Budget-Friendly Family Vacation to Southwest UK

Going on a holiday with children requires lots of advance planning. To ensure an enjoyable vacation for everyone, it’s important to strike a balance in visiting attractions that both adults and kids will appreciate. If you have read one of my previous posts on deciding where to go this year, we settled on going to the UK (again, for the second time!).

The anticipated 8 days/7 nights vacation to the Southwest UK finally came and went. Albeit with several hiccups where the kids bickered, the trip was fun and rejuvenating. We didn’t pack too many activities for each day, but rather focusing on spending quality time together exploring new places.

Here’s sharing our one-week itinerary:

Day 1: Dubai to London to Southampton
Upon our arrival at London Gatwick, we took a shuttle bus to the Thrifty office in Marriott Courtyard Gatwick to get our pre-booked rental car. We slowly made our journey to Southampton by road, which took us around 1.5 hours.

Our accommodation for the night was Holiday Inn Express Southampton West {£62 p/night inclusive of breakfast}. Read my hotel review here.

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Southampton town

Day 2: Peppa Pig World – Bristol
We woke up early and roamed around the Southampton town. At 10.30am, we made our way to Peppa Pig World {£70.25 for family of 3, free admission for under 100cm}, which was around 10 minutes’ drive away. We were there until around 4pm, making our way to Bristol after that and reaching there around two hours’ later. After dinner and a free walking tour, we spent the night at my cousin’s.

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Peppa Pig World
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Bristol

Day 3: Bristol – Devon
After breakfast with my cousin at Bristol city, we walked to the SS Great Britain Museum {£14 for adult; £8 for child 5-17 years}. It was a very beneficial visit, entailing the historical details of the world’s first ocean liner and how people last time travelled. Unfortunately, the kids got restless after 2 hours and as much as we wanted to stay on and continue reading, we had to make our way to lunch. That’s the thing about travelling with kids; being flexible is required. After that, we drove to our farmstay place named Puddleduck Valley in Cookbury, Devon {approx. £59 per night, self catering}. We stayed in a Mongolian yurt, erected in the woods, for the next three nights. There were no lights, no electricity and no heating at night – just us, the nature and sounds of insects in the woods. It was a wonderful, back-to-basics experience, having to build our own fire for heating, running in the wild, feeding the farm animals, boating, and barbecuing marshmallows and sausages in the great outdoors. The stars at night were amazingly clear and beautiful here too. The kids had a blast and didn’t want to leave.

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SS Great Britain Museum, Bristol
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Puddleduck Valley

 

Day 4: Sandymouth Beach – Bude town
We drove 30 minutes to Sandymouth Beach in Bude and spent a couple of hours there, just enjoying the beach and the heartwarming food from the beachside hut. Then, we went to Bude town for Cornish ice-cream and just a stroll around the area. We were back to Puddleduck Valley for boating in the lake after that, and later that evening, we had a BBQ of marshmallows and sausages with tree twigs! The kids slept like babies that day.

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Puddleduck Valley
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Farmer 101
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Sandymouth Beach, Bude
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Boating at Puddleduck Valley

 

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Barbecuing in the great outdoors

 

Day 5: Tamar Otter & Wildlife Centre – Launceston town
We visited the Tamar Otter & Wildlife Centre {Adult £8, Child £5), just 30 minutes from our farmstay area. After lunch at the little cafe in the wildlife centre where we had a very delicious scone and Cornish cream, we proceeded to Launceston town and took a  stroll around the area as well as Launceston Castle. We bought some simple ingredients from Waitrose and made our own dinner that day.

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Tamar Otter & Wildlife Centre

 

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Upclose and personal with the animals at Puddleduck Valley

 

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Majestic view from Launceston Castle

 

Day 6: Devon – Bath
It was time to leave the woods and head for Bath city. The children, especially E, was disheartened as he has had so much fun there. I quote him “I wish we can stay here forever!” He’s a farm person, just like me 🙂 Read my full review of Puddleduck Valley here.

