I LOVE TRAVEL, GRANTED THERE ARE INCONVENIENCES
By Lu Sobredo
I love to travel. And I love writing about our travels. The fact that I was able to travel at all in 2016, after the diagnosis in 2013 of a crippling illness called Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), was truly a miracle. However, I am practical. As a responsible travel writer, I like giving a balanced account of my experience when touring abroad.
I see so much beauty and tasty treats in the nooks and crannies of Spain, Portugal and other European, and Asian regions of the globe we’ve visited. Spain is at the top of our travel destination by a mile. But I do my best to give a balanced perspective. Travel is as joyful as it is stressful. And anyone setting off to go on an adventure or a relaxing journey outside the comfort zone of home must face the reality that there are inconveniences that come with travel.
First, there’s no denying the breathtaking scenery makes me quickly forget the snag we experience just purchasing a ticket for the metro, train or airlines. Despite the many times we have visited Spain, each time can feel like the first time when transacting in another language, a different money form even when the automated systems gives the instructions in English for those of us from the English speaking world. And mind you, even with some familiarity with the Spanish language, it is still daunting for the few seconds it takes to complete the transaction. A face-to- face with a service person at the station or airport, makes it less unpleasant.
But this is not always possible when transacting online. A phone call, even with a staff designated for the English-speaking phone-line had not helped us in this trip when trying to purchase tickets for the speed train. So, when this happens, after exhausting our own means to reach the end goal to no avail, we call on local friends for help. Access to such special resource is not true of most travelers. Thus, my wish to share information with would-be-travelers.
I won’t categorize as inconvenient, the added requirement of getting a COVID test within 72 hours of your departure from the U.S. Some entry ports like Lisbon, Portugal require it. Spain only requires proof of vaccination as of our Autumn 2021 travel.
The rates of COVID infections reported within 28 days as of today, October 29, 2021, Portugal is at number 66 and Spain is at 38 while the U.S. is number one; not the category the U.S. would rather be known for being at number one. The U.S. requires a negative COVID test when returning from a trip abroad. It might be an added step, but a necessary one for countries requiring it as part of the health protocol essential in protecting the larger population. I just wished, the rest of my country mates would opt for vaccination and be more diligent in wearing masks as they do in Spain and Portugal and elsewhere.
So, here are the points that I consider inconvenient or stressful when traveling other countries, even our beloved Spain.
1. Buying tickets at metro or train stations. This can be a challenge as I alluded above. If staying for more than a few days and needing frequent rides on the train or metro, purchase enough on what card or cards so you’re not dealing with the issue each time you need to get on the public transport. You can use bank card or cash.
2. Crowded. I appreciate Europe’s transportation network. Yet, trains at central points, like Atocha Station in Madrid where most of these wonderful public transportations converge, it can get overwhelmingly crowded making social distancing a challenge. Moreover, this can get uncomfortable when you’re dragging a suitcase. The passengers are mostly polite and wait their turn. And during this pandemic time in 2021, Spain has been effectively compliant in mask-wearing mask and vaccination.
At this writing, COVID vaccination in Spain is at 80% and counting. (Portugal is at 90%).
After the many times we have been in Madrid, we have pretty much figured out where to go, where to stand to wait for the train going to our destination. But I recommend asking at the information desk just to make sure. It is a long walk from one platform to another. And walking, taking escalators or elevator if one is available, is what I do sparingly because of my RA.
3. When a taxi driver solely speaks Spanish could be frustrating if you let it. This might not affect everyone. My husband and I do pretty well with our limited yet passable Spanish. Ever since I’ve expanded my Spanish vocabulary and language-comprehension, we have had very little problem. However, when needing to give complicated instructions or when needing to understand what the driver is asking, it could be a problem at times. Be prepared to show the address of the hotel on your phone or in writing. When ordering a taxi for your next ride, have the hotel staff explain to the driver where you’re going, and you should be fine.
4. Jet-lag when traveling from a different time zone is an inconvenience, but manageable. Adjustment takes discipline. When at daylight, be engaged in activities to stay awake. Otherwise, if you have time to spare in a location, take a rest. You’ll enjoy yourself more when feeling refreshed.
5. Ordering food. If you’re not used to the food in Spain, it is safe to order sandwiches. But so many more delicious dishes abound, just be willing to try. And feel free to venture away from the city center or tourist area and find great food. If insisting on staying in the city center, check out my blog to help find some great places to eat. Top Ten Restaurants We Love in Spain.
6. Weather could be an inconvenience unless you prepare well. Remember, it is hot in the summer and cold in winter in Madrid. Those seeking warm weather opt for Southern Spain. We like cool weather, and we don’t mind the rain, so we love heading North. Dress accordingly. And carry and compressible rain gear.
7. Money Exchange Rates. It’s always good to be aware of your finances. Although I must say, when shopping at a super mercado in Spain for food and other essential supplies could tide you over between meals at restaurants especially if you have a fridge in your hotel. Prices are quite reasonable, even less expensive than in the U.S. The exchange rates vary throughout the year.
A few summers ago, the exchange rate harmed our pocketbooks by 30%. Some U.S. bankcard charge added fees, so be wary about that. We tend to use bank cards for medium to large items and save the cash. I tend to use cash at small establishments or outdoor vendors.
8. Reticence. If you start off reticent in a new place, don’t worry. It’s good to be cautious but don’t let it paralyze you and take away the possibility of adventure and fun. Explore. Hire a ride to take you to places not easily walkable or reachable by public transportation. Always ask for a cost estimate. Ask for an English-speaking driver or guide. It will be worth the splurge.
There are others I could add to the list and you might have other forms of discomfort you have experienced in your past travels in other places that may or may not apply when traveling the Iberian Peninsula. Feel free to add to COMMENTS. Awareness of such is wise, but don’t dwell on them to the point of ruining what should be a glorious time.
My hope is that knowing the inconveniences one typically encounters when traveling even a first-world country would help the traveler to anticipate and accept the reality and not be hampered by them.
When the train is not crowded.
When the train is starting to get crowded.
This was a quick jaunt to the scenic and historic city of Toledo.
A stop at Santo Tome for marzipan treats!
For now, please comply with health protocols, stretch the value of money saved for travels by coming to Spain or other destinations. In as much as I don’t have a bucket list, don’t let your bucket list fill up before you decide to update your passport and buy your plane tickets for a dream destination.
Find my latest blog on traveling to Barcelona in 2021. It could help you navigate travel in 2022: So, You Want to Visit Barcelona.
Essay ©Lu Sobredo
Photo ©James Sobredo and Lu Sobredo
Spain in Autumn 2021