Winter is one of my favourite times of the year to rug up and head out on more adventures with the kids! However, it can be hard to come up with fun things to do in the winter school holidays to keep the whole family entertained. Our Winter School Holidays Bucket List has a mix of our favourite family winter activities to do both indoors and outdoors, and plenty of cheap or free options. Plus there is a free bucket list printable for you to grab at the end!
Winter School Holiday Bucket List
1. Have an indoor picnic – perfect for cold and wet days, set up a blanket on the floor and enjoy a yummy picnic together.
2. Take a road trip – it doesn’t have to be far, even just somewhere in your local area that you haven’t visited in a while!
3. Visit a museum – fun and educational!
4. Go ice-skating (if there is a local ice-rink set up for the holidays!)
5. Have a backyard campfire – complete with roasted marshmallows or s’mores! We also love to throw on a colourful fire pack for a rainbow fire!
6. Fly a kite – fun for young and old.
7. Make hot chocolate – nothing warms you up like a warm, chocolately drink.
8. Have a movie night – turn your lounge room into a home cinema with plenty of popcorn and snuggly blankets!
9. Plant a garden – get ready for spring!
10. Host a board games night – nothing brings out our competitive streaks like Monopoly or Uno!
11. Go bowling – another activity that brings out the competitive streaks in my kids!
12. Have a pyjama day – perfect for cold, rainy days!
13. Make homemade soup – find some yummy recipes here.
14. Do a jigsaw puzzle – we set these up on the dining table during the holidays and enjoy picnic dinners in the lounge room.
15. Visit the library – plenty of new books and movies to be discovered, and often school holiday workshops for the kids, all for free!
We found plenty of fun things to do in Canberra with the kids on our last holiday to our nation’s capital. More than just the home of Australia’s Parliament House, Canberra has a huge range of family friendly attractions and activities, dining and accommodation options. I was also surprised at the abundance of free things to do in Canberra for those who don’t want to blow the holiday budget. Here’s a round-up of the top things to do in Canberra with kids.
Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial was at the top of our things to do in Canberra list. The Memorial commemorates the Australians who have died in war, and help us understand the impact of this in our society through it’s museum and archives. Some kids may find a visit here confronting or upsetting – our kids were fine as we had discussed a lot of the topics with them before visiting, and we skipped any parts that we thought may be to ‘heavy’ for them to grasp at their ages. The Discovery Centre is a great space to check out with the kids. I could have spent an entire day here wandering through the halls and history.
Where: Treloar Crescent, Campbell Opening Hours: Open daily between 10.00 am – 5.00 pm daily, closed Christmas Day. Cost: Free. Website:www.awm.gov.au
Discover a tiny world of buildings and villages, ride a miniature steam train, view the most beautiful dolls house you have ever seen, and enjoy a picnic in the beautifully landscaped gardens.
Where: 11 Gold Creek Road, Nicholls Opening Hours: Open 7 days a week from 9.30am – 5pm, closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Cost: $59.00 for a family of 5. Website:cockingtongreen.com.au
National Zoo and Aquarium
Only 5 minutes from the centre of Canberra, here you can come face-to-face with a huge array of animals. You can also participate in up-close animal encounters, or even stay overnight at the zoo at the Jamala Wildlife Lodge.
Where: 999 Lady Denman Dr, Yarralumla Opening Hours: Open daily 9.30am – 5.00pm, closed Christmas Day. Cost: $127.50 for a family of 5. Website:www.nationalzoo.com.au
Australian Institute of Sport
I’m the first to admit I’m not a ‘sporty’ person at all, however a tour through the Australian Institute of Sport is well worth it, with a behind-the-scenes look at the facilities, sporting memorabilia, and Sportex, an interactive sports exhibit.
Where: Leverrier St, Bruce Opening Hours: Open daily, with tours from 10.00am, 11:30am, 1.00pm & 2:30pm, closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day & Good Friday. Cost: $55.00 for a family of 5. Website:www.experienceais.com
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
For families that like to get outdoors, Tidbinbilla offers a range of outdoor activities including more than 20 walking tracks, and the chance to spot local wildlife, including platypus, emus, possums and more.
Where: Paddy’s River Road, via Cotter Road, Weston Creek. Opening Hours: Open daily from 7.30am – 8.00pm in summer, 7.30am – 6.00pm in winter, closed Christmas day. Cost: Passes start from $13.00 per vehicle. Website:www.tidbinbilla.act.gov.au
Questacon is a fun place to introduce kids to the amazing world of science, we loved our visit here! With a great selection of interactive exhibits and shows on a variety of topics, from animals and the human body, through to weather and outer space, there is plenty to keep all members of the family entertained.
