Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Xplor Park Review

We tend not to spend a lot of money on "experiences" when we travel. We don't buy tours or pay for a lot of extras.

However when your one and only daughter turns 10 you have the perfect excuse to throw a little money at the day!

We chose Xplor Park for her special day and it was a brilliant decision.

This attraction is about 15 minutes outside of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, and capitalises on being directly in the impact zone of the asteroid that hit earth 65 million years ago, killing the dinosaurs.

It's a period of time that Ivy is fascinated by and seeing her face as we stood in the caves on that very spot was priceless. But that's not where the delights ended.

Xplor is an adrenaline fueled adventure with the main attractions being -

  • Two 25 and 45 minute zipwire courses over and through the rainforest
  • A hammock zip wire
  • Driving a 4x4 through rough terrain
  • Underground river swim
  • Underground rafting
  • Walking through caves festooned with stalactites and stalagmites 

I typically don't do zipwires as I find tree climbing difficult. But at this park there's no need to worry. You need a certain amount of fitness to climb some stairs and there's a degree of walking but this is within most people's capability. Frankly if I can do it without much effort you probably can too.

You can get a better deal on ticket prices if you book in advance but we weren't that organised. A day ticket is $119 with a slight reduction if you book online. We booked online but couldn't print out our ticket as instructed as we have no printer in our AirBnB. But we called to explain and there was no problem. We brought our ID and the confirmation email on my phone and that was fine. Children are half price.

The ticket includes the all day buffet which was excellent and drinks anywhere on the site. You leave your belongings in a locker and don't need them again unless you want to change your clothes or shop.

I recommend bringing a few changes of clothes for the day. Ivy got very cold mid afternoon and we had to buy some long sleeved clothes for the second part of the day which added to our cost. You will be WET all day, even if it's warm and dry outside. You will be on waterslides and swimming in your clothes so a swimming costume underneath and shorts (you'll be in a harness which has straps around the legs so bare skin could be uncomfortable) plus a t-shirt is probably ideal. Swim shoes are an excellent choice too, far better than trainers. You need shoes that will stay on as you fly through the sky and when you swim. This is a useful page with more info about safety and what to bring -

If you get cold easily bring layers that you don't mind getting wet, and a few towels. Also make sure you have dry clothes for the journey home. For some reason I left my dry going-home clothes in the car so I had to wear my dripping wet shorts and swimming costume all the way to the car park and then get changed behind a tree. Don't be like me.

We started with the zip wires which was a good choice as being dry for that makes sense. The driving experience is also good to do dry. Ivy wasn't keen on the river swim which was pretty cold as all these underground rivers are. There's a 30 minute swim and a 10 minute one and we were right to do the 10 minute one. You are given a life jacket for this and if I had been on my own I would have done the longer swim but traveling alone with a small child means making a few concessions.

We went to Xplor on a wet day which is actually a rather good idea. I would have found some of the queuing tough in the heat and you're going to be wet anyway so it doesn't really matter! However, lunch in the restaurant was a pretty soggy affair. The roof isn't at all rain resistant so you have to pick your route around the buffest carefully and choose a table in a dry spot.
But the food was very good especially the rice and potatoes and the desserts. Try the chrystalised fruit if you can find it (in a little glass display case roughly in the centre of the buffet) which gave us the sugar rush we needed to finish the day.

Xplor is ideal for one parent and one child. One parent and two or more children, especially if your kids are young, could be more tricky. You can go tandem on some of the ziplines and you can get 4 people in to the 4x4. The driver must be 18 or over. However, sometimes you and the kids will "travel" separately. If your children are nervous or too small to travel on their own you will have to go down the stairs for that part of the course. Check out the website for height and weight restrictions. 

If you have questions about how you will manage with more kids as a single parent call the helpline. We found them very helpful. I also found the staff very safety conscious. You are helped to be safe throughout and at no point did I feel we were taking big risks. I do often feel worried at theme parks (i.e. "If this rollercoaster stopped now we'd all fall out" or "If this ride comes off the rails now we're all dead!") so this was a great relief!

