goes on processing information while the child is asleep.

We don’t have a “school room” or “learning area”, because of this basic philosophy. We don’t need to sit at a desk to learn. Really, home education is a bit of a misnomer. A great deal of our education happens outside the home. It happens at the park, in the woods, at museums, at the cinema, at friends’ houses. It happens in the car on our way places, around the table in a cafe.

We don’t follow an educational schedule and we don’t have term times and holidays.

Because learning is not separate from life, and because education is not a negative thing; hard work and unenjoyable; our kids don’t take breaks from it. They don’t get exhausted from needing to focus for six hours a day. They don’t need down time to just watch cartoons – they can watch cartoons whenever they like! They often choose to do other things, but even cartoons can provide learning opportunities.

I was once asked by a well meaning relative if I gave the Munchkin time off for the summer. This was when he was 4. I was so stunned by the question that I don’t think I gave a very good answer.

So let me say now what I wish I had said then:

He’s four. He plays all day, every day, enjoying his childhood. We don’t do sit-down, formal work. So no, I don’t “give him time off”. Time off from what? Being a happy, engaged child? No, I don’t. He is free to be that all the time, all year round.

He may be eight now, but the same is basically true. The Bean is five, so yeah, the above is totally on point for him.

freedom

We enjoy an enormous amount of freedom and I want my children to truly appreciate that.

When I say we don’t take holidays, I don’t mean that we don’t go away anywhere. We travel! We love to travel. But do we go to top tourist destinations in August? Er… no. We don’t. We avoid doing that deliberately!

One huge advantage to home educating is that we are free to travel all year round, whenever we like. We can take advantage of off-peak travel deals, saving us a lot of money! We can also pick quieter times, and avoid big crowds. We don’t have a school to answer to (or fines to pay) if we go off to the USA for three weeks.

Taking a “holiday” or “vacation” is a chance to get away from home and do different things, but the kids don’t “need” to do this in order to relax or get away from school stress.

Also, really crucially, because of our belief that learning is always happening, we totally acknowledge that there is a lot to be learned from travelling. Contrary to what the schools seem to be saying – that if you are on holiday, your child will fall behind because they need to be at a desk being forced to learn during set hours!

Some of it is obvious; visits to Rome or Athens or Egypt are obviously going to be enormously educational. History, culture, geography, art, architecture, politics, archaeology, all without really trying. But then there are the more subtle things, like using another currency, speaking and reading another language, coping with a different climate, entertaining oneself on a plane. These are all important skills.

Being part of the wider world, grasping globalism, understanding cultural differences; being shut in a school room simply doesn’t allow this sort of education to happen.

educational freedom, creativity, outdoors, learning through living

I hope this post clears up any misconceptions you may have had. I hope you like what you’ve read and have a greater understanding of unschooling.

What are your thoughts? Is this something you would like for your family? Do you disagree with this approach? Polite debate is always welcome ūüėČ

Sizzling Summer Travel Must-Haves

Setting your sights on your summer get-away? Make sure you’re prepared with these top 5 must-have travel items!

 

top summer travel essentials for family vacations

This post contains affiliate links. You never pay more, but I may receive a small commission for purchases, which helps to cover the costs of running this blog.

Whether we’re travelling or not, and we often don’t during peak summer season due to costs and crowds, I still enjoy this season. I’m a Leo and crave sunshine. Like Superman, it gives me my mojo! Although, I should add that I don’t have any Kryptonian super powers ūüė¶

But if I’m not adequately prepared for the hotter days and any travelling we do, the summer can be a lot more challenging!

These are my top 5 must-have items for summer and travelling with kids.

Sun Cream

This is my top priority for the summer, whether we’re staying close to home, or venturing somewhere hotter. Getting enough vitamin¬†D is super important, so I let my little ones get some direct sun on their skin as often as possible. After about 20 minutes, however, I make sure that all of our skin in protected.

