I threw myself reluctantly into the city and started exploring what it had to offer. Obviously as this was my first time travelling on my own I quickly discovered a whole bunch of stuff that I could have done differently to improve my experience. To be honest I would be lying if I said I had an amazing time in Madrid. Parts of it were torturous, but only because of my own reservations and lack of experience. If I ever have a couple of grand lying around again I would love to do this trip a second time armed with all the knowledge I have now.
So, here are three of the main things I learnt while I was Madrid – two of which I learnt from mistakes, and one of which I learnt from actually doing the thing right the first time around.
Learn some Spanish
As Spain’s capital city, Madrid is huge, and naturally full of things to see and do. However, don’t assume that because it’s the capital everyone will speak English. They definitely don’t. Of the ten cities I visited on my travels, Madrid was the one where I struggled most with communication. It definitely pays to learn some basic Spanish phrases before you visit. I know that’s the polite tourist thing to do anyway, but this time round I didn’t bother because there’s no way I was going to learn 10 languages in three weeks!
Not being able to communicate was isolating, and contributed significantly to my anxiety. Being alone in a different country is bad enough, but not even being able to TALK to people is really, really hard. Oh, and all the sun cream is kept in locked glass cabinets for some reason. It’s quite expensive so I guess they had a problem with theft? Being a pasty ginger I NEEDED sun cream, else I would definitely have become a crisp. Eventually I got the sun cream after a lot of awkward British person gestures and grunts. I felt like the stereotype of a rude tourist and I didn’t like it at all.
Use the Metro
The metro is actually super easy to navigate, too. Take a look at my post here for some tips. Plus, you can mark all the places you want to go on the map and cross them off to make sure you don’t miss anything. That’s what I did and it made it all really simple. I didn’t even have to talk to anyone, which is really good given the aforementioned lack of English speakers.
Research places to visit first
Luckily Madrid has loads of nice outdoorsy places, including the fantastic El Retiro, which I’m SO glad I didn’t miss out on. There’s also Casa de Campo, which is more like a country park. El Retiro is very man made, whereas Casa de Campo is trees and rivers that have been left to be enjoyed. There’s also a zoo and fun fair at Casa de Campo, which I didn’t go to because I couldn’t afford to visit EVERY zoo (I did visit some later on in my journey).
It wasn’t until my second night in Madrid that my boyfriend suggested trying to find some places geared towards backpackers. I was feeling very homesick and isolated, in desperate need of finding some friends. My research led me to a great tapas bar called El Tigre, and I was not disappointed. I sat at a table by myself, ordered a beer, and within five minutes I was chatting to a friendly American man who was also backpacking.
I REALLY wish I’d done more research before I arrived in Madrid. Hindsight and experience are great things, and I hope I can use mine to help you. Finding the right places to eat and drink can make all the difference when you’re travelling alone. Even if it’s just a ten minute chat, hanging out with other people in the same position is awesome and can go a long way to alleviating the loneliness.
If you have your own experience of Madrid, please drop us a comment below 🙂