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.
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’!)
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Color & Learn Easy Spanish Phrases for Kids 2,83 € order
At Home with Spanish (Basic Spanish phrases for kids age 7-9). 4,37 € order
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.
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.
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!
Book tip: Moving to Spain with Children : Essential Reading for Anyone Thinking About Moving to Spain 15,44 € order
Book tip: Living in Spain: Teach Yourself. 13,11 € order
Looking for a guide to the practicalities of living in Spain? Whether you need to know how to find a plumber, what the ayuntamiento is there for or how to get permission to renovate, this practical illustrated book is for you. And its accompanying audio gives you all the language skills you need to communicate with the locals.
Moving to Valencia with children can be a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? Moving abroad on your own is one thing, but when you have two kids, a husband and a couple of cats tagging along it is a different ball game. Especially when half of the family is Dutch and the other half British (hello Brexit!). Think about all the paperwork you have to get organised, in particular when you are not fluent in the language of your new country yet. Our first quarter was one with ups and downs. Moving abroad as a young family is wonderful, but not without its challenges.
We decided we were moving to Valencia with children earlier this year and it was hectic! Our boys, 4 and 6 years old, are at the perfect age for moving abroad, at least, that is what people keep telling us. Still, it is a huge change for these little ones. It certainly can cause a lot of anxiety and meltdowns. After all, we took away all they had ever known in their short lives. Their home, their garden, their school and nursery, their wonderful childminder, their friends, neighbours and village.
The kids, I must admit, are OK now. But not without a good two to three months of very emotional behaviour, abandonment issues and absolutely not wanting to go to their new school. It has been in the past month only that both of them have been happy to walk into their classrooms by themselves. I am very proud of them. It must have been a nightmare those first weeks, being in an unfamiliar environment, not understanding a word.
Moving to Valencia with children: anxiety the first few months
My boys were proudly announcing to every man and his dog back in Scotland that they were going to go to a Spanish school and making new friends. The actual settling in phase however was far from pleasant. Once the novelty had worn off after a very exciting first day, they soon realised this was reality. It was not nice at all being put in a strange Spanish school ALL day and having lessons different from their old school. The times were weird and the days long (9am to 5pm!). There were strange teachers, strange children, all speaking in a strange language. How scary can you make it for little ones without their mama by their side? Needless to say, for at least eight weeks every single morning was a drama.
“I just waited for you to come back”
I had to walk my normally very confident, happy 6-year old into his new classroom where the teacher literally had to peel him off my legs. He was clinging onto me, begging and screaming not to be abandoned. It was awful. I left many a morning in tears, feeling so, so guilty about the whole move and what I was doing to my children. Was this really worth it? Why was I being so selfish? Had I been naive?
This was not what I had in mind at all for my family, starting a new life in Valencia. My youngest was only slightly better, but also always crying at drop off. At pick up time both boys were generally calm, usually telling me their day had been ‘ok’. But I shall never forget the day when I asked my youngest what he had done at school. He replied with:”Nothing mummy, I just waited for you to come back.”
Ending up in a 100% Spanish school with zero Spanish
The selection of schools did not go entirely to plan either. In November of last year we selected this great bilingual semi-private school on the outskirts of Valencia. We even chose to rent a house in the right postcode area in order to be eligible to enroll the boys. A bilingual school would be best in our opinion, to learn Spanish but also still get a good English based education so they would not struggle too much.
We arrived in Valencia late February. Although the staff of our preferred school suggested that there was a high probability of at least one of our children getting a space (in infantil, the Spanish equivalent of nursery), this unfortunately turned out not to be the case. With the school not being fully private, it was the council who eventually decided and they were unable to provide a space for either children. What a disappointment! We had already moved and the children were at home. What to do next?
Our 6-year old has to be in school by law, so the council was obliged to find us a school in our area. They were only able to offer us two spaces in a local Catholic ‘concertado‘ (semi-private) school we had never even heard of (S Bartolome, Godella). We are not religious ourselves and were also worried about the 100% Spanish school they were suggesting for our children, so we were apprehensive. We were also very annoyed with ourselves for not visiting more schools beforehand (top tip visit many!!). But we shouldn’t have worried, as when we arrived at the school for our first introduction, the staff greeted us like family, kissing us on both cheeks and making us feel very welcome. We were the only foreigners in the school. The school turned out to be lovely.
The kids in school, young and slightly older, are all very kind. And although my eldest son gets a tad bored of them all trying to practice their two words of English during break-time, he has already made friends. Teachers all work together to adapt lessons for our eldest, who of course didn’t speak a word of Spanish.
The local language Valenciano (yes! another issue when enrolling your children in a school over here, as they have at least four hours of it each week!) is toned down for the time being in order to bring the kids up to speed with Spanish first. During the first few months at nursery, his lovely teacher let our exhausted 4-year old nap in the classroom while she took the rest of the kids outside to read them a story so he could fall asleep. How sweet is that?