Where: King Edward Terrace, Parkes Opening Hours: Daily from 9.00am – 5.00pm, closed Christmas Day. Cost: $70.00 for a family ticket Website:www.questacon.edu.au
Royal Australian Mint
The kids can learn where money comes from, discover Australia’s first minted coins, mint their very own coin, and complete the Mint Treasure Hunt in the My Visit To The Mint Activity Book (available from the front desk) on a visit to the Royal Australian Mint.
Where: Denison Street, Deakin Opening Hours: Open Monday – Friday 8.30am – 5.00pm, weekends and public holidays 10.00am – 4.00 pm, closed Christmas Day and Good Friday. Cost: Free Website: www.ramint.gov.au
Yarralumla Play Station
This Canberra attraction has been operating since 1973, and is home to the Weston Park Miniature Railway, Lake Walter Miniature Golf courses and Mini Farm Friends.
Where: 9 Prescott Lane, Yarralumla Opening Hours: Open 8.30am – 4.30pm Monday – Friday, 8.00am to 5.30pm Saturday – Sunday, closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Cost: Prices depend on which attraction you visit, starting from $5.00 and up. Website: yarraps.com.au
Museum of Democracy
The Museum of Democracy teaches kids about the power of their voices and involvement in Australian democracy through immersive and fun learning experiences.
Where: 18 King George Terrace, Parkes Opening Hours: Open daily from 9.00am – 5.00pm, closed Christmas Day. Cost: $5.00 per family. Website: moadoph.gov.au
National Gallery of Australia
The National Gallery of Australia is a great way for kids to explore the national collection, with The Sculpture Garden and regular programs for the kids to engage in art and learn about the current exhibitions in the gallery.
A visit here was one of the highlights of our time in Canberra! With more than 44,000 trees growing on site, it is one of the world’s largest living collection of rare and endangered trees. The Arboretum is also home to the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection. Grab a coffee from the on-site cafe to enjoy while the kids explore the unique Pod playground or roll down the nearby hill in fits of giggles.
Where: Forest Drive (off Tuggeranong Parkway), Weston Creek Opening Hours: Open 7 days a week between 9.00am – 4.00 pm, closed Christmas Day. Cost: Free. Website:www.nationalarboretum.act.gov.au
At a visit to this centre for contemporary glass art, families can watch artists blowing glass and view the range of current exhibitions or peruse the art available for purchase.
Where: 11 Wentworth Ave, Kingston. Opening Hours: Open Wednesday – Sunday from 10.00am – 4.00pm, closed over Christmas and New Year. Cost: free. Website:www.canberraglassworks.com
The National Dinosaur Museum
The National Dinosaur Museum is Australia’s largest permanent display of dinosaurs and prehistoric fossils, with 23 complete skeletons and over 300 individual fossils. Perfect for dinosaur lovers of all ages, the museum allows you to explore Earth’s past and discover the creatures that lived millions of years ago.
Where: 6 Gold Creek Road, Nicholls. Opening Hours: 7 days a week between 10.00am – 5.00pm. Cost: $45.00 for a family ticket Website:nationaldinosaurmuseum.com.au
National Museum of Australia
The National Museum of Australia is a fantastic place to explore with kids. With plenty of child-friendly spaces, families can explore exhibits covering everything from Indigenous history to popular culture, and participate in the Museum’s interactive adventure game for kids called Kspace.
Located in an old industrial building, visitors to the Old Bus Depot Markets can find handcrafted wares, clothing, delicious local food and produce to purchase.
Where: 21 Wentworth Ave, Kingston. Opening Hours: Every Sunday from 10.00am – 4.00pm. Cost: Free entry. Website: obdm.com.au
A trip to Canberra wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Parliament House! We visited on a non-sitting day so we didn’t get to spot any ministers, however we enjoyed our visit even more than I thought we would!
A visit to the CSIRO Discover Centre is perfect for budding young scientists. The centre covers the history of the CSIRO and science in Australia with entertaining and interactive displays and exhibitions.
The Australian National Botanic Gardens contains the world’s most comprehensive display of living Australian native plants. Perfect for families to enjoy some time amongst the gardens and explore one of the many walks and picturesque picnic spots.
Where: Clunies Ross St, Acton. Opening Hours: Open daily from 8.30am to 5.00pm, closed Christmas Day. Cost: Free. Website:www.anbg.gov.au
Canberra Railway Museum
The Canberra Railway Museum is home to an impressive collection of historic locomotives, carriages and memorabilia, perfect for families with train-obsessed kids! ***The museum is currently being re-established and is due to re-open sometime in 2019***
Canberra is home to Floriade, an annual spring festival, with a range of activities and entertainment. Plus there is also the spectacular gardens and grounds planted with a million bulbs and annual plants.
Where: Regatta Point, Barrine Drive, Parkes. Opening Hours: Check website for details. Cost: Free entry. Website:www.floriadeaustralia.com
Freakshakes at Patissez
Treat the family to a freakshake at Patissez, birthplace of the ‘freakshake’ movement.
