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Hopefully you’ve come to grips with the difference between a household budget and a travel budget.  Understanding that difference is a key part of making your money last for the whole of your trip. 

So far your only experience with budgeting might have been your weekly or monthly household budget.  So when it comes time to budget for a 6 month trip or even a whole year away you might not be too sure of exactly where to start. 

How do you make sure you allow the right amount for the four main categories you’ll need to include in your budget? 

  • Accommodation
  • Food
  • Transport
  • Entertainment

The key is to research, research, research!

You need to loosely work out the countries you want to travel through and then discover what you need to allow for each category.  

Generally you can find good reliable figures with a bit of searching online.  Sites like budgetyourtrip.com allow you to get travel budgets from real travellers based on whether you think you are a budget, mid-range or luxury traveller.  Don’t underestimate how helpful sites like this one are.  You need to have a good idea of the different costs before you set out and this site in particular will allow you to get budgets for each country in your own currency.  This will make it super easy to add up all the different country expenses.

Prices for a family of four in Vietnam or Laos are a lot different than prices for a family of 4 in Denmark or Sydney.  Take the time to work out a loose budget for each country based on how long you think you’ll spend there.  This will give you an idea of whether your budget is realistic or not. 

Before deciding what style of traveller you are, you need to be very, very honest with yourself. 

Just because hostels exist for $4 per night does not mean they are a good idea for everyone!  If you are used to luxury hotels, clean fluffy towels each day and sumptuous buffet breakfasts will you really enjoy yourself in 12 bed dorm rooms, with scratchy towels meant to last you a whole week and toast and jam in the morning? 

There’s no shame in not being a budget traveller.  Don’t kid yourself that you’ll enjoy roughing it if you know you absolutely won’t. Perhaps midrange guesthouses are more your style. Maybe you can do budget travel for a few weeks if you balance if out with a few weeks of comfort afterwards.

If you are travelling with children you might not want to stay in shared dorms with other travellers.  If you prefer to have private rooms you need to budget for those from the start.  If you have fussy eaters you might need to ensure you have cooking facilities.  This can mean spending a little more on your accommodation budget.  Or spending a lot less by getting yourself a house-sitting assignment occasionally. 

Dorm Room / Barnacles Hostel / Dublin / Ireland

Another item that has different categories of luxury is travel.  Can you take a second or third class train and give up some of the luxuries or will you only travel first class between cities?  Are you happy to take night buses or would you rather fly between cities?  All of these details will be important as you spend time working out your travel budget.  And they’ll be even more important when you set off on your trip and have to stick to that budget!

With so many variables it pays to have the best idea you can of what type of traveller you are.  This means you’ll need to consider accommodation types, eating arrangements and the transport you’re happy to use before you set off.

Budgets are fluid.

Once your budget is finished you need to remember that it is really a fluid thing.  If you discover after the first month that you are way over in one of your categories, you need to take steps to bring it back into line before you spend too much of your capital.  Or maybe you’ll be over in one area but under in another.  If you’re happy with your budget that way then leave it like that and continue on.  There’s no set rule for budgeting, you have to do whatever works best for you and your family.

One important thing to remember after you set out and are wrangling your budget is to not be lulled into a false sense of security. 

If you find that you spend a lot less in a particular country than you expected, DO NOT be tempted to live it up and use up that buffer.  Somewhere down the track you are bound to go over your budget and will need the extra that you saved to cover this extra spending. 

Trust me, I know! 

We were about $1000 under budget after our 3 months in South East Asia.  We were thrilled because that meant we could buy a new lens, battery and case for our camera.  We let the kids have amazing yoghurt almost every day from this cool yoghurt bar that we found and we went way over our food budget for our last week in Vietnam.  Things were looking great!

When we hit America we discovered a hire car would be a much larger expense than we had expected and we decided to buy a car to road trip around.  That $1000 that we blew in Vietnam could have gone towards our car purchase.  At the end of our time in the US we were $4000 over budget and regretted not pocketing our savings for a rainy day!

Luckily we learnt this lesson early on and were able to mostly get back on track in the following months.

