This is Part 4 of our Spain Travel Series
Travel can seem so glamorous, especially to an outsider, but certainly has its ups and downs. Now that I’ve discussed my family’s reasons for extended travel and how we paid for it, let’s dive into the details of the actual trip.
Barcelona was our original destination, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. The sea views, mountains, and Guadi’s commissioned works can be spotted from Park Guell. Montjuic castle, La Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, and el Catedral are cultural icons filled with history. The cuisine and nightlife are phenomenal.
Early in our trip, I stood atop a hill and remembered the refrain of Tauren Wells’ song, Hills and Valleys:
“On the mountains, I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I'm standing on the mountain I didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley I know I am not alone
You're God of the hills and valleys, hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone
I've watched my dreams get broken
In You, I hope again
No matter what
I know I'm safe inside Your hands.”
For a thirty-one-year-old artist, Tauren’s lyrics are profound. Whether you are feeling low in the valley, high on the mountain, or somewhere in between, God is there. Just a few months before, I was down in the valley … very concerned about my mother’s unexpected medical issues. Then, she was miraculously healed. I literally stood high on a mountain and gained a fresh perspective.
After Barcelona, we moved on to Valencia. My family and I were blessed with a rental that was just five minutes from the beach. Whether gazing into the Mediterranean Sea with feet buried in the sand, standing atop Torres de Serranos, watching sea animals swim in the renowned aquarium Oceanographic or listening to Spaniards recite the rosary inside the Valencia Cathedral, my body and mind felt at peace. It was magical.
The next stop on our itinerary was Madrid. I studied abroad in Madrid in 2001 and had a much different experience at that time. My days in 2001 were spent going to a few classes but mostly riding the new metro system and staying out all hours of the night on the weekends (some bars didn’t OPEN until 11 pm there). Now, with family in tow in 2018, we spent additional time in historical icons – Museo del Prado, Palacio Real de Madrid, and the Crypt of Almudena– and never stayed out past 10 pm.
Unfortunately, the once-gleaming metro system of Madrid was no longer gleaming and our rental on the outskirts of Madrid near Casa de Campo made it difficult to get into the city. Coupled with bad weather (lots of rain for a typically sunshine-filled city), Madrid was my least favorite of the places we visited in 2018.
Our final destination was Seville, and it was exceptional. We were fortunate to spend Semana Santa there, which is the Holy Week leading up to Easter. Seville is arguably the largest Holy Week celebration in all of Spain. There were no Easter bunnies evident in this religious ritual. Many men train for an entire year to carry their brotherhood’s paso (float) by foot through the crowded city streets. If my travel to Spain was an ice cream sundae, this was the cherry on top. I felt humbled to watch a religious ceremony steeped in tradition.
Seville was a great city for walking by foot. Several of the famous “must see” monuments were concentrated within in one-mile radius of the Cathedral. Real Alcazar de Sevilla was an architectural masterpiece, each building exquisitely designed; our boys especially enjoyed the free roaming peacocks that lingered within a few feet of us on the royal garden grounds. The boys also loved the spontaneous Flamenco dance shows taking place outside the Cathedral and within Plaza de Espana.
Regardless of the city we visited, we savored the opportunities. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together as a family. We had more impromptu tickle and pillow fights than ever before. Our kids spent several hours outside daily, getting fresh air and seeing new things. We reinforced lessons from books with practical applications at cultural sites. My oldest son mastered the complicated metro and bus transit systems, too.
Travel isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. One of the best things about extended travel is learning from your mistakes. And believe me, we made plenty. Hopefully, when you travel in the near future, you’ll keep some of my mistakes in mind and avoid them altogether.
Although we thought about this trip for a long-time, we didn’t make the final decision until one month prior to the departure date. With the holidays, it left us little time to adequately prepare. I should have looked into getting a credit card with no foreign transaction fees or at least researched the fees on our existing cards.
