Nairobi-National-Park-mum-and-baby-white-rhino

6 things to do during a stopover in Nairobi

Do you have a stopover in Nairobi coming up? Don’t waste it sitting in the airport (trust me, there’s not much there!). Instead, go and enjoy the city with my top 6 things to do on a Transit VISA in Kenya’s capital! All these suggestions are family-friendly and fun for all ages.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is East Africa’s busiest airport, serving more than 7 million passengers annually. There are currently 5 commercial terminals, with direct connections to countries across Africa, Europe and Asia, and plans for an additional terminal to facilitate direct flights to North America.

You may very well find that your intercontinental flight has a stopover in Nairobi and you need to transfer, perhaps to another airline, to reach your final destination in Kenya or other African nations.

So, what do you do while you wait for your next flight? Instead of trying to keep the kids entertained in the airport, try one of these:

 

 

1

Nairobi National Park

 

Located a short drive from the airport, Nairobi National Park is one of the smallest in Africa but is known for having one of the highest concentrations of black rhinos, as well as other abundant wildlife (see zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, buffalo, hyenas, hippos, ostrich, baboons, vultures, crocodiles and various species of antelope).

 

 

This is my favourite thing to do whenever I have stopover in Nairobi! We have had some of our most memorable animal sightings here and observing them on wide open grass plains against the backdrop of city skyscrapers makes for a truly unique setting.

Explore the park in an open jeep with a park guide, who will always know the best spots to find wildlife and will take you off the beaten track in search of the encounters you are most hoping for.

 

The ivory burning site, one of the most important landmarks in conservation, is also located inside the park. Here, presidents Daniel arap Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta oversaw the burning of large stocks of seized ivory in 1989 and 2016 respectively. In 1989, 11 tonnes of ivory were burned, sending a powerful message to poachers. This act was widely credited with sparking a reduction in poaching in Kenya at a time when the elephant population across East Africa was being decimated. In 2016, 100 tonnes were burned, the equivalent of tusks from 6000 elephants!

 

2

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

 

Located within Nairobi National Park, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is home to orphaned black rhinos and elephants, who socialise with wild herds in the park every day, but are raised here until it is safe to release them.

You can watch the animals being fed and observe as the elephants enjoy a mud bath, splashing and sliding about like a scene from ‘Dumbo’; keep your wits about you though incase one decides to aim a trunkful of mud your way!

While the elephants play, you’ll learn each of their individual stories and what brought them here. Most of these rescued young animals have either been abandoned by their herds, typically as a result of drought, or orphaned as a result of poaching. You’ll also hear from the keepers about the pioneering conservation work of the late David and Daphne Sheldrick, the wider work of the Trust and opportunities to foster one of the animals.

 

 

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The Animal Orphanage

 

The Animal Orphanage houses a wide range of species including a number of big cats, hyenas, monkeys and a variety of birds. These animals have also been rescued with the aim of rehabilitating them and reintroducing them to the wild. The guides and keepers are incredibly knowledgeable and their positive relationships with the animals they care for is clear. You can learn about each animal while observing them at close range.

 

Of course, we would much rather see all these animals living in the wild, but their time both at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Animal Orphanage is typically only temporary and is with the best interests of the animal in mind.

 

 

4

The Giraffe Centre

 

Established to protect the endangered Rothschild’s Giraffe, this is a conservation success story. Habitat loss in western Kenya saw this subspecies of giraffe pushed to the brink of extinction. Today, numbers are up (although there is still a long way to go!) and the centre has successfully released breeding populations into a number of Kenya’s national parks.

At the centre, you can observe, hand-feed and interact with these curious and gentle giants; a wonderful experience for all ages!

 

5

A city tour

 

Nairobi is a bustling, cosmopolitan city that is in stark contrast to the natural beauty found in Kenya’s national parks, but it has much to offer beyond the sound of blaring car horns, the street sellers that tap at your car window to get your attention, the political propaganda that fills every available nook and cranny, and the churned up red dust that envelops the city.

It’s a city that’s so full of life, both during daylight hours and at night, and I find the contrast between the buzz of the city and the laid back nature of Nairobians utterly captivating. Unlike other economic hubs across the world (think London, Paris, New York, Beijing), people here aren’t always in a rush.

Depending on how long you have, the city can be explored by car or by foot, and you may wish to make stops at the following locations:

Kenyatta International Conference Centre: Take in a 360 degree view of Nairobi and its surrounding countryside from the 28th floor. On a clear day you can even spot Mount Kenya!

Kenyatta market: Probably not where you want to come to buy souvenirs and artwork, but a fun way to pass your stopover in Nairobi! A mélange of hair braiders, who try to entice you into their salon; tailors, who sit at sewing machines surrounded by vibrant patterned fabrics; cobblers, with displays of brightly coloured shoes that rival those sold in Marrakech’s souks; and food stalls that fill the air with the smokey scent of ‘nyama choma’ (barbecued meat). Meander your way through the market, passing by the second-hand sellers and soaking up joyful hubbub, and be sure to haggle respectfully.

Uhuru Park: Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Nairobi in this oasis of calm right next to the city centre. Take a pedalo out on the lake, walk around the various monuments, picnic in the shade, and watch skateboarders compete in competitions.

Karura Forest: An urban indigenous forest with plenty of family-friendly walking, running and biking trails, perfect for some light exercise and a breath of fresh air in between flights. Spend your stopover in Nairobi visiting waterfalls, bird watching, butterfly spotting or exploring caves.

Nairobi National Museum, Botanical Gardens and Snake Park: All in one location, this is a great way to spend a few hours. The museum brings to life Kenya’s rich heritage, and permanent collections showcase both cultural and natural history.

The botanical gardens will ensure some welcome fresh air before you board your flight; follow the nature trail through the gardens, showcasing the diversity of Kenya’s fauna, and past a number of art installations.

The Snake Park is particularly fun for younger travellers, who will be given the opportunity to hold one if they wish. Snakes and other reptiles are housed both in open air enclosures and behind glass. The Park is primarily a research facility but gives visitors an opportunity to view Kenya’s reptiles that are more elusive in the wild.

Nairobi Gallery: Built in 1913, this is a national monument located right in the city centre. Nicknamed the ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ building due to its historical use as a registry office, it now houses temporary art exhibitions.

Karen Blixen’s House and Museum: Visit the farmhouse and gardens where author, Karen Blixen, lived from 1914-1931, and made famous with the release of ‘Out of Africa, an Oscar-winning film based on Blixen’s autobiography of the same title.

Nairobi is energetic, colourful, unpretentious and will give you a wonderful glimpse at African urban life; it would be a shame to spend your stopover in Nairobi confined to the airport and miss out on all that the city has to offer!

 

6

Carnivore restaurant

 

Carnivore is a meat-eaters paradise (but there are loads of scrummy vegetarian options as well). Try Kenya’s most famous selection of ‘nyama choma’ in a fun, family-friendly, open-air restaurant.
Skewered on traditional Masai swords, food is grilled on a visually mesmerising charcoal pit, which dominates the entrance.

Start with the soup of the day and then enjoy the all you can eat main course until you surrender your flag! Waiters carve and serve everything from beef, chicken, lamb and pork, to ostrich, crocodile and camel, at your table. This is accompanied by a selection of salads, vegetable dishes and sauces (your waiter will tell you which sauce is intended for which meat, or you can opt for a lucky dip!).

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Children aged 5-12 eat for half price and there is also a playground in the adjoining Simba Saloon.

You won’t find much to eat at the airport so if you have a stopover in Nairobi, I suggest you eat here!


How do I organise my trip?

I highly recommend booking with Robert from Sojourn Safaris (you can find him on facebook @sojourn.safaris).

We have met Robert on four different occasions and every time has been a pleasure. He will discuss your options with you via email or WhatsApp and work out your ideal bespoke itinerary for your budget and the time that you have. He has always planned a hugely memorable stopover in Nairobi for us, both when we’ve only had a few hours to spare and when we’ve had a full day. He’s punctual, knowledgeable, and we’ve always felt like no request is too great.

His tours come with:
Pick up and drop off at the airport
Comfortable transport
Bottled water
Park guide and open safari car for trips into the National Park
Guides for all other attractions

Please note that the fees do not include tips. Tips should be given for good service, as you feel appropriate, but as a guideline, 1000-2000 Shillings (equivalent of roughly $10-20 USD) is considered typical and is what we have previously given to all guides, safari drivers, and Robert himself.


What else do I need to know?

Check your VISA requirements. If you need a VISA, you can get a transit VISA on arrival for $20 USD, which is valid for 72 hours. You can also get it online, but it is easy to do at the airport so it isn’t necessary to do it in advance.

Please be aware that Kenya is at risk of Yellow Fever so a vaccination is recommended if you plan to exit the airport (please speak with your doctor to confirm your requirements). Border control will let you into Kenya without having had the vaccination but, when you land in your next destination, they will require all passengers who have exited the airport in Kenya to show their Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate. If you don’t have it, you risk being refused entry or quarantined and vaccinated in the airport.

Ditch the plastic! In 2017, Kenya banned the use, sale and production of plastic bags, and ignoring these rules will leave you liable for hefty fines and even a prison sentence, so don’t keep any in your hand luggage! Well done Kenya on implementing the ‘world’s toughest plastic bag ban‘!

 

Have a wonderful stopover in Nairobi! It’s an inspiring city and I have no doubt that your brief time there will convince you to return!

Bamboo rafts sail on the Yulong River in Yangsuo, Guilin, China

11 Cultural Quirks Witnessed in China

I love that we’re all different and we all have cultural oddities that, while considered totally normal in one country, may cause visitors to raise their eyebrows. China was full of these little surprises! Some were amusing, some were heart-warming, and some were a little unsanitary to my out-of-town eyes, but all contributed to my enjoyment of my trip and make me look back on it with great fondness.

 

I will certainly be returning to China with Alex and Theo; it’s a fascinating and beautiful country and I was lucky to meet some wonderful people who were able to teach me about their history and culture. So, in celebration of our idiosyncrasies, here is a list of 11 cultural quirks I witnessed in China.

 

1

Spitting isn’t considered rude. Much like sneezing and coughing, it’s just another normal bodily function in which fluids are expelled, and one’s throat and nose are cleared.

The sound of people hacking up phlegm much like a cat brings up a furball takes some getting used to, especially when in the close confines of public transport and restaurants, or when the noise is coming from the stranger walking right on your heels down a busy street. Taxi drivers are particularly renowned for this delight, but who can blame them when the spend all day breathing in heavy car fumes?!

 

2

Similarly, spitting food out isn’t something that’s done discreetly with darting eyes to check no one’s watching and behind a hand or napkin to preserve your dignity in case you are spotted!

My most memorable experience of this was during an incredible meal shared with new Chinese friends. Ghost Street (Guijie) in Beijing stretches for over a mile and is home to over 200 casual, family-run restaurants serving up mouth-watering dishes at tiny prices at any time of day or night (transport tip: alight at Dongzhimen subway station).

Red lanterns hanging above the street flicker on shortly before sundown and contribute to the festival atmosphere. The celebration is food; traditional recipes from each of China’s regions along with international fare.

We entered a Sichuan restaurant and after a brief exchange in Mandarin between the waiter and Hoover, a born and bred 30-something year-old teacher from Beijing, we were shown to our table and promptly served complimentary appetisers while we waited for the bull frogs, lobster, prawns and hot pot that Hoover had ordered. Provided you don’t have special dietary requirements, always allow a local to choose your meal! The zing of ginger, the aroma of garlic, and the fire of chilli filled my mouth – the food was amazing (although, personally, I found both duck and frog intestine to be a little chewy for my taste)!

I learnt something new during this meal: humans can remove the shell, legs and head of a prawn using nothing but their tongue (not this human, but others evidentially can!). As my dining companions dissected their food inside their mouths and then proceeded to indiscreetly discard the inedible and unwanted bits by spitting them on the table and floor, I looked around and saw everyone else doing the same thing.

