Karen, also known as Travel Mad Mum, is a mum of two, nurse and family travel blogger who ditched the conventional life of a working mum to travel the world with her family. We chatted to Karen about her favourite travel memories and get her advice on how to travel while being kinder to the planet.
Hi Karen! Please tell us a little about yourself…
My name is Karen and I have two children aged 3 and 6, Esmé and Quinn! We are a family that live for the outdoors and exploring. I am a nurse in a central London hospital, I home educate my daughter by choice and we travelled extensively pre-Covid. We now live in an RV full time awaiting future adventures when the pandemic passes. Our plan was to drive by land, as far as possible, to NZ before shipping our vehicle the rest of the way.
How are you finding living in a camper van currently?
We love living in our RV! It’s a minimalist lifestyle but we truly do love it. Despite living in a small space we don’t feel cramped. We have lots of clever storage solutions. It definitely pushes us outside to explore more so we are all about dressing right whatever the weather to get out and explore.
How do you keep your little ones entertained when the weather doesn’t allow you to get outside? Does your family have any favourite indoor activities you enjoy doing together?
We always get outside no matter the weather. Although our little one doesn’t cope with the cold as well as our girl. We usually pop him in the buggy with a hot water bottle to keep him content.
When we are inside, we have a huge cabinet full of all sorts of arts and craft materials in our dashboard. We spent weeks building the drawers to hold all sorts of bits and pieces. They tend to love making things, they love building models, similar to Lego but also quite different. We have an audio box that the kids listen to as well with stories and music.
Our daughter sometimes does kids online yoga. And of course we just watch a lot of Netflix like everyone else at the moment. I hate how much time they are spending on screens but I think all parents feel the same about this in the current situation.
From the National Trust’s ’50 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU’RE 11 ¾’ activities, which have Esmé and Quinn enjoyed trying the most?
They absolutely love building dens, as we live in a campsite with lots of trees they pretty much love doing this on a daily basis.
Have the travel restrictions with COVID-19 changed your opinion or approach to travel?
Absolutely, for now it’s time to lie low and protect our family and others. I am hopeful we can pick back up on our plans in the not too distant future.
How do you juggle your career, your family and world travel?
As a nurse I get great annual leave, 8 weeks a year! On top of that my shifts are 12.5hrs so they are condensed into fewer days. This has allowed us to travel often in the past.
What is your most memorable and least favourite travel experiences with children?
My favourite travel experience with my kids had been driving along the west coast of the US in a tiny camper. It had a tent on the roof where we slept. We stayed in places like Yosemite National park and on some beaches along the way. This was part of a one year trip whilst I was on maternity leave. We travelled from Canada to Argentina by road with a 3 year old and a newborn. It was the best trip of our life, we do love long travel in the form of a gap year.
My least favourite trip with kids was Langkawi island in Malaysia. Usually when we travel we have great experiences with the children but we found this island particularly difficult with little ones.
What destinations are on the bucket list for post-COVID travels?
We just want to get back to New Zealand where my husband is from but we hope to do Central Asia before we go there.
Do you have a favourite country you’ve been to? What made it your favourite?
Canada and Indonesia. I love the lakes and the mountains in Canada and I love the ease of life in Indonesia. The beaches are incredible!
Are there any items you can’t travel without?
Appropriate clothes for big hikes, snacks to get the kids through and of course a camera!
From the Frugi x National Trust Collection, what are your favourite styles?
Our favourite print is definitely the puffins. The blue colour is so symbolic of the ocean and it stands out beautifully. Within seconds of being near the lakes the other day, other mums were commenting about how stylish the kids looked and I have to admit they looked so stinking cute walking around with matching outfits! The puffins are just adorable!
Have you ever encountered serious danger when travelling with your family?
Yes we encountered bears face to face in Canada. We went for an early morning hike as we were jet lagged. We actually hiked with my friend that lived nearby. I kept saying I have a feeling we are going to see bears, she assured me we wouldn’t since she had lived in the area for so long and never had. She was so surprised when we saw baby grizzly bears playing in a paddock next to us mid hike. I had a newborn in a baby carrier and a 3 year old holding my hand. We got away from that track as quick as possible knowing mummy grizzly couldn’t be far. Soon after we were met with a black bear who stood up from the grass. We made a dash back to the car.
What advice would you give to other parents who want to travel with kids?
Go for it! I think the cultural experiences are great for kids to see a different world outside of their norm. It makes them adventurous, outgoing and sociable, great qualities to have for self-confidence as an adult.
Did you travel often before you had a family?
Yeah, all of the time so I think that’s why it was so hard for me to banish the idea of travelling completely once I had kids.
What’s the best thing about travelling with your kids?
Getting away from the day to day routine and putting ourselves out of our comfort zone to see new things and create awesome memories for our children.
Do you have any advice for parents who want to be eco-friendly and mindful of the planet when travelling with kids?
Yes, we certainly have been taking this more into consideration recently. We wanted to reduce our air miles so this is one of the reasons we bought an RV decked out with solar panels to reduce our footprint but still be able to travel and explore comfortably.
We are also vegans which massively reduces our footprint and although that’s not a travel specific tip it contributes to protecting the planet.
So in theory live day to day as best you can to off-set your print, choose eco clothing as well as diet considerations. Also, travel using modes that are better for the planet.
Let’s play “Desert Island Discs”… Who would you like to be washed ashore with most? Which 3 books and/or songs would you have to take with you? And what would your chosen luxury item be and why?
A vegan chef with Michelin stars- Kirk Harworth. Bear Grills as I'd love to know how to survive and push myself! And finally someone super entertaining with good chat... I guess I give that card to my husband!
In terms of books or music I would have to say music. It’s so uplifting! Recent months have been tough as a nurse and music always brightens my day on the way to work and puts me in the right frame of mind to deal with things. As long as the music has a bit of beat that would work for me! I loved festivals and raves back in my single days. My luxury item would be scuba diving gear.