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July 2013

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When you set off to travel with kids often there are some iconic tourist destinations that you think of first when deciding where to go.  Places like Disneyland, the Eiffel Tower and the Tower of London.  No doubt these destinations are all places your kids would love and they will be memorable holiday

But what about those iconic destinations that don’t necessarily jump into your mind straight away?  What about taking your kids to visit a tourist destination that packs in more than just the destination itself? 

Need a few ideas? 

Check out our choice of three iconic destinations that we just know your kids will love:

Camping in a big USA national park. 

How many kids can say they’ve camped at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite or Yellowstone National Park?  A camping trip is a huge opportunity for kids to learn about nature, cooking, the USA itself and various interesting wildlife they might be lucky enough to see.  When you have to lock up all your food so you don’t attract a bear, or see a raccoon walk right through your campsite, you can discuss with your children the impact of humans on rural areas. Majestic waterfalls present opportunities to explain how water is recycled from rain and snow and where it goes once it is used.

The USA is an amazing country of contrasts and there’s no better way to explore it than getting out into it’s national parks.

Yosemite

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and staying on an island. 

The Great Barrier Reef is one iconic destination that you absolutely should not miss.  Spread over 2300 kilometres and housing some species that exist nowhere else on earth, the Great Barrier Reef is an amazing educational destination.  There’s nothing quite like diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Staying on Hayman Island, located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, will allow you to access everything this amazing area has to offer without having to travel too far each day.  Kids will adore swimming amongst the 1500 species of tropical fish.  A search for Nemo can be a great opportunity to discuss the number of fish that are in the ocean and the things that can contribute to their well-being. Bring a tropical fish book and see how many you can spot. Conservation is a great topic for kids to learn about and what better way to learn than to see what is at stake first hand. There are so many opportunities here, from learning about how to take better care of the planet to simple lessons like just loving being outside and enjoying nature.

Hayman Island

Elephant conservation in Thailand. 

Volunteering in Thailand to care for elephants is an iconic adventure trip that might just be the most memorable experience of your kid’s lives!  There are many stories of elephant sanctuaries that aren’t as kind to the elephants as they should be.  Searching for the best opportunities is a great chance to involve your children in understanding why one experience is more nature-friendly than another.  And when you actually get there to bathe and care for the elephants your kids will understand why it’s so important to preserve these majestic creatures.

Not sure how to find an elephant conservation program that actually has the best interests of elephants at heart? Choose parks that don’t have elephant shows where elephants perform “tricks” like playing soccer or painting. These aren’t natural behaviours. The elephants performing these tricks go through hours of training to learn these. Also, an elephant ride might sound fantastic but those saddles are really terrible for the backs of elephants. Most elephants in Asia that are ridden, with or without a saddle, have gone through a completely inhumane process called the crush that allows them to be ridden. It’s nothing like breaking a horse, it’s torture. Try to find a park that allows you to volunteer, interact or observe elephants that allowed to be … well elephants! It’s much more rewarding. Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is one that I highly recomment.

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When you let your kids experience more than just the usual tourist destinations, you allow them to see and learn things they might not normally be exposed to.  Theme parks are fun but the really memorable experiences come from experiences that allow kids to have multiple experiences.

Kevin and Domini, they’re that crazy couple who took off with their family for the remote jungle of Belize. Yeah, I heard they were living off the grid and had to take a boat to get anywhere. Why on earth… would they take their kids away from regular life…? Why on earth would they sabotage their kids’ education and risk injury, malaria, snakebite, or human trafficking?

Yep, that’s us. The risk-takers. Only thing is, taking a six-month family sabbatical in Belize was actually not that risky at all. In any case, whatever risks we faced were far outweighed by the overwhelming number of benefits we received from leaving our comfort zone. For months before our trip, we felt a counter-cultural pull to drop everything in our regular, normal life to live in a developing country for awhile. Our instincts said this trip would be well worth facing our fears and risking a little bit along the way. So we packed up some suitcases, rented out our house, and left everything behind for an experience not many families have: house sitting for an off-the-grid property that sat not 20 feet from the sea and was, indeed, only accessible by boat.

Much to the surprise of our close loved ones, friends, and acquaintances.