The Great American Road Trip: Death Valley

As a service to other travellers remember to contribute your own figures to your favourite budget sites when you return home.  This will help other travellers set their own realistic travel budgets based on real and current numbers.

Taking the time to get your budget right before you leave home will pay off when you don’t have to spend nights lying awake worrying about money on your trip.  The idea of travelling is to enjoy yourselves, see the world and learn plenty.  Not to be stressed due to money worries.  If you wanted those you could have just stayed home!

 

The 3rd article will be: Different Styles of budgeting for long term family travel. Stay tunned!

Exchange Money Conversion to Foreign Currency

When you decide you’re going to travel the world one of the first tasks you’ll need to consider will be your travel budget.  Your travel budget will determine how long you can travel and the places you can go on those travels.  Whether you stay in hostels and eat two minute noodles every night or whether you can visit every single tourist attraction you come across and sample all of the local delicacies!

A travel budget is different to a household budget

Once you’ve worked out how much cash you have to put towards your travels, you’ll need to work out how to keep track of it and how to make it last. 

The first part of making your budget last is understanding why a travel budget is different from a normal household budget.  Believe me, understanding the difference really matters if you hope to make your budget stretch as long as your travel plans!

The first major difference between the budget you might follow when you’re at home and the budget you follow on the road is accepting the realisation that no extra money is likely to be added to your travel budget.  If you’ve saved for this trip and won’t be working while you’re away from home you have a set amount of funds that need to last you the whole distance.  You won’t have a weekly or monthly paycheck to rely on when you are far from home.  As you use up your funds they won’t be replenished and this can be very hard for people to get their head around at the start.

If you are terrible with money at home you might be used to living paycheck-to-paycheck.  When you overspend on the budget you just have to wait until pay day and then you can start over. 

This is a luxury you won’t have while you’re travelling.  If a large sum of money is going to be tempting to you in the bank, you need to understand the implications of overspending from the very start and get this under control.

You may have decided to keep yourself a buffer of funds to get you set up when you return home again.  If you don’t keep control of your budget you might have to dip into these funds and risk having no money when you finally get home.  Sticking carefully to your budget means you won’t find yourself sleeping in your mum’s garage when you get back!

Budgeting for food at home is a lot easier than budgeting in a foreign country. 

At home you probably do your grocery shopping in the same store in the same neighbourhood each week.  You probably get the specials flyers and maybe even some discount coupons delivered to your mailbox.  It’s easy to stick to your budget when you can buy in bulk if an item you often use is on special.  You just store it at home in the pantry until it’s all used up.  And if you’re like most families you probably eat similar meals every week.  Studies show that most families cycle through the same 10 dinner dishes with little variety thrown in.

When you’re travelling, grocery budgeting is a lot harder. 

When you arrive in a new area it can take a day or so to discover where the stores are that have the best deals.  It can take time to find the best value street food and restaurants.  If you arrive late at night you’ll most likely spend more getting the kids fed than you would if you had time to plan a meal for the family.  And if your accommodation doesn’t have cooking facilities there’s a chance you’ll spend more on food than if you were able to prepare it for yourself.

Fresh fruit markets Sofia

Travel budgets include different categories and expenses than household budgets, expenses that can vary widely.

Household budgets include a lot of items that have no place in a travel budget. Items like power, car insurance, car registration, car maintenance, home phone, household items and loan payments (unless you’re travelling with some debt still unpaid) are all parts of a household budget that generally don’t need to be paid while you travel. 

Your travel budget will consist mainly of 4 categories accommodation, food, transport and entertainment.  Once you allow for these you’ve pretty much covered what you need to consider.  For our year-long budget the entertainment category covered everything besides food, accommodation and transport – it was easier for us that way!

In your household budget most of your expenses will be fixed.  If they aren’t fixed costs you can likely work out what they are expected to be and put a fixed amount aside for them each pay period.  This is not quite the case with a travel budget.  Accommodation for one month in South East Asia could be very different to your accommodation expenses the next month in Paris.  And if you manage to get yourself a house-sitting assignment you could find yourself with a sudden budget windfall!

