Summer is the time of year when people begin to think about taking long road trips; maybe to go and visit family and friends or to travel somewhere new.  In fact, we have just returned from a long driving trip ourselves so I am speaking from personal experience!

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When you’ve invested time and money in planning a trip, organised and packed up your stuff up and even got to the stage of starting to feel excited about your break away (albeit perhaps not at the thought of long hours spent in the car with the kids!) the last thing you want to be faced with is pulling over at the side of the road, watching the other cars speed by, all because you forgot to do a little maintenance before setting off.  All of the tips I will include in my list are so simple to do, and yet it’s often our cars which fall to the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list when planning out trips.  It’s something I can understand: who wants to worry about fluid levels when they could be dreaming of the beach?  And yet, it’s so important.  We are lucky in that we’ve never yet been in that situation but I wanted to create this post in case it prompts you to run a few checks before your next trip, and potentially save any heartache.

Not only that but hopefully these tips will potentially save you money down the line, because you will be keeping your car in good condition and ensuring that everything is working as it should all year round.

1. Check oil levels

I will hold my hand up here and say this is one of those car maintenance jobs which I just don’t do as often as I know I should, but not refilling oil can have a serious impact on your car.  In fact, I know of someone who had to get a new car after they failed to top up their oil because of the damage done to their engine.  Definitely not something you want to be facing as you set off on holiday!  So it 100% pays to ensure that you are regularly checking oil levels and topping up oil as and when needed.

2. Check radiator and coolant levels

According to statistics, overheating is one of the main causes of car breakdowns over the summer so this is another tip which is vital if you are planning on taking your car for a long drive.  It can feel like something of a faff as you should only check your coolant levels when the engine is cold but this is something which you should do on a regular basis.  If you are having to repeatedly top up your coolant levels then you might have a leak.  Check what type of coolant you should be using in your car as well.

3. Test the brakes

It’s possible I should have popped this one closer to the top as having an issue with your brakes could be incredibly serious if you are driving.  Now I am no car expert but even I know that if you have squeaky brakes, or brakes which grind then you should get your brakes looked at, as it could be a sign that you need your brake fluid topping up, or your brake pads changed.  If your brakes are slow to respond then this could be a sign they are worn down and need replacing.  If you drive the car fairly regularly then this is something to keep an eye out for.  It’s unlikely to catch you by surprise but is something you should keep at the forefront of your mind as you prepare for your road trip.

4. Inspect the tyres

Before setting off on any driving trip, give your tyres a good looking over to ensure that none of them need replacing.  Look closely at the tread (there are loads of guides and handy videos online if this is something you are unsure of) to make sure none of them are worn down, and check tyre pressure.  Good tyre pressure is not only essential for safety but it can save you money on fuel as well, a definite win when you are thinking about travelling long distances.  If your tyres do need replacing then make sure you get it sorted as soon as possible; there are tyres available in all sizes and for cheap prices from Jet Wheel Tyre.

5. Make sure lights are working

My final tip, although there are a good deal more I could have mentioned including air-conditioning, power steering, batteries and so on, is to give the exterior of your car a once over and make sure all your lights are working.  Test your brake lights, your indicators, your tail lights and your headlights.  It is a pretty cheap and easy job to get the lights changed in your car so is definitely something to sort out before you set off, rather than discovering your lights aren’t working on the road.

Hopefully these tips will come in useful this summer and will prompt you to make some safety checks before setting off on your road trip.  The being trapped in the car with children for the duration of your journey I can’t help with…other than to say that being prepared is key.  That, and a good pair of ear-plugs!

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I can’t be the only one who turns their thoughts to a holiday in the sun at this time of year.  When you are staring at grey skies, frost on the ground and rain more often than not, it’s easy to begin dreaming of warmer weather and travel plans for the summer.  Although we have a lot of renovation work to do on the house we are definitely hoping to get away during the school holidays.  It makes such a difference, whether you enjoy a staycation or travel further afield, to take an actual break from every day life and work responsibilities.

We sat down a couple of weeks ago and laid out our thoughts on where we would like to travel to and what would be achievable.