People in our neck of the woods don’t do such a thing. We Heddermans had a settled life. We had enough money and lots of time together. We volunteered in our community. We sent our kids to the same school for seven years, where we had lots of friends. We had fun evenings out and peaceful evenings in. We attended church with the same congregation since we were married–all of our children were baptized there. People who do these things live a normal sort of life. They don’t just pull up their roots and… leave.

What was wrong with the old life? people may have wondered.

But even though things were lovely where we were, we sensed that they were lovely in only a mediocre sort of way (at least for us). We were settling for easy comfort and rarely got the chance to climb out of our comfort zones. We craved more adventure and knew we couldn’t find it driving around the same old town in the same old mini-van. And we felt caught up in the consumer culture of America, finding ourselves on the earn-and-spend treadmill so many of our peers have fallen victim to, as well. We were living an unintentional existence and letting life happen to us instead of actively creating the kind of life we wanted for ourselves and our children. We had the big house in the suburbs, the invites to the parties, the private grade school to which we sent our kids. Things were great on the surface.

But sometimes major life events shake you up. That’s what happened to us in 2010 when first Kevin’s dad died in February and then my mom in July. Add to that the physical strain of having a newborn baby in May, and Kevin and I had about all the major life events we ever needed. After that year, our outlook began to change in a huge way. Things that seemed important before–like attending galas, buying a lot of material items, and planning home improvement projects–lost their gloss. The chatter of the world buzzed in our ears and nearly drove us insane. We felt overworked, overwhelmed, and under-appreciated. We felt crushed under the weight of the many layers of regular, middle-class American life.

We needed a break from our normal life. We needed to take a giant step back so we could see our life clearly. We needed to exit normal.

So we packed up our four kids and boarded a plane to Belize in November 2012. Our six months away taught us many lessons, not the least of which is that Kevin and I have a strong need for three things: Variety, Challenge, and Connection. We need to lay our eyes on new places once in awhile where people do things differently than what we’ve seen our whole lives in our little Pennsylvanian town. We need the challenge of figuring out the new way and discovering new things about ourselves in the process. And we need to develop deep-rooted connections with people who are thinking critically about the world and their place in it. We found all of this during our time in Belize.

Now that we’re back home, we feel we are more in touch with our own authentic natures. We care less about what other people think of us–after all, it’s our life! And we learned first-hand that, although life is full of unnamed fears, the only way to arrive at the richness of an abundant life is to barge right through the thin veil of fear. Once we did that, we climbed out of the wilderness of our formerly mediocre life of negativity, disillusionment, and indecisiveness, and landed in a new and beautiful world of our own creation.

We’re not going back to the old way. We tasted freedom in Belize and we’re ravenous for more, more, more! We want more freedom, more learning, more time with our kids before they grow up–poof!–before our eyes, more positivity, more abundance, more variety, more challenge, and more connection. And we know that to get all of this, we must take the lessons we learned in Belize and put them into immediate action. 

Although we once thought of our six-month family sabbatical as a one-time, once in a lifetime trip that we would look back fondly on in the autumn of our life, we realized soon into the six months that the experience was deeper and more lasting than that. In Month One, we realized we could be away from our home with no difficulty. By Month Two, we realized we could run our real estate business remotely, at least for several months at a time. In Month Three, we discovered I could make an income writing about our experience and lessons learned. In Month Four, we began to see travel as an education so overwhelmingly powerful that we decided we could and should homeschool our children. In Month Five, we realized we couldn’t just go home with no future travel plans in the works. In Month Six, we hit the growth jackpot when we saw very clearly that our life would not reach its overwhelming potential for beauty and joy unless we ourselves made it happen.

So we got back to our home in Erie, Pennsylvania, USA, on April 29, 2013. We’ve made many changes to our old life. One small change we’ve made is reevaluating everything we already own and more critically assessing the things we buy and invite into our lives. We’ve also critically examined the activities, work loads, and even people we invite into our lives, as well. Do these things feed our soul? Or are they merely filler? We decided life is too short to waste time on things or activities that don’t pull us in the right direction, and too short to be put down by people who don’t necessarily want what’s best for us.

