Our travelling Advent Calendar

Anyone who knows Cass knows that he’s not that into Christmas. Before we had kids, we just took it as time to spend with family and ignored the rest of it. Since the kids have been born, he’s had to relinquish some of his grinchyness, and I’ve taken it upon myself to keep some fun and magic alive for the kids at Christmas time.

While we have no religious connection to Christmas, for me it’s still a special time at the end of the year where you can take some time out from normality to enjoy the company of loved ones and reflect on what the year has meant to us. In Australia our Christmas fun usually means a tree made from the branch of a eucalypt with handmade decorations and lots of social gatherings. The kids always beg me for a chocolate advent calendar (and I always cave in).

This year we are travelling. It’s now 21 days until Christmas and we still don’t know exactly where we’ll be. (How exciting?!) I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate some Christmas fun into our travelling. Without descending into materialism or sugar-induced peaks and troughs, I wanted to have an advent calendar of sorts that would fit in my suitcase and wouldn’t be about more plastic crap.

Some of my friends and family over the years have created the most beautiful advent calendars, crafted with care and thought – some sewn, some painted. I love to make things as much as anyone, but I needed something compact and portable.

So this is what I’ve come up with.

The kids each have a small envelope. Each morning when they wake up, there’s a new note inside. The notes are like vouchers. They can use them whenever they are ready (even after Christmas) and they have written on them some of the things the kids love to do, but they don’t always get the chance. They are both different so they can also trade them with each other if they want to. The aim is to give them things that bring us together, don’t involve buying a toy, and aren’t all about poor-quality compound chocolate.

Some of the things that have been on the notes so far:

  • Play a game of cards – the idea is that I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to play instead of telling them I’m too busy.
  • Choose what to have for dinner tonight – this is a good one in our family as dinner is a constant source of argument.
  • The parents will cook a fancy breakfast of your choice – they haven’t cashed this one in yet – I’m pretty sure they’ll ask for French Toast.
  • Choose a movie to rent on iTunes for us all to watch together
  • Choose a treat for us all to share at a pastelería

I’m still brainstorming what to put on the rest of them, but I like thinking of the ideas as much as the kids love opening them in the morning.

Yesterday, La Chica said to me, ‘Mum, why haven’t we done this sort of Advent Calendar in Australia? It’s so much better!’

It looks like this might become a tradition that sticks.

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Our Top 5 Spanish Museums

We love a good museum. It’s a chance to connect with the area you are in, to see what matters to the people who live there, to learn about history and to understand something new.

We try to go to a museum of some sort in every place we visit. Sometimes they can be highly political, sometimes they can be completely awful, and sometimes they can be about chocolate. (Honourable mention here to the Museu Xocolata in Barcelona where even your entry ticket is a piece of chocolate). We’ve seen museums that make us feel uneasy – one museum we visited was proud that it held some Indigenous Australian artefacts and even the display commented that ‘Indigenous Australians’ want these items returned, without any suggestion that a return was imminent. We’ve seen religious museums and revolutionary museums and everything in between. And recently, the Museo de la Inquisicion even made me feel physically ill.

But of all the museums in the many countries we’ve visited, Spain has a particularly high incidence of excellent examples. The Spaniards just know how to do them well. They know how to mix information with theatricality. They know how to keep the kids engaged. They know what information to include and what to leave out. So we thought we’d pay homage to our five favourite museums in Spain. For the purposes of this article, I’ve left out art galleries, they are a category all on their own. Maybe a post for another day.

1. Museo de la Evolución Humana – Burgos

This one is number one because it is the best museum. Full stop. No other museum we have ever seen, in either hemisphere, beats this one. We arrived in the last hour of the day to make use of the free entry, but wished we’d come so much earlier as one hour was really not sufficient to explore this wonderland of being human.

What is so special about it? Taking you on a journey through the evolution of humans, civilisation and evolution theory, this museum really has the x-factor when it comes to presentation. You can walk inside a human brain, step into Charles Darwin’s study and examine full-size models of our evolutionary ancestors. While this could all come off as cheesy if done the wrong way, the Museo de la Evolución Humana does it with flair. Each exhibit was stunning and engaging, both visually and experientially. The kids didn’t know where to go next. They were so excited by every display and what it was going to show us.

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Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

2. Museo de León – Leon

This unassuming museum gets a mention in this list because it is a great example of a smaller museum that doesn’t try to do too much. It had a plenitude of information that we hadn’t previously seen elsewhere and it was very well presented.

We particularly like the rooms dedicated to the Camino de Santiago (the kids are infatuated with the Camino and this gave them a better understanding).

