Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain
Hello Again guys!
In the previous post, i addressed some of the pre trip planning aspects, most important of them being deciding which places you will visit and secondly your international flight tickets. Id also like to tell you that we travelled during the month of June/July which can be considered medium to high season time and in total we were 5 of us.
In the 2nd part i am going to talk firstly about the visa and then figuring out your accommodation!
Starting with the visa:
Schengen visa application (More about Schengen here) which is essentially the common visa you require for Italy & Spain along with various other European countries, is handled by a company called VFS global across India and the world. Check out their website for more info.
Although schengen visa is applicable to many european nations, you still have to apply through a particular country’s consulate for the visa and that particular country’s consulate decides whether you will be issued the visa or not. The procedure of application, document collection etc is handled by VFS on behalf of the various countries. The process of visa application is pretty straight forward, however you need to decide which country will you route your visa application through.
After doing some research through internet, we figured applying through Italy would be easier since the general idea we got was that the Italian consulate is more liberal as compared to their Spanish counter part. This decision is also based on which country are you spending more time in, you generally apply through the country in which you’re spending the maximum time.
Application forms for the Italy visa can be found here. If you open the link, you would notice there are further four more links out of which you choose one, depending on the area jurisdiction under which you fall.
At this juncture, i would like to mention that i know a lot of people who hire an agent to carry out all their work for visa application, apparently because it’s a very complicated procedure. Guys believe me, as long as you follow the website instructions, you shall be absolutely fine. Agents generally do not add much value to the overall process and unnecessarily charge exorbitant fees for little to no work.
Visa Application Form – This particular link highlights the overall process for obtaining schengen visa (Italian consulate) for people falling under the delhi jurisdiction. Although the process seems to be quite long, it’s really straightforward.
First step of the visa application is to schedule an appointment for the visa application at one of the multiple VFS offices, while it’s called an appointment, schengen visa application is simply submission and verification of all requisite documents along with the visa application form, generally there are no questions asked, unlike a US visa application interview wherein they might ask you a question or two. Make sure you read all the instructions related to form filling as well as documents required very carefully so that you are not hassled on the day of your visa application. Once you have submitted your documents, you are done, you can keep on checking your visa status time to time through the vfs website until the passport along with the schengen visa is delivered to you :D.
Part 2 – Places to stay!
The great thing about travelling to Europe is that you will have to your disposal a wide array of stay options, starting from the low budget Backpackers Hostels which are perfect for solo travellers or people on very strict budgets, up to very high end Hotels, Serviced Apartments or even very high end Hostels.
1 – Backpackers Hostels
I happen to run a backpackers hostel myself in Jaipur 😀 (more info here – www.lepension.com) and thus am fortunate enough to have a good insight of the same.
If you are a solo traveller or say a group of 3 or 4 people on a budget backpacking trip then Hostels are absolutely the right place for you. Hostels are a great way of mingling with fellow backpackers/travelers and generally offer a very interesting experience where in you can potentially get to meet people from across the globe and share your stories and experiences, not to forget you can save a lot of money, specially if you’re travelling solo. www.hostelworld.com – This website is the perfect place to find out the available hostel options in a particular place across the world. Due to its popularity, backpackers review hostels extensively on this platform thus giving you a good idea of how the place is. Hostels in Spain & Italy can cost anywhere between 10 – 25 EUR per person per night, depending on the location, the facilities etc that the place offers.
You may often end up meeting a myriad of people during your stay in a Backpackers Hostel!
Backpackers Hostels usually consist of Dormitory rooms that have bunk beds and these rooms are shared by multiple people both males and females. So there could be a 6 Bed Dorm shared between 6 people, 10 Bed Dorm shared between 10 people or even an 18 Bed Dorm shared between 18 people. The larger the size of a dorm, usually cheaper it is. Many hostels also offer Female Only Dorms, rooms that can only be occupied by female guests, a good and safe option for female travellers.
A good hostel will offer you all the requisite facilities that you might need while travelling, most importantly a good WiFi Connection, individual lockers, clean beds and clean washrooms/toilets. Some hostels also have community kitchens where you can cook yourself, but it is not widely available. Many also have flexible check in/check out options and have professional front office staff (usually not available in case of apartments) that can help you out with all your travel related queries.
Although light on the pocket, a lot of travelers are a little wary about staying in a Hostel because of potential safety issues, some people are just a bit bewildered by the thought of sharing rooms with strangers, however backpacking is the most popular form of travelling across Europe and it is slowly gaining a lot of popularity across India and other Southeast asian countries as well. I strongly recommend all of you to experience backpacking at least once, it’s a very unique experience and can add a lot of fun to your trip!
If you choose to backpack, on an average you will spend about 15-25 Euros a night on your stay, so for 12/13 nights that comes to around 230 Euros or Rs 16,500 rupees.
So your trip expense adds to – Rs 28,500 + Rs 16,500 = Rs 45,000. So for under Rs 50,000 you have already covered your international flight as well as stay.
2 – Self Serviced Apartments:
This has to be my favorite form of accommodation while i am travelling and it’s an excellent, pocket friendly option for families as well as groups of more than 4 or 5 people. Europe offers a crazy variety of apartments for your stay in a city. By apartment, i essentially mean a complete fully furnished flat with 1 or more rooms along with washroom/toilets and a fully functional kitchen with all essential cooking utensils. The apartment you book will be completely occupied by your group and you have full freedom to use the various amenities of the flat. I and my family specially loved it because at the end of a tiring day we got a whole beautiful place to ourselves to relax and just unwind, we also made full use of the kitchen (more on it later).