A more significant change is that we’ve decided to homeschool our kids. We’re doing this to see how we can broaden and stretch their education into one that more closely resembles a lucky privilege more than a dreaded responsibility. We’re also homeschooling so we can travel more throughout the school year. Of course, we’re traveling as a means of education. In our minds, travel and homeschooling will meld together to give our kids a unique perspective on things in a way staying home and sending them to the school down the block never could. 

Our plan at this point is to take off for three months of travel at a time, with three-month stints at home. In this way, we are trying to have the best of both worlds. We learned during our time away that being flexible is very important so we’re giving ourselves the freedom to choose what’s next at each stage of the game. If we realize after a year that the kids aren’t thriving with this new lifestyle, we always have the option of settling back down or even sending them back to school. If we see, however, that things are turning out to be as awesome as we think they will, we have many long-term trips in mind: Europe by camper van, house sitting in New Zealand, renting a house in Ecuador. Voluntourism. Home exchanges. Bicycling through South America. The list of opportunities is endless.

Our next trip will commence in late August, when we’ll take off for three months of camping and traveling across the United States. We plan to meander our way from Pennsylvania to Washington, with a jaunt up into British Columbia, Canada, before making our way south again and then back home via the southern route. A full circle. We hope to rediscover our own country and fall back in love with it before we once again cross the border.

My book, Exit Normal: How We Escaped With Our Family and Changed Our Life, tells the story of our radical exit from normal life. Kevin and I agree that, besides marrying each other and having each of our children, the family sabbatical in Belize was the best thing we have ever done as a couple. It was an enriching, uplifting, challenging, life-altering foray into a new sort of freedom. It was our family’s renaissance when we were reawakened and reminded we only get one go-around at this life. We’re running after the abundance like children running after the ice cream truck.

Kevin and Domini, that crazy couple. Yeah, we’re smiling like loons as we take the world by storm.

 

rafting white water 6 nov 2010 with Full On Adventure

Summertime is all about being outdoors. For those brief few months, the weather makes it ideal to spend as much time out in nature as possible and that is something both you and the kids will be excited about! Scotland is a beautiful backdrop for summer adventures, especially in the Aviemore area near Inverness.

Whether you are looking to do some whitewater rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, biking or hill walking, there are plenty of family-friendly activities that you can enjoy no matter what your skill level.

So, stick the kids bikes in the back of the car and get ready to set out on your own Scotland summer adventures with some of these exciting activities!

 

Zip Line Park

If zipping down a mountain in a harness, suspended from a wire sounds like your brand of excitement, then this is the place to go. You and your family (age 5 and up) will get to enjoy over 1.5 km of zip lines that zing you past the beautiful scenery at the top of a gorge. The cost is just £25 per person.

 

White Water Rafting

Getting out on the water is always a must for most families during the summer months. Adding a little more excitement to your water sports can make this a summer to talk about for years to come. Rafters leave about 10am to start their trip on either the Findhorn or the river Spey and return around 4pm. You can pack a lunch to bring along, which you get to stop and enjoy during your trip down the river. Prices start at £40 per person for a half-day trip.

 

Hill Walking

If you enjoy simply being out among the mountains, perhaps a day spent hill walking in Cairgorn National Park is on your to-do list. Pack a light lunch, grab your hiking shoes and get out to the park for a little exercise and amazing views. Or turn it into a longer adventure and go camping. There are camping grounds all throughout the Cairgorns offering the perfect spot to pitch the family tents and spend a week or weekend hiking, relaxing, swimming and biking.  

 

Gorge Walking and Canyoning

If you want a mix of hiking and water rafting, signing up for canyoning and gorge walking adventures is what you need. Climb rocks and plunge into pools while wearing your provided wet suits, helmets and buoyancy aids. You’ll get to slide down natural water shoots into pools of water and experience other exciting elements of nature. The price is £40 per person.

 

Being outdoors is an important part of a summer filled with adventure. No matter what you set your excitement level to while you are visiting Scotland, you are sure to find the right activities to keep your family happy.

Camping is fun.  Road trips are fun.  So imagine how much fun it is to combine the two!  A camping road trip could be just what you need for your next outdoor adventure with the family!  Planning a drive from Queensland to Melbourne is one of the easiest ways to include some stops for the kids that are interesting for parents too!  When you choose to travel along the Newell Highway instead of taking the coast road there can be some unexpected educational opportunities!