We arrived at Bath city around noon, after a hours’ drive. Since it was still early, we explored the city’s main attractions by foot. Bath is a small, bustling historical city. We went to the Roman Baths, The Crescent, The Circus and the Pulteney Bridge – all within walking distance. We spent the night at Premier Inn Bath City Centre {£57 p/night}.  Read my hotel review here.

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The Circus, Bath

 

Day 7: Bath – Oxford – Gatwick
Stopping by in Oxford on our way to London Gatwick was a very last-minute decision. Since we had some free time in our hands and need not check in the airport hotel so soon, we made a stop in Oxford. We were glad we did! It’s such a gorgeous city buzzing with life, with a majority of people there are students. We checked out the famous University of Oxford, also where a scene from Harry Potter was filmed. We went to The Covered Market for a traditional British pie, before making our way to London Gatwick.

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Entrance to University of Oxford

 

At Gatwick, we stopped at Tesco Extra to get some British goodies. Among those in my shopping list were strawberries and blueberries (very sweet, big and juicy. We hand-carried them back!), McVites dark chocolate digestive biscuits (much cheaper compared to those in Dubai) and some cute Peppa Pig themed snacks. That’s what having a daughter can change you.

We spent the night at our last hotel of the vacation – Premier Inn A23 Airport Way {£39 p/night}. It’s just less than 8 minutes from the airport. A very busy hotel but well, we were just there for a night’s rest.

By now, you should already get the inkling that I’m a big fan of Premier Inn. From our experience, this hotel chain has so far been consistently good, clean, comfortable and value for money. Great location too. It’s hard not to like them. For convenience sake, we ordered pre-booked dinner and breakfast in the hotel too.

The next morning, we took a flight back to Dubai.

Itinerary Summary
Dubai – London Gatwick – Southampton – Bristol – Devon – Cornwall – Bath – Oxford – London Gatwick – Dubai

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How to make a kids-friendly travel itinerary book

When we went to Denmark last year, E brought along a DIY travel itinerary with him. It was a booklet made of A5-size papers detailing our plans throughout the trip with a map, photos of places as well as the cultural icons of the country printed all over them. It proved to be a success with the kids, having known what to expect and where they would be going next.

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I found it really useful too, especially for Ewan who prefers to be kept informed of the events ahead. They were very cooperative and contented throughout the whole trip – with minimal whining and complaining – making that holiday a very fun and memorable one…even when the itinerary comprised some grown-up, not-so-fun attractions (museums, cathedrals, monuments, and more buildings).

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In preparation for our upcoming trip to the Southwest part of UK in a couple of weeks’ time, I have made yet another travel picture itinerary for the kids. Because we will be “unschooling” (also known as ponteng sekolah) both of them for a week and do not want E to go around telling his classmates that he’s skipping school for Peppa Pig World – at least not so soon until we have informed his teacher – they have not been told about this holiday yet. All they knew about this picture itinerary was, it might be a dream-come-true holiday one day! 😀

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“Mummy is just daydreaming and making a story about what we can do during a family vacation,” I explained.

So here’s a quick guide on how to make a kids-approved travel itinerary:

Capture3STEP 1: Think of all the things that you would like to include in the booklet. I went to Google Images and downloaded the country’s maps, flag, traditional food, iconic item (coin, notes, flower, building etc.), famous people as well as photos of our accommodations and places we will be visiting. Gather them in a folder.

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STEP 2: You may use whichever software you are more familiar with as your canvas. I chose Microsoft Powerpoint as it’s more flexible and easier to insert and drag images around. Decide the size of your booklet. I went with A5 as it’s easier for little hands to hold and flip, and more compact to be kept into our hand-carry bag without crumpling it. For the storyline, I placed the title and map on the booklet cover, followed by day-by-day plans. Depending on the age of your child, you may want to include more visuals and keep the words simple and minimal. Add in arrows as well as fun and happy smiling pictures to pump up the excitement.

