Europe for €25 per person per day

Now we’ve been away for five months, and our savings are looking slim, I thought I’d have a look at what we’ve been spending and how it compared to our original budget, and it turns out we’ve been comfortably sticking to €25 per person per day. We’ve stayed in 26 towns, cities and villages. We’ve visited the coast, the mountains and the forests. We’ve ridden bikes, trains, buses and driven cars. We’ve been to three countries. We’ve slept in castles, farms, beach houses and a cave. All for €25 per person per day.

Here we’ll share our budget and give you some tips that we’ve picked up on the way.

As a self confessed ‘compulsive organsier’, I keep a daily tally of where we’re spending our money. For the last four years, I have been using the Home Budget app. Over that time it has accumulated a lot of statistical data on our spending and, nerd that I am, I find data incredibly useful. The app has continued to be useful while travelling as it allows me to use multiple currencies.

So looking at the app today, as a family of four, we’ve so far spent just under €100 per day (or €25 per person). Sure, if we were a couple with no kids, the figure would be different, similarly for solo travellers. Actually I believe it could be cheaper without kids. We spend way too much money on bouncy castles at fiestas and ice creams after a hard travel day. Maybe we should have a ‘morale booster’ line in our budget, vermouth included!

Towards the Horizon - €25 per day (pp)

Our original budget has been edited here to reflect our actual spending over the last five months. Available for download at the bottom of the article.

So here’s a rough breakdown of what we spend (per month):

Home/Accommodation

Maintaining our home in Australia – €155

We are renting our house in Australia. This spending includes rates, maintenance on the property and other fees and levies that we have to pay.

Accommodation – €880

When travelling this is always the biggest expense. We’re very lucky that we’ve been able to stay in my sister-in-law’s house when in the south of Spain. When we initially set out, we were planning for it to be our main base. However on the road we discovered that we prefer moving around and seeing new places so we’ve only stayed there a few times. We have found some very cheap accommodation solutions that we have used regularly.


Ways to make it cheaper:
House-sitting

We have house-sat the equivalent of 2 of our 5 months. Some of this has been through previous connections, but some has been using house-sitting websites. Our two preferred sites are Trusted Housesitters and Nomador. Both cost money to sign up, but the €30 or so is worth it when you get a few free weeks of accommodation. There are obvious other benefits too, such as getting to know a new place like a local, or spending some time on a farm. The kids especially enjoy having time with animals.

Share economy

Airbnb is a great way to stay somewhere comfortable and cheap. If you’re happy staying in some out-of-the-way places, you can get some apartments really cheaply. Our two favourites were in small towns, Porrua and Lleida, where we stayed for only €19 per night for all four of us. Being flexible with your destinations is key to getting these amazing deals.

Workaway is another good option, we’ve only done it once so far, but for working approximately 5 hours per day, you are provided with food and board. It is a lot of fun on a farm, which is what we did, but some people want help with child care, or with teaching their kids English.

Loyalty programs

Hotels.com, Booking.com and hotel groups have loyalty programs that offer major discounts. Booking.com give you 10% off all bookings after you’ve booked with them five times. This can save you more than €80 in a month.


Utilities

Phone and Internet – €65

When doing our research when we arrived, it quickly became clear that our cheapest and easiest way to access the Internet when wifi was unavailable was to use the hotspot on our phone. We both work online so Internet is vital to our income. We bought a pre-paid SIM with 3GB included per month. Over summer there has been a deal where they give you 3GB extra per month for free, so that has worked well. Sometimes we have to spend some extra money for data if there are a few video conferences chewing it up.

Our Spanish SIM is fine for France, as it costs us €1 per day for each day that we use roaming, but we tend to keep it off most days and use wifi where we possible. In England we bought another new pre-paid SIM.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Filter accommodation choices by availability of wifi, and only use your phone when required. Cass and I bought the same brand of SIM card so we can call and message each other for free.

