Sneha Suresh, 24 a playback singer and a voice over artist by day did something remarkable last month. She travelled solo across Spain. And we managed to get an interview out of her! Read about her experiences on the road, the kind of planning that went into this 16 day long trip and of course – her adventures and memories that she has been so kind enough to share with us.
Breakfree: Hi Sneha! Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. Before we start off with the formal round of questions, we would like to you to tell us a bit about your trip to Spain. The places you covered especially.
Sneha: Firstly Rushikesh and the entire team at Breakfree, Thank you for giving me a chance to share with you my experiences and contribute to travel in my own little way 🙂
I covered about five places in Spain in the span of 15 days – namely Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Seville and Madrid. I also managed to squeeze in a day trip to Rhonda while I was in Seville.
I planned my trip completely on my own with all the help that Google could offer, some help from you guys of course, inputs from friends who had travelled to Spain or had travelled solo earlier (to other places) and a little visa help from a local travel agent. I flew into Barcelona where I spent three days then three days at Valencia followed by two days at Granada, four at Seville and finally three at Madrid.
Breakfree: Wow, 15 days. Have you travelled solo before and Why travel by yourself when you can join a group, get a few friends along?
Sneha: This was my first time as a solo traveller. The closest to this kind of travel was my trip with Breakfree to Bundi, where I was by myself but with a group of people.
I’ve always wanted to go travelling by myself. Experiencing the unknown on my own. That feeling of anonymity. The feeling of surrendering to place, and not having people you know dilute the experience. That experience I wanted for myself.
Breakfree: 24 is a remarkable age to travel solo, your thoughts?
Sneha: For an Indian girl, yes. When I went there I saw these 20 year olds taking sabbaticals from work and travelling for months at a stretch . I realise that we are our own inhibitions. See, in many countries, the government takes care of basic social security. People don’t save in those cases. They live in the moment. We don’t necessarily get to do that because we plan well in advance for the future.
Breakfree: Why Spain of all the places that you could visit? Did you consider any other options? Were you on a tight budget?
Sneha: One of the reasons I picked Spain was because I could speak the language. So while picking up the language, (I started learning solely with an intention to pick up a foreign language) my teacher would go on and on about her trips to Spain. And somewhere I knew that I had to see Spain. Alone. It was in my head. I would keep telling my folks that I have to do this one trip alone. I think they had heard me say it many a time in the last two years and probably understood how badly I wanted this.
Probably why they were the most encouraging. (Mind you, they’re the same guys who fuss when I even have to make an overnight trip to Lonavala and back with friends. Haha). But I’m glad they were okay. I think that’s the biggest obstacle that comes in the way of an Indian solo female traveller. Convincing her folks. I was fortunate 🙂
Also I think Spain is relatively a safe country to travel to. Specially when seen from the ‘safety of women’ angle. I was warned about some serious mugging in Barcelona and Madrid but luckily I didn’t sight nor experience any.
I wasn’t on any budget per se, but I wasn’t out there to splurge. I booked myself into hostels because in my opinion, it’s the best way to be around other travellers, giving you the option to be by yourself as well as probably hatch plans.
I did the mixed dorm in Barcelona to the all female dorm without attached bathroom in Valencia, to a private room ensuite in Granada, to female ensuite bunks in Madrid and Seville. I took the ratings on hostelworld for word, and thank god I did. Not one hostel was less than it promised to be, if only much more.
Most hostels provide you with free or ridiculously cheap breakfast, free wifi, free lockers, rooms to store luggage post checkout time and so on. Plus they have these tapas/sangria/pub crawl/musical nights, free day walks (one can pay whatever you feel like), free maps an incredibly friendly staff members who are more than willing to help you with everything under the sun. All win-win situation I say.
I did not shop. Apart from a few little things like toiletries and trinkets, accessories here and there but nothing bulky because honestly I didn’t go with an intention to shop. Brands are globally available and all of that. So did not waste time /money on shopping.
Also the country is very well connected. I barely took any cabs. Barcelona and Madrid had the metro lines which were a blessing (do buy a 10 ticket pass, works out cheaper). I took to cycling to see the towns of Seville and Valencia – the most beautiful experiences. Seville also had a tram service through some parts in the city. And within Granada, I took the bus. The in betweens were filled in with a lot and a lot and a lot of walking .
Also water is expensive there, so I made sure to fill up at the hostels( yes can safely drink out of the tap) before heading out. Unless I forgot of course. I wanted to achieve an under 2L budget but left it to what it would be. Without compromising on food or stay or other things I wanted to spend on(stayed in the best rated hostels, read: private room in Granada), I spent about 1.8 lac (airfare, visa and insurance, food, Trains from one city to another, entry tickets, internal transport and gifts/miniature shopping).
Breakfree: What were you top three most defining moments from your trip? and what were the most memorable meals you had?
Sneha: It would be really hard for me to pick my top three moments but I’m going to give it a shot. So here goes.
1.This was the most defining moment in the trip. After spending the first 3 days in Barcelona, I took a late afternoon train to Valencia, which reached at about 8 in the evening. The station was called Estació del nord. I was a little tired from hauling the luggage and asking for directions until I got out of the station and caught the first glimpse of the city.
I swear to God, I cried. The skies were as deep blue as they could be. The street lights brought out a beautiful golden hue of the city that was unfathomable. The station building oblivious to how stunning it looked, glowed silently in the background. Different groups of Young adults(mostly) were laughing and talking away. This place seemed like their regular haunt. The scene was overwhelming so much so that I cried. I cried tears of gratitude. I cried a silent prayer. Fortunate was I .
2. I had bumped into a couple in their mid 60s from Chile outside a cathedral in Granada. We got talking for a bit and then went our own ways. The next evening, after catching a Flamenco show I was wandering around a little subconsciously, looking for a place to eat. That’s when I suddenly saw this man and woman waving frantically at me, from the inside of a restaurant. Their faces were familiar but I couldn’t place them for a moment. I went in to realise it was the same Chilean couple from the previous day. They made me sit down with them and insisted that I join them for dinner. “I told my wife that we had such a lovely time chatting with you and it was such a shame we didn’t get a photo together. And now destiny has brought us together again for a photo” said the man. They were strangers. We didn’t even share names. Just a few words here and there. And bam! A memory was created anonymously.
3. So this girl(who worked at the hostel) and I decided to leave a little early from the pub crawl night in Valencia to walk back to our hostel. It was about 2 am(yes, early! :p) We were very hungry and prayed to find a place open to eat. On seeing some light in some place that looked like a cafe, we went in. There were about 4 really good looking men. We asked if they served food so late. They replied “This isn’t a food joint, and we don’t have any food, but we can give you chocolate if you want.”
We were more than happy to oblige. It turned out to be a design studio and the men were working late. We got to chatting a lot. They were fascinated that I’d come all the way from India and two of them were even planning a trip to India soon, they said. Slowly a guitar came out and some jamming happened. It was so random. So beautiful.
The most memorable food I ate:
I had the best food in Granada at two places –
1)’Los diamantés’ in Calle Navas.
The locals swear by this place. It’s a tiny tapas bar where you can get a glass of wine and a tapas for about 3 euros if I remember correctly. I had the most delicious prawns, and salted tomatoes here.
2) La chopera also in calle navas
-Delicious orange juice, I can’t emphasize how good it was.
-The garlic prawns or ‘Gambas De ajillo’ as they call it.
– the tomato and cheese sandwich. (El montadito con queso y tomate) sounds boring but was out of this world.
Few other memorable meals were
A) Cien montaditos- madrid
So they had about 100 mini-sandwich (more like mini subs) variants on the menu. Each costing either 1,1.5 or 2 euros. So like 4 mini sandwiches and a glass of wine for about 5 euros. Dirt cheap.
B) El rey de la gamba- barcelona
This place was close to the beach barceloneta . The waiter happened to be Punjabi. He went out of his way to make sure i liked the food and I was served well. I had a menu del dia(menu of the day) which comprises of a drink, a starter, a mains and a dessert for approximately 10 odd euros. Was a feast 🙂
C)In Seville – El Fogón de San Andrés. Nearly most my meals in Seville were here, because it was right under the hostel and they had the most adorable staff. And welll obviously the food was out of this world. They served the best sangria I had in Spain. Also tried some dogfish(cousin of the shark they told me), this dish called bacalao and some tuna in salmorejo sauce. All top notch.
