As much as we’d like to curse the state of the Euro at the moment, it isn’t the only factor that’s making our European holidays expensive. It is the cumulative cost of air travel, hotel stays, internal transport, meals, entrance fees, taxes, and the likes which deliver a lethal blow to our best laid plans. But worry not, as we’ve lined up the best penny-pinching tips to help you plan a fabulous Spanish sojourn. Let’s begin.
Book your tickets early … or late.
Both might give you a cheaper deal, but if you’re looking to be on the safe side, book early; as early as three months in advance. If you think your transatlantic flight to your Spanish destination is very expensive, you may try booking a cheaper ticket to a different country close to Spain, and then book a seat on a European budget airliner like Ryanair. Keep in mind, though, that most budget airlines have a knack of levying “extra” surcharges that can elevate the cost. Therefore, it is prudent to do all the math before you book; but it is recommended that you fly direct, especially if this is your maiden visit.
Last-minute deals could be up for grabs on sites like Expedia or Orbitz. But these may not always be enticing enough, which is why early booking is your best bet.
Hotels? Or Hostels?
Yes, hostels are cheaper, and we’re all aware of that. But we’re telling you to opt for neither. If you happen to be going solo/as a couple/in a small group, we recommend Couch surfing or Airbnb. These sites will help you get in touch with people (in Spain) who will allow you to house-sit for free, while they’re traveling themselves. The arrangement works well for people who are planning an extensive stay in the country. The advantage is that it lets you stay among the locals, than be cooped up with fellow travelers in a hotel or a hostel.
If you’re not comfortable with house-sitting, or if you are traveling in a large group, renting an apartment makes more sense. The overall cost works out to be cheaper, and you always have a kitchen at your disposal―which means that you can cook and save some dough which you would have otherwise spent. You may not believe it, but home-cooked meals save you some serious money, and you only realize it on the penultimate days of your holiday. And as we all know, it is one of life’s greatest joys to discover a surprising stash of our own money when traveling abroad.
Did we hear cheap grub?
Spain, for one, is a delightful place to be in if you are a food aficionado. Their cuisine is out-of-this-world amazing, and though, we recommended that you cook a few meals in your apartment, eating out in Spain is a must. Spaniards believe in keeping their breakfast light, and their lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Which is why, they have the concept of Menu del Dia or Menu of the Day. This is a rather filling, all-inclusive meal that costs under USD 10, and feeds you all the delicious Spanish delicacies of your dreams.
Spanish people have a proclivity for late dinners, which is why they gorge on tapas, which are appetizers sold in bars. At times, they come as a free accompaniment with the drink, or you can purchase them separately. Two or three rounds of these, and you feel like you’ve drowned in food, especially if this is on a day when you’ve feasted on the Menu del Dia.
Tighten your travel expenses.
Barcelona tourist bus
Buses in urban Spain are relatively cheaper than trains. That said, Madrid and Barcelona have an excellent subway network that is easy, efficient, and not-too-expensive. Renting bicycles in Barcelona is quite the rage among Eco-conscious travelers, and is a great way to explore the city for cheap. SANDEMANs NEW Europe Tours conduct walking tours in Madrid and Barcelona. These are conducted by well-informed local guides who work on a tips-only basis. If you’re traveling to the interiors, you may want to rent a car if you have a large group, or take advantage of Spain’s extensive bus and train network. Renting cars in the big cities is definitely nor recommended, since parking fees in most urban areas tend to be exorbitant.
Sightseeing for less.
National Prado Museum
Most museums in Spain tend to have a free-entrance policy during late afternoons or on Sundays. Of course, you can expect serpentine lines during these times, but if saving money is a priority, this should not be too bothersome. Checking individual websites of attractions will let you visit these places sans the charge.
Discount cards are offered in most major cities of Spain. These passes allow you to enter several city attractions at discounted rates, and can be used over the course of around 4 weeks. This option is suitable for travelers who plan to stay put in Spain for an extensive period, rather than those who will just be spending a couple of days in a city.
Each major city also has a system of public transport discounts combined with attraction tickets, like the Barcelona Card, for instance. These passes are fabulous budget savers as they combine the cost of transportation and entrance fees as well.
Steer clear of tourist traps.
Tourists on Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain
Unfortunately, tourist traps are an inevitable part of the tourism business, and we can’t really help it. But as someone wanting to stick to a budget, it is advisable to keep these places at an arm’s length. A visit to Barcelona’s La Rambla could be on your agenda, but whatever you do, avoid shopping there, as everything is insanely expensive. Yes, even a silly Sagrada Familia fridge magnet can set you back by a cool 15 Euros. Are you really interested?
Big tips aren’t necessary.
In Spain, the generous tippers usually tend to be tourists. By Spanish standards, a 5% tip is more or less the upper limit, as against the American norm of 20%. Also, locals mostly tend to leave loose change in tips, which should give you a fair idea about the tipping customs here. So, avoid leaving hefty tips, and don’t beat yourself up for having done so.
Saving money on money matters.
Withdrawing money from ATM in Spain is a better option than carrying currency from your country of origin. You will need to talk to your bank regarding the charge levied on international withdrawals before your departure. It is recommended that you avoid money exchange bureaus, since they charge hefty fees for money transfers.
The Value Added Tax (VAT) refund in European nations is mostly seen as a hassle that most tourists don’t wish to bother with. However, if you are planning to shop a lot, do take the effort of claiming the VAT refund when you’re leaving the country. To avail this refund, your purchase has to be above a certain amount, which is 90 Euros. Also, this minimum amount has to be spent at a single store at one go―you aren’t allowed to add up your purchases from various shops to reach the required amount. Finally, when you’re leaving the country, you need to carry the transaction receipts, the billed purchases, and your passport to prove you’re not a resident of the European Union. The Customs officials will examine your documents and the corresponding goods, and the refund will be debited to your credit card in about two months’ time.
Now, there can never be an end to money saver tips, and if we were to list them all, you’d actually never end up in Spain at all. So, while budgeting is important, do not let it get in the way of having some wholesome fun. You’re going to be in Spain, after all.