Use Whatsapp. Not as common in Australia, but very common in Europe. You can message, call and video call using data instead of your phone credit. This has saved us a lot of money. Almost everyone in Europe has it, so it is good for contacting accommodation hosts or people you have been put in touch with.


Food

This is one place where my budget really didn’t match what we have ended up spending. Eating out is so cheap in Europe and we don’t have to do the dishes, so we do it way more than we would in Australia. Culturally, people always meet out of their home too, so it is easier to catch up with people. On the flip side we’ve spent much less on groceries than we expected so they have cancelled each other out.

Groceries – €340

We try to shop at markets, fruiterias and panederias wherever possible. Partly because it keeps the cost down, but also because it is fresh and delicious.

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Markets have the freshest and the cheapest food.

Eating out – €495

This also includes breakfast but it is rare for us to buy it out. We tend to eat breakfast at home most days.

Other (coffee, ice cream, beer etc) – €205

An important part of any budget.


Ways to make it cheaper:
Eat like a local

Get off the tourist route and find a restaurant or bar two streets back from the places touting menus in English. They are usually a couple of euros cheaper for the same plate of food.

Menu del dia

Most restaurants offer a menu of the day for a very cheap price. In smaller towns you can get a three course meal with drink included for €8. In more touristy areas they can be up to €15. We love eating this way as we try traditional local dishes and the choices are limited, which is easier than staring at a menu. Most places can accommodate someone who doesn’t each a lot of meat, but you have to ask.

Tapas

In many parts of Spain, particularly the north and in rural areas, tapas come free when you order a drink. In some places this can be enough food for a meal. Ask around for a good tapas bar in your area.

Pack your lunch

A no-brainer really, but when we pack our lunch (in Spain bocadillos of course), it costs us €5 for a meal.


Goods

Clothing – €30

Kids grow, so this is a necessary part of our budget. Thankfully clothes are much cheaper in Europe than Australia so we don’t spend a lot. Also, our limited luggage space means we can’t buy anything unnecessary.

Books – €10

We don’t want the kids’ education to suffer so occasionally we buy books. Cass and I both love to read too, so we are often on the lookout for second hand bookstores. The deal is that we each only carry one at a time, so for every one we buy, we have to donate or swap our old one.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Book swaps are excellent and can be found at most major cities in small cafes. We are starting to branch out into Spanish-language books now so it’s getting easier to find free or very cheap books.


Work items – €5

Sometimes it costs a little to maintain our work. It could be an app subscription or some printing. It doesn’t add up to much.

Entertainment

Movies, shows, museums, galleries, bouncy castles etc – €70

We usually prefer the free or low cost museums the most, so they don’t add up to much. We splashed out in London and went to see Matilda the Musical and we’ve been to the movies a few times (good Spanish language practice). Wednesday is cheap-day at the movies here and it costs €16 for all four of us.

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Dodgem Cars at the Fería.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Seek the cheaper places, they’re usually better anyway. While everyone else is going to the castle with guided headphones, choose the more run-down one that has a lower entrance fee.

Note: don’t skimp too much on this budget. This is one of the fun parts of travelling. When I travelled around Europe in my 20s, I missed a lot of fun things because I was so concerned about paying for them.


Transport

Flights – €60

This doesn’t include our original flight to get here, but we’ve spent some on flying to England from Spain so this stays in our budget. If you want to include your original flight, your budget will be much higher than €25 per day.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Try comparison websites such as Skyscanner. If you are flexible on dates you can get some very cheap deals. Make sure you pay for your luggage at time of booking though, as it is much more expensive to have to pay for it at the check-in counter.


Trains, buses, cars and bikes- €500

Depending on how you travel and how often, this can blow out. We have rented a couple of cars, but we’re trying to limit our impact on the environment so prefer trains buses and bikes.


Ways to make it cheaper:
Rail passes

Eurail passes can save hundreds of euros in your first trip and Children Travel Free.