I highly recommend getting the photo package at the start of the day. It's $58 for two people but there are loads of cameras around the park to capture your special moments and it means you don't have to worry about getting your phone wet, dropping it in a river, or having to hold on to it as you slip down a waterslide. I saw a lot of people holidng their phone rather than holding on to their partner or to the straps on the zipwire and I did wonder about their priorities! If you have a GoPro you might want to get action shots and I saw some people had mounted their GoPro on their helmet which is cool! But I'd recommend the photo package anyway.

As for whether the park is educational, yes and no! Ivy now knows the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, has smelt sulphur, has seen the rainforest in the rain and read about the various ancient creatures that were found in these and other caves. It brings pre-history to life in a way that's far more compelling than books. At the same time though this isn't predominantly an educational day out.

What it is though is thrill after thrill. Increadible views over the rainforest, wonderful shared experiences, tonnes of laughter as you jump along in the 4x4, beautiful caves filled with natural wonders and a day you'll never forget. Even if it rains!

If you have been to Xplor please share your tips in the comments below!

Friday, 27 October 2017


As our plans crystalise I realise that we need more than just a Land Rover. We need a campervan.

My reasoning is this -

1. We need space. We have 2 dogs, one of whom is LARGE. Once you stick one large dog and one small dog in a Land Rover there isn't that much room for your stuff. I will be working as we travel, coming back to the UK and other places around Europe to speak and coach so I can't just live with one pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I need shoes and dresses and a few nice things. My daughter has toys she MUST bring. We have dog stuff and bikes. A trailer would work but who wants to drag a trailer around? Anyway, if you're bringing a trailer you may as well have a caravan. If you may as well have a caravan you may as well forget about the Land Rover and get a campervan. See, that's how I got there! But there's more...

2. Even if we primarily stay in AirBnB there will be occassions when we need to stop en route or when we can't find somewhere in our budget. Having a guaranteed Air BnB roof over our heads means booking places months in advance which slightly takes the romance and the adventure out of the trip. But the idea of leaving things til the last minute and then finding ourselves literally homeless (with 2 dogs and a 10 year old) does not appeal.

3. AirBnB can be expensive. Out of season we can find places for £600-£1000 a month which is factored in to our budget. But in the summer this may not be the case.

4. HOW COOL ARE CAMPER VANS?! Let's not forget that camping is cool and that, with a bit of imagination you can turn the interior of your campervan in to something much more like a cozy den than a clinical camping machine.

Of course, my first step is Pinterest. So late last night and early this morning I started a new board. You can see it here Campervan Inspiration

We would not live in the camper full time. I need to be able to make phone calls, skype people, write and everything else my work entails so at least 2 or 3 weeks of the month we plan to be in a proper house. But we want to make the most of the freedom a campervan gives us. 

So, I've also been asking seasoned travelers for their campervan tips.

Storage - Storage is an obvious priority. You want to be able to find your things but also have them hidden away out of view. For us this leads to buying something with a bed or storage over the driver seats where we can put clear stacking boxes with all our stuff. We will also look for underseat storage and perhaps build some extra storage on the walls. Pinterest shows a million clever ideas for keeping your stuff from flying abour while you drive.

Dog safety - We don't want the dogs flying about either. So one option is to look for campers that have at least two seats for the doggies to be safely strapped in to. However, we may actually remove the seats or change the internal configuration of the camper so we can have the bed made permanently. Folding beds up and down is a pain and a nice flat bed surface with an actual mattress is actually pretty useful. So if you have any ideas for keeping the dogs safe without having seatbelt harnesses or a crate (the big one needs such a big crate that it would really be a he hates being in a crate so that kinda rules that out) then please suggest away!

Beds - I've already mentioned we want more berths than we need as we will use the upper beds as storage spaces. But I also think we need a proper mattress on the double bed down below. Comfort is key I think. You want a nice matters, a couple of really cofy duvets, blankets, soft pillows and some other soft furnishings to make the place somewhere you love being. I know that it's going to rain, be cold, the dogs will smell, we will be tired, stuff will be dirty. Knowing you can climb in to your soft, proper bed with it's real mattress will be bliss. So configuring the inside to allow something like this is something we want to do before we go.

