2017 highlights: A year of family travel
There’s nothing quite like looking back over the year with a smile on your face, reminiscing about the highlights. And 2017 has been quite a year of family travel for us – making travel resolutions last January seems an incredibly long time ago.
While my eventual list looked quite different to my wishlist – Wales and Greece yes, Italy no, Asia yes (but not Vietnam, Indonesia or the Philippines as I’d plotted), while Cape Verde was still an idle thought 12 months back – I’m happy to see we haven’t lost our spontaneity despite sticking solely to school holidays this year.
In total, I’ve managed to take 25 trips and days out, as well as 15 flights visiting eight countries including Asia and Africa, Europe and the Middle East – not to mention 15 counties in the UK.
So although I decided not to take on the #Take12Trips challenge for 2017 (after three successful previous attempts), I realised we’ve easily managed at least one day out per month, usually either one big trip or several days out. In fact, November was the only one which saw us conserving our energy close to home.
With a New Year waiting to be filled with trips, we started off with a bit of luxury – the best way to approach January, I think! Firstly, a stay at The Arch hotel in London where five-star met family-friendly and we were left wishing we didn’t have to check out.
Then up to Ludlow in Shropshire for our first castle of the year and a stay at Fishmore Hall, which had just opened its new spa. With very fond memories of a pre-daughter stay, we decided to discover if this gourmet spot was also compatible with a small picky eater.
And continuing my 2016 resolution to see more of London, we created our own mini tour of the capital’s highlights – and I’ve now realised that we never did get back to the Tower of London as planned. Well, that starts my 2018 list off!
With half-term came the first of our big trips of the year – hunting myths and legends in Wales. We managed to visit four different counties in the week, including beautiful Pembrokeshire and the Gower peninsula as well as finding Merlin in the rain and reading a few stories of King Arthur along the way.
I also got chance to check in to Clydey Cottages in Pembrokshire, somewhere I’d always heard recommended for families with babies and small kids – and having checked it out myself, I’m adding my voice to the chorus of praise. I only wish we’d had a little longer to appreciate it between all our exploring.
Between half-term and the school holidays we battled through rain and cold at Diggerland in Kent where playing with JCBs isn’t just for kids. We also saw some of the first Spring sunshine in the lovely surroundings of Cliveden, with flowers starting to bloom and a new camera to test out along the way.
I had the first of several solo trips away too, with a work trip to Barcelona – much as I’d love to head back with my daughter, it was lovely to indulge in wandering the back streets on a couple of tours, learning about the history of the city in more detail than a four-year-old would appreciate, as well as eating more tapas and paella than I should have done. Yum!
At the beginning of 2017, in my travel wishlist post, I’d mentioned being intrigued by the idea of visiting the Cape Verde islands. Somehow they firmly captured my imagination, and as I didn’t know anyone who’s visited Cape Verde with kids, I decided I really had to check it out myself.
Probably my most relaxing holiday of the year, staying at the Melia Dunas on Sal – we had a day tour and a few mornings out, but Sal itself is pretty small which left plenty of time for chilling out by the pool. Floating in the salt lake, searching for lemon sharks and spotting a mirage ensured it was still memorable – as I found out, there’s plenty to learn about the Cape Verde islands.
Dinosaurs also came to our part of London, with the first stop of the Jurassic Kingdom tour which made its way around the country all year.
This month saw me retracing my footsteps to Greece with a spot of island hopping – something I did with my best friend after university, before a cruise through the same area with my husband and friends years later.
This time, Minnie and I started on Kos, staying at Lagas Aegean Village before heading to our second island, the ridiculously picturesque Symi at Iapetos Village where we happily whiled away our days at little coves before lunch at a taverna. It’s a reminder too, just how much variety there is to the Greek islands… and how many I have yet to explore.
We also retraced our steps on an island slightly closer to home, heading back to the Isle of Wight. The sun shone as soon as our ferry pulled away from the mainland and despite a very chilled out 48 hours, we managed to find dinosaurs on the beach, took a boat out to the Needles and made sandcastles just for starters.
And even closer to home, we discovered another world altogether in Great Missenden at the Roald Dahl Museum, stepping into the stories and seeing them come to life, as well as listening to some tales along the way.
