There are so many things to love about Spanish culture – from the enticing music, to the welcoming locals, to the rich history, Spain always remains a popular destination for European travelers. As a college student without a substantial or consistent source of income, navigating through a country with so much to offer can be overwhelming. When should you save money? When should you splurge? To help ease the tension that accompanies budgeting a vacation, here are the top tips for seeing Spain on a student budget. And, if Barcelona is one of the stops on your list, here’s tips specifically to help you see Barcelona for less than $100.
- Walk As Much As Possible
Walking represents the cheapest, easiest, and most enjoyable form of exploring any city. Spain is crawling with endless winding alleyways filled with gorgeous architecture, and the best way to absorb the scenic streets is through following your own two feet. The frequent sunny weather combined with the willingness of locals to give directions makes walking a lovely way to get around, and you don’t need to spend a single dollar (or euro).
- Take Advantage of Cheap Public Transport
That being said, the public transport in Spain is extremely affordable and can allow you to reach destinations located farther out of the city. Metro systems are generally very straightforward and easy to figure out, due to color-coded lines and maps posted everywhere in the stations. One time journeys are never more than a couple euros, and in Barcelona you can purchase a T10 card which allows you to travel on 10 metro journeys for only 10 euros. Also be sure to check out cheap airport transfers. For example, RyanAir flights to Valencia offer bus tickets from the airport to the city center for less than 2 euros.
- Seek Out Student Discounts
Many attractions and museums respect the financial struggles of college students, and therefore offer student discounts! Always carry student ID with you in Spain, because everything from eating in a restaurant to climbing a historic tower can be discounted if you’re a student. In Madrid, for instance, The Reina Sofía, The Thyssen Bornemisza, and The Prado, some of the world’s most famous art museums, are absolutely free for students. These incredible opportunities are not to be missed.
- Indulge in Food at the Central Market
Eating out every night can get very expensive; luckily most Spanish towns have a Central Market where you can buy fresh foods for very reasonable prices. Most markets serve an abundance of delicious fruits and vegetables, and you can always walk out with overflowing bags of produce for only a couple euros total. In addition, markets usually have stalls selling home-cooked pastries and breads, buckets of nuts and dried fruits, incredible artisan cheeses, and sometimes even ready-made meals of paella or pizza. Rather than paying for an expensive sandwich in a cafe, you can easily buy an entire loaf of fresh bread and a block of cheese for much cheaper. Markets are basically heaven for budget travelers who want to experience amazing local food without spending a fortune.
- Choose Tapas Bars Carefully
Though it is wise to avoid eating too many meals in fancy restaurants, no trip to Spain is complete without tapas. The Spanish love sharing lots of small plates of traditional Spanish dishes with friends, but many servings irresistible food in small portions can easily lead to a very expensive bill. Avoid tapas bars when you are really hungry, because the temptation to order plate after plate can be hard to resist. Stick to tapas bars for a light snack, or order the pre-made sharing plates of many tapas rather than ordering lots of individual plates. Also research which tapas bars have discounts. For example, ‘El Tigre’ in Madrid brings out a huge complimentary plate of tapas with every round of drinks you buy, so there you don’t have to pay for tapas at all.
- Enjoy Free Activities
Every major city in Spain is packed with history, beauty, and excitement, and luckily many attractions can be accessed for free. These can include cathedrals, parks, gardens, beaches, piers, and monuments. In Alicante, you can spend the day hiking Mount Benacantil, touring the Castell de Santa Bárbara, relaxing on the beach, and walking along the Marina without spending any money. It’s also always worth venturing inside an old church to absorb some of the Spanish faith and gaze at the beautiful architecture, and churches are almost always free of charge. An exception is the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, but a trip inside Gaudí’s famous eccentric masterpiece is definitely worth spending money.
- Stay in Hostels
This one may be a given for college students, but hostels represent an amazing way to save money and meet other interesting travelers. Many cities offer hostels with very central locations and friendly, helpful staff members. Check StudentUniverse’s accommodation options in Spain (both hostels and hotels) to access student discounts for your stay.
- Know The Cheap Drinks
Drinking in Spain can be very affordable if you stick to three beverages: beer, wine, and coffee. Most Spaniards start their day with a ‘café con leche’, or a small espresso with hot milk, and this usually costs only 1 euro. Similarly, a bottle of beer, or a ‘cerveza’, will never be more than 2 euros and is often drank around lunchtime or with tapas. Red or white wine can often accompany a nice dinner, and a glass will only cost between 2 and 3 euros. Other than coffee, beer, and wine, drinks can be pricey. Even a bottle of water will cost just as much, if not more, than a glass of wine! So drink what the Spaniards drink, and your wallet will remain happy.
9. Spend Extra Money on Worthwhile Attractions
While student travel often revolves around budgeting, sometimes splurging can be absolutely worthwhile. Just research what a certain city has to offer, and if there is something your heart desires, don’t be afraid to treat yourself. Spending 7 euros to enter Park Guell in Barcelona is worth it if you enjoy strolling through nature and marveling at unique architecture. Buying tickets to a Flamenco Show in Madrid is worth it if you enjoy music and dance. Paying for a visit to the El Greco Museum in Toledo is worth it if you are a massive lover of Renaissance art. If you love oceanography and marine science, paying extra money to visit the attractions at the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia is worth it. But if you aren’t passionate about science museums, admiring the City of Arts and Sciences from the outside can be just as fulfilling. Just carefully select which attractions would be meaningful to you, and treat yourself to something that would add immense value to your trip. Traveling is supposed to be fun, after all!