January 12, 2024

LA VIAJE A ESPANA (We're traveling to SPAIN!!)

Last year we signed up to host an exchange student for the 2022-2023 school year. We hoped it would go well and that it would be a positive experience, but we knew that wasn’t guaranteed. Lucky for us, we got the most wonderful kid as an exchange student. Iciar was respectful, funny, good-natured, helpful around the house, a good student, an adventurous eater (if you know our family, you know this is important), and always up for new experiences. The end of the year was hard and more than a few tears were shed; we decided right then that we wanted to visit her in her home country sooner than later. A plan for June 2024 began to materialize and excitement began to build!

Building a basic itinerary is always how vacation planning should begin. This is the best way to ensure the time you have matches up with the trip you are envisioning. As trip planning began, we knew two things for sure: we wanted to spend at least 5 days in Madrid with Iciar and her family, and Bruce and I wanted to hike a part of the Camino de Santiago. Our arrival in Madrid needed to coincide with her last day of school, but when we compared that date to Bruce’s time off they didn’t match up. With a 6 on/6 off schedule, when he takes one week of vacation time, he actually has 18 days off and we wanted to take full advantage of that time. To do that we would need to find something to do for three days before going to Madrid… CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!! We considered many options but ultimately decided to spend three days in Barcelona. From there, we will travel to Madrid, via a high-speed train, where we get to see our girl and have a personal introduction to her city (um, YAY!!). After six days in Madrid, Bruce and I will travel to the city of Ferrol on the north coast of Spain to trek on the Camino Ingles, while Ava enjoys some parent-free time in Madrid. Upon finishing the Camino Ingles, the shortest of the Camino routes and the only one we could finish in a week, we will travel back to Madrid to collect Ava and head home. With each phase of the trip set, the next thing to do was begin looking for airfare!

Airfare is probably the worst part of booking any trip: possible trip routes are set and unchangeable, pricing varies greatly based on which days you choose to fly, and those prices can change on a whim, making it hard to know when to purchase. Each destination has its own “best time” to buy flights, but this is really only true if travel is occurring in the off-season. If travel is during the high season, deals are rarely found. Summer in Europe is definitely the high season, so waiting to purchase airfare was not going to bring prices down, and it typically would mean the best routes (and reasonable layover times) would all be gone. Google Flights is my preferred search engine when looking for airfare. It gives all options, even if it can’t give pricing for that option (ex. Southwest), and it has awesome tools like fare calendars and fare trackers that help you find the best pricing. One option I love considering for international trips is a Multi-City ticket; meaning you fly into one city and fly home from another. This type of ticket is really great for trips that include multiple destinations because it means you don’t have to travel back to your first destination to head home. For our trip to Spain, we decided a Multi-City ticket was the best option, as we could fly into Barcelona and home from Madrid. With a negligible difference in fare price and a much shorter travel day, the Multi-City ticket was a no-brainer!

Hotels, on the other hand, take a lot of thought (at least for me!). I typically want a few things when searching for a hotel: a clean, comfortable space, a central location with easy access to the city, and a price that doesn’t make me gasp. Sometimes finding all three is like performing a hat trick, but I still always try! For this trip, we only needed a hotel in Barcelona, and hotels along the Camino route, as we will be staying with Iciar and her family in Madrid. The options in Barcelona were dizzying, but with the help of a few travel agent search engines, I found the perfect fit for us. The options along the Camino were far fewer, mostly because we chose the Camino Ingles which is not as popular as other Camino routes. Some people walk the Camino’s without making advance reservations, rather they decide to take whatever lodging is available when they arrive at each destination. My OCD will not allow for this though, so I found and reserved hotels and rooms I would be comfortable with (I’m not sure if you read my Nepal account, but let's just say, I did not want a repeat). With all the hotels booked and confirmed, it was finally time to focus on the FUN stuff - activities, excursions, and FOOD!

This part, this is where I shine. Anyone can make a reservation for airfare and hotels, but curating a list of the fun and fabulous options a destination offers takes a bit more doing. Sure, the main attractions are easy to find, but the main attractions are rarely where the heart and soul of a place reside. I prefer a mix of the well-worn tourist trail and off-the-beaten-path options; places like the Colosseum in Rome, Machu Picchu in Peru, or the Statue of Liberty in NYC are all amazing and worth the trip for a first-time visitor, but also worth a trip are the hidden gems and local haunts that make each place unique. We are lucky enough to have the best tour guide for our Madrid time, but Barcelona and the Camino time were all mine to plan. By searching my favorite keywords, like off-the-beaten-path, must-eat, or local favorites, I’ve compiled lists of UNESCO World Heritage sites that we want to visit, tapas restaurants with divine food, and booked a Paella cooking class and scooter tour of Barcelona. In recent years, I have found that arriving at a destination with a few must-do activities booked and a list of other possibilities is the perfect mix for a great vacation; we know our most anticipated activities are reserved, but there is lots of time and space for spontaneity and exploration. Because honestly, some of our best memories are from activity recommendations made by a local or a hole-in-the-wall restaurant suggested by a tour guide. Without time and space in our itinerary, we would have missed those amazing suggestions and overlooked some great stuff. I think our trip has shaped up nicely and now we try to wait with patience for June and a few weeks of SPAIN!

Thanks for joining me in my excitement for our upcoming Spain trip! I will be sharing our travels on my Facebook and Instagram pages, so if you haven’t already joined me there, please do! I know for many people, planning a trip can feel overwhelming. There are so many options and so little time to research and plan. There are so many details to consider and keep straight… if it all feels too much and you’d like a partner to join you in the planning, please consider me! And if this isn’t you, but it is a friend or family member you know, please forward them my information. I strive to curate the perfect trip for each traveler, but it doesn’t stop there. As your partner in travel planning, I provide exceptional service before, during, and after your trip that aims to reduce your stress, answer all questions, and ensure you have the best vacation possible. It’s a win-win!

Travel is the best way to curate joy in your life. Let us help you make your next trip amazing!

We’re traveling to SPAIN in 2024…

Join me as I plan our trip to learn my process and where we are headed.