20 Family Travel Hacks

Nothing is ever going to stop me wanting to travel and explore the world with my family. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret*: my dream is to pack up everything in a van and head off into the distance and see where we get to (this is my kinda porn.) Here’s how I first got the ‘bug’ and my craziness enthusiasm since then has seen us explore Angkor Wat with a two year old and eight month old (and pretty much have it all to ourselves), spend a night on a canal boat, go camping and to festivals with every adventure bringing new learnings and lessons along the way. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I love going on adventures as a family – it’s such a rich learning experience that is ever evolving and getting it ‘right’ is a complex formula of powdered milk and power strips. There’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to what works and I get a fair few questions on all sorts of travel issues so I thought I’d do a post detailing some simple hacks we’ve learnt along the way. Strap in, here goes:

1. Hack your headspace and adjust your mindset
What I mean by that is that f you’re looking for a ‘holiday’, this ain’t it. Get your expectations right in the first place: it will be challenging, it will take you outside of your comfort zone and to be honest, it won’t be all that relaxing. Travelling with kids and taking yourselves out of your day to day life can be bloomin’ hard work.

2. Hack your emotions
This is a weird one but it’s something I try really hard to do. Emotions can ride high when for example you’re stuck in a sweltering, dark car rental car park trying to fit a car seat with two crying toddlers and sweat dripping down your back. Arguments with your OH is the last thing you need so we have a rule: we try to say only positive things, or at least re frame something negative. For example, “we can probably make it to the next street before running out of petrol – wahey” as opposed to “how did you forget we needed more petrol?”

3. Give each other a break
We have found that giving each other ‘time out’ without looking after the small people is hugely beneficial. Let the other person have a lie in, a stroll child -free in the local town or just go for a solo beer. (NB this rule applies for real life too). You’ll come back more refreshed – and more ready to change a pooey nappy – than ever.

4. Embrace the journey
I like airports, there I said it. Robert Louis Stevenson had it down when he wrote “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” Just leave yourself plenty of time, seek out any Stay and Play areas, stock up on snacks or ideally, a proper meal and let them go wild riding up and down on the escalators as you watch them squeal with joy.

5. Check in on local timings
By this I mean, check what time things *happen*; what time the sun sets (this can drastically affect how much travel you do in one day), what time people eat dinner and what time shops close – there’s nothing less fun than dining on biscuits and crisps on your first night because everywhere is closed.

6. If you are driving, do not rely on a mobile phone for directions
Don’t rely on it having signal or enough battery. Get a proper road map and ideally locate everywhere you are going before you leave home. If you are using your phone, get a car charger and a mount to hold your phone on the windscreen and make sure you have downloaded the contact phone numbers and full directions to wherever you are going before you set off.

7. Hanger is real
Sometimes I wonder why we are a little cranky and realise we’ve not eaten yet and need to get food into everyones’ systems. So we carry food and water on us wherever we go and I’d also recommend taking some heartier supplies – we always bring weetabix, some ready meals and a jar of peanut butter from home and pick up bananas and bread once we arrive.

8. Relax on the routine
We’re already very lax on timings of things but I think when you go travelling, it is even more important to go with the flow and not worry too much about timings. Eat when everyone’s hungry, let them sleep when they’re tired. It may not come immediately but I guarantee that your little ones will develop a *new* routine of sorts on your trip. Whether it comes to nap time, bed time or meals, relax on the routine / vegetable intake and go with the flow. If they eat pasta every day for 2 weeks it’s not the end of the world.

9. Don’t take a full suitcase
This hack is probably the simplest to grasp but is actually one of the hardest to achieve and has taken me a long time to master. When we went to South East Asia with only backpacks, I was extremely selective about what I took and consequently, I took only bare minimum items, I lost nothing, used everything to its full capacity and really knew my belongings well. Unless you are really going somewhere very remote, nappies, dummies and wet wipes if you use them are all pretty available. You can really find everything you need abroad albeit in a slightly different variation.