Our first, dream location, was Marrakech in Morocco.  We’ve had friends recommend this to us and I just think getting to experience the sights and sounds of Morocco would be an absolutely incredible experience.  Not to mention the scorching heat.  I have spent many an hour in recent weeks researching the best places to stay in Marrakech and the more I read about, the more I definitely want to make visiting here a priority.

Freeimages.com / Sergei Montaner

Our second option was Malta.  This is somewhere I have wanted to visit for the longest time as I just think it looks like such a stunning place to explore.  On reflection however, we feel a trip here would be less about lying by the pool, relaxing, and more about getting out and sightseeing which isn’t the type of holiday we are after.  I’ve got my eye on Malta for either later in the year, perhaps the October half term, or a short travel break in 2019 instead.

Freeimages.com / Rudy Tiben

The final option was to return to Tuscany.  Myself and James went to Tuscany for a short break last year and completely fell in love.  Everything from the food to the weather, the people to the rolling Tuscan countryside just made for the perfect holiday and we said right away that we wanted to one day return with the kids.  Having browsed around for potential accommodation and flights, it also seems like the most affordable option; one which would allow us to take a chilled out holiday as a family without having to compromise too much on work on the house.

How gorgeous is this villa on Clickstay?  We stayed in one of Clickstay’s villas in Spain in 2016 so we know that we can expect good things.  I’m already dreaming of hazy evenings spent with a glass of wine in hand.  Flights tend to be pretty cheap to Italy too so I really think a trip here is something we can achieve practically.  Oh to be back in the stunning Tuscan countryside already!

Hopefully we will get to visit at least one of these locations for our main family holiday but we will also be looking to take a sightseeing break later in the year.  I think Malta would fit perfectly here but as we’ve talked about before there are a number of other European places we’d love to explore including Croatia, Budapest and Prague.  I’ve spent a lot of time browsing Clickstay and looking up flights.  A girl has gotta dream!

Where will you be travelling in 2018?

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You may well ask what we were thinking, agreeing to go glamping in the bitter depths of winter but when we agreed to review a two night stay at the luxury Caalm Camp in Dorset, it was with the express purpose of proving, to ourselves and to friends and family, that winter glamping is entirely possible!

Caalm Camp is an award-winning site which is home to six traditionally made Mongolian Yurts.  Originally a dairy farm, the Camp has been family run for the last 6 years and claims to put the ‘glam’ in ‘glamping’.  It is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by countryside, and with no city lights to interfere with your stargazing come night time.  Each Yurt is named after a different wildflower and during our stay we were in Daisy.

Although our journey was pretty straightforward it took us around 5 hours to get down to Dorset but we were met with a friendly face when we pulled up; the owner, Mark, greeted us warmly and showed us around, explaining how everything operated.

Mark was an incredible host, making sure we had everything that we needed throughout our stay and recommending local places we could explore.  He was particularly helpful on the ‘staying warm’ front (more on that later…) and we felt he really went out of his way to ensure we were having the best stay possible.

The Yurts themselves are absolutely stunning.  From the intricately painted designs to the use of horse hair in their construction (not a bolt or nail in sight!), you really felt as though you were getting an authentic experience.  In each Yurt is a double bed and two single beds, perfect for us as a family of four although Caalm Camp do say that it is possible for a yurt to sleep six.

The Yurts come equipped with a toasty log burner to keep it nice and warm, crisp bedlinen and cosy blankets, an outside fire pit, drinking water tap and a picnic bench as well.  We didn’t make use of the outside facilities as temperatures were in the minuses but I can imagine it being the perfect place to gaze at the stars in the summer months.

I am going to be honest and say that I am not a fan of camping; I don’t understand why people would pay to be cold and wet when they sleep and why they would find enjoyment in using damp and even chillier facilities.  Even though we were glamping, which is by nature slightly different, it’s still something I was concerned about but it really couldn’t have been further from the truth.

There is a building called The Old Haybarn on site which offers shared kitchen facilities, a communal dining and social area complete with TV and a selection of children’s toys, books and board games, and a private wet room for each of the Yurts.  Incidentally, Daisy Yurt is closest to the Old Haybarn so if you don’t fancy walking far in the cold and dark then ask for that one when you book!