Where: 21 Bougainville St, Griffith. Opening Hours: Open daily from 8.00am – 4.00pm. Cost: Free entry. Website:Patissez Facebook page
For the active families, put on your walking shoes and hike up to the top of Red Hill for the amazing views and a treat from the Little Brother Restaurant.
Cania Gorge National Park is located near the town of Monto, and is home to a diverse range of wildlife, aboriginal rock art, gold mining history and walking tracks. We recently visited for 2 days / 3 nights, and loved exploring the area with the kids, before heading back to our accommodation and enjoying the water park and wild bird-feeding.
Cania Gorge National Park
The park contains 8 walks, ranging from 300 metres to 22 kms long. Due to our youngest child, Roo, only being 4 years old, we decided to tackle only a few of the Grade 3 walking tracks, which she managed to walk on her own.
Dripping Rock and The Overhang- 3.2 km return
This walk starts at the picnic area, winding its way through dry rainforest as it leads up to the base of Dripping Rock. This rocky overhang is covered in moss and ferns, and at the time of our visit, water was flowing and dripping from the rock. The nearby bench was a pleasant spot to sit for a few minutes to listen to the dripping of water and bird-song.
Continue on the track past Dripping Rock for another kilometre, up and down several lot of stairs, before descending down to The Overhang.
The Overhang is an eroded cliff base, with yellow and red ochre lines running through the sandstone. The creek bed and surrounding rainforest trees gave us the feeling of a secluded, tropical hideaway while we sat on the rocks and enjoyed a picnic morning tea.
Dragon Cave and Bloodwood Cave – 2.6 km return
The track to Dragon and Bloodwood caves branches off from the Dripping Rock track. The track is a little steeper to navigate than the track to Dripping Rock, as you walk up steps along the cliff to reach the caves. Dragon Cave gets its name from the black outline of a dragon’s head on the back wall, while Bloodwood Cave is from the roots of a bloodwood tree that grows near the cave entrance.
Shamrock Mine Site – 1.4 km return
This self-guided walk passes through eucalypt forest, with information signs along the way about the history of the Cania goldfields and the remains of the Shamrock mine site.
Just up the road from Cania Gorge is Lake Cania. Built on Three Moon Creek, it is a great spot for swimming, fishing, kayaking and boating, plus BBQ’s and shaded picnic tables. Make sure you grab your fishing permit here before you throw a line in!
Meet the local wildlife
Cania Gorge is home to a large range of wildlife! During our stay we encountered hundreds of very friendly wild birds, kangaroos, wallabies, bettongs, possums and lizards, both within the national park, at the caravan park and at Lake Cania.
The nearby town of Monto is closest town to Cania Gorge, serving the surrounding farm area. You can explore more the history of the local area with a visit to the Monto Historical Complex.
Visit the Mulgildie Bunyip
Approximately 16 kms south of Monto is the tiny town of Mulgildie, home to the sculpture of the Mulgildie Bunyip.
There are a plenty of 4WDing tracks at the nearby Kroombit Tops National Park, which is also home to the wreck of WWII Liberator bomber ‘Beautiful Betsy’.
Cania Gorge accommodation
Camping is not permitted within the National Park, however there are Cania Gorge camping sites located nearby at the 2 nearby caravan parks.
We stayed in a cabin at the Big4 Cania Gorge Holiday Park for our recent visit, and while the cabin was a little dated and basic, it was clean and comfortable. The park facilities and grounds were a hit with the whole family, with 3 swimming pools, a water park and large water slide, jumping pillows, daily wild bird feeding and plenty of space for them to run and play. We loved being greeted by the friendly kookaburras and parrots every morning on our verandah!
Cania Gorge National Park is located approximately 225kms west of Bundaberg and 500kms north-west of Brisbane. The road is suitable for 2WD vehicles.
We often get asked “how do you afford to travel?”, or told we are “so lucky” to be able to travel with our kids as often as we do! However it is not a case of simply being lucky. We aren’t super-rich with high-income jobs, we haven’t received a large inheritance, and I don’t receive offers of free trips as a blogger (I wish!). In fact, we are a single-income family of 5, living in a modest house in a typical Australian country town. We’ve worked hard over the years, and continue to do so, to ensure we can enjoy travelling as much as we can while we are fit and healthy.
So, how do we do it? Travelling isn’t about being rich, it’s about working out your priorities, and being smart with planning and budgeting. Some people like to spend their money on the latest gadget, clothing or shoes, we spend on travel. Here are all my hints and tips for saving money for travel.
We are very intentional with how we spend our money. We have a monthly budget that ensures we live well within our means, and a set amount is saved for travel in it’s own high-interest savings account. Before kids, we worked hard to pay down our mortgage, and only own one second-hand car which will stay with us for a few more years yet. We spend very little on toys for the kids, limit takeaway or meals out at the pub to once a month, and only buy clothing and any other luxuries as needed.