Another highlight here is the area that shows the history of the settlement of Leon from the times of Caesar Augustus’ Roman Legion encampment through wars, takeovers and kingdoms to today’s bustling city. After scrutinising the models and visual representations of the changes over time, you could then go to the other end of the room and see modern León through the window.

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Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

3. Yacimiento Arqueologico Gadir

When I mentioned theatricality earlier, this archeological dig in Cadiz knew how to do it the best. I’ve mentioned the Yacimiento Arqueologico Gadir in another post about the Costa de la Luz, but after visiting a number of other archeological digs, this is still a stand-out. When we first entered I felt like we were stepping into a theme park amusement, like the lab scene in Jurassic Park (the original of course). A well-produced short film sets the scene and context for the archeology we were about to witness.

The dig itself was excellent, showing different areas of the Phoenician settlement that was discovered under the Tia Norica Theatre. The lighting in the dark room was perfect to highlight the most interesting parts of the ruins. There were plenty of interactive screens to give you information, but we were also very impressed at our tour-guide who tailored her guiding to our group. She guided us in Spanish, English and German and then translated her answers into each language so we could all participate.

We’ve seen quite a few archaeological digs and ruins, and this one is fantastic for the provided context of Phoenician life, being able to walk around at your own pace and interaction that was available.

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Yacimiento Arqueologico, Cádiz

4. Museu d’História de Catalunya – Barcelona

With the current climate in Catalunya, this museum would seem political, but it was already political when we visited before recent tensions flared. It is very pro-Catalunya, as can be expected, as it aims to tell the Catalan side of history, but it is choc-a-block with information about Catalunya and greater Spain. Although the information is sometimes a little too dense, you can pick and choose which bits to read and it can be very informative. The kids loved that many of the exhibits were life-sized. They loved walking into the trenches and many of the hands-on activities.

Unfortunately my family missed what I thought was the best floor. While they all rushed down to the ground floor to see a temporary exhibition on the Templar Knights before the museum closed, I stepped further back into history and found some excellent displays on how people lived in this fertile region over the last few hundred years. Nearly life-sized cross-sections of villages, scale models of houses and farms gave you a real sense of what life had been like in Catalunya hundreds of years ago and I felt it gave me a deeper understanding of who the Catalan people are today.

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A life-sized displays of early life in the Museu d’História de Catalunya

5. Cueva de la Pileta – Andalucia

Okay so this is not technically a museum, it’s a cave, but it still counts in my book. As much as we love to hunt down museums, we also hunt down caves as we just love them, but this one is the best so far. Our guide at the Cueva de la Pileta warned us that this cave was so good that any other cave experience would pale into insignificance. Big call. But yesterday we visited the famous Cuevas del Altamira, and he was right. The cave you can visit at Altamira is a replica to preserve the original, and the guided tour is nothing compared to what you get at the Cueva de la Pileta.

This cave is an absolute treasure. Entering through a tiny door, the cave continues deeper and deeper, even when you think it can’t go any further. It has its fair share of impressive stalactites and stalagmites, rock drawings and hidden pools, but what really makes it impressive is the context. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and passionate and told us stories of discovery and history incredibly well (while also translating into a few languages for our group).

Each equipped with a lamp, we were able to shine the light on specific areas we wanted to see, as there is no electricity inside. Our kids were a little terrified when he asked us to turn off the lamps for a moment so we could experience what it would have been like to live in that cave. It was so dark you couldn’t even make out an outline of anything, we were so far from the entrance. It really made us realise the importance of fire to the people that lived in this cave 30,000 years ago. I can’t recommend this experience highly enough.


As the kids aren’t in school while we travel, museums are an important way for them to relate to history and culture. We’ve discovered that museums have a tricky balance – to be engaging while educating. And it’s not easy. Most museums achieve it quite well, but we believe that these five excel in delivering both.

Travellers’ tip – many Spanish museums are free for the last hour of the day, or on particular days of the week. This can be a good option if you are budget conscious – see our post on how to travel Europe for €25 per person per day.

Five days in Andorra – with no snow

Earlier in the year we granted La Chica’s wish to celebrate her birthday by climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. So when El Chico’s seventh birthday came up in October, we gave him the chance to choose the destination.

El Chico’s main Birthday desire was to throw a snowball; neither of our kids have ever seen snow. His shortlist was down to Alps and the Pyrenees when he heard about Andorra. Being only 468 km2 and the 16th smallest country in the world appealed to his love of eccentricities, so it was decided. That’s where we would go.

As the months progressed, it became evident that we were going to be there too early for snow. We glued ourselves to weather forecasts, asked around and made a decision to hire a car so we could drive to snow wherever it may fall. When the birthday finally came around, the closest snow we could drive to was three countries and more than a day’s drive away.

