Before I even headed into 2017, I knew I wanted to travel to Spain that year. I think it was the combo of never making it there when I studied abroad + lots of friends traveling there recently and loving it + my old neighbor living in Madrid and telling me to come visit her whenever I wanted. So I mentally committed to making that trip happen, no matter what it took. I even (symbolically and purposefully) celebrated Spain's New Year's on Dec 31st (3pm my time) heading into 2017 at my friend's place on Balboa who hosts a big NYE party every year to ring in the Spanish New Year (her family is from there). I am nothing if not committed to my commitments.
The plans waned at times throughout the year when I couldn't find anyone to go with me, and when I considered the cost of traveling alone. But luckily I have friends who push and encourage me in all the right ways, and two conversations I had in particular really stuck with me. One girlfriend who had traveled to Spain several times reminded me that "you never regret the money spent on travel and experiences." And another girlfriend who has traveled alone internationally and knows the value of a solid "Eat, Pray, Love" pilgrimage practically shook me and said, "You HAVE to go on this trip. If you're waiting for your sign, let this be it." I probably owe this trip to a lot of people, but those two in particular really stand out to me. (I'm looking at you Anna and Katy, thank you both).
From there, the planning began. Luckily I had a decent amount of credit card points to use (Chase Sapphire Reserve FTW), so I was able to book my roundtrip flight and 2 hotel nights in Barcelona through that. I decided to start in Madrid (where my friend was living), and then head to San Sebastian and Barcelona after that, and between the credit card points and my generous friend letting me stay with her in Madrid, the trip ended up being relatively affordable overall. I wanted to document this trip here partially for the few travel tips I have, partially to catalog some of my favorite pictures, but mostly to share my experience of traveling alone, and how I believe it is truly one of the greatest gifts you could ever give yourself. Also I became obsessed with making highlight reel videos while I was there and figured I could share my (very amateur) video-making tips as well. Let's start with Madrid:
I feel bad saying this, but out of all the cities I was going to, I was probably looking forward to Madrid the least (minus getting to see my friend Becca). It just had never been high on my list of places to visit for some reason, but I was completely blown away by how much I loved it. It was clean and beautiful and reminded me of Rome (my most favorite city) with a dash of London thrown in too. I loved the big city feel mixed with the culture, the big parks, and it didn't hurt that the weather was perfect when I was there too (late September). One of my favorite parts was using the electric bikes to get around the city (we used Becca's bike card for that), it made it so easy to get see lots of places quickly and was so fun too. Another highlight was staying out till 7am one of the nights, something I've always wanted to do, but just can never seem to make happen in the states (where are the places for the late night people to hang??). My favorite places/experiences in Madrid were: riding around Retiro Park in the fall - the leaves were so, so gorgeous, stumbling across the incredible "Guernica" painting by Picasso in the Reina Sofia Museum, and cheese and olive and wine tasting in the Market of San Miguel (pictured up above). I truly fell in love with Madrid and would absolutely love to go back someday. Thank you, thank you for having me Becca!
Next stop was San Sebastian! This city would have never been on my radar if I didn't have multiple friends tell me how in love with this place they were. And I'm so glad I listened because this city really was magical. I loved the small feel to the town, the huge beach that bordered it, and the big hill you could hike up for the most beautiful views and sunsets. I know there was so much there I still didn't even get to see as well. My 3 days spent there were also some of my favorites because of the incredible feeling of being completely on my own. There was something so exhilarating about being half way around the world from almost everyone I knew - no one knew where I was or could reach me if they tried. With no service when I was out and about, there was no temptation to mindlessly scan through instagram stories, no questions about who was or wasn't texting me, no ability to reach out to someone even if I wanted to. It felt so luxurious to essentially "go back in time" to how life used to be before smart phones - when you left your home and got to be completely untethered to anything except what was currently happening right around you. One of my favorite moments of soaking in that feeling was in a back corner of a pinxto bar (what they call their tapas bars in San Sebastian) having my dinner just me and my book and feeling complete bliss for where I was and what I was getting to do. I'll never forget that night. There's a picture of that meal a couple photos down.
Rainbow tree! Rainbows ended up being a really special theme for me throughout this trip, see if you can find the rainbow images hidden throughout this post ;)
This photo and the several down below are from my very favorite day there. It was basically a day-long date I took myself on where I had time to rest and reflect and soak up so much beauty that got to be just for me. It really was the best. That night I bought some wine and snacks and took them up the hill to watch the sunset and then I found this little bar nestled in the hill a little higher where I was told to order a gin and tonic and I got to watch the rest of the sunset from up there. I was in heaven.