10. Always pack an empty water bottle
Not having enough water freaks me out when travelling with children, especially of course in the heat. If I hear Jack ask for water and I don’t have any,  I genuinely feel awful. To prevent this, whenever we travel we always take a large Eddy camelpak – it’s perfect for getting through airports with (tell them the water is for the children and you should be fine), and then once you get to your destination, carry it around everywhere and fill it up at any available moment. This is particurarly good one if you’re doing a roadtrip

11. Focus on slow eating foods
This one sounds stupid but I assure you it’s a winner. And no, not slow-digesting, slow-eating – essentially, any item that takes a child a decent amount of time to consume. Apples and corn on the cobs are particular favourite, as well as carrots and popcorn (“one piece at a time”).

12. Forget the baby monitor
Don’t worry about bringing a monitor away with you. If you’re fortunate to have a set up whereby you might be able to nip out in the evening for a quick bite (say, if your room is on top of a pub), there are a whole host of apps you can use instead of baby monitors. We have used Dormi or isitter .

13. Treat them to a new toy
Our kids play alone really well with their toys and of course we bring a few along, but there’s a limit. So we always just tend to pick up a cheap truck or puzzle when we’re travelling which go down a treat.

14.  Learn the art of slow travel
By this I mean that whatever you were hoping to do, half that, then half that again. We find that doing ONE THING (with one kid, it was one thing in the morning and one thing in the early evening but we’ve cut it down!) a day with some down time back at your base is perfect. I have long let go of what I remember from traveling pre kids, and whilst we may have a list of activities we’d *like* to do, there is no itinerary of any sorts. Instead we tend to structure everything about meal times (see earlier point re hanger) and as much as possible, be our own guides.

15. Always buggy up
To buggy or not to buggy; the eternal question. Let them walk? Baby carrier? Dad’s shoulders? We’ve weighed up all the options and ultimately always reach the same conclusion: we need a buggy. But we need a small, nifty one (which isn’t necessarily the same one I want when at home). We’ve recently discovered the Baby Jogger City Tour which seems ridiculously sturdy but also super compact. Usually the fold away buggies are pretty flimsy but this one isn’t at all and is super easy to nip about in and manoeuvre around. The coolest thing about it is that it packs away into a backpack style carry bag which leaves you hands free and you can take it on the plane (we haven’t done that yet but you could).

16. Play to your strengths as a couple
For example, Sam is always the one who drives whilst I tend to be the one that prepares the kids food. You know what you’re good at – so embrace it and don’t necessarily use traveling as a time to experiment. It might not be pretty.

17. Embrace the shit shows and the ‘failures’
Things will go ‘wrong’ but we all know that the best ‘experiences’ are the ones that are unplanned and happen as a result of something else. So go with the flow and be flexible – plans will change – and it will work out for the better, I promise you. (I mean there will be times when you’re lost, it’s 11pm at night and you can’t see a thing whilst driving down dirt tracks that end in boggy marshland and have a starving screaming toddler in the backseat, a desperate Air b n b host trying to contact you, and things do seem *pretty* stressful like they did here – then you do just gotta give up).

18. Identify other children around you
It’s amazing how much help other peoples’ children can be (the non-screaming ones.) If you haven’t noticed, most kids love other kids so whenver I see another child, I basically pounce on them and force them to interact with my child. Use everyone else around you!

19. Power strip
These days, we seem to travel with a fair few electricals so instead of stressing about adaptors (or more likely, leaving them behind in the walls), we just take a whole power strip away for the whole family. On the tech note, remember car USB chargers – phone batteries always seem to run out just when you need directions somewhere.

20. Avoid the beaten track
Although safety is always the number one priority, we avoid anywhere that has a ‘well trodden path’ precisely because well, more often than not it will be just that – well trodden and packed with tourists. For our whole time in Cambodia and Vietnam we had 1 pre-planned planned activity and that was enough. The rest we sorted once out there. So forget the box ticking and go down your own path. As Dr Johnson said “nothing is more hopeless than a scheme for merriment”.