STEP 3: Print them out in colour, cut them into sizes, staple the papers together and tape the edge for more durability. You can also laminate them if you want. Don’t forget to save your template; you can always use it for your next vacation.

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To allow time for discussion about what to look out for in the country and suggestions on other things that the kids may want to include, I usually “release” the itinerary booklet to the kids 3-4 weeks prior to the vacation. Make sure you bring along the booklet for your holiday and have your kids safeguard it throughout so they can always refer to them.

BENEFITS OF HAVING A PICTURE TRAVEL ITINERARY FOR KIDS

  • Minimise complaints and whining from kids during the trip due to boredom and not knowing where and what they will be doing next
  • Encourage curiosity of different cultures and instill a passion for travel, raising a citizen of the world
  • Display the importance of planning in advance and advantages of being organised
  • Build up the excitement to a wonderful getaway (I’m already so looking forward to it!)

It’s easy to collate, even more fun to talk and experience it with your husband and kids. Try it for your next family holiday!

2015 family vacation – Location, location, location!

There are some things that get me very excited, one of which is planning for a holiday! I love discovering places, and researching for accommodations and things to do. The anticipation of what’s to come gets me all antsy in a positive way. As such, after we got married, the task of holiday planning went to me naturally, except for our honeymoon where the Husband did all the homework.

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2010 – Sabah

Now that our base is in the Middle East where it’s closer to the European countries, we would like to explore that region as much as we can while we are still here. The Husband suggested visiting Scotland this year, a place with treasured memories from his schooling days. Having heard the vast natural beauty of Scotland, my response was an immediate “YES!”

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2011 – Perth, Australia

Why not Scotland now?
We got a Lonely Planet book and started our research. The more we dug, the more we realised that it isn’t a very suitable holiday destination for family with young kids – at least for our city kids that need constant stimulation of excitement. Here are the reasons:

1. Scotland is a great and wonderful place to do nature-related activities such as walking, hiking, camping, wildlife spotting etc. It would be the perfect place for the Husband and I to just do nothing, walk, talk and soak in the beauty. However, as much as we tried to incorporate one child-driven activity in the itinerary everyday, there’s nothing much we could find. We could only think of a farm stay and the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh.

2. As Scotland is big, driving from a place to another takes at least 2-3 hours. Driving from Edinburgh to Isle of Skye – a key, must-visit place in Scotland – takes 5+ hours non-stop. We only have a maximum of 7 days to spare and this factor doesn’t allow us enough time to do much, considering that we need to spend another 5+ hours to drive down to our starting point. We figured that lots of time will be spent on the road, negotiating, pacifying and enduring the whines of “Are we there yet?”. That’s enough to make us stop our research.

After much contemplation, we decided that we will go to Scotland in a couple of years’ time when we can spend two weeks there and tour around in a caravan, stopping whenever we want. The kids should be able to appreciate such tranquility better by then.

Brisbane 2012
2012 – Brisbane, Australia

What’s a good holiday to us?
Our idea of a good holiday is spending quality time together in the countryside, doing activities that both adults and kids will enjoy. Both the Husband and I are not much of an island-goer too. A friend mentioned Peppa Pig World and my invisible mental lightbulb lit up. How about touring the countryside of UK instead? We visited London and a little bit of its outskirts in 2013 and loved it! This time around, we will do a road trip around the South West England instead. And what better reason when I have a cousin who lives in one of the cities there.

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2013 – London & Hampshire, UK

The Husband’s leave has been approved, the itinerary planned, the accommodations pinpointed. All we need to do next is to hire a car, book the accommodations and pray that there will be seats available in the flight we are aiming for. The vacation will comprise a good mix of theme park excitement, fun in the beach, frolicking in the woods, stars gazing and animals encounter.

Denmark 2014
2014 – Denmark

As you can probably guess, I’m excited. The kids don’t know yet. I’m planning to make a book of travel itinerary and surprise them with it soon. Stay tuned as I share our itinerary after the holiday.

