What It's Really Like to Travel With Kids in Spain

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When we asked our friends, families, and readers what they were most interested in learning about from our blog, the most common answer was, "I want to know what it's really like to travel with your child." Of course there were variations of that same answer, but when it comes down to it, you are interested in the logistics of it all.

Because of that we are going to tell you what our life is like on the road. We will be creating a series of posts that talk about the logistics. Things like traveling internationally with a child, long-haul flights, booking a rental car when you have kids, eating in different countries, what we do for fun, sleeping arrangements, how we balance working on this blog, our Instagram feed, and YouTube channel while raising a child, and how we decide where to go and what to do. 

Here's a little secret (and apologies because it's a little mundane)...the everyday things have not been that different for us because of the locations we have chosen to visit thus far. Before we embarked on this latest adventure, we had already lived in 5 different states in the USA and traveled to over 15 countries. For some of you, traveling to a different country can be scary and that is why we are sharing our adventures. We hope to show you that international travel can be really fun, educational, and excited for all family members. You just need to decide what your goals are for your vacation.

Our travels tend to gravitate toward the cities, and for the most part the general daily tasks are very similar. Yes, the history and cultures are different, but the day to day living experiences do not have to be that different if you do not want them to be. Your children's playground may just have a way cooler backdrop for the day. But, all over the world people love their families, care for them, and generally want the best for them. And you will find that all over the world you can buy items you need when you need them so try to travel light.

I read a book recently about a family that was setting out on a year-long adventure. The author was recounting their travel preparations with their packing list and the question came up - should they pack enough toothpaste for the year. I'm not sure if she was serious, but in our minds that is just silly. I mean they do sell toothpaste all over the world. Why would you try to pack all of your toiletries for a whole year? It would require a massive suitcase! The toothpaste might not be what you're used to, but these are not the things we worry about. So generally we will bring a small travel toiletry set to use for those days when the store is already closed when we roll into town and buy what we need the next day.

Now, there are definite differences between life in the USA and life in the countries we visit. If everything was the same, why bother traveling? However, these differences are the icing on the cake; the things that make going to a new place more exciting. Not something to be feared.

So, since we have started our travels in Spain, let's look at a few of the differences we have noticed.

First Big Difference - Eating Times!

Holy moly, this is a tough one for American families to adjust to, but I would imagine less difficult to deal with on a shorter vacation of 2 weeks or less. When we are in "vacation mode" eating at any and all times of day is fine. However, I cannot eat in vacation mode all the time as it starts to make me feel sick after too long.

 

For the Spanish, lunch is their biggest meal of the day. This is already enough of a difference for us, but then you factor in the snacks throughout the day and it can be even stranger. Here's a breakdown of the normal eating times in Spain as we have observed them:

  • 8:00 am - 9:00 am - Desayuno - Breakfast which is typically something sweet like churros and chocolate or toast with tomatoes and olive oil paired with cafe con leche (espresso with milk) or fresh squeezed orange juice.
  • 10:30 am - 11:00 am - Almuerzo - Mid-morning snack which is typically another coffee or juice with a muffin or a croissant filled with Iberico ham and cheese. School children have almuerzo at school as well.
  • 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm - La Comida - Lunch is their biggest meal of the day. You will see stores all over town closed so people can go home for lunch with their families. Schools let out around 2:00 pm and children eat lunch with their families too (instead of at school). 
  • 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm - Merienda - Mid-Afternoon Snack is like the Almuerzo, but more about socializing over a drink rather than filling a growling belly. After all, lunch just wrapped up a couple of hours ago. 
  • 8:00 pm - 10:30 pm - La Hora del Apertivo - Tapas hour which I would equate to happy-hour in the USA, but much later. There is socializing to do and drinks to imbibe along with tapas, or sharable plates once the work day is done. Yep, work ends around 8:00 pm because lots of shops were closed for a couple of hours for La Comida. During tapas hour, friends gather to share small plates and drinks while they catch up on the day.
  • 9:00 pm - 11:00 pm - La Cena - Dinner time in Spain is much, much later than in the USA and surprisingly still a family affair. During the work week, the streets are definitely quieter, however on the weekends, we often heard children in the streets after midnight. Dinner at home in Spain is a lighter meal - typically bread, sliced ham, and cheese, while in the restaurants dinner is a shared meal amongst friends where a "ration" or plate is ordered (typically one per person) and shared family style. 

There are a lot of eating times to keep track of, but what I love the most is the underlying sense of community. It all about socializing which I feel is lacking a bit back home. In Chicago, our daily life was consumed with getting to school, working a full day, and ending with the hurried nighttime routine of dinner, bath, story and bed. There were days I didn't even have time to eat lunch and even more days where I ate from my desk. I get the feeling that would not happen in Spain.

