When I got the message through HomeExchange (a house swapping site we use) from a family in San Sebastian, Spain asking to do a long summer swap, my first thought was actually “not interested”. Spain wasn’t on my travel bucket list, and honestly, I didn’t know much about it. But then I started looking into the Northern Spanish town in what is called the “Basque country” and became intrigued. Travel sites and bloggers raved about the beautiful beaches, the famous “Pinxos” (pronounced PeenChOs), and the famous pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago that goes right through San Sebastian. What really caught my eye though, was the surfing. Not for me, but for my surf loving husband, that was a carrot I could dangle to convince him of yet another one of my long trip ideas — a whole summer in Spain!
Dave looked at surfing sites and researched where and how he could rent boards. We talked about the places we might want to go throughout the country and how much time we could take off from work, plus how we would manage to also work on the road. We wondered how the kids would do in a European country. Most of our travel to-date was adventure based – Costa Rica (surfing, and ziplining), Mexico (beach, snorkeling etc.), hiking, and biking our way through the Pacific Northwest. I wondered how they would do on a long museum tour, wandering around food markets, and most importantly how they would adapt to the (crazy to us!) meal schedule (dinner starts earliest at 8 pm). (It turns out – they are amazing travelers wherever we go!)
Next on my list was budget – five weeks is a long time. The thing that sold us was being able to use our miles on American to fly from San Diego, CA into Madrid and out of Barcelona. We paid about 100$ a person for fees, and because I booked so early (October, and we left the following July) we got great seats and flight times. OK Flights, check. Next was transportation. It turns out that Spain doesn’t have a great rail system like some other parts of Europe. As I researched it was clear that renting a car would be our best bet. Fortunately, rental cars are fairly inexpensive. Gas however is pricey. You know what else is expensive? Tolls! In Northern Spain, the roads are beautifully paved, but it comes at a cost. I think it was about 11 euros every time we went to visit a nearby beach town from San Sebastian. But I digress…Finally it was time for the fun part of figuring out the route and booking AirBnBs before our two-week stop at the Home Exchange site in San Sebastian.
One tip for budgeting is if you are able to plan in advance, you can book hotels and AirBnB’s a few at a time and then the trip will be nearly paid for by the time you get there. Starting in October I booked about two cities a month, including any museum passes (for example in Barcelona, you should definitely pre-reserve the Sagrada Familia, and in Granada, definitely reserve the Alhambra in advance – they book up). By the time we got to Spain, our travel, hotels and lodging along with all the major sightseeing tours, museums etc. were totally paid for. So we just had to pay for food, and daily expenses that came up.
Starting our trip in Madrid provided a lot of options because its pretty much the center of Spain. We decided to do kind of a spiral looking route and went South to the West and then North to San Sebastian and crossed the whole country again to get to Barcelona:
Madrid -> Toledo -> Granada -> Nerja -> Ronda -> Seville –-> Salamanca -> San Sebastian -> Haro -> Sarvise (Ordessa National Park) -> Barcelona
Quite a few stops were just one night – We spent two nights in Madrid and Seville, and four nights in Barcelona and over two weeks in San Sebastian. Booking AirBnb so early was key. We got some fantastic little places in great locations for great prices. At the end of the trip I was looking to add an extra night in Barcelona and I couldn’t find anything! So, I was really glad we booked everything early.
A quick note about packing for a long trip with kids. Our tactic was to go minimal. Each person could bring one carry on suitcases (we NEVER check luggage when we can help it), and one personal item. The kids both have Camelbak backpacks that are small and a great size for travel. I brought a large tote that fit my ipad, and my macbook air that I needed for work. We also brought plastic water bottles for refilling, snacks, books and coloring supplies, journals and headphones. The way we organized our suitcases was kind of the Marie Kondo style – where you fold and stack everything in a row (vs. piled on top) – so you can easily see what you have and your suitcase stays neat. This is CRITICAL for one night stops. The last thing you want is for a kid to pull everything out looking for what they need. Everyone brought two pairs of shoes – sneakers and sandals – and we all had a hat for sun protection.
So, let the summer in Spain adventure begin! – Over the next few weeks I will be posting our trip city by city.