So you’ve decided to travel to Madrid? Fantástico! Having spent a couple weeks in and around there myself in my younger days, I can say that you have made a great decision. Spain is a vibrant, lively place full of culture, history, (mostly) wonderful people, and some of the best food you’ll ever eat. However, getting there is going to take some planning. What kind of documents are you going to need? How can I save money on flights? Where should I stay? I hope to he;p you answer these questions and more.
First, before you do anything else, you have to consider what documents you’re going to need to travel to Spain. As with any international country, number one, with a bullet, is going to be a passport. You aren’t going anywhere without a passport. Instructions on applying for a passport, including where to go and what documentation is needed, may be found online here. I am assuming that you are from the United States and, if you are, a visa is not required but if you aren’t, you may want to consult this list to find out if your country is one where a visa would be required. Also, regardless of which country you’re from, the maximum number of day you can be in Spain without special permissions is 90.
Second, you’re going to need flights. There are a multitude of airlines that fly from the U.S. to Spain so it’s really a matter of deciding who is going to fit your timetable and your budget. Everybody is going to tell you that their airfare web site is the best. Whether that’s true or not, I can only tell you which one I prefer, and that is Kayak. I find that they consistently publish the best fares and have a clean, easy to navigate web site and mobile app. They also allow you to search for the same criteria on other travel sites, like Travelocity or Expedia. Searching for flights, using two weeks in May as an example, the average ticket price is in the $900 range for economy. Of course this price can increase substantially, up to $8500, if you prefer first class. But we’ll just assume that you’re not a high roller and want to keep your expenses manageable. Also, keep in mind that direct flights from Milwaukee to Madrid are not available. You can expect at least one if not two stop overs. The typical flight time is about 13 hours.
I will briefly address another issue that seems to come up with travel and that is the question of whether or not a rental car is a requirement. Of course, if you have a specific need for one, by all means rent one. However, speaking as someone who worked for an international car company for 10 years, I can tell you that it’s almost never worth the hassle. Driving in a foreign country can be very stressful. Streets are narrow, drivers can be a little crazy, and parking is a nightmare. In my opinion it isn’t worth it but I will defer that to your judgement. If you do decide to rent a car, I recommend Auto Europe, if only because I worked there for a long time. For an economy or compact car, you can expect to pay $35 to $50 per day.
Next, you’re going to need a place to stay. There are a lot, and I do mean a lot, of hotels in Madrid and Spain in general so narrowing down where to stay can be tricky, especially if you plan on visiting more than one city. For this post, we will assume that you are going to stay in Madrid. Again, just like with the flights, people are going to have differing opinions about which site to use for your hotel. Even though it’s a newcomer, I have found Trivago to be consistently reliable. They are an aggregate site meaning that they search hundreds of different sites and provide you with all of the results. This gives you a broader sense of what hotels are available and what the cheapest prices are. Hotels are in the $150 to $250 per night range up to $500 depending on how fancy you want to get. I stayed three nights in Madrid at the Radisson Blu. It was $140 per night and was half a mile from city center. It was a no-frills room but, honestly, how much time are you going to spend in the room anyway? Really all you need is four walls, a bed, and running water. To that end, I can also enthusiastically recommend youth hostels if you’re feeling more adventurous. They have more of a ‘commune’ feeling to them but they are far less expensive than a standard hotel room (typically $15 to $20 per night) and generally well located. The Way Hostel is $15 per night and includes a communal kitchen. $25 per night gets you a private room.
Your final consideration should be, and really must be, dining. The food in Spain is some of the best in the world and you would be cheating yourself if you didn’t fully immerse yourself in their culinary scene. But eating well doesn’t necessarily have to mean blowing your budget. In my time there I found that there were many different options. My rule is that, when I arrive in a country, I find out where the locals eat. They are the best judge of the area and they are likely on a budget. If you’re looking for the best meal in Madrid, I have it on good authority that Maitia is where you want to be. I haven’t been there myself but, looking at the menu, I can’t say that I disagree.
Madrid, and Spain in general, is a wonderful, magical place full of interesting things to do, see, hear, and meet. I catch my mind drifting back to it’s waterways, classic architecture, and terrific food very often and look forward to going back some day. I hope that this article has helped you to identify some of the steps needed to make your trip a successful one. Please also note that there is an attached budget spreadsheet to assist you in calculating estimated costs which can be found at: Madrid Budget
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