Tips for a Nicer Vacation in Spain
Covered in the Article
Restaurants in Spain are multi-cultural. From local Spanish cuisines, you can find Asian, Italian, Mexican and Western food-catering restaurants. In general, however, based on our experiences both in Madrid and Barcelona, the staff regardless of ethnicity speaks solely and mainly this country’s national language. Being a tourist, you expect to communicate in English but you might not be able to do so as they speak only in Spanish.
Tip: Learn basic Spanish terms and phrases, download offline dictionaries to your phone. This will spare you from communication barriers. It is expected too that you give 10% tip when dining except in already expensive restaurants.
La siesta is one of the strongest and well known Spanish traditions. And most probably one of the easiest to embrace as a foreigner in Spain. This 3-hour break taken by locales in the middle of the working day is meant to bring a sense of calm and tranquillity amidst the busy working life. Siesta is hence a necessity for Spanish people probably equivalent to the sauna for Finns. And the main reason is that around 2-5 PM, the temperature reaches its peak and practically it will be uncomfortable to stay outside. Therefore the locals take a siesta by going home and spending time with their loved ones. Often, families will spend this time having a long lunch. This means that shops are closed and the streets are empty. An exception is city centres where retail shops and souvenir shops remain open.
Tip: If you are a first-time traveller to Spain, we recommend that between the hours of 2 PM and 5 PM, Plan on lunch while dinner starting at 9 PM (going to a restaurant earlier than this time, you would notice it to be empty). Schedule all other itineraries in between such as sightseeing.
One unforgettable thing we had in Spain is having lights inside restrooms to turn off automatically usually in a minute. You would get surprised and may feel quite fearful especially if you aren’t done with your business within 60 seconds. Your eyes have to adjust for the darkness. Worse, this will cause panic if you are nyctophobic. One thing more illogical is the positioning of light switches, it might be outside or inside the restroom or in the hallway. It varies from one establishment to another.
Tip: Familiarize beforehand and remember the location of the light switch before entering the restroom. Comfort rooms are usually situated in the basement so you would expect the place to be naturally darker. Have your backup flashlights for example from your smartphone turned on especially if you have fear of darkness.
Colours and Noise
Prepare yourself to be amused with brightly coloured Spain and its people. Spanish people love partying a lot and this means they have fun and high spirit everywhere. You may encounter in subway group of young women dressed attractively and singing music along with a loudspeaker. They get close to guys and entertain to dance with them while begging for coins in exchange for a kiss.
Tip: Get accustomed yourself with Spanish atmosphere. Expect locals to be talking with astounding decibels to the person directly next to them. Probably earplugs or putting on your headphones will help :)
ATMs are widely available around the city. All cards are acceptable however depending on your bank you might be charged with a few euros as a withdrawal fee.
Tip: Learn in advance the terms of your bank about withdrawal fees when doing banking transactions abroad. This will give you an idea is it free at all to transact with that card to avoid any extra charges.
Public transport in Spain is just incredible. This is just right as millions of tourists are visiting this Southern European country every year. You would think you are at the airport when in fact you are just at the train station as they are so wide, crowded and busy. Therefore be attentive to signage and ask for help from authorized personnel available at the area to save time. If you want to do cross country travel say Madrid-Barcelona trip, we recommend taking the journey with Spain’s AVE, the country’s fastest train with a lightning speed of 300 km/hr. Along the journey you will appreciate the beauty of the countryside particular the greenish landscapes.
Tip: It is common to encounter that serial train/metro tickets purchased from automated ticket machines appear to be invalid at times. Be assertive to locate a transport official available at the station and ask for the re-validation of your ticket. If you don’t see one, a helpline is available beside the ticket machines where you could push the microphone button and say your concern. An information officer shall respond and come very soon to attend to your needs.
Being a Pedestrian
In big cities like Barcelona and Madrid, the streets are crowded with many pedestrians and cars. Be careful when crossing the pedestrians as not all drivers are compliant with the traffic rules. We have witnessed this countless times when drivers hurriedly continue driving even though the traffic lights signal them to stop.
Tip: Take precaution! You wouldn’t like your vacation to end up for a hospital tour. Wait until the cars have slowed down and a complete stop before attempting a crosswalk.