So there we were in Andorra, a country that revolves around the snow season, with no snow on the horizon. The hillsides are covered in ski slopes, our apartment came with a ski storage facility and many restaurants and businesses remain shut during the non-snow season.

We weren’t sure what to expect, or what activities we would be able to do, but from the moment we arrived Andorra proved itself to be one of the highlights of our travels so far. It was cold, but the sun shone almost the whole time we were there.

So, what is it about Andorra that carved itself into our hearts, without a skerrick of snow?

Walking

Andorra’s walking trails are some of the best we’ve come across in Europe. There are long trails traversing the entire country, there are smaller trails leading up to alpine lakes and there are trails that connect the towns and villages. They are all well-marked and take you into the hidden heart of Andorra. We did a variety of walks. All of them magical in their own way. Our two favourites were:

Parc Natural de la Vall de Sorteny

This was a tip we were given by a local and it was incredible. From here you can take a number of walks. We chose the one labelled ‘Botanical Walk’. Heading up the hill beside a steady stream with a number of waterfalls, there were options to divert from the wider fire trail and head onto rocky single trails that lead you into the forest and along the streams. There are towering sculptures and panoramic views. If not for our intense hunger, we would have stayed longer. The kids played creating cairns and nature art and loved exploring the narrow trails.

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Vall d’Inces

I stumbled across this trail on my morning run and fell in love with it. So after running it in the morning, I brought the family back and we walked it with a picnic lunch. We took a different route up to the campground and the kids giggled as they hopped over the board walks crossing the streams. After our picnic at the top of the world, the kids climbed and played on the rocks while we sat on the grass and soaked up the sunshine. The air up there was clear and the sun shone brightly through it. All in all it was a perfect day out.

Rock-climbing

For a birthday present for El Chico, we booked a lesson at Bloc Cafe Indoor Rockclimbing. We had a private lesson for the four of us with an excellent instructor who gave taught us some useful techniques we wouldn’t have known otherwise. He also gave us a number of  tips for places to explore in Andorra. Although I’m definitely not a natural, both the kids took to rock climbing like ducks to water. They then attempted to climb every rock surface they could find in Andorra. They’re hooked. If we had stayed longer, we would have booked some outdoor climbing. Something for next time!

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Lookouts

The Mirador Roc del Quer is a spectacular lookout that is well known by travellers to Andorra. It was worth dealing with the crowds even in the off-season, as it was a mesmerising sight looking down on the valley of Canillo. The sun was at that golden angle that makes everything glow. I bet it is also a gorgeous spot at dawn, another thing for next time.

We found a number of other lookouts on our drives around Andorra. Each of them had their own beauty and woah-factor. Sometimes we even just stopped at random moments on the side of the road for a look. Andorra is a truly picturesque country from every angle.

Shopping

Andorra is a Co-Principality ruled by two princes. One Prince is the President of France and the other is the Bishop of Urgell in Spain. The unusual form of Government in Andorra has led to some similarly unusual tax implications. Up until 2016 there was no Income Tax or Capital Gains Tax. At this stage Andorrans are still without Value Added Tax (VAT) found in many other EU nations leading to a steady influx of people coming to Andorra for cheap alcohol and cigarettes. This has led to some very interesting shops peddling their tax-free goods.

I would never usually suggest shopping as an activity to do while travelling, it’s just not my style, but Caves Manacor is something that needs to be seen to be believed.  Categorised on Google as a supermarket, Caves Manacor is unlike any supermarket I have experienced. Three stories packed to overflowing. The first floor packed to the brim with every type of alcohol I could think of, a salami tasting wall, a cheese corner and a giant area of chocolate and lollies including chupa-chups bigger than my head. The second floor is full of copper stills and other cooking items and the third floor is reserved for tobacco products. There is not a spare space anywhere and I feel like you have to go here at least once if you are in Andorra.

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Eating

Many cafes and restaurants were closed until the ski season, but of the open eateries, Cafe La Neu was our favourite.

On our way back from Sorteny (see above) we had worked up an incredible appetite. We spotted Cafe La Neu as we drove down the hill and what a find! Some of the best food we ate in Andorra was at this cafe and the price was perfectly affordable. They had excellent choices for the fussy kids and vegetarians in our family. Excellent food, excellent service.

On our last day we were so sad to leave and wish we’d booked an extra few nights. Just as expected it snowed exactly one week after we had left, but we had such an amazing experience that we wouldn’t change it for anything.