Perhentian Islands - accommodation

Juggling expenses that aren’t fixed is a definite skill you’ll need to master if your travel money is to last the distance.

When you sell your possessions to travel and give up your residence, you will save the money you might have spent on insuring your stuff and your house.  But you’ll need travel insurance which could be something new for you.  Travel insurance is generally a one-off expense for the time you will be travelling.  So you won’t need to budget for it each week you are away.  Instead, it will come out of your pre-trip funds.

You absolutely must cover yourself for medical emergency and evacuation when choosing your travel insurance but the amount of cover for any gadgets you cover is up to you.  If you decide to travel with your old electronics and not upgrade them for your trip then the basic cover that is included with most policies will be sufficient.  If you have brand new items you may need to cover these individually.  If you are travelling with expensive jewellery you’ll most likely have to insure it separately or risk it not being covered should it be lost or stolen.

A small amount might also be needed to be put aside to repair any of your gadgets that break on your journey.  Travel insurance doesn’t normally cover breakage so you’ll need to consider this ahead of time too.

So there you have the difference between household and travel budgets.  Once you realise that your household budgeting habits of your home will have to be adjusted to keep your budget on track on the road, you’ll be much better prepared to keep control of your cash. 

The last thing to consider when planning your budget for a travel adventure is that when you run out of cash you have to go home.  Nobody wants to go home early and this is the best incentive for getting control of your money that I can think of!

 

Here’s the second article: Budgeting:  How to make sure your travel budget is realistic and you really can stick to it.

Family is a top priority in Dubai, making it an ideal spot to travel with your own. You will see breathtaking sites and enjoy all of the best vacation activities that you can find around the world in one place. From indoor ski slopes to beaches and massive waterparks, your family will enjoy every minute in Dubai

Dubai is also the home of many of the world’s largest. Find a comfortable place to stay for your family holiday in Dubai and then get ready to explore many of the unique spots around the country.

World’s Largest Mall

Located in Downtown Dubai, the Dubai Mall is the largest (total area) mall in the world. It features 1,200 shops, a 250-room luxury hotel, 22 movie screens, an Olympic-size ice rink and 120 dining options. You could spend an entire day exploring the massive mall and there is a good chance that you won’t discover it all.

World’s Largest Acrylic Panel

Also located in the Dubai Mall is the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. It is here that you can see the world’s largest acrylic panel- 32.88 m wide and 8.3 m high. Behind that panel is 10 million liters of water and more than 33,000 marine animals. You will love watching the sea life behind this huge window and also taking a stroll down the shark tunnel for a closer look at the stunning creatures. 

Dubai Mall Aquariam

World’s Largest Natural Flower Garden

The Dubai Miracle Garden is an art gallery painted with nature. It is the world’s largest natural flower garden featuring more than 45 million blooms across 72,000 square meters. The newly-opened garden is also vying for another Guinness record spot for its flower wall. The garden is open only part of the year, from October through the end of May, before the summer heat starts.

World’s Largest Ferris Wheel

It’s still under construction, but in 2015, Dubai plans to unveil the world’s largest Ferris wheel. The “Dubai Eye” will be 690 feet tall, almost 250 feet taller than the London Eye. It is being constructed as part of the Bluewaters Island project, an artificial island being created to attract even more tourists to Dubai. It will feature shopping and entertainment.

World’s Tallest Building

The Burj Khalifa (Khalifa tower) is a skyscraper in Dubai that was named the world’s tallest man-made structure at 829.8 meters located in Downtown Dubai. The structure is a breathtaking site to behold and should not be missed while you are visiting.

Burj Khalifa

Dubai is filled with amazing sites and exciting activities. The whole family will be talking about your Dubai holiday for many years to come.

Nilaveli Beach

Sri Lanka is a country situated around 28 kilometres off the south-eastern coast of India with a population of around 20 million people.  The main ethnicities making up Sri Lanka’s population are the Sinhalese, Sri Lanka Tamil, Indian Tamil and Moor.

