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Backpacking for the First Time: Madrid, Ibiza, Barcelona, Paris

This is how I started off on an adventure of a life time, with no clue how to do it.

After years of dreaming and saving money, I was finally able to take a backpacking trip to Europe. Wanting to do it freely and without restrictions, my boyfriend Gabe and I got a two-month rail pass and jotted down places we wanted to go. There was a plan in order, but no true dates were attached.

Pre-gaming

IMG_4335Backpacks, backpacks, backpacks – we needed a backpack! It had to hold enough things to work with for two months but be small enough to take as a carry-on in case we took flights within Europe. After a lot of Googling and scavenging at Bass Pro Shops, the bags were either too uncomfortable or just too big. But the perfect ones finally found us: two Northface bags, one men’s black 45-liter and a women’s pinkish 50-liter. Even though pink isn’t my color of choice, it fit perfectly. We said yes to the bags.

As I said before, we got a train pass. Why? For two 19 year-olds renting a car would be very expensive, not to mention that driving on the left side of the road in the UK and using automatic shift made it nearly impossible. Trains in Europe can be very cheap or up to about €300. Considering we didn’t know where we wanted to go or when, we would more than likely buy our train tickets last minute, so a rail pass was our best bet. There are two rail passes for the EU (not valid in the UK). If you’re European or live in Europe, you can get an Interrail, and if you’re from just about anywhere else, you get a Eurail. It’s slightly more expensive, but it works the same way. They have different plans for different prices, but we got the 2-month unlimited pass. For all future travelers, be warned: Unlimited does not truly mean unlimited. If it’s a high-speed or out-of-country train, more often than not, you must make a reservation with a fee.

Madrid, Spain

Arriving there in the morning with not much quality sleep and jet-lag, we did the worst and best thing travelers could have done: We slept all day. We only spent one super great day in Madrid, and we “explored” the town – AKA, hunted down a Northface jacket to fight off the winter weather. (Tip: Always check the weather before you go anywhere.) We also went to the Museo Del Prado, a top museum that contains a lot of my personal favorite Goya pieces.

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Ibiza, Spain

Ibiza is known as Spain’s party island, and even during off-season, it did not disappoint. We went during the week before Europe’s summer really started. When we got there, our taxi driver said “You’re not going to find parties; there is only one club opened.” But when we got to our hotel in Saint Antoni, the reception steered us just a few blocks down. Less than a 5-minute walk away, there were clubs popping with youth. It’s formatted as a long street consisting of only pubs, bars, clubs, and late night fast food. That being said, bar hopping is a big thing there. The better clubs are at the end of the street with the weaker bars in the front, but don’t just skip out on the weaker bars – they have better priced drinks. Each bar has its own theme (RNB, pop, EDM, etc.), so going to the one with the music you like makes all the difference. However, during my time there, I did not find a more rock/alternative club/bar. This might just be due to low season, or maybe electronic music just rules Ibiza.

However, Ibiza is more than that. Yes, it has great headliner shows just about every weekend of summer and fantastic clubs and youth, but it’s also gorgeous. Take the time to go to the coast and just look out at the ocean to watch the sunset.

Barcelona, Spain

This is the land of architect Antoni Gaudí, with his most famous yet incomplete work being the Sagrada Familia, a massive Catholic church. Gaudí has a very unique style of architecture that makes his works very distinctive and easy to identify. He can make a building looking wobbly yet organic, colorful on the outside and not just on the inside. With fantastic detail and the use of trencadis, Gaudí’s own technique of using ceramic pieces, Gaudí’s design is incredible.

Beyond those great sites of totally unusual and glorious architecture, there is La Rambla, a street splitting El Gòtic and El Raval. It has many flower shops and human statues that give the place life. Going down this road and visiting the architecture of both sides is truly breathtaking and a must-do in Barcelona.

Barcelona also has a whole Olympic town called Camp Nou, and if you’re into football (soccer), visiting the Barcelona stadium is a must.

Food Recommendations 

Spain has a thing called “tapas“, and it’s very common. Essentially, tapas are an appetizer portion of a food of your choosing. More traditionally, it’s seafood, but it can be anything, and I really mean anything. Gabe, for example, got a mini plate of steak and fries – anything in a small appetizer portion is a tapa. In addition to that, there’s a calamari sandwich typical to Spain.

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Hostel Recommendations

Saint Jordi Rock Hostel is probably the best hostel we’ve been in all month. It is very clean, comfortable, has good lockers, free wi-fi, and a free pub crawl event every night. The only issue is if you want to sleep before 4am, this may not be for you – when people come back from the pub crawl, it can get pretty noisy. If you go to any of the Saint Jordi Hostels and many other hostels all over Europe, make sure to check their official site before booking on any generic booking site. There’s often a reduced booking price straight through the hostel’s site.

Paris, France

I had been to Paris a few years ago, and in comparison to then, a lot has changed. The terrorist attacks have definitely affected the city. There are now armed men almost everywhere in the center city. It’s not an overwhelmingly scary amount, but it’s definitely noticeable.

Paris has an abundance of great museums – too many to even talk about. Stick to one that has the art you’re most interested in, since there are a lot admissions fees if you’re not one of the lucky nationalities or under 18. However, IF you go to the Louvre, which I highly recommend, do not cheap out on the audio guide. The audio guide is on a Nintendo DS and had a GPS function. I cannot stress enough how useful that is in a museum this large, not to mention getting audio lessons to know more about what you are looking at is priceless.

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All in all, the first 2 countries we visited were great. We shared many laughs and fun times, lots of mistakes, lots of great accomplishments, beautiful sites, and fantastic culture. And there’s still a lot more to see. (And hopefully, we get a hang of the trains – we’ve missed 5 already.)

Photos and Story By Gabriela Barbieri


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