In England our friend suggested that we buy a Family Railcard, where we received 30% off when travelling during off-peak periods (after 10am). It cost £30 and we saved that on our first trip. It lasts for 12 months so it’s definitely a good investment. We saved hundreds of pounds over our two months in England. Train companies don’t advertise these deals well so it is worth asking and doing your research.

Travel slowly

Travelling slowly and less often is the key. We try to stay a week or more in one place to reduce our transport costs.

Relocation deals

Many car and campervan hire companies have cheaper hire to relocate the vehicle to where they need it to be. We’ve done this a few times. Hunt them down, they’re very cheap.


Travel Insurance plus other medical expenses – €205

This is one area you don’t want to take the cheapest option, but you can do your research and find a great deal. We opted for travel insurance that was linked to our credit card (note: we don’t use this credit card for anything other than car hire and accommodation deposits, that way we don’t pay any interest or fees. We don’t believe in funding travel using a credit card). You can decide how much cover you feel comfortable with, but with kids we opted for one with excellent coverage so we don’t ever have to worry about it.

This line also includes the insurance on our house in Australia.


Ways to make it cheaper:
Do your research.

Take the time to really understand what you are getting and for what price. Compare the deals without the help of a meerkat tool, use your own brain. You need to keep in mind that the comparison websites get paid to promote certain products.

Know how much excess you are willing to pay. This will help inform what product to choose, and make sure you have the equivalent of your excess saved up somewhere safe at all times. The higher the excess you can afford, the cheaper your cover.

Know your policy.

When in the middle of a crazy situation (you travellers know what I’m talking about) it’s nice to know how your policy works. It brings a sense of calm to a potentially difficult situation. Also, knowing that you’re travel insurance covers certain vehicle hire insurances means that you don’t have to opt for the more expensive option at the car hire desk.


Miscellaneous – €25

This is where we put odd expenses, like a donation to charity, paying a busker, a birthday present, or the cost of sending postcards home. It’s good for random things that come up.

The budget listed above is based on what we are actually spending each month. Sure, some months we spend more than others but this is a total of all our expenditure for the five months divided by five (to arrive at our monthly figure). It is possible to travel Europe for €25 per day per person. We’ve been doing it for five months now. We’d love to hear more of how you save money on your trips, please make a comment below.

If you want more help creating a budget for you and your travels, you can purchase one of our budget products below. (We’ll be adding a customised version soon).

Get your copy of our budget here

We'll send you an excel document you can customise to your own budget.

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Reflections on Barcelona

I originally wrote this piece on Barcelona following our most recent visit in July 2017. I felt compelled to write it because of the genuine internal conflict that this visit, and our previous journey there in May, provoked in me. I loved visiting Barcelona, but by visiting, am I perpetuating a cycle that is slowly destroying the city and the quality of life of its residents?

I was in the process of trying to sell this article to various publications when events in Barcelona overtook my efforts, making the issues touched on in my piece less immediately relevant and, therefore, the article less newsworthy. However, they’re issues that are still very much affecting the city and will continue to do so when the news cycle rolls on and the attacks in Las Ramblas join the ever-growing archive of terrorist acts. 

Our hearts go out to the people of Barcelona and anyone else who was caught up in, or affected by this senseless act of violence. We know that the city, accustomed as it is to turmoil, political unrest and the occasional outbreak of violence, will bounce back. For now, we add our voices to the multitude calling for peace, love and understanding to be prioritised above greed, violence and retribution. 

T’enviem el nostre amor Barcelona!


Now that my family and I have finished our second stint in Barcelona, I think we are in agreement that its reputation as one of the world’s great cities is indeed well-deserved. There’s an vibrancy about the town, particularly in neighbourhoods like El Born or Vila de Gràcia, that fairly oozes possibility and an attitude of industry and creativity that leaves one energised, inspired and grasping for more at every turn.