What looks like a tiny island on a world map is actually a country that needs a pile of time to explore properly!  Just a few days in the capital of Colombo won’t be enough to do the country justice. You need at least a few weeks to explore the different regions of Sri Lanka and if you visit in monsoon season you’ll most likely need to allow even longer. Physical distances between a lot of towns are small but travel times aren’t. Road conditions are generally pretty good but public transport can be very slow and traffic, particularly in the cities, is congested. Colombo and Kandy, two of the most popular tourist destinations, are only 115km apart but it can take up to 5 hours to drive between them. When we were in Sri Lanka a year ago they were upgrading the road between Trincomalee and Kandy. The final 30km was dirt and down to a single lane in many places. That 30km took two hours.

There’s also just so much to see. For such a small nation, it’s amazingly diverse and offers so much to see. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can fill a one month itinerary and still not see everything you want to see.

Accommodation costs and entry to attractions are high, but public transport and food are incrediably cheap. It’s not uncommon to spend $50 per night for budget family accommodation and $1.30 for an air-conditioned 8hr bus ride.

So What Are You Likely To Discover In Sri Lanka?

Cricket

Exploring Sri Lanka will turn up an awesome mix of wildlife and great food, mixed in with a nation that absolutely adores the game of cricket.  Down many alleyways, in parks and all along the beach you’ll find afternoon cricket games in full swing at any time of the year.  Should you be from a cricket playing nation, shouts of the names of players from your country will follow you down the street once a Sri Lankan learns where you are from. Strike up a conversation and don’t be suprised if you get invited to play a match.

If you happen to be there on a public holiday almost every backstreet will have a cricket match in progress. Don’t be surprised to find your guesthouse front desk shut between 4-6 on a Sunday afternoon. That’s OK – just look outside and you’ll soon find the staff. In a nearby field or on the street outside playing cricket. Grab a beer and relax – someone will come over between innings to check you in.

Cricket match inside Galle Fort

Food

Eating in Sri Lanka is a huge adventure. If you don’t like spicy food you should get ready for a burning mouth a lot of the time!  There is definitely some non-spicy food available but you’ll have to search for it.  Don’t be fooled when a vendor tells you something is not-spicy as it just might not be spicy to them!  If you are buying for children buy one item and try it first.  Then if it is suitable for your kids you can buy extras. The beautiful thing is food is cheap so trying different things won’t cost you a lot and most things come in small portions. Learn to ask for things without chili. There’s a difference between saying ‘not spicy’ and ‘without chili’.

Eating with your hands is common place in Sri Lanka so don’t get a shock if you’re not used to this.  Many meals are served on plates or banana leaves with no cutlery.  The idea is to squeeze a mouthful of rice together in your fingertips and scoop up a little curry with it.  Pappadums and flat bread are also usually provided – these make great scoops for your food!  The beauty of this type of meal is that you usually get to try two or three different types of curry in the one dish. String hoppers and hoppers are fun options your children will enjoy. If you eat out in local places you can enjoy breakfast for as little as $3 for a family of 4. 

Victoria Park Nuwara Eliya

Wildlife

Elephants, monkeys and lots of sea life are fairly easily found in Sri Lanka.  Of course you should always check if the places you are visiting are treating the animals correctly.  This can be hard to work out ahead of time but you should definitely make the effort to check.  Don’t be surprised if places get good ratings online and when you arrive you still find them distressing. We had researched the elephant sanctuary in Kandy and found they seemed OK online but when we arrived the elephants were poorly treated and kepted in shocking conditions, at least to our untrained eye it seemed that way. Even our children found it upsetting. I believe the reserves down on the south coast have a much better reputation.

But we did see a lot of monkey’s in the wild and enjoyed eating our breakfast every day at the beach in Trincomolee with squirrels begging at our feet. Our hotel even had an elk visit each night to enjoy the watered hotel grass. We weren’t lucky enough to see elephants in the wild but we did see wild peacocks, kingfishers and more cows wandering the beach than we’d ever imagined seeing! Seeing these animals was an extremely memorable experience, especially for kids that have only ever seen them in a cage in the zoo.