No homework, vegetable plots and trips to the theatre
Another plus at this school is that there is no homework, which is rare in Spanish schools. I am so grateful for this! School days in Spain are very long, so having to spend even more time staring at letters and numbers really isn’t what I believe any kid age 6 should be doing. The school also has their own vegetable plots. They do plenty of cheap school trips to museums, theatre and other out of school places. A downside? Teachers with terrible Spanish accents teach English at the school. But my kids being native English speakers already, I don’t mind at this point in time. We do plenty of reading with them at home.
For now, it is good, so we will stick with this school for at least the next year before reviewing our decision. We will then have time to decide whether this is going to be the school for our boys long term. Just now, all we care about is that our boys are happy. We want them to fit in socially, make friends and become fluent in Spanish. Within two months my children were able to understand basic sentences and count to 30 in the most adorable Spanish accent. That is at least something to celebrate!
Moving to Valencia with children…four months later
We are now almost four months here and the boys are doing much better. They are integrating at a faster speed than us. Both are happy to go into school by themselves, no more tears. They are having swimming lessons in Spanish and will also be going to summer camp in July. On the weekend we often hang out with international families. This gives them a bit of a break so they (and we too!) can ‘just’ chat in English. Learning a brand new language is tiring!
Our youngest is a sponge, knowing so many words in Spanish already. I guess for him it doesn’t really matter what language he is learning, as he is only 4. He is still developing his English grammar and vocabulary as well. He happily picks a Spanish book at bedtime now, rather than English or Dutch and is hardly aware of it.
Routine, cuddles and a safe home environment
Our six-year old is still showing some anxiety and a need for reassurance, especially at home. I can understand the reasons why and we are trying our best to just be there for him. Being in a Spanish speaking environment all day not knowing what is going on, must play havoc on your brain! Sleep, routine, cuddles and a safe family home is the best cure.
Now summer vacation is here (oh my, nearly three months long!). Perhaps the boys will have their huge anxiety issues again in September when school is back. Still, a teacher told me that most Spanish kids have exactly the same issue after such a long break. At least a row of other parents and their upset children will join me in the first week of school. To be continued…
Essentials for moving to Valencia with children: city and regional maps
To get an idea of all the neighbourhoods, where the schools are, to figure out where everything is, this Michelin map is an essential purchase. Price 5,45 € ORDER HERE
If you are planning to live outside of the city itself, it is very useful to have a map of the province of Valencia, showing all the towns and suburbs where many expats tend to move to. Many international schools are situated in the outskirts too. Price 8,06 € ORDER HERE
We’re finally moving to Spainas a family. D Day is here. “Why are you so stressed, we’re only moving!” my husband said to me after I had another meltdown in the past few days. I know, right? He wasn’t even joking! Well, he must be the exception to the rule, because I do feel like all those people stating that moving house is in the top three of most stressful things in life.
Packing, cleaning and a broken elbow
Moving house as a family with lots of stuff and two pets, that is, if it had been just me I’d been fine. The packing for the removal lorry was one thing, it was all the stuff that was left to do afterwards that made it feel never ending. Cleaning up and sorting out. Loads of admin. Finishing at work. Getting our cats prepped for the cattery and planned pet transport journey. An X ray to see if my youngest’s broken elbow is healing ok (it’s ok!).
Adios leaving parties
Then of course there are the many leaving drinks, meals and parties to attend and host. Even though my tired body told me it really rather wanted to go to bed, it was lovely to be able to catch up and say goodbye to our Scottish friends, neighbours, band members and colleagues. After moving to Spain as a family I would be able to have plenty of siësta’s, wouldn’t I? No rest for the wicked. Hell yes, throw in a 4th birthday party for my little one as well while we’re at it, one day before departure! Crazy.
Ready for a new adventure
Leaving our home and the local area on D Day was pretty emotional, even though I often cursed the place longing to be somewhere more exciting, feeling cut off and stuck in a far grey, chilly corner of the Great British island. Still, I am grateful, as I believe all things happen for a reason and so I spent over twelve years of my life in the North east of Scotland, always feeling the colourful Dutch outsider but adapting and making it my home. The truth is, no matter where you go, if you open your eyes you will find what matters to you. In some places you just have to try a little bit harder. Up there I found like-minded creatives, found a great band to sing in, started my business and started a family. Aberdeenshire is beautiful and full of hidden gems.
Goodbye beautiful Scotland, thank you for having me
The train journey from Inverurie to Aberdeen was like a trip down memory lane…passing familiar scenery, a previous work place, my husband’s city flat where I started a life in Scotland many moons ago. Goodbye Aberdeen! Thank you for having me and making me work hard, push myself, mature and become resilient.