I am all for cultural immersion and doing as the locals do, but the stereotypical overmannered Brit in me could only manage removing my frog bones and prawn shell behind a covering hand, placing them neatly on the table and ashamedly concealing them under the lip of my plate.

 

3

It is common for babies not to wear nappies before they are toilet trained. Onesies have gaping holes at the crotch and if they need to go while out and about, parents simply hold their infants either over a tree or over a public rubbish bin.

I still haven’t worked out how parents predict this and prevent themselves from being accidentally covered; speaking from experience, babies don’t give much warning for their toileting needs and once they start, there’s no stopping them while you get them to the nearest tree! Are parents in China carrying around multiple changes of clothes for themselves instead of for their baby, as I did?!

I support anyone not wanting to use disposable nappies, but I think I’ll stick to our lovely cloth nappies rather than dangling defecating children in public places!

 

4

On one occasion, a baby wearing one of these gaping onesies was thrust at me, which brings me to my next point. Be prepared for a lot of attention and endless photograph requests! The mother of this child wanted me to hold her baby so she could take a photograph of me holding him. I posed for photographs taken by strangers like this every day of the 7 week trip, and although I always obliged with a smile, it got very exhausting and I longed to once again blend into the crowd.

 

5

Weirdly though, I sometimes felt invisible. I wasn’t; a white, blonde female by herself with a backpack – I stuck out like a sore thumb!

Brits are known for loving an orderly queue so I had to bite my tongue through the seemingly mandatory pushing and shoving that is more common in China. Queue jumpers lurk next to every ticket booth, information desk, and till, and the use of elbows is recommended for surviving the metro crush.

In London, if someone tries to get on a tube without first stepping to the side to let people off, they receive a tirade of dirty looks, huffs and maybe the odd sarcastic comment. I did the same in Beijing but was promptly bulldozed directly into the people trying to alight by a wall of angry, shouting commuters behind me (as an aside, in Beijing, every hour is rush hour – don’t say I didn’t warn you!).

 

6

Speaking of shouting, unless you speak Mandarin, everyone sounds like they’re shouting and angry. Of course, they’re not; Mandarin is a tonal language and requires a wider vocal range than English, and I think the Chinese are also possibly more expressive in their speech than Brits.

 

7

Although my culture tells me that the tendency to push and shove in China is rude, I found people to be exactly the opposite. Complete strangers really wanted to go out of their way to be helpful.

After stopping people to ask for directions, I was shown around Chongqing by an 18 year old who wanted to practice her English and was then taken to lunch by her and her mother, and a guy in Hangzhou took me on a tour of several temples, translating every information point we came to and also giving me additional history and politics lessons, that were fascinating and included details I would never have otherwise known.

I have numerous stories like this of kind people jumping at the chance to help me out, but my favourite occurred on a night train.

My zig-zag travel across China was all done by train and I booked my onward journey when I had got to each place and figured out how long I wanted to be there. This meant that several of the sleeper trains I booked didn’t have beds available, nor seats, so I slept in the aisle on my backpack for journeys as long as 19 hours.

Anyone who has travelled on China’s trains in the budget carriages will know that they are no Virgin Trains (or even Southern Rail – a timely joke referring to Britain’s currently most hated rail network), which feel like luxury in comparison. They’re filthy, smelly, incredibly cramped, and the toilets are enough to give you nightmares, but they got me from A to B relatively reliably and I met some interesting characters that made the long distances feel shorter.

On this particular over-crowded journey, there was a rush to buy tickets for the beds that had just become available as passengers disembarked at each stop, and huge crowds formed around the conductor selling them. I jumped up and focused my attention on at least grabbing a newly empty seat.

At the next stop, the conductor approached me through the swarm of people trying to wrestle for the much coveted tickets and passed me a note. I opened it. Scrawled in handwriting that suggested the author rarely formed these foreign shapes, I read the words ‘Follow me’. My brain did a quick ‘this could go one of two ways’ calculation. Screw it, I’m following him!

He led me through the heaving carriages, stepping over other unlucky passengers in the aisles, and into a sleeper carriage. Now, I’m not in the habit of following strange men into bedrooms but as he showed me to an empty bunk, I was very grateful for his kindness in reaching out to me (and also now pleased that I didn’t blend into the crowd – it’s swings and roundabouts!).

 

8

There’s no such thing as personal space. I found people in China to be very touchy-feely. It’s really very endearing, but a bit of a surprise when your culture is just the opposite!

Londoners complain about having to get up close and personal with other commuters on the tube; a trip to Beijing or Shanghai would certainly put it in perspective!

It’s not just the forced closeness though. I was constantly touched by strangers, all intended in a friendly way but nonetheless, a little unsettling at first. Unexpected hugs, taking my hand, patting me on the arm, even a few cheek pinches, which I don’t think anyone has done to me since I was a toddler!

 

9

I was in China during the height of summer. It was sweltering! When I stopped in restaurants and cafes, I really wanted cold water, but was always brought freshly boiled water (obviously knowing your water has been boiled is very reassuring but filtering it or treating it are also alternatives to buying bottled water). I don’t drink tea or coffee, and don’t understand how hot drinks can possibly be considered refreshing when it’s a million degrees and humid, but I was always looked at like I’d just walked off Mars whenever I explained that I was after cold water.

 

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I’m no stranger to squat toilets and was expecting to only find seated toilets in accommodation, but thought I’d mention it here for anyone who isn’t yet clued up about this. All public toilets in China are squat toilets, you won’t find toilet paper in any of them, nor will there be any soap. My advice is to always carry loo roll and hand sanitiser, use the toilet before heading out for the day and again whenever you stop in restaurants. Having soap with you is a nice option but there’s no guarantee that toilets will even have running water with which to wash your hands (or flush the loo!). A word of warning: public toilets can be disgusting everywhere in the world, but China’s are the worst I have ever seen. Let’s just say, they’re not well maintained and some people clearly haven’t mastered the squat and catastrophically miss the hole when they do their business. Eek!

 

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Don’t miss out on visiting the public parks; they’re lovely hubs of everyday life and I learnt so much about Chinese culture by sitting and people-watching. Unlike in the U.K., where the most interesting things you’ll see on your average day in your average park are dog walkers, runners, cyclists and kids with scooters, parks in China are central to the community and used by everyone for a whole range of wonderful activities. With speakers blaring, large groups of people gather to partake in group dancing (mostly ballroom and line dancing), tai chi (with and without swords!), kung fu, and a sport that blends tai chi and tennis. People of all ages line the paths, engrossed in games of Chinese Chess and Mahjong, and intricate calligraphy is painted on the walkways. Paper and bamboo kites float on the breeze, and large spinning tops are flung into rotation by the crack of a whip. These are pastimes for adults as much as children and can even be taken to competition. Feel free to join in as well!

What quirky cultural differences have you noticed when travelling? Perhaps you spotted something in China that I haven’t included here. Share it in the comments!

A child's hand plays with a red wood toy Bajo aeroplane airplane

The Complete Guide to Flying with Kids

The thought of flying with kids is enough to keep many parents awake at night! Instead of feeling excited about your upcoming journey, are you worrying about how you’re going to keep your children happy, entertained, well slept, well fed, and clean for the duration of the flight, plus achieve all of this without annoying every other passenger on the plane?!

Don’t panic, it really will be ok. I can honestly say that every one of the 25 mostly long-haul flights Theo has been on to date has been a breeze, but we have learnt a few things along the way.

I recently had the pleasure of writing a guest post for my favourite ethical retailer, Babipur, detailing my 12 top tips to ensure your journey is as stress-free as possible.

 

View the post here for suggestions on:

  • Trip planning, booking the right flight and choosing the best seats.
  • Making the most of your checked luggage allowance and free baby items. If you are planning to take a car seat and buggy/stroller with you in the hold, I suggest protecting them. We use this padded car seat bag along with these Gate Check Pro bags (one for the car seat, which goes over the padded bag, and one for a buggy/stroller) and have found that they have all survived remarkably well for the price tag; well worth the investment!
  • Must-haves for your hand luggage.
  • Time management.
  • Getting through the chaos of airport and security. Hint: a sling helps massively!
  • Dealing with nappy changes in the airport and on flight. In this post, I go into more detail about using cloth nappies while travelling so you may also want to check that out.
  • Snacks and drinks, plus of course our favourite reusable bottles, bags and containers to carry them in. We wouldn’t be without our Klean Kanteens (a Kid Kanteen for Theo, an insulated one for water, which gets filled after we’ve gone through security, and a wide neck insulated one for coffee, which can be filled before departing and then refilled during your flight), Klean Kanteen canisters ( ideal if you need to take a meal on board; not too bulky, leak-proof and I recommend the insulated ones for any hot food), and our Planet Wise sandwich bags and wraps (check out the whole Planet Wise range as they have heaps of options in different sizes and prints to suit your style).
  • Helping little ones to equalise their ears.
  • Providing entertainment that lasts the whole flight. Click here for a few of our favourite (and very much tried and tested!) eco-friendly toys for travelling.

Flying with kids doesn’t have to be stressful! Have a safe flight and a wonderful trip making memories to cherish!

The link again to the whole post is here.

 

Flying-with-kids Flying-with-kids

 


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Lewis river between yellow and green grasses in the foreground and mountains in the background

Is New Zealand as eco-friendly as it seems?

What do you think of when you imagine New Zealand?

If you’ve never been, what’s the impression that photographs, films, and stories have left you with?

Lush countryside filled with grazing sheep? Dramatic landscapes of mountains and sparkling waters under a blue, cloudless sky? Extreme sports and outdoor adventure? Vineyards? The All Blacks performing the Haka?

I’ll bet that you might imagine that New Zealanders consider the environment a priority.

But is that the reality?


We’ve been in New Zealand for five months now and we’re loving it. We’re definitely feeling settled and although Christchurch might not be our home forever, we are very happy here for now and I suspect New Zealand will be our base from which we continue to explore for the foreseeable future.

The countryside is beautiful, the people are welcoming, and the lifestyle for families is fantastic. There are a few things that have surprised us though, particularly the lack of environmental awareness and practice.

The media does a wonderful job of marketing New Zealand as this super eco-friendly country that is leading the way in environmental policy. We had thought everyone would be very conscientious of the environment and protecting, not just New Zealand’s wildlife and landscapes, but the well-being of the whole planet.

Unfortunately, we have found that eco living isn’t high on people’s priority list. Of course there are individuals for whom this is important, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be part of the ingrained culture as we were expecting.

Here are 5 ways that we have been surprised by the lack of environmental awareness in New Zealand. Do these things surprise you too?


 

1

I was expecting to be able to buy fresh local produce at markets, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers in every suburb of the big cities and in smaller towns. Don’t get me wrong, Christchurch has all of these, but only a handful and they are dispersed right across the city (for great quality fresh produce head to Riccarton House and Bush for the farmers’ market on Saturdays, Tram Road Fruit Farm for delicious ‘pick your own’ fruits, Vegeland on Marshland Road, Cashmere Cuisine butcher on Colombo Street, and Theo’s Fisheries on Riccarton Road. You can read more about visiting Christchurch here).

Most people shop at the supermarket since fresh produce is not easily accessible for all, particularly without a car. Sadly there isn’t anything near us so we have to either rent a car or get the bus into town, lugging heavy bags and a toddler (we don’t have a car – see point 4!). In smaller towns buying fresh produce is near impossible without a considerable drive.

 

2

At supermarkets, checkout staff usually pack bags (unless, like me you bring your own bags, but I am yet to witness anyone else do this). They have obviously been trained to under-pack the bags to avoid any potential complaints, and to double-bag each meat item separately. A shop that really should fit in one bag all of a sudden requires five! Reducing plastic bag use was just one of my suggestions for new year’s resolutions; check out other tips here.