Driving To Melbourne For A Camping Trip Can Be Fun!

Driving To Melbourne For A Camping Trip Can Be Fun!

  • The World’s Largest Virtual Solar System is a fun way to learn about the planets and break up your trip.  The planets are actually made to scale and even the distance between the stops is to scale.  There are safe places to stop near each planet for photo opportunities and information on the billboards about the planet.  The end of the line is Siding Springs Observatory which is always a great place to visit.
  • Visit the Western Plains Zoo while in Dubbo. Hire bikes, walk or drive around the grounds and get up close to an amazing array of animals.
  • The CSIRO radio telescope at Parkes is another fun way to break up your trip when driving to Melbourne.  There’s free entry and loads of information on how this telescope came to be an important part of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  There are great photo opportunities and you absolutely have to try the whisper dishes!  This is a fun stop that won’t take a lot of time but you will need to pull off the main highway to get to the telescope.
  • Finishing your fruit before you arrive at the Victorian border is an interesting educational opportunity for kids.  There are signs showing the fruit fly that is to be avoided and the fines for bringing it in.  Most kids probably don’t realise that there are zones within Australia where certain food cannot be carried.  It’s great to explain the damage done to crops and industry and why that is important.  You might even be able to throw in some nutritional information to encourage your kids to eat more fruit!
  • Driver Reviver stops might seem like just a place to break your trip and get a free drink but they are so much more than that.  When you road trip with kids you show them how to be responsible when driving.   One day they’ll grow up and if they are already used to stopping at the driver reviver stations they won’t feel self-conscious and will continue this safe driving tradition.  They might even decide to volunteer to man a station themselves!

Once you arrive in Melbourne for your camping trip remember to stock up on plenty of supplies.  There’s nothing worse than running out of something important and having to drive 50km to the nearest store.

And maybe we should have pointed this out first but……

Before you leave home in Queensland, remember to pack your tents and rucksacks.  Plenty of road trippers arrive at their camping destination to discover that they left a vital piece of equipment at home – and very often it is the tent!

Parkes radio telescope at night

Fox Glacier

Westland Tai Poutini National Park on New Zealand’s south island is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing sixty glaciers, including two of the most accessible glaciers in the world, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. These two glaciers are only twenty minutes drive apart so you can easily visit both in a single day. Terminating almost at sea level near two small towns, you won’t need to climb a mountain or spend days trekking to get to the face of the glacier. Even with young children it’s an easy walk.

They can be visited year round and provided you don’t mind the chill, the walk to the glaciers is actually more spectacular in the cooler months thanks to the early morning frosts, the chance of snow and the higher than usual chance of sunny days allowing you an unobstructed view of the glacier working it’s way down to the valley floor.

The two main ways to get there are from Christchurch via Arthurs pass and Greymouth or from Queenstown via Wanaka and Hokitika. Both drives take 5-6hrs depending on conditions and are spectacular, although my preference is the drive via Queenstown. The scenery between Wanaka and the coast was absolutely breathtaking.

Getting up close

Both Franz Josef and Fox Glacier have walking trails from a carpark along the river bed to reach the face of the glacier. There is no charge to walk to the terminal face of either glacier and you don’t need a guide. They are also connected by bikeways to the local townships if you want to cycle from town.

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

The walk to Franz Josef is the longer of the two. Approximately 3km each way, it includes a short walk through a temperate rainforest before you reach the river bed. It’s actually the easier walk because it’s almost completely flat and the surface is very even. The only uneven part is the final 50m, but even that is pretty easy.

It’s also stunning. There are enough rocks just off path asking to be jumped on, creeks to look at and waterfalls to gaze up at that you can easily keep children engaged. Between the steep cliffs and mountains, the waterfalls and the glacier cascading down from snowy heights to a rainforested valley it’s a spectacular walk.

The disappointing part is when you reach the end of your journey, or at least it was when we were there in September 2012. The glacier is currently retreating, and rapidly. This is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world and when it starts to retreat it retreats quickly.

