My neighborhood in Madrid, Malasaña
As many of you may or may not know, in mid-July embarked on a three-week trip to Spain and the U.K. in an effort to clear my head, see some new places and some special faces. In true Shannon fashion, I already extended my trip by two weeks and managed not to experience the “I’m not home anxiety” that I see many of my fellow travelers endure. Honestly, I am not in any particular hurry to come home but duty, and my dog, calls. Outside of my life as a producer and a closeted world traveler which makes trips like this possible, in the two weeks leading up to my sojourn I made a variety of choices that keep me connected, saved me much hassle while traveling and allowed me to have some of the best “non-touristy” experiences ever. Even if you don’t have five-weeks to spare, but have a good 10-14 days of holiday coming up here are some steps to help you have a great time in the city of your choice — and do it in your own style.–
Your Destinations, Yourself
In my case I knew I was going to two cities in Spain and one city in the U.K. I also knew that I absolutely hate mass group tours and flying coach class longer than five hours and I like to stay in cool areas and experiment with cooking. Basically, I have my own particular style of living and have never been a big fan of any “pre-arranged” experiences that don’t reflect my life. When traveling, you have to have a good idea of yourself to enjoy what your destination has to offer.
I already had the flying-part locked in: remember when I told you guys about the frequent flyer game? Well, I rolled the dice with my miles and scored a round-trip business/first ticket for about $450 total-a savings of about $1500+. Flying a higher class is absolutely not a priority, but if you have the miles to spare and the will, I highly recommend it. You can (truly) stretch out, relax and enjoy all of the compliments of an international flight: the gratis dop-kits, gourmet menus and the option of doing things your way without worrying about the four other people in your row. Not interested? You can still have a great time in coach, just remember what I said about scoring the best seats (hello exit rows!) on the plane that allow you to have better legroom and access.
So now you have your destination, and your ticket. Let’s say you are going somewhere for more than eight days. Unless you have some great friends to stay with, you will need a place to lay your head. So naturally, you want a hotel or hostel right? Think again.
Hotel vs. Apartment
Eight days is a long time to stay anywhere, and after a long day of sightseeing and shopping, you may not have the energy, or the money to find a place to eat, make a reservation, etc. Also, think about your finances and how much you will spend on breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack … each day. Do you like to cook? Can you do without someone cleaning your bathroom everyday? For any stay longer than four days, try to score a short-stay apartment.
Before choosing your apartment or room, figure out where you want to be. Do you like quiet, more residential neighborhoods? Or prefer to be in the mix of things? Do you like to walk to most places? Every city has its ups and downs and with a little dedication, you can choose the right place for you that is safe and has everything you want. But be prepared for some surprises, in my case, there were prostitutes on the end of my street. I had chosen an eclectic neighborhood in Madrid known for its mix of high and low, with great bars and shopping, very similar to the (pre-Bridge and Tunnel) Meat-Packing District of New York. With anyplace in a transition, you get the good and the bad. I grew to love my working girls, they weren’t loud, gave great directions and knew how to get to the beauty supply store. Bonus!
Choosing The Right Rental for You
Now let’s find your place. For short-stay rentals, I found a great site: Homes For Travellers via a few message boards. Because I have a roommate in New York — and I also like to be the only person sleeping in my bed — apartment swapping was not in may favor, but in most major cities, it is an option. In addition to swapping, try searching Craigslist or your destination’s local website for folks willing to rent or sublet their apartments for short periods.
Making a direct deal is always best, but in my case, the Homes for Travellers company worked the best for me. I scored a great apartment in a great ‘hood (Malasaña/Chueca border) with a full mini-kitchen, living/working area, bathroom and bedroom for about $75 a night. The apartments generally will have amenities — including towels, sheets, cooking utensils, TV/DVD, stereo, internet access, washing machine — but check and double check to be sure before booking. Most require a security deposit up front, and in my case, I was asked to pay the remainder when I arrived. Unlike staying in someone’s apartment where you may feel weird about using certain cups or sitting in certain places, short-term apartments are really what you make of them. Right after “moving” in, my girlfriend and I set out for the nearest market to stock up on the food we don’t like to find like breakfast, lunch and snacks, saving dinners for fun nights out. We saved a few hundred dollars in the process.
Having your own place forces you to forgo some of the luxuries of hotel living, namely you have to do everything yourself. If it is a special event (honeymoon) or you only have a few days, be the princess you are meant to be in that hotel. Order everything, sneak in your own champagne and wear your bathrobe all day. But if you have an extended stay, an apartment is a great alternative. You can always learn a city through it’s markets and discover some new culinary delights. In my case, I now have a fascination with (and full suitcase of) Spanish canned seafood and La Casera water, two things I would have never found in a hotel room. Though I did not love making my own bed, I loved the freedom of being able to remix my own space just the way I like it.
Fly In Style,
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