 

3

Irrigation is a huge problem in the drier regions of New Zealand. We see this a lot in Canterbury, where the average annual rainfall is 600-700mm compared to the West Coast’s 2000-3000mm on the other side of the Southern Alps.

During the hot, dry summer, everyone’s gardens remain sparkling green and cows graze on the lush dairy farms that fill the Canterbury Plains. There’s more land here so despite cattle being more suited to the temperate rainforest climate of the West Coast, farmers continue to irrigate the Plains.

We have been informed that sadly, due to this irrigation and the increase in dairy farming, swimming holes and rivers are becoming unsafe for humans, let alone other wildlife, and the Avon river that winds through Christchurch, though it may look clear and inviting, is actually incredibly polluted.

 

4

Cars are horrible, smelly, polluting old things! The car market is nuts! They’re stupidly expensive as everything has to be shipped here, so old cars hold their value really well, unlike in the U.K. They also last longer since roads aren’t gritted during the Winter, so people end up driving cars that you won’t have seen on the road for at least a decade in the U.K.

 

5

Supermarket meat is fairly shocking. Chicken breasts are twice the size they should be, it is surprisingly difficult to get uncooked ham (even in the run up to Christmas, despite ham being the meat dish of choice), deli meat is horribly watery and no longer tastes like meat, and there is no variety. Your options are chicken, pork, lamb, beef and a limited range of fish. Essentially, although there are regulations around the use of hormones, meat is pumped full of water, and getting your hands on unprocessed meat is tough.

We’d reduced our meat consumption in order to lessen our footprint prior to arriving in New Zealand, but as meat-eaters this was still a disappointing shock to us. Currently, about 80% of our meals are vegan but if ever there was a time to go totally vegan, it’s now!

 


Despite these surprises, there are of course a number of things that New Zealand gets absolutely spot on!

The Resource Management Act ensures that Iwi are consulted about natural resource matters. This consultation with Maori tribes provides an extra layer of environmental protection, as well as ensuring that areas of cultural significance are preserved. More people working to protect land can surely only be a good thing.

We love that people eat seasonally and there is significantly less reliance on imports compared to in the U.K.. Before we moved, we were a little concerned that we’d miss having year-round access to seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as produce not locally grown at all. In fact, we are enjoying knowing that all the produce we buy in store has been sourced locally, and I now also grow most of our vegetables myself (along with raspberries and blackberries, as these are expensive to buy).

The healthy populations of birds, bees and butterflies are noticeable, even in the big cities. When we’ve been camping, it has been a pleasure to wake to the loudest dawn chorus I have ever witnessed – so loud that in Hanmer Forest, it took me a while to work out whether the white-noise hum that had roused me was the sound of a storm echoing in the branches above, or the simultaneous song of hundreds of birds!

Environmental awareness may not be part of the ingrained culture, but an outdoor lifestyle is certainly typical for New Zealanders. Even in the cities, there are fantastic opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and people certainly make the most of it. We live a few minutes from forest mountain biking, 10 minutes walk from the beach and great surfing spots, 30 minutes drive to beautiful hiking and I can’t wait for winter as we’re only an hour from the ski fields!


So what do you think? Are you surprised? Is this different to the picture you had of New Zealand?

A vintage red tram takes tourists through the streets of Christchurch.

Discover post-quake Christchurch

“I get butterflies just thinking about it” a friend shares with me. Her eyes blink back the tears that threaten to escape, her face loses colour and she takes a deep breath to compose herself.

On the 4th September 2010, an earthquake with magnitude 7.1 struck New Zealand and was felt throughout the South Island and in the lower third of the North Island.

The epicentre was in Darfield, just 47km (29mi) from Christchurch, and caused widespread damage across the city. A state of emergency was declared and this, for the next few months at least, was referred to by locals as ‘the big one’.

Powerful aftershocks occurred repeatedly over the following years (the city continues to experience aftershocks now and has had 20,000 to date!), the most devastating of which hit on 22nd February 2011.

With its epicentre near Lyttelton, a suburb just 10km (6.2mi) to the southeast of the city centre, the 6.3 magnitude earthquake violently shook the ground beneath Christchurch. 185 people died, thousands more were injured, and a cloud of dust rose above the collapsed buildings of the Central Business District (CBD).

With the city centre reduced to a pile of rubble, Christchurch sadly found itself bumped from bucket lists – even locals admit they wanted to stay away – but 2018 is the time to visit!

The rebuild process is lengthy and is still very much underway. At first glance, Christchurch is still full of roadworks, shipping containers continue to be a prominent feature, and buildings in various states of demolition, repair or rebuild are numerous, but take a closer look and you will find somewhere very worthy of bucket list status.

 

The garden city

Nicknamed ‘the garden city’, Christchurch boasts over 740 parks and gardens, and is centred around Hagley Park. The park is a haven for runners, bikers and dog walkers, and is also home to Hagley Golf Club and used by sports clubs at the weekend.

On the east side of the park, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is the perfect venue for a quiet stroll, a picnic and even a run around in the sprinklers if the kids need to let off steam (there’s also a playground and paddling pool). It’s free to enter and is popular at lunch hour during the week among those escaping the office for some fresh air.  

The outdoors lifestyle in Christchurch isn’t limited to Hagley Park. Riccarton Bush is an opportunity to block out the city’s buzz and feel totally immersed in native bush including kahikatea trees of up to 600 years old. The smell of the forest and the sound of birdsong instantly transports you out of the city.

The Port Hills are worth exploring by foot or bike and offer impressive views over Pegasus Bay to the north and Lyttelton Harbour to the south. Mount Pleasant is the highest peak in the Port Hills at 499m (1,637ft).

 

On the other side of Lyttelton Harbour is Banks Peninsula, the most striking and prominent volcanic feature of the South Island. Mount Herbert is its highest point at 919m (3,015ft), but you don’t have to get to this altitude to experience the breathtaking landscape and views over Pegasus Bay and the Canterbury Bight.

The coast consists of coves, harbours and beaches, and the water is calm and waveless on the north side of the peninsular, making this a popular spot for kayaking, paddle boarding, kite surfing, sailing and jet skiing.

Hiking in this area reminds us of the Lake District in the U.K.; trodden paths meander through native bush, over pastures and along streams, with views over mountains, valleys and glistening blue water. The elevation is also similar; the highest point in the Lakes is Scarfell Pike at 978m (3,209ft).

Orton Bradley Park in Diamond Harbour is a great starting point for a number of beautiful hikes and bike trails. It’s a privately owned working farm so there is a small entrance fee and dogs aren’t allowed on the tracks (but they provide kennels). A small museum showcasing farm machinery through the ages, a playground and a lovely cafe make this a perfect family day out (I was really impressed that the cafe uses stainless steel straws so I didn’t need to request no straw!).

We recently did the hike up to Gully Falls, where we cooled off in the second of the two picturesque waterfalls. We went up on the Valley Track and joined the Waterfall Gully Track, and then looped round to descend on the Faulkner Memorial Track and the Magnificent Gully Track. This was a good half-day walk, which Theo managed easily.

Although not quite as impressive as the Southern Alps, the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula are excellent options if you have limited time to escape the city but still want to do some hiking or biking with photo-worthy views.

We are lucky to live beside Bottle Lake Forest Park, with its winding biking trails and walking paths that lead you through the pine trees, and Waimairi Beach, with its decent surf and views out towards New Brighton Pier and the Port Hills.

If you fancy surfing, Taylor’s Mistake has the best surf in Christchurch, along with Magnet Bay and Te Oka Bay on the south side of Banks Peninsula. New Brighton and Sumner beaches are also popular for both swimming and surfing (there’s a highly regarded surf school at Sumner, perfect for beginners of all ages), and there are countless coves and small beaches all along the coast.

 

The old city

The iconic Heritage Tram is one of Christchurch’s most famous attractions and a symbol of the city. The Tramway first opened in 1880 but was closed in 1954 following the expansion of the bus network (which, by the way, is extensive and reliable!). The city circuit was reopened to offer tourists guided tours in 1995 and has since grown to also offer restaurant trams. Following the earthquake, the tram was closed for repair but has long since been reopened and expanded into a longer network.

 

Riccarton House and Bush is a 12 hectare heritage site containing two historic buildings, parkland, attractive gardens and native bush. Deans Cottage, built in 1843 for pioneering Scottish brothers, William and John Deans, is the oldest building on the Canterbury Plains. Jane Deans, wife of then deceased John Deans, and her son moved into Riccarton House in 1856 following the first stage of completion. Additions were made in 1874 and 1900. The beautiful Victorian/Edwardian building has been fully restored and furnished in appropriate period decor. The gardens, Cottage and Bush are free to explore at your leisure but Riccarton House can only be viewed either by enjoying a meal in the restaurant or on a guided tour of the whole property.

 

The Canterbury Museum, situated next to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, is the best preserved example of Christchurch’s pre-earthquake architecture, and is certainly worth visiting. Thankfully, the neo-gothic 1880s building sustained only minor damage in the earthquake and an estimated 95% of its collections were unharmed.

With 16 rooms dedicated to permanent exhibitions featuring everything from early settlers and their hunting of the now extinct giant Moa birds to dinosaurs, birds, decorative arts and costume, the Antarctic, and Victorian era furniture, there really is something for everyone.

Temporary exhibitions are located in three rooms. I recently went to see the ‘50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic’ exhibition, which is on display until 25th February 2018. An inspirational collection of work (particularly for an aspiring NatGeo photographer like myself!) and a fascinating opportunity to learn about each photograph from the words of the photojournalist who captured it. Included are both iconic and never-seen-before works by celebrated photographers such as Steve McCurry, Nick Nichols, Paul Nicklen and Gerd Ludwig.

Also on display until 1st April 2018 is the Bristlecone Project exhibition: a collection of black and white portraits and stories of 24 male survivors of sexual abuse. As a Clinical Psychologist, particularly since I work predominantly with trauma, this was of obvious interest to me.

The stories may ignite feelings of shock, sadness, and rage in visitors, but they are so important. The personal anecdotes are bravely shared honestly and openly so that others suffering similar trauma may know that they are not alone, that their voice can be heard and that they deserve to escape the hold of their suffering. They offer a message of hope and celebrate the resilience of these men and many others who have suffered similarly.

There is also a large children’s room suitable for all ages. Learn through play, discovery and sensory exploration in this fun-filled educational room.

All exhibits are free to enter, with a suggested total donation of $5. There is a $2 charge for the children’s discovery room.

The Christchurch Cathedral, built between 1864 and 1904, survived the 2010 earthquake but was not so fortunate in 2011. Prior to the earthquake, the impressive building was the heart of the CBD and the focal point of Cathedral Square. After much deliberation over whether to rebuild, demolish entirely or preserve the remains as they are, it has recently been decided that the cathedral will be rebuilt.

The fate of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, also known as the Christchurch Basilica, is as yet undecided. The two bell towers collapsed during the 2011 earthquake, also bringing down much of the front façade, and the dome was badly dislodged and cracked. Sadly, the entire rear of the building had to be demolished. Great efforts were made during the clean-up to recover all significant artefacts and put them into storage. Both the dome and bells were safely removed and stored prior to demolition.

Along with the Canterbury Museum, the Christchurch Arts Centre is a beautiful example of neo-gothic architecture. The listed buildings were badly damaged in the earthquake but you wouldn’t guess it to look at them now. Repaired and reopened in 2016, the Arts Centre is once again home to a weekend market, shops, businesses and many of the city’s festivals and special occasions.

 

The modern city

The Arts Centre should not be confused with the Christchurch Art Gallery. This modern building, opened in 2003, has a large sculpture in the forecourt and houses both a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, showcasing a wide range of both international and Kiwi artists. The sculpture, ‘Reason for Voyaging’, is the result of a collaboration between sculptor, Graham Bennett, and architect, David Cole. It’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and the bookshop is also worth exploring, particularly for their children’s section.