2. Save on the everyday stuff
Finding ways to save on our everyday household expenses allows us to save more towards travel. I shop the weekly catalogues, meal plan and write a shopping list from it, and have a small herb and vegetable garden growing to help save money on our weekly groceries. We limit our use of electricity and water as much as possible, and also shop around for cheaper quotes when yearly insurances are due. Don’t forget about your bank accounts either – we use ING for their fee-free transaction account and online savings account.
3. Find a side-hustle
As a stay-at-home parent, so I am constantly finding ways to hustle up a little extra money to boost the travel fund. From participating in online surveys and market research, mystery shopping, or cashing in empty cans and bottles for the 10 cent container refund, every cent adds up to extra holiday spending money! You can find all the ways I earn extra money here.
4. Travel off-peak
While it’s not always possible to travel outside of the school calendar with kids, travelling during off-peak times can work out a lot cheaper. If you can only travel during school holidays, look for mid-week specials for accommodation, or research what destinations are in their off-peak period at that time.
5. Look for specials and deals
Sign up to airline and travel websites to receive notifications of special deals and prices, such as Jetstar, Skyscanner, I Know The Pilot and Travelzoo. Use accommodation websites such as Booking.com to search for rooms with free cancellation, so if you find a better deal you can cancel and rebook. Deal sites like Scoopon, Cudo and the like often have deals on experiences and travel. We saved over $600 on our Disneyland Park-Hopper tickets when Expedia had a special available on them for our recent US trip.
6. Take advantage of cashbacks and reward programs
Before booking anything, check if the retailer is listed on Cashrewards. This is a cashback site with hundreds of companies, and allows you to receive a percentage of money spent back on each purchase, including airlines, travel insurance, rental car and accommodation providers.
Join free loyalty programs for hotels like IHG, Accor, and Hilton Honors to earn reward points for your stay. Hotels.com offers 1 night free for every 10 nights you book through their platform, while Expedia allows you to earn reward points for every travel booking made with them.
7. Make your credit card work for you
This one really only works if you are disciplined and in control of your money. We use credit cards to earn frequent flyer points to pay for flights. We have have 2 permanent cards we keep for earning points, one of which is the Qantas American Express Ultimate Card. These cards are used to pay for absolutely everything, from groceries to council rates, and in return we receive a large amount of frequent flyer points each month to use for travel. Sometimes we will take advantage of a big sign-up bonus on a new credit card, which is cancelled once we receive the sign-up points.
8. Save while you travel
It pays to be smart about how you use your spending money while travelling too. We buy snacks and groceries from the supermarket for picnics or to self-cater in hotel rooms as much as possible, so that we can enjoy a few special meals while on our trip. I often book hotels that include breakfast in the room rate, so we can fill up at the start of the day, and usually take some fruit and yoghurt with us for later. We also limit souvenirs and other shopping, opting for something small and cheap like a fridge magnet, pressed penny, bookmark or hat.
9. Experiences rather than gifts
For birthdays and Christmas, we ask family members to consider gifting a voucher for an experience rather than more toys. If the kids have an upcoming trip booked, they often receive money as well to save towards their spending money for the trip.
10. Enter competitions
No joke, you can win a holiday! I won a $10,000 travel voucher a few years ago, which we used to take the kids on a snow holiday. Over the years I’ve also won entry passes to museums and events, travel items, movie tickets, and even cash to put towards the holiday fund.
So in summary, for us to afford to travel often is a combination of hard work, smart saving strategies, and taking advantage of special deals and freebies. Our motto is that we can always make more money, but we can’t make more time. The memories we make on our family adventures is more precious than any amount of money in the world.
Here’s a few travel savings for you to take advantage of:
Airbnb – if you are new to Airbnb, sign up to receive $55 travel credit when you book your first trip of $110 or more. Sign up here.
Booking.com – receive $25 after your first stay is booked and completed through the site here.
Hotels.com – Receive $50 off your first booking when you sign up here. Plus you get the benefit of 1 night free after collecting 10 nights.
Uber – use the code vsp0ez when you download the app, and get a free ride.
Visiting the Bunya Mountains is like visiting another world, with ancient, towering trees, the vast array of wildlife, stunning scenery, and an untouched wilderness feel. With a variety of activities and accommodation options to suit all families, it is the perfect escape for a day trip, weekend away, or a week-long stay for families to recharge and reconnect. Here are 10 reasons why a visit to the Bunya Mountains should be on your list.
