If it cost the same, what would you rather spend: seven days in San Francisco, or seven days in Madrid? I know what my husband and I chose for our special occasion vacation. Here are my travel tips so you can create special memories abroad with your loved ones too-on a budget and without sacrificing your travel experience.
When it was time to book a trip for our fifth wedding anniversary, my husband and I took the time to research the best option within our budget.
After two months of headache-inducing, torturous research analyzing historical weather data (these Canadians want sun, dammit!), looking at the length of travel time, the total cost and teetering back and forth between San Francisco and various destinations in Europe, we chose Madrid.
Madrid was one of the cheapest options, gave us the most value for money, on a different continent and a city we hadn't visited.
Spending a week in San Francisco for that exact same week would have cost us the same amount. And it's only a two and a half hour flight from us.
With this deal to Madrid, we were flying to a different continent, experiencing a different culture and would have better weather than flying somewhere closer to home. We've gone on long trips before so a 13.5-hour journey to Madrid vs. a 2.5 hour journey to San Francisco wouldn't be an issue.
We only had one week to spare. Could we make Madrid work? Will it feel too rushed? Whenever we've gone to Europe or Asia, we've stayed for a minimum of two to three weeks, never only a week.
Well, here are my tips for travelling to Madrid for seven days on a budget and without feeling rushed:
Search for Travel Promo Coupon Codes Before Booking
After comparison-shopping on various booking sites we came across our package deal for Madrid on Travelocity. We researched the hotel's location, knew it was central and close to transit, read reviews and when we were about to book, my husband typed in Travel Promo Codes for Travelocity into Google and we found a valid one. If you're not carefully looking, these coupon codes can be often missed even on the site itself. Most are sent to subscribers in e-newsletters and even then, how many people hit the delete button on this junk mail.
Tip: Google for a promo code before checking out with your final payment online. We did, saving another $100 on this already awesome deal.
Book Shoulder Season or Off Season
March-May or September-October are good months to travel to Europe. Our anniversary is at the end of October, a usually colder time in northern Europe, but Madrid was unusually warm with busy sidewalk patios and 25-30 C -- perhaps thanks to global warming. Beats the rain in Vancouver.
You may not always be lucky with weather, but what you can count on are less tourists and lower prices.
Slow Down and Stay Put in One Place
I'm not going to lie -- travelling to Europe from North America for only one week can be exhausting. There were some nights where we had trouble sleeping, our luggage didn't make it until the next day and we almost missed our connecting flight.
No matter what your mind is telling you, slow down and stay put in one place. Thinking of spending two days in Madrid, three days in Barcelona and two days in Toledo? Forget about it, no matter what your itchy feet are telling you. We trained ourselves to do this for this particular trip.
You want to get the most out of your trip, I get it -- especially if it's your first time, but rushing through three or four cities in seven days will only leave you with a blurred image of Spain. You will be tired and irritated.
Slow down. Don't overschedule. Although we were thinking of doing a day trip on one of our seven days, we didn't. We were having such a good time exploring Madrid, we stayed put for the whole week.
Focus on Experiences, Not Sights
For a memorable time on a short seven-day long haul travel trip for a special occasion, focus on experiences, not sight seeing.
On our seven-day trip to Madrid, we experienced:
1. A private tapas tour with a local taking us to places we wouldn't have found ourselves.
2. Went to our first live European football game to experience the fan atmosphere in a stadium and watched a second game in bar filled with chanting fans.
3. Felt the heat and passion of flamenco up close and personal in the front row of a small tavern.
4. Rented cruiser bikes and leisurely rode around Parque del Retiro on the afternoon of our anniversary.
5. Relaxed in an underground, candle-lit Hammam, built on top of a century old well, soaking our sore muscles in hot and cold baths.
6. Experienced the "Taste of Madrid" food festival featuring the best of the best tapas in the city. After all, food is a way to understand cultures.
7. Relaxed on outdoor patios in the sunshine, watching the world go by. Or at least, watching Madridelenos walk by.
Experiences are about the feelings and meaning you want out of your trip. Sightseeing is about inanimate things and checking off lists, void of feelings and meaning you want to experience.
Instead of shopping or visiting every single museum or historical building in the city, experiences like taking a cooking class, a language class, watching a dance performance, going on a bike or walking tour of hidden areas and enjoying special events and festivals abroad can make for enriching memories.
Travelling abroad for a short trip, especially for a special occasion, doesn't have to be a daunting task. And you don't have to just settle for the nearest place to you.
With some research, applying a few travel tips and focusing on experiences, you too can have a memorable time with your loved ones.
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