Barcelona is one of Europe’s most densely populated cities. Consequently, this translates to be Europe’s pickpocketing capital. At certain tourist spots, some people will persuade to show you a 'magic trick'. This involves tying a piece of string around your finger. While you are distracted (and your arm is effectively disabled), an accomplice will pickpocket you. It is also common that criminals will pretend to tourists and ask for directions just to approach their victims while one of them gets into your pocket.
Tip: Do not leave any valuables in a back trouser pocket. Hold on to your bag or purse at all times. Do not leave anything unattended while you sit in a cafe or restaurant. Keep your distance and be careful in tourist places. If possible avoid displaying expensive items while roaming around. Doing so increases your potential to be the next victim.
Different kinds of scams are very common in very busy tourist areas. Scammers may pose as fake police officers asking you to check your identifications. People pretend to be tourists needing directions, they may use a map as a tool and aims to focus their attention on it. Both of the above-mentioned strategies are just common methods to divert your attention while an accomplice will swiftly take your belongings or empty your pockets without you noticing it immediately. There are also people holding petitions that they just approach random strangers to sign. Once the signature is obtained they will then aggressively ask for a donation. These are very true along the streets and parks in Barcelona, scammers are wearing seemingly official uniforms to convince potential victims they are indeed legitimate. People may approach you asking for change or to change money while their main goal is to commit the crime right there and then if you happen to entertain them.
Tip: The most important thing to remember to avoid a scam is that: Be always vigilant in very touristy places. Avoid talking with someone you don't know who approaches you in a crowded area, they are surely professional scam artists as described above. Do not sign their petitions, hand any of your valuable items to strangers, give them directions, or help them with their problems. In short, never entertain any kind of tricks/distractors.
In case you fall to be a victim of any crime you need to make a written report to the police for purposes of claim with your travel insurance. Be prepared for the reality that police officers may not speak English, despite the fact the official theft report form is in both English and Spanish. Again it is worth having a Spanish-English offline translator installed on your smartphone.
Tip: Remember to bring with you your travel insurance card whenever travelling abroad. If you still don’t have one, we strongly recommend you obtain one for your benefit. In cases of getting ill while travelling, medical costs incurred will be reimbursed by your insurance company.
Travel More Affordably
all of us want to stay on our budget while travelling. Firstly, this entails careful planning of where to stay and when to travel. And while at your destination, your behaviours speak much your expenditures. By choosing carefully available options you could be a savvy traveller and save portions of your budget for your next trip. Be true to yourself, you don’t want your trip to be a source of stress when bills are coming later.
Tip: If possible avoid travelling in summer to Spain. It is the worst time to visit as prices are at their highest, the cities are uncomfortably crowded and everything is booked-up. Avoid dining in tourist restaurants. You wouldn’t like to pay a small portion of meals of low quality that cost more expensive. Walk as much as you can, but if you can’t then use public transport over taxis. Buy a day or serial tickets public transport passes, which work out cheaper than single tickets. Most important of all book the flights and hotels wisely!
Hi Ruth! Thank you for comment. This would surely help our readers to get rid off falling as victim of pickpocketers. We appreciate you for sharing your own way to avoid such.
Great tips for Spain! This is one of my favorite countries, so, I do not get tired reading about it. Agree Barcelona is pickpocket central. I have been extra careful when going there. One thing that worked for me was using less "touristy" streets to move around. A lot of people walk the Passeig de Gracia and Las Ramblas but you can walk the parallel streets and will find less people and less pickpockets. #wkendtravelinspiration
Very great article. Very helpful tips. The things mentioned are applicable not only when travelling to Spain but likewise to other countries!
You have some good advice. Your mention of avoiding tourist restaurants holds true. One of my least enjoyable meals in Spain was in Barcelona on Los Rambla. Also, I took taxis twice in Spain and in both instances felt I was overcharged.
Thanks for commenting Rhonda. We felt really disappointed for a Tapas restaurant on Rambla. Expensive and small portions. Unfortunately taxis in South Europe are sometime a little unreliable. Better to negotiate the price before stepping in. :)
On this December, was in Barcelona. The hotel, I was staying at, had such a good breakfast. Even at the evening, (despite my firm plans :-) ), I was too full to dine! Basically lost all the good restaurants there. And really, keep up your money.