Looking forward to a brand new life
The night before we left also happened to be the night when labour kicked off for the planned home birth of my second baby boy, exactly four years ago. It was a strange feeling to be sitting on the floor in our empty living room, the same spot as where my youngest was born after a lot of drama and life threatening complications (he was a big 10lb baby and got stuck with his shoulder – BBC’s Call the Midwife anyone?).
Four years later we are sitting here again, excited and slightly nervously awaiting another brand new life. I always dreamed of this moment, moving to a sunny climate, moving to Spain as a family. Let’s hope this birth will be a smoother one!
It’s all happening. We are moving to Spain. But what a month it’s been. The thought of a glass of wine on the other end, enjoying the warm spring sunshine, is what’s keeping me going just now. The movers have been a few days ago. A great big artic lorry parked outside, loading in my house contents. Everything is on its way to Valencia and we’re sitting on camping chairs in an empty house, scrambling for cutlery and cups. Food is now kept in our baltic utility room as even the fridge freezer is gone. Our goodbye party next weekend will be a blast, with so much dance floor space!
What to bring when you move to Spain?
We decluttered a lot beforehand, but still we managed to fill around 50 boxes and load a almost all of our furniture. The idea of going with just a suitcase full of clothes did sound very appealing and quite liberating, but at the end of the day, you need something to sleep on and sit on and you’d only be buying stuff again over there. And hey, I did want to bring my vintage sideboards! Grant of Buckiewere great, offering us part load to keep it affordable, as international removals can get up to 5 figure sums which is not what we wanted.
How to rent an apartment in Valencia?
Luckily we have an address. I know a lot of expats arrive in Valencia having to rent an Airbnbfor a month before finding something more permanent. It made me feel a bit nervous not knowing where we’d be living as a family, and not knowing where our furniture and belongings would have to be stored. Back in November we had already done a recce trip to visit some schools, but in January my husband went back on his own to look for accommodation. There a few helpful websites to find homes for sale or rent in Spain, such as idealista and fotocasa.
hiring a relocation assistant when moving to spain
We decided to rent first, because we don’t know the city and surrounding areas yet so buying would be too much of a gamble if perhaps a year down the line you felt you didn’t like the neighbourhood. Still, finding a rental house in Valencia proofed trickier than we expected, with houses being snapped up quickly. We made the very wise decision to hire a brilliant relocation assistant called Linda from Moving to Valencia, who is a true wizard and geared my husband up with 17 properties to view in two days, doing all the Spanish communication with estate agents and landlords in the background.
Husband himself lost the will to live after two days and 400km driving from one house to the next. We kept on missing out on the ones we liked and disliking others. We managed to secure a townhouse in the suburbs very last-minute, literally hours before he flew back. Unfurnished, thankfully, and within walking distance of schools and tram stop into town. Oh, and with a roof terrace! See that blue sky?
Meanwhile back home…
In the meantime life back home in Kemnay was not particularly stress-free, with builders coming in having to do a few repairs before we could put the house up for sale. Our two cats were now advertised on a cat adoption website (it broke my heart), but still no suitable homes were found and time was running out.
And then my youngest son, almost 4, broke his elbow in a local soft play. Yup, great timing. He jumped like a superhero down one of the cushioned slides and landed badly on his arm. Elbow fracture. He needed surgery the next day and now walks around with three pins in his arm and a big gold sprayed cast (his big brother was well impressed). He will need surgery again once we are in Spain unless we fly back for it. I suppose it’s one way to quickly start finding our way around the Spanish healthcare system!
But here we are. Just over a week to go until we are moving to Spain. I am sitting on a camping chair, laptop on a camping table. It feels weird leaving this house behind. The garden we spent so many hours in, planting, shaping and building, the house itself, remodeled, redecorated, modernised, made into something beautiful and totally our own. I had my babies here. My youngest son was even born at home, right here in the living room. Such a lovely street, great neighbours. Nice walks in the countryside, right on our doorstep. So many memories. Ten years of our lives. It’ll soon become someone else’s home. I know they will love it.
Ready for the next chapter
But I am excited for the next chapter. Excited for the unknown. Even though I know there will be plenty of challenges once we are there, from registering ourselves everywhere (hola, Spanish bureaucracy!), getting our kids into school and making them feel settled, finding our way around, building a new network of friends, learning to speak decent Spanish! And the cats? They’re coming! Even though we initially felt they belong in Scotland, with access to the wild, they will probably enjoy spending their retirement stretched out on our sun deck. I am relieved and happy they are coming, now we have made the decision, as they are part of our family after all and now we will all be together. They will be following us in March, overland in a fully kitted out pet transport van. I hope they’ll be sending us their road trip selfies!