So those are my nuggets of advice for traveling. There might be the occasional tear, but I assure you, you will feel more alive than you’ve ever felt. Your soul will fly high, higher than it’s ever flown and here will be moments where your insides are smiling. You will journey deep into your soul, reconnect with yourself and your family, and grow as a person. In short, it’s the best therapy out there and will catapult you a million miles away from bleary-eyed mornings spent scrubbing weetabix off highchairs. Dan Kieran, author of The Idle Traveller puts it perfectly: “When travel takes us out of a predictable routine we become more aware because our conscious mind has been activated to deal with the new things we’re experiencing [….] This could explain why people seem to find themselves when they are travelling, because they are more conscious of the experience of being alive when they are journeying in new and exciting ways. Being in alien places and cultures will inevitably result in an increased connection wth yourself because its these new situations that wakes your consciousness. You’ve turned off the unconscious autopilot that runs your normal life and started to take conscious control.” Right now I could not be more excited to travel and to challenge ourselves and find different ways of looking at the world; to let go of what we know, to live in the moment and go slow – and embrace the inevitable shit shows (probably some quite literal) that we come up against along the way. It’ll be worth it.

Have you been away travelling with your little one(s)? Got any tips to share? Recommendations of places to visit? 

Emma xx

P.S Flying Long Haul with a toddler and Backpacking with a Baby

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This post is sponsored by Baby Jogger whose buggy I hugely recommend. For more information, head to http://www.babyjogger.co.uk/. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Mamalina – without them, this blog wouldn’t be possible.

* only my husband really knows about it – and he hears about it a lot!

the-essentials-3

 

 

A New Chapter

Earlier this year I wrote about what I called PMLF (a super catchy acronym, I know). I was referring to that feeling of ‘what next’? that I was experiencing six months into maternity leave with Sonny. Would I continue motherhood full time? Would I return to my job at Google? Would I focus on my blog? Not simple questions to confront but questions I knew I had to explore because without being melodramatic, these are life changing decisions that affect everything and everyone close to me. It’s a crossroads that I’m sure many of you reading this are familiar with.

My children and being a mother means the world to me; it’s a job I find hugely challenging, rewarding and fun. That said, after having Jack, my gut feeling led me to return to work as well as for financial reasons. In practice though it was hard; I struggled with stress and fatigue and by the end of the day, I was shattered.

So now, with two children, the decision is even more difficult.

And so it is that I’ve spent the last five months prodding, probing, and imagining all the possible pros and cons of returning to work vs. staying at home with the kids: getting two children up, changed, dressed, teeth brushed every morning, nursery fees, a salary, commuting… I tried to imagine what life would look like. Above all, I focused on carving out a job for myself that I thought I would really, really love. It’s got to the point now that to work, given that nursery fees for two means that financially it doesn’t make a huge difference, I want need to enjoy what I do in order to justify handing Jack and Sonny over every morning to another carer. Whilst I understand the benefits of nursery, call me old -fashioned but I still personally think they’re better off with me or with family.

The result? Countless emails, hang outs, and meetings later, I’m going to be returning to Google and will be moving teams to be working exclusively on the YouTube Creator side of the business. It’s an area that I am super excited about given that YouTube is a huge passion of mine – here is my YouTube channel (I’d absolutely love you to hit the red button and subscribe especially as I’m going to be focusing on that over the next few months). I’ll be working 3 days a week leaving me with two days to focus on the kids and on creating my own content. I’ll be juggling all the balls (sounds dodgy – but you know what I mean), our home will be a tip 95% of the time, I will likely grow some more wrinkles along the way and I’m sure the odd glass of wine and takeaway will come into play, too. My number one rule? Get to bed early.

That’s it for now and I will keep you posted on working motherhood and my thoughts on it. Thank you for your continued support and for making me smile when I’m slumped up against the wall doing bathtime staring all heart eyes at my kids, checking in on my work emails and uploading an Instagram post. Work hard, play hard – I think that’s how the saying goes.