Van life-- I like the bed side book rack.

Power - People dream of parking their camper in the woods or on the beach but I suspect we will opt for camp sites when we're on the move. A nice warm shower, a loo, a bit of company and, most of all, electricity, is more my style. Our camper should have electric hookup so we have light and can charge our screens without flattening the battery.

Kitchen - Slightly goes without saying but I've seen plenty of campers that don't have a kitchen. Fridge, cooker, grill are all essential as far as I'm concerned.

Size - As this is also going to be our car, we need something we can take to the supermarket, park at the cinema and drive on small European roads. While a big RV has its appeal in terms of on board loo, shower, hanging space it wouldn't work for us as our only vehicle. 

Random things - A tarp or something to cover the bed/seats etc when the dogs are wet, wet, wet. Rugs for the floor to make it a more cozy experience and to be able to shake out the dust and dog debris rather than having to sweep all the time. Rugs cover a multitude of sins too. A fold up step ladder so I can reach the upper berth and get the bikes on the bike rack. A bike rack.

Dream things - I would love if the design of the camper allowed the back doors to entirely open up. Some of the more conventional motorhomes actually don't let much of the outside in. There's a tiny door for getting in and out and small windows. Whereas you're proper camper van usually has a nice big door that is out of your eyeline when it's fully opened and a large sliding door opening up the whole of one side of the van. That's what I want.

Great interior, and I like it because there are two rear-facing child seats with seatbelts when we decide to have kids! 

See what I mean? 

Where to buy - The best site I've found so far for our budget (which is LOW) is which has plenty of vans for under £10,000. In fact, the more expensive ones don't meet our requirements. They are too big, have tiny doors and are cluttered with a lot of fixed furnishings. However, if you know of a great place to buy what we're looking for, please let me know.

Next steps - Really, the first step is to buy one. I can then sell my gorgeous, sexy, completely unsuitable Audi. Then renovations start. We will want to make it our own. Thirdly we get a really good service on it to ensure it's not going to collapse day one. We buy good European roadside assistance for when it does eventually collapse. We take it on a few test runs to see what we need, what we don't need, get our van-legs at it were. And then we set off, probably mid March 2018, to our first destination.

We are wide open to suggestions and recommendations so if you have personal experience of campervan travel or even a camper to sell please comment. We are at an early stage but we also have itchy feet and want to get on with things so your help now will help us making a poorly thought-through decision!


Blaire and Ivy
The Brilliant Gamblers


Monday, 23 October 2017


Ivy is quite a talented gymnast and for a while was in the competitive class in our local gymnastics club.

At just 5 years old she was entered in to her first competition (see exhibit one of my cutie back then!)

Despite her generally outgoing nature the prospect of doing her floor routine in front of an audience of parents with all eyes on her, including a panel of judges and the other competitors, was a pretty big deal for her.

As the competition approached she started to get worried, didn't want to go to class, wouldn't practise at home and even talked about giving up the sport.

So I gave her the options -

1. Don't do the competition.

2. Do the competition.

I mean it's pretty simple right?

She thought about it for a couple of weeks and then came to me with her decision.

"I will do the competition Mummy, because if I don't do it this time I will be even more nervous next time and I won't do it that time, and then the time after that I'll be even more nervous and I won't do it that time. So I think I should just do it".

It was at that point that she coined the term "Nerv-excited" to explain the feeling of nerves you get, which could also be excitement, but could easily put you off doing a thing.

Which is a long way of telling you that I'm nerv-excited.

There's a long way to go until we're ready to leave our current life behind us but today I took the first practical steps on the path.

