Vamos a Hablar de España

27 05 2013

When I look at a map of Europe there are a number of places I have not been, but none stand out quite like Spain.  I really can’t say why I never made there.  Spain definitely has its charms, historical relevance, big cities, and a cuisine worthy of attention, yet somehow it was never on my radar.  That is until a few months ago when I began pondering my Autumn 2013 destination.  So I decided this would be the year I would explore the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid.

Like I said, I started to float the idea a few months ago.  It began with my typical pattern of researching flights, hotels, and attractions, but one thing I didn’t plan for was having a companion along for the journey.  As a solo traveler, I have become accustomed to going it alone.  My friends here have lives that prevent the kind of travel I am fortunate to do.  Be it work, college, or family, most of them just don’t have the ability to tag along with me.  Well this changed in a big way when my friend Alex assured me he was joining this trip.

Alex and I enjoying tapas and sangria in Denver while plotting Spain.

Alex and I celebrate our booking over tapas and sangria in Denver.

Now to say I’m not a little nervous at the idea would be a lie.  We are great friends, but my penchant to go off trail and avoid scripting could prove to be a struggle for any travel companion.  So, before we booked anything, we talked and researched.  I shared my stories from past trips and my philosophy.  Luckily, he is easy going and agreed to much of it.  Aslo, I have one other aspect of this trip I am excited about, I have a friend who lives in Barcelona.  David will be a huge asset that I have not been afforded in the past.  A local’s perspective is always a bonus.  I am certain we will be able to find and do things with far less effort by having him show us around.

In the early stages of planning I discovered the only thing I wasn’t pleased about with traveling to Spain, the cost.  Yep, Spain is a bit pricey.  I searched and delayed, I even went beyond my rule of booking 6 months early.  The flights are just going to cost more when flying from Denver to Spain, I just had to accept it.  Our plan is to fly from Denver to Barcelona and return via Madrid to Denver.  When I first started to search the prices were about $1250 each (I know, yikes…my entire flight and hotel package to Istanbul was only $1420), but after a few weeks they dipped to $1145 and stayed there for a few weeks.  Since it is now only 4 months away, I finally got the itch and we decided to just book our tickets before they jumped back up.

One important detail Alex and I had to discuss was the sleeping arrangement.  We might be close friends, but we both want space.  Two hotel rooms would be a little exorbitant for us, and the idea of a twin or double room didn’t appeal either.  This is where we decided to book an apartment through Airbnb (a site that provides an avenue for homeowners to rent out an empty guest room, apartment, or entire home to travelers).

For information on Airbnb click HERE

For information on Airbnb click HERE

Airbnb has a good structure for reviews with pictures of both hosts and their property.  That provided for some confidence even though the concept is quite foreign to us.  We must have spent weeks looking at different apartments before we finally settled on a Barcelona and a Madrid location we could agree on.  In the end, I believe what we booked will make for fantastic stays in both cities.  Our place in Barcelona is a high floor 2 bedroom apartment with a massive patio that affords an amazing view of nearly the entire city.  Our cost for this apartment is $960.  In Madrid it seems everything was less expensive.  We found a nice 2 bedroom place in the heart of the Grand Via neighborhood for $445.  Both of these locations will give us the space and location we desire.  Alex and I couldn’t be more excited.

The final part of the trip still to be booked is the train from Barcelona to Madrid.  The tickets can’t be bought this early, but I already know they will be about $120-140 each depending on the exchange rate at the time of purchase.  With the train tickets included, that brings our total cost for transportation and lodging in Spain to $3960 (roughly $1980 each).  Ouch, I told you Spain was pricey.  All I can say is that I’ll take the bargains when I can, but this one definitely would have been much more expensive without Airbnb.

So now the long months of anticipation and planning begin.  I can’t wait to explore the Gaudí structures of Barcelona, browse the Picasso museum, and photograph the many plazas of Madrid.  This should be an incredible trip.  This will also be the first trip I won’t see alone!


Tips: Book Early or Pay

1 05 2013

I am obsessed and it’s a good thing.  Some guys spend all their time online looking at porn, I spend all my time searching for flights.  I don’t believe it’s unhealthy to try and save money, but I do spend an exceptional amount of time on booking sites searching and looking at prices.  This is especially true when I am in the throws of booking my next big trip.  I see it as a challenge to try and outsmart the airlines and catch them when their fares dip.  It’s a fact of air travel that we all must deal with, prices fluctuate frequently.

There are a lot of tools out there to help you catch tickets in that narrow window when prices drop.  Take a look at Kayak.  It’s a great app that allows you to set up price alerts.  So when the fare starts to drop, you will be in the know.  Of course that means you have to be ready to buy at any given moment.  Having a little vacation savings account stocked and ready to go will help those, like myself, who are on a budget.  So try and start saving money ahead, I don’t even begin looking until I have a nice kitty of cash ready to spend.

The one common thread I have seen consistently is that booking early will often save you money.  Sure there are last minute deals, but are they to the place you actually wanted to visit?  Sometimes, but it’s a real gamble to wait until these deals publish.  I find that booking 7-5 months early has proven to be the best overall pricing.

For example, when I was searching for my upcoming trip to Iceland this September, I booked my complete itinerary on March 10th for $1021.  This price includes round-trip flights from Denver to Reykjavik on Icelandair and 5 nights in a studio with Apartment K.  Six months early seems extreme to many, but doing the exact same search on Expedia today (2 months closer to the trip) yields a price of $1732 for the same accommodations.

The same trip for I booked on March 10th is now $700 more for the same dates!

Ouch!  Now maybe I don’t have to stay at the same place.  If I repeat the search and just choose the lowest priced package near city center (not including hostels or rooms with shared bathrooms) I can book for $1252.  Still more than $200 over what I paid by searching often and booking early.

Are there destinations where it pays off to wait a little bit?  Sure, but it’s definitely not the norm.  Here’s and example from my recent trip to Puerto Vallarta.  I paid $587 for flights and 5 nights hotel that I bought in mid November for mid January travel.  When I started researching this trip I was seeing it fluctuate around $700-750 for a solid two months, but knowing I booked the same hotel in Puerto Vallarta the year before for $615, I knew it could/should get lower.  It dropped around 3 months out and I booked it immediately.

What I want you to see here is a common theme, constant price checking until you feel you’re getting the best deal.

Here’s a short summary-

  • Have the money ready so you can pull the trigger when prices drop
  • Start searching early
  • Be aware the best deal might be a hostel or shared facilities (not my thing, but book what’s right for you)
  • Check other booking sites and compare
  • Consider packages based on the reported discount for booking flight and hotel together.
  • Booking a flight and hotel separate can also be a good thing.  Try using AirBnB (I’ll expand on them in another post)

Be patient.  If you loose a couple dollars waiting for prices to go down, I’ll bet you still get a better deal than if you booked less than 2-3 months out.