Sanur.

We are here in Sanur for two weeks. Sanur is quite a relaxed placed. Supposedly a good middle ground between the hustle of Kuta and the quietness of Nusa Dua. Our hotel is the most westernised one we’ve stayed in so far, it’s quite a large complex with an number of swimming pools and on the beach, but it still keeps a Balinese edge to it as the rooms are in little 2 floor Balinese cottages rather than a big high rise building (which I think I read they aren’t allowed to build here). We’ve spent a good few days doing nothing, we’ve caught up on sleep and I’ve caught up on some work and emails. In theory we could have travelled around a bit more but to be honest Sanur is quite a good base and I hate living out the backpack so I’d rather unpack and settle in and then if we want to go elsewhere, like we are going to the Gili Islands I’ll just leave most of at stuff at the Sanur hotel and take a small rucksack for our nights at Gili. Yes a slight waste of money but for me it makes things easier. 
In Sanur the best hotels seem to be right on the beach. They all seem to be big brands; Fairmont, Mercure etc I’m sure away from the beachfront there is more traditional accommodations. But if you’re coming I’d definitely recommend being on the beach, it’s lovely. The sea is calmer on this side of the island compared to Seminyak so it’s safer for kids to swim in. There’s a whole host of water sports available and better for beginner surfer’s. If a keen surfer your best on the other side. So far Faye has given SUP boarding and SUP yoga a go. 
Sanur’s got loads of restaurants to try and so far we have mainly tried the ones up and down the beachfront and they’ve all been great. Next is to trek a little more inland to see what’s about. 
We hired bikes from the hotel and did an 8-mile round trip up and down the beachfront stopping for lunch and ice creams along the way. Came straight off the bikes and dived into the pool as even with the sea breeze it was boiling!

Beach Clubs, Seminyak 

We had our money’s worth on Thursday and spent the day and most of the evening at Potato Head in Seminyak. Before coming to Bali I spent some time researching the best beach clubs for children and pretty much all of them are child friendly, in fact almost everything here caters for children as well as adults. I picked a couple of the beach clubs based on Tripadvisor reviews, one of which was Potato Head. Finns, Cocoon and Double Six all seemed viable but we only had a feed days to fit a couple in. Beach clubs are a great day out for us because Faye loves to swim and they always have lovely pools and it’s a chance for Faye to make some friends for the day. She’s at an age and swimming ability where I can trust her to swim alone which gives me the chance to lay by the poolside!

Potato Head I think appeals to all ages and they were great with kids, sometimes these places can be a little pretentious but none we’ve visited so far have been. They’ve been super relaxed about everything. I just wouldn’t recommend if you want a quiet day as there is music playing throughout the day. Potato Head is free to get in but you need to get there early, doors open at 10am and unfortunately you cannot book in advance. You have to turn up prior to it opening (from 8.50am) to reserve a bed then come back at 10am to get in. We got there just before 9am, earlier than I intended but I had no idea how long the traffic would take (traffic is a nightmare in Seminyak). This did pay off though because we managed to get a lounger right next to the pool. In exchange for the lounger you have to spend a minimum of 500,000 IDR (£28). We didn’t spent much more than that all day on food and drinks all of which was lovely and served straight to the sun bed!! The quietest time was in the morning when the pool was virtually empty and the place got busier throughout the day as there are a couple of restaurants there which people come to. The sun came down around 6pm so we walked down to the steps onto the beach to watch it and it was dark soon after so Faye took one more night time swim, we played a game of Skip-Bo and made a swift exit as by this time there was a fair few lairy Australians parading round in ‘I Love Bali’ speedo’s! 

The following day we visited another recommended beach club called Ku De Ta similar set up to Potato but on a smaller scale and you can’t go down to the beach. We made our way over there in the afternoon and just had a late lunch in one of their restaurants overlooking the beach and took a dip in the pool. It’s advised to make reservations at both the Ku De Ta restaurants as they are busy every day of the week. If you want to start tabs at any of the beach clubs you need ID as well as the credit card. 

