Paige Claassen - How to Do Spain

Thursday, January 31, 2013

How To Travel to Spain

By Paige Claassen

Spain. When traveling outside the US, Europe is a safe and common option.  You can rent a car, many people speak English, and you’ll likely recognize what’s served on your plate. Yet it still isn’t easy. Traveling of any kind requires flexibility and a bit of research before you go. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over my past few trips to Spain that minimize traveling frustration and maximize the time I have to enjoy my trip.

Before you go:


1. Call your credit card company and let

them know when and where you’ll be traveling. This will prevent your bank from assuming your card has been stolen and placing a hold on your account. A must.

2. Choose an international cell phone plan. Most plans cost just a few dollars to activate, and allow you to talk at a lower per minute rate. Be careful, minutes still rack up fast. Most text plans range from $5-20 for a package, and allow you to send “I’m safe” messages when you need. Typically, received texts are free. 

3. If you plan to drive and have a smart phone with a GPS app, buy a small data package so you can access your maps overseas. Driving directions are often vague, lacking key subtle details when you’re trying t

o navigate smaller roads surrounding climbing areas. Without a GPS map, I would probably still be driving in circles along the back roads of Spain. This is far from fun when you’ve just stepped off the plane from a 24 hour travel day and have already doubled your expected driving time. Apart from the frustration, getting lost is not cheap, as gas is much more expensive in Europe than the US. 

Renting a Car:

1. Before you leave, check with your insurance provider about vehicle coverage overseas. Oddly, your credit card provider may supply international car insurance, so check there as well. If you aren’t covered and you do choose to rent a car, BUY INSURANCE. Insurance through the rental company is very expensive, but very worth it. Within one hour of leaving the rental agency on my last trip to Spain, I stopped at a grocery market and came back to find the entire passenger side of my car badly scraped and dented. I felt immediately thankful for the $400 insurance that had bruised my wallet just an hour earlier.

2. Check whether your rental car takes petrol or diesel. Many economy sized cars in Europe take diesel, something we wouldn’t expect here in the US. One mistake here could leave you at the mechanic for a few hours getting your tank pumped. This is how I spent the first day of my first trip to Europe.

Where to Stay:

1. This, of course, is dependent on where you are. Hostals in Europe are very similar to our idea of a hotel, including private rooms with bathrooms. This can be a nice cheap option. Apartment rentals are also common, and may be cheaper than a hotel. The hotel star system in Europe is slightly different than the States. One star means fewer amenities (like no hairdryer), not particularly lower quality.

2. Rent a place with a kitchen. Personally, I don’t like the food in Spain (see below), and would prefer to frequent the super market and cook my own meals. Conversely, the delicious food of France, for example, can often be expensive, so the option to cook is still nice. When you’re traveling for long periods of time, it’s always nice to whip up some comfort food from home. 

What to Eat:

1. At restaurants, be creative when ordering and open minded when you receive your food. I don’t care for the food in Spain, which was a disappointing surprise upon my first visit. Much of the food is fried, which is harsh on the stomach and therefore rough on your climbing objectives. Paella and gazpacho are definitely must-try local specialties, but for me, not an every night staple. Salads are typically shredded iceburg lettuce with pickled vegetables on top.

2. Breakfast: The typical Spanish breakfast is toasted bread with jam and coffee. If you’re a pancakes and waffles kind of eater, you might be out of luck. Eggs commonly come with dinner, but are rarely offered for breakfast. Some bars do offer “bocadillos”, or sandwiches, for breakfast, which can be a nice change. Be assured that the coffee is delicious.

3. One of my favorite parts about visiting another country is grocery shopping. I think you can learn a lot about a culture by scouring their food market. Don’t be afraid to try new cookies, cheeses, fruits, whatever you come across. Have fun with it!

In Summary

 Traveling does not come easy, even when you’ve done it a lot. Recognize that in return for the incredible rock, you might have to be flexible and learn to deal with frustration, whether it’s at a meal or trying to navigate on the road. Always remember, getting lost can be an adventure and you might stumble upon something incredible!  

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