Please sign in to post.

10 day trip to Madrid probably my only chance to travel to Europe.

Hello,
My name is Derek,
I am trying to go to Spain on a college kid's budget but I don't know much about Spain. I am going to visit my girlfriend while she studies abroad. I am going to be there from March 24 until March 31. I'm looking for any advice regarding:
affordable airfare,
affordable accommodations (staying with her is not an option) hotel, motel, apartment etc.,
travel insurance,
renting a car vs. public transport and
any romantic information about the city.
She will be staying in Chamberi' in the northern part of Madrid near where the M-30 meets the A-6.
Any information is greatly appreciated. Thanks, Derek.

Posted by
17858 posts

No car. European cities have great public transportation.

To help with airfare suggestions we need to know what airport you prefer to depart from.

Is March 24 the day you plan to get on the plane in the US? (If so, you will arrive in Madrid on March 25.) Is March 31 the day you plan to get on a plane in Madrid to fly back to the US?

While we're waiting on others to come up with lodging ideas, you can look on booking.com. You can set filters for price and type of accommodations. The cheapest options will probably be beds in hostel dormitories.

I don't think this needs to be an expensive trip, though much depends on your origin airport.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you for responding so quickly. I plan on departing from SAN San Diego, CA on Sat March 23, 2019 and arriving back in the San Diego on Sun March 30, 2019. (Apologies for the above post it should be March 30 not 31.) I did look at booking.com and found several very good options in the area near her university (Nebrija). How safe are hostel dormitories? What is your recommendation for amount of traveling money to take?
Thanks,
Derek

Posted by
17858 posts

I have no experience pricing flights from the west coast, but Google Flights is showing things in the $1300-1500 range now, which I find painful. If you can get to LAX, there are $600-800 options. There's even a non-stop outbound on a ticket with a total price of $863. Understand that all of the prices may be different tomorrow; that's life in Airfare World. You'll note that a lot of the routings will get you into Madrid fairly late. Arrival day is often rather worthless anyway because of sleep-deprivation and jetlag, so a late arrival sometimes just means fewer hours before you can go to sleep on your new schedule. It would be important, however, not to arrive so late that you couldn't get into your lodgings, whatever they may be. So that's something to be very careful about.

I haven't stayed in a hostel since the early 1970s, and I know they do vary. However, I think all have lockers (travel with a good lock) for stowing your belongings. Petty theft is possible. Personal safety wouldn't be a concern of mine. I'd read all the English-language reviews of the places you are considering on booking.com or whatever website you use. I'm sure there are others that are useful for hostels, but I do not know what they are.

The way to handle money during the trip is pretty much the same way you probably do at home: Pay for things with credit cards when you can, and use your ATM card in Spanish ATMs to withdraw money from your bank account at home when you need cash.

The money you get from the ATMs will be euros; you will get a good exchange rate. Do not even think of trying to change physical US dollar bills into euros. You'll have a hard time finding a place to do that, and the exchange rate will be quite bad. You may want to take a bit of American money just in case of an emergency (such as your ATM card doesn't work). I'd keep that to no more than $100 (unless you might need more to get home from LAX), and you need to figure out where you're going to store that probably-never-to-be-used money. It should not be in your wallet; I don't care what pocket you put your wallet in, it will be fair game for the immensely talented European pickpockets, so it should never contain more than a small amount of money.

There are other things you need to know, but I think these are they key ones:

  • Notify your bank and your credit-card issuers (numbers are on backs of cards) of your travel plans so they don't suspect fraud when you start using the cards in Spain.

  • Find out what extra fees you may face for using your ATM or credit card overseas. If one has more fees than the other, that's information that might affect how you choose to pay for things if you have an option. But your trip is short, you've indicated that you're on a budget, and I don't think the total fees you will encounter justify trying to open new accounts between now and March.

  • Always complete your transactions (ATM or credit card) in euros. Any time you allow a hotel/hostel/restaurant/store/ATM to charge you in dollars, you are wasting money, because they get to decide what (dreadful) exchange rate they will give you.

Read Rick's tips on money here: Rick's Money Tips. A lot more could be said, but this comes up all the time, and there's really no need to reinvent the wheel. If you have questions about something you've read (or that I've said here), come back and ask.

Posted by
193 posts

I've stayed at Hostal Acapulco twice in the last 15 months. It is a small, family run hotel ("hostal" does not mean "hostel" in Spain) and is very clean and well located within a five minute walk to a couple of metro stations. It is in a safe area which was important to me. I looked at your dates and for a small room with a private bathroom, free wifi, mini-fridge, heating and a/c, it is 59 euros per night. Bonus: basically next door there is a small, very popular restaurant that sells delicious, small street tacos for 1 euro each.