There is also a games room complete with two resident goats(!), a tennis table and a pool table.  My only thought here is that it would have been nice if this room could have had some patio heaters as it was bitter.  It is in the old dairy barn so has very little insulation and although Meg and Eli enjoyed having a game or two of table tennis, I couldn’t stand the temperature!

But I know the major question of the moment is whether we were warm in our Yurt?

If you are familiar with our travelling experiences you will know that we can’t go anywhere without having a little ‘adventure’.  Think James getting lost at 12am in an unfamiliar French city after our hotel was booked for the wrong night and having to be retrieved by me after I’d persuaded some terrified hotel receptionist to watch the kids.  Think driving past our Appartamento in Tuscany several times, commenting each time that it ‘looked very much’ like the place we were meant to be staying but didn’t quite match with the sat nav and you get the idea.

So were we warm in our Yurt?

The straightforward answer is that when our log burner was going, we were incredibly warm.  There are logs available for use in your log burner and these come free of charge.  There is also the possibility to purchase a bucket of coal for £3 which we were advised by Mark to do and to place the coal in the burner overnight, ensuring heat the whole night through.  I don’t think that we had quite made it clear to Mark that fire and James don’t mix however and the first morning we woke, snug as little bugs in our beds, but with temperatures absolutely freezing in the Yurt.  In short, our fire had gone out.  And of course we had run out of matches the night before.

Cue James driving to the nearest petrol station to get some matches and a big thank you to the gentleman who offered him what he thought was a box of matches, free of charge, but which actually turned out to be a box of staples.  You can’t make this stuff up!

But honestly, once we had spoken to Mark in the morning and figured out how to use the burner properly overnight, the second night we woke to find that we were much, much, warmer.  In fact, when the log burner was going it took about 20 minutes for the Yurt to heat up and you would never have known you were in a Mongolian Yurt in the middle of the Dorset countryside in January!

Additional facilities on-site include a children’s playground, a shared fit pit area and a shared picnic area, all of which would be ideal if you were staying in a larger group.  Caalm Camp does allow hen and stag parties, as well as big family groups but each Yurt is far enough away that you don’t really hear anyone else.

The pathways are also well lit and clearly marked so there’s no worry about losing your way if you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

There is plenty to do in the surrounding area from visiting the beautiful Shaftesbury to taking some local alpacas for a walk and Mark is more than willing to recommend places to go to explore and eat if you need advice from a local.

Overall, our winter glamping experience was a very positive one.  The camp site is well looked after, well thought through and we would definitely recommend a visit, even in winter!

*We were offered a two night stay at Caalm Camp for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

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There’s nothing like having to do the school run or head out to work in the blistering cold to make you start dreaming of the summer sun, is there?!  I am a big fan of the colder months; when you can stay indoors and wrap yourself in a big blanket with a steaming mug of hot chocolate but I didn’t feel quite so pleased when I was trying to scrape ice off my windscreen first thing this morning!


That said, when I received a hamper full of Christmas goodies from Jet2 earlier in the week, it definitely put me in a more festive frame of mind.  As you can see from my unboxing video, I do love a good surprise and this one definitely contains enough to keep us going throughout December as Meg and Eli (and let’s be honest…me as well!) get more…and more…and more excited!



Better yet, if you are craving that summer sun then Jet2 are running a superb competition: every day from the 1st to the 26th December someone will win a Jet2 holiday!  All you have to do is correctly answer the holiday-themed question and you’ll be in with a chance of winning.  Imagine if you could be popping that underneath your Christmas tree this year.

If you pre-register before tomorrow you also get an extra daily entry.


Thank you to Jet2 for sending me this lovely hamper.

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I think it started when I found myself standing on a heathery hillside, blisteringly cold wind whipping my hair, trying to keep one of my two children in check so they weren’t inadvertently trampled, hand-feeding a wild reindeer who looked as though they’d like nothing more than to give me a swift one-two with their antlers.  I think it started then…that feeling that maybe this trip was going to be a little bit more than I’d been expecting it to be.

