Sunday 27 May 2012

Travelling with a baby in Spain: the boring logistics post

Here's an Internet breadcrumb, a collection of random thoughts, recommendations and experiences, for others thinking about travelling with a baby in Spain.

Car Seat

We took our Britax Boulevard 70 car seat, which was great to have on the plane and in the car.  Having seen the Avis hire car seats available I know it was the right decision.  The downside was that it didn't fit through hardly any of the airport security X-ray machines, which caused delays and minor freakouts by airport security drones.  They eventually all let it through, with varying levels of inspection.

Some cabs we took didn't have locking seat belts, but most did, and some even had LATCH anchors for the seat.

We used the Britax 'car seat travel cart' to get baby and seat through the airport and checked the stroller in its stroller bag.  Our stroller bag is huge so we also snuck the travel cot in there, saving us paying for an extra piece (stroller is checked for free).

This worked pretty well, the cart easily fits in overhead bins, or in front of the baby's seat. We had the option to check the stroller at the gate - I'm not sure if this would have given any better odds for having your stroller returned undamaged, but it didn't seem like it was worth the hassle.

Booking the baby a seat on the plane is expensive but you get the folowing benefits: they can sleep on their own (covered by a cloth to remove distractions), you get an extra bag allowance, and they are strapped in securely for turbulence.

The design of airplane seat belts (meet in the middle) means the buckle sat at our daughter's back, which was probably a little uncomfortable for her.  Not sure if there is anything you can do about this - ask for a seat belt extension?

We flew with Spanish airline Vueling twice, and both times the hosties freaked out about the car seat.  We didn't see any other kids on those flights, and I suspect that Spanish people don't take their car seats on the plane.  It barely fit in the seat due to their ridiculous lack of leg room.

Car Hire

We hired through Avis, which worked out fine.  We had a Seat Altera for the first half of the trip.  It was perfect to fit 2 adults, a baby, 3 suitcases, an umbrella stroller, baby bjorn travel cot (highly recommend), and two small backpacks.  We put the stroller on the back seat and the bags in the boot, which were covered by the shelf thingy so it wasn't obvious to thieves your car was full of stuff.

For the second half of the trip we had a Nissan Qashqai, which appeared to be a larger car, but actually had less room in the boot.  We still fit everything in the same way, but it was more squishy.

For whatever reason it appears that all hire cars in Spain are manual (stick for Americans) Diesels.  Diesel fuel is available everywhere.

We picked up quite a few scratches from other cars dinging us in the tiny European car parks, but Avis didn't charge us for them.

Staying cool in the heat

We were unlucky enough to hit a heatwave.  I'd recommend having a little spray bottle for the baby, and a battery operated or person-powered fan.  If you can get a battery operated fan that clips onto the stroller that would be perfect.


I don't think there is a single hotel in Spain that has carpet.  This was a problem for our daughter who was pulling up and learning to walk - lots of face planting onto hard tiles or floorboards.  Not sure there is too much you can do about this.

We booked almost every hotel at the last minute (the day before, or the day of) through  Great range of hotels, real reviews, easy to use, nothing but good experience.  If you are staying more than 3 days I'd definitely consider getting an apartment through, for the convenience of kitchens, washing machines, microwaves etc.

Doing laundry was surprisingly difficult and expensive.  Most hotel laundry services were ridiculously expensive - like 3 Euro for a pair of socks, which is more than I paid for the socks in the first place.  Public laundries (lavanderia's) were few and far between.  We ended up finding a dry cleaner (tintoreria) that also washed in water, and a big load cost us 15 Euro.

Washing bottles

We brought a sea to summit camp sink to wash bottles in.  We planned to use it when the hotel sinks were gross, but it actually turned out to be essential for the couple of fancy places we stayed that had really modern shallow sinks.  Quite a few hotels seemed to have temperature limiters on their sink hot water so that you could only get lukewarm water in the sink no matter how long you ran it on hot.  Fortunately the showers didn't seem to be limited, so we used the shower head to fill the portable sink with hot water.  Highly recommend.

We also had the microwave steam sterilizer bags, which we gave to hotel staff to put in the kitchen microwave on a number of occasions.  We didn't stay in many hotels that had microwaves in the room.

Formula and Nappies

We were in Spain for 3 weeks, so we couldn't carry enough formula or nappies, although we came pretty close.  We ended up buying the 'Hero' Spanish formula, as well as the Nestle version - our daughter was fine with drinking both (she has Similac at home).  We bought the Dodot active nappies, and despite having had problems with different brands giving her a rash in the past, these were fine.  They seemed a little less absorbent than her regular pampers sensitive ones.


You can get free wifi internet access in basically every hotel, even in tiny villages in the middle of nowhere.

Mobile phone SIM for voice and data

We weren't sure we were going to be able to get internet access everywhere (turns out you can, as above), so a prepaid SIM with data and voice seemed like a good option.  We tried vodafone, but couldn't get decent data and voice - their only good data plan was for an 'ipad' SIM that didn't include voice.  We got the voice SIM and kept the data turned off except for a couple of critical moments, because it was hellish expensive.

Having a spanish number was handy to put on car, hotel, and taxi bookings, but we didn't end up making many actual phone calls.  It was handy to be able to call each other for free.  I'd probably do the same again - it was 10 Euros per SIM.


We had a TomTom GPS, which was essential for getting around, but the maps, despite being purchased the week before, were definitely inaccurate in a number of ways.  Spain seems to have renumbered a lot of their highway exits, and many newish-looking roads didn't exist on the map.  Still it was good enough to get us around without too much drama.

Lonely Planet on the Kindle and Android phone

I wasn't sure how well a purely electronic version of LP was going to work, but we gave it a go, and I think I would do it again, maybe.  Lots of suckiness, but not having to carry the book is a massive plus.  Here's my full list of pros and cons:

  • + We could read it simultaneously on our kindles, phones, and on the laptop (when internet connected) for the cost of one copy
  • + You look like less of a tourist messing with your phone than having a guidebook out
  • + You can make notes and bookmarks that sync across all devices when they Internet-connect
  • + You only need to carry your phone when out and about, instead of a 0.5 kg giant book
  • + Nice tie-in with google maps, with links from the text articles.  However, it is only useful if you have cheap mobile data or plan ahead and pre-cache maps data (requires a maps lab plugin).
  • - All the maps are pretty much useless.  They look like shit on the kindle.  They are slightly better on the phone in colour and you can zoom in, but the images are really low quality.  LP has tried to address this by breaking each map into quarters and providing those as separate, more zoomed-in images, but paging through these chopped up maps is really annoying and difficult to use.  They need to provide each one in high-res so it is zoomable - I suspect this is a kindle app limitation.
  • - Search sucks (and doesn't even exist in the cloud reader).  It is ridiculously slow (maybe 5 minutes?) to get a result on the phone or the kindle.  It would be very easy and effective to build an index and distribute it with the book: when I search for 'Museo del Prado' or 'Toledo', I should be taken to the relevant section immediately.  Instead, I get every mention of Toledo in the entire book, and have to hunt through the results to find the one that points to the section.  I suspect this is a kindle limitation.
  • - Organisation is terrible.  It is basically the same as the paper book, which works very poorly in this format.  On my phone to get to Park Guell it takes 75 clicks: settings, go to, table of contents, on the road, next, barcelona, sights, then scrolling through the next 68 pages.  That's appalling for such a well-known landmark and major book section.
  • - There are no links to any of the activities in the city itinerary summaries (e.g. 'Barcelona in two days').  You need to dig through each Barcelona neighbourhood (or wait ages for search) to find the specific activity.  Rinse and repeat for each one.
  • - Bookmarks and notes are mostly useless once you have more than a couple.  They are ordered by page number rather than the order in which you bookmarked them, which is dumb, you probably want the thing you just bookmarked, not the one you bookmarked a week ago.  So you end up hunting through and reading the summary for all of the bookmarks.

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