 

Quake City is Christchurch’s newest museum. Dedicated to the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the exhibits bring them to life for anyone who wasn’t here at the time.

I must admit, the CCTV footage filmed in the CBD as the 2011 earthquake struck, along with video interviews with some local residents each telling their story of that day made me quite teary. I gave Theo several big hugs as we walked around!

The exhibition is an informative and interactive experience showcasing recovered artefacts, including the cathedral’s spire and the basilica’s bell, and information is displayed in photographs, videos, and touch-screen learning points as well as witten details that appeal to both adults and children.

Learn about how and why earthquakes happen, the impact on Christchurch both under- and over-ground, and the individuals involved in the rescue and rebuild operations. The exhibition even features a lego station so that children (and adults!) can have a go at rebuilding the city.

The CBD, to the east of Hagley Park, has changed and flourished even in the short time we have been here.

New offices, bars, cafes, and shops are popping up all over the city, and gradually the gaps where buildings collapsed or have been demolished are being filled.

 

The Re:START Container Mall, set up following the earthquake to house shops and restaurants, and to restore life to the city centre, has just closed last week as businesses have moved to permanent residences.

The new lanes around Cashel Street are now full of designer chains and independent shops, whereas high street brands and department stores are mostly found on the main roads. The shops here are, as you would expect in a city centre, generally quite expensive. Papanui Road is also good for independent retailers but equally pricey!

Large malls can be found everywhere! Why a small city with a relatively tiny population needs so many malls is beyond me, but since Amazon doesn’t exist here and online shopping isn’t as popular as it is in the U.K. and the U.S., people do still shop in store and the malls continue to be hubs for each district. They house not just a full range of retailers, but also supermarkets, large food courts, indoor playgrounds, cinemas and salons.

Christchurch has a number of markets, both farmers’ markets and artisan markets. The largest is Riccarton Market, held at the Riccarton Park Racecource every Sunday. This has a car boot/garage sale feel to it but there are some stalls selling high quality, locally made goods, and if you’re willing to search through the tat, there are certainly bargains to be had. Get everything from fresh produce, to clothes, jewellery, homeware, books and more. I recently bought some locally made and totally eco-friendly shampoo bars that I’m really pleased with. Live music entertainment and a bouncy castle make this a fun family morning.

The Christchurch Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday at Riccarton House and Bush. Buy fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and baked goods, and locally made jams, chutneys and juices. The selection and quality is far superior to that found in supermarkets, not to mention cheaper, and it’s a pleasure to support local farmers!

 

Christchurch has a great food scene and new restaurants, bars and cafes are continually opening, and those that have been making do using containers or other temporary residences are moving into new buildings. For a country so isolated from the rest of the world, we have been really pleased to discover that the range of cuisine on offer is diverse and authentic.

The city feels full of life and there is an air of excitement among the locals as their city is gradually restored to its former glory.

 

What’s on for kids?

There are 289 City Council owned playgrounds in Christchurch, and this of course doesn’t include those in shopping centres, schools (unlike in the U.K., school playgrounds are accessible for anyone out of school hours), cafes and other private land accessible to the public, so one is never far away! The most impressive of these is the Margaret Mahy Family Playground in the CBD (corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets), which opened in 2015 and is the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere.

Although I’m not a fan of zoos, I gave the staff at Orana Wildlife Park a pretty good grilling on where their animals have come from. They assured me that they they do not accept animals from the wild (although the chain if you keep following it back isn’t always traceable), and that animals here have typically been born in captivity, either here or at other zoos, and therefore cannot be released. They do a lot of work on conservation and I was pleased to see that the animals all live in large enclosures (this obviously doesn’t compare to the wild but, if an animal has to live in captivity to ensure its survival, it seems like Orana Wildlife Park would be a nice place to live).

Theo was able to feed the giraffes himself, which he loved, and watch the lions and rhinos being fed.

 

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is more like a petting zoo, and you can purchase both animal and bird feed at reception. Farm animals and wallabies are eager to be fed and extremely tolerant of being petted, and visitors can see a number of native birds, including Kiwis, in the large bird section.

Fruit picking is a fun day out for the whole family. We enjoy Tram Road Fruit Farm, a family run orchard where you can pick (depending on the season) raspberries, blueberries, strawberries,  cherries, plums, greengages and nectarines. The fruit is absolutely delicious (the best cherries I’ve ever had!) and much cheaper than the supermarket.

Enjoy a relaxing tour of the city and Botanic Gardens along the Avon. Punters dressed in Edwardian attire skillfully glide tourists past leafy banks in handcrafted boats. This is a family sightseeing trip that the kids won’t want to end!

I also recommend keeping an eye out for events that are on during the time of your visit. We’ve discovered amateur theatre productions, pantomimes, parades and music festivals all geared at children. It seems that there’s always something fun going on!

 

Exploring Canterbury

As you drive out of the city, the Canterbury Plains eventually give way to the imposing and rugged Southern Alps. Canterbury is stunning and offers unrivalled opportunities for hiking, biking, skiing and climbing, all within an easy drive from the city. Christchurch is one of the world’s only locations where it is possible to ski and surf in the same day!

To explore north west Canterbury, Hanmer Springs is a good base. There are lots of options for accommodation and food, and loads to do whether it’s rain or shine. We really enjoyed camping at Hanmer Springs Forest Camp (there are rooms and RV sites as well as tent sites). They have a large playground, loads of space for kids to ride bikes, and several walking and biking trails that go directly from the campsite and are of good lengths for families.

 

If you’re game for something a bit lengthier, hiking up to the impressive 41m Dog Stream Waterfall is local and well signed, but gets you off the busier trails. Take Waterfall Track up through the twisted beech forest, where no tree grows in a straight line. Lichen gives the forest an erie silvery appearance, like a dusty attic.

 

With an ascent of roughly 300m, there are a few steep sections, but Theo bounded up the track and delighted in scrambling over rocks on the approach to the waterfall. Descend via Spur Track for views over the valley and a slightly longer walk. The final descent can be taken through a commercial forestry ground and is steep in places, so watch your footing!

 

From Hanmer Springs, you can also explore Lewis Pass. Although others disagree, I think Lewis Pass rivals Arthur’s Pass in terms of a scenic drive!

The Lewis Tops is a great 8-10km (5-6.2mi) walk, depending on how many of the tops you want to do! The track initially follows the curve of the road but after about 15 minutes the hum of passing cars is replaced by intermittent bird song and the welcome silence of wilderness. Theo enjoyed hopping over streams and running up the steep sections. At 400m above the road, the path suddenly emerges from the bush and the rolling ridge of the tops becomes visible. Follow the path marked with poles to see the valley from all angles. It’s a further 280m climb to the summit and if you’re feeling adventurous and have come prepared, you can camp on the tarns but this will at least double the length of your walk from the car park to bushline.

 

Central Canterbury is all about Arthur’s Pass. The mountains here are more rugged than Lewis Pass and the bush doesn’t start at the roadside, but, with the exception of winter when white fills the landscape, the colours are incredible. It’s all four seasons painted on to one canvas. Pick any one of the walks along the route and you’ll be in for a treat.

 

The Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall track is one of the most popular walks along Arthur’s Pass, with good reason. The Otira Valley track is particularly beautiful in Spring and Summer when alpine flowers are in bloom but the surrounding peaks remain dusted in snow. Both these tracks are easily accessible from Christchurch and ideal for families.

En route to Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch, you will pass Castle Hill, a collection of limestone formations, reminiscent of Henry Moore’s semi-abstract sculptures. The area is rich in Maori history and is popular with climbers. If free climbing isn’t your thing, fear not, there’s a path that will take you round the impressive rocks.

 

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is the highlight of south east Canterbury for many, along with the clear blue waters of Lake Tekapo. With 19 peaks over 3000m in the National Park alone, including the continent’s highest mountain, hikers and skiers are spoiled for choice. Glaciers, including New Zealand’s largest glacier, Tasman Glacier, cover 40% of the park and ensure a thrilling skiing experience.

Also in this region is Mount Sunday, perhaps better known as Edoras to any Lord of the Rings fans. This a wonderful short hike through tussock grassland with views over the expansive countryside from the summit. It can get windy (but if you’ve been in Christchurch, you’ll likely be used to this by now!)

 

The still blue water of Lake Tekapo, reflecting the mountains that frame it as clearly as a mirror, is a photographer’s paradise, but for the road less travelled (and photographed), head to Lake Alexandrina or Lake Pukaki.

With little to no light pollution, the skies over this area, known as the Mackenzie region, are recognised as one of the world’s best stargazing spots and has been named the International Dark Sky Reserve.

 

An afterthought

Before our arrival here, we were told a number of times that Christchurch was ‘the most British’ of New Zealand’s cities. For any Brits reading, clearly these people had never been to the U.K.! It’s not at all British! The culture is probably most comparable to Canadian (in our opinion – I’m sure Canadians would probably disagree!). Whether this is something that’s changed post-earthquake, I’m not sure.

 

What next?

The lives of Christchurch’s residents may have changed; loved ones have been lost, kitchen cupboards are now permanently stocked with emergency supplies just in case, valuable possessions are secured to their surface, and it’s not advised to sleep naked in case you find yourself unexpectedly out in the open, but the city has come together to ensure it remains the vibrant hub of the South Island and the door to all that Canterbury has to offer.

So, put Christchurch on your bucket list for 2018 (and come say hi!) before everyone else catches on!

Cheakamus-Lake-Whistler-Canada-breastfeeding

Parenting on the road for happy family travels

D

o you long to travel as a family with your infant or toddler but find yourself hesitating because you fear how the sudden change in environment and lack of routine will impact them? What does parenting on the road look like?

The perceived stress of travelling with young children, the fear of disrupting a routine, and uncertainty around parenting away from the home environment are common barriers to taking that much dreamed of trip.

Parenting is all about adapting and responding to the needs of your child, and this is no different when you’re travelling.

For most children, the only requirement for optimal cognitive, psychological and physical development is a caregiver who is available to consistently meet their physiological and psychological needs.

If you are able to provide for your child and offer a safe environment and relationship from which they can develop the independence to explore the world, you are the only constant they need to travel happily.

Theo is now well accustomed to life on the road, long flights and car journeys lasting multiple days. He has seen more of the world than the average toddler and has had experiences that many adults are still waiting to tick off their bucket list.

Although he has demonstrated himself to be a natural traveller and he takes it all in his stride, like all children, he can get grumpy when he’s tired, overstimulated, bored or hungry. Parenting is all about adapting and responding to the needs of your child, and this is no different when you’re travelling.

 

We remain flexible, our plans change, and we choose activities that we will all enjoy. While we’re travelling, every day is different, we regularly jump time zones, we rarely stay in one place for longer than a week, and we have absolutely no routine with regards to eating, sleeping or anything else for that matter.

This lifestyle works for all of us and we all adapt easily, but I have no doubt that three elements of our parenting approach assist Theo in adjusting to the chaos of travel, and help him feel safe and secure in an ever-changing environment: breastfeeding, babywearing, and bed sharing.

This is what works for us. Remember that not every child is the same and this won’t necessarily be right for all families; follow medical advice relevant to you, listen to your own child’s cues and be their constant source of comfort and support, however works best for them.


Breastfeeding

I am still feeding Theo on demand, anywhere and everywhere. He feeds multiple times a day and if he’s unwell, teething or just a bit out of sorts, it can feel like I’m doing nothing but feeding him, all day long and then all night.

 

Although sometimes exhausting, this is exactly why I do it; he obviously feels he needs it more during these times and, as a parent, I am there to support him through life’s ups and downs.

As he gets older, his problem-solving capabilities and strategies for regulating his emotions will obviously become more sophisticated, but at this moment, breastfeeding helps him deal with the emotional turmoil of toddlerhood.