I prefer to use natural sun cream and avoid chemicals. We use a number of Green People products, including this fab Organic Children Sun Lotion. It has a nice high SPF to protect our fair skin, is not sticky, spreads nicely and is really reliable. It contains no harsh chemicals.

swim safety

The Munchkin and Bean love being in the water, but they aren’t confident swimmers yet. It gives me enormous peace of mind to be able to let them swim, splash and play in the pool or shallow waters of the sea without me hovering nearby. They’re at the stage where they want more independence. These float jackets from Splash About provide them with that.

Float jackets¬†have a significant advantage over armbands; they don’t get in the way of the arms or require the wearer to adopt unnatural¬†swimming positions. The Splash About jacket has removable floats so you can adjust it to your child’s ability. My two kids love theirs!

Travel Sleep Kit

Travelling with kids is never easy! If you’re taking a long flight or train journey, then getting some rest, if at all possible, seriously helps. I’ve never been able to sleep properly in the standard economy plane or train seats as I find it hard to get comfortable and tune out the environment. Last time we took a long haul flight, all four of us were awake the entire time. It was an overnight flight too, so we literally lost a night’s sleep! It was hell driving back from the airport after we landed!

If you’re travelling with another adult, taking turns to rest, while the other is on child duty, can help make the journey easier on everyone. If like me, you struggle to do that, you can get sleep aids that really help. A good neck support and eye mask can help you find a comfortable position and give your body the darkness it needs to shut down and sleep. Ear plugs help in a noisy environment too. These handy travel kits pack down nice and small to fit in carry-on luggage.

Trunki

This has to be my favourite travel essential! My kids have one Trunki each and they have saved my skin more than once! Last year, I took the kids away to Majorca on my own. This was a big deal for me, as I had never taken them abroad without the hubster. It was such hard work and not something I am keen to repeat! But I am so glad I did it.

Coming home, the kids were tired, hungry and grumpy. Getting them through the airport would have been an absolute nightmare if it hadn’t been for their Trunkis. These hand-luggage-sized suitcases can fit a lot of toys and books, a change of clothes and any other travel essentials. But crucially, the kids can ride on them like little ride-on toys! They can also pull them along using a strap. On this particular trip, the check in queue was monstrous. But the kids were able to rest their aching feet by sitting on their Trunkis and could shuffle their way through the line without getting too bored or frustrated.

Many curious travellers alongside us in the line were looking on with envy, and an elderly couple behind us were deeply impressed by them (the kids, as well as the Trunkis!)

I swear, for as long as the kids are small enough to ride on them, I will never travel without their Trunkis! They come in a range of colours and designs to suit the tastes of any child. We have one in the original blue, but also this gorgeous Trunkisaurus Rex!

Busy Bags

Finally, keeping the young ones occupied during a long journey can be a challenge. There are only so many rounds of Eye Spy an adult can play before cracking up. Be it a car journey, or train or plane, busy bags are invaluable!

The idea is to fill a small bag, small ziplock or sandwich bag sized (you can literally use these by the way) with activities for the kids to do whilst sat in their seats. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for this.

One great option is this handy dry-erase book. It’s potentially hours of entertainment bundled up in one small package. The book contains several pages of light weight white board that kids can draw on with water-based pens. It can be used for games of hangman, noughts and crosses, doodling, and anything else your child can think of. When the pages are full, wipe them clean and start again.

That wraps up my top 5 travel essentials. I love to hear from readers, so please drop a comment below to let me know what you couldn’t travel without this summer!

How to Plan a Florida Vacation!

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

 

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

We are planning to go in May 2018, and we began planning last month, about one year ahead. So please consider this post the 12 months out step, even though it’s now 11 months until we go. I’ll publish an update every month to guide you through the planning each step of the way.

Now, the kids know nothing about this yet! A year is a long time to have two small people constantly asking if we go tomorrow! So, we’ll be surprising them with the big news much nearer the time. It’s your call how you approach this. Maybe your kids are a bit older and would enjoy being part of the initial planning stages. If so, go for it! I’m looking forward to the days when my gang can help pick the resort we stay at without going crazy waiting for departure day!