Posted by
3284 posts

I was just in Madrid. Compared to other European cities, I found it very inexpensive. Public transportation is very good. I was told to try to use the local trains over the metro. It's cheaper and I'm told easier. A train ride was 1.4 euro. I stayed on the Puerta del Sol. (75 euro, once my husband went home) I think you could have a lovely romantic and inexpensive evening just wandering around Puerta Del Sol and the royal palace. Everything is lit up and its pretty. If you are a college student, often you can get wonderful discounts at museums. I typically do not buy travel insurance and I'm in my 50s. I usually book with accommodations that allow cancellation with 24-72 hours notice, and Delta has been good to me on the few occasions I've had an issue about changing flights. Some airlines actually have a rate that includes cancellation that is not prohibitive. Take a look. I have health insurance that covers me internationally. If you have medical issues you may want to talk to your care provider and insurance carrier, but you are going for such a short time, you will have to evaluate your needs. Your plan might have an out of area benefit that would at least partially cover you. Anyway, when I look at the cost of travel insurance and then consider the probability of actually using it, I feel its too expensive. Now for a cruise or something, absolutely. But, everyone needs to make their own decisions. You might take a look at day trips to Toledo and Segovia. Those cities have a lot of history and I should think walking around and site seeing would be romantic when you are with someone you care about. Segovia is especially charming with an incredible Roman aqueduct from the 1st century. I saw many young couples taking photographs around the aqueduct. Roundtrip train fares to those cities would be between 20 and 30 euro. I would guess that by the time you join your girlfriend she will have a handle on transportation and favorite venues. One last idea on accommodations. When my son studied in Budapest, his girlfriend (now wife) met him for a long weekend when she was studying in Scotland. While she couldn't stay with him, she could stay with a female student who actually had a spare bed in her room. Something like that might turn up. Have fun!

Posted by
3284 posts

I stayed in a hostel a couple years ago with my college aged daughters in Geneva. It was the only cost effective option. We had lockers, most do. I felt it was very clean. There were a lot of rules which makes it safer and more pleasant, I would guess for everyone. They also can include breakfast and serve affordable dinners. If you find a hostel you are interested in, GOOGLE and BING it to see if anything comes up good or bad.

Acraven's tips on money, credit cards and safety are excellent. I'll add a few. Make copies of your passport and credit cards and email them to yourself AND someone at home you can easily contact. Also you can take a pic of them with your phone. If you have multiple credit cards, I would advise not carrying them all at once. I know several college students that have had passports pickpocketed in Europe and my daughter's iphone was stolen from her coat pocket. Really pay attention to where you put things and the people around you. Know that if you do have a problem with a lost or stolen passport, it is not the end of the world. It was a hassle, but both students had temporary passports within a day. If you are on a train, don't just let your backpack sit. I try to loop my purse and backpack around my arm or leg so it can't be easily grabbed. Be careful and safe, but don't stress. There are people everywhere that will help you. The people in Spain are very nice and helpful.

Posted by
2529 posts

Darn, Jules and Ann got here first! Sorry Derek, not much to add, their advice is excellent and I subscribe to it. Any other question?

Posted by
5498 posts

Check out Norwegian Air from LAX to Madrid.

And don't miss the sangria,!

Posted by
3284 posts

I have traveled to California quite a bit. I can often get good domestic fares to San Diego, but would have no idea about international. I do know that when I do air searches I look at surrounding airports for better rates. On several occasions I've gone into San Diego even when my trip was further north or into LAX when I was going to San Diego. Is there a train, bus or friend that could get you to LAX? I think on a good day, the drive is less than 3 hours??

Posted by
2985 posts

Someone mentioned, yesterday, that United is having a sale. Check immediately. Good prices often disappear quickly.

Posted by
334 posts

Also check Iberia which is Spain’s airlines. Aer Lingus connecting through Dublin has decent sales too if they work for you. Hostels are safe and used by all ages. Just mind you valuables, wear a money belt & keep valuables with you even in the shower. Also look at AirBNB for just room stays in someone’s home. Check you medical insurance for international coverage. For airfare you can buy travel insurance when you get your ticket or look at squaremouth.com for coverage.

I would recommend public transportation. In Madrid I used only public transportation or walked to get around.

Posted by
334 posts

616 round trip SAN- MAD March 21-29 is the best I found on Iberia as of 12/6/18 right now!