As summer finally started to arrive in the UK, we got to see England at its best – a weekend in Lincoln discovering the history of the castle and cathedral, and following the knights’ trail through the streets (and up and down Steep Hill…)
We also stayed in some of the year’s most memorable accommodation – and it had plenty of competition – by checking in to Rhino Lodge, at Port Lympne Animal Reserve in Kent, which had a rhino at the bottom of the garden, plus found time for a short break at the seaside near Brighton.
Our big trip of the year, two fabulous weeks in Cambodia – starting at the beginning of the school holidays in July and running into August. Having finally headed to Asia with my daughter last year, for our wonderful Burma adventure, I’d decided I was ready for us to head back to the same part of the world and a country on my bucket list.
Although I’d started the year eyeing up Vietnam (still on the list), I was won over by Cambodia’s mix of different experiences; discovering that you can explore Angkor Wat with kids but also a fascinating day in Battambang, taking the bamboo train, spotting bats and climbing to a clifftop temple, exploring the little-visited Cardamom Mountains and falling in love with the beautiful scenery there while staying in a floating tent.
Not to mention the gorgeous beaches of the south coast, the history of Phnom Penh and the chance to soak up a little Cambodian culture and atmosphere.
One of my favourite days out this year – a visit to Hever Castle with friends, a place I’ve been meaning to visit for years and have finally made time for… only to discover it’s even better there than I’d hoped with lots of activities and things for kids to do, as well as plenty to appeal to history lovers.
Besides who wouldn’t want to be called a peasant by Henry VIII?
We finished the month with a few days staying with my parents in Staffordshire. As we’ve visited the Monkey Forest and Trentham Gardens several times before, we made the most of some sunshine to relive my own childhood with a wander along the canal and visit to the Peak Wildlife Park.
September saw a chance to indulge in some of my favourite parts of London, enjoying the sort of experience you often forget to have when you live somewhere. To start off the Britmums #BML17 blogging conference, I helped lead an Instagram walk along the South Bank which meant a lovely morning plotting a route with Maria from One Tiny Leap, and an equally lovely one retracing our footsteps with a group of bloggers.
In very civilised fashion, I started the whole conference in style with afternoon tea at the Waldorf Hilton with some amazing cakes which I still regret being too full to finish! Sticking with the London theme, I also headed back to the Natural History Museum with my daughter to see the whales exhibition and the new skeleton adorning the main hall in place of Dippy the diplodocus.
I even managed to find time for a lunch with Maria and Ting from My Travel Monkey in Brighton as well.
The highlight of the month was our amazing trip to Oman – one of my favourite trips of the whole year.
Despite having slightly less than a week, I’m still amazed at what we fitted in – seeing dolphins and the amazing Grand Mosque in Muscat, exploring historic forts, venturing into the desert at Wahiba Sands, spotting turtles laying eggs at Ras al Jinz and finishing in boutique style on the coast not to mention heading into the mountains, discovering wadis and more.
And in contrast, a night away in lovely Malvern made a rather more traditionally English escape – this one to the Malvern Spa hotel in Worcestershire.
A quiet month between trips, fitting in some long overdue catch-ups with friends including a day in Oxford. Plus my daughter’s first attempt at ice skating in the shadow of Hampton Court Palace – I can think of few more memorable places to try.
Perhaps it’s no surprise we both finished the year feeling a bit worn out – and much as I’d fancied the idea of a trip to Lapland before Christmas, we’ve stuck to the UK for family trips this month.
Getting us in the Christmas spirit was a day at Warwick Castle to see Santa, a good way to blow the cobwebs away on the castle walls before the inevitable Christmas busyness. I’m hoping for another day or two out in London as well before the year is up, especially to the Winnie the Pooh exhibition at the V&A, realising it’s somehow a year since our last visit.
The big trip this month was a solo one for me, to The Gambia – a country which hadn’t really been on my radar at the start of 2017 but a reminder that there’s so much of Africa still to explore.
Perhaps 2018 will be the year we do that? Because if 2017 saw us taking slightly fewer trips, our travels have had some fantastic memorable moments. And having got the taste for some more adventurous family trips last year, there’s no stopping us now.
As ever, the only question left is… where next? Here’s to a Happy New travel-filled Year!
The Take 12 Trips challenge was thought up by Clare from Need Another Holiday – check out her blog for more inspiration, it’s a fantastic motivator to get out and explore with young kids and a reminder that if you don’t book it, the year slips by surprisingly fast!
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