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SPAIN TRAVEL GUIDE
Hello, my name is Gwen, and here is my Spain travel guide for over 40 solo travel, including budget, safety/female and eco-travel tips, photographs and interesting posts for your Spain travel planning.
BIENVENIDO A ESPAÑA!
Spain – home to tapas; flamenco music and dancing; the siesta; fiestas; paella; more vineyards than any other country and the world’s third largest producer of wine; sangria; conquistadores; Pablo Picasso; Joan Miró; Salvador Dalí; Antoni Gaudí; El Greco; Diego Velázquez; Francisco de Goya; beautiful beaches; football; bullfighting; La Tomatina (Festivals of Tomatoes); Ibiza; the Pyrenees Mountains, the Running of the Bulls; and, world-class cities, Barcelona and Madrid.
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LANGUAGES IN SPAIN
The official language is Spanish (Castilian), and regional languages spoken include Basque (Euskera), Galician-Portuguese, Catalan and Occitan (aranès).
How's Your Spanish?
Brush up on your Spanish before your trip to Spain.
Located on the Iberian Peninsula in Southwestern Europe, bordered by Portugal, France, the Mediterranean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, Spain once held an amazing empire that began when it funded Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in the late 15thcentury. This lead to the colonization of the now-United States, Mexico, Central and South America and parts of the Caribbean.
The empire began to wane, however, in the 16thand 17th centuries losing command to the seas to England. It underwent financial hardship during the civil war in the 1930’s which resulted inGeneral Francisco (Franco) Bahamonde’smilitary dictatorship. Upon Franco’s death in 1975, Spain began to establish a democratic society and modern economy that it still holds today. In 1986, Spain joined the EU and is recognized as a world-leader in freedom and human rights.
Today, Spain is a homogenous Mediterranean society comprising of Castilian (75%), Catalan (15%) and Galician and Basque regional cultures. Historically, the royal family held the top position in society, but this has changed with the development of a democratic society. Social standing and upward mobility, however, is measured by achievement in business and cultural areas. The Spanish government is a constitutional monarchy where the King is head of state but the power resides with the democratically elected parliament.
Spain’s education system is regulated by the Ministry of Education, a branch of the government, and comprises of free compulsory education ages 6 to 16 – through both public and private school offerings – with university and vocational education being optional with tuition fees depending on the program or degree.
Spaniards enjoy a universal Spanish National Health care system (SNS) that guarantees free care to all Spanish nationals.
The Spanish are open and friendly and take pride in their community standing and how they are perceived. They are conservative in terms of boasting of oneself or accomplishments. They respect societal positions of status and use a formal greeting by name when addressing or greeting each other. Greetings can be formal with a handshake but may become more relaxed with a hug and/or kiss through personal familiarity (women kiss each other on the cheek). When invited to a home or event it is recommended to research what gifts to bring.
The Spanish place high value on a strong family structure with social and financial support within the nuclear as well as extended family. Extended families use to reside under one roof, but this is becoming less and less practiced. Additionally, Spanish family sizes have been decreasing with more women entering the university education and holding professions formerly dominated by men.
The Spanish have much religious pride. The majority of Spanish (94%) identify as Roman Catholic with the remaining population comprising of Muslim, Jews and Christians.
The Spanish enjoy a rich heritage of art, food, architecture, music and dance. Flamenco is known worldwide. Spanish cuisine can vary depending in the region. Paella, the most commonly known Spanish dish, comes from the Valencian region and is a rice dish of different types: rabbit and chicken paella, seafood paella, vegetarian/vegan paella, and mixed paella.