I include travel in this sentiment; every day he is taking in a whole host of new information, some sensory, some emotional and some hypothesis-driven. This can be a lot to process for such a little person, and some time to connect with Mum and feel safe in arms is often just what the doctor ordered.

 

Breast milk is amazing. It not only contains exactly the right balance of nutrients, antibodies and hormones for the child for whom it is intended, but it also changes according to circadian rhythms and over the length of an entire breastfeeding journey in order to meet the child’s individual needs at different times of day and at different stages of development.

Breast milk can soothe pain, fight illness and induce sleep so it makes sense that Theo increases his breast milk consumption when he feels under the weather, particularly if he doesn’t feel up to eating much solid food, and I can rest assured that he is getting everything he needs until he feels better.

Breastfeeding is not just about the physical need for milk though. No, Theo no longer needs breast milk to support his physical development, but this doesn’t mean it is the right time to stop as he clearly still benefits from all that breast milk offers him and feels comforted by the act of breastfeeding.

 

I am a firm advocate of child-led practices, whether it be play, eating meals, separating from primary caregivers to sleep or to be left with an alternate caregiver, selecting one’s clothes, or indeed weaning from the breast. Every child is different and it is important to follow their lead. Theo will let me know when he is ready to wean by refusing an offered feed and/or failing to ask for milk.

Weaning should be done without tears or distress, and it shouldn’t be received as a punishment. Certainly, refusing Theo milk now would cause him great upset and I’m sure would leave him wondering what he had done to be denied. When he is ready, he won’t bat an eye at a missed feed.


Babywearing

I have a variety of slings, wraps and carriers that get used daily (we have used a pram/stroller maybe a dozen times since Theo was born).

As a newborn and until Theo was about 4 months, a stretchy wrap was ideal for everything apart from hiking so I used a buckle carrier as well (the Ergobaby 360 Performance).

I then moved on to woven wraps, ring slings and a mei-tai (I love Little Frog’s woven wraps and ring slings).

Since the age of about 18 months, my preference has been buckle carriers (we’ve got a lot of use out of our Connecta and Connecta Solar). For longer, harder treks, we also have a sturdy backpack-style carrier (an Osprey Poco AG Premium).

 

Being carried in a sling has always been Theo’s favourite place to snuggle for a nap, and this remains unchanged. When the world is buzzing around you, a sling offers the peace of a rhythmic heartbeat drowning out the chaos, the warmth of being held in a tight embrace, and the comforting smell of a caregiver.

 

I tend to carry Theo on my front facing me as I prefer that we are able to socially engage with eye contact, smiles, conversation and by pointing out elements of our surroundings to one another, but we do also back-carry and forward-face on occasion.

When he is not napping, being carried in a sling is still a time to connect with me, not just physically, but also by being engaged in social interaction that helps him figure out his changing environment.

 

If you choose to carry your child, remember to always follow the TICKS rules for safe babywearing.


Bed sharing

We have bed shared with Theo since birth, following safe co-sleeping recommendations.

Although it wasn’t our intention to bed share before he was born, it was clear that he was much happier being close to us, it was easier to soothe him through the pain of multiple allergies and silent reflux, and it has undoubtedly supported our breastfeeding journey.

When he was really little, we found using a Sleepyhead pillow in our bed gave us peace of mind and we were easily able to stuff it in a suitcase. Along with our stretchy wrap, it was one of our best buys for those early months! He outgrew this at about 6 months (around the same time you might ditch a Moses basket/bassinet) and since then he has just slept directly in our bed.

 

Whenever he decides that he’s ready to sleep on his own, there will be a room waiting for him, but for now, we all get a better night’s sleep when we’re cuddled up together so it works for our family.

It has also made travelling a lot easier, not to mention cheaper. There’s no need to lug a travel cot around, we avoid any potential excess baggage fees, and we can book cheaper accommodation with only one bed.

For Theo, it doesn’t matter where we’re sleeping or that he doesn’t recognise the room; he knows that I’m right next to him. If he wakes in the night, there’s no need to cry out for me, or sleepily wander unfamiliar corridors in search of us; he just reaches over for a cuddle.


All children are different and although the practices of breastfeeding, babywearing and bed sharing are wonderful for us and help Theo feel safe wherever we are, they may not be the right choice, or indeed a choice that is available, for every family. Follow your child.

Some children will find a lack of routine, an unexpected change in environment and periods of transition difficult regardless of how you try to comfort and reassure them.

If this is the case for your child, I recommend creating a storybook appropriate for the age and development of your child, and reading this frequently in the run up to your trip. Include pictures and simple words to depict your family packing your belongings, waving goodbye to your home, details of your journey and chosen method of transport, your destination and what you will do there, and when you will return. If possible, print images of wherever you’ll be staying so you can talk about the area and even the room they will be sleeping in, but make sure that whatever you include in the story, you are able to stick to!

I wish you happy travels with happy little ones!


Where can I buy the items mentioned in this post?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on Amazon. I receive a small commission if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information.

When choosing a baby carrier, I recommend finding a sling library near you so that you can try out different options and figure out what you find most comfortable and will work best for your needs.


I am a Clinical Psychologist and wrote this article from both a professional and personal perspective. I am, as always, happy to hear from readers so don’t hesitate to send me a message with any questions. However, if you have any concerns about your child(ren) with regards to anything mentioned in this article, please speak to your doctor.
This article was written for and first published by The Natural Parent Magazine
Happy-new-year-2018-firework

20 tips for sustainable travel

With 2018 just around the corner, are you looking for some worthwhile new year’s resolutions?

Do you want to be mindful of the environment when you travel and make choices that will reduce your footprint? Perhaps this feels overwhelming or you’re unsure where to start? Perhaps, like Scott from The Line Trek, you are sceptical about eco lodging and wonder whether it’s worth the extra cost, but still want to do your bit? (You can find some great suggestions for eco destinations that are definitely worth it here!)

I asked a few fellow travel bloggers for their sustainable travel tips and together we came up with this fantastic list, ideal for some new year’s resolutions as we head into 2018!

Being green doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming; many of these ideas are free or of minimal cost, and won’t take any time at all, leaving you to enjoy your travels with a clear conscience.

We can all chip in by making small changes in our every day lives. Sustainable travel is something we can all aspire to!


1

First up, Scott suggests practising ‘random acts of earth kindness‘:

“While hiking in El Chalten, Argentina (Patagonia) recently, I witnessed a man carrying a plastic bag and picking up random small trash as he was hiking. ‘What a brilliant (AND FREE) idea’, I thought. (Though I must admit that my husband has been throwing away random trash at beaches for quite a few years now). Next time you’re walking down the street and you see that candy wrapper lying on the ground, don’t just shake your head… pick it up!!”

What a great idea! Theo, at age 2, is already a determined litter-picker. He knows that we never leave rubbish behind and that it needs to be sorted into the correct bin, so you can see that it bothers him when he finds rubbish on the street, at the beach or in the playground, and he’ll happily carry it with him until he can dispose of it properly. We teach him about the importance of looking after our planet and it’s great to see him developing good habits already.

 

Emma from Small Footprints, Big Adventures also collects rubbish from the beach with her family. She comments that it’s sad how much they find, but it’s a great lesson for her two children . If you have kids that enjoy a bit of fun family competition, why not turn it into a game to see who can collect the most?


2

Continuing the bag theme, Scott suggests ‘BYOB‘:

“No, not ‘bring your own beer’, you lush! Bring your own bag.” A cloth shopping bag takes very little space in your suitcase or backpack, and can easily be carried with you daily. You’ll have a convenient tote for groceries and will cut down on single use plastic bags that are littering cities across the globe, sitting in landfill for centuries and destroying ocean wildlife.

Emma points out that having cloth bags handy is useful, not only for shopping, but also for storing and transporting laundry.

Like these guys, I keep a spare cloth tote in my handbag at all times so I’m never caught out.

I also recommend taking reusable fresh produce bags to both supermarkets and farmers’ markets (I like these from The Rubbish Whisperer) so you never have to use plastic bags. They’re small, lightweight and easy to stuff in a bag for the day just in case you stumble across a market on your travels.

3

Use reusable water bottles and coffee cups:

Use a stainless steel water bottle and refill it rather than buying bottled water. I love our Klean Kanteens, particularly the insulated ones that keep water cold throughout the day (we have a 20oz in ‘Bamboo Leaf’ green and a 32oz in ‘Winter Lake’ blue, both of which are great for hiking and other sports). They have a range for the whole family with a variety of size and lid options. Theo has his non-insulated Kid Kanteen bottles in place of a traditional sippy cup, his insulated one has been ideal for taking out on hot days, and we also get a lot of use out of the 10oz cups (they’re great if you’re at all worried about breakages on hard floors in an airbnb, in restaurants and on patios).

 

If you’re travelling somewhere with no access to clean tap water, rather than buying single-use plastic bottles, take the time to either boil your water first, or treat it with water purification tablets.

If you absolutely must buy bottled water, consider getting one large bottle to share rather than an individual one for each member of the family.

 

Take away coffee cups can’t be recycled as they have a plastic layer on them, which can’t be separated during the recycling process. Klean Kanteen to the rescue again!

The insulated ones are just as good at keeping drinks hot as they are at keeping them cold. They don’t leak and they will keep your drink at the right temperature ALL day. Coffee shops tend to also give discounts if you supply your own cup, so this is a double win!

If you’re a coffee shop addict or are planning a trip somewhere cold and would like to have a warm drink to sip on while you’re out and about, consider using one of these 16oz wide lid ones (we have it in ‘Roasted Pepper’ red). It’s also great for smoothies and storing ice lollies for the kids…and the big kids!


4

Continuing the beverage theme, say “no” to straws:

 

Unless you have a medical need for them, straws are totally unnecessary. But, for some reason, on occasion we like sipping our drinks through a tube, and I’ve never met a child who doesn’t enjoy using a straw. So, I always have a couple of stainless steel straws in my handbag. We love our U-Konserve straws.

I’m always ready to refuse a plastic straw but have learnt that you need to speak up quickly (particularly in countries where it is customary to give iced water to customers as soon as they walk in the door, which I love but I wish they’d ditch the straw!), and that sometimes you will be left feeling frustrated when you’re given one anyway or they remember for the adults but bring water for kids in a disposable cup with a disposable lid and straw (why?!?).

According to National Geographic, Americans alone use 500 million straws daily. While these small, lightweight bits of plastic seem fairly innocuous, they are having a catastrophic effect of marine wildlife.

You just have to look at our beaches to know that straws don’t get recycled and many will end up in the ocean. Fish, shellfish, mammals and sea birds consume them (meaning they also end up in our food chain, which you can read more about here), and sea life gets entailed in them (you may remember this horrible video of scientists removing a straw from a sea turtle’s nose after it went viral in 2015 – please note that this footage is distressing).

 

So, say “no” to straws.

‘What do you store dirty ones in?’ you ask? Try one of these reusable wet bag pouches from Planet Wise.


5

Use reusable food bags and wraps:

Ditch the cling film and plastic ziplock bags completely!

We use our Planet Wise sandwich bags every single day. The leak-proof design and waterproof lining makes them ideal for both wet and dry snacks (fruit, both fresh and dried, nuts, seeds and rice cakes are favourites here), and we cut down on packaging waste by buying in bulk and then only taking out what we need for the day. The zipper means Theo can easily help himself whenever he’s hungry, and they can be machine or hand washed.

 

On the left of the photo are three from the tint range, which are slightly opaque (as they don’t have the fabric outer layer like the ones on the right) so you can see what’s inside, and are top rack dishwasher safe (although I haven’t been brave enough to try this!). Personally, I prefer the look and feel of the fabric range, as they come in a huge variety of fun designs. I find the tint range more industrial and stiff, but both serve the same purpose equally well so this is entirely down to individual preference.