Posted by
5010 posts

Lots of good advice above. I'll just add this: it looks like you will only have 6 full, usable days in Europe. That's a pretty short trip. You get more bang for your airfare buck if you can stay longer, but I understand that's not always possible.

Just keep in mind that many (most) people do not get much (or any) sleep on the overnight flight going there; add in the typical pre-trip stress (many often are exhausted even before they get on the plane) and the result is that most folks are pretty wiped out on their arrival day, so don't expect much from yourself that day, no matter what time the flight arrives. On your arrival day, your goal should be to just make it safely all the way to your destination, and to try to stay awake until after an early dinner. Then crash and sleep deeply. Next day you'll wake up groggy and a bit disoriented, pull yourself together and enjoy your trip.

Presumably your girlfriend will be expecting you and will be fully supportive of your visit? This website isn't a good place for relationship advice, but I'll just offer that "surprising" someone in those circumstances may not be the best plan (although it would certainly clarify the status of that relationship if there were any doubts).

That said, since it seems your trip is clearly defined by the dates, focus first on getting your flights. Once that's done, watch all the Ricks Steves videos you can, especially the "travel skills" videos.

Good luck and have fun.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you for your concern! Yes she is fully aware of my trip as she will need to plan around her school and homework schedule. I was able to find a bundle for around $900 round trip including hostel as far as the flight a friend recommended Dramamine and separately another recommended a little alcohol before a flight. Thoughts? I have contacted my bank and they said they don’t have ATM connections ( its a small bank) but that I could take a prepaid card and use it like cash. This forum has been a true blessing to be a part of. Thank you, Derek

Posted by
3284 posts

Is the Dramamine intended for motion sickness or to sleep? Unless you are prone to motion sickness, I don't think its necessary. As far as alcohol, it affects people differently. It supposedly hinders recovery from jet lag. I typically avoid it on my trip to Europe. On the way home, I'll have a drink or two, especially if they are at no charge. I think for you on a first trip and only staying in Europe for a short time, I think I'd avoid the alcohol. I personally think melatonin is helpful. I adjust my watch to my travel location when I board the plane, and then take the melatonin at about 10pm Europe time, and continue that for my trip.

Posted by
17858 posts

I would absolutely not count on that prepaid card working. They often do not work overseas. And they often come with horrendous fees. You really need to find another solution. You have time to open an account somewhere else (a local credit union?).

Posted by
8889 posts

I have contacted my bank and they said they don’t have ATM connections ( its a small bank) but that I could take a prepaid card and use it like cash.

Beware of pre-paid cards,they can have lots of hidden charges. And you don't use them "like cash". You use them to get cash out of an ATM.
Your bank doesn't have to have "ATM connections", your card just needs to be part of one of the two big networks (Visa, Mastercard/maestro), and you can then go to any machine from any bank which shows those logos, which is 95% of them.
You do need to tell your bank in advance you are going to use your card in Spain, in case their computer flags it as a suspicious transaction and blocks it.
You may need to ask them again, or if you have time get an account at a better bank.

You will loose about 3-5% getting Euros out of an ATM with your normal bank card, or when paying by credit card. But if you use a prepaid card it will probably cost more, and if you change paper money, on either side of the Atlantic it will cost a lot more.

Finally, enjoy your trip.

Posted by
3284 posts

You may have misunderstood your bank's response. I belong to a smallish credit union and they are not connected with any ATM's in Europe. What this meant was there wasn't a place I could withdraw funds without a fee, but I could still get cash from an ATM. You need to get that clarified. I like to use my credit card (with no foreign transaction fee) every time I purchase something, if the merchant will accept it. You may not have a credit card, my kids when they were in college did not. For two of them, when they graduated from college, they found it difficult to get a credit card. I helped them by obtaining cards that they would be responsible for, but I was joint on their accounts until they were able to get cards on their own. Perhaps you have someone that could help you in this way.

Posted by
1563 posts

Last year I remembered my mother giving us kids Dramamine when we traveled on bus/train (she needed us to sleep!). So I took one at dinnertime on the overseas flight. I had the most sleep I'd ever had on a flight, and didn't wake up groggy in the morning (or any groggier than I've always felt on such a trip). "Your results may differ"!

Posted by
5010 posts

IF you are going to experiment with drugs, please try that out at home first (long before your actual flight) to see how it effects your body (everyone is different), and fer cryin' out loud, do NOT mix drugs and alcohol - unless you really want to put the "drama" in Dramamine. At 30,000 feet, high over the north pole, in a tightly packed tube, is no place to find out your body has a bad reaction to some drug.