History

Sri Lanka has a rich and varied history. Colombo has it’s mix of colonial architecture, important historic temples and museums. In the centre you can explore ancient ruins like Sigiriya, a UNESCO heritage site and the golden caves of Dambula – two of the most amazing places I’ve seen in my travels. The Dutch city of Galle is completely surreal. If it wasn’t for the tuk tuks inside the walls, the palm trees and the warm temperatures you would swear at times you were walking through parts of Europe. Turn a corner and suddenly you are facing temples and cricket matches.

And of course as you journey towards the east and north evidence of the country’s recent conflicts become all too apparent. By now you probably will have found the poverty in other areas of Sri Lanka confronting but here it becomes harder. Driving around the east, south and west coasts you’ll still see signs everywhere from the devestation of the 2004 Asia tsunami. Graveyards, damanged buildings, tree regrowth. There are a lot of opportunities to learn more about what’s happened in Sri Lanka in it’s recent history, and are still happening, if you just take the time.

Through the lions claws Sigiriya

Beaches, highlands, cities

As we’ve alread said, Sri Lanka is diverse and you want to give yourself plenty of time to take in a few different locations.Cities like Negombo, Colombo and Kandy are fantastic for for a few days of sightseeing and giving yourself a chance to find some foods you like before getting further afield. They’re bustling hubs which can be fun too. Grab a tuk tuk and go for an explore.

The beaches in Sri Lanka are some of the most beautiful we’ve seen anywhere in the world. Pure white sand and crystal clear blue water. From near Galle all the way around the east coast to the north we saw post card perfect beach after post card perfect beach. The time of the year heavily influences which side of the island you’ll want to head to but regardless of when you go, make sure you spend at least a few days on a beach in Sri Lanka.

For us though, the true highlight of our time in Sri Lanka was the highlands. From Nuwara Eliya to Ella and everywhere in between. The landscape and people were lovely. The temperatures were cool and we had a wonderful time exploring and sightseeing without sweating. The train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is not comfortable. Think 1920s hard wooden benches, no toilets and fans. But it’s 30c per person and for three hours you can sit with your feet in the doorway of a train watching some of the most beautiful landscape you’ll ever see roll by as you chat to locals or play charades if no one plays english and wave out the window at people passing by. If I had to pick top 3 things I’ve done in 4 years of travel, this train ride would be in that list.

Sitting in the door

Whether you choose to visit Kandy, Colombo, Ella or Negombo you’ll be able to find great food, fascinating wildlife and most likely a local game of cricket.  No matter which region of Sri Lanka you decide to visit, take more than a few days to experience all that this amazing country has to offer!

Housing Market

Wouldn’t that just be living the dream! Keep putting money away towards retirement or that dream house and travel regularly. But does it really need to be a dream? Provide you are lucky enough to live and work, or at least earn money through, a developed country and hold with a passport that makes it easy to travel abroad, saving and travel aren’t mutually exclusive.

Yes you’ll save faster if you don’t travel. You’ll probably have a more luxurious or longer trip if you aren’t trying to build that future nest egg. But if what you need to feel fulfilled is to have a little of both?

Start making conscious choices

Every choice we make in life actually involves making two choices – the choice to do something and the choice not to do something else. Staying in a secure job that offers great security and good pay, even if it’s not your dream job, might be a choice you are making. But you are also choosing not to look for an alternative job. By choosing to renovate the house you are choosing not to allocate that money and the time you’ll spend renovating elsewhere.

If you are conscious of these two alternative choices then you can also be sure that you are picking the alternative that you are happy to live with. Sure you might enjoy travel but right now having a new kitchen or regular pay means more to you. Or you might decide you are happy to put up with that old oven because you would rather have a holiday than a shiny new stove.

What are the choices you and your family have made in your life? Do they support your dreams of saving and travel? What changes can you make to make your life fit your dreams more? And are there choices that you aren’t happy to make to fit your dreams? It’s worth figuring that out.

