We love to eat almost as much as we love to travel. When we are not on the road, we like to explore different cuisines at home. Did I mention we are also book junkies? That love of books extends to cookbooks. Here is our curated family-friendly selection of the best cookbooks from 2017 from cuisines around the world including American, Spanish, Japanese cookbooks. We have also ventured further afield with African cookbooks with Ghaniaian food recipes and other West African dishes. They make great gifts for people who love to cook even if the cooking enthusiastic is yourself!
These three cookbooks are great gift ideas for chefs who like food from the Americas. The variety is amazing – even in the USA! You can see how immigration to these countries shaped local tastebuds and worked with locally produced ingredients.
America The Cookbook
America The Cookbook with its 800 recipes is a tome, no two ways about it. I tend to find large regional cookbooks overwhelming but I was drawn to this American cookbook because it had a lot of recipes I recognised from my childhood. I hit full nesting mode when I’m cooking comfort foods in my gorgeous new kitchen, and my dog sniffing around my feet hoping for the occasional scrap.
It also reminded me of a modernised version of my beloved Fannie Farmer cookbook (the first cookbook I ever owned when I lived on my own). Even though updated in 1996, the Fannie Farmer cookbook is a bit old-fashioned and not very adventurous. Around since 1896, the Fannie Farmer cookbook is a stalwart for traditional recipes – the Pecan Pie I make from it every Thanksgiving is a firm friends and family favourite.
I love that American the Cookbook goes into immigrant favourites that are part of the American culinary scene – like Polish pierogies and Kielbasa. (In the suburbs of New York, we lived near a lot of Polish neighbors). In fact, my mother has a dish where she wraps Kielbasa in Indian roti bread for my kids’ favourite dinner- Indian pig in a blanket.
An American cookbook updated for the new millenium, America The Cookbook has generous tributes to the immigrant populations of each of the 50 states as well as old favourites like Meatloaf. For example, I want to try Sudanese Greens cooked with Peanut Butter in the section under Nebraska because that state is home to a large refugee community from Sudan.
America the Cookbook has both recipes and essays from each state in the USA
The Road to Mexico
The Road to Mexico by Rick Stein traces British chef and restaurateur Stein’s journey from San Francisco to Tulum. But San Francisco is not in Mexico I hear you say. Well, it’s the road TO Mexico right?
He’s retracing a road trip he did in 1968. This trip takes in everything from the farmer’s markets of California to the colourful bustle of Mexican street markets. You can catch the accompanying TV series from the BBC as well.
The Road to Mexico is not for Mexican food purists (obviously). It’s an exploration of the food of California and Mexico with a curated collection of recipes punctuated with colorful great photos.
Some of the recipes that jumped out at me are the Chicken Noodle Soup with Yellow Bean Sauce inspired by Stein’s visit to a San Francisco restaurant. You also have the original recipe for a Caesar Salad from a hotel in Tijuana, Mexico where the dish was created. Ceasar Cardini was an Italian immigrant to San Diego who also worked in a Tijuana hotel where he could avoid the restrictions of Prohibition in the USA. Into the mix, Stein throws in a good recipe for Green Chicken Pozole, one of the oldest dishes in Mexico with a recipe that existed before prehispanic times.
Andina: The Heart of Peruvian Food by Martin Morales is a Peruvian cookbook by famed London chef restaurateur Martin Morales who has several Peruvian restaurants in London. Andina and Ceviche are in trendy Shoreditch and another Ceviche and Casita Andina in SoHo. Peruvian food is trendy in London right now and we’ve been to several including one-Michelin starred Lima.
Andina has a beautiful cover and photography throughout the book. I like that this Peruvian cookbook is devoted to the recipes of the “Andina” which means a woman from the Andes like Morales’ grandmother. You get both traditional recipes as well as new ones created by Morales and his restaurant teams.
The recipes in this Peruvian cookbook could be hit or miss with my family but probably will appeal to a more trendy dinner party crowd with a more adventurous palate. For example, I would be perfectly happy serving the Quinoa Burgers or Prawn Chowder dishes.
On the other hand, the beloved traditional Andean dish of Sheep/Cow Testicle Salad would be one way to make my near-Vegetarian daughter cry at the dinner table. I noted that trotters make an appearance, a cheap cut of meat, that is part of the farm-to-table, eat everything, nothing wasted trend.
Cookbooks for European Cuisine
Carrying on with the theme of immigration and international influences, these 8 European cuisine cookbooks show how traditional food has evolved to suit modern palates.
I have a couple of dyed-in-the-woold meat-eaters in my family but we are slowly transitioning to more vegetarian eating. This vegetarian cookbook features simple recipes like Lentil and Aubergine Pasta, Honey and Mushroom Quinoa, Avocado Soup and Mushroom Stuffed Peppers.
The ingredients can be a bit repetitive but these recipes are a good way to mix healthier options into your diet as a snack, starter or side dish. After all, if you aren’t entirely sure your family will go for something new, it’s best to not spend too much time creating the dish!
For example, in order to create the numerous dishes that you get in a British Indian restaurant, the chefs would have a base sauce. They could change the base as needed in order to create a specific dish. You could have 10+ types of curries (tikka masala, bhuna, karahi, madras etc) and each of these could come in variations of vegetable, chicken, meat, or seafood. So that’s a whole lot of dishes made from one tiny kitchen!
In addition, some dishes were created specifically for the British market including Chicken Tikka Masala and all of the Balti dishes which were invented in Birmingham. Balti dishes are based on a Pakistani one-pot cooking used to serve meals to large groups of people. I had never heard of Balti before I moved to Britain and now I know why!
Indian chicken biryana in balti dish with naan and samosa
This curry recipe book is very family-friendly because you can adjust the spices to suit your family. At the beginning, Tombs details the base sauce – helpfully in different quantities in case you are cooking for a family meal or a small crowd. The recipes are all the standard ones you would expect to see in a British Indian restaurant including starters, mains (curries), and side dishes.
By the way if you want traditional Indian food, I love Curry Easy by Madhur Jaffrey which came out in 2010. And, of course, this one sauce for a zillion different adapted recipes is not the way high-end British Indian restaurantshigh-end British Indian restaurants cook either – this type of curry satisfies the hankering for the takeaway Indian food market.