So, the first thing you need to do, about a year ahead of travelling, is take some time to consider these four elements:

  • Budget
  • Duration of stay
  • Your party, and any unique needs
  • What kind of vacation you want this to be

Let’s get into some detail…

Budget

Maybe you already have the funds saved up, this is definitely the sensible way to do it. But perhaps you are budgeting in advance, knowing you will have it all covered in time. Either way, you need to know your budget before you book. This will help you determine everything else, from where you stay, how you travel, how long you go for, whether you get the dining plan or not… everything.

You should think about what you are comfortable spending on each of these general categories:

  • Accommodation
  • Flights/travel
  • Food
  • Souvenirs
  • Car Hire
  • Park Tickets

Now, some of these are relatively fixed, such as park tickets, but others are highly variable. Your budget will likely play a significant role in determining whether you stay at a Walt Disney World resort, a Universal one, or another hotel or villa off site. There are pros and cons to each of these options, which I will talk about more in my next post in the series. Where you decide to stay will also determine whether you decide to rent a car or not. If you’re staying on property at WDW, and are not planning to check out much else in or near Orlando, then you probably don’t need to hire a car. Guests staying on site have access to free Disney transportation between parks and resorts, and on the whole, it’s pretty good. When we went in 2012, we just hired a car for a few days when we scheduled out days at Universal. This kept the costs down. We managed just fine without a car for the rest of the two weeks we were there, despite having a small baby with us.

It’s easy, when browsing package vacations online or in brochures, to see the cost per person and think it seems totally reasonable and doable, without thinking of the other costs associated with the trip. Don’t forget about eating while you’re there! This can be extremely costly. There are ways to mitigate the costs and save a bit of money, again, there will be more on this in a later post, but you need to factor it into your budget from the outset. Same goes for other spending money whilst away, and any other parks or destinations you intend to visit whilst in Florida, such as Sea World, the Kennedy Space Centre, Busch Gardens, and so on.

Duration

This will be determined by your budget and the needs of your family. When I was 11, me and my parents went to Orlando for just 5 days and had a blast. We only went to Magic Kingdom,¬†of the WDW parks, but we also went to Wet ‘n’ Wild, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens.

The two times I have been as an adult, with my young children and all of my husband’s family, we went for two weeks. When travelling from thousands of miles away, it’s a good idea to consider the time it takes to travel, the recovery from that (hello, jetlag), and how long you will need to make the most of your trip. It’s often very economical to go for two weeks instead of one, with the price not being as much more as you might think.

But for our next trip, we are going all out and staying for three weeks! This might sound crazy to some folks, but for us, it makes a lot of sense. Both our previous trips were interrupted with brief illnesses (I blame economy flights and all those germs percolating in a pressurised cabin). There is so much to do, especially if you want to go away from Disney for a bit, and the weather is so hot for most of the year – us Brits with fair complexions have to think about our sun exposure! Both previous trips were exhausting and we would prefer to pace ourselves. When you stay at a Disney resort, one of the perks is Extra Magic Hours; when one of the parks opens early or stays open late for resort guests. When you can plan to take advantage of this, you can easily retreat from the sun and busy parks during the peak of the day (roughly 12 noon-3pm), then head back out late afternoon for a few more hours.

We want to do this and still have time to do everything we want to do. We don’t want to be contending with blisters, sunburn, fatigue and so on; all perils of this kind of holiday.

Your Party

This is very much wrapped up in the above point; consider who is travelling with you and what they need from the experience. How many adults? How many children? Anyone with accessibility needs? Anyone autistic? These things will be important in deciding where you stay and how long for. What are the unique needs of your party?

Last time we went, we were a party of 5 adults, and 6 children, including a baby only a couple of months old. One of the adults had recently had a hip replacement, too. So we had to consider this in deciding where to stay and how to structure our vacation. For example, we hired cars for the entire duration, rather than just a few days like the previous trip, so that we had more transport options for the less mobile members of our family.