  • I got a price for my car, a little A3 convertible that will be no use to us on our travels
  • I started making to do lists. A lot of to do lists
  • I talked to my accountant. He had a lot of very sensible questions. Questions I don't want to have to think about
  • I told more people. This is always a big moment, when vague ideas become real
  • I got more deeply in to how my business needs to evolve, what work I want to continue to do, what I want to stop and, importantly, how I want my work to evolve to reflect the journey I'm on
  • I got a bit overwhelmed on a coaching call about funnels and go-to-market strategies
I know from my past experiences of change that sometimes the fear stops you doing anything at all.

But sometimes you don't have much fear, until you start doing things. It's then that the scale of the change, the amount there is to do, the real risks and all the things you haven't thought about hit you.

That's me today. On the outside I look like a normal person going about their business. On the inside I'm a mess of ideas and questions and fears and enjoyment. And I've still got to do the normal things like make dinner and put a laundry on.

Change has various stages, the first being The Call to Adventure.  I will write about that in future I'm sure. But just so you know, the second stage is Refusal of the Call to Adventure! It's right there, the opportunity to change. But you could just ignore it, and you do. Ignoring it doesn't necessarily mean running the other way. It might just mean tinkering around the edges of the opportunity but not really committing. And, as you'll notice from my bullet points, I can still back off. I can delay. I can dilute.

At some point though I'm going to take an action that means that turning around is not an option (or at least that it's an expensive or laborious option). Right now, to go back to the gymnastics analogy, I can do the competition or not do the competition. Sometime over the next few days, weeks or months I'm going to be doing the competition.

If I'm nerv-excited right now, I may have to coin a new word to accompany that moment.

Suggestions welcome!

Saturday, 21 October 2017

I can't sleep

I've been awake since 8am. That's not too bad. But I didn't get to sleep until 3.30am.

My phone is bursting with notes I just HAD to write down before I could sleep. Business ideas, blog ideas, where we could live, what car we could get, how to explain this to friends and family, what we will be giving up, whether we want this anyway.

You see, for a while now I've been stuck.

I've got a lovely life. I love my work. I love my family. I love where we live.

But something isn't right.

I'm stressed most of the time. I worry about being able to provide for my daughter year after year.  Running your own business is always a roller-coaster and, even after 20 years in business, I still have quiet times, times when I think no one will ever want to work with me again or times when I'm tempted to take work just because it will pay the bills.

I'm really busy. Who knows why?! But there's never enough time. We've got 2 dogs, 3 rabbits and a couple of gerbils. I'm a single mum running a business that requires a fair bit of travel. I've got a house to look after, a band I sing in, friends I wish I could see more of and I'm home schooling. I'm stretched very thin. But really, is it necessary?

Life has become very expensive. What with the car payments, and the insurance policies, and the riding lessons, and the mortgage, and the bills, and the charitable donations, and the magazine subscriptions, and whatever else, our fixed outgoings are in the thousands of £s every month. That's before we've eaten or bought any clothes or had a holiday. It's always tight. We've accumulated a lot of overhead. And it's literally a full time job keeping up with it.

My daughter is wide open to learning. As home schoolers it's my responsibility to create a rich environment for learning. I'm inspired by families who take their kids on the road, by children who have a broader perspective about life than gymnastics class and Toys R Us and spending money on material things. Right now she's obsessed with YouTube videos of people "unboxing" toys and then slicing them open to see what's inside. To me that represents everything that's wrong in this world. Could shaking up our lives expose her to a world she's never experienced and maybe change her perspective for the better?

There's a big world out there and yet our lives are a bit predictable (despite the roller coaster of the business, of course). Days are spent working, driving, making appointments, keeping appoitments, picking up stuff from the floor, doing the laundry, watching TV, eating. Does it have to be that way?

Which is why I couldn't sleep last night.

I know in my heart that it's time to shake things up. It's time to live in a lighter way - to have less stuff, to be less static, to be more adventurous. With a child at home and no school we're not tied to term times and school runs. With a business that entails a lot of phone, skype and email and only occassionally the need for me to physically be in a place in person, we could be less location dependant. With a family home we can sell and a relatively small mortgage to pay off we could have very few overheads.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to throw caution to the wind. We're not planning (not yet anyway) to sell all our worldly goods and drop out of society.

