First Up: Spain – Planning, Planning Planning
Spain was my first trip to Europe, and my first trip overseas without family/guide. This was also going to be my first solo trip: cue minor panicking.
I decided to do the trip in 2 parts, half with friends, half alone, to lessen the shock of solo traveling.
Making it work with a 9-5:
We made sure we had enough vacation days for a length trip we wanted but didn’t lock ourselves into a date. We booked far enough in advance that work was okay with us taking 10 days off but we could give them the dates after we booked. For a more detailed answer, see my guide for while working a 9-5
Doing it for Cheap
My friends and I scoured the internet for cheap tickets, using sites like Skiplagged, Sky Scanner, and Secret Travel. We ended up finding an error fare, so our round-trip tickets to Spain were $270. We looked into getting around with buses, trains, and cars and ended up choosing the train for convenience sake. I booked my Eurorail pass way in advance, saving about $100-$150. We also chose to forgo hotels, booking airbnbs instead. Since there were 3 of us, we got amazing private apartments in prime areas for little more than the cost of a hostel per night. It allowed us to keep snacks around instead of having to buy food for every hunger pang. When I was by myself, I chose hostels, keeping lodging to less than $25 a night.
The first half of the trip was Barcelona & Madrid with my friends. The second half I was doing Madrid, Cordoba and Granada alone.
The Saving Grace of a Printed Itinerary
To try and alleviate the nerves, I made the most thorough, color-coded itinerary ever (in hindsite, the color coding was unneeded, the level of detail saved me.)
When we got to Madrid, I went to type the address of our Airbnb into Google maps when I realized my phone was gone. Even me, a tough NYC girl, who knows how to not be a tourist and get pick-pocketed, got her phone stolen abroad. ENSUE PANIC.
My friends would be with me for 2 more days. But after that, I had another 5 days by myself, moving across cities, taking trains and planes, all on my limited high school Spanish vocabulary. My saving grace was the itinerary. Everything stored in my email/online was printed out in front of me: train times, addresses, exact train transfer details, walking instructions on how to find my hostels, confirmation numbers, maps, plane tickets, etc.
When I got to Cordoba, with only the aide of the most expensive tourist map (7 Euros, seriously) and my handy itinerary, I learned to use the bus system and found my hostel, all without the ability to use English or the internet. Getting to Granada, that itinerary again saved me.
- Have a printed itinerary with all the information for all flights, transits and hotels. It seems silly, and like you are over-prepared, but you never know when the internet will cease to be an option, or the language barrier will become a problem. People have been traveling for 100s of years without the internets, with all their information written down. Maybe they knew a thing or 2 about traveling.
- Plan in advance. I’m not saying you need to have every restaurant and sight-seeing activity locked in stone. In fact, I think winging the food and keeping your activity list fluid is the best way to enjoy a vacation. If you have too rigid a schedule, you’ll end up rushing and missing out. However, entering a new city/country, it is good to have at least one night booked, and know where you’re going. Things can go awry at any point, but knowing you have a place to lay your head can make all the difference.
- Don’t schedule your transit too close together. When I was flying from Granada back to Barcelona, my flight was cancelled and I spent the night sleeping on the airport floor, begging the security guards not to kick me out (in my limited Spanish, half in tears). I had to negotiate for a different flight, as I’d have missed my return flight to the USA otherwise. Missing a cheap train isn’t the end of the world but whatever you do, don’t compromise that international flight home!