Some extra travel tips for Andorra:

  • Getting there – There are no airports or trains into Andorra. You’ll need to arrive by car or bus.
  • Getting around – Hire a car. There’s a lot of buses that travel in and out of Andorra, but the best parts are best explored by car. Traffic along the main road can be a nightmare even in off-season, but car is definitely the easiest way to get around.
  • Getting off the beaten track – Try leaving the main road that heads from Spain to France. Our rock-climbing instructor told us that the true beauty of Andorra lies in the country outside of the tourist areas. It turned out he was absolutely right.

DISCLAIMER: We are not affiliated with any of these towns or attractions and were not paid nor given any free tours, accommodation or food. We paid for all these journeys with our own money and these are our own opinions. None of the links on this page are affiliate links.

On Your Bike

It was always our intention to stay overseas as long as possible, to make the most of this opportunity to travel and show our kids just how big and interesting this world of ours is. Our funds were limited, but we’d come up with a few strategies to reduce our costs and make our Dollar/Euro/Pound stretch a bit further.

One of these was to try our hand at housesitting – looking after strangers’ houses and/or pets while they take a break and do some travelling themselves. There are many platforms out there, but after doing a bit of research, we elected to join up to two – Nomador and Trusted Housesitters (TH). About a month before we left Australia, a sit came up on TH in rural Somerset, England. We’d always planned to jump across the channel the UK while we were on this side of the globe, to visit friends and see some of the places our ancestors came from.

To my surprise, they accepted our application and we had dates locked in – UK in August, right in the middle of summer. It was a double win because it’s supposed to be about the only time the weather in Somerset is bearable, but also it would give us a chance to escape the searing Iberian summer heat, when Spain is traditionally at its least bearable.

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There are many hills in Somerset. This was just one of them.

So August came and we landed at Stanstead. As the date for the housesit approached another idea started forming in my mind. Another of our travel objectives is to minimise our environmental impact while passing through the landscape – admittedly not easy when you’re flying to the other side of the world – but we’ve been trying to achieve this goal by using public transport or walking whenever possible. The property we’d signed up to sit was about 25km outside the main regional centre, Taunton. What if, I thought, we were to hire or buy second hand bikes and ride there?

Now Mem’s written a separate article on our growing love affair with bicycles, so I won’t go into too much detail about the ride itself. But in researching the idea I discovered a really fantastic organisation from whom we ended up hiring four bikes and a trailer for our Somerset adventure.

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Riding’s not all about movement. Sometimes you just have to stop and smell the roses – or pick the blackberries like El Chico here.

On Your Bike is a local charity based in Taunton. The founding principle of this social enterprise is that they accept donations of old bikes, which they then repair and resell, while at the same time offering the chance for disadvantaged people, ex-services personnel and the long term unemployed to learn the mystical art of bicycle maintenance. this gives them the opportunity to develop valuable skills, while at the same time enhancing their self belief and employability. On Your Bike’s graduates receive industry-recognised qualifications and are more than capable of servicing bikes and repairing just about any bike-related fault.

When I contacted the charity about our plans, I received a reply shortly afterwards from Lucy Workman. Lucy, having grown up 15 miles from Taunton, describes herself as “a proper Somerset girl”. She started out at the charity as a volunteer and eventually worked her way up to the the role of Manager, which she’s held now for three years.

Lucy Workman from On Your Bike

Mem & the kids with Lucy Workman, Manager at On Your Bike

When we arrived in Taunton on a train from Swindon, we realised that it was even easier than we’d anticipated, as On Your Bike has a shopfront literally right next to the station! Lucy was about as helpful as a person can get, and in short order she’d sorted through our plans, located four excellent work-horse bikes and even dug up a trailer from somewhere. She gave us an excellent deal on the hire, delivered the bikes to the station for us and was even kind enough to sit down for a quick interview once the details had been finalised.

Within half an hour we’d picked up the bikes and gear and were humming our way along the banks of a canal through Taunton (completely the wrong direction, but that was our fault – another story for another time), the kids riding through every puddle they could find.

For anyone thinking of a riding tour of or through Somerset, we can’t recommend On Your Bike highly enough as a source for everything you might need to get and/or keep you on the road.

Footnote: If you visit Somerset and are looking for somewhere to eat, Lucy recommends The Halfway House in Pitney, which has been voted one of the 20 best in the British countryside, or The Scrumper in Taunton itself.

Cycling Towards the Horizon

Traversing mountains, swimming in oceans, and getting lost in forests has increased our deep commitment to travel with  minimal impact. In an attempt to take it to the next level, our new favourite method of transport is cycling. We now travel with some cycling gear and hire bikes in every town possible.