But the capital of Catalunya is also a city that is fundamentally conflicted about its popularity and is in many ways is struggling, both conceptually and physically, to find a balance between opening itself up to the world, while retaining the strength and character and unique cultural identity that is so compelling to both its residents and the millions of transient visitors who fill its streets every year.

As a travelling family, we were captivated by everything this wonderful city had to offer. There was something – a multitude of things really – to delight, intrigue and ignite the imagination in each of us. We loved the adventure of exploring the various neighbourhoods, never knowing what to expect around the next corner. Even the obvious attractions – Gaudi’s remarkable architectural creations, Las Ramblas, La Mercat de la Boqueria, for example – are of such undeniable quality and international significance that even the most cynical “anti-tourist” traveller would be forced to concede that they’re worth visiting (even if clandestinely, to avoid losing their hardcore traveller’s credentials).

But to describe Barcelona as a single, homogenous entity would be misleading and overlooks a fundamental contributing factor as to why it is universally recognised as being one of the world’s great cities. In actuality it is the agglomeration of a number of discrete towns, districts and neighbourhoods barris, each with their own unique character, history and traditions, brought together into one sprawling urban metropolis by the industrialisation and inexorable population increases throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

On our first visit we stayed in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, which in theory is a separate city with its own municipal identity and administrative structures. However, other than the wording and colours of official street signage, there are now few physical identifiers to separate it from greater Barcelona – the urban sprawl continues unimpeded from one street to the next. The second time around our digs were at the opposite end of town in el Clot, a fiercely proud tight-knit working class barri in the Santi Marti District, which has a history dating back to mediaeval times and a reputation for artistic production and strongly held political beliefs, which has more than once in its history resulted in violent uprising and revolution.

 

Each of these districts, and all those between and further afield, has its own distinct personality, proud history and secret corners waiting to be discovered by the adventurous visitor. When out exploring the city on foot, we instinctively recognised when we’d moved into the next barri, simply because between one block and the next everything around us changed – the shops, housing and even the people. It wasn’t overt, but we crossed a street and the polished modern storefronts, linen tablewear and neatly dressed denizens of Eixample were traded in for the small neighbourhood fruterías, plastic chairs and tracksuits of Ciutat Vella. The atmosphere became somehow more relaxed too, as if a layer of formality and pretension had been stripped away.

And each barri has its own set of crusted-on local communities whose sense of identity is as solid and self-assured as the very bricks of the buildings that form their few thousand square metres of real estate. Indeed, the residents’ fealty to their barri often seems stronger than their loyalty to Catalunya, and much, much more so than any allegiance they may have to the greater Spanish state.

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The Catalans are a fiercely proud people with a considerable legacy of achievement – intellectual, artistic, commercial and industrial. They have, for generations, argued, struggled and often taken up arms to assert their independence from external rule, whether from Spain or other powers to the north. Many times throughout their history they have tasted self-determination on some level, only to have it snatched away violently by whomever happens to be seeking dominion over them at the time, be it the Bourbon kings of Castilla, the armies of Napoleon or the fascist junta of General Francisco Franco.

Today this struggle continues, with a debate currently underway to instigate a referendum process which could, in theory, see Catalunya become an autonomous member of the European community. Signs of support for autonomy can be seen all over Barcelona – the Catalunyan flag hangs from countless balconies in every neighbourhood, alongside banners simply stating “Si!”. Pro-Spanish flags can also be seen, but they are very much in the minority. There is considerable cynicism in the community about the likelihood for success, due in large part, perhaps, to the region’s interdependent, yet chequered historic relationship with the rest of Spain.

It is a testament to the inclusive atmosphere that currently pervades Barcelona that these dissenting views can be openly displayed. Past experience shows that people with differing viewpoints have not always coexisted peacefully within the city limits (read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia for an example). Given the parlous state of the Spanish economy, rising unemployment and external pressures such as immigration and an increasingly unpredictable climate, it is not inconceivable that tensions could rise again as the current march towards autonomy progresses.