I made friends! People from Barcelona and Lisbon that were in town for the big food festival that happens once a year in San Sebastian. I ate at this restaurant thanks to the recommendation of friends and my Airbnb host (it's called Bar Nestor) and they only have a few menu options and are known for their tortillas (I didn't make it there early enough to get one, they run out quickly) and their steaks. Would highly recommend, and recommend you get there right when they open for dinner.
Before I went to Spain, I knew I wanted to ask my girlfriend living in Madrid how she made her awesome videos for every city she traveled to over there. So right when I got there, she showed me all her secrets and I became obsessed with gathering clips for my Spain "highlight reels" that I wanted to make. While the videos I made leave much to be desired, it was so fun to learn something new and to have a different kind of memento than just photos for once. And I'm excited to hopefully keep getting better at these! I think I actually like the video I made for Madrid better, but I shot it vertically knowing I'd want to post it on my Instagram that way, instead of shooting it horizontally like a proper video. So I made an effort to film horizontal clips when I was in San Sebastian, but it's also hard to make a fun-looking video when you're all alone haha. Having friends in the other video helped ;) Here's the app I used and just a few tips to keep in mind when shooting:
- I followed my friend's suggestion and got the Videoshop app. It's $2 and super easy to use.
- If you're hoping to publish the video online - YouTube, Vimeo, blogs, etc., you'll want to shoot your footage horizontally so it can be full screen. Kind of annoying to remember to do that when we're used to shooting everything vertically on our phones, but you start to get the hang of it.
- You only need short little clips of things! Honestly the shorter the better. The app will help you trim clips down, but I found that just a few seconds worth of a scene was enough and ended up working the best.
- It's awkward to have yourself in shots, but sometimes it's nice to have a human face in there rather than just scenery clips.
- I could probably stand to do less "panning" with my shots. My skills clearly could use some work, but I think aiming to keep the shot steady and with smaller movements will yield better results.
Last stop was Barcelona! This city has so much to offer so I feel like I barely scratched the surface in the two days I was there. And for the future, I would probably want to come back here with friends so I could feel a little safer exploring and going out at night (neither of which I did that much to try to be safe on my own). I loved my hotel - Hotel Midmost - and felt like it was a good call for me to stay in a hotel as opposed to an Airbnb in this city. Backtracking to San Sebastian, there I chose to stay at an Airbnb with a host couple (this one!) and was happy with that decision as well. They were lovely and hospitable and helped give me wonderful recommendations for my time there. Here are some of my highlights and recommendations from Barcelona:
- My friend Katrina mentioned that I should go and watch the sunrise over the water while I was there since here we only get to see the sun SET over the water over here in CA. I had actually met someone there who wanted to go with me and we made our way to the beach bright and early and saw the sun rise over the ocean and it was really special. So glad I got a pretty, clear morning that day.
- I knew I wanted to see La Sagrada Familia cathedral while I was there, and I'm so glad I had met up with some acquaintances who told me I needed to buy my tickets ahead of time and also encouraged me to purchase the audio tour as well. Neither of which I would have done on my own and was so grateful I did! I wouldn't have gotten in the next day (tickets sell out) and learning about all the intricate historical details and symbolism of that beautiful church was incredible. I took notes throughout it and teared up multiple times. Definitely worth the extra money.
- My last night there I was exhausted after such a long day, but I knew I wanted to celebrate so I got myself together, got dressed up, and took myself out for Italian food (literally all I wanted for most of the trip haha) and it was such a sweet way to wrap up my time there.
I could write for days about this trip, but I'll end with this: I am so glad I said YES to something my heart was telling me to do because it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. In a world where we constantly feel the need to connect, share and publish (or at least I do), taking the time to step back, be still, and soak up a moment or a day or a feeling just for YOU is such a special gift. I left this trip feeling empowered that I could navigate a foreign country all by myself, inspired and excited by seeing so many beautiful new spots all at once, filled up from taking care of myself, and incredibly loved by a God who showered me with rainbows and beauty everywhere I went. If you've never thought to travel alone somewhere - be it near or far - may I be the one to highly, highly recommend it. Cheers to this beautiful world, and to nurturing one of the most sacred relationships we get to be in - the one with ourselves. Already planning and looking forward to my next solo adventure ;)