Fearnley-Whittingstall’s first vegetarian book, River Cottage Veg Every Day from 2011is the UK’s best selling vegetarian cookbook. Not surprising because Veg Every Day has delicious accessible recipes such as Eggplant Parmigiana, Macaroni Peas with Parmesan and Honey Roasted Cherry Tomatoes. Let’s face it, anything with cheese added (or honey) is a winner.
Along with The Moosewood Cookbook, River Cottage Veg Every Day is my go-to vegetarian cookbook. Both books, however, are pretty old in the cookbook world and I figured River Cottage Much More Veg would have new, cool recipes. In Much More Veg, Fearnley-Whittingstall is trying to recreate the magic of his first book but with a lot less cheese (boo!).
Anyway, this cookbook may be a step too far in our household but useful if you have any vegan friends coming to dinner. Otherwise I would stick to Deliciously Ella personally.
New French Table
New French Table by Emily and Giselle Roux is a French cookbook by a mother-daughter team behind the famed Roux restaurants owned by their husband (and father) Michael Roux Jr. Did you know that French family cooking is actually approachable? I didn’t either.
The recipes look approachable AND family-friendly. Many of the recipes also don’t seem particularly French (or what I think of as French). For example, this French cookbook has recipes for Meatloaf, Thai Noodle Salad With Seared Beef and Peanuts and Minestrone soup. There are also recipes for more traditional French stuff like Honey Madelines and Lamb Chops with Garlic and Mint Sauce.
So maybe the New French Table is actually international? Just a thought.
Lagom: The Swedish Art of Eating Harmoniously by Steffi Knowles Dellner is a beautiful book with a Scandinavian aesthetic sensibility. Is it wrong that I just want this Scandinavan cookbook to feature in my Instagram flatly?? Dellner is a Swedish food blogger/stylist living in London. Needless to say everything is presented beautifully.
Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes, traditional creamy gravy, and lingonberry
There is a mix of traditional recipes as well as more creative options. Lagom after all is loosely translated as “balance” or “just right”. According to the New Yorker, Lagom comes from a Viking phrase for community drinking – you took a sip of mead and passed it around so that everyone got some to drink.
You can try before you buy because some of Dellner’s recipes are online – Breakfast Rolls with Sour Cherry and Vanilla Jam, Wholemeal Scone Muffins with Grapefruit and Pink Pepper Curd, Autumn Granola with Hazelnuts, Rye, Spelt and Dates.
I feel healthy just typing that sentence. Healthy but not full. Maybe that’s why her blog is called Always So Hungry?
Don’t worry Dellner does have Scandinavian recipes that are not breakfast related including that old favourite introduced to the world by Ikea, Swedish meatballs.
A step up from the basic tapas dishes that our Spanish au pair used to make for us (which we loved), this Spanish cookbook has easyish recipes with a slight twist. I’m not sure they are family-friendly enough for my kids but they would be great for a dinner party. These recipes hit the holy grail of dinner party cooking – interesting, delicious and easy to make.
The recipes include Stuffed Mussels, Braised Iberian Pork Ribs and Marinated Grilled Quail with Honey. Interesting enough to serve to friends but not so hard that you are cursing yourself for having picked too hard a recipe to cook before they show up.
Did I mention that trotters make an appearance? Of course, they do.
Doesn’t the book title sound like he cooks different food for people he doesn’t love?Well its pretty apparent from this book that Locatelli brings out all the stops for the people he loves. He cooks at home a lot because his daughter has a lot of food allergies.
This book has a lot of dense text with some recipes which I found daunting. Some of the more challenging recipes were Crepelle with Sausage Radicchio and Ricotta and Roast Pigeon with Lentils and Radicchio. Maybe it was the addition of radicchio?
For those of us who like the the Jamie Oliver school of easy accessible cooking, I love that Locatelli does simple dishes four ways. For example, he has four ways to use a risotto base or four ways to make a spaghetti dish. These easy dishes are good but interesting family dinners as well as other ones like Beef Stew with Peas and Potatoes.
In the middle ground, you have dishes you can impress friends with like Bourbonnera Sur Tout (a French influenced dish from Naples when the French/Spanish Bourbon kings ruled Naples and Sicily in the 18th and 18th centuries).
You can check out some of his recipes from Made At Home available online – Leg of Lamb with Peppers and Mint, Green Bean Salad with Roasted Red Onions, Chilled Tomato Soup with Whipped Ricotta, Baked Whole Fish and Carrot Cake.
Lisboeta: Recipes from Portugal’s City of Light by Nuno Mendes is a Portuguese cookbook focussing on the food of its newly-trendy capitol, Lisbon. Mendes is a Lisbon-born chef who has travelled the world working with some well-known experimental chefs before settling in London in 2006. As a chef, Mendes was awarded a Michelin star at his restaurant Viajares in London’s East End. He’s now the chef at trendy Chiltern Firehouse which any given night has paparazzi photos of celebrities stumbling out of it.
In addition to the recipes in Lisboeta, Mendez talks about his favourite places in Lisbon if you do visit the city. Although the recipes in this Portuguese cookbook is illustrated, I wish there were more photos.
Portuguese egg custard tarts
As you would expect there are quite a few salt cod recipes (e.g., Salt Cod Cakes, Salt Cod Fritters, Baked Salt Cod with Caramelised Onions and Potatoes). There are also lots of non-cod options though. My favourites are Tomato and Strawberry Salad and Black-Eyed Beans, Red Pepper and Apple Salad because I love salads that mix in an element of fruit.
Cookbooks for Middle Eastern and African Food
Ready to move beyond the usual hummus and pita bread? These five cookbooks from the Middle East and Africa will introduce your palate to new and different tastes.
Feasts: Middle Eastern Food to Savour & Shareis the third cookbook by Sabrina Ghayour on Middle Eastern food. Ghayour was born in Iran but travels to Asia frequently to find new flavour inspirations. Her Middle Easter cookbook has traditional recipes but with a twist.