Woot woot…we are going on a holiday! 😀

15 things I miss most about Malaysia

1. Skippy peanut butter – Most Skippy sold in major supermarkets are the chunky type. I’ve seen the smooth and creamy ones selling in the Chinese supermarket but they’re made in China. Upon checking those I brought here from Malaysia, they’re made in China too. But at least it’s not in Chinese words, which psychologically makes it easier to consume LOL!

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2. Oreo – I finally found the affordable, UAE version of Oreo but they’re super sweet compared to those sold in Malaysia. People here have a ‘thing’ for sweet stuff!

3. Gardenia wholemeal bread – the breads sold here are dry, hard and leave lots of crumbs on the table. I miss those fluffy, easy to swallow ones.

4. Petai – they are nowhere to be bought!

5. Fat kangkung and taugeh – those found here are miserably thin and small. Sandy too!

6. Uniqlo – possibly the only international brand that hasn’t reached the UAE shore. I miss those simple, easy-to-wear bra tops and dresses. Also their very comfortable range of jeans.

7. Parking space – big cars, small parking spaces unfortunately. At least those in Malaysia are of average size. And some are positioned in a weird angle that one steer doesn’t ensure the vehicle is parked in the middle of the spot. I always have to reposition my car several times. Maybe my parking skill is just bad…

8. Cheaper, easier admission to school of our choice – Education is not only expensive here, but also sells like hot cakes. Even if you have the money, it doesn’t guarantee you a spot in your chosen school. To begin with, parents have to fork out a minimum, non-refundable registration fee of AED500 for each school just to be on the waiting list. Back in Malaysia, this is simpler and easier.

9. More patient drivers – Okay, to begin with, Malaysians are not exactly the most courteous and patient drivers I’ve known but most of them are way better than those here. I’ve been flashed at for driving at an average speed in a residential area. I’ve been honked at for stopping at the traffic light because it was red. Also because I stopped at the zebra crossing for the pedestrians to cross.

10. My friends and family – The comfort of having someone to shop with, talk or cry to, just within reach. With Dubai being a transient place, you’ll never know who’s staying and who’s leaving soon. I miss the stability of knowing my close friends are always there for me.

11. Odee – We have rehomed him with a childless couple who loves him to bits. I can’t help but to think how life would be if we were to bring him here with us. I miss him.

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12. Simple self-service petrol station – Know how petrol stations in Malaysia are when there are rumours that the petrol price will increase? Well, that’s how the petrol stations here are most of the time, especially during peak hours. Long queue of cars waiting to refill their gas, simply because each kiosk is operated by a staff who will do all the work including receiving money and giving you the change. I’d rather DIY, it’s faster.

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13. Unisex beauty salons – I’ve always wondered why the façade of beauty salons here – be it hair, facial or nail spa – is completely covered from ceiling to floor. I had my first hair cut in Dubai recently and didn’t know that there’s a ruling that men are not allowed in women’s salons. Hubby was shooed away as soon as he entered with Xan. And oh, just a simple haircut in a simple Korean salon costs 150dhs!

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14. Wider variety of coin value – I miss receiving exact change when I buy something. Over in Dubai, there are only three types of coins: 25fils, 50fils and 1dirham. So if I buy something costing 2.30dirhams, I’ll have to fork out 2.50dirhams and receive no change in return. This makes me feel shortchanged all the time.

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15. Shoe size 4 – I’ve had difficulty finding a good fit for shoes here. Their smallest size is 36, which is equivalent to US size 5.5 or UK size 3.5. I’m a size 4 back home, making me a size 35 here. I’ve tried on kids’ shoes and though they fit well, they’re not comfortable. Even international fashion chain like H&M stores size 36 and above. And they are usually snapped up really fast.

So, Malaysia is indeed nice in many ways. And now you know what to bring me as ‘buah tangan’ if you visit! While you’re at that, please do smuggle along some musang king durians too 😉