What are your thoughts? Are you a working mum or a full time ‘stay at home’ mum? (I don’t like the phrase ‘stay at home’ as if all that happens is that you stay at home and listen to nursery rhymes which couldn’t be further from the truth). Have a good one, friends.

Love, Emma xxx

The Two Of You – June 2017

I’ve never posted an update specifically about the kids but as I approach the end of my second maternity leave, I can’t help but reflect on my babes, how much they’ve changed and where we all find ourselves today. The below words have been flowing through my mind for weeks now and whilst normally I document the boys in a private diary, this time I thought I’d share my reflections here on the blog. It bowls me over how quickly children change, and how from one week to the next Sonny will suddenly be standing unaided or I’ll look over to see Jack pouring himself a cup of water as if he’d been doing that his whole life. So here goes: June 2017, where we at kiddos?

Jack, you’re now 3 years and 2 months. You say pretty much everything and we have proper conversations. You have started asking “why” and questioning the meaning of things. We’re not philosophical yet; we’re more at the “what does nick nack paddy wack mean, mummy?” stage. Every sentence starts or ends with “mummy” which at the moment I take for granted, but I know there’ll come a day soon when that stops and I’ll miss it hugely. You love playing by yourself – you create your own games with tape measures and trains and become immersed in your own world. Occasionally you’ll call me over, but it’s very rare. I hope soon you’ll take Sonny into your world too because it looks pretty fun. You take yourself to the toilet like an adult and potty training with you was straight forward. You’re challenging when you’re tired and become a little stroppy – just like your mummy. You’re pushing the boundaries which I suppose is totally normal at your age, and whereas six months ago I could negotiate with you these days that doesn’t seem to work. So sometimes mothering you can be tricky and tiring – especially those times when you wake in the night and insist on being carried back to your room, even when we both know you can walk, and we’re both exhausted, but negotiating with you at 3am isn’t so much fun. You still love your dummy but I try to be quite strict and let you have it only when you sleep or when you’re particularly tired. I know that soon you’ll stop wanting it and that it will naturally disappear. Although your brother uses one so there is always one lying about which I think has caused the renewed interest in it. Right now, your dad and I are in the process of choosing a primary school for you. People say you have to find the right one for your child but it’s so hard to know really who you are yet. That said, I see strong flashes come through every now and then. I’m sure you’re going to be more artistic than sporty, but let’s see. You pull faces, and have a great sense of humour, and can already act for sure. I think we’re kindred spirits in many ways, you and I. You draw me in and I love every piece of you, Jacky boy.

As for you Sonny, Friday marked the last day of maternity leave with you which we spent rolling around in the hay. That’s the thing about you Sonster; you love cuddles. You were like that from day 1, hence why we co-slept. You were just so happy in mama’s arms whereas Jack wanted his own space. You turned 1 earlier this month and you’re teetering somewhere between baby and toddler. I still find your crawling just unbelievably cute and perfect; Jack used to do the commando crawling but your crawling is so spot on and sweet, not to mention, fast. You’re going places, kid! You pull yourself up against anything and you will stand for a few seconds unaided but you’re not yet up for taking that first step. It’ll come soon enough. You have 6 six teeth with more coming shortly I am sure as you have been off your food for a week or so now and usually you eat anything in sight! You love Ewan the sheep and will go to sleep anywhere – often on the floor – just cuddling him. Thank gosh your sleep has improved – we were in a dark place a few months back, weren’t we kid. These days you’re a pretty solid through the night babe. You’re also chatting away – far more so than Jack ever did and I’m convinced that you will talk much earlier than he did. You love nothing more than throwing things – anything – down the toilet and following a ball around. Watching the relationship between you and Jack grow is beyond beautiful. He’s getting simultaneously ‘rougher’ with you as you are  getting tougher. Sometimes he’ll deliberately shove you but more often than not it’s an accidental push here and there. Soon enough you’ll be giving as good as you’re getting, I know it.

