Help me plan a two week trip to Spain in 48 hours!
March 1, 2013 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Due to some last-minute circumstances, I just booked a trip to Barcelona for two weeks starting on Monday. I'm a mid-twenties guy in-between jobs and traveling alone. What can I do over the next 48 hours to make this trip memorable and pleasant?

What should I see and do? In my US city, I typically enjoy live performances (comedy, music, artsy things), poetry readings, historical tours, visiting museums, and meeting people my age. I'm also interested in nature-y things. My roommate mentioned a train that goes through the Pyrenees, which sounds wonderful. I'd like to hike or climb, but I don't have much experience with either.

Niggling considerations:
  • My budget is around $1000-1500 excluding the flight.
  • I intend to stay in hostels, and book one or two days in advance.
  • Phone/3G! I remember this being a big cause of stress. I have an iPhone with the cheapest family data plan. I do not need 3g but it would be tremendously useful.
  • I should exchange some of my money for Euros. My bank, Schwab, only has no-cash branches, so can I just go to a different bank?
  • I'm a US citizen with a passport, so Schengen should just automatically cover the trip, right?
  • Things to buy: backpack, travel guides, lock for hostels.
  • I can purchase some sort of computing device— I'm thinking of getting an iPad for its portability.
Thank you in advance!
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to go to the Las Fallas fire festival in Valencia the weekend of the 15th... I was invited to go this week but all the cheap flights to Valancia and all near airports are sold out for the weekend... but Barcelona isn't that far away and you could take the train!
posted by misspony at 11:01 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want to save a few bucks, try your local library for travel guides.
posted by something something at 11:06 AM on March 1, 2013

Hostel - check out Kabul. I've never stayed there myself (I lived in Barna, so no need) but have only heard good things. It is noisy though. But you couldn't be more central.

Phone - when you hit Barna, find a "Yoigo" shop and buy a "SIM de prepago con tarifa de datos". Will cost you about 10€ and can be recharged as you go.

Euros - a cash card can take Euros from any cash machine. The rate is not bad and it's the easiest way of getting cash. Otherwise, any Bank with a "Cambio" teller will help you. Don't go to a Cambio booth - they will scalp you.

Hardware - if you want to buy in Barna, and you're wedded to Apple, go to FNAC on Placa Catalunya. If you're not wedded to Apple, go to Carrer Sepulveda - packed with IT shops, or Big Green - just around the corner from Sepulveda on Ronda de Sant Antoni.

Entertainment - plenty, and relatively affordable. Below Kabul is Jamboree - worth going once for the flamenco. Otherwise, head up the Barrio Gracia for bars. Raval is fun too, but watch you bag/pockets. Petty crime is rife, but you can avoid most of it by not looking like a tourist!
posted by benzo8 at 11:07 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Data for your phone will be spendy so you may want to get a local sim to keep things more reasonable.

Food can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. Eat cheap most of the time but splurge on at least one great meal. Don't shy away from house wine. The difference between house wine in Europe and the US is extreme. It's a great value in Spain. Eat some salchichon and Iberican ham.

Barcelona is a awesome city to see on foot. I have never walked so much in my life. And the transit system will get you even further if you want to. Check out Parc Guell and all of the other Antoni Guadi creations, they are stunning. Sitges is a seaside village a short hope from Barcelona. Consider a night or two there as well.

You're good in terms of your passport as long as it doesn't expire in the next few months.

ATMs are pretty accessible and I'm generally not one to walk around with more than a couple hundred in local currency. Keeps me from splurging and minimizes losses should anything horrible happen.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:09 AM on March 1, 2013

How exciting!!! I love Barcelona and am betting you will too.

About using your phone: In order to avoid massive data charges, go to settings and turn off "Fetch new data" before the plane takes off. This will enable you to use your phone only in wi-fi hot spots once you get there. You can buy data packages, but it's hard to control how much data you're using, so I've found it's best not to gamble with that. Also -- you can buy a cheap international texting package that will enable you to stay in touch.

Don't miss all the Gaudi buildings and eat lots of tapas! Also, El Corte Ingles Department Store in Placa de Catalunya has a little cafe with amazing hot chocolate. Have fun!
posted by MelissaSimon at 11:09 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I love Americans and their concept of distance! Valencia is 215 miles from Barcelona, which is pretty much halfway across the country! Us Europeans think that's a long way!
posted by benzo8 at 11:12 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Scan all of your documents (passport, credit cards -- front and back, driver's license, everything) and put it in your GMail and stored elsewhere in the cloud. If you don't have a scanner, take a great photo of them, and upload them instead. Trust me.
posted by barnone at 11:37 AM on March 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you want to see a lot of the country, check out a Eurail Select Pass.

This will allow you to go between cities in Spain and some neighboring countries. For $503, you can get anywhere in Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Even if you only use it for Spain, you'll come out ahead.

I did a France Rail pass for 4 days. I saw Paris, Dijon and the Cote D'Azure/Monaco. Amazing and since I traveled exactly 3 days on the train, I had a day left over!

Also, by traveling by train overnight, you'll save on hostels.

Watch for pickpockets. They'll carry tour books and hang out a little too close.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:42 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

The train to Valencia from Barcelona is 3 hours... so not exactly a trip to the moon.
posted by misspony at 11:52 AM on March 1, 2013

Two things to check with your iphone (I'm assuming you bought in in the US, feel free to disregard as needed). Is it unlocked from your current carrier (meaning it will accept an outside SIM card?). And is it a GSM phone? My android smartphone will not work in Europe because its not GSM, however I was able to use it to pick up wifi signals while travelling.

