Women Who Travel Solo: Solo Travel in Spain with Michelle Philippon
In today’s Women Who Travel Solo, former expat Michelle Philippon returns to Spain for the first time to celebrate her 30th birthday and shares stories from Madrid, Barcelona and Seville.
How did you get started traveling?
When I was a kid, I traveled a lot with my family around the United States. Then, when I was 16, I ventured outside the country for the first time on a mission trip to Mexico. But I think I really got the travel bug my junior year of college, when I studied abroad in England.
Why did you decide to take a solo trip to Spain?
I was turning 30 and having somewhat of a crisis, so I figured I might as well blow a bunch of cash and do something reasonably crazy. I’d spent a year in Spain before (with the lovely Lauren Salisbury, of course), still had friends there, and really wanted to go back for a visit, so Spain seemed like a good idea. While I knew I would spend some time in Madrid (where my friends were), I wanted to use this time to travel to other parts of Spain I’d never gone to before: namely, Barcelona and Sevilla.
What was your experience like with solo travel in Spain?
Going back to Spain after living in the U.S. for a year and a half was a bit surreal. It was odd to be immersed in Spanish again and feel as if nothing had changed while everything had.
I think the biggest change in my travels this time was that I actually had dinero. The last time I lived and traveled solo in Spain (in 2013-2014), I was earning far less than I am now (although, to be honest, 1,000 euros per month wasn’t too shabby). Before, I was super-cheap, always afraid I’d run out of money (spoiler alert: I did), and always went with the most inexpensive option. So: long, hot bus rides, hostels, and avoiding costly tourist sites.
This time, though, I figured that as an almost-30-year-old woman with a “real” job, I could treat myself. Plus, I was over hostels. So when I traveled from Madrid to Barcelona and later, from Madrid to Sevilla, I took the fast-speed AVE train. I saved time, rode in comfort, and didn’t spend hours squished on a bus. I also chose to utilize Airbnb for the first time instead of hostels. I don’t regret it at all. I was able to sleep, the accommodations were spacious and quiet, and I stayed in some great parts of both cities.
What recommendations do you have for solo travel in Spain?
Solo Travel in Barcelona:
Spend at least four days there. I did a wham-bam trip in a day and a half and regret it. Go to the Sagrada Familia early in the morning. Don’t try to walk from the Sagrada Familia to the Park Guell because it’ll take far longer than it looks on a map. Spend time in Park Guell or else you’ll feel like it’s a wasted trip. Go to the other Gaudi sites. Hit the beach. Have a drink or dinner on top of the Arenas. Climb Montjuïc. Visit a museum or two, or three. Walk down Las Ramblas but beware of pickpockets. Hit the local mercados and try whatever looks interesting. Explore the Barri Gotic (Gothic Neighborhood) at night; you’ll feel like you’re in Harry Potter.
Solo Travel in Seville:
The most popular times to go there are during Feria and Semana Santa, and I’ve heard the summers are unbearable, so I’d advise going there in the off-season, like I did. Stay near the heart of the city. Walk everywhere. Take a free tour if you can; there’s so much history you’d never imagined. Go to Plaza de Espana more than once. Hit the Cathedral, the third-largest cathedral in all of Europe. Explore the parks. Take a cruise down the River Guadalquivir. Go to Triana. Eat out as much as possible; the food is fantastic. Try local staples like salmorejo. Go to the Alcazar, but try to get there early to beat the crowds. Rent a bike if you’d like; Seville is a great city for biking. Visit local churches to see each imagen they have—possibly more than one.
What was the best part of your solo trip to Spain?
I loved all three cities I visited, but I think Seville was honestly my favorite. I could gush on and on about it, but the memory that particularly stands out to me is wandering around main area at night on Constitution Day. The city was entirely alit with Christmas lights. The streets were packed. Groups of people sang traditional andaluz Christmas carols. There were small local bands playing. Everyone was dressed to the nines. The tower at the cathedral glowed gold. It was something I’ll never forget.
What was the worst part of your trip?
All the smoking. I’d forgotten how Spaniards (particularly in Madrid) love to fumar. Having smoke blown in my face all the time got old pretty fast. Also: the odors. Barcelona smelled like a mix of weed and dog poop. Madrid smells more like just plain dog poop. That’s because there is dog poop everywhere. My olfactory senses weren’t too pleased, to say the least.