I would say these Middle Eastern recipes were all kid-friendly. I learned from my Egyptian friend that you can never just have a couple of dishes on a Middle Eastern table. You need to provide choice and lots of it.
As such, these Middle Eastern recipes are accessible creating simple but flavourful dishes. You can’t make a zillion dishes if they are all complicated!! My favourite recipes included Roasted Cod Loins, Quinoa Patties, Marinated Beef Kebabs and Orzo and Tomato Salad.
I love anything by Israeli-British chef and restaurateur Yottam Ottolenghi and his new cookbook on desserts, Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi, is no exception. We are regulars at the Islington location of his restaurant, Ottolenghi. Many of these recipes though are new and not from his restaurant (despite the cookbook’s title).
This cookbook has over 100 recipes to delight your sweet tooth from tarts, biscuits, cakes to ice cream. Some of my favourites include Middle Eastern Millionaire’s Shortbread, and Orange and Honey Madelines. I love the section on mini-cakes (no, not cupcakes) – little cakes like the Strawberry and Vanilla Minicakes.
There is a whole section on tagine in Orange Blossom & Honey but there’s also a lot of other recipes, such as for example Chicken and Date Pilaf and Royal Lamb (a lamb stew). These recipes are interesting and yet are not too far off the beaten path for a family meal.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
The Ghanian food recipes in Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen by Zoe Adjonyoh is inspired by her Ghanian-Irish background and her restaurant in the Brixton area of London.
I’ve not been to the Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen restaurant but my interest in Ghanian food recipes was sparked by a small Ghanian restaurant located conveniently next door to my gym. I sometimes go to the gym just so I can justify passing by the Ghanian restaurant. Sad I know. My favourite dish is the chicken and peanut stew which I love but is so spicy it brings a tear to my eye.
This African cookbook of Ghanian food recipes has been remixed for the modern kitchen so that it’s easy to make using supermarket ingredients. Many of the recipes are traditional but some of them are Zoe’s own creations.
I loved the cover for the cookbook which is a pretty orange and green. Starting with a guide to ingredients and regional food variations, this African cookbook is also user friendly. There is even a section on commonly used spice rubs that you can make ahead of time.
As for the recipes, be forewarned there is a whole lot of yam used. I liked the recipes such as Avocado, Papaya and Ginger Salad, Red Snapper and Yam Croquettes, Corned Beef Stew and Smoked Fish Stew. The latter used 3 (?!?) scotch bonnet chillies so it’s definitely on the spicy side. We got a taste of scotch bonnet in Jamaica and I can definitively say we are too wussy for that chilli pepper! My family would like these dishes but I would need to dial down the heat for them.
Jollof rice with grilled chicken wings and fried bananas plantains
Hibiscus: Discover Fresh Flavours from West Africa is a first cookbook by Lope Ariyo, a young British-Nigerian food blogger and chef who won a contest for African cooking while still at university. This African cookbook is once again a fusion of British and African food. And, yes, these dishes are made for spice lovers!
The West African recipes are accessible even if I had to read on what some of the ingredients were. For example, when Ariyo mentions that Garri is cassava breadcrumb I had to go look up what cassava is!
For the author, Hibiscus is the taste of West Africa but she readily admits that hibiscus flavour itself isn’t used much in Nigerian cooking. Ariyo has plans to change that! She feels Nigerians are precious about their traditional recipes but she has leeway to make changes because she’s British.
She has a recipe for Hibiscus Chicken which looks amazing as well as Nigerian Roasted Vegetables with yams and okra. These two dishes together would be a cool ethnic twist to the traditional British sunday roasted chicken and vegetables. Here is the recipe for Hibiscus Chicken if you want to try it out.
Other West African dishes that caught my eye include Bell Pepper Soup, Garri Calamari Rings and Seared Scallops in Grapefruit Sauce. I thought the latter would be perfect for a cool dinner party. Check out the Hibiscus recipes online if you want to try before you buy – Hibiscus and Sumac Prawns, Okra and Mango Salad, and Hibiscus Drizzle Puff Puff.
Cookbooks for Asian Food
These five cookbooks explore some Asian cuisine. I’m guilty of sticking mainly to Western dishes but my kids have loved some of my Asian-inspired menu choices.
My kids drive my stir crazy and I make them Stir fry. In fact I made the same stir fries so often, my son developed an “allergy” to stir fry where his stomach hurt if he saw it on his plate. Hence my need for Stir Crazy: 100 Deliciously Healthy Stir Fry Recipes by Ching He Huang.
Beef stir fry in a wok
I like that Ching goes into the nuance of stir fry. You don’t just bung things into a wok. It helps if you have the right wok (she recommends the one she designed obviously). And there is an order to which ingredients go in first. Mastering the basic technique will go a long way to upping your stir fry game.
The stir fries in Stir Crazy is a good combination of Asian and Western ingredients. The recipes are mostly Chinese. I like that there are lots of good photos. Ching has good ideas for using tofu too which I do find fairly uninspiring without the addition of a good sauce.
Unlike my usual stir fry, there are some good recipes that you could make for adult friends too such as Chicken and Green Beans in Spicy Garlic Sauce or the Aubergines in a Spicy Stir Fry Sauce.
Tokyo Cult Recipes
Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota is a Japanese cookbook that promises to bring the taste of Tokyo to your home. This Japanese cookbook takes you through the day of a typical Tokyoite with sections of recipes for each meal. And there are a lot of meals!
Tokyo people seem to eat a lot but in little meals and frequently. You start with breakfast, then move onto lunch, then bento boxes, then snacks, an after work pit stop at an Izakaya for a drink and light bites, and then home for some home cooking.
These Japanese recipes are fairly authentic with limited fusion influences! I think they would be hit or miss with my family. Recipes include Rice with Green Tea and Salmon, Chicken Meatballs, Mackerel Simmered in Miso, Japanese Stuffed Cabbage and Home Made Sushi Rolls.
This Japanese cookbook works to demystify Japanese food. According to Anderson, all you need to make simple but good Japanese food are 7 basic ingredients. With this backbone, the recipes are easily accessible and delicious. I found the coobook’s difficulty score amusing – you get scores like “very not difficult”.