Emma uses her reusable snack pouches to store bits of rubbish while the family are out and about without access to a bin. What a clever idea! You could also use them to store small toys or art supplies while travelling. The bright colours would make it easy to quickly locate the item that will keep your little one entertained before all hell breaks loose (if you need eco toy recommendations for stress-free journeys, check out this post)!

 

If you’re packing a picnic lunch to take out with you, sandwich wraps are brilliant! No more soggy, cling film wrapped sandwiches! We have both Keep Leaf and Planet Wise wraps, both of which fold around your sandwich and secure with velcro. They open up into a convenient plate so there’s no need for a disposable one. The two brands are different shapes but a similar size, both fitting one sandwich comfortably and two stacked on top of each other at a squish.

I find that Keep Leaf is more susceptible to stains (the inside layer isn’t as robust as the Planet Wise ones) but they are more flexible (so better for folding around fresh bread rather than packaged, uniformly-sliced bread) and the stitching around the edge is more ‘finished’. Like the sandwich bags, Planet Wise do both a fabric and tint range.
Beeswax food wraps are ideal for use at home (I use mine to put over leftovers in the fridge and wrap around bread or cut fruit to keep it fresh) and for out and about (I always use them to wrap cooked corn on the cob and crudités). I have used both Abeego and Honeywrap while travelling and would recommend them both. They take up no space at all in your luggage and will significantly reduce your waste.

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Take away in your own containers:

Emma and her family try to avoid getting take away food in order to minimise their use of disposable containers and cutlery. “Eating in restaurants and cafes, and making our own breakfasts is working well for us.”

For maximum flexibility, I recommend staying somewhere with access to a kitchen; airbnbs are my go to choice for families, but many hostels also have good kitchen facilities. We tend to make our own breakfast and I’ll often do a packed lunch (although not always), and then dinner can be had in or out.

 

When we eat out, we often take away restaurant leftovers, particularly when portion sizes are large (yes, USA, I’m looking at you!)? Klean Kanteen canisters are great for this. That’s lunch the next day sorted!

The canisters come in insulated and non-insulated. Use the non-insulated ones for storing leftovers in the fridge or for larder storage.

The insulated ones are perfect when you want a hot meal later in the day but won’t have access to a microwave. Heat it up before you go and then place in the canister, where it will stay hot for the rest of the day. This is also really handy when camping!


7

Use bamboo cutlery:

Keeping a set of bamboo cutlery in my bag means I never have reason to use disposable cutlery. Like straws, these can cause significant harm to marine wildlife. Street food and food markets can be wonderful places to experience the local cuisine, but both can cause a lot of waste. By taking a reusable canister and bamboo cutlery, you can easily minimise your footprint. Bambu make sets for children, consisting of a fork and spoon, that can easily be taken on days out and on plane journeys.


8

 Recycle and compost:

Be responsible for your rubbish and take the time to access recycling and composting facilities where possible. It doesn’t take long to sort your rubbish into the correct bins!


9

 Walk, bike or use public transport:

Most cities are very walkable, many have bike-sharing services, and public transport is a great way to explore a city beyond just the tourist spots, and an even better way to meet the locals. If you’re staying in a city, there is really no need to rent a car, call an uber or hail a taxi. You’ll save money, reduce pollution and keep fit! We walk everywhere when in cities and I really wouldn’t be without a sling or wrap!


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Don’t use hotel miniatures:

Yes, it may be space- and weight-saving for your luggage, but the complimentary little bottles of shampoo and other toiletries offered by hotels are incredibly wasteful. Sadly, most locations won’t reuse these by refilling them for the next customers and instead, any open bottles go straight in the bin.

Consider whether you can use your own toiletries and leave these little bottles unopened. The lure of something for free might be tempting, but the cost to the environment is not worth it. Airbnb hosts tend to have large bottles of shampoo available for guests, just as you would in your home. Hopefully the hotel industry will start to use refillable alternatives and be better advocates for sustainable travel.


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Consider your toiletries and detergents: 

Choosing products that are going to be less harmful for the environment can seem a bit of a minefield. We’re hit with clever marketing that makes claims that we can’t follow up on easily. I’ve done some research on your behalf so let me recommend a few brands that I trust and use regularly.

Obviously, whatever products you choose, everything has some impact on the environment, so make sure you only use the recommended amount.

 

Green People make the lovely Organic Babies and Organic Children range of toiletries suitable for the most delicate and sensitive of skin. We use the Organic Children SPF30 Sun Lotion and Aftersun on Theo. They’re natural, non-greasy and offer high UVA and UVB protection, as well as being reef-friendly so we don’t contribute to damaging coral reefs. We also like their shampoos and bath and shower gels that come in a range of fruity fragrances.

Weleda have a great range of calendula products that are gentle on skin and have a subtle fragrance. We have used their shampoo and body wash, nappy cream, bath cream and body lotion. The natural oils have really helped soothe Theo’s eczema when at its worst.

Violets make a great range of toiletries, laundry products and household cleaning products. Of their toiletries, we have only tried their mosquito repellent, which has a much more pleasant fragrance than most bug sprays and has worked well, even when camping near water. As it’s made from all natural ingredients, I feel much better about putting this on Theo’s skin than other mainstream brands. Their laundry powder, earth-friendly mineral bleach, and sanitiser and stain remover all come in handy foil bags ideal for travelling.

Kokoso coconut oil tubs get used a lot by all of us. I’ve used it on Theo since he was born, firstly to treat cradle cap and flakey newborn skin, and then to treat eczema and dry skin conditions. I use it as my daily moisturiser and as make-up remover. One tiny tub to meet multiple needs makes it a must have for every travelling family!


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Brush with bamboo:

A toothbrush takes approximately 450 years to decompose in salt water, so make the switch to a bamboo alternative to help keep plastic out of our oceans and off our coastlines. We’re using Go Bamboo brushes in adult and child sizes. The handle is made of natural bamboo and an edible wax, making it suitable for compost. We also use their compost-suitable cotton buds.


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3

Use a menstrual cup or cloth sanitary pads:

Both Emma and I use a menstrual cup (unsurprisingly, Scott didn’t weigh in on this one!) and we both also recommend cloth sanitary pads or period-proof underwear over the nasty, scratchy disposable alternatives.

Cups are easy to use (you just empty the contents in the toilet, rinse, reuse, and wash in warm, soapy water at the end of each cycle), comfortable, and can be worn during the night and while swimming.
If you use cloth pads, these Planet Wise wet and dry bags are the perfect size for storing both clean and dirty ones while out and about, and can be either hand or machine washed.

I like these larger Planet Wise bags, in small, medium and large, for use at home/wherever I’m staying so I can wait until I have a full machine load to wash. They’re also perfect for cloth nappies, wet clothing and swimming gear so these are a recommended purchase even if you’re not using cloth sanitary pads!


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4

Conserve water:

Scott reminds us of some basic, water-saving measures: “Don’t run the tap while brushing your teeth, don’t heat up the water for 10 minutes before getting in the shower, or take a 30 minute shower for that matter (no matter how good it feels!). Sometimes water has to travel many many miles to your tap; it’s precious, treat it that way!”

He’s absolutely right, but I’d also add that we should all be considering the huge energy expenditure in treating water so that it’s suitable for human consumption. Since arriving in New Zealand, we’ve witnessed mass irrigation on a scale that we hadn’t previously imagined, not just in farming, but in everyone’s gardens (good old British weather means it’s never been an issue at home!).

Sprinklers are kept running everywhere to ensure that even the patch of grass between the road and pavement are kept permanently green. While, of course, it is a good thing (and earth-friendly) to water your plants, I’m of the opinion that using treated water on grass 24 hours a day during the summer months is unnecessarily wasteful.


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Re-use your linens:

If you’re staying in a hotel, make sure you hang your towels so you can reuse them, saving both water and energy. Likewise, let housekeeping staff know that they don’t need to change your sheets every day.


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Turn off appliances:

Switch off lights, the air-conditioning and electrical appliances when you leave your hotel or Airbnb for the day. Does the room really need to be ice cold when you get back? Probably not.


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Shop local:

Get your groceries from the local farmer’s market, where energy is saved by not having to ship goods hundreds of miles, you can enquire in to the environmental policies of the farm and the conditions in which animals are reared, and you support small businesses. We also really enjoy taking Theo to pick-your-own farms to stock up on fresh fruit.


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Buy recycled or ‘upcycled’ goods:

You can often find amazing and totally unique souvenirs made by local artists using recycled materials. Something a bit different to take home with you!


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Ask about photography:

Sarah Trevor from World Unlost reminds us that travelling sustainably isn’t just about preserving the environment, but also the history and culture of our destination.

 

“When visiting museums, galleries, churches and historic sites, make sure photography is allowed before you snap that picture. Flash photography in particular can harm precious, centuries-old artworks. When in doubt, ask.”


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As the saying goes, ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints’:

My heart aches when I see and hear of people who think it’s acceptable to collect rocks, corals, wildlife and other ‘memorabilia’ from their travels. Contributing to the destruction of both man-made historical sites and the natural world is never acceptable; we have a responsibility to preserve these wonders for the next generation.

While hiking in the redwood forests of California recently, I was also upset to see that people had carved graffiti into the trunks of these magnificent trees. I can absolutely appreciate the creative expression of street art (check out this post for a wonderful example of street art in Churchill, Canada), but ‘so-and-so hearts so-and-so’ and ‘Dave woz ere’ is very different and doesn’t belong on the back of a bus-stop, let alone an 800-year-old tree. And don’t get me started on the trend of people leaving padlocks at tourist spots!

 

So, take your photograph, soak it all in and take the time to notice all the fine details so you can commit them to memory and recall them at will, instantly transporting you back to this spot, but leave everything as you found it.


So, in making your new year’s resolutions this year, consider these sustainable travel tips. I hope you’ve found it food for thought. Wishing you a very happy new year with lots of travel, fun and eco-adventures!


Where can I buy the products mentioned in this post?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on www.babipur.co.uk I do not work for BabiPur, nor do I receive any incentive for recommending them, financial or otherwise. I am simply a loyal customer and always recommend them as a great place to buy eco friendly toys, clothes, reusable nappies/diapers and sanitary products, slings, household items and toiletries. They are a trusted ethical retailer and you can rest assured that they’ve done their research into the best eco brands and products on the market; everything they stock is made from sustainable materials and the manufacturing processes are both socially and environmentally ethical. Their customer service is second to none and their online presence is friendly, personal and transparent. I have always received purchases in double quick time and everything arrives in recycled or reused packaging. Spend over £40 for free UK postage, and international postage is very reasonable. Top marks all round!

 

 

20-tips-sustainable-travel 20-tips-sustainable-travel
Longyearbyen-from-Lars-glacier-hike-svalbard

Longyearbyen, Svalbard: The World’s northernmost city

‘Don’t fall in!’ my brain screamed at me as I paddled through crunching sheets of ice. I’m a competent kayaker; just a couple of weeks prior, we had kayaked 100 miles around the Isle of Man, but capsizing in the frigid waters of a Svalbard fjord was a somewhat more daunting prospect than the grey silt of the Irish Sea.

I laughed off the voice in my head and upped my tempo, enjoying the opportunity to release a burst of energy and splash Alex in the process. My biceps strained against the weight of the water.

I felt free, as I always do on the water, and inhaled a deep, satisfying breath that filled my lungs with clean, crisp air.

Mountains sprung from the edge of the water: white, rugged and dappled with tundra growth, the last evidence of a summer season past. Hiorthfjellet, our 928 meter-high quest for the day, sat directly ahead, watching our approach.

 

Our hike started uneventfully and, brimming with enthusiasm, our group made a speedy start. We were led by Viktor, a gung-ho Russian with long hair, a cheerful disposition and a lackadaisical approach to group safety.