Prioritise

What are your saving goals? And your travel goals? If you want to have both you’ll need to be realistic. If you are putting money aside to do both you need to manage your expectations a little. Paying off the house in ten years might not be realistic if you still want to travel but there’s no reason you can’t still save and aim to pay it off in 20 instead. That month long luxury trip to Italy might not be possible if you want to keep working on your retirement fund. Perhaps you need to consider a backpacking adventure through Italy instead, select a cheaper destination, save for longer or go for less time if those fancy hotels in Venice are still calling to you!

You may find that you need to make a choice between which one is slightly more important to you or put a time limit on it. For instance our choice at the moment is that until we’re 40 we’re going to prioritise family holidays over saving, although we’re still trying to save. But after we reach 40 we plan to prioritise saving and investment more than travel, although travel will still be important. Three years left!

What things in your life can you sacrifice to help make your two priorities of saving and travel happen? Obviously, you have to eat, but beyond the necessities, learn to put your travel and savings fund first. There will be sacrifices. Meals out, concerts, parties, going out with friends, fancy Christmas presents, new furniture and cars. You don’t need to be ruthless and cut every luxury out of your life but if you identify the difference between your WANTS and NEEDS and work out which wants you are happy to sacrifice in order to make your dreams happen it’s not hard.

Remember it’s your conscious choice to make both travel and saving for your future your priority. You won’t regret your sacrifices if you remember that it’s your choice. And it comes with a big reward – financial security and amazing holidays!

Make your money work for you

If you want to save significant money for your future and for travel, then you want every dollar that you are put away to get the best possible return. You may want to consider a high interest savings account, term deposit or even an investment portfolio. For UK residents, you may want to consider having a cash and investment ISA. By having your savings in both you can make the most of your tax free offsets and be able to put some of your money into higher risks investments while still having some in more conservative saving plans.

Pay yourself first

When you get paid, put a percentage aside for these two goals. It should go to a fund or place you won’t touch or even think about. Rather than transferring what you have left at the end of the month after everything else is paid, transfer it out first.

If an emergency arises you can always access it – it’s your money. But chances are if you’ve already put that money aside you’ll think long and hard before touching and find another way to deal with the emergency.

 

Look for ways to save

Reduce your debt by rolling any loans into one. Get rid of multiple credit cards. Reduce your bills – do you need that higher mobile phone plan? Do you need those extra channels on your cable TV package? Is that gym membership necessary or can you take up jogging? Do you really need that second car? Can you cut your petrol bill and home bills in any way? Look for online discounts?

Take a packed lunch to work more often and bring your own coffee from home. Meal plan when you grocery shop and eat takeaway less. Entertain at home or organise weekly rotating dinner parties amongst friends rather than meeting out. You don’t have to kill your social life, just change it a little. Make the most of free days and cheaper locals days.

Find a credit card that gives you reward points for travel. Look for travel specials ahead of time.

They’re all small things but they add up over time. Keep your goals in focus – amazing holidays and financial security. You’ll get through those hard days and soon be sitting on a beach somewhere enjoying amazing holiday dreaming about a day one day soon when maybe thanks to your hard work this could be your life forever.

Beach Chair

Happy Hooker Fishing Trip

A trip with the whole family is exciting, but a vacation for just the guys can be a real adventure. You can plan activities and excursions that the girls wouldn’t be interested in. The Gulf Coast is full of things that will keep you and the boys entertained. Whether you seek a few hours of fishing or a few rounds on the golf course, you will be able to plan enough adventure to fill your days.

Charter a Fishing Boat

No trip to the Gulf Coast is complete without spending a little time on the water. There are many charter companies along the coast that offer both full and half day fishing vacation packages. You and the boys can try out your sea legs and throw out a few lines while trying to reel in a wild variety of fish, from sharks to redfish to King mackerel. Most charter fees include your license, bait and tackle, and ice.

Even if you aren’t an avid fisherman, simply being on the water and riding around the gulf makes for a great day. Pack a lunch and some drinks and get ready to take in the view from the deck and keep your eyes alert for playful dolphins.