The Japanese recipes are family-friendly in my opinion, such as, for example, Bacon Wrapped Asparagus, Fried Chicken, Soy Braised Turkey Mince Rice, and Ramen with Scallops, Bacon and Eggs.
You can find three of the JapanEasy recipes online if you want to check some fo the dishes out – Sweet Miso-Glazed Aubergine, Salmon Tataki with Ponzu and Green Chillies and Chahan Fried Rice.
This Thai cookbook is an eclectic mix of both traditional and fusion recipes running the gamut from appetisers to main courses and stir fries such as Braised Beef in Coconut, Grilled Whole Seabass with Coconut Chilli Jam and the usual green/red curries.
Why a book on just pho? It is a popular street food dish in Hanoi and as Vietnamese as you can get. Yes, it is just one dish but I can attest that I have friends who are obsessed with pho. So this Vietnamese cookbook is very niche!
Among the 50+ recipes, you get both traditional pho dishes as well as vegetarian and vegan options. In addition, this Vietnamese cookbook goes into side dishes and other Vietnamese accompaniments (like Coffee!).
If you love cookbooks, you might want to check out the UK/Australian site Cooked which is a membership site for cookbooks. This site puts selective entire cookbooks online. It’s got a free trial period too before you commit to the membership.
On this list of Best Cookbooks 2017, you can find Andina, Lisboeta, JapanEasy, and The Curry Guy.
If you are a cookbook addict like me, this website is a great resource for different recipes to try out without committing to the whole book.
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The best cookbooks to feed your wanderlust
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We don’t do the big pile of gifts under the Christmas tree now that the kids are older. Mostly everything they want is SO expensive that they get their big ticket item and a handful of smaller, cheaper things. My daughter is angling after a new iPad and I know my son wants some very expensive Lego. How expensive does Lego get? The Lego Creator Big Ben is an eye-watering price at almost £200. For plastic bricks(!) In order for our family Christmas gift unwrapping to not be over in minutes, we usually have small gifts that are either at the base of the tree or stocking stuffers.
25 Small Gift Ideas for Christmas For Travel- Loving Family and Friends
Here are my small gift ideas for Christmas for the travellers in your life. Although these awesome Christmas gifts may be small in size, they prove that great things can come in small packages.
We love taking small games with us on vacation. We play a game of something while we have after-dinner drinks and the kids have a mocktail.
For games with younger children, I love these intelligent variations on Bingo. Usually a game of Bingo feels like a self-inflicted lobotomy procedure. In these new versions though, you have assorted bingo games like Dog Bingo, Cat Bingo, Bird Bingo etc. Even pre-reading children can participate and learn at the same time.
Dog Bingo and Cat Bingo are a great games for the whole family to enjoy together.
Bananagrams is a fast and easy word game where you race to finish up the word tiles you are given. Unlike Scrabble, it requires no board and is much smaller and portable.
Another firm favourite in our family is Zip-It (from the makers of Bananagrams) where you race to create words from alphabet-covered dice in teams of two. This game has kept my two children occupied for hours on a plane.
A little mindfulness goes a long way. People who love to travel tend to be on the go – who has time for weekly therapy sessions? Not us. I love these books for enabling busy people to express themselves without tying themselves into a routine. Stop and think a bit. Your life will be better for it.
Writing is a great therapeutic release (I can attest!). There are two books for worriers – No Worriesfor the proactive worrier who want to work out their issues and Write It Down for the passive worrier who just needs to express their worry. Sometimes you just need to think something through and there isn’t a solution to fix it.
What about those people who think they are always right? In My Humble Opinion lets you vent and rage before you go full postal with an AK-47.
Finally, The Happiness Project. I want to do this with my children in the new year. I want my kids to realise that happiness doesn’t actually wash up on you like waves on an ocean while you stand idly by. No one is happy all the time, unless you are Pollyanna (in which case you have no business being in our family of realists and worriers). You make your happy place where you find it. Happiness is comprised of a series of little things like receiving a compliment or watching a beautiful sunset.
There are plenty of things that make you happy that you take for granted. I would like our family to acknowledge what makes us happy – all the little things – and see what we can change to make other aspects of our life better. I want to be proactive in a glass half-full approach towards life.
Self-help ideas for people too busy to sit still for therapy.
Life moves too fast! All those cool memories wash into each other and it’s so hard to remember details.
My first choice – Books To Check Out – is because we are a family of readers. In fact, we have started Family Book Club where we all read the same book and discuss it. Our first book was Wonder which we wanted to read before seeing the movie.
We are also list makers – Travel Listography lets you think about what you want to do and where you want to go. My son always ask if we can return to ‘X’ place because we had such a good time there. Sadly, there is not enough time in the world for us to return to many places together as a family. I am hoping he will be like us where we have returned somewhere many different times at different periods of our life. For example, I have been to Paris as a solo traveller, with friends, when we got married, and with children in tow. Each time Paris provided a different experience for me.
Film Listography is another book where we can record our favourite movies and why we love them. It’s a list that is personal to our family. For example, we LOVED The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. The critics panned it but so many of the scenes in that movie resonated with us. That movie was full of the dumb sort of things that would happen to us on a road trip.
As for the Camera Lens Coffee Cup? I think it should be a general rule that when you are being introspective, you really need some coffee and cookies to help mull things over. Also, every self-respecting traveler takes way too many photos. Why not make poke a little light-hearted fun at the whole thing?
Give the gift of stopping and thinking.
Desk and Mini-Wall Calendars
Our lives seem to be periods of boredom (work, school, etc) punctuated by cool vacations. A desk calendar seems just the thing to count off the days until your next vacation.
Desk calendars to get you through until your next vacation.
There are lots of really cool gadgets that make great Christmas presents which will help your travel-loving family cope with life on the road.
I absolutely love this universal outlets power strip with USB port extensions. It is the only adapter I need to travel the world because every conceivable power socket is covered. In addition, the USB ports means all of our iPads, iPhones etc can charge together. No more hooking up electronics in random places in a hotel room and forgetting where we put one (or more) in the rush to leave.