The Bunya Mountains are home to a diverse range of wildlife, including a large array of birds, wallabies (which you will see everywhere!), possums, bandicoots, bats, frogs and other reptiles, and more. In fact, the local parrots will literally fly in to greet you as soon as you step outside your door in the morning with your coffee in hand, while wallabies graze nearby. It is a bird watchers paradise. If you visit during the months of October and November, you’ll also get to experience the magic of fireflies at dusk. The whole family will love spotlighting at night to see all the nocturnal animals!
2. The amazing scenery
Perched some 700 metres above sea level, the views over the surrounding plains appear absolutely endless. Fisher’s Lookout is a great spot to have a picnic while soaking up the views, and it’s also the perfect place to watch the sun set.
3. Get back to nature
There are plenty of nature-based things to do in the Bunya Mountains. Experience the amazing morning mountain mist, you feel like you are standing right inside a cloud! Stand in the rainforest and just breathe. Walk through a giant strangler fig. Feel dwarfed by the massive Bunya pines. Sit on your verandah and simply soak up the views, and enjoy stargazing at the clear skies at night. Kick back, slow down and spend time with each other.
4. Ah, the serenity!
The peacefulness of the Bunya Mountains meant it was the perfect place to relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of every day life. I enjoyed my morning coffee on the verandah with the lullaby of bird song in the background, and at nights the cool, crisp mountain air was perfect for roasting marshmallows on the fire, and so conducive to a restful night’s sleep.
5. The delicious Bunya Nut
Stop by at Poppies on the Hill Cafe` to sample one of the many delicious meals that incorporate the Bunya Nut. These giant edible pinecones drop from the Bunya pines between January and March, and were a staple food source for local Indigenous tribes.
6. Take a horse and cart ride
Climb aboard a horse-pulled cart and learn more about the local area! There are a variety of tours available. Visit https://bmhdt.webs.com/ for more information.
7. Walks for all ages
The Bunya Mountains boast over 40 kilometres of walking tracks, ranging from 500 metres to over 10 kilometres, so there is something to suit from the youngest members of the family, to the older and more adventurous hikers.
8. The accommodation
Bunya Mountains accommodation options consist mainly of camping, and holiday homes.
Visit Cedarvale History Cottage to learn more about the timbercutters and their families that once lived in the area, and then check out the timber chutes at Russel Park.
10. The monthly markets
The Bunya Mountains Markets are held on the last Sunday of every month from 9am to 2pm, with a variety of stalls selling local and handmade products.
How to get to the Bunya Mountains:
The Bunya Mountains is located between Dalby and Kingaroy, approximately 90 minutes from Toowoomba, 3 hours from the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, and 4 hours from the Gold Coast. The closest airport is located at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport. The road up the mountain is narrow and windy (with signs stating a bend called Devil’s Elbow, you’ll understand why!), so take it steady and watch for oncoming traffic and wildlife.
Tips for visiting the Bunya Mountains:
– Bunya Mountain weather is often a lot cooler than surrounding towns due to it’s elevation, even in summer, so always pack some warm clothes.
– The General Store stocks a lot of food and household items if you forget to pack an item, however there are no petrol station, ATM or alcohol stores up on the mountain.
– Phone reception is quite patchy, so enjoy ‘switching off’ and spending time together as family.
The Pacific Coast Highway in California is one of the most scenic drives in the world. On our recent 3-week road trip, we drove part of the Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey to Los Angeles. This stunning drive did not disappoint, with sheer cliffs, rugged coastline, untouched forests, elephant seals laying about in the sun, and even a waterfall on a beach!
Here is a list of our 10 favourite stops on the Pacific Coast Highway from our road trip:
Home to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, we thought this coastal town was gorgeous! After visiting the aquarium, we enjoyed dinner with ocean views, and a stroll along Cannery Row at night.
With pine-lined beaches and European-inspired cottages, this pretty little seaside town is full of shops, restaurants and art galleries.
Located along Big Sur, Bixby Bridge is one of the tallest, single span concrete bridges in the world.
Another one of the beautiful sights along Big Sur is McWay Falls. This cliffside waterfall drops 80 feet onto the beach below.
We chose to pull off at Ragged Point for lunch, and are so glad we did! We enjoyed our meal among the beautifully lanscaped grounds, perched high up on the cliffs above the crashing waves.
Limekiln State Park
Named after the historic limekilns located in the park, here you’ll find stunning coastline views, towering redwood trees, and more waterfalls!
This hilltop castle was designed by architect Julia Morgan, and boasts a stunning pool, impressive art collection, and sprawling grounds with ocean views.
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery covers around 6 miles of coastline, with plenty of viewing points to watch these giants sleeping and sunning themselves on the sand.
After a full day of driving and sightseeing, we decided to stay the night in Pismo Beach at the Shorecliff Hotel. Here we finally saw wild sea otters playing in the water, and witnessed the thousands of Monarch butterflies that migrate to Pismo Beach every year at the Monarch Butterfly Grove.