Barcelona is an incredible place to visit, but despite the overwhelmingly positive reports you’ll read all across the internet, I would issue a word of caution about wandering blithely into town without recognising that it’s a city feeling the pressure of this reputation. The sheer weight of numbers of people visiting the city, while fuelling the economy, is having some significant and increasingly negative consequences, both physically and socially, that were obvious even to the first (and second) time visitor. Barcelona’s civic infrastructure is ageing and, if the regular whiffs of raw sewage are any indication, struggling to cope with the load being forced upon them by the estimated 30+ million annual visitors. And in a great many of the traditionally working class inner-city barris, el Clot included, you can find evidence that the residents’ patience is thinning.

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The share economy, particularly in the realm of accommodation, has fundamentally changed the nature of tourism and travelling. Platforms like Airbnb allow travellers like us to have access to a much wider variety of accommodation options and, to a certain extent, the opportunity to embed ourselves within the communities that we’re visiting. Since we started our adventure we have sourced the vast majority of our stays through Airbnb and for the most part they’ve been excellent experiences.

However, there is a flip side to this, one that is having increasingly negative consequences on local communities in Barcelona and other tourist-heavy European cities. Low cost housing is becoming increasingly difficult to find for the inhabitants of Barcelona. People who have historically rented cheap housing and whose families may have lived in the same neighbourhood for generations, are being priced out of their homes by the demand from affluent short-term visitors. In 2017 the government of Catalunya introduced laws seeking to impose restrictions on short term rentals in an effort to stem the tide, but they’re fighting an uphill battle as more and more people have chosen this route to supplement their income. Realistically, what choice would the owner of an apartment make when the opportunity is placed before them to make in a night through Airbnb what they would normally get from rent in a week?

I was aware that there were problems the first time we visited Barcelona, but we were only there for a couple of days and it didn’t really impact on our stay at all. But this time, perhaps because we were staying in el Clot, where this has had a greater impact (or the local community is more politically active), there were signs everywhere that resistance to both rampant tourism and real estate speculation was building. In many places I noted graffiti opposing development at the expense of local communities. On many balconies, alongside the ubiquitous Catalunyan flags, hung banners with a clear warning for wealthy real estate speculators (either foreign or domestic), and in one or two places I saw painted slogans with a direct suggestion for us and other visitors to the city, the words of which I won’t publish here – I’m sure you can guess the gist of the message.

I love Barcelona. It’s a beacon of intellectual, artistic, political and philosophical experimentation and it’s just erupting with creativity. More so than just about any other place we’ve visited, I feel like creative, socially-progressive folk have a strong influence and are carving out a space where this kind of activity can continue to flourish. I felt like it’s the kind of city where, if you had a creative idea and the will and means to turn it into something tangible, you’d be able to carve out a space and be accepted within one of Barcelona’s many thriving neighbourhoods. It was a compelling and energising sensation and I must admit that I was very attracted by it. But as a visitor and an increasingly intensive user of Airbnb and other share accommodation platforms, I’m forced to recognise that I’m actually part of the problem, and this left me feeling seriously conflicted during our stay in Barcelona.

I haven’t yet found a way to reconcile these two opposing drivers. On the one hand, I could recognise my role in perpetuating the cycle that’s destabilising this wonderful city and choose to stay away. Selfishly, I don’t feel that I’m ready to adopt this course of action, because then my family and I would miss out on visiting one of Europe’s and the world’s great cities, thereby diminishing our own travelling experience and depriving our children of an opportunity to engage with this spirit of creativity and industry, and limiting their development as active, thinking human beings. Besides, it’s too late for that now – we’ve already visited. Twice.

Another alternative, and one that sits more comfortably with me, is to find a way to give something back to the city; some kind of positive, meaningful contribution to reinforce one or more of the elements that make Barcelona such an amazing place, and that helps to support the local community in some way. Then maybe, just maybe, we can offset the harm caused by us and the millions like us who, day in, day out, continue to flock to this marvellous, embattled city.