Never forget your keys (or your key cable) with this nifty Native Union Key Cable. When I go on holiday, my house keys are put in a pocket because I don’t need them anymore. Then there is a mad scramble at the end of vacation to remember where I put the house keys. Now, I know where they are! With a charging cable for my iPhone which is very dear to my heart.
My husband is obsessed with his Fitbit fitness tracker. It’s great when we are all together on vacation because he can then tell us how many calories we have burned walking all day. It opens up way more possibilities for a gluttonous dinner!
We also love our Amazon Kindle e-reader. It’s easy to download books, magazines and newspapers without the added weight of paper. We will always be lover of physical books and will never go completely digital. On the other hand, the Kindle is wonderful for travelling.
We love our GoPro carrying case. Before all the accessories were in a messy Ziploc bag but now everyting is in its place and easily visible. And, there’s no panic over where the extra battery is when we are travelling.
I want these watertight sealed underwater dry bag for the iPhones in our vacation essentials bag. Even though the newer iPhones are supposed to be water resistant, taking them to the beach or poolside still makes me nervous. On our recent trip to Florida, my iPhone 7+ just narrowly escaped being covered in an overturned poolside drink. With these relatively cheap dry bags, it’s one less thing to worry about.
Small and thoughtful Christmas gifts for your travel loving family and friends
I hope you enjoyed my curated selection of small gift ideas for Christmas. Christmas is great but I really don’t enjoy the shopping part. All of these items are available on Amazon – I don’t know what I did before Amazon Prime!
This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them at no extra cost to you. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.
Have you ever considered a work sabbatical? We have toyed with the idea for years. In fact, both my husband and I were eligible for 3 month sabbaticals at our previous jobs and we both changed jobs before we became eligible. Policies for sabbatical leave differ from country to country. I was surprised to learn that many countries have a statutory right to a sabbatical! That’s definitely not the policy we know for sabbatical leave (UK or US) but sounds very progressive. Currently we are once again considering three month sabbatical ideas (primarily because that time frame fits in well with the children’s school vacations!).
5 Ideas for a cool three month sabbatical when you have kids with you
People take sabbatical leave for many reasons but primarily because they need an extended break from work to recharge.
I recently read The Long View, a book by Brian Fetherstonhaugh where he argues that the average working career should be split into three sections of 15 years each. His viewpoint assumes you start at the age of 21 and finish at 66 years old in order to get the 45 years of work into this paradigm.
The true currency of life is time, not money, and we’ve all got a limited stock of that.
– Robert Harris, Novelist
I had some issues with this book which I won’t go into here. One relevant point though is that at periods throughout your career you need to get off the hamster wheel and re-evaluate if what you are currently doing is still what you want to do.
A sabbatical (including with your family) is a great way to accomplish this challenge.
Three Month Sabbatical Ideas
We have friends who did not quit before they got their three month sabbatical. In fact, the smart ones quit right after they came back from their sabbatical.
Getting out of your comfort zone will open new horizons for your family
Tried and Tested Sabbaticals
In no particular order, these are some of the things our friends have done with their 3 month sabbatical time.
Live in Berlin and learn German
Live in Rome and learn Italian
Volunteer in Nepal building houses
Take the family travelling through South America, including the Galapagos Islands
Rent a house in Florida and live as beach bums
These sabbatical ideas are as different from each other as the people involved. They do fall into the main categories of what people do on sabbaticals though – travel and/or volunteer.
5 Cool Sabbatical Ideas
We have also come up with some cool ideas for what we could do with a three month sabbatical. Obviously they all involve travel.
Travel New Zealand in a Camper Van
The kids and I would love to travel through New Zealand in a camper van. It just sounds like a cool way to see this beautiful country. Although my husband loves the idea of travelling through New Zealand, he would prefer the comfort of nice hotels.
A classic Volkswagen Kombi is the cool way to travel the length of New Zealand.
Road Trip through the United States
My husband and his best friend had a goal to see every single state in the United States. Growing up in the USA, I had no real interest in seeing many of the states they found fascinating. Now that I live outside the USA though I have new-found appreciation for the American landscape and culture.
On the road to Monument Valley national park in Arizona
Travelling with children in the United States is easy. People have even mapped how to road trip the USA efficiently and hit all the major tourist areas. We would prefer to go into lesser touristed areas though and visit more of the 58 National Parks as well as the countless other state and county parks. Our road trip through South Dakota and Wyoming was one of the best experiences we had as a family.
Do the Mongol Rally
The Mongol Rally is an epic road trip that goes from the United Kingdom to Mongolia. It covers 10,000 miles in 2 months. Our last month would probably be spent recovering in Mongolia!!
You go through a lot of sparsely populated places and so camping would be a necessity. We could pitch a family tent in whatever area that caught our eye. The kids and I would have a lot of fun. My husband would probably be stressing out about his lack of WiFi coverage. (The exact reason we need a sabbatical).
Driving in the Mongolian desert
Running from July through August, we would be able to do this road trip while the children were not in school. We would definitely be able to raise money for charity because most of our friends would think we were crazy and donate generously.
On the downside, neither my husband nor I have any experience in fixing cars. If we broke down in the middle of nowheresville (very likely) we would wailing children in the back seat and no clue what to do. I have heard the WiFi can be abysmal. I don’t know if I’m more scared of the car breaking down in the back of beyond or the children not having access to their iPads.
Join the Peace Corps
I know you all think joining the Peace Corps is for liberal do-gooders straight out of university. I confess I tried to join the Peace Corps after college and got rejected for having no skills they wanted. They had way too many English majors and wanted engineers and scientists.
The Peace Corps Response is for people with professional experience looking to volunteer from 3 months to a year. Although this program used to be for former Peace Corps volunteers, it now accepts people who were never with the initial program.
On the downside, you have to be American to join the Peace Corps Response. And, I don’t think my usable skill set as an English major turned finance lawyer turned travel blogger is still that useful for the Peace Corps.
A baby racoon rescued by a volunteer.