Both nights after leaving the beach clubs getting a taxi home was a little tricky. It seems a good place for unlicensed cabs to hover to rip off tourists. You are advised to only use Blue Bird taxis which are blue cars with a bird on top. But there are looky likey cars that look almost identical. Blue Birds are almost meant to always be on a meter starting at 7,000 IDR. I learnt the hard way and got in a fake one by mistake and my journey was almost 3 x as much! Shortly we are moving on to Ubud and I have prebooked a Blue Bird through their app which is just like Uber! Let’s hope it turns up!

What we’ve learnt.

89 Days

25 Hotels

Over 20 Places

1 Country

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I was slightly hesitant about going away on our three month trip to America, for many reasons such as work and money, but, mainly because I’m backpacking with my three year old! Would we be safe? How would Faye cope? How will I cope!?!

Once we got there, those worries soon went straight out the window. I remember the first day we set out exploring. We left our youth hostel in Boston late one afternoon and went for a walk around the neighbourhood and I instantly felt happy and calm. The houses and streets were beautiful and Faye was running up and down, laughing away.

Don’t underestimate the hard work that goes into organising a trip like this, it takes a long time, and foolishly I planned mine whilst completing my final year of my degree, which got very stressful, BUT, it paid off as things went pretty smoothly once we were away.

Yes we backpacked, but very organised backpacking, I had pre-booked all our accommodation and transport before we left the UK, this is partly because I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night if I didn’t know where I was going to stay from one week to the next, and also, i’m with a young child, I wanted suitable places for her. Ultimately I know I would not have enjoyed it as much as I did if I was spending time trying to find accommodation. Another bonus to it, is that its cheaper. If you can book hotels, train tickets, car hire at least a few months in advance you can get things quite a bit cheaper.

So we stayed in 25 hotels during the trip. I initially set my budget at £50 per night for accommodation and the average worked out at £51.25, so I thought that worked out pretty well. Obviously depending on the area you are in, a hotel can be £30 a night and others can be £100 plus, but, you’ve just got to keep on top of your budget the whole time. Its also nice to spend a few nights in an average hotel to save some money and then have one night in a nice one. Hotels on average in America are way, WAY, better than what you would receive in England. Most places we stayed, had two large double beds, fridge, microwave, hi speed Wi-Fi, satellite TV, kettles, free parking and breakfast – for £50. When researching my hotels I used hotels.com as you get one free night for every ten you book through them, but its also worth going direct to the hotel for a price. I used Tripadvisor for everything, but you have to take it with a pinch of salt, people on there seem to moan about anything and everything. My main priorities were, does the lock on the door work and is the bed clean, any extras I’m over the moon. We were very fortunate with ALL our hotel, everyone was more than adequate for us two and I always felt safe.

I was advised by STA travel agents when initially discussing my trip that I would need £1000 per person, per month, in America as everyday spending money for food and activities etc. I took half that amount of money as that’s all I had. We had £39 per day, around $68, dependant on the exchange rate. Obviously some places are twice as expensive as others, so any opportunity I could find to save cash I would. We didn’t go out for three meals everyday because I just couldn’t afford it. We made use of the fridge and microwave in our hotels and always tried to get the free breakfasts. I also always carried snacks for Faye so instead of stopping for a meal she could graze through until dinner time. I have come home with a small credit card bill, due to the clothes shopping during the end, but that was to be expected. However, on average I did manage to keep to my budget, the best way to do that I found was to spend as little as possible during the start of the trip to make sure you know you have enough to last the duration.