You will be cover under the Schegen rules, providing your passport is valid three months beyond your proposed trip (as a tourist you can stay without a visa for 90 days out of every 180 days).

In terms of ATM's, I would HIGLY suggest calling your bank to let them know you are out of the country and ask them what their ATM fee may look like. I got stuck in Sweden without any money awhile back because my bank decided to lock me out of my account (despite calling them before hand to let them know I was out of the country).

For two weeks, try and only pack a carry on backpack if you can manage it. Makes life much easier (and cheaper!) when you are moving around. I managed to do a month around Poland, Sweden, and Scotland last summer in a 35L carryon bag. It was awesome! A lock is also handy.

Have a great trip!
posted by snowysoul at 11:55 AM on March 1, 2013

Oh, find the Spanish and Catalan words for Hot, Cold, Medium, Spin Dry, etc. I went to a laundromat in France, I knew the language and got hopelessly confused!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:36 PM on March 1, 2013

iphone/ ipad -- forgo buying travelguide books - there are plenty of spain-focused travel-apps that will do the trick
posted by mrmarley at 12:46 PM on March 1, 2013

Book your first night(s) lodging now and figure out how to get from the airport to the hostel. Usually the hostel's website will have some specifics. Then you will know what bus or subway to look for, or if a taxi is the best option (it's not, usually). It's so much easier to know in advance where you are going when you get off a flight in a new city.

Use your ATM card to get local currency. I've never exchanged cash before leaving the US. Just make sure your card is not bent! Mine was but worked fine in the US, so I didn't think about it. But when I landed in Rome a couple summers ago it got stuck in the airport ATM. That was inconvenient.

I like to have a travel guidebook to read and refer to. Lonely Planet is good. I've always found the maps useful and the informational chapters interesting.

Try to see a game at Camp Nou, if you can.

Have fun! Barcelona is great!
posted by JenMarie at 1:03 PM on March 1, 2013

Barcelona is very bike friendly. There's a bike share program for locals, but there are also a bunch of little tour companies that will rent out bikes to tourists. It's almost entirely flat and getting a bike for a day is a great way to get around the city - definitely go cycling along the beach, etc. Peak hour got a little unnerving so I locked the bike up and had coffee for a bit, from memory, but the rest of the day was awesome.

Find an offline maps app for your iphone and download at least Barcelona, and any other cities you think you'll go to.

There will be two games at Camp Nou while you're there, it looks like - one of them a UEFA match against AC Milan which would be awesome but will be far out of your price range. I recommend that instead, you plan to find a nice bar and watch the game from there with some locals.
posted by jacalata at 1:24 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

As others have said, let your bank know you will be out of the country. In case your PIN is five digits, change it to four. I don't know if it will be an issue, but I heard some European ATMs can't handle 5 digit PINs.
posted by soelo at 2:57 PM on March 1, 2013

I recommend Equity Point Centric in Barcelona for your first couple of days - includes an ok breakfast (cappucinos, cereal, etc) in a town where food is hideously expensive and bad around the touristy areas. Location was awesome - you could cover a lot of touristy stuff without public transport, plus, it's five-ten minute walk La Rambla. Its one of those modern, soul less hostels, which tries to sell a "the party is always on" vibe, but other travelers were friendly, they have an awesome common room, a usable kitchen (very rare!), it's very easy to meet people to travel with.

I recommend you to plan to get out of Barcelona. Spain has amazing nature, it's way way cheaper outside Barcelona, buses and trains are incredibly cheap, although their schedule is somewhat unreliable (skip the Eurail pass, not worth it within Spain in my opinion. Plus, you might meet and travel with people who have a car). It has lots of cliffs and hills, pastoral views, beaches, even mountains. Get out of Barcelona, check out some monasteries, etc.

Spain is rock climbing heaven, if you have the budget to take a guide for 1-2 days or join a course. It might still be cold in two weeks to go rock climbing, pack a nice warm outdoor jacket. Some climbing areas outside Barcelona are not the easiest places to get to without a car, and involve adventure hitch hiking or expensive taxis. The Pyranees are awesome, but again, this area is not the most accessible with public transport. If you can figure out where you want to go, it will be easier to check out the transport options before you leave home. Figuring out transportation is not always easy in Spain. Fell free to message me for specific details.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 3:03 PM on March 1, 2013

Hello, I'm the OP. Thank you so much, everyone! There are a lot of things here that I would have overlooked.

mrmarley: "iphone/ ipad -- forgo buying travelguide books - there are plenty of spain-focused travel-apps that will do the trick"

I just purchased a WiFi iPad for the trip. Do you recommend any specific apps?

benzo8: "Phone - when you hit Barna, find a "Yoigo" shop and buy a "SIM de prepago con tarifa de datos". Will cost you about 10€ and can be recharged as you go."

My phone's not unlocked, so I don't think I can use a SIM card. Is there an alternative? I'm okay with using text/email to keep in touch with friends, but I'd like something for emergencies or if I need directions.
posted by your hair smells like cheese! at 12:37 PM on March 2, 2013

Unfortunately, if your phone isn't SIM-unlocked, your options are: a) roaming, b) wi-fi, c) buy a "burner"... And, of course, d) Internet cafes.

There are plenty of places in Barna that offer wi-fi, and the word is universal (as is the logo) so you shouldn't have a problem finding them if you keep you eyes open.

Yoigo, or any of the major phone providers will sell you a mobile phone "PrePago" (pre-paid) but that may be too much of an investment for two week trip.

Internet cafes (called "Locutorios") are plentiful and relatively cheap, but all the standard security protocols should be followed if you use one...
posted by benzo8 at 12:45 AM on March 3, 2013

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