Of course, there are alternatives to the Peace Corps such as Moving Worlds which is for experteering (volunteering for experts). You can lend your expertise for short-term projects around the world. A quick look on the Moving Worlds website shows a need for accountants, marketers, designers and small business experts. If you are a teacher, you may want to look at teaching English abroad opportunities such as those provided by Career China.
What about the kids you say? I’m sure they can find something to do alongside the adults. Blogger Rachel Heller recounts how she was volunteering in Malawi and her children enjoyed playing with the kids at a nearby orphanage.
Explore Southern Africa
Southern Africa is difficult to visit just in terms of logistics. You usually need to connect through South African airports. We have always wanted to visit Malawi, Namibia and Botswana about which we have heard great things from friends. The lack of vacation time has always been what has stopped us from visiting these countries.
Green fields in the South African landscape
Moreover, although we have been to South Africa, we did not spend nearly enough time there. I’ve got a huge list of things to do in South Africa including eating a curry bunny in Durban and going on safari in Kruger National Park.
Blending Sabbatical Ideas
Of course, some of these ideas can be mixed and matched, such as for example a road trip through Southern Africa that involves volunteer work.
Visiting spooky places around the world with kids is a tricky proposition. It really does depend on your kid’s age and maturity, obviously. Despite being world travellers, my 11 year old kids are quite young at heart. They have an active imagination and can talk themselves into a panic attack. It’s a fine line between just plain creepy crossing the border into downright scary. We have never taken them to one of the haunted house attractions at a theme park (Disney’s Haunted Halloween doesn’t count). Yet, we have been to lots of spooky places as part of visiting museums, historic sites, famous homes and iconic hotels.
Lots of historic places have spooky stories behind them. Do you dare tell your kids?
Atlas Obscura’s Creepy Places in the World
When Atlas Obscura (the website) put out a book, I knew I had to get Atlas Obscura (the book). It’s subtitled “an Explorer’s Guide To The World’s Hidden Wonders” which sounds great if you are into quirky and off the beaten path places like we are.
The book has its share of spooky places, creepy locations and abandoned and mysterious places in the world. Of the 4 creepy places in the world we have been in this book, my children have been to two of the spooky places (Island of the Dolls and the Capuchin Tombs). They would have been fine at Highgate Cemetery but the Museum of Death would have been inappropriate.
When we saw the abandoned dolls on Island of the Dolls as part of a tour of the Aztec floating gardens at Xochimilco in Mexico City, it was definitely creepy. Visiting in daylight though meant my son was not upset by it. I can imagine if we visited at night it would be a lot worse. I’d say that in daylight the creep factor was high but the scare factor was low.
Nope nothing creepy about a whole island of dolls and doll parts.
In Palermo in Sicily we visited the Capuchin Catacombs. My kids thought it was creepy but not scary. From the 17th to the 19th century, these catacombs with mummies were a status symbol for the local wealthy and celebrities. After you paid the Capuchin monks quite a bit for the privilege, you got mummified in your best dress or military gear to see you through eternity.
Burial in the catacombs was considered an honour
I likewise saw Highgate Cemetery as part of a tour which focussed on its historical aspect. It was a bit spooky because the Victorians were seriously into glamorising death but overall not that scary at all.
The Museum of Death in Hollywood (Los Angeles) wasn’t so much scary as inappropriate for kids. The creep factor was high because there was a lot about serial killers. The most disturbing section was as series of photos of a woman and her lover posing with the husband they had just murdered. There’s now a Museum of Death branch in New Orleans as well.
Other Creepy Locations With Kids
Of course, with my kids I have to be careful which creepy locations and abandoned and mysterious places in the world to visit. For example, we went to Bodmin Jail in Cornwall (not an Atlas Obscura find) and the kids got completely freaked out. It was an abandoned old jail which had been redone and supposedly the most haunted place in England. Yes, that was a bad idea even though we have visited a lot of prisons.
Bodmin Prison, one of the creepiest locations in England
Haunted Places in the World: Prison Museums
Our visits to abandoned and mysterious places in the world extends to a whole lot of prison tours. My son loves architecture and he really finds prisons fascinating (hopefully for the architectural aspect and not as future career choice).
We have been to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, the first penitentiary in the world built in the 19th century and the model for many later penitentiaries. It’s supposed to be one of the most haunted places in the world. During the day though, the tour was interesting and not scary. They do Halloween Scare nights though and I’m pretty sure my kids would not have liked the creepy location then.
We took a tour of the Wyoming State Prison which is in the top 10 haunted places in the USA. Our guide was great and wouldn’t tell gory stories in front of the kids. Instead of being freaked out, my kids were fascinated with the gallows mechanism and the gas chamber they saw.
The Wyoming State Prison was created by the same architect who designed Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco harbor. Even though Alcatraz is supposed to be one of the most abandoned and mysterious places to visit in the world, our tour of Alcatraz did not have any vibes at all. Of course, it was a bright sunny day and the place was packed with tourists. It’s hard to let your imagination run wild when you are listening to a really interesting audio guide too!
Alcatraz Prison aka The Rock is pretty menacing to look at (from the outside at least).
You would think we would have ran into ghosts at The Liberty Hotel, a former prison which housed notables like the Boston Strangler. Nope. Maybe the Starwood Group gentrified all the ghosts out of The Liberty.
The turret of the Artist House is where Robert the Doll lived.
My new tactic is to visit places and not tell my kids it’s a haunted place to visit. For example, we stayed at The Don CeSar Hotelin St. Pete’s Beach in Florida recently which is reputedly haunted. They loved the hotel and was none the wiser. Of course, there was nothing remotely creepy about the location even though it had been an abandoned hotel for years with a tragic love story background.
When you see the Don Cesar Hotel at sunset. it’s easy to see why it’s called the Pink Palaces
Spooky Historic Homes and Castles
Pretty much every castle you visit will have a ghost in its history. The Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town in South Africa was not only a castle but a prison. There are ghost stories plenty of tortured prisoners and soldiers on patrol. My kids weren’t spooked out though even when we were shown into the dark prison rooms.
If the walls of the Castle of Good Hope, they would have some very gory stories.