Eurail Passes; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Fifteen years ago I travelled Europe for two months on a Eurail Pass and it was one of the best ways to get around. I found it so easy to hop on and off, and didn’t need to book ahead. For this trip with the family, we were very unsure about whether it was going to be a good option for us. We wanted some flexibility, but also wanted to be able to get around as easily and as cheaply as possible. A quick Google search brought up a lot of articles bemoaning the cons of the Eurail pass, and TripAdvisor is brimming with reports of negative experiences. We read Nomadic Matt’s article, which weighed up the pros and cons, but mostly looked at it from a single person’s point of view. Given my previous experience with Eurail, I was pushing for it all the way. Cass was a little more wary.

We had promised La Chica that we would take her to Paris for her Birthday, so we knew we would have some expensive travel coming up – we had to explore all our options. The cost of train travel is not necessarily cheap, but it’s a fantastic way to travel. You get to see the countryside, there’s no pressure of negotiating traffic and you can get up and move about when it’s  a long journey.

The Good

fullsizeoutput_1cd0The best feature of a Eurail pass for family travel is that kids under 11 years of age travel free.  That makes family travel cheaper than all other transport options by far.

We also waited for a Eurail sale where they were offering 30% off the usual price. We ended up buying a Three Country Family Pass with 6 days of travel in 2 months. Here’s how the costs worked out (all prices in Australian Dollars):

Usual cost of pass for two adults & two children (under 11) $1182.00
Minus 15% discount for travelling together at all times -$177.30
Minus sale discount of 30% -$301.41
Total cost of Eurail Pass $703.29
Price per trip (6 trips) $117.22

Barcelona to Paris without pass for two adults & two children one way is $724.95 (as at 15 June 2017). So we knew the Eurail pass was going to pay for itself just on this one trip.

The Bad and the Ugly

Hurdle number 1

Our first experience trying to book a Eurail seat reservation (required in Spain) was a challenging one. We were in Guadix wanting to book a trip to Sevilla, and we were staying 4kms from the train station without a car. Cass and Los Chicos walked all the way there, only to be told that they couldn’t make Eurail reservations at that station as it was only a small one: we would need to call or go to a bigger station. We tried calling Renfe (the Spanish train network). We called 10 times. Each time, we were on hold for half an hour. When we finally got through and started asking in broken Spanish for our reservation, the operator would cut us short and put us through to an English-speaking operator. While being transferred, it would hang up. Every time.fullsizeoutput_1cd3

On the eleventh call, after the usual hold time, the first thing I said (in carefully rehearsed Spanish) was ‘Please don’t transfer me, I’ve called 10 times and it hangs up every time. Please help me in Spanish’. He tried to transfer me but I managed to convince him not to. We finally muddled our way through the Eurail reservation in my limited Spanish and his limited patience, and got to the point of payment. My travel debit card wouldn’t work. I tried my credit card. No luck. It turns out that foreign credit cards and debit cards don’t work with Renfe.

So. We ended up paying full fare for a ticket to Sevilla (where we were going anyway) and then booked our next trip at the station there.

Hurdle number 2

After our previous experience, we thought we would get more clever about booking our trip from Spain to France. We did some more research on reserving Eurail tickets on the Eurail website. We even downloaded the app.

It turns out that you have to book more than 7 days in advance if you want to book using the Eurail website or app, and then they will post it to you. Wait…what? We don’t have a fixed address, how will they post it to us? We’re travelling on our Eurail pass!

Ok, so then you can book an e-ticket up to 2 days before your departure. Good. But only for travel within Spain or Italy. France not included. That rules that out.

So. We ended up going back to Sevilla and booked our next two trips in person there. We waited in line for over half an hour but it all got sorted and the Renfe staff were very helpful. It did cost an extra €90 to book all our seats, but financially we were still coming out ahead by a long shot.

