Here are a few ways to find Spanish savings
Spanish savings are a way of life.
I return to Spain every year at least once, and most years several times. These are some of my favorite ways to save while enjoying that special love of life that the Spanish present. From spectacular vistas across sweltering deserts and rugged mountains or shimmering seas and from majestic castles to hillside towns or long sandy beaches, Spain has everything a tourist or traveler could want.
The history is strong and controversial. Its place in the Western World is firm. Its influence on trade and politics has been enormous. Plus, the food is considered some of the best in the civilized world. Actually, Spain is where the world became civilized in terms of food back in the Moorish days.
I can never get enough. That’s why I just flew back this week and I’m heading to Spain again in July. I can’t wait for my first tapa with a glass of wine at a bar, my first succulent lamb chop cooked over dried grape vines, and my first chance to savor the best-cured acorn-fed hams in the world. And, I love the people, whether from the countryside or the midst of bustling cities who make their life possible and are so willing to share with outsiders.
Stay at VRBO, HomeAway, or Airbnb (or at supercheap hostals)
My history will show that I always search out a supercheap hostel (like a pensione in Italy, or gasthouse in Germany). My favorites run me about $50 to $60 a night with Internet, use of a credit card, elevator, and private bathroom. In the middle of Madrid, Zaragoza, Seville, or Barcelona you cannot beat their prices. Just go to Expedia, trivago.com, Booking.com or another online travel agency and reap the savings.
However, if traveling in search of Spanish savings with a partner, and especially with a family, look into short term rentals. These are found on HomeAway.com, VRBO.com, Airbnb.com, and on other online travel agent sites. They range from small-and-plain to large-and-luxurious. I have always been surprised by their quality. Travelers United did a survey late last year and discovered that though many travelers initially have fears about short-term rentals, after staying with one of the units available through major platforms, their fears are eliminated. These travelers then become firm fans of short term rentals.
Live by the supermarket and dine on Menu del Dia and tapas.
Families staying at short term rentals can save a bundle and get their brood to eat in the morning by shopping for basics like cereal, fruit, yogurt, butter, jam, and bread. It makes a massive difference. Plus, keep cold water, soda, beer, and wine at your apartment for more Spanish savings.
When out and about, head to a restaurant and have the “menu del dia.” It is normally good and substantial. That, together with excellent fresh bread, makes for a perfect lunch.
Later in the evening, almost every Spanish town has what they call the merienda or tapas time. About five of these snacks eaten between 6 and 7 or so will fill you up and a bit of wine makes the rest of the evening go by nicely.
Forget dinner. It doesn’t start until about 9 p.m. in most Spanish cities — too late for most Americans and their families. (I confess, I never obey this rule. I always have a late dinner. Of course, no family is involved.)
Look for free museums or get a student or senior discount
Always purchase a museum pass. Madrid has a three-museum pass for the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia. Barcelona, Seville, and Toledo all have museum cards. Otherwise, most museums have discounts for students and seniors. The savings add up for real museum junkies.
Use the bus system between cities
While the trains between the major cities are some of the speediest on the planet, moving between smaller towns is normally faster via bus. The bus system is extensive and excellent. When heading to the Running of the Bulls every year in Pamplona, I take a bus right from the Madrid Airport to the middle of Pamplona — it is cheap and gives me a three-hour nap and a comfortable ride.
Exchange money in Europe
Don’t exchange money here in the USA. Wait until you land and then take money out of a cash machine. Exchange rates are normally much better. Watch out for the foreign transaction fees and for high machine charges. If travelers are careful, use the right card and the right machine — they can save a bundle. Plus, I suggest that you keep all your credit card receipts in Euros — the exchange rates provided by the cards will hurt your bottom line. Let the credit card company deal with them.
If you will only be using a small amount of Euros, go ahead and exchange at your hotel. It will end up costing about the same. My last time in Spain, I only used my credit card for everything. The need for local is minimal.
Regionalize your travels; you can’t see it all.
The biggest mistake friends of mine make when planning travel is to try and see it all. You can not.
Spain is a big country and is packed with sights, activities, fiestas, and plenty of shopping. Plus, the distances are long — a drive on back roads from Segovia to Seville will take about 6 hours. Madrid to Pamplona on the superhighway takes about four hours and will cost a bundle in tolls.
Basically, travelers will need time to cross the countryside. They will need time to enjoy a good Spanish lunch. They will need to spend time in massive museums. Travelers will need to time test thousands of kinds of tapas or pintxos.
Enjoy the experience.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.