Before we arrived back at the bright lights and bustle of Los Angeles, we enjoyed our last stop in Santa Barbara. The beautiful Stearns Wharf was the perfect place to stretch our legs and enjoy the sea air!
Yosemite National Park has been on my ‘Must Visit’ list for some years now, so I was thrilled when we got the chance to visit while on our 3 week road trip. With its stunning scenery, sheer granite cliffs, towering waterfalls and giant sequoias, it’s not surprising to see why Yosemite was one of the USA’s first national parks.
We arrived in Yosemite 2 days before Christmas, and while there were some crowds and a government shutdown at the time, it didn’t impact on our stay. We had great weather, with clear, crisp days and even light snow on Christmas Eve.
Get Your Hike On
Yosemite has a variety of walking trails and hikes, so there is something for every age and level of fitness. We chose to hike the Bridal Veil and Lower Yosemite Falls trails with our young kids for this trip. We spotted squirrels, got sprayed by freezing mist off waterfalls, and hunted for the biggest pine cones along the trails.
Go for a scenic drive
The entire drive in and out of the valley, and around the valley floor of Yosemite is incredible. The sheer, snow-dusted granite rocks dominate the valley, while waterfalls plunge over the rocky faces into icy pools below.
Explore Yosemite’s history
The kids loved exploring the collection of historical buildings at Pioneer Village, plus we practically had the place to ourselves! Learn more about the history of Yosemite National Park with the film ‘Spirit of Yosemite’ at the visitor centre, and then wander through the Yosemite Museum to experience more about the cultural history of the area.
Stand Amongst Giants
Mariposa Grove is located near the South entrance to Yosemite. These giant redwoods are massive, with some reaching 300 feet in height. We felt dwarfed by these ancients giants as we wondered the trail through them.
Where we stayed
There are a range of accommodation options both in and outside the park. We decided on renting an entire house in Yosemite West through VRBO for our 4 night stay, so we and our friends could stay together and celebrate Christmas. After spending 2 weeks in and out of hotels, it was fabulous to stretch out in all the space the house offered, including a full kitchen and laundry, pool table, fireplace and hot tub on the deck. The kids loved playing and tobogganing in the snow around the house.
The first stop on our 3 week West USA road trip was Disneyland! Our visit was just as magical as I’d imagined it would be. Here’s my 6 reasons to visit Disneyland, and why it really is the happiest place on Earth.
1. That ‘Disney Magic’
The Disney magic really is everywhere from the moment you step through the entry gate. We visited in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and the decorations throughout the park were spectacular! The atmosphere, roaming characters and attention to detail all combine to make it the happiest place on Earth. Plus, it’s totally acceptable to wear Mickey or Minnie Mouse ears all day long.
2. The Characters
There’s nothing like spotting your favourite Disney character as you wander through Disneyland, getting their autograph, or even dining with them. The characters are seriously amazing, with their extraordinary costumes and the incredible ability to stay in character during all their interactions with the public.
3. The Food
Giant churros. Dole Whip. Corn dogs. Massive turkey legs. Huge pretzels in the shape of Mickey Mouse. A visit to Disneyland is not complete without trying some of the delicious food and snacks! Try searching with #disneyfood on Instagram and you’ll see what I mean.
4. The Rides
There is a ride for everyone here, from the classic boat ride through It’s A Small World to the heady thrills of the Incredi-Coaster. Rides like Radiator Springs Racers are a show and ride all-in-one featuring your favourite Cars characters! My kids still talk about getting drenched on Splash Mountain, or having Mum accidentally take them on Guardians of the Galaxy because she didn’t realise it was a ‘drop’ thrill ride (sorry kids!).
5. The Parades, Shows and Fireworks
For our visit, the only running parade was the Christmas Fantasy Parade. Although I was disappointed to miss Paint the Night and Fantasmic, the Christmas parade made up for missing them! Seeing our favourite characters waltzing and parading past our seats, and then the fireworks lighting up the night sky afterwards was magnificent. Plus the live-action shows and productions during the day, like Frozen at the Hyperion, are amazing to watch.
6. It’s For Everyone!
Disneyland is perfect for all ages! Our visit reminded me that we are still young at heart, as even I was getting excited when spotting a princess strolling down the street. The memory of the pure joy and excitement on my kids faces will stick with me forever.
So that’s a wrap on my top 6 reasons to visit Disneyland. Have you visited the happiest place on Earth, and if so, what are your favourite parts?
On our recent West USA family road trip, taking the kids to the Grand Canyon was high on our bucket list. After extensive research and recommendations from other travellers, we chose to visit and stay at the South Rim. However due to distances and driving time, this meant we only had 2 nights and 1 full day to spend here. Despite the time constraints, we packed a lot of fun and action into a short amount of time while visiting this natural wonder.