Hurdle number 3

So now we realised that the only way to book tickets was going to be to go in person to a big train station. In Paris we went to Montparnasse station to book our departure from Paris and the queue was ENORMOUS! It was a ticket system and they had 5 tables operating, but it took a long time. There were a few chairs but nowhere near enough for the number of people waiting. We waited for over an hour and a half with tired, hungry children. I think that our children have relatively long attention spans, and we entertained them as best we could, but it wasn’t easy as there wasn’t much room to move or muck around. When we finally got our turn, it was all very easy to book. But by then our patience had waned and we weren’t feeling very positive.

Hurdle number 4

We hired a car for a few days in the north of Spain and made a special stop in Burgos to book our next Eurail trip, as it was a big station. The Renfe staff told us that there were no seats left. I couldn’t believe it as we had allowed plenty of days before departure. It turns out our Eurail pass is a first class pass, so automatically pulls up only first class seats. This is the only type of Eurail pass available to people over 28 years. I asked if we could book second class seats with our first class pass? Turns out you can. Thankfully. And there were second class seats available. Good. This was an easy hurdle to jump. Good to remember to ask for second class seats (the difference between first and second is pretty much negligible on Spanish trains anyway).

The Finish Line

Eurail passes are definitely not easy to use. Fifteen years ago they were simple, but that was before online bookings were the easiest option. If you could book online with foreign credit cards, it would be the perfect pass.

We’ve only got 2 more travel days left on our passes now, and we feel like we’ve finally got the system sorted out. There’s been a lot of stress and annoyance at how difficult our Eurail passes have been to use, but they’ve already saved us somewhere around $1000, so ultimately it’s worth the hassle. Hopefully some of you can benefit from our mistakes.

We’d love to hear about other experiences with the Eurail pass. Leave us a comment below.

DISCLAIMER: We were not given this product nor were paid to review this product. We paid for it with our own money and these are our own opinions.


Let the journey begin with Rail Europe

The Rhythm of a Spanish Day

A friend asked me the other day, ‘what do you do all day’? I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose when you no longer have a traditional work schedule, it might seem a bit daunting to have no structure, no particular plan, and nothing to occupy oneself.

However that is misleading. There is a structure to our days, and it has been said by many people, many times, kids need structure. However the structures of our days have to fit with the rhythms of a Spanish day which are very different from those we had in our Australian life.

In Australia, our daily and weekly schedules were shaped by school and work. Here, we have none of those constraints, but we do have siesta, longer daylight hours, and different eating times to contend with.

It took us a while to settle into the rhythm of a Spanish day. With most shops and businesses closing for siesta in the early afternoon, the errands and important matters need to be done early in the day. This can provide a real sense of accomplishment in the day. When all the nitty gritty has been taken care of early, you can enjoy the rest of the day for living.

Siesta means different things to us on different days. Sometimes we try and have a sleep, sometimes we relax in a park, sometimes we sit and read, sometimes we ignore it completely. Days where we take the time to relax in the afternoon are definitely the best. We can recharge, and it makes one day seem like two. Sometimes we laugh as we think we did something yesterday, when really it was just before siesta.

After siesta, I love the slow crescendo of the noise outside as people re-emerge from their dwellings. Around 5pm is one of the most bustling times here, and it is full of energy and excitement. Kids run to the football field, grandparents stroll along the streets, friends meet at a bar. It reminds me that we are really living, and I enjoy the importance placed on this social time of the day. It is a time that is focussed on family and friends. I think we as a family have been missing this in Australia and it is something I want to hold on to.

Spaniards eat much later in the day than we are used to. We find most people here eat a very minimal breakfast, have a snack mid-morning to tide them over, and then eat the main meal of the day around 1 or 2pm. Then there’s another light snack (often accompanied by a small beer, a caña), and then a late small meal after 8 to 9pm or later. In our first month here, we struggled with this schedule. We were wanting our main meal in the evening, usually too early for anyone to serve us, and on the odd occasion we found somewhere to eat at an hour that suited us, it was a touristy place with less interesting food, and a higher price tag.

