Yes, Europe in the winter is cold, but coming from the Midwest it’s not that cold. I loved traveling through Spain and Portugal during the winter months. It only snowed 2 days out of 3 months and one of those days I was high in the Pyrenees mountains in Andorra. The average daytime temperatures were in the 50s with nights dropping down closer to freezing temperatures. Many days were warm and sunny reaching the mid-70’s in the early afternoon. I actually prefer to walk around dusty city streets in trainers and long pants over sandels and shorts. Concrete jungles keep heat in and can be quite unbearable during summer months. The south of Europe does receive more rain in winter months. So pack a versatile jacket and sturdy walking shoes and you’re good to go. I recommend spraying both with waterproofing before leaving home.
Another perk of winter travel is that tourism during the winter months is at a low. Making it possible to explore less crowded cities and exhibitions. It can be a challenge to take good quality photos during summer months when thousands of tourists fill every last vantage point. Prices are lower during winter months as well. Making it easier to stretch the budget a bit farther. Once spring hits hotel rates explode. I went from spending 20€ a night for a good budget hotel to 50€ a night in spring. During peak season prices can soar to 80€ or more a night for budget accommodation.
My last reason in favor of winter exploration is probably strange, but things smell less during winter months. Let’s be honest Spain literally smells like crap. I am not trying to be mean, but coming from a place with strictly enforced sanitation laws it was strange to see dog poop everywhere. Dogs use the streets as their litter box and probably some men too. No one cleans it up. People step in it on accident and crap gets spread everywhere. During the summer it stinks. The heat intensifies the rank. You can smell decomposing food in rubbish bins on the side of the road as well. During the winter the urine smell is much fainter. It took a couple of weeks for my nose to go blind to the constant traces of feces, cigarette smoke, and car exhaust in the air. I don’t think city people notice this as much as country folk do. Being from Michigan there is a constant breeze off the lake that keeps things smelling fresh and clean.
Have you traveled Europe during the different seasons? I would love to hear your thoughts on winter travel in the comments section below.
Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean tolerance. I spent a week with friends on this big Island in the Balearic sea. Mallorca is a mix of ethnicities and they aren’t all treated the same. Natives speak Mallorquí. So even if you are Spanish, but from another part of the Peninsula you will always be treated as a foreigner, unless you learn the native language. During summer months when Mallorca swells with tourists prices double. This makes it very hard for locals who earn lower wages than northern Europeans to afford rising prices. Northern Europeans can also more easily afford exclusive properties driving up real estate prices. Spaniards complain about finding places to rent because property owners would rather have holiday homes that bring in more money
What really bothers me, however is the treatment and exploitation of refugees, and by extension all persons of color. I have a friend from Nevada who lives here teaching English. Her ancestry is Caribean. Because she is darker skinned many people treat her like a refugee, which is quite poorly. Many of the Nigerian women are coerced into prostitution. So if my friend goes out at night alone even dressed extremely conservatively she will have Spanish men pulling over in their cars offering to pay her for sex. This makes me really angry for my friend, but even angrier at the treatment of African refugees. It makes me sick to see others exploit vulnerable people who need the most help. It’s not like refugees want to leave behind their homes and families. Their dark skin makes it difficult for them to blend into Spain’s paler population thus making them even more visible targets.
My friend has trouble finding extra work as an English Tudor because people don’t want to learn English from someone who is of her color. Meanwhile many whites teachers have an abundance of students.
I am not sure if this is the situation all over Spain. It makes me feel queasy inside to know I am receiving better treatment than others. For that reason I can’t see myself coming back to Mallorca anytime in the foreseeable future.
After only 3 weeks on the islands I don’t claim to be an expert, but here are a few things that I learned while in the Canary Islands.
There are a lot of microclimates.
The North and West sides of the islands are ‘wetter’ and greener. I my opinion this makes them more scenic and photogenic. The East and South sides of the islands are dry and sunny most days. This is why main highways are on the east side (less erosion) and most resorts are on the south side. The middle of the island has a higher elevation and is normally much cooler than the coast. So you will need to bring a jacket or jumper (sweater)2 if going there. The Northern cities of Santa Cruz (Tenerife) and Las Palmas (Gran Canary) are more for locals and less for tourists, but both cities are worth a visit. The geogeography of the island has a big impact on the weather. The windward side (North side) and mountain peaks collect the majority of the clouds and perception leaving the south (leward side) of the islands dry and sunny.
You will need a car
There is a ‘good’ public transit system on the island of Tenerife. That being said the buses take hours to reach any destination. You can hire a car for 12€ a day. I spent over 30€ just one day taking buses around Tenerife! Taxes in the islands are low and gasoline is cheap so why wait in line for slow buses when you can have the freedom to explore at your own pace?
*If you are an American you need a international driver’s license to aquire a car in the EU. They cost about $20 from AAA.
Americans are a rare breed
The number one question I was asked in the islands was, ‘How did you hear about the Canary Islands?’ The second most commonly asked question was, ‘Do other Americans know about us?’ Very few Americans make it to Islas Canarias. So when planning your next European holiday keep in mind that round trip flights from the Peninsula start from only 20€ on budget airlines.
