Tips and tricks for shoestring travel for every age.
13.01.2017 - 13.01.2017 17 °C
If you think you cannot afford to travel, think again!
If I can do it, anybody can do it.
Although the 'grow where you are planted' team has a point, I align more with 'a rolling stone gathers no moss.'
Tips and tricks on travelling on a small budget at any age:
In December, 2016, my sister and I went on a three week budget trip to Spain and Portugal. I am 67.
All in, my trip cost three thousand Canadian dollars but it could have easily been pared down to less.
For any American readers, this would be around 2200 US dollars.
I will break down the costs and remark on further cost saving measures.
Barcelona: Dec 2 - 6
Antequera: Dec 6 - 8
Malaga: Dec 8 - 11
Granada: Dec 11 - 13
Seville: Dec 13 - 14
Albufeira: Dec 14 - 16
Evora: Dec 16 - 18
Lisbon: Dec 18 - 22
Cost of Hotels in Canadian dollars:
Barcelona: 4 star Ayre Hotel 4 nights 387
Antequera: Hotel Toril. 2nights 102
Malaga: Includes breakfast 3 nights 302
Granada: 2 nights 129
Seville: One night 48
Albufeira: includes breakfast 2 nights 90
Evora: 2 nights 106
Lisbon: Includes breakfast 3 nights 172
Total divided by 2 is $668
The cost to fly into Barcelona and home from Lisbon to Calgary Alberta was 1023 C with KLM.
Airfare was a big chunk of my budget. There were cheaper flights to Paris and London. You could use air miles. People who live closer to Toronto or anywhere in the US would score a better deal.
I paid 248 C for trip cancellation and medical (some credit cards cover this). Also I am 67 so that ups the cost. I basically wasted $50 for phone coverage. I never needed it, wifi is widely available - but it bought me peace of mind. So there goes 300 C off my budget.
As you can see after hotels, airfares and the phone/travel insurance I have just a shade over one thousand dollars left to spend.
Hop on and off bus Barcelona 2 days 50
Train Barcelona to Antequera. 75
Admission to Alhambra 40
Flamenco in Seville. 23
Buses between cities. 107
Taxis and local transit. 125
Taxi to Cromlech 35
Hop on and off bus Lisbon. 2 days 30
Odd Museum entrances 20
We saved money by watching our food budget, dining out carefully and buying fruit, cheese, Iberian ham etc. to make our own meals. I packed a paring knife in my checked luggage for this purpose. You could buy one there but I didn't want the hastle.
I do not consider dining the highlight of my trip. I like to eat local foods like tapas and Iberian ham in Spain and custard tarts and bifanas in Portugal. I prefer a local place to eat rather than a tourist restaurant. These are not easy to find when you are staying near sites where tourists gather!! But I tried.
The price for this salad and quiche with a glass of wine was under twelve dollars:
You can get a good sandwich and a glass of wine for seven dollars in a decent but not elegant environment. Conversely you can buy a beer and a tapas in Granada and with the free tapas, enjoy a light supper or good lunch for less than seven dollars.
We bought cookies and croissants from bakeries, oranges and persimmons from fruit markets, we were not hungry.
We never held back on a good cup of coffee!! That was our treat.
Beer is cheaper than coffee so I enjoyed a few glasses of beer and also wine. Beer and wine cost fifty cents Canadian more than water, sometimes less!
This exact trip is doable for three hundred dollars less. Just replace the hop on and off buses for 'free with tip' walking tours, cut out half the cabs, forget the phone and find cheaper accommodation in Barcelona and Malaga.
If you find cheaper accommodation everywhere else and make a few tweaks you can do it for even less!!
Or you could cut back on the accommodation budget and eat out more!!
We could have saved money by not traveling during a week that included two national holidays, Dec 6 and 8. I think a lot of Spaniards take the week off or make a five day weekend so hotel prices are higher.
Also we booked several hotels in advance with free cancelation which is more expensive than booking with no refund. Note that Seville, Albufeira and Lisbon were booked with no refund and were very reasonable.
I used hotelscombined, tripadvisor, trivago, booking.com, hotels.com, and Expedia.
All of our hotels had a tripadvisor score of over 8 out of ten.
All of our hotels had a private bathroom and a good location, either convenient to local transit or the old town. They all had elevators. When I was 63 I stayed in a place with 105 stairs (and could still do it in a pinch) but prefer not to wear myself out at the hotel.
I like to conserve my energy for all the other stairs and steep inclines I am sure to encounter during the day. Even though all our hotels came with a lift stairs were still involved in four of them - but only one flight.
You can save money by taking a room with a shared bathroom, booking a hostel dorm or a hotel room further out or look into Couchsurfing - please only select Couchsurfing if you value the cultural experience!! The intent is not just a free place to flop for the night!!
Ayre Hotel Gran Via was the nicest room we stayed in. We had an executive room as it was cheaper than a regular room at the time we booked:
However, the room I enjoyed the most was the much cheaper seafront room with breakfast in Albufeira. There is something to be said for a million dollar view!!
Also the very cheapest hotel we stayed in was in Seville and I found it wonderful, top of the list of recommended places.
We got a super rate online for the high speed train from Barcelona to Antequera but generally in Spain buses are cheaper. Therefore, our shorter trips were by bus. The Man in Seat 61 is a good train transportation site.
The buses were clean and comfortable and although seats are generally assigned we often moved to have two seats each when the bus wasn't full.