What Kind of Vacation Do You Want?

This might seem like a daft question, but it really isn’t. It’s not a simple matter of Florida = Theme Parks and Thrills. A Florida holiday can be a slow and relaxing one; with ample golf, sunbathing, and spa treatments. It might involve exclusively Disney, or completely avoid WDW! You might want the high-adrenaline of Universal at Halloween¬†(totally on my bucket list for when the kids are older!),¬†or the awesome experience of seeing a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. All mod cons and luxury? Or rustic wilderness?

Disney has a resort for everything. Never mind the myriad of non-Disney options.

If you’ve decided on staying at a Disney resort, think about which park or parks you’re likely to visit most on your vacation. If you have young children, that’s likely to be Magic Kingdom; older kids might be keen to spend several days at Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios; adults only may get most out of Epcot (though there is lots for kids too!). Consider this when looking at the resorts and their locations. Think about transport. WDW is huge, it can be a fairly long bus ride out to Animal Kingdom, for example, so if that’s your top destination, consider staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

My point is: do your research!

I highly recommend the following sites for all your Florida vacation prep needs (I am not affiliated with any of these sites or companies and only ever recommend people or products that I have used myself):

Walt Disney World – official travel site

WDW Prep School

Disney Tourist Blog

WDWInfo

Universal Orlando – official site

And you can’t beat Pinterest! Check out my Florida board!

Now, I’ve gone and dumped a whole load of information on you, I’m sorry. After what I said up top about overwhelm. Well, I want to help you beat the overwhelm and plan the vacation of a lifetime! So take a look at my free printable worksheet. This should help guide you through the initial planning stage and focus your thoughts. I’ve also included a basic planning schedule, with reminders of when you will need to organise the different aspects of your trip and plenty of space for notes.

WDW Walt Disney World vacation holiday planning worksheet free printable

Florida Vacation Planning Worksheet

Next Month: Accommodation

3 Top Tips for a Chilled Out Winter with A New Baby!

90338.jpgThis time five years ago, I was heavily pregnant with the Bean – wait, what? Was that really five whole years ago? Where has the time gone?! Three years before that, hubby and I moved 220 miles when I was 26 weeks pregnant. I really don’t recommend doing that! It’s been a few years since I had a tiny baby, but I remember it pretty clearly and have definitely learned a lot since then. You find that parenting is rather like being on a swing. It takes a bit of effort to get going and coordinated, but once you’re in the swing of it, you forget the effort it took and it becomes second nature. I hope that some of these tips from a wise old bird will help a few new parents this winter.

1Layer up! Obvious really, but this is my number one top tip. I didn’t really get it the first time around. I kept wearing the types of clothes I had worn pre-baby and was forever the wrong temperature! Nursing burns serious calories (so go ahead and let yourself have a slice of that home made cake at baby group), and in your hormonal post-partum state, you may get hot flushes. You’ll want to wrap up against the cold, but then when you arrive at your destination, be prepared to shed layers to be comfortable.

Same goes for baby, by the way! Several layers is better than one thick snowsuit, especially if baby is going to be in a car seat or be worn in a carrier (more on that in a mo). It’s super important not to put baby in anything too thick when they are in their five-point harness car seat, as if the worst should happen and you are in a collision, that padding can prevent the straps being tight enough to keep baby safely in their car seat.

When the Bean was little, I spent the extra cash on some nursing tops, rather than making do with what I had. I highly recommend Boob for fantastic tops for this time in your life. I still wear my hooded jumper from time to time. You can add layers safe in the knowledge that you can easily get to your breast to feed baby, without the discomfort of bunching up excess fabric or getting a chill from having your side/belly/chest uncovered.

