I recently took my 5- and 3-year-olds on a trip to Spain to visit family and see new cities.
I loved how kid-friendly the country was, with strangers jumping in to help us whenever we needed.
At mealtimes, I didn't see a single iPad or other tablet being used to entertain children.
My family of five just came back from a two-week trip around northern Spain and Madrid. We were there visiting family and sightseeing, and it was the first time my 5-year-old son and 3-year-old twins visited the country.
The kids had a blast while trying new foods, visiting new places — ruins and forts were a hit — and being immersed in a new, different culture. As we were about to board our flight back home, my son was already asking when we could go back to Spain for more adventures.
While this wasn't my first time visiting Spain — I've been going to see my family there since I was little — it was my first time visiting with children. Here are some of the things I loved about our time there and one that I didn't.
People are helpful
We have young twins, so we push a ginormous double stroller wherever we go. Spain was no different, except that there were millions of steps in some of the little towns we visited.
Here in the US, people look away when they see my husband huffing and puffing carrying the stroller, but in Spain, people were literally (not kidding) jumping up to help him. My husband sometimes insisted that he could carry it down a few steps alone, and people were not having it and helped him anyway.
In places such as airports and urgent-care centers, families have priority. So we skipped all lines and were ushered through like VIPs, including boarding first on the plane. It was a stark contrast when we landed back in Boston with three overtired kids and had to stand in a never-ending line despite having Global Entry.
Wherever we went with the kids, people would say hello to them, offer them candy, or squeeze their cheeks. All of our Airbnb hosts left bags of treats for the kids, which was a surprise since I hadn't seen this anywhere else in the world.
Most restaurants don't have a kids menu
While my kids are not super picky when it comes to eating, they're still kids and love the same food as other kids their age: hamburgers, pasta, and chicken fingers. On our first night there, I panicked when I realized the restaurant we chose had no kids menu. The server quickly offered an option for the kids, which they devoured.
This happened over and over wherever we went. The kids were given a simpler version of a dish the restaurant had. My kids often chose either steak or fish with french fries or veggies.
I liked the no-kids-menu dining experience because it encouraged my kids to try new things. During one of our last meals, we offered to go to a pizza place for lunch — they absolutely love pizza — and they all declined and asked for ham and olives instead.
I didn't see any iPads out in the wild
In the US, it's common to see kids watching a TV show on their iPads or other tablets during a meal. I get it; kids can be hard to handle in certain situations, and all parents are doing their best. We don't offer tablets outside airplanes or long car rides because we want to make a point of meals being a time when we connect as a family, but that can be hard for our kids to understand when they see other kids their age watching "PAW Patrol" at the table next to them.
In Spain, we saw zero tablets anywhere and plenty of kids having dinner at fancy restaurants. Kids are treated like little people and expected to behave as such. Any parent knows that isn't easy, but it was refreshing to see families having meals together without the distraction of a screen.
In the summer, kids stay up late
Last year, we visited Italy with my family, and we chose to keep the kids on a schedule as close to Eastern Time as possible so we wouldn't be jet-lagged on the way back. That meant our kids would be awake until about 10 p.m., much later than their usual bedtime.
Well, in Spain, that was way too early. During the summer, the sun doesn't set until after 9 p.m., and dinner usually starts after that. Several nights, my kids were up past midnight. While it was exhausting, it allowed us to visit restaurants we wanted to go to (all of which didn't open until later).
I felt safer there
We visited Bilbao during their fiestas, which meant everyone was out on the streets partying all day long. While having so many people out made it chaotic to find a restaurant or parking spot, I'd never felt safer. I didn't think — even for a second — about a mass shooting happening, something I regularly worry about when I take my kids to the movie theater or grocery store in the US.
I didn't like how much people still smoked everywhere
The one thing I disliked about this trip was how much people still smoked cigarettes everywhere. It was impossible to walk around in any city we visited without smelling cigarettes.
As a former smoker whose parents also used to smoke, I was surprised at how much this bothered me. It wasn't so much about myself — I didn't want my children exposed to secondhand smoke every day of our trip. I rarely see anyone smoke cigarettes anymore in the Northeastern US, where we live, so it was also a culture shock.
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