10 Unconventional Tips for Solo Travel in Spain
In this guide, I’m sharing tips for women traveling solo in Spain. You’ve probably read a million solo travel guides that tell you the same generic, touristy things to do – go to this cathedral, eat [insert popular dish], drink [insert popular beverage]. This is not one of those guides! Spain is one country where you should ditch those cookie-cutter travel tips. If you’re a female solo traveler looking to have an amazing time in Spain, here are 10 unconventional travel tips for you.
This is the 9th post in the Spain Bucket List Series. Here’s the complete series:
Spain Bucket List Series
Culture: 9 Experiences You Must Have in Spain
Off the beaten path: 8 Underrated Cities You Need To Visit in Spain
Barcelona: A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Barcelona
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Tips for women traveling solo in Spain
1. Don’t take the train
Yes, don’t take Renfe, the national train system, to travel around the country. Renfe Avila (medium distance) and Renfe Ave (long distance) are the two types of trains that can get you from one city to another. I’ve taken both of them and had a smooth ride every time.
There are two problems though: tickets can get ridiculously expensive, and the train feels so impersonal when you’re traveling alone. The solution? Take a Bla Bla Car. Bla Bla what? I know the name is odd, but this ride-sharing service is my preferred method of travel in Spain. To get started, you create an account on their website. After it’s verified, you’re able to find drivers in your area who are traveling to different destinations within Spain. Sometimes you can make an instant reservation and other times the driver needs to approve it. You, the driver, and the other passengers then choose a meeting place and carpool together.
The great thing about Bla Bla Car is that it’s always cheaper than the train – we’re talking like 90% savings. You also get to meet interesting people and practice your Spanish. I’ve actually learned a lot about Spanish culture from the conversations I’ve had on these drives. It’s also much better to see the landscapes across Spain from a car than from a train. If you want to use Bla Bla Car, it really helps to speak some Spanish so you can communicate with the driver (and the passengers if you want.) Or you could use Google to just figure out the driver’s instructions.
I’ve taken Bla Bla Car maybe 15 times and have never paid more than 40 euros (one-way). You can go from Madrid to Barcelona for 25 euros with Bla Bla Car. The train will cost somewhere around 80 euros if you book in advance.
2. Look beyond hostels.
The conventional wisdom is that staying at a hostel allows you to meet people more easily. Well, it depends. I’ve stayed at quite a few hostels where my roommates were not social. Even in the common area, people kept to themselves. There is a bit of luck involved in meeting people at a hostel. Of course, you can read reviews, but who knows the types of personalities who will be present during your stay?
You may have a better experience staying at an Airbnb – more comfort and personal space usually. When you book an Airbnb, check the reviews to see if the host would be a good guide. Do they offer recommendations to guests for what to do, see, and eat? Normal people renting out their apartments are more likely to recommend non-touristy things to do than hostel receptionists. I’ve only stayed in one hostel in Spain and had to move it because it was filthy. Maybe I’m biased against hostels in Spain due to that, but I’ve had much better experiences staying at people’s homes than at hostels.
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3. Don’t spend a lot of time in Madrid and Barcelona
Spain is a vast country with 17 autonomous communities, 2 islands, and 2 territories in Africa. There is so much to see beyond Madrid and Barcelona. In fact, the most beautiful beaches, palaces, and landscapes are not even in those two cities.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit Madrid and Barcelona. No, they offer a lot of attractions that you should definitely go see. What I do recommend is that you spend more time in other parts of Spain – Galicia, Andalucia, the Basque Country, Castilla y Leon – to really experience the Spanish way of life. Madrid and Barcelona are too touristy and commercial for you to have a traditional experience if that’s what you’re looking for.
4. Eat Rabo de Toro
Honestly, Spanish food isn’t my favorite. I love their appetizers (croquetas!) and seafood (pulpo!), but their main courses tend to be hit or miss for me. The issue is that I like spicy food with lots of different ingredients, condiments, herbs, the whole shebang. Spanish food is the complete opposite. Spaniards like to use simple ingredients in their food – mostly just olive oil and salt. I can appreciate simple flavors, but I just don’t crave that sort of food.
Then I tried Rabo de Toro, Spain’s version of oxtail stew. I was skeptical. I had had Jamaican oxtail before, and it was kicking! How would Rabo de Toro compare? It was rich, flavorful, and so filling. What a pleasant surprise.
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5. Drink Clara con Limon
Clara con Limon is the first thing I order when I go to a bar in Spain. It’s simple – you pour some beer in a glass and add lemon Fanta. This drink is so refreshing! And it’s a good alternative if you’re tired of drinking sangria.
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6. Visit the small islands
You’ve probably heard of Ibiza or Mallorca, but Spain has beautiful, small islands that are much less touristy. They also have some of the best beaches in Spain. Here are a couple of them to consider:
- Menorca – just a 30-minute ferry ride from Ibiza, Menorca is home to secluded, idyllic beaches, like Cala Macarelleta
- Formentera – another paradise for beach lovers, Formentera features some of the clearest water you’ll ever see.
- The Cies Islands – Playa de Rodas, part of this protected natural habitat in Galicia, was voted the most beautiful beach in the world by National Geographic. Need I say more?
7. Watch a Flamenco show in a cave
Of course, you have to see a Flamenco show in Spain. Better yet, go see a traditional Flamenco in Andalucia, the birthplace of the dance. I first saw a Flamenco performance in a cave-like room located within the gypsy neighborhood of Granada. I still remember it really well six years later! That’s how powerful the performances were. You can catch a Flamenco show like this is in any city or town in Andalucia – Granada, Cadiz, Jaen, Sevilla, to name a few.
8. Go on a group tour to somewhere not on your radar
Cuenca. Jerez de la Frontera. Zaragoza, Caceres. Those are lesser-known cities that normally wouldn’t be on anyone’s Spain bucket list. But you’d be surprised at the architecture, art, history, and beauty you’ll find in those places. Case in point: I went to Cuenca not expecting much, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting places I’ve visited in Spain. There’s a mountain there with giant eyes drawn on it and some houses hanging off a cliff. Group trips, like those offered by We Love Spain and Be Madrid, are great for visiting these lesser-known places because you get a guided tour.
9. Try squid ink Paella
At first, I thought ‘What, squid ink? No way!’ Then one night I went out for dinner with a friend in Granada. I was craving good ole chicken Paella, but they had run out. The options were either rabbit Paella, which is the original kind, or squid ink Paella. I stopped eating red meat so the rabbit was a no go. But squid ink? I wasn’t too sure, but I was curious. I ordered it. Delicious! I was really surprised. It had a nice, smoky flavor. Mix in some aioli sauce and it’s even better.
10. Visit the Alcazar of Segovia
The Alcazar de Segovia (Castle of Segovia) is a real-life Cinderella castle. In fact, it was Walt Disney’s main inspiration for the castle in Cinderella. There is a stairway that leads to the top, where you can get a stunning view of the city and the highlands in the distance. I have a mental picture of my experience standing on top of the castle and looking at the vast dry lands in the distance.
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