How we make holidays to Sunny Spain work!
A bit of an unusual (and rather long) blog post for me, but after walking, I suppose my next favourite hobby is holidays! I just love being in the sun, eating all that fabulous food, relaxing by the pool, and at three, Jess is currently on her 10th beach holiday (all mainland Spain or the canaries). ‘Holiday chat’ is the sort of thing that comes up when talking to other mums, so I thought I’d share some of our top tips for enjoying holidays! Obviously every child is different, and so is every family, so what works for us won’t necessarily work for you, but here it is anyway in the hope it’s of some use to someone .
We’ve stayed in a variety of places abroad with our little ones, from hotels and apartments, to villas. I think in reality this will come down to where you can afford, but I’d try to get as much space as you can. One room in a hotel is definitely do-able, but you’ll find yourself overflowing with ‘stuff’, and after bedtime it restricts where you can sit and enjoy a drink in peace (hope for a good balcony). We’d rather pay for a bigger room in more basic accommodation rather than be cramped somewhere swish. Again, that might be preference. On this most recent holiday we got a two bedroom apartment, so Jess had her own room, we could put James in the travel cot in our room and enjoy using the kitchen and dining room, and living area to make drinks! If you’ve got a really little one try to stay somewhere with kitchen facilities so you’ve got a proper fridge and sink (although more advice to follow).
Make sure you check the stair/lift situation before you book too! In some villas we’ve stayed in the stairs have had open bannisters, so even stair gates haven’t helped, and some hotels have lots of floors with not so many lifts if you have a buggy! One apartment we’ve stayed in was built into the side of a hill, so we had to get four different lifts between reception and our room… there was no quick returns to the room.
Another tip if you’ve got a walker is staying somewhere with a splash park. Chances are you’ll be enjoying your pre-schooler holidays outside of school holiday time whilst you can, so we’ve always found these places relatively quiet when we go. The splash park of where we’ve regularly visited is really shallow and separate to the pools, so you can watch your children play in the fountains from the safety of your sunbed. In other places it’s deeper, it still keeps them entertained more than a pool would but you need to stay next to them.
If you’ve gone for a package holiday or scheduled flights you’ll probably have loads of luggage allowance, lucky you. Just don’t get too over excited, you’ll still need to move it, and a pushchair, car seat, hand luggage and children!
In the age of budget airlines this is our strategy; we have one big case. In there goes nappies, toiletries and kids clothes. We have a cabin bag each for our clothes and we pack light.
Hand luggage; one of us carries our personal possessions such as electronics, books and snacks. Another bag is the change bag. Jess’s bag (at three she now also pulls this herself) is for her toys, which means she gets them for the flight. I usually buy her something new for the flight too- a new book, stickers or magazine for example. And I download A LOT of episodes of Peppa and Blippi on the iPad.
If you’re considering a Trunki, make sure you’ve got spare arms to carry it if (when) they get bored of it.
Planning days out
Urgh. I hate the word planning on holidays! At home we don’t really do routines. But on holiday we absolutely do, we find it massively helps us get some much needed adult time!
Firstly, naps. An early afternoon nap is really important to us. Up until last year Jess was used to naps and would nap anywhere, so after she’d had her lunch we would strap her in the pushchair and she’d fall asleep whilst we walked to a nice restaurant and enjoyed a child free meal. Now, she doesn’t really do naps at home, but on holiday we let her stay up later if she goes for a nap. We put her down in the room whilst we sunbathe on the balcony with a glass of wine. I guess you take what you can get!
Bedtimes. When Jess was younger we used to get her pjs on normal time, give her milk in the pushchair and then have an evening out with her asleep next to us. Again, now she’s older this has changed. We go out earlier with her and, if we’re not in a villa etc, are back in time for the kids disco. We put her to bed after this then sit out with a takeaway if we’ve not eaten and a drink. Back to the earlier point about making sure you’ve got the right accommodation.
Contingencies. One of the problems with beach holidays is that if it’s not sunny the resort comes to a standstill. Sure, if it’s still warm you can still play on the beach, but if it’s rainy you can’t just go and get drunk like we did pre-children 😂😂 Make sure you do your research before you go and have a few places to visit in your back pocket if the weather turns. Animal parks and city visits have always worked well for us.
Baby and child equipment
Firstly, don’t stress about this. I suspect you’re not planning on visiting a third world country. So most places will have most of what you need. Travel cots will be available from pretty much everywhere that you would want to stay. Hotels will have high chairs in their restaurants (as will restaurants when you eat out), and the villas we’ve stayed in have often had highchairs, toys and even stair gates. So whatever you think you might need, make sure that you ask before you go. Our apartments even have a stash of pushchairs that people have left behind.