There’s so much to say, I could go on forever. For now, I’ll just let you know that for some reason, right now I feel extra privileged to be your mama my babes and see the wonders of you growing, changing and experiencing life, many parts of it, for the first time ever. I love you both so, so much.

Mama xxx

P.S Glamping with a Toddler and Newborn and Jack’s Breakfast PJ Party 

I didn’t want to make toilet training into a ‘big deal’, if that makes sense and I didn’t mind if he wasn’t the first in his class. We found it a generally pretty stress-free process that didn’t take one weekend or six months – it just happened gradually and easily over the course of a few months. I’ve scribbled down what we did below – or if video is more your thing, check this 6 minute video out I made on the topic. Otherwise, let’s go:

1.Wait for the right time – don’t rush it

As with crawling, walking, talking and in fact anything that can be classed as ‘developmental’, my mantra is always that there really is no rush. Age doesn’t matter. Yes, it’s kind of handy to have them out of nappies but your child is not going to be a teenager in nappies so don’t rush the process or push them in a direction you don’t feel they’re ready for – even if it feels everyone else’s child is long out of nappies (yours might be ‘faster’ at talking). I remember trying to potty train Jack when he was much younger around aged 2 and it just didn’t work – he would run out of the bathroom and had no interest at all.

2. Your time is the most important part, not the time of the year

Just like how old your child is, I don’t think it really matters if it’s Summer or not. People place a big emphasis on this but really what matters most is just letting your child spend a good deal of time with no nappy on – inside or out – and having flexibility to spend time focusing on it. More than the season, your time, is the important factor in making toilet training a success. Do you have mornings you can dedicate to sitting on the toilet with your child where you’re not needing to be somewhere? Where you know people aren’t necessarily going to be popping in? Where you can just hang out and focus on it?

3. Watch for the signals

I began to notice that Jack would always go off and want to be on his own when doing a number two. It was at this point that I would ‘intervene’ and attempt to gently take him to the potty! I’d had to keep a close eye out not to miss the moment when he needed it though.

4. Communication is key

Another helpful factor for us was Jack being able to properly talk and communicate. It meant he could tell me that he wanted to be on his own, and for the door to be shut, or that he wanted some books. It allowed him to tell me his preferred environment, which in the end was the key to his potty training.

5. Let them find their own weird method

I think it was my mum that came up with the phrase but Jack does what we call ‘knee knees’ which involves him basically kneeling up on the toilet seat, leaning one hand against the back of the toilet and peeing directly into the toilet. He does this by himself and although it’s kinda weird, it works. So don’t worry what ‘methodology’ you and your little one use – and experiment!

6. Keep it Simple

Toilet training seems to these days be associated with singing books and flashing toilet seats but I’m not convinced that it’s necessary and I’m also not someone who buys anything unnecessarily. I wouldn’t feel like you need to invest in the all the products surrounding toilet training – we used only one product, the BecoPotty

7. Find the fun

Bear with me on this one but in my opinion, toilets in themselves can be be kind of fun: what with tipping, flushing and hand washing (what about a fun soap bar ?), the process can actually be sort of entertaining. And let’s not forget all the songs, dances, imaginary characters you can make up.

8. Make the bathroom a happy place

Loooooong before I started really thinking that Jack was ready to use the toilet, we used to spend time together just sitting on the potty in the bathroom. After breakfast we’d go there, I’d pop him on the potty and we’d read books together. It was rare that he’d ‘perform’ but it got him relaxed and sitting on the potty and crucially, thinking that being on the potty was a fun place to be. Similarly if you little one has a certain favourite song or toy, think about leaving them in the toilet next to the potty to create a nice environment for them.