The south side is one giant resort area
My brain couldnt fully grasp this point until I saw it myself. It’s similar to Cancun. There are so many gigantic resorts. Most of the holiday makers during the winter months are from Europe’s darker, colder places. So most tourists spend their days laying out on the beach or poolside soaking up every last ray of sunshine they can. Few visitors make it a priority to get out and explore the more scenic parts of the island.
It is beautiful!
If you love winding mountain roads you will love driving in the Carary islands. There are indescribably beautiful mountains and valleys. I was there during Febuary which has more rain. Everything was green and beautiful. A rare treat.
The roads are crazy
I don’t scare easily and Los Espinos is probably one of the most intimidating roads I’ve driven yet. I only drove about 6K and turned back. It’s a single lane road for both ways of traffic. There is no guardrail and it’s a sheer drop-off to the valley below. I had to stop at one point for a herd of goats to pass. Most roads are 2 lanes, but be careful what route you pick if you plan on exploring the more remote mountain areas.
The shopping is excellent.
The Canary Islands have incredibly low tax tax rates compared to the peninsula of Spain. The markets and duty free shops have great bargains. You can purchase Rayban sunglasses for as low as 60€ and high quality leather handbags for only 30€. High quality leather goods and shoe stores can be found all over the islands.
Have you been to Islas Canarias? Let me know what else I’m missing in the comments section below.
Thinking about your next solo adventure? Here are 5 Reasons Spain is a great destination, especially for the lone female traveler.
Spaniard’s are great. In general everyone is super helpful. Spain has a relaxed and friendly culture. The bus drivers are a little grumpy, but they still help point you in the right direction.
It’s Relatively Safe
Spain is much safer than the United States, but not as safe as Iceland or New Zealand. It is possible to stay out until the late hours of the night during the week. Or the early hours of the weekend and everything is fine. That being said there are pickpockets. Apparently they target foreigners. You won’t get mugged or assaulted, but if you leave your bag open someone might help themselves to your wallet. I am told that pickpockets listen for foreign accents so if you’re traveling alone hopefully you’re not talking to yourself. Another tip is to travel low-key don’t wear anything too fancy or expensive, which will call attention to yourself. As a female solo traveler I have found Spanish men charming and helpful. To Some immigrant men living in Spain are a little more forward than I would like. I think its the difference in culture so I started wearing a wedding band out.
Spain is surprisingly affordable. It is one of the cheapest countries in the EU (European Union). You can easily rent rooms with private baths for under 30€ a night. Hostels are under 20€. Many places include breakfast. Meals are very affordable as well. An espresso with a ham and cheese sandwich is less than 3€. Meaning you can travel on 35-75€ a day depending on your rooming, transportation and excursion choices. An entrance ticket to La Alhambra Palace in Granada without a guide will cost you 15€. While a guided day trip to Gibraltar from the sunshine coast will be closer to 50€.
Spain has great transportation. There are buses and trains to pretty much anywhere you want to go. Even remote villages have at least one bus in or out a day. I brought an unlocked cellphone and purchased a 3GB Lycamobile Internet plan for 15€ a month. Then you can use GPS to find the best public transit routes. I highly recommend bringing or buying a phone. Knowing where you are going will give you more confidence to explore. I have people asking me for directions almost everyday.
Spain has one of the warmest climates in Europe. I’m currently traveling Spain in the winter time from January to April. Its off-season which means less tourists and with weather between 50-80 °F (10-27 °C) it’s really quite enjoyable. The trick is to bring layers. Nights can feel cold while sunny days can feel warmer than they actually are. I packed a softshell jacket that doubles as a raincoat so I didn’t have to pack an umbrella.
Did I leave anything out? I would love to hear you thought on traveling solo in Spain. Feel free to comment below.
I’m 20 days in on a 90 day tour of Spain. What I’ve I learned so far is that holidays sound like all fun and games until you are actually preparing for a 3 month vacation.
The planning starts months ahead with setting trip alerts and searching for cheap flights. Then comes the research phase. Weeks of Internet searches. Learning about difference locations and picking your primary destinations. Next comes the purchase phase, which also includes more research. You have to select lodging and transportation to suit your needs. This is the longest stage for me. Making sure everything is suitably located to each other is easier said than done. At this point you need the vacation to recover from all the research and you haven’t even gotten to the packing stage yet. For me packing is never an easy task. I have health problems that require forthought. I have to bring all the silly things I can’t find easily abroad.
Finally the day arrives and your journey begins, but the ‘fun’ work never really ends. In Europe you are always walking. I have been walking at least 5 miles a day. If you want to see something you have to get to it. Even eating requires finding a suitable stop at least 3 times a day. If you want to see different cities well then that means an endless shuffle of bags to buses to trains to hotels. The first two weeks everything was a novelty. Then in the 3rd week I started to be aware of how many times I’ve had to pack and unpack my bag and how important it is to stay organized (I forgot my passport in a hotel).
I can see why some people would get tired of long term travel. Spain is a wonderful country and I have enjoyed every minute of my short stay. It is certainly worth any ‘work’ getting to know the Spanish countryside and culture. Spanish people are extremely kind and helpful. I’m curious how I will feel about this journey at the end of my quarter year traveling. Many people enjoy a gap year or become digital nomads perpetually on the move. Its not easy trying to get the most out of your life, but the experiences gained from traveling far outweigh any negatives.
What are your thoughts on travel planning? Feel free to leave your comments below.