16 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Spain
16 Things you should be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Spain
Food & Drink
One thing that was really hard to get used to while backpacking and hitch-hiking in Spain were their eating habits. We normally start hitch-hiking around 10.00-11.00, get a light snack during the day and have some proper food when we arrive in our destination around 17.00-19.00. However, in Spain it’s really difficult to find any restaurants or tapas bars open outside their customary mealtimes. So if you don’t want to hitch-hike on an empty stomach, consider:
1) having a solid early breakfast (before 10.00 a.m.)
2) eating a snack around 1.30 – 4.00 p.m.
3) having dinner around 8.30 – 11.30 p.m.
The cheapest hot dishes are platos combinados which can vary and consist of usually three/four of the following components: chips, pork chops, fried eggs, fried fish, croquettes, burgers, salads, cordon bleus and mashed potatoes. You can find them almost everywhere and they cost between 5.50€ – 7.00€.
If you hitch-hike around Castile and León, Andalusia or Castile La Mancha you can often get a free tapa (snack) on top of your drink, so if you’re budget is running low, consider killing two birds with one stone.
You should also know that it’s common for Spanish bars and restaurants to charge up to 20% more if you are sitting outside (on the so-called terraza). So bear that in mind if you’re on a tight budget, as not everywhere would they make it obvious but you’d still be charged extra at the end of your meal.
If you want to enjoy alcohol late at night, either go to a bar or buy your booze early as it’s illegal in Spain to sell alcohol after 10 p.m. Some places are stricter than others but we found buying alcohol at night generally difficult outside Barcelona and Madrid.
If CouchSurfing fails you (as we’ve found that in many places in Spain people are fed up with it and not that keen on hosting), the cheapest accommodation alternative are campsites which are usually well-organised and the majority of them have swimming pools. For two people and a tent you are likely to pay between 10-18€/ night.
The only thing cheaper than campsites are refugios or albergues de peregrinos (pilgrims’ hostels) on the Camino de Santiago route. In order to use them, you need to have a Credencial (pilgrim’s passport), which you can buy from a Spanish tourist agency or a church on route and every time you stay in a pilgrim’s hostel they will stamp it for you.
Surprisingly, outside the big tourist cities, there are not many cheap accommodation options, so it’s a good idea to have you own tent or be prepared to sleep in the bushes.
You should be aware that Spain is not as homogenous in terms of weather as one may think. It’s not always sunny and scorching hot. Hitch-hiking across the whole country showed us that the north (Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country, Navarre and the mountains of Aragon) is very changeable, humid and rainy, so be prepared that you won’t always be able to camp and you should have some waterproof clothes with you.
The middle part of Spain (Castile and León, La Rioja, Madrid, Castile – La Mancha, Valencia, southern part of Aragon and Catalonia) has very pleasant weather and you can count on sun most days of the year.
The south of Spain (Andalucía, Murcia, Extremadura) can be unbearably hot, especially in summer, which might reduce the time you’d normally spend on the road.
Have a look at this handy climate graph for more details:
Weather in particular Spanish regions
Average temperature in oC.
Average sunlight hours per day (useful when you plan your hitch-hiking itinerary)
Concept of time in Spain
We’ve been living in Spain for three years now and have travelled across the country extensively, and this experience taught us that the notion of time in Spain can be quite different to the northern/eastern European one.
First of all, be aware that nightlife doesn’t start here until at least 10 p.m. and that’s a very early start. If you want to go clubbing, in general people enter the club no sooner than 12.30 – 1 a.m. If you want to have dinner with friends, have a late lunch as you won’t be dining before 10 p.m.
Besides, in Spain hardly anyone arrives on time. It’s alright to be even 30min late. So if you have arranged to meet your Spanish Couchsurfing host bear this in mind and don’t walk away if he/she doesn’t arrive on time!
During a siesta, which in Spain can happen between 2-5 p.m, most shops and businesses are closed. At the beginning of our stay we found this really annoying as that’s exactly the time when you’re out and about, exploring the city. We hadn’t really appreciated a siesta until we visited Andalucía, where the unbearable heat prevents you from doing anything. There we actually finally understood the beneficial and life-saving power of a siesta!
In Spain the weekend starts early. Most businesses usually finish on Friday in the early afternoon (2-3 p.m), so be prepared that you won’t be able to do anything official at that time.
Also, banks don’t really work that hard in Spain. If you want to visit a bank, do it between 8am and 2 pm, as outside these times they are normally shut. ATMs are open 24h, though.
I’d say Spain is generally a safe country and during our hitch-hiking trip as well as during our everyday life we haven’t had any bad experiences. However, due to the constant influx of tourists, be careful with your belongings as pick-pocketing is a plague in major Spanish cities.
If you are in Barcelona, stay away from the district of Raval late at night and don’t be too showy with your valuable possessions. Follow your common sense and you should be safe.
It is important to note that not all native citizens of Spain call themselves “Spanish”. While almost 75% of the population is Castilian-Spanish, almost 17% are Catalan (they speak Catalan which is a language quite distinct from Spanish), 6% are Galician and 1.6% are Basque. It is essential to bear this in mind, especially if you are going to visit Catalonia, Galicia or the Basque country. Obviously not everyone who belongs to these minority ethnic groups is a nationalist but such sentiments are not uncommon, so be careful who you call “Spanish”.
written by: Ania