Breakfree: What preparation went into planning this kind of a trip? An international solo experience in a non English speaking nation. Is the knowledge of the local language absolutely necessary?
Sneha:: While applying for the Schengen visa (not sure if it’s only the case with Spain or all schengen countries, Ed: It is true for all Schengen countries), the flight and accommodation bookings are a prerequisite. I also booked my train tickets from city to city before hand. Another thing I was told was that the entry tickets to certain places need to be pre booked(the Alhambra for example). I made sure to book that well in advance.
For the visa I used the help of my travel agent close to home, to ensure I didn’t miss out on any documents. Train bookings from the rail Europe Indian site(renfe and ave trains ), accommodation from hostelworld
The Spanish didn’t seem to speak much English. Unless their work was related to tourism, the locals spoke very little English. More of it was spoken in the bigger cities like Barcelona and Madrid. To be really honest, the language was my secret weapon. Having said that, I don’t think it is impossible to survive there without Spanish. The basic phrases can be kept handy by downloading an app or buying a language guide or a dictionary. Phrases like how to reach…. Get me the bill, can you help me.. I want to buy this..can be easily accessed if kept handy.
Also I must add. I came across many Korean girls who travelled alone or in pairs. So many of them, they could barely manage a few words in English here and there leave alone Spanish or any other local language. But they were on their own for months. So much respect for them. This one particular roommate in Madrid, was doing multiple European countries in the span of 65 days. All by herself. I was so amazed.She could just about understand and barely respond in English. But the kind of confidence with which she travelled amazed me.
In my case , knowing the language enhanced my experience as a traveller, giving scope for random conversations, further explanations and so on. All in all, not a must but extremely useful.
Another issue I sensed was for the vegetarians. Again not a huge issue per se, as you do find Indian restaurants, and one can survive on salads, bread and cheese, fruits, toasts, cakes and pastries, pizza and wine. But well you have to settle for less and search more. But when you are oblivious to what you miss , I guess it’s all good 🙂
Breakfree: Would you now travel solo in India?
Sneha: I’m not very sure about that yet. Maybe to a place like Pondy. Haha will have to figure this one out.
Breakfree: What advice would you give to solo travellers especially women who’d want to have an experience similar to yours?
Sneha: In Spain, avoid tiny lanes if they’re lonely specially in the night. Night travelling is extremely safe otherwise. Bigger roads and circles are filled with people. Keep eyes open and one hand over the bag that you’re carrying. Carry minimal luggage. Check the weather before travelling. I experienced the rains, the cold and the sun in different parts of Spain. And I was armed with a windcheater, an umbrella, a sweater , a sweatshirt , and the summer/regular wear. If the weather is not too hot and humid, you can easily repeat clothes.
Pack wisely. Carry a good pair of shoes. I don’t particularly like sports shoes so I picked a really comfortable pair of ballets with a good sole that didn’t hurt at the toes (many ballets do, hence find the right one). This one pair lasted me the entire trip and was a blessing in disguise.
I did carry my sports shoes but never used it . Also a pair of chappals just for a walk or two down the street. Avoid buying a matrix card. I did and didn’t use a penny, because there’s free wifi almost everywhere. If you must, buy a post-paid matrix card for emergencies (I bought the prepaid and regretted)
The rooms are never an issue because you only need them to sleep at night. You don’t get time to chill much in the room because you’ll have a hundred things to do.
Avoid taking cabs as much as possible, there’s no better way to feel a city but on foot. In Spain, I must mention that the people are very friendly. They’re nice beyond repair. And not once did I feel that I was being taken advantage of , being a tourist or a woman. I felt extremely safe around strangers.
Just beware of pickpocketing. Don’t carry too much money with you or your passport. Last but definitely – breathe, surrender to the place. Don’t get caught up with the dos and don’ts so much so that you forget to enjoy. As regards Spain in particular, people are extremely friendly and helpful, however be a little cautious about belongings in the bigger cities like Barcelona and Madrid and you should be fine.
Feel free to ask for help. You are as lonely as you’d want to be. Make the most of anonymity 🙂
Thanks for sharing your experiences and memories with us! Here’s wishing you a life full of travel and adventure from Team Breakfree!
We hope this motivates more solo travellers, especially women to hit the road!
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