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Our typical day in Spain started with breakfast at home where we generally consumed scrambled eggs, yogurt, and bread with hazelnut spread. Snacks were had around 11:00 - 11:30 am so we were a bit late and lunch was often eaten around 1:30 pm - 2:00 pm. Eleanor would have a snack at home around 3:00 pm and then another at school around 5:30 pm. Then we would have dinner around 8:00 pm. We often made tapas hour our dinner as the tapas portions in Seville were of good size and life is better when Eleanor gets her sleep. We decided as a family we would not stay up until 11:00 pm in order to consume dinner unless we were invited by a local family to do so. Unfortunately, this never happened. 

Second Big Difference - Wake up and Sleep Times

Spain is a late country. They enjoy rising later and staying up much later. We attributed it to their timezone. While the country is geographically in line with countries like Portugal and Morocco, it has adhered to the same timezone as Germany since 1940, due to a change the then dictator, Francisco Franco made to show alliance to Hitler. What has resulted is a much later sunrise and sunset. It's easy to see why the schedule is naturally later as people like to live life when the sun is up. 

For 3 of our 4 weeks in Seville, we found an after school program to enroll Eleanor in that ran from 3:30 pm - 8:30 pm Monday - Thursday. When we picked her up around 8:00 pm, the sun was still high in the sky and it felt more like 6:00 pm. The time was an adjustment, especially because we were in Spain over summer solstice when the daylight hours are the longest. But again, this would not be as difficult if we were on vacation as sleep routines are more flexible for us during those times. Yes, she has been staying up later, but she compensates by sleeping in a bit later too. If we were living here for the long-term, that would not be possible as the work/school day still begins around 8:00 am. There is the afternoon siesta, but the adjustment would be difficult. Since we are only here for one month, we are not transitioning to the locals daily routine, just moving ours back an hour or two.

During our final week in Spain, Eleanor was in a daytime summer camp. This surprisingly started at 7:30 am and ran until 3:30 pm. It was to cover the morning shift of work and the children did eat lunch around 1:30 pm. We enjoyed using this opportunity to move her schedule forward an hour and tried our best to get to bed closer to 9:00 pm so we could get up earlier. Our drop off time was between 8:00 am - 9:00am. The hope was that it would make our schedule in our next destination easier.

Third Big Difference - More Family Tolerant

So many people talk about Spain being family-friendly. I would call it more family tolerant. It's definitely more family-friendly than the USA, but we have been to much more family-friendly destinations. Places like Greece where even the heavily-tattooed teenager played peekaboo with Eleanor on the subway. Here, there are lots of parks and playgrounds to keep the children occupied, but they are often located near eating establishments where the parents can socialize with their friends while the kids play together on the slides and swings. 

No one will bat an eye when bringing a child with you to a restaurant late at night or to a flamenco show, but we have not had the experience of people doting on Eleanor, which is what I imagine most people think of when they think of family-friendly. Not that it's a problem as Eleanor is pretty shy around new people so this is a pretty great level of family acceptance for us. 

What we've been doing

I mentioned that Eleanor was in an after school program so that gave our days some structure, which is needed and appreciated in this house. So our typical day (in a nutshell) was a late wake up with breakfast at home, touring the city during the late morning hours, and lunch and snack before the school program. Brett and I did take Spanish language classes for a week and then decided to scrap those so we could focus more on the blog, video content, and social media. We are able to get a lot done, but we're no superheros. We picked Eleanor up around 8:00 pm and some nights went out for dinner and others we made dinner at home before calling it a day. 

Spain was an adjustment month for us. Eleanor was able to play with children at a school and Brett and I were able to adjust to life on the road. From here on out, the three of us will spend more time together as we do not have school programs lined up and we will be spending less time in each city. 

Some new discoveries

Whenever we travel someplace new, there are things we like and hope to incorporate back home. The new discoveries I can see bringing home with us are:

  • 4 cheese pizza - including blue cheese which Eleanor now loves
  • Eating more olives - several restaurants have given us green olives as starters (not ordered) and Eleanor loves them. She's even learned to eat around the pits!
  • Tinto de Veranos - the Spanish have a summertime wine drink which I have enjoyed. It is basically red wine with either a lemon or orange soda. The soda cuts down on the headache inducing red wine and it is very refreshing on a hot day served over ice.  

We can't bring this home with us, but our favorite grocery store in Spain was in the basement of a big department store. We knew this from our time in Spain before, but I forgot how fun it is. Imagine going to Macy's - you walk into the perfumes, make up, and accessories and then head down the escalator to your grocery store. Not just a tiny convenience store market, but a full service, large fresh fish section, grocery store. It gets me every time, but I love this quirk.

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A few surprises we did not expect:

  • Wifi was not plentiful nor very fast - with the exception of one restaurant we discovered near Eleanor's school. La Favorita, you became our favorite afternoon hangout. Thanks for the Tinto de Veranos and fast internet!
  • Smoking is everywhere. We knew smoking was plentiful in Europe, but I did not expect to see parents smoking while pushing strollers or their children on the swings. Smoking is even allowed on the patios when dining, but not inside the restaurants so choose your seats with care. 

And that's what our daily life was like in Spain. Some of it very similar to life in Chicago and some very different. Let me know what other things you want to know about in the comments below. 

Remember to pin this so you can refer back to it. Thanks!

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