Invest2 in a good carrier…. or six! I know not all parents will agree on this one, and each to their own, but I find a pram or buggy totally impractical in winter. I’ve never figured out how the parent holds an umbrella while pushing a pram, and the thought of slipping on ice and a pram rolling away down the steep hill that we live on is unthinkable! The Munchkin was in a pram a fair bit when he was little, but it was spring-summer and I hadn’t yet really discovered babywearing properly. We did have a sling, but I didn’t get on with it. It took me a while to get to a sling library and find a better carrier. He was ten months before we ditched the pram and started wearing him exclusively.12043191_1060903917277302_6469733779818377733_n

The Bean has only ever been in a buggy when we were on holiday in Florida and it was too hot to wear him. At home, I’ve never felt the need to use one with him. I got seriously into babywearing after he was born, and invested in several fantastic wraps, a ring sling, and a gorgeous custom made, Dr Seuss-themed, half-buckle mei tai by Madame GooGoo! I was wearing this in London one day, when a woman approached me from behind and told me she had seen pictures of my carrier online (sling makers often share photos of their finished products before shipping them) and long been an admirer of it, she was so surprised to see it in person. The sling world is like that, very friendly and approachable. Carriers also retain their value quite well, so can be sold on when they are no longer in use. I had to sell this carrier on last year. I often wonder where it is now and if it is still getting lots of use.

Babywearing in winter is a great way to keep each other warm and safe. Light layers, as mentioned above, are best, to avoid over-heating. I absolutely loved putting my babies in leg warmers, as in the picture above, a great compliment to babywearing and cloth nappies.

Most high street carriers are unsuitable for babywearing safely. They don’t allow for parents to follow the “TICKS” guidelines, and forward facing positions place stress on the wrong parts of a baby; chiefly their spine and crotch (these are jokingly referred to as “crotch-danglers” in the babywearing community). So, if you are going to wear your baby, make sure that your carrier enables you to wear baby in the correct position (Tight against your body, In sight at all times, Close enough to kiss, Keep the chin off the chest, and Supported back –¬†upright, facing you,. These are the T.I.C.K.S.). Back carries are great when babies get a bit older, but newborns are best worn on the front so that the TICKS can be observed.

There is a wealth of detailed information out there for those wanting to wear their babies, so I urge you to take a good look around the net, find a local sling library, and get support. There are loads of groups on Facebook dedicated to this!

3Don’t over-do things! If you are just about to have a baby, or have recently given birth, for goodness sake, don’t try to take on too much this festive season! It’s not worth it. Take it easy. Nest, or snuggle into your “babymoon” and enjoy your new baby. Get help in for Christmas, from family or friends. Don’t feel you have to cook a huge feast for all of your extended family. Traditions are great, but they can wait until next year if they involve a lot of effort. Let yourself have this pause from the hectic hustle and bustle of the season, your body will thank you. Stock up the freezer with easy-to-heat meals; get shopping delivered instead of traipsing around a supermarket with a baby;¬†say no to the invitations that you know you need to skip this year; keep it simple. I had the Bean at the end of January, so Christmas 5 years ago was a fairly low-key affair. I was waddling everywhere and unable to sleep comfortably due to my huge bump.

Nursing a newborn means resting and nourishing your body, rushing about trying to fit in too much won’t do either of you any good. If you have commitments that can’t be skipped or delegated, then find ways to manage them. You might have a school run to do with an older child, or a relative to care for. Of course you need to do these things, but try to have realistic expectations of yourself.

I hope some of this is helpful. If you have any more tips for the season, do please share them in the comments below. I love to hear from readers!

 

25 Christmas Countdown Activities

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It’s that time of year! Once Halloween and Bonfire Night are done and dusted, when the smell of gunpowder has settled, I can let myself get excited about Christmas. Our family is still quite young, but we are developing our own set of traditions around the festive season. My favourite thing to do is plan a special activity for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. We use a modified version of Elf on a Shelf, totally free of the sinister “I’m watching you” tone!

Instead, our elf, Erol, can be found each morning with a new activity for us to do that day. Some days we stay home and do a craft, others we head out to see friends or family, and on a few days throughout the season we do something extra special. I thought I would share our countdown with you.