We took the kids to Winchester House in San Jose in California and they thought it was more like a fun house than one of the creepiest places on Earth. There were doors that opened into walls, staircases that lead into ceilings and doors that opened onto 2 story drops. No one knows why the mysterious and reclusive Sarah Winchester created the house the way she did.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped the Hollywood treatment of the Winchester house becoming a horror movie starring Helen Mirren. Entitled Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built about the most haunted house in the world (supposedly) the movie didn’t actually seem to have that much in common with the house that we actually visited!
How about you? Have you visited any spooky or otherwise creepy location? Is it a place you would visit with older kids?
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World War II doesn’t seem so far away in Europe. You are surrounded by memorials and former war sites wherever you go. So many towns you pass through have a war memorial to the young men from the area who died in one of the world wars. World War II seems an integral part of the European landscape in a way that it doesn’t in the USA. Of course, the war actually took place in Europe and the USA was mostly spared fighting in their own land. Moreover, Americans have other war traumas nearer in time than World War II (Korea, Vietnam, The Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and Iraq). Being in school in England, my children have read their fair share of books about World War II. In our travels as well, we have found it helpful that they knew how the war played out and what it was about. Here is our list of 20 of the best war books for kids to understand World War II when they travel around Europe.
15 great war books explaining World War 2 to middle school children
The 15 Best War Books for World War II
I have separated my list of the best war books into categories – World War II as it affected England, the stories of people trying to escape the Nazis, the war in Europe, how relationships between people got complicated, and the war in the Pacific.
For the main part these books are fictional accounts with a historical setting. If you would like to have actual historical sets, my kids love the Horrible Histories account books about World War II.
The Home Front in England
These books examine life in Britain during World War 2 where the Battle of Britain was raging strong. London was deeply affected by The Blitz (the Nazi bombing offensive that was meant to bring the British to their knees).
Walking around London, you can see a modern building suddenly appear in a row of old period buildings. In all likelihood, that new building was built over where a Nazi bomb had landed and destroyed the building that stood there. One of our friends had a house that was rebuilt over wreckage of the older house that had been built. When our friends renovated their house, they merely shifted some of the wreckage around and created a wine cellar in the floor.
In London, the Imperial War Museums relate the World War II experience for both children and adults. My kids loved the Churchill War Rooms, a member of the Imperial War Museums, which is the underground bunker from which Churchill lead the war effort.
The books for children seem to revolve around the story of the many evacuees from the cities and big towns. During this evacuation, children in places which were in danger of being bombed were sent to safety in the homes of strangers in the countryside.
It was not only leaving their families that was traumatic for these displaced kids, but also returning home after years to a family and home that was different from when they left.
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michele Magorian (A London boy evacuated to the countryside forms a friendship with a grumpy old man)
Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden (A girl and her brother are evacuated to a small town in Wales)
Letters From The Lighthouse by Emma Carroll (A girl and her brother are evacuated from London to a small village in Devon)
Back Home by Michelle Gregorian (A young girl returns from the US to austerity 1950’s England)
Blitzcat by Robert Westall tells the story from a cat’s point of view. The cat has gotten separated from its family during the bombing of Coventry.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (A family leaves Berlin in 1933 moving to Switzerland, France and England)
Number The Stars by Lois Lowry (The escape of a Jewish family from Nazi-occupied Denmark)
The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank (A young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis with her family in the Netherlands)
The European War
Before we visited the Allied landing beaches in Normandy, we read about the war and also visited Slapton Sands in Devon (England) near where my husband’s family used to live. The Allied troops had to mobilise in England before they moved across into France. My son had one of his boy scout ceremonies at the American Embassy in London where the bar in the staff canteen was up cycled from Dwight. D. Eisenhower’s war command headquarters in London.
D-Day by Rick Atkinson with Kate Waters (The invasion of Normandy condensed from Atkinson’s The Guns At Last Light meant for adult readers).
After you visit the beaches of Normandy, you can follow the Allied forces route in Europe as they advanced towards Berlin, Germany. Obviously, Berlin is full of memorials and museums related to World War II. We have been to Berlin a few times but have not yet taken the kids.
The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascombe (A group of Israeli spies capture escaped Nazi, Adolf Eichmann, in Argentina and based on the book Hunting Eichmann meant for adult readers)
Of course, not all children caught up in World War 2 were lucky enough to escape the war.
The Silver Sword is an engrossing tale about 3 Polish children surviving World War 2.
The Silver Sword is a book by Ian Serraillier about 3 Polish children whose parents are taken away by the Nazis. The story is about how the survive the war and go searching for their parents.
Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo is the story of a young boy who lives in a village in the Pyrenees border between France and Spain. Nazis have occupied his village but he discovers that a widow is smuggling Jewish children across the French border to safety in Spain.
Once by Morris Gleitzman is a story of a young Jewish boy in a Catholic orphanage in Poland. He’s convinced he’s been left at the orphanage by mistake and sets off to find his parents. It’s the first of a series of four books which tells the tale of the boy during and after the war.
City of Fate by Nicola Pierce is the story of two groups of kids during the Battle of Stalingrad in Russia. One group are school boys fighting for Russia and another group are orphans who are barely surviving on their own on the streets.
These books explore the complicated relationships children make during the war, including unlikely friendship created out of the most difficult circumstances.
When we visited Germany, we heard about some of the children of Nazis who couldn’t come to terms with what their parents had done.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (The friendship between a boy whose father is a Nazi and a Jewish boy in a Holocaust Camp)
Last Train From Kummersdorf by Leslie Wilson (A boy and a girl escape war-torn Germany in 1945)
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green (A young Jewish girl falls in love with a German POW in Arkansas)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (A young girl fostered by a German family who secretly hide a Jewish friend)
Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard (A young British boy living as an expat in China has his life turned upside down when the Japanese invade)
In the USA, we have learned about the American involvement in World War II at the Intrepid Air Sea and Space Museum in New York. The Intrepid air craft carrier was an important part of the Pacific theatre of war in World War II.
On our road trip through Wyoming, we went to the Heart Mountain Japanese internment centre near Buffalo Bill’s tourist town of Cody. The Heart Mountain centre has an excellent museum recounting how Japanese Americans were rounded up and incarcerated in camps in the interior of the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles also has lots of information on this important aspect of the Japanese American experience.
