Here are a few tips that really helped me cut costs and become part of the Spanish culture. If anyone would like more specific tips about studying in Madrid such as transportation or area recommendations please feel free to reach out.
1. Do your research and plan ahead (traveling).
This should go almost without saying but as the semester went on I found myself becoming very lazy with planning trips and excursions which ended up costing me. Fight prices can vary by tens if not hundreds of dollars depending on when and where you’re going. Most major tourist hubs have busy months in which flights are also increased. It is also very easy to get creative with your travel plans in order to save money. Buses and trains connecting cities are usually under $30 round-trip. My friends and I used this for our trip to Italy since it was $100 cheaper for us to fly into Pisa and take a train to Florence than to just fly into Florence. Plus, we got to see an extra city! The research is almost as important, there are so many activities and sights to see that it is very easy to just get sucked into going to just the tourist attractions. Booking these activities and flights ahead of time also takes away a lot of stress when you’re on the trip and allows you to fully enjoy the experience.
2. Don’t always go out in Sol
Sol is Madrid’s main downtown area, in fact its so central that all of Madrid’s roads start at a point in Sol called “kilometro cero”. If you’re really trying to embrace the Spanish culture and become a local this tip is for you. At the beginning of the semester one of my goal was to become a regular at a local restaurant or cafe. This is one goal that I was unable to accomplish, and I regret it. While Sol is a beautiful part of the city (especially on Christmas), the restaurants and bars can get crowded at night. Within a 20-minute Metro ride of sol there are countless towns, all of them with their own cultural twist. For example, the area that I live in is called Lavapiés and each year they host a tapas and music festival in October called “Tapapiés” where all of the restaurants and bars in our area put out their best food and live music for a month.
3. Don’t go out as much as you can.
Madrid’s nightlife is some of the best of the world and is a must-see experience while here. However, it is very easy to get sucked into the club scene and start losing the most important asset while abroad: sleep. Adding traveling and an early class or two and you’re going to start walking around like a zombie. It also is no fun to go back out when you are barely awake. The Spanish siesta is key to catch up on some shut eye, especially since almost everything is closed during that time anyway. Since we’re only here for a short time, it’s important to maximize the amount of stuff you can see, which you won’t be able to if your head is stuck in bed.
4. Talk to people
Some of my favorite moments that I’ve experienced abroad have been the conversations I’ve had with locals and internationals while in Spain. I’ve come to find most Spaniards very friendly and outgoing which is huge when living in a new city. I mentioned in an earlier blog post that Spaniards are less consumeristic than Americans from what I have witnessed which means there are way more groups talking and way less groups with phones in their hands. Some highlights have been talking to someone who recently escaped Venezuela, a bassist on tour with a famous singer and a very funny pool player.