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The trip has done a lot for Faye’s social skills, before we came away she was not particularly confident doing physical tasks, and wasn’t keen on having conversations with new people, which is fine as she’s only three, but since being away she’s thrown herself into pretty much all the activities, she’s much more confident and she’ll even order her own food in a restaurant! When you ask her about the trip, she will mainly tell you about Disney, but she has really enjoyed all the other places. Things like the US Mint in Philadelphia, I found slightly dull looking at coin after coin, but Faye loved it! She found it really interesting looking at the factory and identifying what different coins were. Giving her her own digital camera was one of the best things to keep her entertained, she loves to take photos and did so throughout the whole trip. People passing by would often smile when they saw Faye taking pictures of me, and would offer to take a photo, but Faye (being a very independent child) would say ‘no thank you, I’m good at taking pictures’.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not always easy being in each others pockets for three months, when we are at home in England, I work and Faye has Preschool so we have time apart, which I believe everyone needs, so there was numerous times I could of strangled her, and I’m sure she could me. It doesn’t help that when Faye’s asleep she still doesn’t stop talking or fidgeting! There’s not much that can be done about it really, just go the bathroom, count to ten and think at least I’m not at work!

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Neither of us wanted to return home, we could of easily stayed away for another few months, but unfortunately the VISA and the money ran out. In the airport on the way home we were reading travel books for where we would like to go next. We like Mexico, Thailand and central America – to be honest, I’ll go anywhere! Faye starts primary school in September 2014 which will be quite an obstacle but I won’t let it stop me. I am aware taking children out of school is very difficult these days, however the knowledge Faye has developed on this trip for her age has been immense and its never ending. She’s practiced her hand writing when sending postcards, she’s been identifying all her numbers when finding hotel rooms and using elevators. She can now identify different flags and countries. She’s learnt about pounds and dollars as well as different cultures and some of the history behind the United States of America. She’s been educated on looking after the environment and pollution of the sea. She has seen a whole variety of wildlife in their natural habitats. She’s used so many modes of transport and tried different foods. The best thing is, that I am not having to teach her these things, we are learning them together and enjoying it at the same time. We are both incredibly fortunate to have been on this adventure.

So the plan now is to work hard, save up and play the lottery to fund the next trip!

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Santa Barbara.

The move to Santa Barbara is about an hour and a half from the LA area, give or take a little due to traffic.

Here we are staying in the Days Inn on State Street. We arrived at the hotel two hours before check in and they had no problem letting us into the room early. Nice large room with fridge, air con and wifi. Free parking. Swimming pool was large and open well into the evening and free continental breakfast 6am-10.30am. State Street is 7 miles long and goes all the way down to the ocean leading onto Stearns Wharf. State Street has some mixed reviews on Tripadvisor so I was a little apprehensive. So we are just under two miles back from the ocean on State Street. I rather quite liked State Street, our hotel is at a quieter bit, but half a mile away are shops and restaurants and not remotely tacky like some parts of LA were. The room itself was $200, one of the most expensive rooms of my trip, but this is an expensive area and also a Saturday night. What I found slightly tricky here was finding a hotel that will let you stop over for one night at a weekend. Many hotels here require a minimum two night stay at weekends during the summer.

As soon as we threw our bags into the room we came straight out an headed down to Stearns Wharf. Took the car as I wasn’t sure of the distance, parking is every couple of blocks on either side of the road down State Street. $12 a day or $2 an hour – I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before but pay machines in car parks here in America are SO SLOW! From Stearns Wharf we hopped on the Santa Barbara Trolley Tour, $19 for adults, children go free, lasts around 90 minutes and gives a good coverage of the city. You can hop on and off throughout the day. As we are only in Santa Barbara overnight a short tour was the best way for us to see as much as possible. After we had a wander around Stearns Wharf, which can be a little chilly with the breeze, before heading back to our hotel.

Los Angeles.

5 nights, 6 days.

