Even though I’ve been home for several days already, I still can’t get over the fact that I actually did it. I really went to another country, on my own (read: without the family), for two weeks! Each moment of frustration, every minute spent planning instead of catching up on tv, the multitude of phone calls and emails sent back and forth were one hundred percent worth it.
My roommate from last year, Hannah, and I were hanging out over the summer, and on a bit of a lark decided that we should go to Europe for winter break. Just casually tossed the idea out into the open for the parents. Then we got serious. Every gear in my brain was turning, churning out idea after idea of where we could and should go. We had three criteria for location:
- It had to someplace neither of us had been before. I’ve been to Italy and Poland, so those two were off the table.
- It had to be affordable. Can you say, “college student budget”? Because that’s what we were on. Big time.
- It had to be somewhere our parents would agree to. Concern for our safety abroad was their (understandable) number one priority.
Spain was the perfect fit and our excitement grew every time we told someone else about our plans. Yet, all of the planning and preparations did nothing to make me believe it was truly happening. No, that didn’t come about until the first morning I woke up in Barcelona, jet lagged and surprisingly happy about it.
Reflecting on the trip, it’s clear to me how much I gained from this trip beyond just more stamps in my passport (although I do love that) and another checkmark on my bucket list.
What I Learned From Spain
◊ How to find the ‘golden mean’ of planning ◊
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a planner. The type of person who needed to know what, when, why, and how things were going to happen. This was the first time that I was planning such a big trip, and it really forced me out of my comfort zone. Hannah was more content with having general plans, while I wanted everything scheduled in advance, to the minute. We compromised on booking several tours, but leaving the rest of our plans on a flexible itinerary.
In the end, this was the best move we could have made, which I realized on the first morning when we were so tired that we couldn’t have done anything had we planned it.
I’ve come to appreciate the freedom of going with the flow, of seeing signs for a flamenco show and a performance of Swan Lake by the Russian Imperial Ballet, and actually being able to go because we didn’t have every second booked ahead of time. Giving ourselves time to enjoy where we were, without the pressure of a schedule, was the best.
◊ Don’t be shy- they have something unique to share ◊
Even though it’s been a long time since I was too shy to speak to other people, I’m still pretty introverted, especially when it comes to people I don’t know. Over these two weeks, though, I needed to push that aside that to ask for directions or “where’s the bathroom” in Spanish.
Our Air BnB hosts in both cities shared their stories and knowledge with us. Having Friday night dinner with a group of locals in Madrid was a hilarious meal full of language-induced miscommunications and great traditional Spanish food. If we hadn’t reached out and asked to be hosted, we never would have gotten to join them.
◊ Cafés are a godsend ◊
This probably isn’t news to you, but indulge me. Practically every day we headed over to a café near wherever we were at the time, settling in with mugs of steaming cappucinos.
Sometimes we brought our journals to catch up on the events of the trip, and sometimes we just talked. A couple of times we played Set, Hannah’s favorite game. But not once were the people-watching opportunities lacking, nor the atmosphere anything less than warm and inviting. It’s amazing how the language of coffee and its culture transcend all borders.
◊ Walk everywhere ◊
All you need is one pair of good walking shoes, and you’re golden. Moving through the streets on foot lets you chance upon the tiniest shops and streets, just begging to be explored.
We stumbled upon a place selling gorgeous handmade masks, hidden amidst the hundreds of cheap souvenir shops. Gran Via always had vendors selling the crafts they made. Rounding random corners afforded us unbeatable views of little alleyways winding throughout the city.
You’re not dependent on the public transit schedule to get somewhere, since you set your own pace. Aside from discovering new sites and statues that you didn’t know to look for, you’re exercising and saving money. Win-win.
◊ Notice the art ◊
We saw countless buildings and statues that have historical significance along with the beauty they possess. Some of my absolute favorite pieces were actually the graffiti everywhere.
So. Much. Talent.
Simply walking down streets you’re almost sure to find street performers doing tons of cool things.
In Barcelona we found an open mic night at Big Bang Bar, where we got to listen to awesome singers, and in Madrid we went to a concert by a Spanish boyband (anyone heard of Claim?).
It never ceases to amaze me how many forms art takes, and how many places we can find it if we keep our eyes open to it.
◊ Follow your nose, it’s a good judge of what route to take ◊
I can’t help but laugh at the memory of all the bakeries we walked into purely for the sake of inhaling the divine scents.
La Boqueria, in Barcelona, and Mercado de San Miguel, in Madrid, were foodie heaven. The first is an open marketplace full of fresh ingredients ranging from produce to butcheries.
Some of it was actually too gross for me to look at, and I walked away to the safer zones of giant persimmons. Produce was actually the best I’ve seen, and dirt cheap, so we got to eat our weight in it all.
Mercado de San Miguel was more about the prepared foods. Each stall has a specialty, and people just walked around getting a bite of this here and a nibble of that there. I got to try paella, a classic Spanish dish of chicken, meat, seafood, or vegetables served on a bed of slightly sticky rice in a sauce. It was gone within minutes.
◊ Don’t spend the whole time behind the camera lens ◊
I made sure to record in my journal the actual itinerary of each day after it happened. But, you know, a picture is worth a thousand words… It was tempting to snap a picture of every detail, but it would have prevented me from really enjoying the moment. I had to make sure to really be present. Those memories will mean more later than a perfect picture of something you only saw through the lens ever will.
Here are some more of my favorite memories from the trip!
Now I’ve got the travel bug. Any suggestions for the next adventure?