Before I had children I had an almost utopian vision of what it would be like to travel with children. I imagined small people willingly mixing in with different cultures, playing with children and hungrily learning new languages and trying new food, and them patiently staring out of the bus window on long (ish) journeys and asking questions about what's this and that on the roadside.
As any parent will tell you this utopian vision is a far cry from the reality of traveling with small children. Mine are currently four and six years old.
We have found ourselves in the south of Spain in a beautiful farming region of Murcia where the temperatures range between 32 and 35 degrees centigrade. We are staying in is is essentially a bankrupt Golf Course apartment complex, the nearest town is 1 and 1/2 Mile walk away in the blazing desert heat without shade, and from there there's only one bus per day that leaves to the main cities. The closest beach is 25 minutes in car, or 4 ½ hours by a series of bus journeys.
I can confidently say that this is not really my idea of a great travelling or even relaxing holiday experience. (Sorry Mum & Dad I know you meant well when you booked it, but let's be frank here, we all agree it's far from an ideal choice!)
But this isn't about me complaining about what's essentially holiday gone ever-so-slightly wrong, this is more about the difference between what you enjoy as a traveller and what a small child expects from…well…life!
These are five key things that don't work with small children but work for me with glee as a traveller.
- Hot weather. I'm more than OK with it. They are not. If they are in the pool it's fine, but sleeping, meal times, walking from one place to another are quite simply a nightmare for them. So we are spending the majority of time indoors rather than exploring the local areas. (With the air con on, something in principle I really don't agree with for eco reasons but needs must!)
- Spain time vs UK time. And I don't just mean the GMT difference. My kids bodyclock is around 7-am - 8pm awake time. Spanish life stops between 2pm and 5pm then wakes up again til around 1am. My two just need to go to sleep or become insane, they hate napping in the day, meaning evening walks when the cooler weather comes are pretty much out unless we pass the kids off on the grandparents.
- Food. We are a family of vegetarians and though there's plenty of lovey fruit and salad, my daughter is really missing a veggie sausage! What is really disappointing is that I can't really comment on eating out - we haven't really had a chance to sample local cuisine. The only restaurants local are closed a lot of the time or just cater for English tourists (patatas bravas was a disappointing bowl of square chips covered in tomato sauce, I mean WTAF?!). So we are limited to cooking at home with what's available from the small store in the nearby village.
- Transport. Car hire here is expensive, and there's six of us, and there are no cars available big enough to take us all. We've been lucky enough to find a well meaning local with a people carrier who has been more than happy to drive us to a town or beach when we need to escape. As there's only one taxi in the whole town we would be surely going crazy without him.
- Time alone. I brought three books with me and oh how I'm laughing now! I managed to read a very short story in the last 6 days in stolen moments in the loo, but that's all the time alone there's been. It's not bad, it's just different. Long gone are the days of swinging in a hammock and racing through a book in a day.
I could go on but you get the picture. We as parents are guilty of not researching the destination enough and preparing more toys and a larger suitcase, or trying harder to arrange a hire car so we can escape with more ease, but really it's just accepting that small children like their routine and we have ended up in a place that is very limited on things to do outside the apartment for various reasons.
The children like their toys, their own beds, routine and veggie sausages. They are loving the trip for the pool and later nights, but I confess that when they ask when they're going home it makes me a little sad. I guess exploring will come later when they are older. In the meantime I shall persist, remain positive, and work on planning the next adventure with them at the heart of it.