It all began when we were given the opportunity to housesit on a farm in England, we decided not to hire a car. This was a major decision because our farm was four kilometres from the nearest village and 24 kilometres from the closest town, Taunton. It was a chance to stretch our pedalling legs, so without thinking it through, we made the decision to cycle there from Taunton and use bikes as our primary transport for the next four weeks.

Cass did a lot of research and found a bike shop, On Your Bike in Taunton, who fix up old bikes and sell them for charity. They also train and employ disadvantaged people (people with disabilities, ex-services personnel and homeless) to be bike mechanics. We loved their values, and they agreed to hire bikes for us and the kids.

There were a number of obstacles we needed to overcome. The biggest was working out how to carry our luggage. We travel light (see What’s in our luggage?) with approximately 40kg between four of us, but our bags are not pannier bags and it was too much to ask the kids to ride that far with extra weight. Cass and I would need to carry it all.

On Your Bike had a trailer for hire, but it wouldn’t fit everything, so we decided to buy an additional new trailer to put the rest of the luggage in. After researching all of our options, we decided to buy a 2-Child Steel Bicycle Trailer for our luggage (we successfully sold it afterwards on Gumtree).

We arrived in Taunton the day before our ride, so we could prepare the bikes, buy helmets and some lights and just get organised. We are so glad we did, because it took us the whole day to get everything together and go for a little test ride.

On the morning of our ride, we had a tight schedule. The people we were housesitting for had to leave in the middle of the day, and we needed enough time to learn about looking after their animals. We really needed to arrive by 11:30 am so we got up at 5:30 ate a buffet breakfast, and headed off.

There was a misty rain as we set off but it kept us cool as we rode. Cass had one trailer with half our luggage, and I had the new trailer with the other half, and a bag with all our snacks on my back. The trailer was hard to pull. Hills I could usually ride up with ease were very difficult, and I had to walk up many more than I would have liked.

The first half went well, we rode at a good pace and were enjoying ourselves. Cass and I were nervous about the ride and whether the kids would make it, but being in the open air and seeing the English countryside was a good antidote.

12 kms in and feeling hungry (but good)

After a snack break at the halfway point, the rain set in. The temperature dropped dramatically, and our raincoats were only keeping our top half dry. The hills started increasing (as we expected from our meticulous route planning) and the kids were tiring. We started questioning ourselves. Had we made a terrible mistake?

After a lot of hard pushing, under the dark clouds and heavy rain, we finally reached the last kilometre. We knew this was a continuous uphill climb to our housesit, and we very slowly trudged up feeling tired, uncomfortable and not really enjoying it anymore. We had no choice but to keep going, and much to our incredulity, we finally made it. The kids were amazing, remained positive and were so relieved when we arrived. They nicknamed the last hill ‘Giant’s Hill’ and called it that every time we saw it after that. I told them they were my heroes.

For the time we were away, we only took the kids to the nearest town once as their faith in riding was a bit diminished by the ride up Giant’s Hill in the rain. Cass and I did the trips over the hill to the closest supermarket. With the kids we did small rides down to the creek, or to the nature reserve for a bushwalk, but kept the rides small so they could renew their love of riding.

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You can find secret swings when riding a bike.

When we returned to Taunton it was all downhill without any rain and the kids absolutely loved the ride. We stopped to pick blackberries, look at horses and eat our snacks with beautiful vistas.

When we returned the bikes, the kids were sad to see them go. They lamented it for the next few days. We kept our helmets and other paraphernalia and then hired some more bikes in Cambridge.

We were treated to some lovely weather in Cambridge and cycling was the perfect way to get around (no hills either!). We saw so much more of Cambridge than we would have otherwise, and we were able to ride to the Orchard Tea Gardens in Grantchester, where we drank tea under the apple trees.

A few of my favourite things – tea, apple orchards, sunshine – after a beautiful bike ride.

Now the kids want to ride everywhere, and we hire bikes often. It can be difficult navigating the traffic, and making it all work, so here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way:

  • A strong peloton goes a long way – We ride in single file with one adult up front and one at the back. There’s a number of reasons this works; we are more visible to drivers, the kids feel safe sandwiched between us and we can adjust our speed based on how the kids are going. The one at the front has to navigate and watch for traffic for themselves and the first child, while the one at the back can stay in pace with the slower ones.
  • Teach the kids the road rules while on the road – This seems obvious, but our kids knew the rules in theory before we started. We constantly go over them before we set out, but it is a different thing when they are on the road thinking about steering, pedalling, changing gears and dealing with traffic. It is like everything they know goes out the window. El Chico constantly heads straight into a roundabout without looking for cars, or sometimes even noticing that it is a roundabout. We stop at every corner and wait for everyone to catch up, talk about what we need to do at the corner, then go across in pairs so that we aren’t holding up traffic.
  • It isn’t a money saving venture – For four bikes it sometimes costs more than hiring a car. We don’t have to pay for petrol so it probably comes out even. The benefits outweigh the costs though, as it’s a beautiful way to travel. You are out in the world on a bike, rather than being removed from it inside a car. And your impact on the places you are visiting is diminished.
  • Check your maps – A lot of places have dedicated bike lanes and paths. These are invaluable with the kids because you don’t have to worry about the traffic, you can stop and smell the flowers and go your own pace. Galileo Maps are very accurate when it comes to cycle paths and footpaths, (and can be used offline) and Google Maps has a function where you can show a layer of the dedicated cycle lanes and paths.
  • Gears are best – The kids always find it easier when they have gears. They don’t always use them, and we find it frustrating, but when they have fixies they struggle up the hills.
  • Think about your equipment – Some bike hire shops provide you with lights and locks, but not all of them, so we now travel with lights, locks, helmets and some occy straps.
  • Fuel up – Riding makes the kids hungry (this is good for us because our kids are usually fussy eaters), so we need to have a big stash of healthy snacks in our backpack
  • Bikes + trains = more fun – In our experience, you can take bikes on trains in both England and Spain at no extra cost. This means you can go more places and take your bike with you to ride around at the other end. Many of the Spanish trains have a carriage where you can chain your bike to a dedicated rail. Although a word of caution, we did get in trouble once for trying to take bikes on a long distance train (we were only going to the next stop and didn’t realise it was any different).
  • Water is your elixir – Don’t underestimate how much water you need, especially in hot climates. A good rule of thumb is to have one litre per person per hour of riding.
  • Enjoy it – Riding is such fun so relax, enjoy and explore!
DISCLAIMER: We are not affiliated with any of these towns or attractions and were not paid nor given any free bikes, tours, accommodation or food. We paid for all these journeys with our own money and these are our own opinions. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. 

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.

img_0889

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

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Five things to do with your kids in Burgos

It was not without regret that we boarded our train this morning and left Burgos. The ancient capital of the kingdom of Castille fairly oozes history – from being home to one of Spain’s most popular folk heroes, El Cid, to more recently having the dubious honour of being the capital for General Franco’s ultimately successful 20th century fascist rebellion. It’s a wonderful city and, for a variety of reasons, a fantastic place to visit with kids.

We found the people of Burgos to be overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming, and lightheartedly tolerant of our bumbling attempts to communicate in their mother tongue (Castellano, better known outside of Spain as “Spanish”, originated in the lands of Castilla – Leon and La Mancha). Eating out in Burgos was a particularly pleasant experience, and there were plenty of things we could do with the kids that kept them engaged, enthusiastic and wanting to see, do and know more.

Because of this positive experience, we thought we’d share some of our highlights from Burgos for those of you who might consider bringing your children to visit this wonderful city in the future.


1. Museums
It might sound like I’m taking the easy option by mentioning museums, but there are a couple of truly exceptional ones in Burgos that more than justify their inclusion at the top of this list.

The first one we visited was El Museo del Libro (The Museum of the Book). This small, unassuming institution, laid out over four levels just off the Plaza Mayor, ambitiously seeks to chart the entire history of writing and books – although I noted that there was little mention of anywhere east of Mesopotamia or west of the Iberian Peninsula.

Following the story from Sumerian clay tablets through to the 21st Century and the Kindle, you’ll find a range of examples of how humanity has recorded its thoughts and the influence that books have had on the rise and reformation of western civilisation throughout history. The Museo uses a variety of multimedia and multilingual resources to inform and engage visitors of all ages.

To be honest, I was surprised by just how interesting the kids found the Museo Del Libro, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been, given La Chica’s obsession with reading. We were the only people in the Museo the day we visited, which was both a shame – because it would be great to see such an important subject more well recognised – but also great, because it meant we were able to take our time and discuss the exhibits as loudly and for as long as we wanted. We recommend this museum to anyone wanting to fill an hour or so in Burgos

Museo del Libro Fadrique de Basilea
Travesía del Mercado 3, Burgos
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday,10:00-14:00 & 16:30-20:00
Entry: Adults: 3€, Children <14: Free

The Second museum we visited was a definite highlight – not just of our time in Burgos, but of our trip to Europe so far. El Museo de la Evolucíon Humana (The Museum of Human Evolution) is one of the best natural history museums that we have ever visited, anywhere. Using a range of innovative and highly engaging technologies and storytelling devices, the museum’s installations guide the visitor through the galleries and display spaces outlining the scientific disciplines and techniques used over the years to trace the evolution of the human species.

