Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How baby-friendly is Spain really?

Spain is a great country to travel with children, everyone agrees on that. From guidebooks to mummy bloggers to parents themselves, all of them will praise the friendliness of the locals, the many outdoors activities available for children and the gorgeous weather that will delight families all year round - that depends on the destination, of course, Spain is a big country after all. But what about babies? Is it really that easy to travel to Spain with a little bundle in your arms? I had never thought about it until now.

I grew up in Tenerife and as a child I spent most of my holidays in the Spanish mainland. So whatever I was given, I would take as normal. And as a child you may cry or throw a tantrum if uncomfortable but you wouldn't try and analyse what could be improved to make things smoother for both children and parents. But things have changed now as I'm not the child anymore and I no longer live in Spain. Now I am responsible for a baby of my own and after my first holiday ever with BabyGirl in the south of Spain I have realised that as good as everything is, Spain could definitely do with a bit more of baby-friendliness.

Below is a list of the most inconvenient moments I found during my short stay in Malaga. Again, Spain is a big country and customs differs widely from the south to the north, so the situation might be drastically different depending on where you go. And as this is my first holiday with a baby I cannot compare to anything else, only to our tranquil life here in Switzerland. So maybe Spain is still scoring top of the list of baby-friendly holiday destinations and I just don't realise it yet.


A bus ride can be a very bumpy experience in Spain. Drivers are reckless, it is hot inside and people share the most intimates details of their lives out loud with everyone and anyone. Most Spanish people still prefer a private car over any means of public transport and I guess that's partly the reason why travelling with baby and buggy on a bus is not as easy as it is here in Basel. First you have to use the front door to get in, which is usually narrower and unlike in Switzerland where you can use any door. Not only are back doors wider but they usher you straight into the area for buggies and wheelchairs. Besides, help is scarce. Maybe because people are not used to seeing many people pushing buggies into a bus, maybe because it's too hot during the summer and people cannot be bothered or maybe I was just unlucky.


Now, more than everything else on this list, this really depends on the place. But my (limited) experience tells me that too often the Spanish streets are not particularly baby-friendly. Or better said, buggy-friendly. They can be too steep, inconveniently cobbled or simply dotted with a hole here and another there because of ongoing maintenance works. Anyway, either some strong and skilled arms or a sling will see you through.


Having to change baby's nappy in town can be a tricky situation, especially if you don't have everything you might need with you. Changing facilities are not very widespread - you're more likely to find them at big shopping centres and similar - and not particularly up to date. Usually, they consist of a rigid changing table tucked in the ladies toilets. So no private room for you and your baby and very little comfort if any. Hopefully, this is more a case of me trying too few of them but I'm afraid that this is still the norm in most places.


If changing facilities can be hard to find, breastfeeding facilities are almost impossible. Spain has a long tradition of c-sections and bottle fed babies and though more and more people are favouring mother nature when it comes to baby matters, breastfeeding facilities are still out of the agenda. Your better bet is to look for the back tables of a cosy café and enjoy some morning snack or evening tapas while baby drinks his milk. Or be prepared to breastfeed in public and ready to get a few odd stares. 


Oh my, is Spain noisy! Cars are always honking and somewhere not too far someone will be drilling some street to the core. Music is banging at every shop and bar and inside any house people talk way too loud and the tv is always on maximum volume. Yes, Spain is definitely noisy and babies will notice. And suffer it but then they get used to it. On our first day in Malaga I went with BabyGirl to a shopping centre for some window shopping and despite her being a great sleeper who does a five-hour stretch every morning, she found it impossible to stay in slumberland for longer than a half hour. There was loud music everywhere and it was cold every now and then because of the airco. Anyway, I dared doing the same on our second day and this time she slept peacefully most of the time. As I said, babies get used to (almost) everything. And quickly.


Keeping up with babies getting used to almost everything when on holidays, heat and coldness are minor offenders under normal circumstances - no colds or sun strokes on sight. Summers can be terribly hot in Spain and babies will notice, sweat and demand food more often to quench their thirst. But they get used to it and live with it. It is usually grown-ups who suffer more under extreme weather and it is us grown-ups who can make babies fussy when we're uncomfortable. Hot or cold, babies (and children) will usually enjoy their holidays all the same.

In spite of every inconvenience I've listed above, I truly enjoyed my first holiday with BabyGirl and I wouldn't trade our holidays in Spain for anything (plans for flying to Tenerife later this summer are in the making). I think it may take a bit of practice to make a holiday with a baby a smooth sail so I'll just keep on trying. 

I would love to hear read your opinions about this. Have you been to Spain with babies, toddlers or children? How did you find it? Holidays anywhere else? How did it go?
Thanks for sharing all your stories and advice.

Have a lovely Wednesday!

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