Everything You Need to Know About Traveling in Spain

An open road to many adventures. Ronda, Spain.
Adam Smith Photography
Spain is a land of mystique, a place where your dreams can become a reality as you explore the endless surprises that every corner of this country offers.
There is just something special about Spain - whether you are sitting in a quaint sidewalk cafe in a medieval town, sipping on sangria, enjoying a day on the beach or exploring historic sites from thousands of years ago. I fell in love with it, and now I consider it my home away from home. I have spent months there, and would go back without hesitation because there is still so much to see that most travel guidebooks and itineraries simply overlook.

My goal with this post is to help those of you who may be traveling to España for the first time – whether you are studying abroad, going on a summer family vacation or just passing through on an epic Euro backpacking adventure - with information that will hopefully make your travels smooth and easy, allowing you more time to explore roman ruins, eat tapas and enjoy life in a way that only the Spaniards seem to know.

Basic info
Currency - Euro 
Prices - Spain is one of the cheapest countries in Europe to travel in - backpackers especially have bountiful options! 
Language - Spanish (You will encounter much less English in Spain than most other European countries, so if you don't speak español a common phrasebook or smartphone translation app (world lens translator is phenomenal and works without a data connection!) will be extremely helpful)
Best time to visit - This is a tough one, as it depends on what you want to do. The weather is rarely horrible in Spain, but you may have to deal with rain (especially in the winter). Summer does get hot, especially around Sevilla, while the north remains relatively moderate most of the year. 
Tipping - In most restaurants and bars in the country, tips are included in the price and not expected - although you will occasionally see tip jars placed for ignorant tourists which the locals never use.
Visa - It's pretty easy to get into Spain, most North Americans can get access to Spain for 90 days without a visa of any type - just have your passport and make a copy of the info page to store in a secure place, just in case!

Cordoba, Spain. Adam Smith Photography
Getting around
Once you’re in Spain, it really isn’t that hard to get around if you know where to look. If you speak the language, it helps immensely – if not, have no fear and keep on reading. Spain has a decent to above average inter-city bus system, and if you’re planning on being there long at all you’re going to want to get familiar with the biggest bus company in the country – ALSA. Their buses are efficient, reasonably comfortable and connect to just about anywhere you need – although you may have to route through Madrid to reach some destinations as the capital is their big central transportation hub. 

Buses are often cheaper than flying in many parts of the world, but one of the best parts of traveling in Europe are the budget airlines – specifically Ryan Air and Easy Jet-  where you can stumble on fares for fractions of the price of any alternative. These two airlines, especially the former, are God sends to any traveler on a budget. If you plan it out just right, you may find some cross country flights for as little as five Euro! That’s no joke, I flew one way from Madrid all the way to Tenerife on the Canary Islands for a whopping five Euro (that’s the equivalent of somewhere around $7.00 USD). The return flight would have cost me a whopping 10 Euro, had I not gotten stranded and missed it – but that’s another story for another day.

The prices of these budget flights seem almost too good to be true, but these are real tickets on real airlines. Your biggest concern on these budget flights should be your luggage – this is where they will get you if you aren't careful. Ryan Air has become fairly strict about enforcing their carry on bag size, and if you can’t fit it into their test cart you may be hit with a big charge as they force you to check it instead. Resourceful travelers will find a way around this (fill your pockets up with whatever you can, wear 6 shirts etc…once you get past the check point, you’re usually fine taking off the layers and putting them back in your bag). If you plan on checking bags, look for the fees before you buy your ticket to make sure they won't hit you too hard.

So, we’ve covered planes and buses – but what about trains in Spain? The Spanish rail system is actually pretty good, albeit a little more costly. The main webpage you should be searching for train fares is Renfe or use Rail Europe as an alternative. The bullet trains are amazingly comfortable, quiet and get you to your destination in the blink of an eye – look for the web only deals for the best prices, otherwise be prepared to pay a few extra bucks for the speed and comfort of the rail system.

Most Spanish adventures will begin or end in Madrid, which is a good thing because this huge metropoli is incredibly easy to get around. Barajas, the primary international airport in Madrid, is conveniently located on one of the cities easy to use metro lines. The journey might take 30 or so minutes from the city center, but it’s always nice knowing that you can easily get to the airport without hiring a taxi or figuring out local buses. The Madrid metro also serves most of the main bus stations throughout the city which will be helpful if you are going on any type of trip with ALSA.

La Sagrada Familia - Barcelona, Spain. Adam Smith Photography

Making plans
What about itineraries? This is the tough part, because every traveler has different wants and needs. Spain does indeed have something for everyone, and one could easily spend months here and not come close to getting bored. Aside from Madrid and Barcelona - which should be on nearly all itineraries - I recommend adding Granada as a must visit with its absolutely stunning Alhambra being one of the most spectacular marvels in the country. Nerja, on the Costa del Sol, is another fantastic and quaint beach town which I actually prefer over the more popular and nearby Malaga. Nerja serves as a nice base camp for various activities in the region including hiking mountains along the Mediterranean, visiting some of Europe's best cave systems or you can simply relax and enjoy the fine cuisine or get some ice cream and take in the views at the Balcony of Europe. 

I have a number of suggested itineraries that include some sites that are off the beaten path, if anyone is interested in them leave a comment and let me know how much time you plan on having in Spain. I’ll do my best to help.

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