Because we might have half a dozen different Christmas movies on separate days, for example, there won’t be 25 distinct activities here, but plenty of ideas to give you 25 days worth of activities.

img_00061. On the 1st December, Erol arrives with our Christmas tree and decorations for us to put up. I look forward to this day so much, with mounting excitement right through November, and this year, I’ll be honest, I’m having to hold myself back!

2. We attend a home ed forest school every month and this December it falls on the 2nd, so we’ll be incorporating this into our advent activity. My kids love collecting things from nature every time we head out. So we’ll be picking out some sticks, leaves and other forest goodies and making some natural decorations when we get home. Check out these ideas from Rainy Day Mum.

3. Visit friends. We’re heading over to a friend’s place to help decorate their house, eat mince pies, and generally welcome in the festive season with good company.

4. Board game day. Gaming is a big thing for our family. I played endless board games with my parents growing up, especially at this time of year. Hubby and I are very much into modern board games, as opposed to your traditional Monopoly, Cluedo and so on. Hubby has backed soooooo many new games through crowd funded projects and we now have a huge unit with the collection on. Many of them are strictly adults only (being horror based), but we have some great games for the kids to enjoy, such as Ticket to Ride. Cooperative games are a great alternative to play with children, they help reduce aggression and improve team play. Check out this list of top co-op games for families.

5. Make salt dough decorations. My kids aren’t hugely into crafts, so these are limited and front loaded so that we can put up anything we make and enjoy it for the rest of the season. We’re going to have a crack at these.

assorted-christmas-cards-1448895398jeq6. Write and post cards. A few years ago I decided that I wasn’t going to send Christmas cards any more. They just end up in the recycling after a few weeks and when sent in bulk, the well wishes seem to lose meaning. But this year I looked sadly at my over-the-door card holder and remembered it hanging empty a year ago. When I was a kid, my mum would string thread up all over the living room to hang the cards sent to us by friends and family. We would get hundreds of cards. She still follows this tradition, sending and receiving cards, in many cases this is her only correspondence with the other person or family, but it holds great value. It is a chance to catch up and keep in touch. Today, with social media, it is all so frenzied. We over-share, without really connecting. So this year, I am writing a few meaningful cards for people who really matter. I’d like to encourage my children to forge life-long friendships and connect meaningfully with those most special to them.

7. Read Christmas books! One lovely tradition that some parents observe, is to wrap up 25 winter or Christmas themed books for the start of advent and open one each day to read together. I love this idea and may well do it one year, but I don’t like to take on too much, so we’ll just dedicate a few days to this idea this year.

8. Watch Christmas films. This is probably my favourite item on the list. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting watching family films together at this time of year. With many hundreds to choose from, especially if you have access to a streaming service or movie channels, it’s hard to choose just a handful! My top picks have to be: The Nightmare Before Christmas (which we watch at Halloween too), Polar Express, Home Alone and Santa Claus: The Movie. Bring on the cheese-fest! What are your favourite festive films? Let me know in the comments!

9. Make Clay Snowflakes – with melted crayon and glitter! These simple decorations¬†over at Arty Crafty Kids look awesome and I can’t wait to try them out with my kids this December.

SONY DSC

An actual German market, in Konstanz. Image courtesy of LenDog64 on Flickr.

10. Visit a Christmas Market. I absolutely love traditional German markets, the ones that pop up around the holidays. I love the wooden cabins, the smell of fresh food, the hubbub and festive music. Nothing gets me in the mood for Christmas quite like these markets. I can usually pick up a few interesting gifts too. Last year I bought some gorgeous scented candles. The key, when taking the kids, is to see it as a family day out, rather than a shopping trip. Don’t expect to be productive; just enjoy the food, music and atmosphere; take the kids on the carousel; and try to relax and enjoy it.

 

img_013811. Bake a gingerbread house. Or gingerbread men, cookies, cupcakes, mince pies; whatever takes your fancy. Last year we made star shaped cupcakes with some fantastic silicon molds and covered them in glittery frosting and star sprinkles.