You are going to be excited and nearly bouncing off the walls of the plane on the flight over (for a long list of reasons). Accept that, try your best to at least get some rest, if not actual sleep. Don't worry too much about it -- you're young and I'm sure you've been up for more than 24 hours before. Mostly just plan on being kind of disoriented and feeling slightly weird upon arrival (they don't call it "tripping" for nothing), and set very modest expectations for yourself until you have a chance to sleep in a bed through a night -- try very hard not to fall asleep or "take a nap" on your arrival day until after dinner...for most of us that is best way to "beat" the jetlag: you delay the inevitable crash-and-burn until after an early local dinner time, then you will sleep very deeply, and wake up the next morning with your body mostly aligned to the local time zone. If you don't do that (stay up until after dinner) your body may be on California Time for several days, making it hard (and miserable) to try and function during daylight hours.

Posted by
334 posts

I absolutely agree with the prepaid cards not working in Europe. You need to have a chip at least if not a chip and pin. Please go somewhere now and get yourself a debit card that you can use overseas. Is there a military credit union in SD you could join? Before my debit/credit cards were chipped I got a credit card through Andrews Credit Union. A $50 savings account got me a chip and pin credit card back when I needed one traveling in Europe. Maybe your college is connected with a bank or credit union? There are still cash exchanges at most airports but you’ll lose a ton of money on the exchange rate they give you plus a fee.

Posted by
5010 posts

You will need to become better informed about money (better than your current bank, apparently). It's not unusual for local bank staff to be completely clueless about using money overseas. Your existing ATM debit card from your existing bank may be all you need. You need to get straight (and truthful) answers to the following questions from your current bank:

If you use an ATM in Europe to withdraw funds from your existing account at home (using your existing ATM debit card...

- 1. Does your bank charge a fee for each withdrawal (and if yes, how much)?

Note that some banks do charge a fee for each withdrawal. Many (most credit unions) do not charge a fee for each withdrawal.

- 2. What's the foreign transaction fee?

In Europe, you will of course be withdrawing money in the local currency, the Euro. The money in your account is in US dollars. So there will be an exchange rate when you withdraw Euros, and possibly a "foreign transaction fee". Most banks simply use the "bank interchange rate". Almost all banks and credit unions charge some kind of "foreign transaction fee". That may be 1%, 2% or some other percentage. Ask your bank what they charge for a foreign transaction fee when withdrawing cash from your account. If they say "zero" don't believe them - ask to speak to someone else.

If your bank charges high fees, just join a local credit union. If you live in San Diego there are probably 100 or more nearby you could join. Just Google this: "credit unions in San Diego, CA" Before joining, ask them the questions above about the costs to withdraw your money in Euros while in Spain.

It should be easy and cheap to get this squared away.

Posted by
48 posts

Too bad it's so expensive to fly from the west coast. I got a $409 r/t open jaws Newark to Madrid and Barcelona to New York for late February, both non-stop. I find my best buys on momondo.com, mixing and matching, checking each day and looking for the sales. I have even seen mid/upper $300's from NY r/t if you are willing to put up with long layovers.

I'd definitely do a full day in Toledo. Actually it's worth a few days, but it sounds like this will be Madrid based. Read up on El Greco.

Posted by
48 posts

With regard to the credit cards. While we do have chip cards here now, our cards are chip and signature generally and not chip and pin. It's certainly an improvement from a few years ago when Americans were still carrying swipe cards while Europe had long since gone to chip. But the chip/signature cards can still be a problem at some automatic kiosks such as buying train tickets or gas at a self service pump where a pin # is needed. The other thing with credit cards - often the clerk will ask you if you want to pay for an item in US dollars instead of Euros. I think it is better just to pay in Euros, but someone else here might disagree.

Posted by
17858 posts

I don't think anyone on this forum will disagree about the importance of paying in the local currency.

Posted by
3284 posts

ALWAYS pay in Euro. On previous trips, sometimes we ran into situations where a PIN was needed, especially gas stations in France. On our last trip (Spain), we even paid for gas without a PIN. Before I leave on a trip, I call each credit card company and tell them how long I will be gone, ask about the status of PINs, ask for the foreign transaction fee and ask for details on cash withdrawal. I would avoid withdrawing cash on a credit card, but its nice to have details in case it is necessary. My Mastercard has a transaction fee so even though it seems more widely used in Spain, we never used it. My VISA and AMEX do not have fees, but there were times just like in the U.S., that AMEX wasn't accepted.