The Grand Canyon has been carved by the Colorado River over 6 million years, with a depth of over a mile and roughly 277 miles long. The Grand Canyon National Park spans more than a million acres in Arizona. Photographs of this place just don’t capture the sheer size of the canyon. Our first peek over the rim truly was breathtaking!
So if you are short on time but still want to visit this natural wonder (just like us!), below is our one day itinerary for visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim with kids.
Check the times for sunrise with your hotel or on the National Park site here, and set your alarm! The Grand Canyon is a paradise for photography, and you won’t want to miss the sun rising over the rim and lighting up the walls of the canyon.
Take a (very) scenic drive to Desert View
After sunrise, grab some breakfast and then take a drive along the scenic rim towards Desert View. You’ll find plenty of places and overlooks to pull up for photos along the way! Once at Desert View, climb the watchtower and admire the views of the Colorado River winding its way along the valley floor. Grab some lunch or pack a picnic to enjoy here!
Walk the Trail of Time
Spend the afternoon walking the rim on the Trail of Time. On the way, you’ll learn about the Grand Canyon’s history, geology and be able to admire the magnificent views.
Get your hike on
If you’ve still got some time spare and the kids are up for it, hike the start of one of the easier trails and view the walls of the canyon from below. The Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail are great for this.
Sign up for a Junior Ranger Program
Like many US National Parks, the Grand Canyon offers a Junior Ranger program for the kids. Participate in a ranger-led program, take the pledge, complete the activities in the South Rim Junior Ranger activity book, and receive your badge.
Just like sunrise, watching the sun set over the canyon and lighting up the walls with pink and orange sunset hues is amazing.
Following on from my post on our incredible 3 week road trip through California, Nevada and Arizona, here I share my ‘to-do’ list and tips for travelling to the USA with kids. Getting everything organised before we left Australia really made our trip as smooth as possible, and assisted with planning our itinerary and budget. I’ve also included a few tips I use for getting cashbacks and frequent flyer points for the next holiday!
Flights to the USA
We flew Brisbane to Los Angeles and return with Qantas. Having saved up a heap of frequent flyer points through our credit card spending, we redeemed these for our seats. We still had to pay taxes on the booking, which came to approximately $2,000. For our family of 5 this was a significant saving, as paying full price in December was around $8,000. The service with Qantas was great, especially with the kids.
To save on driving time, we also booked an internal flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco later on once our itinerary was finalised. We again booked through Qantas frequent flyer points, flying on Alaska Air, for a grand total of US$18. We did have to pay extra for our checked bags (which is very common for internal US flights) of US$50 when checking in at the airport. The kids car seats were checked in free-of-charge. The short flight was smooth, and the service from Alaska Air staff perfect, so I’d happily fly with them again.
If saving and using frequent flyer points isn’t an option, shop around and compare prices with different airlines through websites like Skyscanner, and keep an eye out for airfare sales by signing up for flight alerts. Sometimes it can be cheaper to fly direct, and at other times with a stop on the way (like in New Zealand or Fiji). Being flexible with dates can also allow you to make significant savings.
Get your travel insurance sorted
Once I had my flights booked, the next thing on my list was travel insurance. I never travel without it, especially when I considered the high medical costs in the USA. We went with Cover-More for this trip, but there are many different companies out there. Do you research, read the PDS for policies, and choose the one that suits you and your family best.
Apply for your ESTA
Before you can travel to the USA from Australia, you’ll need to apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) to travel under the Visa waiver program. At the time of writing this, an ESTA costs US$14, every person in your travel party requires one, and you’ll need to apply at least 72-hours before departure to ensure it is processed in time. Make sure you have all your passports and travel information before starting the application process. Only ever apply for your ESTA through the official website here: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Travelling as a family means that accommodation costs can quickly add up, and for us it takes the next biggest chunk out of the budget after airfares. I found the USA to be more accommodating than Australia in regards to room sizes for families.
Booking.com – I used this site the most, as it was often cheaper than other sites, free cancellation was usually available on my bookings, and if I hopped onto the site via Cash Rewards, I also qualified for cashback on my bookings (so more spending money!).
Qantas Hotels – if I couldn’t find the hotel I wanted on Booking.com, then the next site I checked out was Qantas Hotels, which also includes the added perk of earning more frequent flyer points for my next holiday.
VRBO – a private vacation rental website, through which I booked an entire house in Yosemite for Christmas. It was nice to have a break from hotel rooms for a few nights!
Direct with the hotel – in 2 instances, I ended up booking direct with the hotel. Don’t be afraid to contact a hotel directly to see if they can beat the advertised online price.
Our gorgeous private rental in Yosemite
Luggage – how much to take?
Travelling with kids often means you have to pack A LOT of stuff. I prefer to travel light when navigating airports and hire cars, but didn’t want to worry about having to wash clothes every few days, plus we had winter weather to consider. We ended up taking only 2 large suitcases (one for me & C, the other for the kids), a backpack, my cross-body travel handbag and the kids’ car seats.