We all loved it, but it was particularly engaging for the kids, who literally sprinted from one display to the next, impatient to find out more about this fascinating area of scientific investigation.

The Museum was built to underpin the incredible archaeological work done at the nearby World Heritage Listed dig in the Atapuerca Mountains. This is one of the world’s most important sites, in terms of an archaeological record of ancient humans, and it has contributed significantly to our understanding of the evolution of ours and other closely related hominid species. But the museum covers much more than just this one site, with sections on Darwin, the role of fire and much much more to engage and fascinate visitors of all ages.

No trip to Burgos is complete without a visit to this museum. Full. Stop.

Hint: we arrived at 6.45pm and discovered that entry was free after 7pm. Because the museum closes at 8, this only left us an hour to explore the entire institution, which was nowhere near enough time. If you’re thinking of taking advantage of this little work-around, we’d advise you to plan to come to the museum on two, or even better, three consecutive days, so you can take in everything that this incredible place has to offer.

El Museo de la Evolución Humana
Paseo Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos
Opening Hours: Tuesdays to Fridays from 10:00-14:30 PM & 16:30-20:00. Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays & July, August & September 10:00-20:00
Entry: General Admission: 6 €
Children <8: free. Other benefits and concessions are available for a range of visitors – see website for more details.

2. Eating out
We had some great eating experiences in Burgos. The city is renowned in particular for its soft, white sheeps’ milk cheese and morcilla (rice-filled blood pudding), but there’s so much more to this city to justify its title as Spain’s gastronomic capital for 2013. Here are just two suggestions for places to eat:

Acuarium – We discovered this awesome little bar quite by accident one evening while enjoying a paseo through the city centre. Located down a laneway just off the Plaza Mayor, Acuarium drew us in with its sign promising “Free Tapas”. The croquetas that came with our first round of drinks were pretty good, but a couple of minutes later a delivery of food to a neighbouring table really caught our attention. On enquiry, we discovered that they were having piparra en tempura, crispy tempura baby peppers, and we couldn’t resist ordering a plate for ourselves. The tapa was huge, and mouthwateringly delicious, but unfortunately it didn’t suit our kids’ frustratingly conventional tastes. Thankfully, the alitas de pollo (chicken wings), that came soon afterwards brought about a minor miracle, at least in our little circle – zero complaints, even effusive praise, for a meal ordered out in Spain!

Acuarium

This might not sound like much, but we’ve had an incredibly frustrating time with food here in Spain – well, the food hasn’t been frustrating, it’s our children’s unwillingness to try new or “different” foods that’s been doing our heads in. But since Acuarium, we’ve found that they’re beginning to demonstrate a bit more enthusiasm for trying new things (even if chicken wings aren’t all that new).

The service here was also really friendly and professional, and their willingness to tolerate our poorly framed questions about the food was greatly appreciated.

Acuarium
Travesia del Mercado, 9, Burgos (right opposite the entrance to El Museo del Libro, coincidentally)

Another of our memorable eating experiences was had at Viva la Pepa. Mem led us to this cool little bar//cafe, having found it on the vegetarian/vegan search portal Happy Cow. As a non-meat-eater most of the time, she’s been finding eating out in Spain particularly difficult, given this country’s strong focus on the cooking of flesh of every conceivable variety. We’ve found Happy Cow indispensable in finding places that offer a less meat-heavy menu, particularly in larger towns and cities. Viva la Pepa, which backs onto the Plaza outside the Catedral de Burgos, was one of these finds. Mem’s falafel burger was a winner, while they also satisfied my carnivorous inclinations with a meatier offering, and were able to keep the kids happy with their menu infantil and a pair of generous fruit smoothies.

Viva la Pepa
Paseo del Espolón, Nº4 Plaza del Rey San Fernando, Nº6
Burgos

3. Exploring & playing outdoors
If we were to write a book about our current nomadic adventure (and we may well do just that at some point), it could quite justifiably be titled “A Guide to the Parks and Playgrounds of Europe”. If we were to do that, Burgos would warrant almost a whole chapter to itself.

One activity we all thoroughly enjoyed was the walk up to El Castillo (the castle), which sits atop a knoll overlooking the old city. The ridge behind the Castillo is interlaced with a network of paths winding in and out of the pine forests and undergrowth, which proved a real adventure land for the kids. When we got there, the Castillo was unfortunately closed, despite opening hours which would seem to state otherwise. However, just nearby we discovered – wait for it – a playground, next to which was a bar that served cold beer and patatas bravas (amongst other things), so everyone’s needs were satisfied.

Also great fun for these visiting Antipodeans was discovering the numerous storks’ nests – massive structures built on many of the city’s highest towers with no respect for history or eminence.