Slowly, we adapted our eating patterns to fit our surroundings. We have the odd day where we are out exploring where it’s easier to fall into our Australian patterns and have a sandwich for lunch, then eat a bigger meal late in the day, but we’re now eating much later than we ever would have at home. The biggest impact this has had on us, is that we’re no longer trying to cook a main meal at the end of the day when we’re all tired and worn down. We’re now able to spend the evenings doing fun things together, such as going for a paseo, playing a game or sitting in a bar having a drink and discussing our day. This family time in the evening brings us together at the end of each day, and it feels good to go to bed this way.

Bedtime has disappeared since we arrived. It used to always be a time of stress at home when we were tired from work and school. The kids would want to stay up, we would want them to go to bed and that difference in opinion would result in arguments. Now, the kids are allowed to stay up until we’re all too tired, and we flop into bed. Some nights it is earlier than others, and it isn’t always without argument, but it is much simpler than it used to be. It helps that we don’t have commitments early in the morning unless we have a train to catch, so the kids sleep later in the morning than before. The wind down that we get in the evenings without having to cook a meal or stress about bedtime makes for a more joyful and relaxing evening, and I really value this time I get with the kids.

And to answer that question, what do we do all day? We explore, we ask questions, we talk in jumbled Spanish with people we meet, we teach the kids about the world, we find hidden pockets of places, we look for secret paths, we eat, and we enjoy each others’ company. Sometimes we split up so one of us can get some work done, sometimes we stick together. Sometimes we just relax, sometimes we walk all day. Sometimes I bring a book and sit at a playground soaking up some sunshine, sometimes we go for a long lunch in a mountain town. It is fulfilment driven by curiosity, and the rhythm of a Spanish day is what makes it work.

Useful travel resources

Knowing where to find the right information is key. Here are some of the sites we’ve found useful so far. We’ll keep updating this list as we go.

Accommodation:

Airbnb – (if you click this link you receive credit on your booking, as do we) this is our first port of call when booking. Most of our stays have been with Airbnb because staying in people’s homes is excellent with kids, as it feels more homely, and prices are much better than hotels. We’ve also found some of the best out of the way places, like Porrua where we stayed for €22 per night for all four of us.

HomeAway – (affiliate link) book some incredible homes for a very reasonable price. We’ve found some very good deals on this website.

Hostel World – great for finding hostels. Can be filtered to only include hostels with family rooms. So far I’ve found the cheapest Paris accommodation here.

Nomador – For housesitting

Sabbatical Homes – house sitting, exchange or rental for travelling academics, but non-academic users can subscribe too for an increased price.

Transport:

<a href=”http://Avis ES Home” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Avis – (affiliate link) car hire, good discounts for cars in Spain and Portugal.

Go Euro – compares flights, trains and buses in Europe all in the one search. This one struggles a bit with trains but is good for flights and buses, and opens accommodation options in a separate tab.

Logi Travel – compares flights, trains, buses, skiing holidays, packages and offers all in the one search. This one gave us the best search results for trains in Spain.

Kayak – compares flights. We also booked a car through them and it was by far the cheapest option we found and the car was nicer and bigger than we expected.

Trainline – the best one we’ve found so far for train travel. It is the easiest one to search and purchase tickets within Spain as the Renfe website can be particularly difficult, especially with foreign debit or credit cards.

Information:

Lonely Planet – (affiliate link) these guides are so useful, and you can now buy them in e-chapters. We like that you can buy just the Asturias chapter, or just the Catalunya chapter if you are travelling in a specific area of Spain.

Money Changing:

Travelex – (affiliate link) buy currency, travel credit cards, order currency online.

Please note: we only have affiliations where stated. The others are all companies we have found and used ourselves.