Hotel –
Jerry’s Motel, Downtown LA, Lucas Av & 3rd St. Clean, affordable, has all you need. Free car park space. Get a welcome gift with some snacks and drinks in. In your room they provide a folder with all the information you need for the area and lots of leaflets to look through. Rated highly on trip advisor which is how I found it. $90/£58 per night.
http://www.jerrysmotel.com/m/hotel-sitemap.html

Activities –
Firstly i’ll say LA is big and it is busy. You need a car, it’s spread out so its easier/cheaper if you can drive yourself about, BUT, there can be a lot of traffic at any time of day, so make sure you allow plenty of time for journeys, even if its only a couple of miles. Try also to look your journey up before leaving as my sat nav system always wanted to take us I the freeway which is where the traffic was worst.

We started our time here with a bus tour. I like to do this in each area to get a feel for the place and try to figure out where things are. It’s also useful for learning bits and pieces about the places. If you go on tripadvisor they rank tours based on customer satisfaction for companies all over the world. This is how we found ‘A Day in LA’ on a rastabus.
http://www.adayinlatours.com/

The tour was $79 for adults and $69 for children. The buses are small minivans and you are provided with fruit and water. Our tour guide was Brad, real friendly, funny and knowledgable. I took the stroller and he put it in the front every time we were on the bus.

This is what the tour covers;
Start the day in Malibu with a drive to the pier and surfrider beach. Hop off for half an hour.
Drive up Sunset Blvd. through Brentwood, Bel Air and Beverly Hills and check out a few of the stars’ homes
Then we went to Rodeo Drive, the super expensive famous shopping street. Hop off for half an hour.
Then onto lunch at the Farmers Market at the Grove. Off bus for an hour and a half.
Drive up to Griffith Park for photos of the Hollywood sign and views of the downtown L.A. skyline. Hop off for half hour.
Take a walk down the Hollywood Walk of Fame and see the beautiful Chinese Theatre, where the celebrity hand and foot prints are and Dolby Theatre (aka Kodak Theatre) where the Oscars are held! Off bus for half hour.
Check out the historic Whiskey, Viper Room and Roxy music clubs.
Back to Santa Monica for sunset.

So it stops five times but your driver comes with you which is nice as you don’t have to worry about waiting for the next bus. Things like Rodeo Drive and the Walk of Fame would be a pain to park at as they are busy and expensive so hopping off on the tour was perfect for us. Although half an hour sounds short, down Rodeo Drive you need appointments to go in most shops and the Walk of Fame is very busy and quite tacky so get a few snaps and go!

We brought cheap last minute tickets for a Dodgers Baseball game. $25 a ticket. Always a good evening out. Can be long but you are free to leave as and when you want to. Car parking $10. Hot ‘Dodger’ dogs $5. Can also take snacks in.

We also spent one evening at the Hollywood Bowl. Brought tickets that night for $11 each! You can also get ones for $2 but they were sold out. Take a picnic with you or eat there. Car parking is $15. But once your in you cannot leave until the show is done. We saw the LA Philharmonic orchestra. Not mine or Faye’s first choice of music, but we wanted to experience the venue – an outdoor amphitheatre holding well over 20,000 people. Can seethe Hollywood sign from your seats. You can still see in a $2 seat, not like in England if you pay for a cheap seat you will be sat behind a pillar and won’t see a thing. They do all sorts of shows. Ours lasted two hours with a 15 minute interval. The only thing to watch with children is that when the music is on, absolutely no talking is allowed, it is silent in the audience. I had read this beforehand and packed plenty of snacks and colouring books to keep Faye occupied, but to my surprise she actually quite enjoyed it and spent the whole second half dancing along to the classical music, in silence of course! Can get a bit chilly over there so pack a jumper and a blanket.