As our elevation increased, so did the snow, and our pace began to slow. Viktor raced on ahead, his rifle casually slung over one shoulder in case we should meet any polar bears.

A few group members slipped in the snow trying to keep pace with Viktor, and the beginnings of mutterings about the sensibilities of our guide began to echo up and down the line of hikers.

 

We stopped at an abandoned mine shaft; a portal, frozen in time, into the harsh conditions in which miners lived and worked. The snow was falling thick and heavy, and the wind pounded at our eardrums. One woman decided she did not want to go on so a discussion was opened to the group.

I was aware that in Alex’s backpack was an engagement ring that I suspected would come out at the summit – in my backpack was a watch – so I was keen to continue our hike. Viktor proposed cutting across the mountain to an abandoned mining hut, where we could shelter and have some food. I reluctantly conceded that I would not be proposed to today, not on this summit.

Although once uttered in jest, the whispers about our safety under the supervision of Viktor grew more anxious as we began our route to the hut, and swiftly turned to exclamations of “this can’t be safe!” as we tiptoed as carefully as one can in hiking boots along a snow-covered ledge no wider than the footprint impressioned on it. Falling over now meant a tumble all the way down a mountain edge that would certainly result in death.

 

I was enjoying the adventure and, unless we’re talking about public speaking, I generally have no fear, so this was an adrenalin-filled excursion that had me beaming. Alex not so much. He doesn’t care for heights, or ledges, or anything he can fall off. I could sense him getting angrier and angrier.

We were at the front of the group, behind our guide, so were largely unaware of the events behind us. Periodic yelps and calls to wait told us that some were struggling. The woman who had expressed her desire to descend seemed baffled as to why we were still walking in a blizzard, and her husband’s patience was wearing thin.

We both lost our footing a couple of times, reaching out to desperately grab at rocks as we slid. On one fall Alex sprained his ankle. This was the final straw. From this point on he lay face down flat against the mountain, with his arms and legs spread in a starfish shape, and shimmied along the rest of the ledge. I tried to contain both my laughter and the urge to preserve this moment in a photo, but succeeded only in one; we have no photo.

Even if a journey is not as you expect, or you are unable to achieve its ultimate goal, the rewards can nonetheless be plentiful.

 

Viktor was unfazed, still smiling and joking. Although we all thankfully survived the treacherous amble to the hut, a few members of the group lost their sense of humour along the way. Hot soup restored previous spirits, the snow had ceased and we all joyously bounded down the mountain to the awaiting kayaks.

Although we didn’t make it to the summit and I had to wait to see my engagement ring, the views over the fjord and back toward Longyearbyen from the hut were worth the near-death hike. The icy water glistened and spread like veins into the snow-covered land. The white mountain tops oscillated across the horizon. The setting sun sent a warm glow across the frozen landscape.

Even if a journey is not as you expect, or you are unable to achieve its ultimate goal, the rewards can nonetheless be plentiful.

 

This was not the only example of a hiccup turned unexpected adventure during our time in Longyearbyen. We took a boat trip, for which we were kitted out in full-face goggles and a onesie that had me feeling like a sumo wrestler. It seemed like overkill but we were grateful once we were bouncing over the waves at high speed, icy water lashing up at us.

 

More unharnessed rollercoaster than sightseeing boat ride, this wasn’t for the faint-hearted (or those prone to sea-sickness!). Each passenger was positioned between standing-height padded rails, to which we clung for dear life while being flung in every direction. It was a heart-racing, fun-filled way to witness the beauty of Svalbard.

Flawless glaciers shimmered under the saturated blue sky. A white veil shrouded the mountains, exposing traces of the tundra below. We scanned the horizon for whales, daring only to let go of our hand rails for a split second to point them out. We were taken past Barentsburg, the only remaining Russian settlement in Svalbard, and docked at Isfjord Radio.

Mountains sprung from the edge of the water: white, rugged and dappled with tundra growth, the last evidence of a summer season past.

 

We showed ourselves around, jumping over rocks and trusting that we would have been alerted to the presence of polar bears in the area. While taking our photos and exploring the peninsula, the waves picked up even more and we were told that our bouncy outbound journey had not been typical, as we had thought. No, the journey is usually calmer and drier.

Sadly, the conditions had become dangerous and until the weather improved, we were stranded. The station was very comfortable and we all warmed up with a hot drink while we waited to learn our fate.

 

The waves crashed relentlessly against the rocks and threatened to capsize our relatively small boat, should we venture back. A call was put out and we were rescued by the Coast Guard.

This was an exciting and unexpected opportunity, and one that really opened my eyes to the range of work the Coast Guard do and the vessels on which they might be stationed.

Once again, we arrived safely back in Longyearbyen, grateful for the adventure that had been handed to us, even if it was a variation on our expectations.

 

For those that are curious, Alex and I did indeed exchange our engagement gifts in Svalbard, at the summit of Trollsteinen (Troll Rock). The hike across Lars Glacier to Trollsteinen was spectacular and from this vantage point, the colours of Longyearbyen’s houses popped against the white canvas on which they are scattered. The snow was thick and deep surrounding the glacier; the perfect location for a snowball fight!

 

Dog mushing, which can be done in any season and is sure to be enjoyed by children of any age, was a great way to see out an exhausting day of hiking. We sped across the tundra, the cold air seeping in through the onesie we were given prior to setting off. The dogs eagerly pulled our cart (we were a bit early for a sledge), keen to exercise both their leg and heart muscles. We took it in turns to steer them, following our guide’s cart up ahead, while the other sat back and enjoyed the ride through the arctic.

 

In writing about our time in Svalbard, I am reminded of a quote by author Greg Anderson: ‘Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.’ It didn’t matter that we were unable to summit Hiorthfjellet or get the boat back from Isfjord Radio; both experiences nonetheless contributed to making our trip to the world’s northernmost city unforgettable.

A starry night at Guludo Beach Lodge, Mozambique

8 Destinations for the eco-conscious traveller

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re you looking for the ideal ecotourism destination? Somewhere committed to both environmental and social sustainability? Look no further! I’ve asked some of the top travel bloggers out there for their input on their favourite eco locations.


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Kahang Organic Rice Eco Farm, Malaysia

 

Kahang-Organic-Rice-Eco-Farm-Malaysia Kahang-Organic-Rice-Eco-Farm-Malaysia

My family and I stayed at a rice farm in Malaysia recently, which was a beautiful place to relax in and an excellent eco-friendly accommodator to support. KOREF (Kahang Organic Rice Eco Farm) is a “leisure farm”, so it is not a place to work hard on farm chores, but rather learn a bit about farm life while having some fun. There are many activities visitors can choose from, including rice planting or harvesting, bamboo rafting, kayaking, a water obstacle course and jungle trekking. KOREF also has a sustainable fish farm, which guests can learn more about and even try to catch and release some fish.

Another activity was wonderful for cultural understanding. Visitors can choose to visit an Orang Asli village in the nearby rainforest, with an excellent guide who works closely with KOREF staff. We did meet the beautiful people there, and were very grateful for the experience.

KOREF is and organic farm at heart, and they use their own food as well as locally-sourced produce for the delicious meals provided to guests. KOREF also provides free filtered water from a fountain to everyone, and separates their rubbish for recycling. Unfortunately, this is uncommon from what we have seen in Malaysia.

We loved staying there and getting a taste of farm life in such a beautiful setting. It is a great destination for kids with all of the activities on offer, and the fun and stress-free ways they help people learn about farming. School groups from cities in Malaysia and Singapore arrive often to get a very different view of life!

Submitted by Emma Walmsley from Small Footprints, Big Adventures


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 Las Terrazas, Cuba

 

Looking at Las Terrazas, Cuba, through the trees Looking at Las Terrazas, Cuba, through the trees

Initiated in the late 1960s as an ecotourism project, Las Terrazas is a UNESCO biosphere reserve about an hour west of Havana, in the Cuban countryside. It is a lush complex with dense foliage, tropical swimming holes, waterfalls and 18th century abandoned coffee plantations. Although you can see Las Terrazas in a day, this is a place that merits more time to truly experience it.

The town has something for everyone. Bird lovers will appreciate that Las Terrazas is home to almost half of Cuba’s endemic birds. The nearby Sosoa Botanical Gardens maintain a collection of rare orchids. There is a selection of trails led by students at the biosphere that take you through the local flora.  For the more adventurous, there is also a thrilling canopy tour which whizzes you over six lines extending over lakes, a forest and much more.

The artists in the colony live in town and their workshops are in their homes.  People are welcome to enter their homes and watch them work, browse their creations and possibly purchase some very nice and authentic pieces of art.  There is a little coffee shop in the area, Café de Maria, that bills itself as having the world’s best coffee. With advertising like that and at about .40 cents a cup, you have to try it.

The local Hotel Moka sits on a hill-top with a beautiful view overlooking the forest and the small village. In keeping with the eco-friendly theme of the location, the hotel has a tree growing in the middle of the lobby and serves only locally grown produce. The two must-try restaurants in town are vegetarian and delicious!

Submitted by Talek Nantes from Travels with Talek


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 Tasmania

 

Tasmania hills and forest green Tasmania hills and forest green

Tasmania is a nature lover’s paradise. This small island, about the size of Ireland or West Virginia, is home to vast wilderness and completely unique ecosystems compared to the rest of Australia, complete with endemic animal species and subspecies not found on the mainland. So precious are Tasmania’s varied landscapes — from verdant rainforests to mountains to white-sand beaches — that around 20% of its landmass is World Heritage listed. And that’s without mentioning its quaint country towns, impressive local food scene, and wealth of convict-era sites and ruins testifying to a rich, if often dark, colonial history.

Unsurprisingly, Tasmanians are increasingly embracing sustainable tourism. But few places boast the eco-friendly credentials of a certain private nature reserve in Tasmania’s northwest by the name of Mountain Valley. Situated on some 61 hectares, this reserve is run by a husband-and-wife team with a passion for wildlife and conservation. To protect the vulnerable habitats and fauna on site, they’ve signed schemes agreeing that their property can never be logged or degraded. It’s also a release area for rehabilitated wildlife — and a one-of-a-kind, no-frills accommodation option, complete with 1970s-style log cabins.

With old growth forests, caves and even a glowworm grotto, Mountain Valley is a haven for wildlife. Wild echidnas, wombats, platypi, possums, Tasmanian native hens, pademelons, spotted tail quolls and the sadly endangered Tasmanian devils all call this place home. Lucky guests may even just find a few local critters on their very doorstep.

Submitted by Sarah Trevor from World Unlost


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 Iceland

 

Rocky cliffs and ocean waves on the coast of Iceland Rocky cliffs and ocean waves on the coast of Iceland

Iceland is a wonderful eco-friendly destination and one of the world leaders in sustainability.  The nature of Iceland is so pristine and clean that it is almost impossible to wrap your head around how pure things are there.  While tourism is on a major rise there, the country is doing everything it can to cater to this tourism boom in a sustainable and ethical manner.  Nearly 100% of Iceland’s electricity comes from renewable energy, which is remarkable and a model that every country should aspire to follow and achieve.  Another thing I loved about Iceland, Reykjavik in particular, is how easy it was to find vegetarian and vegan options.  You don’t necessarily associate Iceland as being meat-free, but the options are there in masses.  You can rent a bike with ease in Reykjavik, too.  I think Iceland is a country that really sets the benchmark for clean energy and spectacular nature.

Submitted by Megan Starr from meganstarr.com


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Eco Hostel Gili Meno, Indonesia

 

Gili_Meno_Eco_Hostel Gili_Meno_Eco_Hostel

In Indonesia, just a boat ride away from Bali, in the paradise island that is Gili Meno, you can find the Eco Hostel Gili Meno.

Gili Meno is a small island that can be walked in 1 hour and the Eco Hostel is conveniently located by the seaside in front of Turtle Point, where you can snorkel with turtles.