Having said that, most places only offer a travel cot for baby sleeping (albeit often with a proper mattress). So if you have a newborn it might be worth getting them used to a night or two in one before you go.
If we aren’t renting a car we haven’t bothered about a car seat… I know this might not be everyone’s preference. On coach transfers we’d put baby on knee and in taxis we’d do the same. Often private transfers offer car seats for young children; again, just ask. Car seats are quite pricey from car rental companies, so try to find one where it’s included or you could take your own (just think about logistics in the airport).
If you don’t mind spending the money, we also regularly rent equipment. The places we’ve stayed in Spain have always had pretty hairy stairs so we’ve rented stair gates for our stay. When Jess was first out of a travel cot we rented a bed guard. This time round we hired a bouncer for James so we had somewhere to put him down in the apartment, as well as hiring a double buggy (we didn’t think we could fit cases, us and a buggy in the hire car!). We’ve found these companies are often run by expats and it’s quite an informal system, but we’ve never had any problems. Just Google baby hire in the area your staying and hopefully something will come up!
Nappies. Available in all supermarkets, but we’ve found are pretty pricey abroad so have tended to take a big pack with us, then we can just top up if needed when we’re out there.
Carriers. When Jess was a baby we never took her baby bjorn away with us, and just used a pushchair. But this time we took it and it was SUCH a help. Firstly, we’ve always taken the pushchair around the airport and left it until the last minute to hand over. But actually it’s a lot easier without it. AND it means you have the carrier if you have any wait in customs before you get your pushchair back. Babies get heavy really quickly. It’s also come in handy on market day when you need to push your way through crowds! So now we take both.
Food and Drink
If you’re breastfeeding, brilliant! Super easy for you! Just be mindful that maxi dresses (my go to wardrobe on holiday) are not always breastfeeding friendly so you might need alternatives. I’ve fed without any cover all over and no ones ever said anything.
If you’re still on formula we find the easiest thing to do (although not the most environmentally friendly) is to use the ready made bottles. These are not widely available in the rest of Europe, but you can order them in advance from Boots or Superdrug in the departure lounge before you go. Just make sure you’ve thought about how you’ll carry them on along with children and hand luggage. But we’ve ordered 30 bottles a time and a tub of formula for longer holidays!
If you’re happy on powder make sure you know how much you’ll need. You’ll probably need to buy bottled water to make up the formula which have a low sodium and sulphate content, but otherwise it’s the same as doing it in the UK. Whilst you can buy powdered formula abroad, the brands are different,so it depends how fussy your child is. That said, some brands are just operating under different names so might be worth doing a little research. Sterilising tablets are probably the easiest thing to use to sterilise bottles abroad, but be aware in some hotel rooms the sinks are quite shallow so you might find yourself out buying a mop bucket at 6am on the first morning (yes, that is the voice of experience there). Cheap children’s beach buckets also work well, but probably only fit 1-2 bottles in at a time.
If your child is older than a year and on cow’s milk, this is readily available from supermarkets, either fresh or long life. If you’re in a hotel we’ve got it when down at breakfast, and in the evenings just asked a bar to fill her sippy cup.
Top tip; In Spain we’ve found most children’s menus offer pop or pure fruit juice to drink. Fruit shoots aren’t really a thing, so unless you’re happy giving your pre-schooler coke with every meal you’ll be ordering lots of still water. We fill up a small bottle with squash from the supermarket and just top it up (she’s not a massive fan of too much water).
Eating out? Expect to have a lot of children’s meals consisting of pizza, pasta and chips. I’d just say chill, it’s their holiday too. A quick trip to the supermarket can stock you up on fruit to make you feel better. We’ve found that pouches of fruits and yogurts are widely available in Spain and the Canaries. And if you’re self-catering you can usually find something healthy to make yourselves!
Right, prepare for what I imagine is a controversial comment. Often we eat our evening meals separately. Early evening we’ll go out with Jess, give her a kids meal and enjoy a drink. Then later we’ll either do a takeaway with her in bed, or choose a nicer restaurant where she just has a drink or snack. Obviously this only works if you’re self-catered. Whilst we’re eating we have tried to get James asleep and give Jess the iPad to keep her entertained (I know this isn’t for everyone- my thoughts on this are covered in this blog post earlier this year). It’s an altogether less painful experience- which is the point of holidays, right?!
So there you have it. A pretty good description of how we’ve made our holidays work for us. We love them and have our next ones booked already 👍👍 Any other advice and good ideas? Please share them! I’ll add them onto the bottom of this blog (obviously will credit them to you!)