Are there any safety concerns for women traveling alone in Spain?
Spain is a pretty safe country to travel, but if you’re visiting one of the big cities like Madrid or Barcelona, it’s always smart to be aware of your surroundings. Pickpocketing is also quite common, so I always tried to pay attention, never have my phone out, and only travel with a few credit card(s) as opposed to all of them. There are also rough areas of both cities, so it’s best to do your homework and avoid them if you can.
What advice do you have for women who are traveling alone?
Be open but not stupid. I spent most of my time in Barcelona and Seville with strangers I met randomly on the streets or through Couchsurfing, but I always dressed sensibly, kept my purse clutched closely to me, never got drunk, and made sure not to accept drinks from other people. People might seem nice, but you ever know. Always err with caution, but don’t be afraid to meet people. I put myself out there and met some really cool folks I’m still in touch with.
Also: do not be afraid to be alone. It’s easy to meet people if you want to, but solo time is sometimes a precious gift and something worth cherishing. It’s not necessarily easy; away from home, away from the distractions of your everyday life, you’ll realize a lot about yourself—some of which may not be pretty. You may have to face some truths, or possibly some demons. But embrace this time. Journal. Walk alone. Think. And evolve.
Do you have anything else to add to inspire women solo travelers?
The first time I traveled by myself when I was 21, I hyperventilated, cried, and didn’t know how to read a map. Now I actively seek adventure and travel alone all the time, including random day trips to Canada because—well, why not, eh? (Bad pun; sorry, Canadians—I do love your country!) It may suck the first time, especially if you’re a directionally-challenged, perpetually-unable-to-budget anxious person like me, but you’ll get some grit and soon be like a pro.
About Michelle Philippon
Michelle is a Sagittarius who doesn’t really care about those things and currently lives in Toledo, Ohio. She likes reading, hiking, hanging out with her cat, (and obviously having a thriving social life because she enjoy reading, hiking, and hanging out with her cat). After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature because—shocker—she enjoys reading, she went into social work. She lived in Spain for a stint, moved back to the U.S., and found a job in the for-profit world that she loves.
About Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that traveling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at email@example.com.
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Patti Clawson Berry
I am so glad I ‘stumbled’ upon Women Who Travel Solo & Michelle’s review of Spain. At 64, I am traveling solo to Spain for 3 weeks–flying in/out of Madrid, but renting a car to visit the Eastern half of Spain. I have traveled solo all over the U.S. but never abroad; and though I have no hesitations about my trip to Spain, several close friends are trying to discourage me from going. After reading this and other posts on this site, I am encouraged and more enthused than ever! Thanks!!
Hey there Patti! That’s really awesome to hear you are taking your first solo trip abroad in Spain. Good on you! Keep on being bold and I hope you have a wonderful trip!
I am heading to Bath, England next year in June and hope to visit Spain while I am there to take advantage of the relative proximity. [When you live in Perth, W Australia it’s a trek to anywhere the other side of the world… Enjoyed Micehlle’s review. Just one thing. I think Michelle speaks Spanish? How would I get on with NO skill in that area? 59 next year. Not bothered about solo travel. Wouold be good to meet up with a kindred spirit though so if anyoen else out there is making a similar trip 🙂 post a comment.
Hi Carrie! Michelle does speak Spanish, but in many places in Spain, especially Madrid and Barcelona, there are many English speakers around so even if you don’t speak the language you should be able to get around just fine. Have a great trip!
It’s Carrie again. I hadn’t ticked the Notify boxes previously!
Hi Carrie, i too live in Perth. I am hoping solo to Spain in may/june 2017, hiking part of camino, tout and then solo in Barcelona early June. Trying to figure out accommodation at moment. I am 5 years your junior.. does anyone have any ideas of good central hotel in Barcelona. Margaret
I just returned from a solo trip to Spain and, after traveling around the Castile-La Mancha region, I drove to Barcelona and spent 5 nights at Hotel Gaudi in the Gothic Quarter. It is a charming small hotel, with all the amenities one could want (breakfast buffet, restaurant, bar, gym, rooftop lounging, etc.). I thought it was very affordable; the front desk and wait-staff were very friendly; taxis & busses are 1/2 block away; one can walk easily on La Ramble, and I felt safe in the Gothic Quarter, even late in the evening. Check it out! http://www.hotelgaudibarcelona.com
Thank you Patti for that. I was looking at hotels in the Gothic area and that hotel was on my shortlist. Thanks so much for the recommendation.