Other traditional Spanish dishes found throughout Spain are patatas bravas (peeled and fried potato bites served with a spicy red sauce); gazpacho (an Andalucian chilled soup of tomato, cucumber, wine vinegar and seasonings); asado de ternasco (an Aragonese dish of roast lamb cooked with garlic, salt and bacon fat); bacalao al pil pil (Basque style cod dish); fabada (an Asturian white-bean stew with chorizo or clams); calamari; Jamón Ibérico (leg of ham); Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-style boiled octopus with seasonings); chorizo ( spicy and sweet sausage); desserts like Crema Catalana (rich custard topped with caramelized sugar with citrus zest and cinnamon); or snacks like churros con chocolate (fried sticks of dough with powdered sugar served with thick, Spanish hot chocolate).
Don’t forget tapas like a Tortilla Española (Spanish omelet made with eggs, onions, potatoes, chorizo, peppers, or ham). Mornings in Spain will see a continental-style breakfast. Midday lunch is a large meal which could contain one or two courses and a dessert at home or five to six courses in a restaurant. Lunch may consist of a soup, salad, and a meat or fish dish with dessert such as fruit or yogurt. Dinner is typically served later, from 8-10pm, and is lighter with one course and a dessert.
In addition to coffee and espresso, tea and the other main beverages, popular drinks in Spain are wine and sangria, of course, Cava (Spanish bubbly), beer, and cocktails like Agua de Valencia.
POPULAR SPANISH ACTIVITIES
Like other European countries, football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Spain so attending professional events is a major past time. Many consider Real Madrid the best soccer club in the world. Also, like other Europeans, the Spanish watch football on TV and participate in football – there are many local teams to be involved with.
With diverse countryside, beaches and bordering a lot of water, the Spanish are able to stay active by enjoying activities like fishing, sailing, windsurfing, paragliding, water skiing, jet skiing, canoeing, rafting, climbing, hiking, cycling and skateboarding.
Spaniards like to attend musical events, cinema and go to the many museums Spain has to offer. They enjoy socializing in cafés, dining out, and clubbing. Ibiza, an island in the Mediterranean, is well known for its nightlife and electronic music. Partiers are known to wake in the middle of the day to take part in late night clubbing and “disco sunrises”.
Spanish holidays and traditions can focus around religious or cultural events. Every city or region may have its own festivals. Throughout the country the Spanish celebrate traditional holidays like Christmas, Día de Todos los Santos (All Saints’ Day), and Holy Week, but they can also be seen holding the Las Fallas festival and Tomatina festival in Valencia, the San Fermín festival (including the Running of the Bulls) in Pamplona, and Carnival celebrations in Cadiz and Tenerife.
Spain uses the Euro (€). Exchange rates are usually favorable for Europeans but could fluctuate in the other direction. Check throughout your travel planning phase on any exchange rate changes.
Spain has all modern forms of transportation, including Uber (it has been suspended in Barcelona, so research in advance if they are in your destination area), and other regional ridesharing services and apps, so getting around and booking transportation in advance or working on the fly, is no problem.
TIPPING IN SPAIN
Traveling in a new country is easier when you know the country’s tipping etiquette in advance as each country has its own rules. That said, country rules and norms can shift, so here is an international tipping resource for over 70 countries to use as a general guideline that I have found is constantly updated.
What’s not on there is how to tip a concierge, beauty salons or spas, travel or tour guides, etc. For these extras, it is acceptable to tip 10% at minimum. Remember, tipping is for good service only.
Additionally, you should always tip in the local currency (if tipping in cash), and do not be offended if your tip is refused as it may not be the norm. I feel it’s always better to offer a tip for good service than not, unless I know it will be considered offensive, like in Japan.
A key activity to do in your early Spain travel planning stage is to know, at minimum, the national holidays. I so suggest also looking into the local holidays. It’s a complete bummer to spend time and money to take the holiday of your lifetime and when you show up at one of your key attractions, it’s closed due to a holiday. It’s also not fun trying to travel and have a hard time accessing travel or other essential resources when no one is around because, yes, it’s a local holiday. So take just a few moments to look at Spain’s holidays.