Also, Bryan lost his credit card less than a week into our travels (January 2018). All of our accounts, including credit cards, were joint and our U.S. based credit card company could not mail us a new card because we stayed in Airbnb rentals. Our other joint credit card expired at the end of February, and we faced a similar mailing issue. Since we were not legal residents of Spain, we could not open any Spanish bank or credit card accounts. On a whim, we got a credit card late in 2017 and strictly relied on that card the final month.
Acknowledge Your Current State of Life
Traveling with young kids is difficult no matter how you slice it. Our kids slowly became resilient travelers, but they were still two, five, and eight years old. The travel days by plane or train were the most difficult. In fact, our transatlantic flight to Barcelona and the five hours afterward trying to find our Airbnb rental made us question our decision to come to Spain at all. It felt that everything that could go wrong that day actually did. Each new city meant we had to figure out the public transit system quickly since traditional taxis only held four people max (and we had five plus luggage).
Once we were settled in a city, it took us a long time to get up and actually leave the apartment. As we ventured out, our kids complained about being hungry or walking too much. Furthermore, date nights for me and Bryan outside of the apartment were nonexistent for three months.
When in Rome…
The adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” certainly applied to our family. Spaniards are known for their long afternoon siestas, or naps. But did you know that dinner typically doesn’t start until 8pm? I have several friends in the U.S. who have their kids in bed by 7pm.
You may be shocked to discover that we ate dinner around 8pm nightly, and our two youngest sons’ bedtime was 10pm in Spain. Our oldest son’s bedtime was even later at 11pm. None of us used an alarm clock, and we all naturally awoke around 9am. Crazy, right?
The amazing thing is that our kids are still alive. And they’re not sleep deprived! In fact, they were well rested and healthy. Our youngest son had a history of chronic ear infections in the U.S. He finished a round of antibiotics in early December 2017 that didn’t work and moved onto heavier-duty antibiotics in late December. He didn’t have any ear infections in Spain!
Don’t Spoil Your Kids
Ron Lieber wrote a great book, The Opposite of Spoiled, in 2016. The subtitle says it well: raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money. Bryan and I followed these principles in the U.S. For any purchases our eight-year-old wanted to make, we’d discuss whether he had enough money in his “spend” jar to buy it himself. If not, we brainstormed ways to make it happen.
In Spain, we essentially threw those rules out the window. Bryan’s role as stay-at-home dad meant he had several weekdays with the kids while I worked. Bryan’s personal weakness is candy, and it motivates the kids to behave. Being honest, I think we spent at least $25 weekly on sweets.
The iPad is a touchy subject. Knowing we would spend a lot of time on airplanes and other transit, Santa brought an iPad to our family for Christmas 2017. Santa even had the foresight to purchase an insurance policy on the iPad from Target in the event it broke or was damaged.
Well, two weeks into our trip and our five-year-old got upset about something. In a rage, he threw the iPad on the floor. Luckily, we had a sturdy case but not enough to stop the screen from breaking. There were no Target stores in Spain, and calling the 1-800 number on the protection policy would likely incur international phone charges. We consulted local resources that charged $75 for a one-time fix, more than the cost of the protection policy itself. So we continued to use the broken iPad in Spain.
Our kids became addicted to electronics while we lived in Spain. The boys’ culture shock never really went away, and they only spoke in English. When not outside exploring, they watched the same English-speaking shows and movies repeatedly. This clearly wasn’t an ideal learning environment.
Would I Do It Over Again?
Having returned to the U.S. in early April, the most common question I get is “Would you do it all over again?” For me, the answer is a resounding YES. I grew as a person and developed a closeness with my husband and sons that can’t be taken away. Our resilience and perseverance increased as well. Was it enjoyable? YES. Hard? Most certainly. But I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.
Now that you have an overview of my family’s travels, what other burning questions are on your mind? What did you like and dislike about my Spain travel series? I need some feedback. PLEASE reply in the comments below. The next blog post may be focused on your question!
Deborah L. Meyer, CPA/PFS, CFP®is a fee-only, fiduciary financial planner and investment advisor based in Saint Charles, Missouri who helps conscientious parents achieve their financial and life goals. As the owner of WorthyNest, Deb advised faith-filled families nationally. Find Deb discussing family-minded finance on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.