Where the walk ends used to be close to the glacier but now it’s about 800m from the terminal face. In fact from the end point you can’t even see the terminal face. A giant pile of scree and rock that used to lie under the glacier blocks your view. This photo shows you how the glacier has changed over the past ten years. Pretty amazing right?

Franz Josef Glacier as close as you get

In all honestly you get a better view 500m back down the path. The terminal face of Franz Josef has been really unstable over the past few years so this is probably why they haven’t tried to extend the walk closer. Safety first is good. But it would have been nice if there were signs letting us know that before we reached the end of the walk.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier end of the line

The walk to Fox Glacier isn’t quite as scenic as the walk to Franz Josef but at this point in time you get a much better view of the terminal face of the glacier, which is only 100-200m from the barrier at the end of the walk (at least that was the case in September 2012). You don’t however get a great view of the glacier making it’s way down the valley from the walk like you do from the walk to Franz Josef. You need to drive to a nearby lookout point to see that.

The walk to Fox Glacier is much shorter, approximately half the distance. BUT the path is more challenging – there are several small stream crossings and a lot of ups and downs. It can be wet and slippery in places. As you can see from the photo below, saying the surface is uneven isn’t overstating things! Our 7 year old was in heaven. Our youngest child found it hard going, but then she’d already done a 6km walk that morning followed by a 2km walk to see a lake at lunch. Regardless pack good shoes!

Walking to Fox Glacier

Of course you can choose to just walk part way along the flat creek bed and stop when the path starts getting challenging. You’ll still get a decent view of the glacier from a distance and a better view of the glacier face than you do at Franz Josef.

Which do you visit?

Glaciers change rapidly so ask locals and other tourists what the situation is at both glaciers, specifically how close you can get to the glaciers before you visit. What we saw at both glaciers was totally different to what friends saw three years previously.

We found we got something different out of visiting both glaciers. Since they are only twenty minutes drive apart you can easily visit both in a single day if you are just hiking to the base of each. Until Franz Josef starts advancing again or they move the end point of the walk, Franz Josef offers a great view of a glacier working it’s way down from the mountains to sea level but not necessarily a great way to get up close to one. Visiting Fox Glacier at the moment allows you to get a lot closer to the terminal face and see the features of the glacier. 

If you are worried about your children being able to walk the distance to both glaciers, I’d recommend walking all the way to Fox Glacier to get up close to the glacier but only walking halfway to Franz Josef.

Also it’s not a bad idea to visit Franz Josef first. Cloud often sets in during the afternoon and since one of the best parts about visit Franz Josef is the view of the glacier the best time to go is when the sky is clear.

Getting up even closer

For safety reasons both walks only take you within a few hundred meters of each glacier, not right to the base. To get closer you need to join a guided tour, which unfortunately are only open to children 7 years and above.

Unless of course you have the money to pay for a helicopter flight over the glaciers! You’ll get to see places that are only accessible by air. For families with children aged 9 years and older you can even go heli-hiking on the glacier. There are a number of helicopter companies which operate in the area and the local tourist information centre will help you make a decision on which company and tour is right for your family.

Things to know before you go

Being prepared for the weather

The weather changes really rapidly at the glaciers. Even the weather in the nearby towns isn’t a good indication of what the conditions at the glaciers will be like. We visited both in a single day and during our day we ranged from sweating in t-shirts to standing in drizzling rain in puffer jackets and beanies.

Be prepared for all conditions, particularly rain. Pack all-weather jackets that cuts out rain and wind and provides insulation from the cold. Berghaus jackets are the perfect example of the style of jacket you want to bring.

Bring snacks and water

This is a national park so there aren’t any stores along the hiking trails. Bring snacks and drinks.

Wear good shoes

The walk to Fox Glacier definitely warrants proper hiking shoes. The trail is very uneven, with several stream crossing, lots of boulders and it can be quite slippery in places if it’s been raining. For Franz Josef any comfortable walking shoe will be fine.

Toilets

Fox Glacier has toilets at the carpark. Franz Josef doesn’t. Enjoy that one if you don’t prepare in advance!

Allow extra time for rock collecting

If your children are anything like mine, being surrounded by 30 billion interestingly shaped rocks will be too great a temptation to ignore. Expect to spend a fair amount of your visit collecting and admiring rocks. And a lot more time explaining why they can’t take all of them home!