Are you counting down the days until you can leave your cares behind and fly off to Spain for a week of sun, sand and sea – or are you more concerned about sunburn, stress and sickness?
If the thought of travelling to Spain with your family fills you with dread then you are not alone, a quarter of people claim to need another holiday just after returning from their annual family vacation. But fear not! It need not be the stuff of nightmares, in fact, with a little forward planning you can avoid the stress and tantrums and, with some luck, create some beautiful memories to cherish.
Certainly, travelling with babies and toddlers is rarely going to be a ‘walk in the park’ – but a little advance preparation can help reduce some of the anxiety. It goes without saying that family holidays force a change in your holiday priorities, so before you book, spend time discussing what you like to do as a family, choosing carefully where you are going to go and what is going to suit your needs.
Realistically if you have young babies you won’t be sunbathing all day and clubbing all night, unless you are bringing a nanny or grandparents! So, self-catering in Spain is often a great solution for families as it gives you greater freedom and flexibility. Keeping travel time to a minimum also helps to reduce boredom, tiredness and temper tantrums (and that may just be the adults!). All-inclusive holidays in Spain with their kids club and on-site entertainment have become increasingly popular but they don’t work for everybody so, don’t rule out a city break! Indeed, there are some really great child-friendly destinations in Spain and you can find yourself spoilt for choice for things to do including museums to visit and plenty of parks and shops.
Once your destination is decided, packing can be another source of discontent! However, you can help to avoid this by giving your kids their own rucksack to fill with whatever toys, books and games they can fit in whilst adhering to airline regulations. This has the added benefit of restricting them to only what they can carry; they have to consider exactly what will keep them entertained for the duration of the journey and the trip itself and they can’t blame you for forgetting things. If they are particularly attached to cuddly animals I would seriously consider leaving teddy at home, you wouldn’t want the trauma of losing their favourite cuddly would you? Such a tragedy could blight your holiday.
For long journeys, consider bringing a DVD player or gaming device, these items take on hero status if you ever get delayed! Also take reading material, card games, dice, and pen and paper for endless games of Noughts and Crosses or Fox and Geese as these can make all the difference if your plane gets diverted and you end up waiting hours for a bus to turn up. Depending on the age of your kids, audio books and sticker books can also be great fun; my son once spent most of a transatlantic flight happily sticking the same stickers over and over again. Inventing new games is popular in our house; my son is constantly trying to improve upon Rock, Paper and Scissors. Meanwhile, if you are really stuck for ideas, there are many books with fun ideas on games to play on the move, one such classic is Are We There Yet, which accompanies us everywhere.
Airports are no fun if you are stuck queuing for hours but there is lots of scope for fun there as this is new ground to explore! If you find yourself with a bit of time on your hands and are not breaking your neck trying to get to the gate on time, you can invent an impromptu treasure hunt; it doesn’t have to be complicated, reel off a list of things for your kids to find. Letting your kids walk around the airport to let off a bit of steam will distract them and burn off any excess energy before the flight. Trying to find the children’s play area can also kill time and can entertain them for a short while too. Get your kids to help out, have them determine which gate you need and how to get there, where the toilets are located etc. – all of which can also take the pressure off you, if you find airports and children a frustrating combination…
Apart from entertainment, food and drink are essential items to carry at all times and make sure you have plenty; hungry kids are cranky kids! Even on short car journeys stock up with snacks and water.
Once you make it to your destination, whilst you probably don’t want to plan out every minute of your holiday in Spain with military precision, it’s important to find out what everybody else wants to do, increasingly so when your kids are older. Make a list and aim to do one thing every day, whether it’s a beach day or exploring day – that way nobody will miss out. If everyone gets a say then they won’t feel left out either, which can help avoid rows. If you find it hard to decide what to do, pick a suggestion out at random every morning for spontaneity. If you want to go to an art gallery, go in the morning and plan a trip to the pool or park in the afternoon – so the kids have something to look forward to.
On the subject of art galleries, don’t immediately rule these out as being too boring for kids, they can be great fun. Read up about the gallery beforehand, choosing 10 masterpieces you want to see, then hand the map to your child and ask them to direct you. In my experience you will end up seeing more than you bargained for. Ask your child to choose which piece they like most and why – which will stimulate their interest in art with following up with a visit to the shop/cafe at the end a bonus.
Holidays in Spain do not have to be all about the beach either with parks great places to go with your kids. Apart from the obligatory playgrounds, there are usually street performers to be found, skateboarders and bmx-ers to watch, and more than likely a cafe or ice cream stand. What better way to relax and people-watch than wandering around a city park for a few hours on a sunny afternoon?
One of the things I love about Spain is that families are welcomed and it helps that eating out is so easy here, tapas are perfect for kids and they can feel very adventurous trying all of the little dishes.
Certainly, Spanish food is very approachable, and it’s not hard to find new favourites here; albóndigas, croquetas, tortilla, alitas, and pimientos al padrón are all tempting to children and not too dissimilar to what they eat at home. In the evening bring things for the kids to do, so you can enjoy a relaxed evening meal outside of your hotel or holiday rental.
Ultimately only you can judge how far your child will walk in one day but don’t overdo it and make sure there is always an ice cream as a reward for climbing up a particularly arduous monument or hill – or make sure to squeeze in a visit to the pool or beach afterwards. Family holidays can be so enjoyable and relaxing but you may have to do a bit of prep beforehand. Be flexible, remember to breathe and enjoy!
Louise Mee – Culture Spain