But there are a few things I'm ready for -

1. I want to travel. I don't want to wake up in the same place month after month. I want to explore, learn about new places, be surprised, have an adventure. Without a mortgage and all the bills to pay we could explore the world...and our own country.

2. I want to create time. I want to work but I want that work to blend with my life, giving me time to spend with my daughter, to play, to relax, to look out at the view without fidgeting because I should be doing something else.

3. I want to live NOW. I don't want to wait until retirement to start living. I want to feel like my life is happening right now, not at some point in the future when I have more money, or when I have more time, or when I have fewer commitments. I want to start today.

Sometime between 10pm last night and 3.30am this morning I became clear about what I want our lives to look like in the next few months (the timescale is a little fuzzy right now).

I want us to be basically homeless. I want us to move out of this house and be temporarily living somewhere with just the belongings we can fit in to the back of a car and perhaps a small trailer. We have the dogs of course and they would travel with us, most of the time at least. And I want to be comfortably working on my business 4 hours a day at most so that I have time for other adventures.

Where we will start that adventure I'm not sure yet. Maybe we'll get an AirBnB somewhere for a month, maybe we'll start near where my parents live or closer to friends. Maybe France. But these are questions we don't have to answer yet. I tried to get the answers in the wee small hours but clarity eluded me. I know from previous life upheavals that you can't answer all the questions at the start. You just have to decide what questions you need to answer first.

What I was able to do was get clear on the first few practical steps -

Revamp the business - My business is high maintenance. I need to step back from it and work out how to make it much more simple. It really shouldn't require 8-10 hours a day of complete focus (plus all the hours I'm supposed to be doing something else but really just thinking some more about the business). This means some strategic businessy stuff which I'm sure you aren't interested in! But somehow I have to get my business ready for the road and a new lifestlye.

Get some money - All my money is tied up in my house and in investments. I'm not loaded! But I could live on my savings for a year if we were careful. Next week I'm meeting a financial advisor and one of my questions will be whether we could use that money to support our change of lifestyle. It's hard to disrupt your life if you're worried about where the money will come from and while I'm confident that I can continue to work, to find new business, to bring money in, removing the pressure of HAVING TO for a year could really help me do the revamping required without worrying about cashflow.

Get out of this house - It's a bit complicated but my house is rented to tenants and we're living in a house my parents own. It's fine but it's full of their junk, the garden is too small, it's not really configured for how we live and my parents want to sell it. If we can get out of here, stick our stuff in storage and find places to stay for a month at a time (or so) we'll be on our way with our adventure. My parents can sell this house. I can sell my house. My overheads will drop. My responsibilities will reduce. We will have choices.

Clear the clutter, lighten the load - I've got to start getting rid of some stuff. There are cupboards and cupboards of old towels and sheets here and who knows what's under the eaves in the attic?! I pared down my belongings when I rented out my old house and what's left is now sitting in a storage container for some future date when I need furniture. But there's plenty of rubbish in this house too. I brought ALL my work related books and ALL my back issues of Harvard Business Review. Given that anything I want to find is online and that I've read all of the books anyway, I should just get rid of them. I've got clothes I don't wear and paperwork I really don't need. I need to get the contents of this house down to one storage unit (which will mean I have two, I know, it's still a lot) plus the stuff we'll travel with. And that means convincing my daughter that she doesn't need everything she's collected too.

Oh, a word about her.

At some point in my mid-night musings it did occur to me that she may not be fully on board with this plan.

When she realises she'll have to leave behind most of her toys, especially all of her cuddly animals, she may not be as thrilled as she was when I suggested we do more traveling together.  When she realises it means not seeing her friends so easily or going to her clubs or getting a pig right now (Yes, we want a pig!) she may not be enthused. It's all very well having great plans but you've got to get the other key players on board.

Maybe that's step one. Or maybe there's no way she can be fully on board until she's out there living it with me. I'll let you know!

Featured post

Xplor Park Review

We tend not to spend a lot of money on "experiences" when we travel. We don't buy tours or pay for a lot of extras. Howev...