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Costa Blanca is a beautiful spot as well!
Hi! Oh my goodness this post realy resonated with me (“I was turning 30 and having somewhat of a crisis, so I figured I might as well blow a bunch of cash and do something reasonably crazy.” – SO ME!) – I’m 29 and I have NEVER taken a solo trip and have really been feeling the need to. I can’t stop thinking about Spain so I think I’m going to do it! I only have 7 days off in June and want to make it work. Have you been to Spain in June? Since I’ll only have a week – where is best to go in such limited time? Have you been to any of the islands off of Spain? I just want to explore and make friends and go on an adventure. Nice beaches are a plus though!
I appreciate any recommendations!
Yay for you! June is a great time to go to Spain – it’s hot, but that way you can better enjoy the beaches. If you have 7 days, I’d recommend Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia. These cities have so much to offer and are easily accessible by train or bus. The islands off of Spain are beautiful as well – just requires a flight and there’s not as much to see (but more beaches to relax!)
Nice share. I have ben to Spain once and loved it. I am planning to visit again with my girl gang. I have been to Costa Blanca as well and it is a beautiful spot as well! Keep blogging such articles.
Nice share. I have ben to Spain once and loved it. I am planning to visit again with my girl gang. I have been to Costa Blanca as well and it is a beautiful spot as well! Keep blogging such articles. Cheers..
Thanks! Let’s hope we all get to return to Spain again soon!
Hi I currently have a trip planned to Barcelona and Madrid in October going into November. It was supposed to be a couples trip but unfortunately I found myself single. I am unsure about taking the trip alone but certainly considering it. I do not speak Spanish and I am very concerned about that. I am currently scheduled to stay in an Airbnb in both Barcelona and Madrid but would love to get to Seville if I decide to go . Do you have any advice for me.
You’ll be fine without speaking Spanish! Seville is only a few hours from Madrid by train so you could visit all three cities if you have 7-10 days total. Have fun!
I want to go to Spain either in may or June on my own , first time traveling solo! Don’t know if I should do one city for 5 days or more. I am stressing but also excited. What do you recommend I do?
5 days is the perfect amount of time for a first visit to Madrid! You can also take day trips to Toledo and Salamanca if you are looking for more to see.
Hi Lauren! Me and my friends are planning to go to spain this January. We would love to see some nice beaches with clear water and some stunning scenery. We were thinking Majorca,Ibiza and Canary Island, we are up to some adventures and experience a great nightlife in our travel. I came across this great article too here in https://www.canaryislandsinfo.co.uk/la-palma/ but i wanted to hear your thoughts first. Can anyone suggest any ideas or tips? Any help is kindly appreciated 🙂
Hi am thinking of travelling solo to Spain , being my first time I think 5 nights sounds right, am nervous and excited . canary islands looks perfect . 57 years old lady .
I traveled to Spain recently and came upon something invaluable. It is always difficult to get good pictures of myself traveling because I am shy about asking strangers to take my picture and have not mastered the art of the selfie. This time, a friend gave me the name of a travel photographer (Txema at firstname.lastname@example.org) who drove me around all day and shot my photo at the five most famous sights in Barcelona. I not only got amazing photos but also a guided tour of the city – both for an incredibly reasonable price. Will definitely check into similar services in other cities as it was truly a memorable day.
Happy to hear it!
I’m taking my first solo trip to Spain next year. I’m a little overwhelmed and scared because I have never been anywhere outside the US.
Good for you for stepping outside your comfort zone and traveling to a new place. I wish you a happy trip!
I’m thinking of taking a solo trip to Spain this year around May/June, starting in Madrid, then Cordoba, Seville and Granada. I speak very little Spanish but hope I’ll be able to get by. I’ve never done a solo trip like this before and am quite nervous! Any tips from anyone out there and is anyone else thinking of doing something similar around that time?
So inspired by these words! I’ve been to Madrid before with friends but am treating myself to solo a post-college graduation present of Andalusia – thanks for sharing!
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