Under The Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury (The effect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on a young Japanese-American boy)
What Age Group Are These Books Suitable for?
I would say the age rating for these books are 9+, basically these world war 2 books are for middle school children. I would think high school students would find many of them too young. Of course, The Diary of A Young Girl is a classic read no matter what the age.
In Carrie’s War, a young girl and her brother are sent into the countryside to escape the bombing of the city.
My children have read this list of World War 2 books from the age of 9 and understood them. Really it is a judgment call on what you think your children can handle.
Movies of World War 2 Books For Kids
If you don’t have readers in your family, some of these books have also been made into films:
Goodnight Mr Tom (1998)
Carrie’s War (2004)
Back Home (1990)
The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas (2008)
The Book Thief (2013)
Summer of My German Soldier (1978)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Under The Blood Red Sun (2014)
These books (and movies) bring the history home to the children in a way that merely reading about facts in a history textbook does not. Moreover, they will feel a deeper connection to the places they visit if they can relate it to a story.
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I had a friend ask me why there was so little information on family-friendly hotels with disabled facilities. She’s got a wheelchair-bound middle child and two other children. Finding a special needs hotel for the whole family that is both disabled friendly for a child but also meets the luxury standards of the rest of the family has been challenging for them. Like other families, they would like a fun family vacation that caters to everyone in the family.
Holidays for the disabled tend to cater to adults. Moreover, many places in Europe with its pretty historic buildings and cute narrow cobblestone streets have a real issue trying to install inclusive facilities into structures that just weren’t designed for them. For example, do you sacrifice the historic quality of something by putting in railings and ramps? As a newer country, the USA has more inclusive destinations for family travel. Here are my picks of the best family-friendly luxury hotels with disabled facilities in some of the most popular destinations of Europe for family travellers.
Family-Friendly Luxury Hotels in Cyprus, Greece, France, Italy and Spain that cater to families with less able bodied members.
Family-Friendly Hotels With Disabled Facilities
Cyprus – Anassa
The Anassa is a family-friendly luxury hotel in western Cyprus. It’s got a well-known spa, a kids club and eight restaurants that offer everything from beach barbecue to fine dining. There is plenty to do on-site between the four pools (one of which is adults only) and the water sports centre which offers everything from snorkelling to sailing.
The Anassa is a firm favourite with discerning family travellers. photo credit: i-escape.com
Having stayed at both the Anassa and its sister property, the Annabelle in Paphos, we noticed that the Anassa is fairly isolated. It takes about an hour to get to The Anassa from Paphos. In our opinion, Paphos didn’t really deliver on the charm anyway so maybe you aren’t missing anything. In addition, the Anassa has so much going for it that you don’t actually need or want to leave!
Children will enjoy the sheltered beach photo credit: i-escape.com
Some of the rooms, the main restaurant and the reception area are accessible for wheelchair users
There are a couple of golf buggies for use by the less mobile
The main hotel building has a lift
Greece – Ekies All Senses Resort
Ekies All Senses Resort is located on Greek mainland in Halkidiki. The beach is great with children because the water is shallow and calm. The resort offers several restaurants, a spa, a pool, a playground and a kids club.
Modern on the Greek mainland in Halkidiki photo credit: i-escape.com
Furnished in a contemporary European style, design lovers will appreciate the clean hip look of the resort. Think lots of white, pops of colour and natural materials like wood and marble. The resort is so cool that it’s even been recommended in design-loving family magazine, Design Milk.
Modern design in a family-friendly resort photo credit: i-escape.com
An infinity pool for the whole family to enjoy Photo credit: i-escape.com
Serjac offers tennis, an enormous infinity pool, complimentary bikes, spa, boules court and a barbecue area. The estate produces its own wine and has wine tastings available. Many of the villas have their own pools, too. There is a formal restaurant and in the summer, meals are also served on the terrace.
Lunch in a French vineyard seems pretty idyllic photo credit: i-escape.com
2 apartments have disabled access with elevator access to one apartment.
The 4-bedroom villa Le Chai d’Elevage has a ground floor ensuite bathroom accommodating wheelchair users.
Italy – Borgo Egnazia
The Borgo Egnazia is the only 5 star hotel in Puglia, the region that is located on the “boot” of Italy. Sleepy pretty Puglia is having its moment in the sun because this region has become super trendy lately for its unspoiled beauty, Roman ruins and 3 UNESCO world heritage sites.
A design hotel in Puglia, Italy’s boot. photo credit: i-escape.com
The Borgo Egnazia features golf and tennis, a kids club, six restaurants, a cooking school, a games room and a selection of swimming pools. You really wouldn’t be bored here.
Among the many family-friendly features is a kids club. photo credit: i-escape.com
The hotel has several specially adapted rooms: 5 Borgo Splendida Rooms, and 2 La Corte Splendida Rooms, all on the ground floor with a specially adapted wet room bathroom (with handrails and an emergency alarm chord).
The hotel’s reception and restaurant (which has a disabled toilet) are easily reached from outside via a ramp.
There are an accessible terrace and patio for guests to use
Spain – Finca Cortesin
The Finca Cortesin is a 5 star hotel and resort set in an estate near charming Estepona on the Costa del Sol of Spain. The resort features golf and tennis, Jack Nicklaus golf academy, an enormous Thai spa, four swimming pools, five restaurants and a beach club.
A luxury golf and tennis resort in an estate setting in the South of Spain photo credit: i-escape.com
This resort is better with older children. For example, the acclaimed Japanese restaurant only accepts children over the age of 10. The other restaurants accept children but have a no shorts policy. More importantly, the pools are for children over the age of five. There is a free half-day kids’ club for children between the ages of 4-12.
There is 1 adapted suite for disabled guests in the hotel
In addition to the hotel, there are villas that enjoy all the resort’s facilities. These villas have private pools and self-catering options.
Do you know of any other luxury family-friendly hotels that are equipped to cater to guests with special needs children? I would love to know about others so that we can create a resource for parents who are looking for a special needs hotel that is both practical and stylish.