SPAIN ELECTRONIC ESSENTIALS
Besides money, required ID and your ticket, Spain voltage is 230V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz, so bring Type C and F adapters (it doesn’t hurt to bring 2 of each) for Spain outlets and research if your electronics require a voltage converter, if not already included in the adapter; or, you can bring electronics already adapted for Spain outlets or wait to purchase them there (I recommend just bringing the adapters with converter). Remember, most smart phones, tablets and laptops don’t require a converter, but double-check your device(s) before you leave home. If you are going to another country in addition to Spain on your trip, you can check the global adapters list to make sure you’re prepared. I have also provided suggested adapters below for your convenience!
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TRAVEL DOCUMENTS FOR SPAIN
From the U.S., you will need a valid passport. Visas are not required if your stay is less than 3 months. Make sure your passport expiration date is greater than 3 months (6 months is recommended) from your return to the U.S. The U.S. State Department always has their link up to date with pertinent information when traveling to Spain. It is advised to always check there during your planning stage and again before you leave. If you are not from the U.S., please check your government’s website.
VACCINATIONS FOR SPAIN
There are normally no vaccinations required for Spain travel. The U.S. State Department always has their link up to date with pertinent information when traveling to Spain. It is advised to always check there during your planning stage and again before you leave. If you are not from the U.S., please check your government’s website.
SAFETY / FEMALE TRAVEL TIPS
SPAIN TRAVEL SAFETY
Spain is considered a very safe place to visit for any tourist, solo or not. There may be instances of theft or pickpocketing in Madrid, so be careful in tourist areas. Beyond that, there is nothing I can recall from Spain making it more of a “safety concern” than traveling in my own home country, so my standard tips for female and solo travelers are:
- always carry photo ID with you; if you don’t want your passport on you at all times, at least carry a copy of it.
- always be “street wise”.
- always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you feel the need to imbibe or feel the need to “let loose” – you’re on vacation so have fun!
- never leave your food or drink unattended.
- keep your belongs on your person, or at least in your view in close proximity, at all times.
- be open to meeting and talking with new people – that is where a lot of the travel experience lies – but be careful on how you divulge personal information.
- research places in advance, if possible, so you know what to expect (i.e., “have a familiar view” – I like to Google the street view of new addresses I’m going to first).
- if something, someone or someplace makes you feel uncomfortable, go with your gut – leave.
BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS
BEST TIME TO VISIT SPAIN
Like Portugal, Spain’s high, tourist season, and most expensive time, is the summer (late June to August). The weather is hot and the beaches are crowded. Crowds are not as heavy, however, March to May or late September to October. The weather is still nice in these months as well. The least expensive time to go to Spain would be November to February. For overall best weather and prices, try booking well in advance for spring or autumn.
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SUSTAINABILITY / ECO TRAVEL TIPS
It is very easy to do your part for the planet and implement environmental sustainability into your travel. If you would like to learn more about how you can implement environmentally sustainable, or eco-friendly, travel measures into your travel, please see my 10 Easy Eco Travel Tips and suggested Eco Travel Resources.
Additionally, if you are flying to, or within, Spain consider purchasing carbon offsets through your airline or through a third party, like MyClimate.org, Carbonfund.org, or terrapass. Carbon offsetting allows you to buy a certificate to reduce carbon emissions, a major contributor to climate change, which in turn contribute community projects across countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There are several ways to go about this to help reduce your impact to climate change through your travel. Check it out!
Spain is a country that I am looking to revisit soon. I have been to Barcelona, full of wonder architecture, colorful people, and a fabulous beach where you can get great sangria and paella followed by a nap in the sun. I’ve also had the brief pleasure of visiting Madrid. The highlight for me was seeing La Guernica, the large, controversial painting by Pablo Picasso, behind a large, bullet proof glass casing at the Museo Reina Sofía.
Unfortunately, having so much fun in Portugal cut Spain travel time short. Alas, I guess I’ll just have to go back. In fact, Spain and Portugal are high on my list of countries to move to, so I am actually working on a Portugal and Spain itinerary for the very near future. Stay tuned!