Storks

Another highlight, from an outdoors perspective, was the Parque de la Isla, which we discovered by following the Camino de Santiago markers along the river, and which also had an “awesome” playground.

4. Eating in
Eating out and discovering new and interesting dishes is one of the most exciting and energising things about travelling. But sometimes, whether it’s because you want to save a few euros, or you can’t face another plate of fried whatevers, you just want to cook something for yourself and have complete control of what’s going into your body, and those of your family.

Up until Burgos, we’d been pretty underwhelmed by the quality of produce available in Spain, particularly in the south. It was all just a bit tired looking and there wasn’t a great deal of variety. Paris, by comparison, was awash with beautiful fruit, vegetables and a thousand other high quality ingredients (the wine, the cheese, the… well, you get the point) – but that’s another story for another time.

Thankfully, in Burgos we rented an Airbnb flat with a functional kitchen (and good knives – the owners also owned a restaurant) and we were able to find some excellent quality ingredients. This meant that Burgos now also carries the title of “Best Homecooked Meal by the Selwoods”. The benefits, for both your physical and mental wellbeing, gained from good quality, fresh vegetables should never be underestimated, and their availability definitely influenced how much we enjoyed our time in Burgos.

One place we chanced upon and which we recommend to anyone visiting Burgos and looking for good quality organic produce (amongst other ingredients) was:
La Tienda Organica (the organic shop)
C/ Antonio Valdés y Basan 1

5. El Camino de Santiago
No post on Burgos would be complete without a mention of the Camino de Santiago. This pilgrim trail, which winds its way from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in the north-west of Spain, dominates Burgos, which is one of the major towns along the route. One gets the impression that the bulk of Burgos’ tourism trade is centred on catering for the needs of the tens of thousands of pilgrims who attempt the Camino every year, and it gives the town much more of a cosmopolitan, international feel than many of its counterparts in other regions of Spain. Shops are filled with paraphernalia, including walking sticks, clothing and other souvenirs marked with scallop shells (the symbol of Santiago – St James the Apostle), while restaurants and hostels advertise special rates for peregrinos (pilgrims).

The camino itself splits into two as it passes through Burgos, and we had a great time looking out for the trail markers – tiles with the scallop shell insignia – that lead the pilgrim through town. Although we’ve only done very small sections so far, the Camino is high on our bucket list of things we want to do before leaving Spain. While you’re in Burgos, however, we recommend a day’s walk out and back along the Camino. You’ll soon find yourself out in the beautiful countryside that surrounds the city, sharing the route with people from every corner of the globe. There’s a real collegial feel to the Camino and you and the kids are bound to meet some interesting characters along the way.

Check out the Wise Pilgrim Guides for some more really good information on the Camino and Burgos.


So that’s just about all we have to say about Burgos. The city treated us incredibly well – we felt welcomed, entertained and well fed, and came away wanting to return to finish off some experiences and find time to check out a number of things we’d wanted to do, but just didn’t get time to this time around.

Logistics

Getting there: Burgos is 2.5 hours from Madrid and 3 hours from San Sebastian by train. If you book far enough in advance it’s a surprisingly cheap journey. Our favourite portal for booking trains in Spain is Trainline.

You can try it through the Renfe website, but we’ve had no luck on that front because they don’t accept payment via Australian (and possibly other nationalities) credit cards, not even our travel money cards (WTF Renfe, I mean seriously!?)

Accommodation: We stayed in a terrific little family apartment sourced through Airbnb.


Have you travelled to Burgos with your family? Have any other hints, tips or general comments on travelling with kids? Feel free to leave a comment below and let’s have a conversation.

For more details on the area see the Lonely Planet guide below (affiliate link):
Spain travel guide - Castilla Y Leon (2.936Mb), 11th Edition Nov 2016 by Lonely Planet
Digital version of Spain travel guide – Castilla Y Leon, 11th Edn Nov 2016 by Lonely Planet

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

Photo Essay #2 – Animals

So when Aunty Lucy heard we were composing photo essays on a certain theme as a means to get the kids to engage in the world around them, she made a request that we spend one day looking for and photographing animals. She’s a zoologist, so it wasn’t out of character at all for her to make such a request which, incidentally, the kids loved.

Ever since, whenever they see something that’s even vaguely animate and has a pulse, they ask if they can take a photo for Aunty Lucy. It’s taken about three weeks, six stops and two international border crossings, but we’ve finally taken a moment to put together our (heavily curated) animalian photo essay, with shots from Cadiz, San Fernando, Barcelona, Paris, Saint-Jean de Luz and Porrua. This is for you Tia Lucia!