The Eco Hostel is an incredible place that is all built around the logic of sustainability and eco-tourism.

You can sleep in bungalows by the beach on just a simple mattress or in the fantastic Treehouse, while the concept of dorm-room is taken to another level by letting you sleep in hammocks that can be zipped from the inside to avoid mosquitos nuisance in the night.

The toilets are composite toilets and the showers are half salt water and half spring water. Everything is built out of wood.

There is a bonfire area by the beach and in the morning people wake up before sunrise to enjoy the majestic natural show in the communal area.

It is a place that you will never want to leave, once you get used to the slow pace of life and to the chess challenges with the young Indonesian boys working in the hostel.

Submitted by Sara and Ale from Foodmadics


6

 Wisconsin, USA

 

Kayaking at the Apostle_Islands_Sea_Caves Kayaking at the Apostle_Islands_Sea_Caves

Wisconsin offers unique travel destinations and was home to environmental legends, John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, and Aldo Leopold. Travel Green Wisconsin certification recognizes businesses that have made a commitment to reduce their environmental impact.  Here are just a few.

  1. Wilderness On the Lake is an upscale resort in the Wisconsin Dells, “The Waterpark Capital of the World”.  The dells offer indoor and outdoor waterparks, live entertainment, thrilling attractions, and awe inspiring natural beauty!
  2. Door County Bike Tours is an eco-friendly way to experience Door County, “the Cape Code of the Midwest” – a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan – where you can watch both a sunrise and a sunset over the water!  It offers cherry orchards, art galleries, wineries/breweries, five state parks, 19 charming communities, fish boils, and 11 historic lighthouses!
  3. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore consists of 12 islands and coastline on Lake Superior, hosting a unique blend of culture and nature including sea caves, nine historic lighthouses and shipwrecks.  Discover each island’s story via tours, kayaking, and hiking.  They host endangered plant species, important nesting habitat, and one of the greatest concentrations of black bears!
  4. The Harley-Davidson Museum, in Milwaukee, isn’t your typical museum.  The interactive displays provide a unique experience, exhibiting more than 450 motorcycles and artifacts on a trip through time.  It was the first museum to gain the GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification and has an ongoing process for environmental improvements.
  5. The Stonefield Historic Site, located along the Great River Road in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, includes a re-created 1900s rural village, the State Agricultural Museum, and the homesite of Wisconsin’s first governor, Nelson Dewey who has a nearby state park.

These are just a select few of Wisconsin’s eco-friendly destinations!  Explore the ‘Travel Green Wisconsin’ website and come take a look for yourself!

Submitted by Kristi Schultz, aka The Trippy Tripster, from Road Trippers R Us


7

 Germany

 

Rieselfelder Bird Sanctuary, Münster Rieselfelder Bird Sanctuary, Münster

Germany is the ideal destination for the eco-conscious traveler. A country full of history, culture, fabulous cuisine, and beautiful landscapes, it has so much to offer, but it is impossible to be an economic leader and be ecologically oriented, right?  Wrong!

The German government is making dramatic strides in environmental issues. Nuclear power is being phased out, and replaced by renewable energy forms. The Cogeneration Act requires manufacturing firms to utilize the “waste heat” created in their production processes. Rather than being demolished, old factories are often converted into cultural centers and tourist attractions, old wastewater facilities into bird sanctuaries, and military bases into wildlife habitats. Old buildings are also upgraded to meet new standards of efficiency, and re-forestation efforts have saved the Black Forest and cemented its status as one of the country’s greatest treasures.

But what is refreshing is that the German people embrace the environmental policies. Extensive recycling is legally required, but also widely practiced.  Each home and public venue has a number of separation categories for trash, so that little more than biological waste ends up in the landfills.  These separations were diligently applied in homes.  Nosier neighbors even make a point to check on the recycling practices of others on the block!

But more surprising is that the separations are made in public as well.  On the train, in the park, walking down the street, people visibly separate their disposable items into the correct categories, and take the time to put each in the proper bin.  Watching this gave me hope!

Submitted by Roxanna Keyes from Gypsy With A Day Job


8

 Guludo Beach Lodge, Mozambique

 

A starry night at Guludo Beach Lodge, Mozambique A starry night at Guludo Beach Lodge, Mozambique

Time for my contribution! There are so many wonderful places to choose from but this one deserves a special mention; Alex and I chose it as our wedding venue for good reason!

Guludo Beach Lodge in the Quirimbas National Park is an award winning ecotourism destination, with an ethos firmly rooted in social and environmental sustainability. The lodge was designed so that no trace would be left, and has been constructed using only local, natural materials. There is no running water or electricity, and yet it feels luxurious. Built and staffed by the local community, every decision was, and still is, made following consultation with the village residents. Located right on the beach, the setting is beautiful, the seafood is fresh and delicious, and there are numerous activities on offer to delight both adults and children. A percentage of your fee will go to the onsite charity, Nema Foundation, which has funded multiple wells, school meals and resources, ambulance vehicles, and construction projects. The staff are Guludo’s best asset and they will go out of their way to make your stay memorable. Certainly, we will never forget them or their bright smiles! Find out more about the highlights of this beautiful country here in my recommended two week itinerary, which will give you a taste for all that Mozambique has to offer. Thanks to Alex Miller for the photo, taken at our wedding.

 

A selection of three images from Iceland, Mozamabique and Tasmania, advertising a post on 8 destination for the eco-conscious traveller A selection of three images from Iceland, Mozamabique and Tasmania, advertising a post on 8 destination for the eco-conscious traveller
Reusable washable cloth nappies diapers nappy diaper. Collection of TotsBots EasyFit Star, Close Pop In, TotsBots Bamboozle and PeeNut Wrap, Baba+Boo Pocket Nappies and Milovia Pocket Nappies

10 Tips for using cloth nappies (diapers) while travelling

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o you love your cloth nappies/diapers but feel yourself reaching for disposables whenever you’re away from home? Maybe you feel a pang of guilt about the extra landfill waste but don’t quite know how to manage reusable products when you’re away from your trusty washing machine…and how on earth do you get them dry???

I was adamant that we would not be ditching the fluff every time we went away, but everyone I spoke to seemed to think it was impossible to use cloth nappies away from home and advised that we may as well pack some disposables. Even Alex had his doubts.

But, guess what?! It’s just as easy as at home! Here are a few tips so that you too can carry on using your cloth nappies wherever you are in the world!

1

Work out how many nappies you’re going to need so you don’t waste valuable packing space. I like to wash mine every 2-3 days, I allow 1 day of drying time, and I take 1 day’s worth of spares (which has come in handy but I’m an ‘overpacker’ so you may not think this is necessary!), so I pack 4-5 days worth. Obviously your total number will vary depending on the age of your child (newborns need more than toddlers!). Don’t forget any extra inserts or boosters you use.

 

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Similarly, work out how many cloth wipes you need using the same formula as above! We also use cloth wipes for sticky hands and faces at meal times and as make-up remover pads, so I also pack extra for these purposes.

 

3

Remember to pack liners. We use TotsBots fleece liners. They can be washed with the nappies and wipes, help keep your nappies stain-free, and ensure that your baby’s bum stays dry, thus preventing any itchy rashes. I pack one for each day-use nappy and two for each night-use nappy (we use TotsBots Bamboozles at night because of their excellent absorbency. However, because the whole nappy gets wet (unlike inserts), I like to use an extra liner to ensure the line around Theo’s waist also stays dry.

 

4

At home, you may use a bucket or pail to store dirty nappies (I use a TotsBots bucket and mesh liners), but on the road, you’re going to need wet bags! I love Planet Wise wet bags as they contain smells and hold in the moisture. I use the medium size for out and about, and the large size for storing at wherever we’re calling ‘home’. I find that taking two of each size is enough for longer trips. They’re all machine washable so I stick any used bags in with each load of nappies and wipes.

 

5

Choose nappies that are space efficient but will also meet all of your needs while you’re away. Your night nappies might be a bit bulkier, for example, but I consider this necessary bulk as I’d rather avoid changing pyjamas and bed sheets in the middle of the night!). It is also helpful to have some that dry quickly. Ultimately though, your nappy choices will probably depend on what you already own and what works best for your little one; they’re all different shapes and sizes so what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. We use a selection of the following: TotsBots EasyFit Stars, TotsBots Bamboozles with PeeNut Wraps, Milovia pocket nappies, Close Pop Ins, and Baba+Boo pocket nappies.

 

6

Don’t forget about detergent. If you have a preferred detergent that you want to bring with you, measure out how much you’ll need based on how many washes you’ll want to do. Of course, you can buy detergent while you’re away but be aware that if, for example, you prefer non-bio, this isn’t easy to buy everywhere, and likewise for powders vs. liquids. Ecological brands are also not readily available in supermarkets all over the world. We managed to take an open box of detergent as hand luggage all over North America. We were a little surprised given stringent airport security in the States, but no one seemed too bothered about our box of mysterious white powder!

 

7

Right, you’ve packed everything you need, but where are you going wash them?

We often choose to stay in an Airbnb (where you can enter ‘washer’ and ‘dryer’ as search filters) but have also stayed at hotels, motels, guesthouses and campsites/RV parks that have laundry facilities on site. These are typically coin operated machines that you can stick on and come back to later. I’ve been offered free wash cycles as a ‘thank you for using cloth’ at a number of campsites and motels!

Those that don’t have facilities for guests, may still allow you to use their housekeeping machines. Only at one hotel have they not allowed me to use their washing machines (but their housekeeping staff snuck a load on for me anyway when their manager wasn’t around!).

If there are no laundry facilities on site, there may be a local laundrette (we have used many!), or they can be hand-washed.

Of course, if you’re only away for a long weekend, there may not be any need to do any washing at all; just bring your nappies back dirty and do it at home.

 

8

What about drying them? The sun is your best friend when it comes to simultaneously drying nappies and removing any stains. If possible, get them outside. If this isn’t an option (or it’s not sunny), I’ve hung nappies on every hangable object in our room/apartment. It doesn’t make for the best decor, but needs must!

 

9

Don’t forget to pack a swim nappy or two! We love TotsBots swim nappies and find that having two is ideal for any length of trip. They can be added to your usual nappy wash or hand washed with swim wear, and they dry incredibly quickly. Perfect for the beach, pool, and any other water-based fun, you don’t need to use disposable swimming nappies while you’re away at all! We’ve left Theo is his ordinary cloth nappies when we have an impromptu swim in a waterfall, stream or fountain and have failed to pack swimming gear, but they do get a bit heavy, so I recommend carrying a swim nappy with you just in case!

 

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Finally, if you don’t fancy washing and stuffing nappies on your break, remind yourself that the manufacturing of disposable nappies puts a huge strain on our planet and that a disposable nappy will sit in landfill for approximately 500 years. If this isn’t motivation enough, can your nappy-wearer help you? Theo loves helping me put wipes in piles and placing fleece liners in his nappies. It can easily be turned into a fun game with loads of opportunities for learning; naming colours and objects on the prints, counting, sorting, and stacking.

I hope these pointers have been helpful. I promise that using cloth nappies while travelling is no different to at home!


Where can I buy cloth nappies, wipes, wet bags and ecological detergent?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on Amazon. I receive a small commission if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information. However, I prefer to use independent ethical retailers. I always recommend www.babipur.co.uk as a great place to buy eco friendly toys, clothes, reusable nappies/diapers and sanitary products, slings, household items and toiletries. They are a trusted ethical retailer and you can rest assured that they’ve done their research into the best eco brands and products on the market; everything they stock is made from sustainable materials and the manufacturing processes are both socially and environmentally ethical. Their customer service is second to none and their online presence is friendly, personal and transparent. I have always received purchases in double quick time and everything arrives in recycled or reused packaging. Spend over £40 for free UK postage, and international postage is very reasonable. Top marks all round!