Spain, the healthiest country in Europe (¿?), on a shoestring

A massive release of data published this week in the medical journal Lancet brands Spain as the healthiest country in Europe. The data was collected over a 20 year period and studied 187 countries around the globe and focused on a number of lifestyle factors,concluding that, with an average of 70.9 years of healthy living and a life expectancy of 81.4 years, Spain deserved first price.

Given the financial and political turmoil the country is in at the moment, most people will not bet a dime on this ranking. Surely the stress brought on by unemployment, corruption and financial bankruptcy have to have a negative effect on the health of the population. Perhaps, but according to Lancet, no more than in any other countries: the factors that redeem Spain seem to be powerful and have a very important impact on people´s lives and longevity – healthy eating, warmer climate and more walking. But the question is, are these enough when a lot of people suffer from constant stress and disatisfaction?

The Butcher

Mercat de la Boquería, Barcelona

Those questions aside (not the topic for this forum but you can refer to my article Evited, in debt and unemployed), Spain can certainly do with some positive branding, at many levels.

Spain’s reputation as one of Europe’s more affordable tourist destinations suffered quite a serious blow in 1999 when the country adopted the euro as its official currency and the conversion rates from legacy European currencies were deliberately pegged to try to create rough parity with the dollar. The intention was to have one euro equal approximately one dollar or 100 yen to make Spain considerably cheaper for tourists to visit.

Pamplona, SpainImage by Gemma Concellon

Pamplona, Spain
Image by Gemma Concellon

But that was not the case until the last couple of years. Spain is only now regaining its crown as the cheapest European holiday destination after years of increaments in the price of goods and services offered to tourists.

And although many might say the Post Office Holiday Costs Barometer is hardly an accurate or reliable measure, the numbers of its latest survey do show that  Spain is back on the podium of cheap destinations in 2013. The eight items studied by the barometer costed in Spain a total of £36.14 (and that included an evening meal with drinks),  half the cost of 21 other destinations and a quarter the cost in Australia and South Korea, the most expensive countries surveyed.

Croquetas in Barcelona - Delicious

That´s really not very good news for the local bar owner who has to lower its prices, but certainly good news for us, budget travellers, because now the vibrant spanish cities, the wilder north coast, its fabulous cuisine and superb national parks are more affordable for us than for the past few years. And ultimately, even the presence of visitors on a shoestring like us does contribute to the creation of jobs (albeit temporary). So, let´s get ourselves and spread some much-needed cheer while making the most of our dollar. How?

How do we stretch our dollar in Spain?

1. Flexible travel dates

If you are flexible with your travel dates you´ve already saved yourself some monies both in flights and in accommodation options. Spain’s high season runs from mid-July to mid-September, but the prices tend to rise significantly as early as June. Thanks to the great weather in regions like Andalucia and the Mediterranean coasts,  it’s still possible to visit during  the May or October “off-season” and be guaranteed plenty of sunshine.

In order to survive in these tough times, even the luxury hotels are offering great packages during the off months,  so if your travel dates are flexible, it’s possible to avail yourself of some great bargains.

May is a particularly beautiful month. Summer is around the corner and you can feel  the pent-up excitement and party vibes. The days are long and the sun is warm but not to the extreme of preventing you to enjoy an afternoon of sightseeing. Airfares during this month and Also airfare during this month is cheaper.

“...de paseo por la Subbética cordobesa...” (IX) para frederickstudio # EXPLORE (* E2))

2. Out of the box accommodation

Just like I explained in the Out of the box accommodation in Japan, sometimes, particularly if you are not travelling with children and you don´t mind experimenting a little, there are accommodation options that can save you some serious cash. Fortunately, and thanks to the Internet and pages like Airbnb, there are some very affordable alternatives like this studio in the very centre of the city of Barcelona for approximately €30-40 a night:

Barcelona accomodation in Airbnb: https://es.airbnb.com/rooms/605906

Barcelona accommodation in Airbnb: https://es.airbnb.com/rooms/605906

Couch surfing is another new option. Get yourself registered with Couchsurfing.org and they´ll help you find a verified host willing to let you surf in their couch or bed for a minimal cost or even for free.

 3. Culinary delights prepared at home with local produce

Having a kitchen is definitely an added bonus. Although enjoying the breakfast or lunch atmosphere in one of the many cafeterías, tapas bars or restaurants is a must, doing it every day could add up. So, why not go to the many local markets or supermarkets (another exciting experience on its own) and assort yourself with some of the local produce and cook it in your apartment or pack up a picnic to take to the beach or to a park? You´ll be surprised how much you can save yourself without having to give up the many delights of that very healthy mediterranean diet.  Alcohol is extremely cheap if bought in most supermarkets,  with a reasonably good bottle of Rioja costing around €6-8.  And remember, you´ll find a public fountain with potable water in most parks and many major streets, so don´t waste your money on bottled water or soft drinks.

Busy Barcelona market

But by all means go out there and enjoy the many street food stalls or local restaurants Spain has to offer. Often you will find that the street stalls and small, tucked away restaurants are frequented by locals rather than tourists. This is because they are more often than not tasty, budget friendly and the service is more personal to boot too. There are still some great gems and you can find fantastic ¨menú¨restaurants that offer three course meals for around €9-10. Have lunch in one of those and you´ll be full for the rest of the day. I always am (but then again, I´m always full in Spain, my stomach is no longer used to the very generous portions in most eateries!)

4. Save on transport

The bus may be the most inexpensive way to travel from city to city, followed by the train. If you take the train, you may be able to get the discounts if you buy your tickets on the Internet as long as you book them 62 days in advance. Check the Renfe site (in English) for further information.

Transport in the major Spanish cities is excellent and not very costly.  In Barcelona, for instance, you can buy a  t10 ticket which costs €9.95 and entitles you 10 individual trips on any of the methods of transportation in the city (metro, tram, bus, etc), including from the airport to central Barcelona.

But most cities are best explored walking. There are so many corners to turn, hidden alleys, monuments, fountains, unique stores, bars, people, colours, smells… So, to ensure you savour it all and don´t miss anything, put those walking shoes on and pound the old pavements. The cities are generally not too large and can be explored on foot without a problem.

5. Free sightseeing and passes

Most tourist attractions are quite affordable but the majority also enjoys a discounted price at specific times or a free day. The Prado Museum in Madrid, for example, has free entries at certain times on the evening.

Once in Spain, take advantage of discount offers coming from your credit and privilege cards, travel agency, club and mileage memberships and even your hotel stay. Often times, you can get cheap or even free entries to museums and other tourist attractions in different Spanish cities through these options.

You can also buy discount cards in Spain, which is quite beneficial to tourists wanting to do a lot and buy a lot during their travel. Major city passes usually include discounts on admissions into several major museums and attractions and include transportation around the city itself. City passes are available in all major cities, such as Seville, Madrid and Barcelona.