Hit the Golf Courses

The Gulf Coast is also known as the “Golf Coast” because there are so many golf getaways to swing your clubs. Along the Mississippi coast there are more than 20 courses to choose deom. You can even set up accommodations at one of the local golf resorts with courses designed by top golf pros like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. 

Travel the River

If you want to get a little closer to nature, rent a few kayaks and paddle your way up the Mississippi River to get a good look at local wildlife. Pull out the binoculars and admire the many species of birds and reptiles along the way. Pull up onto the bank for a midday lunch and a quick hike.

Ducks at Grand Cote

Sign Up for an Eco-Tour

Eco-tourism is a big part of the Gulf Coast. You and the boys can visit nature preserves and alligator farms. Plan a long hike along popular trails and the state parks. You can see animals like beavers and alligators out in the natural habitats.

Grand Bay landscape

Visit the Barrier Islands

There are five barrier islands along the Mississippi Gulf Coast: Deer Island, Cat Island, Horn Island, Ship Island and Petit Blois Island. You can charter a boat to travel out to the islands. A ferry travels between the mainland and Ship Island. Cat Island was once a military base during WWII. Deer Island got its name supposedly because deer flee to the island during hunting season. There, you can search the island for artifacts like arrowheads or fish and relax in the sun.

Horn Island is a great spot for swimming and exploring lagoons. You can enjoy the small wooded area on Petit Blois Island. Take the ferry to Ship Island and tour Fort Massachusetts, built in 1868.

America’s most-visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offers terrific learning opportunities in many subject areas: history, social studies, music, biology, geology, anthropology, art…. Well, you get the idea.  The park is like an 800+-square mile outdoor classroom with many learning opportunities including ranger-led programs designed especially for kids.

Here are five suggestions to help you get started on a lesson plan.

  1. Smoky Mountain Arts & Crafts CommunityLearn how to do that. More than 120 studios, galleries and shops make up the community of artisans, along an 8-mile circuit now designated a Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail.  You’ll feel that you’ve stepped back in time as you watch blacksmiths, potters, silversmiths, wood carvers, basket weavers, and others create beautiful works of art and handmade utilitarian objects.The artists and crafts people always have time to talk with visitors and are delighted share their skills.  Who knows? A member of your family may inspired to join the next generation of crafts people who keep these traditions alive.
  2. Biodiversity Studies: Discover who and what lives in the park.  At the grand old age of approximately 200 million years, the Smokies are some of the world’s oldest mountains.  According to the National Park Service: “over 17,000 species have been documented in the park.” Scientists believe that tens of thousands of other species live there as well.  The opportunities to study native plants, animals, and geologic features are almost endless.Get your budding young scientists involved in environmental study with materials developed by the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) special project.  Learn about – and see first hand – the damage caused by invasive species.  Enjoy foliage at the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage.  It offers a variety of nature walks, seminars, and other activities that offer hand-on learning about the plants of the Smoky Mountains.

     

  3. Bluegrass Festivals:  Hear & play that mountain music. Bluegrass was born in the hills, and the Smoky Mountains ring with traditional tunes year round.  Some gatherings, like the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival combine music and folk dancing, while others are strictly music. Festivals and conventions range from small street fairs to large gatherings of several thousand participants.  Here’s a partial list of bluegrass and traditional music events.

    Bluegrass Festivals

    Bluegrass Festivals – Source: https://flic.kr/p/6Qyci1

    Almost every festival offers opportunities for musicians at all skill levels to jam with others. If your family is at all musical, these gatherings are great ways to hone existing skills, learn more about the area, and meet people with similar interests.

  4. Cades Cove & Mountain Farm Museum: See how the pioneers lived: Cade’s Cove, a small pioneer community complete with cabins, churches, and businesses, is one of the park’s most popular attractions. Although it’s now easily accessible by road, the community was once so isolated that a trip to town was a three-day affair. A tour of the area shows how even remote communities managed to meet the everyday needs of members.  The cove is also offers a useful Civics lesson: the residents resisted being incorporated into the new national park and finally had their property taken via eminent domain.At the Mountain Farm Museum, visit a collection of farm buildings that were moved from other locations within the park during the 1950’s.  Learn about life in the Smoky Mountains 100 years ago – including agriculture, livestock, and gardening practices.