Although low cost airfare is tempting, the luggage restrictions are brutal and getting to and from the airport more daunting and sometimes more costly than getting to train and bus stations so you have to factor this in.
Actually in Portugal trains are very reasonable but the timetable for buses suited our schedule better.
We saw a lot of countryside traveling this way.
If you are a senior or a student check if there are special rates for buses, trains and entrance fees, you can save a bit of money.
The inter-city buses in Portugal offered a seniors rate for example.
Check out the 'free admission' dates. The Picasso Museum in Barcelona is free on Sundays.
If you are walking a lot with your luggage and taking buses, trains and low cost airlines I recommend a carry on size suitcase with wheels. I took a suitcase that measured about 7 by 14 by 20 inches and had enough room for all that I needed and a few things were extraneous.
In my suitcase was:
A daypack - (only used to carry souvenirs when my suitcase got too full).
Two pair of black leggings - one was pj bottom
Five tops - used one as pj top
Underwear and socks
bathing suit - did not need the hot tub at La Chancla was too cold!!
Sandals - used once but could have got by without them
Makeup and deodorant. Flat iron
Chocolate and granola bars
Gum, polysporin, Tylenol for cold and flu, Ibuprofin.
Printouts of hotel reservations
Two pairs one dollar gloves - rarely used.
Tablet, charger and converter.
Sleeveless tank top with long sleeve black T shirt, baggy cashmere black pullover, Packable down jacket, black leggings, silk and cashmere pashmina (too big would not bring again, replace with smaller scarf), black socks, black sketchers. Remember, it was winter in Calgary.
In my jacket inside pockets: money, passport, credit card and travel documents.
A neck pouch with money, debit card, drivers license and medical insurance card.
My cell phone was in the bungee cord necklace.
I only carried a purse onto the plane on the outgoing trip.
My suitcase started out very neatly. Like items were tightly rolled and put in plastic freezer bags and all the air was removed. The short sleeve t-shirts and bathing suit all went together in a zip lock bag.
The sandals were held together with an elastic band and placed at the bottom, near the wheels.
Everything almost was knit, lightweight and stretchy.
This was my basic look no matter what I was wearing, no kidding:
If I had to give up one point of interest it would be Sintra since it was so tourist-oriented, full of tourists, touts everywhere selling tours, too much. It is cheap and easy to get there from Lisbon so an easy day trip if you are into castles.
I have reached the point where the castle has to be really historic for me to want to take a peak. I liked Bran Castle in Romania and would recommend it - the setting of Dracula which was fiction, based on a real guy, Vlad the Impaler.
The Alahambra has a castle worth seeing:
I loved this trip. My favourite hotels were Zaida in Seville and Sol e Mar in Albufeira.
My favourite town was Antequera Spain.
My number one moment was the cromlech in Evora Portugal.
Our nicest taxi driver was in Seville.
I had several good experiences buying souvenirs: a little Moroccan shop two doors away from our hotel in Granada; the shop next door to the Casa Guitarra in Seville where I purchased the flamenco shoes and dress for my grandchild and buying shoes in Lisbon.
My best purchasing deals were the Dali clock in Barcelona, the Aria baby doll in Malaga and my Handmade in Spain espedrilles from Lisbon!! For five Euros these sandal have leather uppers and a jute heel.
My best meal was at Alfama, Lisbon.
The best and cheapest cafe con leche was in a working class bar in Albufeira and the worst was in a four star hotel in Barcelona!!
I could have skipped Sintra but am grateful I stood on Cabo de Roca.
I am glad I went to the opera in Barcelona as it afforded the opportunity to experience the magic of the Palau de Musica.
I wish I had purchased a pooping log and nativity cagnere in Barcelona - at the time it seemed like two more useless souvenirs but in retrospect I would have kept them myself to trot out every Christmas and explain the significance to anybody willing to listen.
The most touristy places were Sintra, Albufeira and Granada. The least touristy place was Antequera Spain.
I wish I had purchased port in Portugal but I am happy I at least bought Ginja the liqueur with sour cherries!! I drank a shot of ginja with the locals, standing in close quarters on the street, little plastic cup in hand, purchased it from a counter, no chairs, this is straight stand up, glug, glug, pleasant.
If we had ordered one in a sit down bar it may have come in a little chocolate cup, yes, it goes well with chocolate, desert alternative. I bought my bottle of ginja at a grocery store, six euros with cherries. The cherries have pits.
I am glad I ate tortilla and Iberian ham and I am making tortilla at home: the trick is to use a lot of olive oil when pre-cooking the potatoes and then allow the potatoes to sit in the beaten eggs for an hour before cooking up the mixture.
The other trick is to use an oven proof frying pan to finish cooking the top. This makes a nice brunch dish and I can regale my guests on Spanish tortilla and tapas.
Tips on Language and other things:
- a lot of Europeans are fluent in English
- learn at least hello and thank you in each country's language
- use the word station not depot, train station, bus station
- use the word taxi not cab
- use the word pharmacy not drug store
- be aware that your suitcase, jacket, etc may go through a scanner at train stations as well as airports.
- get familiar with local currency and have some with you as you may not be able to use credit at some smaller stores or stations
- always remember you are a guest in a foreign country.
- if you want to eat the same food prepared like back home, maybe you aren't cut out for travel.
- MacDonalds and Starbucks are in most cities, if you must, go there.
Embrace the differences, enjoy.