9. Leave them alone

Jack used to always go off and want to be left alone when doing a number two. If I’d approach him (as I knew he was doing it!), he’d get really upset and tell me to go away. When I thought about it, it was obvious he was looking for some privacy which is of course totally normal and what adults look for too (I always remember they compare being in labour to trying to do a poo – being alone is best and easiest) and wanted to be on his own. It made me think though that if I could create this environment but next to the potty, then maybe that might work so I took the simple step of asking Jack if he wanted to be left alone in the toilet to which he replied “yes, close the door please mummy.” That was a huge step to getting him trained. Now he’s always on his own and I leave him to it.

1o. Consider switching to cloth

If you’ve always been interested in cloth nappies but never quite got around to using them, potty training age is the perfect time to make the switch. It speeds up the process (your child feels when they are wet much more in a cloth nappy), you won’t have to dispose of half used nappies that have hardly been used plus you can save some pennies too.

11. Treat yourself

Potty training is all well and good, but no one tells you you have to actually then empty the potty out. Get yourself a yummy soap bar, mama – you definitely deserve it!

I hope the above few tips might help on your potty training journey. Your little one will get there before you know it, I assure you.

Emma xxx

P.S Let’s Reframe Reflux and A New Chapter

A Kid Free Greek Island Escape

Travelling with kids is probably my favourite thing to do in the world. Favourite, yes. Relaxing? Nuh uh. Battling with car seats, avoiding rabies-ridden dogs and in fact, just getting everyone fed, dressed, sun creamed up and out of a room can be tricky as any parents reading this will know. Which is why when an opportunity to travel *alone* to the Greek island of Paxos arose, Sam and I turned to each other all those 18 months ago when we started planning this trip and committed to each other that we should make this happen. We are fortunate in that we have fantastic grandparents who live locally and who were able to divide up looking after the children – although it was a vague military operation to organise it all (and read on to the end of this post to find out how I’m feeling about it all now…). We are also so grateful to the lovely folk at Paxos Beach Hotel for putting us up and allowing us to really relax for the first time on holiday in a long time. And so it was, four nights, in the sun, kid free that we embarked upon a real, actual, proper h-o-l-i-d-a-y…

Getting the boat across from Corfu to Paxos

The sea is actually this colour

We took a mini boat trip to Antipaxos with Sam driving the boat and me working hard on admiring the view

Greek salad heaven

Gorgeous flowers everywhere you turn in Paxos

The swimming pool looks right onto the beach

Room with a view

YUM!

Paxos Beach Hotel is somewhere I would return to in a heartbeat with the kids as the set up is perfect for families who want some ‘facilities’ but don’t want to be in an all-singing all-dancing (quite literally) resort: there is a kids room full of toys, swimming pool, direct access to the sea, and a restaurant serving 3 meals a day and yet it is small enough to still feel sort of ’boutiquey’ (totally a word).

So we truly had an amazing time; it just felt such a novelty to do simple things such as wake up when we wanted to, get in and out of a car in a flash, eat a full meal with no one else to worry about and most of all, just spend time with each other. That said, the mum guilt has been bubbling away under the surface since we returned probably because I know that leaving your children for 4 nights is a big ask and I know that it was hard work for the grandparents! So my question is: have you ever left your kids to go on holiday? If so, how long for and who looked after them? What are your thoughts on it?

Thank you for taking the time to read this post as ever and do pop me a comment in the box below – I love hearing from you. 🙂

Emma xx

How To Encourage Independent Play

I’m writing this in a silent kitchen with a hot drink next to me whilst Sonny sleeps upstairs and Jack is…I’m not entirely sure. He’s somewhere in our home, and I trust that he’s fine. And by somewhere, I mean he’s probably playing or reading or getting bored somewhere. (Or he’s not and there’s about to be an almighty crash, but I don’t think that’s the case.) View Post

A Perfect Unusual City Break

When we heard Eurostar were having a sale we couldn’t resist snapping up return tickets to Antwerp – not a place we’d ever thought of traveling to and hence all the more reason for going – for just £30 return. And what a wonderful city it is – quirky in all the right ways, with a plethora of cute cafes and cobbled streets and being so accessible makes it the perfect family city break destination.