    Cades Cove

    Cades Cove – Source: https://flic.kr/p/9GVaGs

  5. Cherokee, NC: Learn the story of a Native American tribe. Appalachian cultural history didn’t start with the Scottish and Irish settlers who traveled South from the more populated East Coast.  Learn about the previous settlers – the Cherokee Nation – on the reservation located near Cherokee, NC.The Oconaluftee Indian Village is a chance to step back in time and see how people lived before the first European settlers arrived. The chance to see native crafts people at work is the perfect complement to a visit to the Smoky Mountain Arts & Crafts community, and there are crafts classes specially-designed for kids.

    The live drama Unto These Hills tells the story of the Cherokee nation, from the creation of the world to the Trail of Tears to present time.

Cherokee - North Carolina

Cherokee – North Carolina – Source: v

An added benefit is that many of these study opportunities are easy to reach by car and most are located just a few miles from the town of Gatlinburg, TN.  It’s a popular tourist destination that offers many family entertainment, shopping, and dining options.  Lodging choices include: camping, Smoky Mountain cabin rentals, hotels, and B&Bs. Most have long-term stay & rental options, offer splendid mountain views, and are conveniently located near the park.

The Smokies have a lot to offer; plan to stay a while and learn while you enjoy this breathtaking natural setting.

Planning a weekend away with the kids? I think it’s always nice to organise something extra-fun to do together as a family when you do get a chance to go away for the weekend, with camping and theme park visits among my personal favourites. To help give you a few ideas for your next trip, I’ve put together a list of the top five weekend family holiday options – I hope it gives you a little inspiration!

1) Camping in Wales

My first suggestion is camping in Wales. This part of the UK is an absolutely amazing place for a weekend in the great outdoors, thanks to its gorgeous landscapes and variety of activities. Snowdonia National Park is my favourite spot to head to, since I like tackling mountain walks, but there are plenty of less strenuous activities for families too.

For instance, you can hop on the Snowdon Mountain Railway for a tranquil trip to the top of the famous peak. Alternatively, if the weather is wet you can head indoors at Electric Mountain in Llanberis to learn all about this vast power station and take an underground tour.

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2) Theme park adventures

If your family loves fast-paced attractions, theme parks are likely to be right up your street. In my opinion, a day never feels quite long enough to enjoy them to the fullest, which is why I think staying somewhere like Alton Towers for the whole weekend is such a good idea.

Of course, staying over has the advantage of allowing you to arrive at the park at opening time without getting up at the crack of dawn! And at Alton Towers, there are some brilliant themed rooms you can stay in that are heaps of fun, like the Chocolate Room.

3) Skiing sojourns

If you’re planning a long weekend away – say four to five days – then there’s scope for heading a little further afield. Families who love skiing or snowboarding could therefore have a quick jaunt to a French resort like La Plagne, Tignes or Les Arcs. This is an particularly fun option if you’re hoping to travel with friends and their children, since you can have a short group skiing holiday that’s really sociable – especially if you book a big chalet to share.

4) City stopovers

A city break might, at first glance, seem like the perfect getaway for adults, but they can also work really well for families. Personally, I think it’s entirely down to the city you choose. For instance, if you visit somewhere like Cardiff, there is a huge number of child-friendly attractions that are bound to delight all ages.

Cardiff Castle is probably the most obvious option, and this often hosts special events, so keep an eye on the attraction’s calendar when planning your break. The Doctor Who Experience is another, and is a must-visit if you and your kids are fans of the Time Lord and his adventures.

Cardiff Bay

5) Cottage capers

My final suggestion is to hire a cottage in the countryside – the Cotswolds, for example. Hiring a cottage is a lovely choice since it means you can create a cosy, home-from-home atmosphere that the whole family can enjoy.

Choosing the Cotswolds gives you a good balance between countryside and urban attractions. Exciting cities like Bath and Oxford are part of this region, so there’s always scope for days out exploring historical buildings and having relaxing boat rides.