From the stunning view of the misty mountains as we drove down the windy A9 to the first morning we woke to find frost glistening on the fields outside our lodge.  The flush of success when we climbed a particularly steep section of hill and looked out across the vast autumnal landscape and the satisfaction of hunting for the Loch Ness monster.  The local cafe which stayed open 20 minutes past closing time just so we could enjoy a hot chocolate out of the cold to the kindly gentleman who stood on the shores of Loch Lomond with me talking about the beauty of the scenery…we definitely had a trip to remember.

We took the opportunity during Meg and Eli’s half term to head up to the Cairngorms National Park in North-East Scotland.  It took us (without counting the numerous stops we made to empty tiny bladders) around six and a half hours to drive from our home up to the lodge where we were staying.

The Cairngorms National Park is twice the size of the Lake District and home to an array of mountains, rivers, lochs, villages and wildlife.  Neither James nor the kids had ever been to Scotland before and I have to say that this was probably the best way to experience the country for the first time.  We stayed in the town of Aviemore which is well known for being a tourist spot, although we landed out of season so found that it was pretty quiet.

drumpellier park bench

When I say ‘short break’ we were there from Saturday to Wednesday and we really tried to hit the ground running.  We broke up travelling on both the Saturday and the Wednesday with a long stopover at two different spots: the Drumpellier Country Park and Loch Lomond and this really helped with any travelling fatigue.

The weather was brisk; some days it was mild by midday but others it was just bitterly cold and as you might have expected, the higher we climbed, the more vicious the wind and the lower the temperature dropped.

autumn leaves scottish highlands

autumn leaf red

I’ve mentioned before that we are a family who love to be outdoors so for us, this was the perfect break.  We would get up and have a semi-leisurely morning before heading out for the day.  Autumn was the best time of year to visit too as everywhere we looked there was just a riot of golden colour.  It took my breath away more than once to look out across at the landscape and see the trees in all their orange, yellow, red and gold glory.

caingorm reindeer experience

cairngorm reindeer herd wild

We paid for two main experiences whilst we were there; the hand-feeding of the herd of wild reindeer and to get into Urquhart Castle which offered some stunning views of Loch Ness.

Going Nessie hunting had been Eli’s only request for the trip and although he is convinced the monster lives on beneath the water, we can report that we spotted no hint of the legend!

loch ness

urquhart castle

sunset loch ness urquhart castle

archway urquhart castle

father daughter loch ness

For the most part we went out and explored the local area, climbing hills and walking around local lakes such as Loch Morlich.  James tried out a local brewery tour and I took the kids book shopping and hot chocolate drinking in Aviemore.  We did the ‘tourist’ thing with a day spent at Loch Ness and watched the sun set over glistening waters and we ate out and cooked in our lodge when it suited.  I can confirm that the local food was as good as the local brew (or so James assures me…) and a trip to The Winking Owl is a must if you happen to be staying near to Aviemore.

sunset loch morlich

stones loch morlich

We had wanted to ride on the Funicular whilst we were in the area, as this is recommended as one of the top ways to see the views across the National Park but unfortunately it was closed for yearly maintenance on our main sightseeing days so we didn’t get the opportunity to do this.

I have to admit however, that despite everything we got up to the real highlight for me was that first day when we trekked up into the hills and got up close with a herd of wild reindeer.  It isn’t something I had ever imagined doing but it 100% felt like a true bucket list moment and I am so pleased we did it.

cairngorm reindeer experience

If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Highlands then I would definitely recommend it.  Just be prepared for things to close early in the winter season and for it to be cold.  I am not a person who can handle even the slightest chill in the air without running for a scarf and the central heating button but it was so worth being cold for the scenery we got to experience.  The views of the area are amazing.  The Cairngorms are the highest, coldest and snowiest place in Britain and although we only got to see a dusting of snow I can certainly attest to the remaining two claims.

You might think you’ve seen beauty but I can honestly say that the Highlands stole a part of my heart and we will certainly be returning.

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