This year will be our first attempt at a gingerbread house! I’m going to get one of those kits with everything you need. I can’t wait to let the kids loose with the icing!

12. Go on a Christmas Photo Safari. Create a list of festive sights and see how many you can find and photograph. You could include things like a nativity scene, a star, a Christmas tree, Father Christmas, and so on. You could rope in some friends and make a team effort out of it.

13. All the crafts! If your kids are more crafty than mine, then there are hundreds of things you could make and do with them. My favourite list of inspiration is this one over at One Creative Mommy. We did make the scrap ribbon trees a couple of years ago and still have them to hang on our tree ūüôā

14. Play games. When I was growing up, charades was my favourite game to play this time of year. I would bore my parents rigid with it for weeks! Making the time to play with the whole family is lovely for bonding and making memories. Make it festive by theming the games around the holiday season. You could play pictionary, set up a candy cane hunt, do a quiz. There are stacks of ideas here, at The Military Wife and Mom.

15. Go carol singing. One of my few positive memories from school is singing carols, it’s one of the items on an extremely short list that I feel my kids might be missing by being home educated. So we get our musical high notes any way we can! We aren’t a religious family, but going to a family-friendly carol service at a nearby church is on our to-do list this year. If you have older children, and a group of friends or family who are up for it, you could even go door to door and collect donations for your favourite non-profit organisation. My family have sung carols for Amnesty in the past. If everyone is enthusiastic it can be lots of fun.

16. RAOK. To really get your kids into the spirit of giving, you could encourage them to perform a random act of kindness every day for advent. We’re mixing a few into our calendar. These can be as simple as saying a cheery “Merry Christmas” to a tired-looking check out clerk in a shop, or paying for the next customer’s coffee in a cafe.

17. Reverse Advent Calendar. In a similar vein to the previous point, we’re going to be doing a reverse advent this year. Each day of December, we will find a food item we don’t want or need, and add it to a box. At the end of the month, we’re taking it to a local donation centre who are collecting food parcels for refugees. You could donate to a food bank, or collect up old toys or clothes to give to charity.

winter-solstice-stonehenge

18. Make Solstice Lanterns. We like to observe the wheel of the year, so the Winter Solstice, or Yule, is a key date in our festive calendar. The ancient pagan celebration is about marking the longest night, the darkest point in the year before the sun returns (it’s easy to see how it became about the birth of the son of God). There may be a lantern parade near where you live, or perhaps you’re lucky enough to be near one of the ancient neolithic sites that marked this day in its construction. If so, consider taking a visit to see the sun rise or set there. This year, we are going to be making lanterns at home.

Stonehenge image © Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

19. Christmas Eve Box. This is a fairly new tradition that I’ve introduced to our family. We only started it last year, but it has quickly become one of my favourite things. I have a box covered in scraps of festive wrapping paper and on Christmas Eve, Erol appears with it late in the afternoon. Inside are new pyjamas for everyone, a box of chocolates, a new festive kids’ book and a new DVD. Now we’re all set for a cuddly Christmas Eve together.

20. Stockings! Finally, on Christmas morning, the kids find their stockings, stuffed full of goodies from Father Christmas and handed over by Erol. We don’t make a really big thing out of Father Christmas, my kids know that their main gifts come from family. We don’t take them to visit a grotto. But Santa does fill their stockings with nice little treats; some chocolate coins, a couple of small toys, and a few other bits and bobs. My kids are both early risers, even in winter, so these keep them occupied for half an hour to an hour while the grown ups wake up properly and are ready to start the day.

There are heaps of other things you could do with your family; get the extended family together for a meal out somewhere, go to a pantomime, take a drive or walk out after dark to look at the lights. Let me know what your family traditions are in the comments, I love to hear from you!

You can find links to pretty much all of the activities above, along with many more, on my Pinterest Board: Christmas & Yule Crafts & Activities. Follow me there for future Pins.

I hope you have a magical Christmas!