Beaches –
So the tour took us to Malibu and Santa Monica, both nice beaches, however I also wanted to check out Venice Beach/Muscle Beach – well I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s tacky, touristy and dirty. Saw cops arresting people on the beach. Lots of homeless people begging for money as well. On the upside the children’s playground was nice and Faye met lots of friends and the large skate park is good to go and watch for half an hour. I’d recommend Will Rodgers Beach it is one up from Santa Monica Beach, $8 to park there a day and its nice and quiet. It’s has no shops or anything so pack a picnic. Our tour guide told us this beach is used a lot for movies because its so quiet. The Santa Monica Beach is host to the Annenberg Community Beach House, which is a beach house that was donated by the Annenberg family to the City for public use. This has a pool and changing rooms, children’s play area and a cafe as well as a guest house which presents the history of the building. Nice stop off. One afternoon we also used one of the City’s public swimming pools, there is loads open in the summer, around $2 for an adult, under 17s swim free. List of all pools can be found on LA City Councils website.

Favourite spots –
Griffith Park for its views – big difference from hustle and bustle of the city.
Santa Monica – Much nicer beach and shopping area
Hollywood Bowl

Advise for LA first timers –
Start with a tour of some sort, this place is HUGE and I felt I was going round in circles most of the time.
Buy a detailed map with all road names on, cannot always rely on the sat nav.
Allow plenty of time to get to places.
Keep plenty of drinks and snacks with you at all times when travelling with children here.

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Long Beach.

We decided to go South and spend the afternoon at Long Beach before heading to our next stop, Los Angeles.

Here we parked up at the Shoreline Village for a wander around. The Queen Mary is docked here and there are lots of restaurants and small shops around, you can also rent bicycles to explore.

Long Beach, like Laguna Beach, has a free shuttle bus to get you out and about if you don’t want to drive.

We grabbed a snack in the Yard House right by the marina. This has a wide variety of foods, meals and snacks. Really child friendly and good varied children’s menu. They gave Faye a little booklet to keep her entertained. Food was really good and reasonably priced.

After this we went down to the beach. The sand seems whiter here and the sea slightly warmer. As we were walking along the beach we noticed a man making giant bubbles. He had made a bubble blower with two sticks and some rope and was releasing these huge bubbles along the beach. Faye had a blast running through the bubbles for half an hour.

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Cape Cod – Who Knew Ice Cream Came in so Many Flavours!

We have been fortunate enough to spend the last three days in Cape Cod!

When planning mine and Faye’s trip to America my Mum contacted a close friend of hers from high school, Vickie, who lives in the Boston area. Vickie kindly offered to look after us for a few days and show us the sights of Cape Cod. Her main house is in a place called Shrewsbury which is around 45 minutes west of Boston which we came to visit first as her son had his senior prom on Saturday night. We then got up on Sunday morning and drove to her other house in Cape Cod which is just short of two hours.

Unfortunately whilst at the Cape the weather wasn’t the best, however, as we are from England we are somewhat used to wind and rain so we found the mild temperatures quite nice! Vickie’s house is part of a beach association and so they have a private beach, Faye was the only one on the beach to brave the waters and she seemed to enjoy it! Vickie’s husband Mark did some fantastic cooking for us whilst we were there and it was nice to have home cooked comfort food!

Each night we went out for ice cream which was a real treat. In England the choice is mainly Vanilla, Chocolate or Strawberry, well over here there were hundreds! SO far I’ve sampled, Cake Batter, Chocolate Chip Cookie and Milky Way. You ALSO get a choice of cone or bowl and the cones come in all sorts of flavour. I would advise to buy a ‘small’ as a small is actually huge so i imagine a large is gigantic! I’m glad we were with friends as Vickie had to explain all this to me!

Going to Cape Cod is slightly off the beaten track with backpacking around the USA and we were very lucky to have friends that could take us. I would recommend it to anyone, the area and the people were fantastic.

Faye has unfortunately developed a cold since we’ve been away and luckily we had plenty of Calpol but i forgot to bring cough medicine so i popped to the Chemist to buy some so i would recommend parents to bring medicine as it is always handy.Cape Cod

Cape Cod

Tomorrow morning we are getting the Amtrak to New York so we are turning in early tonight to prepare.