We each had 7 basic outfits packed (enough for a week). Each outfit consisted of underwear, socks, shirt and jeans/leggings. I then added items that could be worn a few times before being washed, so 2 jumpers/sweaters, 1 light jacket, 1 heavy jacket, plus a few singlets for layering, and a hat, beanie and gloves for the colder days, and 2 pairs of sneakers each. We wore one set of clothes and sneakers on the plane, packed a spare set for everyone in the backpack (because someone is always guaranteed to spill their drink/food/vomit on the flight) and the rest into our suitcases, using packing cubes to save space and keep everything organised.
If you really like to shop the outlets, or end up buying lots of souvenirs, you can easily, and cheaply, buy another suitcase or duffle bag from Walmart or Target while over there.
Also, if you want to lock your suitcases while in transit, use a TSA-approved lock.
Money, money, money!
I started watching the exchange rate pretty much as soon as I booked our flights, so that I could get an idea of what was a good rate.
We used a combination of cash, our American Express Qantas Ultimate Card (no international fees + earn frequent flyer points), and my Qantas Frequent Flyer card also doubles as a debit travel card, so I could pay with credit or withdraw cash as needed, using funds I’d loaded on it before the holiday. I had my ING Orange Everyday debit card as backup for cash if needed (no international fees either!).
Phones and data while in the USA
Unfortunately neither mine or C’s phone companies offered affordable international roaming plans and fees, so I ordered T-Mobile pre-paid sims from SimCorner before we left to cover our 3 week stay. We found the phone coverage to be spotty or non-existent in some of the more rural/remote parts of our trip (such as National Parks), so made sure we downloaded our driving route on Google Maps before we set off.
Food and eating out
When booking our accommodation, I tried to get rooms that included breakfast, and that contained at least a fridge and microwave, so that we could self-cater as much as possible to keep food costs down. We’d head to the local Walmart or Safeway store every second day to buy fresh food, snacks, beer and water (if the tap water wasn’t nice!), plus I bought a cold bag (a small esky would work too) for the days we were in the car.
On the occasions we did eat out, we’d aim for Denny’s, IHOP, Tony Roma’s and The Cheesecake Factory, as the meal portions were huge, filling and reasonably cheap. They were always happy to provide a take-away container for leftovers.
Food in Disneyland wasn’t cheap, but geez, it was so good when we did indulge! We’d fill up at breakfast, and take plenty of fruit and snacks in with us. Once the snacks we’d bought in with us ran out during the day, we’d try to buy cheaper options for meals or snacks to keep us going, like the giant churros, Dole Whip, corn dogs or popcorn. On two nights we simply were too tired after full days at Disneyland to head out for dinner or to shop for food, so we ordered in from UberEats and DoorDash, which was still cheaper than eating out.
When shopping in the US, the price you see on the shelf does not included taxes, unlike Australia. I kept getting confused at the checkout when paying for stuff, only to remember that tax is added on a the point of sale.
I found clothing and shoes to be of a similar price to Australia. If you want cheap brand-name items, head for the outlets. Otherwise, I loved Ross Stores for a bargain when needed.
We needed 2 hire cars for our trip (for the Anaheim to Vegas part, and then the San Francisco to LA part). I booked both cars needed through Rental Cars, as the prices were low, included all the insurances, and also had free cancellation on the bookings.
We didn’t have a hire car when we first arrived in both Anaheim and San Francisco, so used Uber (so cheap!) and public transport (even cheaper!) when required. We did book a 2 day hop on, hop off bus tour in San Francisco, however it was expensive and we didn’t get that much value out of it.
Car seats are a bit of a headache when travelling! The laws regarding car seats vary from state to state in the USA, and my kids are still in booster seats here in Australia. Hiring 3 seats with the rental cars was too expensive. I know other families had bought car seats once they arrived in the USA from Walmart or Target, but I had the problem of having no car seats for the kids to get to a store in the first place.
I had previously purchased folding booster seats for when we travelled for my older two kids, so I grabbed another one and took these with us. The are lightweight and easy to transport and fit into a bag at the airport. I managed to squeeze all 3 boosters into a car seat travel bag similar to this one. Plus having the shoulder straps so it could be carried as a backpack was a lifesaver in the airport, keeping our hands free for bags, kids and passports.
Book in advance
It can pay to book tours and activities in advance to avoid disappointment with tours selling out, like Alcatraz. Planning ahead with Disneyland is a must, especially for character dining. You can also take advantage of specials (we purchased our Disneyland tickets when they were on sale) and lock in early bird prices.
America The Beautiful Passes
If you are planning on visiting more than one of the many stunning National Parks while in the US, purchase an America The Beautiful Pass to save on entry fees. Find out more about the pass here: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm