How the Spanish eat five times a day and still don’t get fat

“Do you know how many times the Spanish eat per day?” I always ask tourists when I guide them around the city. “No? Five times.” “Five times?!” they answer standard in disbelief. Yep, and isn’t it wonderful? One of the great things about living in Spain is the food. And they take meal times very seriously.

spanish meal times
A terrace waiting for the lunchtime rush next to the Mercado Colon in Valencia. Don’t expect to be fed between 12 and 2! If you’ve missed almuerzo, you’ll have to wait until the restaurants open for comida.

I admire the Spanish for their sacred keeping of meal times. Ever got stared at in Spain while munching on a sandwich on the go? Exactly. Nobody does that. The amount of boxed ready made sandwiches full of additives I have eaten from Marks & Spencers in Scotland in my lifetime, is incredible. There I was at 1pm, queuing up to pay for my “meal deal”: a cold soggy sandwich from the fridge, a bottled drink and a bag of crisps or bar of chocolate. Eaten on a bench in the park, or more often back at my desk. Scoffed in about 10 minutes. Plastic waste in the bin. Every day.

Enjoy a beer with your almuerzo

So how do the Spanish do it? What are those sacred five Spanish meal times? They start with a small desayuno, a cup of coffee and a croissant or bit of toast for breakfast, mostly at home. For the kids some ‘galletas‘, thin biscuits dipped in a glass of milk. Then at 10.30 it gets more serious. Almuerzo. Terraces fill up, workers gather at the bar of a cafetaria. Bring it on. Tortilla, chorizo, ensalada rusa, bocadillos with cheese and jamon, ‘tostada con tomate’, croquetas…lots of dishes you can choose from mid morning, all freshly prepared on site. Fresh bread from the bakers. And hey, let’s just wash it all down with a glass of beer or wine. Yes, you read that right.

Spanish eating habits
Almuerzo usually means fresh bread with Spanish ham or cheese or a slice of tortilla. A plate of olives on the side and a bottle of beer on the table.

Menu del dia, the best thing since sliced bread

A few hours later, somewhere between 2 and 3 o’clock in the afternoon it is time for la comida. Lunch. Restaurants open, but shops close, and it is siesta time until about 5 for shop keepers and banks. Most office workers go back earlier. Yes, people do work in this country, believe it or not, a lot of people don’t finish work until 7 or 8 o’clock. And no, they don’t go to sleep during siesta. Maybe when you’re 80. People either go home to cook their lunch or meet with colleagues outside on the terrace of a restaurant. For three courses, usually. On week days you can eat a 3-course home cooked Menu del dia for around €10, which includes a starter, main course, coffee/dessert and a drink. Apparently a leftover from the time general Franco was in power, who in the sixties and seventies ruled that each restaurant should provide an affordable meal for people on work days. He may have been an awful dictator, but at least he got one thing right.

Valencia cafe culture

Carbs are for Comida

After a few more hours of work or school (kids also enjoy that 3-course meal at lunchtime! I drool when I read their menu each week…), it is time for number four on the list of Spanish meal times. This little meal, or rather snack, is still taken quite seriously, and happens at around 5pm when the schools are out. Merienda. “Quieres merender?” You often hear mothers ask their kids when they tumble out of the classroom, tired and hungry. No kid ever refuses, as merienda involves bread, biscuits, chocolate milk, fruit or other items children could practically live on. Most parents will just have a cup of coffee. And I suppose this bit of snacking is needed, because most kids are ferried off to football, piano or tennis lessons and they will have to sit it out until at least 9pm when the final meal of the day is served: la cena. Dinner. “Wow” the impressed tourists usually gasp by now, when I get to meal number five. But cena is not usually a very big meal. Not like our evening dinner. No plates full of pasta or otherwise carb heavy recipes. After all, you already have that 3-course meal in your belly, right? Exactly. And a tip from the tour guide: paella is never eaten at night. Remember that next time you visit Spain 😉

Spanish dinner times
The beautiful Central Market of Valencia, where it’sall about fresh produce.
Photo by Juan Gomez on Unsplash

You either eat or you talk about eating

As I am learning more Spanish by the day I am starting to understand random conversations in the street between people. It is always about food. “We either talk about food, or we eat,” a Spanish mum from school explained to me with passion the other day, while were out for a walk in the hills. “The whole objective of going out somewhere is eating together. It is the most important thing. Got something to celebrate? You go out for a meal. Meeting up with friends? It has to be centered around a mealtime and finding a nice place to eat.” I asked her why Spanish people are not all morbidly obese with all that eating. “It’s not about the quantities”, she said, “I never have huge plate fulls, but I love eating. It’s about tasting different things and appreciating the flavours. And about the social aspect.” I remember being told by a Scottish colleague once years ago that “eatin’ is cheatin’“, when I suggested we should go for something to eat before hitting the bar. I never got into that pint drinking on an empty stomach habit. I love a beer, but give me some croquetas, por favor.

Spanish dinner times
Photo by Victor on Unsplash

An all day activity and no one knows where the kids are

Needless to say that the Saturday morning hill walk was heavily interspersed with almuerzo (and cans of beer at 11am), followed by a leasurely lunch on the village square….and my new favourite thing: the ‘sobremesa‘, which basically means you all stay at the table after the meal, talk, laugh and keep bringing out drinks and snacks. For hours. The kids were playing somewhere, stole food off the table every so often and nobody really cared. Everyone had a great time. We went home at 6pm, all happy and tired.

I was wondering about what makes Spain such a pleasant and laid back country to live in. Ignore politics and bureaucracy, as these things will make you angry no matter how much vitamin D you’re soaking up, but Spanish people really know how to enjoy life. The climate helps for sure. Sunshine year round brings everybody out of their houses and together in the street. No staying indoors or in cars all day. Being outdoors, chatting and eating. Did I mention food? Spanish meal times take a bit of getting used to, your old schedule gets thrown out of the window. But it’s pleasant, as long as you go with it. “No pasa nada” is a great expression and used all the time in Spanish. “It’s OK”, relax, don’t take it all too seriously, here, have some olives.

siesta in spain
Husband doing siesta

Emigrating with kids? The first year is a write off. Be kind to yourself

We emigrated at the start of 2018 from Scotland to Spain. A big transition in many ways. The climate, the language, the settling in, the school searching, the paperwork. It is a lot to tackle when you first set foot in your new foreign country. An eternal holiday? Yeah right. Someone mentioned to me the other day: the first year of moving here? Forget it, it’s a write off, don’t try and get anything done for yourself. I wish I had heard this when we first landed. Being energetic but impatient and keen to get everything and everyone organised within 5 minutes, I was exhausted by the end of year one. A learning curve.

Moving house is always stressful, especially when you have young children who have to adjust and settle into their new environment and potentially a new school. It takes time for everyone to be happy and calm. Moving to Valencia, Spain is of course a whole different ball game. Not only do you leave friends and family behind, you are dealing with a completely new culture. The sunshine made us happy, but the language barrier was huge when we arrived and we felt very unsettled – and still often do after now 20 months of living here. For the children this was no different.

A bumpy ride on the Spanish school roller coaster

The school search in Valencia was stressful. After we had made our decision on one school, it turned out it was full. We had already moved into the right postcode area, but alas – in the end there were no spaces. We were handed two spots in a local Catholic ‘concertado’ (semi-private) school nearby and we just had to accept. I remember feeling very anxious about it at the time, making last minute visits to highly expensive private schools because I wanted the best for my children and thought I was ruining their lives. In the end, after being put off by monthly fees, the traditional school atmosphere and too many Porsches parked outside, my husband and I opted for the local concertado and hoped for the best.

moving to valencia with kids
Weekend excursions into nature are always great for the family

Our youngest went to the 4-year old infantil class (Spanish nursery has three stages – for 3, 4 and 5 year olds) and our 6-year old to 1st year of Spanish primary school. They enrolled in March and while the little one adjusted fairly quickly after a few weeks of tears and meltdowns, the big boy cried till summer. The school wasn’t bad, the teachers were lovely and trying their best, it was just too overwhelming for him. Nobody spoke any English. Imagine needing to go to the bathroom and being unable to ask for directions. Exactly. He was lost, lonely and scared. And Spanish school days are long: from 9am to 5pm. Being the only foreign child, he was also a celebrity and he soon got annoyed with all the unwanted attention. He sat timidly next to the teacher at every break time, overlooking the gigantic typical Spanish concrete playground, where the boys play football and the girls stand on the sideline. The classroom was chaotic, as not only my son was new, his teacher was a maternity cover and didn’t have a clue either. It is fair to say, my son picked up some Spanish and worked a lot on his life skills, but did not do any school work between March and the end of June. Followed by 2.5 months of summer vacation.

Moving to Valencia
A drawing by my eldest son depicting a story they read in school. I think this is the perfect illustration of what it is like to get anything done in bureaucratic Spain!

I thought I had left the rat race

Our eldest got a space in our school of choice in September last year and thank god, he liked it. His little brother joined him the following school year after we had been tackling two different schools for a full school year, about 2 kilometres away from each other, but with similar drop off and pickup times. Every morning and afternoon we were stuck in rush hour, trying to deliver and collect them on time, at two different locations and nowhere to park. It was like being in the rat race all over again.

Fast forward, Autumn 2019. My now 7-year old is repeating the second year of primary – a careful decision made by us after advice from his teacher – and I am so grateful we have done this. Sure, I felt it was all our fault when we had to consider it, because we ‘dragged’ him to Spain and ‘dumped’ him into the Spanish education system with zero Spanish. But it wasn’t just because of the language, being the youngest pupil in his class he was always going to be more immature and potentially behind in Spanish, but also in other subjects. He is much happier now.

The beauty of going to school in Spain: a lot of outdoor learning

From anxiety ticks to the dust settling

Up to then he was demonstrating signs of anxiety (constant need for reassurance, strange OCD type ticks, being annoyed about his clothes, labels, and having a persistant cough), which were clearly caused by stress, as during the summer holidays they disappeared. My youngest, having been fully immersed in Spanish from the start, is taking like a fish to water in his new school. He is learning to read and write just like his Spanish classmates. The dust has settled. At last.

I was so impatient that first year after moving to Valencia. I always want to have everything sorted in no time, rather than breathe and observe. Roll up the sleeves and get going. I suppose it was somehow due to the irrational feeling of being judged from afar by friends and family. “Will they make it? What will they be doing? Have they found work yet?” This pressure, whether true or just in my head, forced me to do too many things in a short amount of time. I set myself up as self employed, frantically looked for work, networked like mad, was anxious about building a social life from scratch and I even joined a new band so I could continue singing. God forbid I would take a break. I had to create the perfect life and prove I could do it all. But seeing the kids struggle, my husband trying to find his feet (he hated me for putting so much pressure on myself and the family), having to deal with stuff in a foreign language, it was no wonder that just before we reached our one year milestone of living in Valencia – I collapsed.

working in Valencia
My job as city tour guide on a bicycle has given me a lot of joy!
A great photo, but never believe all the smiles you see on social media 😉

When words fail and you fall to pieces

I have been a singer in a band for more than twenty years and never have I walked off stage during a gig. It was December, ten months after we moved, when I had a panic attack in the middle of a concert. Both my parents, my sister, husband and children were visiting Valencia, and were watching me. The people who mean most to me in life and love me unconditionally. I lost my lines, blood rushed to my head, I felt I was going to faint, I wanted to dig a hole and disappear. I walked off stage and cried in the bathroom of the venue, comforted by my sister. The mean machine had finally broken down. Smoke coming from the bonnet. I managed to pull myself together and finish the performance, but hell, was it awful. I do remember singing my autobiographic song ‘Nothing’s gonna bring her down‘ from the bottom of my heart with tears in my eyes that night, but feeling so loved by all of my family right there supporting me.

moving to valencia

The first year of living in Spain with children is a write off. It is true. Forget about continuing life as you knew it. In our case, having a young family and no 9-to-5 jobs to go to, we literally jumped in the deep end. You need time to figure it all out. To be with your children, to guard their only safe place they know right now: the family. We were totally out of balance. I ran myself to the ground, carrying it all, and expecting my family to run at the same pace, and “just get on with it”. I couldn’t see straight, it was all a blur. But while I pretended I had it all under control, I was slowly losing grip. I guess sometimes you need to fall on your face to finally see what’s going on. I didn’t come to Valencia to feel stressed out, but then I did.

I reached out to a psychologist for the first time in my life at the start of this year and it was so good to talk. To release. To be heard. I went on an all women yoga retreat, which was pure bliss. I promised myself not to be so hard on myself, to practice self-care. I kept a journal, set intentions. Things shifted. Positive things happened since this Summer, including the school changes. We also moved into a different house which we all love. Most of all, I have accepted that I don’t have to do a million things at once and I don’t have to please anyone. I am getting better at setting boundaries for myself and expressing my own needs, something very hard for a person who has always taken pride in being strong. It is OK to be vulnerable. Creating more time and space in my weekly schedule allows me to breathe and observe. Something I should have done much earlier. But hey, nobody is perfect. Onwards and upwards. Little, by little. Poco a poco.

7 Tips on how to live abroad, find work and be happy.

You want to live abroad? What is the secret of settling in and being happy in your new country? In a nutshell: being open-minded and proactive. Oh, and cycling. I started as a tour guide on a bicycle this year and I love it. It never crossed my mind to be a tour guide in the past, but somehow it came on my path and it suits me. Tour guiding is social, it is outdoors and it keeps me fit. It is the perfect job alongside my other job: writing.

Two questions I get asked on a daily basis by my Dutch tour guide clients: how did I end up in Valencia en what is life like here? Everyone on holiday always secretly wants to figure out if they could move here too and what it would take to make it happen. “You are so lucky to live here”. Let me tell you.

finding work in valencia

1. Only sunshine is free

Living in Spain has nothing to do with “being lucky”. It takes a long time and many headaches to make the decision to emigrate, to plan the move, to make it happen. It takes a lot of effort to settle in, to navigate around your new country and all the new rules and systems, to try and speak a new language. And of course, to start earning money. There are a lot of hurdles along the way. If I tell people that the average wages here are around €1,000 net per month full time, a little bit of the glamour soon disappears. Living abroad can be amazing, especially when there are 300 days of sunshine year, but you still got to pay the bills.

2. Reinvent yourself

To live abroad and be happy means you have to be flexible and proactive. The alternative is to be stuck indoors waiting for something to happen.You’ll soon end up being pretty lonely. And broke. You also have to put set ideas a side about who you are and what you do. You have to reinvent yourself a little bit. My career has always been in arts marketing, but when you move to Valencia, you’re simply not going to be able to find a similar job. Speaking Spanish is one thing, but Valenciano, the lingo of the public sector, is another. And then there is the high unemployment rate down here, which basically means saying goodbye to your previous line of work.

finding work in valencia

3. Be realistic and flexible when you live abroad

This is the second time in my life I have emigrated. Age 26 I moved from the Netherlands to Scotland, to be with my now husband. Not too big a deal when it came to cultural differences, but it still took a while to feel at home. In the Netherlands I had left a pretty decent job in the cultural sector. Expecting to “just continue my career abroad”, ended up being an illusion. I applied for a few jobs that were in my field and at my level, but my English was not fluent yet in terms of professional jargon and I made a complete fool of myself at one interview. I can still recall the shame, frustration and sadness I felt afterwards.

Now I could have done two things: go home and give up, or get back up for round two. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right? I however chose to be realistic and go for something a bit less ambitious that would at least get my foot in the door. I soon got hired as an admin assistant at an arts centre, and a year later I got promoted to their marketing manager. Learning the language however is often the only way to get anywhere in a foreign country. If you don’t, then that law degree or masters in business administration is not going to get you very far. You just got to start somewhere. If that is in a coffee shop as a waitress for a year (nothing wrong with doing that forever either by the way), then enjoy it and pick up the language while you work.

finding work in valencia

4. Transfer your skills and find your niche

What skills do you have that are transferable? What are you good at? Other than that as a Dutchie I was born on a bike, I have always been a communicator. I am good at writing, am creative by nature and I like helping others. I’m a practical ‘tick those boxes’ kind of girl. Those skills are useful in all kinds of jobs, you just have to recognise them and put them to good use. With high unemployment here in Spain and not speaking Spanish much yet, I decided to set myself up as a freelancer, or autonóma, in marketing for expats.

In a city like Valencia however, there are many other expats doing similar things and the competition is high. Time to zoom in and stand out from the crowd. Yes, I can design a WordPress site, a flyer and I can keep a facebook page alive, but my strength lies in writing. And I am bilingual: I speak and write fluent English and Dutch. Although I focused on English speaking clients at first, soon I received more requests for web content in Dutch. I unexpectedly realised that is my niche. Writing web content in Dutch. Who would have thought.

5. Look for local clients…or go online

If you live abroad and are looking for clients s a freelancer – whether you are a writer, designer or even an English teacher (another job usually available for foreigners), you can do two things. You can advertise your skills locally and try and find clients nearby. The other thing, which I found is what most other expats do over here, is go online – and work remotely. Sites like Upwork, Fiverr and others enable you to attract clients from all over the world. This means you can also do your job anywhere in the world. The digital nomad is born! Even better is to bring existing clients with you. If you set yourself up as a freelancer abroad, then you can offer your clients back home prices VAT free, as countries have a tax agreement for these kinds of payments. And offering things without the added VAT is of course attractive.

6. Talk to lots of people: be visible

Unless you have all your clients online, it pays to show face. Go to network events, especially those with other expats. Talking to people might bring opportunities. If others know you are looking for work, friends, things to get involved with, sooner or later something will come up. For the introverts this is not always an easy thing to do, but it is pretty much essential if you want to get out of the house and integrate.

Even ‘showing face’ in local Facebook groups can help you become more visible. It’s been vital for me, especially in Valencia, to get to know people, look for work, make connections and feel a bit more part of the community. Social media has its flaws, but it has also made it so much easier to find like-minded people in a new environment. If you are self-employed being visible on social media is very important. Advertise your services to other expats or locals and before you know it, you have your first little contract – which, if you’ve done a good job, may lead to more.

finding work in valencia

7. Learn the language when you live abroad

First it was English and the local Scottish dialect Doric, now it is Spanish – and even Valenciano – it is a constant adaptation process. If you want to live abroad and just be in your own little bubble, not learning the local language will keep you there for sure. And no, it isn’t easy, but what in life is? Lucky to live here? No, hard work, baby. You feel like a right idiot a lot of the times and you sometimes feel you’ll never ever going to be able to hold a conversation…but you just have to keep going, mistakes and all. Tranquila.

Anyone who has ever moved abroad has had to learn a foreign language at some point, if the locals didn’t speak yours. The other day I heard a great phrase that applies to all of us migrants:”A foreign accent is a sign of bravery.” I’ll take that. Bit by bit. Poco a poco.

Life is not a race. What’s the educational hurry?

Last week we decided our eldest son would repeat his school year. It was after much headaches, tears (me) and consideration, and of course after talking with his teacher. Repeating the year? Shock horror. I always associated this concept with the kids who were really at the bottom of the class, somehow had developmental problems or otherwise behind. My kid? How? I felt I had failed him. I had mother’s guilt in ten fold.

Children are sponges

Maybe it was the guilt of having moved to Spain, pulling him out of his comfort zone and plunging him into a whole new and foreign environment. Did we gamble with his future by emigrating? Enrolled in a school at first in which he literally drowned, then since September a different school which he really likes, but obviously everything still is all in Spanish. “It is such a gift to a child moving to a different country, what an experience!” I keep hearing from people who have never done it. “Children are sponges, they pick up the language so fast.” Sure, both my boys speak quite a bit of Spanish after 18 months, children’s language of course. That doesn’t mean they also miraculously catch up in all school subjects in Spanish – and Valenciano. And when even maths becomes a struggle, you start to wonder if perhaps life is going a little too fast for a small boy.

Falling behind

My 7-year old has a vivid imagination, is very creative and loves art. He is easily distracted and has a sensitive soul. He is also terribly stubborn and has never liked people telling him what to do, from potty training to learning to read. But then he is also very social, caring and makes friends easily. He loves to play. Last but not least, he is a December baby. In Scotland that meant he was the youngest in class and in Spain this is no different. For some children no problem. For others it is.

moving to valencia with kids

I remember when my son was 4 years old I asked his school back in Scotland if he could have an extra year in nursery. The boy could not sit still and was in my eyes far from ready to do any form of academic learning. Normal right, for a 4-year old child? “No” was the clear answer I got, “His birthday is in December, so he will be going to Primary 1. He has no clear developmental reasons to be kept behind.” Behind. An interesting word.

Sitting still age 4

So off he went to Primary 1, this tiny active playful boy age 4.5. Two months later we received a letter from his teacher. “We are informing you that we are having to give your son additional support, because he has difficulty focusing on forming and recognising letters. “Well yes, I know”, I thought. “I told you so. He is 4.” But hey, the train had left and we were on it. The system required he should do a certain trick by a certain date and he was falling ‘behind’. He continued to refuse any form of homework for the rest of Primary 1. Still he now reads chapter books like the rest of them.

Seeing a child for who he is

Fast forward three years and we are in Spain. Was it the added anxiety of moving that made him struggle so much? Maybe. Is my child less intelligent than the others? Well, no. His teacher said two things: “It is the language, yes,…but it is also his maturity. He is very young. And he wants to play.” When she said those things, it all fell into place. Although hearing that your child is not doing well in school is hard on a mother, somebody finally just seeing your child for who he is, feels like a relief. Somebody recognised that our son was perhaps in the wrong year all along. Pushed ahead because of a silly birth date. “He could go to the next year, yes, he could do it with extra support”, she said, “But why? It will be much better for him to stay where he is, be a little bit older, feel more confident and have more time to adapt.” The train had stopped. Thank you, teacher.

moving to valencia with kids

La vida no es una carrera

My son is happy with the idea of repeating thankfully, which is one headache less. When I told the news to the parents in his class however, I received mixed reactions. There were the high achieving parents:”Really? Por que? It is not needed. You should get a second opinion! With extra support he can do it!”. Then there was the majority:”That sounds like a very wise idea, he will be totally OK. And his friends will still be here in the playground.” And then there were quite a few mothers who actually admitted to me that they too felt stressed about school, how their children were hurried along and how they felt the peer pressure.”La vida no es una carrera” (life is not a race), I had written in my message to the class mums, and it obviously made them stop, think and breathe.

Resilience and memories

Life is not a race. Why do we get upset when our child gets the advice to repeat the year? Because we take it personally. Our own ego is playing up. We judge ourself as a parent. We should have done more, we have failed. Our child is lost. Not as good as the rest. What will become of him? Nonsense, of course. But that’s how it feels.

moving to valencia with kids

Would he have had the same advice in Scotland? Probably not. Repeating is seen as a bit old fashioned and not usually done nowadays. Still, if it works, it works, time will tell. And what if our children have their own path in life? Something we as parents cannot micro manage? Perhaps it was needed to have this tricky first year in Spain. Maybe it has made my son more resilient, teaching him valuable life skills already, way beyond any academic learning. And maybe it was meant for someone to step in and slow down my son’s childhood. To give him that extra year of being small. To stop the anxiety and feel calmer. Him and me. After all, childhood is precious and memories last. We just have to love them and walk beside them.

Learning happens all the time

How often do you still recall something from your childhood? Those short years have such a big influence on the rest of our lives. What are the best memories you have? I bet a lot of those memories are to do with freedom. Being with other children, running outside, going swimming, camping in the woods, making up stories, building dens, playing hide and seek, just simply having fun and being a kid. Very little adult intervention. School yes, it was there, but for me it certainly wasn’t something I now see as the most important aspect of my early childhood or how it shaped me. And this is how it should be. Learning happens all the time, everywhere. School has its place, but childhood is so much more. Let’s not let that precious time rush by. It goes quick enough anyway. We shall see what September brings. Summer first.

Four decor items to make you feel right at home

Whether you have just moved house, staying somewhere temporarily or you are a digital nomad traveling the globe, it is pleasant to feel at home somewhere straight away. Especially if you are on your own. What are items to make you feel right at home? Things that are comforting and add a sense of familiarity? Here are four items you could try for yourself while on the move, or to welcome your guests while staying at your home.

Digital nomad lifestyle items

Home fragrances and natural candles

I don’t know about you, but I like a room to smell nice. So candles or room fragrances can really help with that. If you have guests arriving, it can be very welcoming to have a fragranced candle flickering in the bathroom for example to add a bit of a ‘spa’ feel. Or how about a candle that smells of freshly ground coffee filling the space?

You could pop your favourite candle in your hold luggage too if you travel somewhere, to make your hotel room smell beautiful. (Be careful putting it in hand luggage or it may get taken at security, you never know what is seen as a potential ‘liquid’!)


Soft, comforting blankets to snuggle up with

Adding softness and comfort to your interior is another important factor to make you feel more at home. Drape some chunky knitted throws over your sofa and add plenty of cosy layers to your bed. No space will feel cold and unfriendly when dressed up with beautiful blankets. Not got much space in your suitcase while traveling? Invest in a super soft cashmere throw which could double up as a cosy blanket on a long haul flight.

digital nomad lifestyle items
This beautiful soft cashmere scarf will be your snuggle blanket on the go! €49.73
Digital nomad lifestyle items

Familiar photos or prints on the wall

When you move into a new house or flat, the space can feel very alien for a while. Everything is unfamiliar. One of the first things you could do to make your home feel like yours, is to put up some pictures. Create a gallery wall full of family photos or hang your favourite artwork in a prominent place. Add a few large plants and look how you have already transformed the place. If you are traveling or living somewhere for a short period of time, carrying picture frames around with you is probably not an option. Try using other items, such as postcards or smaller pictures, which you could hang with pegs on a piece of string pinned onto the wall.


Your favourite coffee mug to make you feel at home

Nothing beats the feeling of being at ‘home’, or at ease, like a hot cup of tea or coffee in your own special mug. Sitting back, enjoying the view out of your new window and taking it all in. I know it was one of the first things I unpacked after moving last year. If you can pack your favourite mug and bring it with you when away from home for along period of time, it sure soothes any homesick feelings you may have. Choose something sturdy that won’t break easily in transit. Good old Denby mugs are a good bet when it comes to resilience. Oh, and don’t forget to pack your favourite tea either. Enjoy your cuppa!


Digital nomad lifestyle items
Denby mugs in lovely colours. Heritage Fountain Cascade Mug €14.00

Best free apps for traveling 2019

Are you dreaming about your next holiday? Or maybe you’ve already booked it? Going on an exotic trip around the world? Whatever you are going to do, it’s always handy to download the right apps on your mobile or tablet, so you’re well prepared on the go. Here are ten handy free apps for traveling.

Rome2rio: best free travel app for itineraries

This is seriously one of the most amazing free app for traveling. Download Rome2rio for finding transport links, even in the most remote places. Type in where you are and where you are going and you get a list of options for bus, train, flight and self-driving.

best travel apps 2019

Prey: free app to track your devices when stolen

With Prey you can secure your smartphone, tablet or laptop. This allows you to track multiple devices if they are stolen or lost. GPS and camera images can be used to restore a lost device. You can even erase your devices remotely.

Google Drive: back up your holiday photos

Speaking of data security, make sure you back up your files. No more excuses that you have lost all your photos. One of the most essential free apps for traveling. Make sure you set up your phone to sync with Apple iCloud or with Google Drive (or with a competitive service such as Dropbox or Microsoft Onedrive). You get 15 GB for free with Google Drive.



Google Translate: your pocket translator

This translation app has been my go-to app since moving to Spain. Perfect for helping you out in a foreign language when words fail. You can not only translate text by entering it manually, the app can also translate a conversation or display a translated text from a text in an image. Google recently switched to translations based on machine learning, making the results much better, especially for difficult translations like Japanese to English. Do not forget to download the dictionaries for languages ​​that you need during your trip, for offline use!

best free apps for traveling 2019

XE Currency: handy free app for traveling

The best way to avoid paying too much abroad (or just making expensive mistakes) is to always have the latest exchange rates at hand. XE Currency works without connecting to the internet to work.

Hostelworld: find the best budget hostels

Hostelworld is the largest hostel booking site, so if you are a budget traveler, chances are you will use this app a lot. One of the must have free apps for traveling if you are backpacking around the world or looking for a cheap place for the night.

Duolingo: learn a foreign language while traveling

What is a better time to learn a language than when you are completely submerged in that language during a trip? Duolingo is one of the travel apps that makes language learning fun by adding game-like scores and progression systems. It is free and it is excellent for learning the basics.

best free apps for traveling 2019

Anti Mosquito: handy free app for traveling

Nobody likes mosquitoes, right? They can make your life miserable at home and on holiday and some of the more exotic ones are also quite dangerous (think malaria and dengue fever). With Anti Mosquito you supposedly chase away mosquitoes by transmitting sound frequencies of 19 kHz and higher. Whether it works perfectly? I can’t tell yet, I’ll get back to you on that! In any case, it is one of the more unusual apps for traveling to try out. I do recommend you keep using your usual sprays too though!

Split Bill: no more arguments over money

Anyone who has ever traveled with a group of friends knows that splitting the bill can cause a bit of a headache. Fiddling with notes and coins and quibbles between the one who only had soft drinks and the one who ordered six gin and tonics. To avoid that in the future, the Split Bill app is a great free app for traveling. Discussions, paying too much or too little: it’s all a thing of the past. Everyone happy!

MAPS.me: best free travel app for offline maps

MAPS.me is another one of those great free apps for traveling. This mobile app allows you to download map data for a country or region, so you can also use it if you do not have 4G or Wi-Fi.


Moving to Valencia with kids: where to start

We moved to Valencia in February 2018 and have now been here almost a year. Valencia is becoming quite popular with foreigners moving to this wonderful city and I think we are all struggling with the same questions. Moving to Valencia with kids means questions around schools, family friendly neighbourhoods, healthcare and other issues. Where to live, which schools to choose and where to start with your paperwork.

valencia expat tips

So how do you organise an international move like this? Where do you start when moving to Valencia with kids? When still living in Scotland, where we came from before settling in Valencia, we were already planning our move for about a year beforehand. Once we picked our destination, I did a lot of research online, printed out info about neighbourhoods and schools and I joined a number of online forums and facebook groups. Some useful groups to join beforehand are:

Internations

Internations is an international forum for expats all around the world.There are free and paid for memberships and I chose to pay for a basic membership for six months, to get access to the forums and being able to ask questions to other members. It was worth it, as I ended up making a few great contacts and even friendships, before we even moved. To already know a few people in Valencia who had made the move before us, felt comforting and reassuring in the run up to our actual move.

Facebook groups for expats in Valencia

This is a bit of a hit and miss in my opinion, because there are all kinds of people in these groups, from all walks of life and each with their own very personal opinion. Ask a question about schools – or anything really – and you are often none the wiser. Still, you may get the odd gem of information or end up making a few contacts who you are on the same wavelength with.

Type in ‘Expats in Valencia’ in the search bar and you’ll get a number of groups you can join. If you are a mum with children under the age of 14, the (private) group Bumps and Babies has been the best source of support, information and friendship in my opinion. If you are a ‘digital nomad’ or you run your own business, the groups Valencia Coffees and Co-working and Expats and Business in Valencia have been useful for me to make contacts and even find some freelance work.

Handy maps to buy: know your whereabouts

I love maps and I am very happy we bought some before we moved. We stuck them on our wall in the study and used them to circle our favourite neighbourhoods, school locations and potential places to move to. It really helped to narrow down places to look for accommodation, as well as to understand the city and surroundings, distances and the whole region better. These maps were very good in my opinion:

Michelin map Valencia spain
Valencia region michelin map


Schools: where to start?

Moving to Valencia with kids means you have to find schools. Many parents worry about this as of course we all want to do the best thing for our children. Most of us expats are worried about the kids struggling with the Spanish language and school system and maybe not thriving. Most kids do perfectly fine though and pick up the language in no time, especially when they are young. It is good to prepare yourself for an initial adaptation period which requires a bit of extra love and support from the parents (we had this too! Read my post about that here).

International, bilingual or Spanish?

There are a LOT of schools in Valencia. I don’t think there are many other cities where there is such a vast choice in public, semi-private and private schools; Spanish schools, bilingual schools, American schools, French schools and British schools; and then there is the choice of curriculum. My advice? Write down your criteria for a school and don’t let yourself get caught up in the heated online discussions about which school is best. It is VERY personal and what works for someone else may not work for you.

moving to valencia with kids

My other bit of advice? Visit a number of schools beforehand so you get a good idea of the different facilities, atmospheres, etc. Many expats end up choosing one of the big private American or British schools, but your children may actually be just as happy in a public Spanish school (which could save you a ton of money and your kids may end up speaking Spanish a lot quicker). It all depends on what you want for your family.


moving to Spain with children
This is handy book with lots of useful advice on how to move to Spain as a family with children. Recommended! 15,44 € BUY

Catchment area

One thing to remember is that to get into a public or semi-private school (called a ‘concertado’), you will need to live in the catchment area as the local municipality will decide whether your children get a space or not, if they have availability. The private schools do not have this criterium. Alhough you can try and get into a school all year round, the general enrollment time is one week in May, where you can apply for a spot in the schools of your choice. Your local municipality, wherever you end up, will have the dates on their website around that time.

Valencia school enrollment information

Check out my post about schools for our own story.

Healthcare in Spain

Public healthcare

As an expat arriving in Spain you will not be able to join the free public healthcare system unless you have a Spanish work contract and are an employee. If you are registered as an autonomo (self employed) person and are paying into the social security system you also have access.

Private healthcare

So what most do, is get private health insurance which then gives you access to the private hospitals. We have done this for our family. To give you an example, for our family of four we are currently paying about 200 euro per month with Adeslas, one of the main insurance providers. We have been happy so far as you get very quick appointments with any specialist in hospital and good care overall. The public system however is also very good in general, but of course, waiting lists are a little longer than with private healthcare.

VALENCIA expat tips

Accommodation in Valencia

Now, where to find a house! Again, a bit of research beforehand is useful, so you can narrow down the areas you would like to focus on when house hunting. Most expats start renting first, which is a good idea as you just don’t know how you’ll feel until you’ve lived somewhere for a while. With that in mind, it should take the pressure off a little bit about whether a flat or house is perfect or not. As more people are moving here, great rental homes are becoming a little more in demand, so prepare for having to be a bit more flexible with your preferred location, budget or space criteria.

Renting an AirBnB to buy time

For us, the main criterium was location, because we wanted to have our children in a certain semi-private school, so we had to live nearby. We were lucky to secure a rental agreement on a house before we actually moved, but many expats rent an AirBnB for a month or longer when they arrive after which they take their time to figure out where to rent or buy.

Property websites for homes in valencia

The main websites to look on for houses are Idealista and Fotocasa, although there are others too. These two have the largest amounts of property advertised. Most estate agents will ask for one month of administration fee. They will also ask for at least one month deposit. Some landlords require a few or more months rent up front if you can not yet provide enough proof of income or have only just arrived here. Private landlords will not ask for the administration fee, but a deposit and some rent up front is usually standard.

Hiring help: a relocation agency

It can be useful to hire someone to help you with all the paperwork. It can take a lot of headaches out of the process and you will save a lot of time. We hired an agency and it was worth every euro. They helped us set up a bank account, arranged all house viewings, organised rental agreement and liaised on our behalf, set up the internet and accompanied us to acquire our NIE number (tax number) and Empadronamiento (registration with the local council). These last two things are essential papers to get as soon as possible as you’ll need them often.

Moving to Valencia was the company we hired. We still hire them for help sometimes when we need that extra bit of reassurance when tackling the Spanish bureaucracy. They have a lot of information on their website about how to organise paperwork like NIE, how to find accommodation, articles on neighbourhoods and more. So even if you decide to do it yourself, it’s a helpful site.

Valencia city guide lonely planet

December blues, the sadness of being far away from loved ones

Do you feel it too? End of year sadness and December blues? I don’t know if it is the darkness, the cold, the fact that another year has passed way too quickly or that you realise that you haven’t seen friends or family for a very long time. End of year melancholy. Homesickness for a home that it no longer yours. It’s not easy when you have moved away.

A comfortable coat that no longer fits

I’ve been an emigrant since I was 26. That is almost 14 years now. Fourteen years away from my motherland, the soil I grew up on. I almost feel like a tourist now when I visit. A strange combination of familiarity and foreign-ness. When I arrive back in the area I was born in, it feels like an old, comfortable coat, but after a while I also realise it doesn’t fit me anymore.

And now I uprooted for the second time ten months ago, finding my feet on foreign soil yet again. It’s been very exciting both times I moved country, for very different reasons. The first time around I moved to Scotland to be with my love and subsequently stayed more than twelve years to build up a life together, get married and start a family.

pexels-photo-461985.jpeg

December blues and juggling family

This year we moved to Spain, because we both desired a new adventure, more sunshine and a different lifestyle for our family. And because well, a change does one good and all that. Good decision so far? Yes, although it’s not a permanent holiday like some people cheekily put it. School settling in dramas, language barriers and navigating the bureaucracy are just a few of our struggles this year. But hearing my little boys babble in Spanish to their teacher and the babysitter fills me with pride.

And now it is almost Christmas. Everyone who has family living far away will know this dilemma: where will we be spending Christmas this year? With my husband’s parents living in Wales and mine in the Netherlands, this has always been tricky. And then when your own parents decide to separate, things get even more complicated. Families, eh?

pexels-photo-714915.jpeg

Looking back and standing still: another year has past

In Spain it doesn’t get any easier. Flights are a bit longer and not necessarily cheaper, despite more of the low cost airlines flying in our direction. So it’s a puzzle. This year we are actually skipping the family Christmases all together and are flying back to Scotland. Catching up with as many friends as we can possibly cram into two weeks. But it feels funny and these decisions are never without guilt. But then that is also the case when you decide to celebrate Christmas with one family and not the other. How do you juggle this issue?

So yes, December blues, although not in a depressive kind of way. Just reflecting. Taking a moment to stand still and be thankful.

This month most of us will reflect on the past year and all the things that have happened. The good times, the crappy times, the parties, the holidays, the busy work weeks, the day-in-day-out kids routines, the weeks that flew by. All the people you met, the new friends you made, the people you said goodbye to. The pets you have lost or that came into your life. The houses you moved out of. The things you felt really bad about, but didn’t matter in the end. The things you failed to do, but everyone has already forgotten about. Another year gone. Kids are growing up too fast, parents are getting older. What will next year bring?

More moments together. That’s what makes life meaningful.

This is a (Spanish) video that speaks more than a thousand words, even if you don’t quite understand what they’re saying. Friends and family speaking fondly of each other and how much they enjoy spending time together, and admit they don’t do this enough. At the end of the video the filmmaker tells them how much time in their life they actually have left together if they continue to see each other as often as they do now… Yep, a lot less than they thought. Days rather than years. Hours rather than days.

 

The tricks of the mind and how they hold you back

How is your day going? I am feeling a bit overwhelmed today. Trying to get my head around becoming self employed in Spain but the bureaucracy is really daunting, as expected! Being self employed in the UK is a breeze compared to here. A tax return in English is one thing to get your head around…but in Spanish? And that four times a year, with VAT and very detailed book keeping plus big fines if you make a mistake or are a day late! Eeeek! I really feel I don’t want to do it anymore. Anxiety is kicking in.

anxiety in expats

Discovering yourself

I have not felt like this for years, thought I had left all that insecurity behind by now. I mean, I’ll be 40 next year. But no. Everything feels very wobbly all of a sudden. My steady foundation has turned into jelly and I am trying to find my feet. I guess we all go through these phases in life. You feel pretty safe and secure for a while, in control even, you think you know who you are. Got life sussed. Then BAM, you get presented with a brand new set of challenges that make you question all your values and what you stand for. It can even reveal sides of yourself you never knew you had. Anxiety for example. It is confrontational to say the least. It spices things up in life, yes, but it is tiring and emotional. Oh, and did I mention the language barrier? All part of the roller-coaster of moving countries.

anxiety in expats

Leaving the comfort zone

I remember how I felt 13 years ago, on the brink of emigrating first time around. I had not yet moved to Scotland, but I had flown across from the Netherlands for my very first job interview in English ever, which I was not quite fluent in yet. It went SO bad that I wanted to dug a great big hole right there. I was very nervous, struggled with the language and felt so small, embarrassed and stupid. Out of my comfort zone in front of three people asking difficult questions. I remember afterwards I cried and thought, stuff that, I am just going to work in that cafe over there serving tea and cake! I am not good enough for these types of jobs, way too scary. Of course, a few months later, another job came up and I got it. I was so proud of myself for biting the bullet and putting myself through it again. Another daunting interview. I still feel how happy I was when they called me to say I was hired.

So here I am 13 years later in Spain and I feel exactly the same. Happy but anxious. Excited but lost. Scared. Throwing up the barriers. I want to give up, not put myself through the complicated mill of freelance life in a foreign country. I want to hide under a large sun umbrella hoping it’ll all go away.

Monsters in my head

I am creating great big monsters in my head and keep thinking:”What if I screw up, what if I don’t know what to do, what if I don’t earn enough and can’t pay the monthly fees? What if I fail?” I need to remind myself I am not the first one who has done this and that there is help out there. There is no failing, only trying. But right now I just want somebody to hire me to serve tea and cake. Por favor?

Choosing schools in Spain. Emigrating with children

Moving to Spain with children means making important decisions around schooling. Choosing schools in Spain means getting to grips with a whole new system, and lots of choices. Do you put them into a local school or a more international one? We moved to Valencia earlier this year and had to make decisions about schools in Spain for our native English speaking 4 and 6 year old sons, who had no Spanish whatsoever. Here is some information about schools in Spain and the different aspects to think about. *I am of course no expert, so this information is purely my personal experience and knowledge.


Choosing schools in Spain: preparation

Before the move we had done some research into choosing a school in Spain and particularly schools in Valencia. We visited a few too while my husband and I were over for a recce trip. Were we going to go for an English, bilingual or Spanish school? And what curriculum is best? It is hard to know where to start and like most expats, we looked at the best known private international or bilingual schools first. This was only because they are mentioned most in forums and on expat websites. There are so many

other choices which could be much better suited to your children and your lifestyle. It is worth ‘shopping around’. They may also save you quite a bit each month if you don’t have the funds or the desire to commit to private school fees.


Schools in Spain: Public, semi-private or private

I was blown away by the vast amount of schools Valencia. They range from public schools, semi-private schools (‘concertados’) to private schools. Many schools have nursery, primary and secondary school/baccalaureate all in one building. That way your child can stay in the same school their entire childhood. No wonder parents get quite anxious about finding the right school.

Public schools in Spain


Public schools are state-run, Spanish, and many parents are happy with their children to go here. They are free, but you pay monthly for the ‘comedor’ or dinner hall at school. That is if you want your children to eat at school and not come home for lunch. The public schools, there are of course many, are the trickiest to select as an expat. You just don’t have any knowledge about which ones are good. Also, if you don’t know where you are going to be living yet, it is pointless trying to enroll them since you need a postcode within the catchment area. But if you are looking for a way to get your children to speak Spanish as quickly as possible, going to a local, Spanish school is a good option.

Semi-private / concertado


The semi-private, or ‘concertado’ status means that they are run and paid by the state but as a parent you contribute a monthly fee to receive the extras that a school offers. This could mean perhaps an extra teacher per class, more freedom in terms of their curriculum and how they design their classes and activities. A lot of the semi-private schools are religious (Catholic). And whereas some of them charge about the same as most private schools (which is around a minimum of 300-400 euro per month per child, often more), others charge very little and are in fact very affordable.


Private, English or Spanish schools in Valencia

There are also a great number of private schools in Valencia. Some are small, other very large, and they are based on either the Spanish, British or American curriculum. The best known among expats are the Amercian school, Caxton College, British School of Valencia, Cambridge House and Mas Camarena. There is even a French Lycee. But there are smaller ones too, such as Los Olivos.

schools in valencia

Even though a lot of the private, bilingual or English speaking schools in Spain call themselves ‘international’, almost 100%  of the pupils are Spanish children. Many Spanish parents nowadays want their offspring to become fluent in English. Future job prospects are important in a country where unemployment rates are still at almost 25%. Being English speaking therefore has advantages. The ‘international’ part has mostly to do with the fact that half or almost all lessons are taught in English or the curriculum is based on the American or British system. It also means for many of these schools there are waiting lists.

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Moving to Spain with children

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Schools in Spain: in what language will they be taught?

Choosing schools in Spain, and Valencia, comes with another question. What language will my child be taught in? I believe that the younger the child, the less important it is what the main language is they are taught in and whether or not it is a British (or other) curriculum. Obviously children will learn Spanish much quicker with full immersion. Most expat parents with teenagers say their children adapted better to their new environment in an international school with a curriculum similar to what they were used to back home, especially if exams are on the horizon. A toddler? They just want to play and within weeks they’ll come home using a handful of Spanish words already.

Bilingual schools in Spain

There are a lot of bilingual schools (English and Spanish), with some following the Spanish curriculum, some the British. Some are 100% English spoken schools and then there are some other foreign languages with their own schools too (French, German). Last but not least, this is Valencia and they have their own language called Valenciano which is a bit like Catalan, although I am sure the locals will tell me otherwise.

Valenciano as a compulsary subject

Valenciano is compulsory in all schools in the Valencian region, private or not, with a minimum amount of hours per week. It is a political thing, and depending on who the mayor is in any particular year, the hours could go up or down in the curriculum. Most schools choose to teach subjects like music, religion or science in Valenciano in addition to the actual Valenciano language classes, to make up for the required hours.

schools in valencia

Creating multilingual children

A lot of expats freak out about the whole Valenciano thing and get frustrated that their kids have to study it, but to me it’s just another language. This is my humble opinion. Surely it can only be beneficial for a young child’s brain to learn plenty of different languages? The biggest argument against Valenciano I hear all the time is that “they only speak it in the Valencia region so what’s the point?”. Now I am Dutch and Dutch isn’t actually spoken anywhere else in the world other than the teeny tiny Netherlands and a few old far away colony islands in the Caribbean. Any expat child moving to the Netherlands has to learn Dutch if they are not in an international school. Also not particularly useful as a world language.

Your child may not stay in the Valencia region when he or she grows up, but they’ll have had the benefit of studying another language. They will pretty much be able to understand Catalan too as a bonus. Just my personal opinion, you may feel differently. The only advice I can give is to ask the school if it is possible for your child not to get Valenciano lessons until his/her understanding of Castellano is good enough.



How to get a space in a Spanish school?

When you choose schools in Spain, the next question is, how to get your child in it? Now this is the tricky bit. Like everywhere, good schools are hard to get into. Almost all bilingual or fully English semi-private and private schools are very popular among the Spanish parents. They all want their brood to speak decent English. This means it is not easy to get a place.

Spanish parents often start looking at their preferred school almost as soon as their baby is born. Then they enroll their kids as early as they can possibly start. In Spain this is the year they turn 3 and in the private schools that are offering preschool childcare, they even babies accept babies. So by the time you arrive from abroad with your 4 and 6-year old, especially halfway through the year, classes are full. You may find yourself having to put your kids in a school that wasn’t even on your shortlist.

School enrollment times in Spain

Enrollment time is usually mid May and school websites and the local municipality publish the exact dates on their websites . To enroll your child in a public or concertado school you need to live in the right catchment area to score enough points. Other factors are whether you already have siblings in the school and some other criteria – check your council website for the details. For private schools the postcode area is not a concern, but they may still have waiting lists. Many private schools have school bus transport around the city.

international schools valencia spain

Choosing schools in Valencia: ask other expat parents

I hope this post has been somewhat useful for those of you thinking about moving to Spain as a family. It is tough knowing whether you are doing the right thing for your children! At the end of the day, you can start with one school and change down the line if it is not working out for you. I have heard that many people do this. It is also a good idea to join some local Facebook groups and check other people’s opinions on schools. Without one central international school in Valencia, expat children go to many different schools everywhere around town.

Be aware though that asking about schools on these forums is a bit of a mine field. Everyone has their own take on things. What suits them may not suit you and your family. Some love the all singing all dancing international private schools with the beautiful facilities and the matching price tags. Others sing the praises of their little local public school in their own neighbourhood. “The facilities may be poor but the teachers are fabulous”. If you have time, ‘shop’ around. You may just find a hidden gem.

Preparing to move to Valencia: where to live

When looking into moving to Valencia, it is incredibly useful to buy a few maps to get to know your whereabouts to understand the location of neighbourhoods, schools and city areas. A city map is great to know more about the inner city neighbourhoods, tourist spots, public transport routes etc. We found the regional map particularly useful because most international schools and other schools we were interested in, are all located outside of the city. It helps to get an understanding of distances between the city and suburban neighbourhoods and out of town villages where many expats end up living and the school locations. Fold it out and stick it on your wall, mark specific areas of interest and areas to potentially move to, etc. Top tip!

Michelin map Valencia spain
The map of the city centre of Valencia
Map of Valencia region
The map of the Valencia region.

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Moving to Spain with children

Book tip: Living in Spain: Teach Yourself. 13,11 € order

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Living in Spain guide