Traveling by train has many advantages but one of them is that you get to arrive into the magnificent Central Station. With its huge marble hall and series of escalators, it’s an experience just navigating your way through. As usual, we stayed in an Airbnb apartment (here’s why and how to pick a good one) and we spent most of our time walking around the beautiful city centre streets taking in the stunning architecture, nipping in and out of coffee and interior shops to stay warm (the weather wasn’t great), and of course sampling the Belgian food (namely, huge plates of chips and waffles). The city seemed super easy to walk around and get to know and there is also a tram system which we had fun riding on one afternoon.

 

If you’re a foodie or travelling with children, you must check out the Mercado food hall at the Groenmarkt. Once the old post office, it is full of food stands serving up food from around the world and is the perfect place to grab a quick bite. Just as exciting for parents is the excellent softplay located right above it where entry includes a free alcoholic drink. Say whhaaaa?! And if you don’t have kids, the market hosts djs in the evenings too which look great fun too. Some of our other favourites places to fill our bellies included Jam which has the coolest retro interior trinkets everywhere and serves up comfort food, The Mad Hatter for funky palm leaf interiors and great lattes, Zirkey which has an amazing kids play room which meant that Sam and I were able to enjoy a bite or three of food in relative peace and of course the numerous chip shops and waffle houses around the city on most corners. We had our fill at Frittur no. 1 which were pretty epic – my advice is to go ‘all in’ and get all the sauces you can get your hands on.

air b n b

We had the loveliest Air b n b host

The vintage market by the St Anna tunnel is worth checking out to find some trinkets and to meet some local characters. For an amazing view of Antwerp’s skyline, head underneath the tunnel itself and cross over to the other side of the river Scheldt to the West bank where you’ll find a lovely quiet park. It’s a one-third of a mile a walk so good exercise for working off all the chips and also a perfect activity for a rainy day / children that love tunnels! Another afternoon we took the tram to one of the suburbs slightly out of town which I always love doing to get a feel for the city outside of the central, more touristy parts.

Antwerp is a truly special city with stunning architecture and a cafe culture better than any I’ve seen in any other city (Paris, I’m looking at you). For some reason, it is overlooked as a European destination in favour of some of its’ more glamorous neighbours which seems a shame. So for anyone reading this looking to book a mini break with the family, I’d urge you to book a trip by train that, only 3 hours later from London via Brussels, gets you to the most beautiful city full of galleries, shops, cafes not to mention out of this world delicious chips. AND we didn’t even explore the art galleries (though the central cathedral has two amazing Rubens paintings) OR the beer houses OR the chocolate scene. Antwerp, we’ll be back.

P.S I made this little video of our time there so take a peek by clicking on the ‘play’ button below (and please do subscribe to my channel if you like what you see!) Thanks for reading as ever folks, Emma xxx

Five Zero Waste Parenting Switches

Over the past six months I’ve been massively trying to reduce waste and live with less in all areas of my life and what better place to start than the messy world of motherhood. I’ve done a lot of research into this area and what works and what doesn’t – the last thing you or I want are products that might be more eco-friendly, but take more effort or just don’t do a good job. So I thought I would share my progress and the areas where I’ve made some small changes by swapping a few things out and replacing them with different, more eco friendly, equally effective options. So here goes:

1. Nappies
In an ideal world, we would use reusable nappies from day 1, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 12 months a year and I would have had Jack potty trained far earlier – but that’s just not the world we personally live in right now. At nursery I felt awkward asking them to use cloth nappies which I know this is silly and it may well be something I look in to changing once Sonny starts. Jack also usually spends 1 day a week with my mother in law and expecting her to use reusable nappies just feels slightly too much at this stage.We also do a fair bit of travelling and having to worry about washing nappies as well as all the extra challenges that come with traveling with kids is just one thing too much. And then there’s the nights… SO – where does that leave us? For all the above instances, we use Kit and Kin nappies which are super impressive as almost every element biodegrades within 3-6 years, including the front panel, tapes, anti-leak barriers and packaging. As far as I’m aware there is no nappy yet on the market which is 100% biodegradable though please let me know if you know of one! The rest of the time (so when the kids are with us, during the day, not at nursery, and we’re not travelling – so most of the time), we use reusable nappies. I’ve done a fair bit of experimenting and whilst with Jack we used gNappies which are fab in many ways but I found that once poop got bigger they just didn’t contain it. We switched to the Real Easy Nappy which I could not be happier with. Watch this video for some tips to get started with reusable nappies.

2. Wipes
I hate wet wipes! There, I said it. More natural ones such as water wipes don’t do a particularly good job at actually cleaning a bottom and mainstream brands, aside from smelling horrible, are harsh on the skin (you can actually remove tar with those things!), aren’t cheap, and are not generally biodegradable so they do all sorts of nasty things from clogging up toilets to harming wildlife who mistakenly eat them. They are all round bad news for the environment: take a quick read of this article to find out why in more detail. So instead we use the awesomely named Cheeky Wipes which are cotton terry cloths and perfectly reusable once put through the washing machine. They work for dirty bottoms as well as mucky faces and hands so I keep a stash in the kitchen for after mealtimes too. NB: Old cut up t-shirts do the same job and I also still keep a pack of wet wipes in my changing bag for when I’m out in case of any real disaster but cheeky wipes are fully transportable too and their starter pack comes with travel bags to take them out and about.

3. Toilet training
We only used one product to toilet train Jack – the lovely BecoPotty which is made from bamboo waste and rice husks (leftover materials from farming) ground into a fine powder, mixed with a biodegradable resin and pressed into a hot mould. This makes it completely biodegradable and super durable – we’ve had it for years and it’s been well used and it still looks like new. We picked one up from the Real Nappies for London Potty Training session – I really recommend heading to one of these sessions if you’re a Londoner. After we’ve finished with our potty I plan to bury it in the garden with Jack one afternoon which I reckon will make a fun afternoon’s activity 🙂

4. Feeding
We aspire to cut down our use of plastic in all areas of our life (you can read more about how I did that for Jack’s third birthday here, for example) though of course we still have a load of it in the house. My material of choice, however, is anything made from bamboo, a super fast-growing resource (the fastest growing grass on the planet) and ridiculously beautiful to look at. I love this bowl for the kids: not only is it amazing for baby-led weaning as it stays put on the table thanks to a suction base, it is all natural with a food-grade silicone that protects against BPA and other toxins. I also love the funky bright colours they come in (my favourite is obviously green).

5. Toys
We definitely have plastic, flashing toys in the home but not many. I always opt for wooden toys which are timeless, don’t contain chemicals (BPA or PVC), are eco friendly when produced from FSC-certified forests, bamboo or rubberwood, durable. Asda does an amazing collection which are our absolute favourite and the kids have spent countless hours riding their bikes and playing with the garages and trikes – I know they will far outlast the plastic ones. I think in fact what I love most about wooden toys is that they leave room for the child’s imagination without all the flashing lights and noises to do all the work for them. They also of course look better and are far easier to clean weetabix off (for this reason alone I steer clear from anything battery operated).

On top of this, we love charity shops and hand me downs – the former particularly for books and the latter for the coolest retro fire engines in the world. Then there’s the tupperware, oxo cubes, sticks and bath tubs for paddling pools that we have had endless amounts of fun with too.

I hope you enjoyed reading the post – these tips are nothing ground – breaking but they are small steps to helping the environment and crucially for us busy mums, the products mentioned are all easy to use, work really well and I think are pretty darn stylish.

If you’ve got any zero waste parenting tips, I’d love you to share them in the comments below!

Emma x

P.S How To Reduce Waste as a Family and 10 Ways to Reduce Waste and Live with Less