Wondering where to book an apartment from ? Booking.com & Airbnb.com are excellent websites to choose from. The sheer amount of variety on Booking.com is crazy and it has something for everyone. One point worth noting here is that Booking.com offers an option where you can book a particular accommodation using your credit card however you are not charged immediately, you have a period of time until when you can cancel your booking free of charge. So what this means is that you can book a particular place and at the same time continue to search for better options if any are available. This options offers great flexibility to a traveller and i recommend that you make full use of it. For the benefit of all of you, i did a search on booking.com today for five adults in Madrid and have posted a snapshot here. Your initial search will through hundreds of options to you, however you can make useof filters like, price range, area, review score etc to narrow down your search to a few options.
Couple of images from our apartment in Barcelona, it had 3 rooms, along with a fully functional kitchen, more than good enough for our family of 5 :).
For Booking.com, i feel properties having a review score of more than 7/7.5 on 10 are fairly acceptable. Anything above this can be considered good to excellent depending on the rating.
As an example, recently i did a quick search on Booking.com for an apartment for 1 night in June for 5 adults, the results are shown in the screen shot below. Apartment in Pic 2 – “Alive Madrid Rooms” is available for only Rs 7,000 per night for 5 adults and it also has a pretty decent rating of 7.7! Mind you, am doing a search hardly a month before the trip and also June can be considered high season time, you can well imagine what all options you can get if you do the same search, say 3 or 4 months in advance!
So the below apartment comes to only Rs 1,400 per person or less than EUR 20, in most cases this is CHEAPER or EQUAL to the price of a bed in a good quality Hostel in Europe!! Not to forget the product you are getting in return is definitely much more comfortable (totally my opinion). Once again this is an example of maximising your return against the money you pay, not to forget this apartment is located in Madrid City Centre, thus reducing your public transport usage as well!
Madrid Stay Deals that i found on Booking.com, dated 5th May 2017!
Pro Tip: At this point, i would like to make a very important point, June usually augurs the start of Summer in Europe and tourists start flocking various european destinations starting in May/June, thus leading to a general increase in prices of apartments, hostels etc. If you don’t mind travelling during the European winters, your trip costs will go down even further!
Regarding usage of Airbnb, surprisingly we did not use Airbnb a single time in our last trip because we got significantly better deals in both Italy and Spain through Booking.com, however this year we have booked majority of our apartments through AirBnB for our stay in places like Budapest, Vienna, Prague etc. AirBnBs very often entail a much better and more intimate communication between you and your host, also it should be duly noted that sometimes you might be sharing someone’s home when you book through AirBnB and thus as a responsible guest, it is our duty to adhere to their rules and not create unnecessary hassles or problems. The process of searching and filtering properties on AirBnB is more or less similar to Booking.com.
At the end of the day its all about getting the best deal possible, AirBnB usually attaches a significant service fee to the final price of reservation which increases the final price of booking, also the flexibility in AirBnB is definitely lower because you make the payment immediately, however their payment conditions vary from Flexible to Strict and in certain conditions you can also get a full refund on your booking.
Pro Tip 2: Whether you’re booking through Booking.com or AirBnB, make sure that you acknowledge and take into account any hidden charges, for example some apartments listed on Booking.com charge a separate cleaning fee which sometimes is not highlighted clearly. The same is true for apartments on Airbnb.com as well, whenever you’re making your booking, always be patient and try and ensure that you are getting close to what you require. It is also always a good idea to check the location of a property on maps and just get a rough idea about where it’s located, whether it’s close to city centre or far, in case it’s far, does it have a good enough connection to the city by metro, bus or tram. Reading a few reviews before booking also helps a lot since you get a general idea of what to expect from the place.
The fun and main advantage of booking apartments in my opinion is the fact that you get a whole house to yourself, you can visit nearby grocery stores, get stuff to cook yourself a nice breakfast/lunch or dinner, or just simply relax in the balcony with a glass of wine and enjoy the view of the city. When you’re away from home, one tends to get bored from outside food pretty quickly and a couple of home cooked meals are just what you need to keep your spirits high and stomachs alright :P. I remember we cooked a meal of aloo mutter ki sabzi and mutter pulao in Madrid and it was such a relief, all of us felt really good after that!
In my future posts am also going to share some details about the things we packed with ourselves related to food, it sounds a bit stupid but believe me, it helps, its a hugeeee help, specially if you’re walking more than 10 KMs every day while sightseeing and at the same time you might feel a bit bored/sick after continuously eating some foreign stuff which may or may not satisfy your tummies :D.
This doesn’t mean i am trying to dissuade you from trying new cuisines, far from it, i myself tried a huge variety of food during my travels, it just means that the option to have something cooked yourself can be a huge bonus.
3 – Hotels:
I will not discuss hotels much except to say that Hotels in Europe should only be considered if you’re quite a large group, say 15 or more people. Or say you’re a couple on a honeymoon and are looking for an ultra luxury stay. But for solo travelers or families/groups, Backpackers Hostels and Apartments are the way to go respectively! Hotel prices in general are higher as compared to the other two options, reasonably priced hotels tend to be located in the outskirts of the city and are usually booked by big groups who have hired buses for their inter and intra city travels! For individual groups and travellers, they might not be the most convenient option, however exceptions are always there!
Hope you enjoyed the 2nd part of the series, more parts coming up soon, next time we will discuss a bit about inter and intra city transport/sightseeing and some more related things.
If you liked the post, then please do like and share :). Cheers!
Happy travels and see you soon!