An honest travel guide to Barcelona

I spent Christmas week of 2016 in Barcelona and it was a Christmas like no other. It was the first time I spent the holidays not surrounded by friends and family. Instead, I was surrounded by other travellers and backpackers from different continents who were just as curious about the world as I was.

Unlike the rest of Europe, it was sunny and warm in the day with the city bustling just like any other. At night, a little cooler and quieter, it’s only when you turned into a small street off La Rambla that the feistiness of Barcelona’s nightlife hits you. Even over Christmas, the Catalans were committed to long nights out, singing and dancing along to Spanish or Catalan songs I’ve never heard of.

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Travel tip #10: Remember to look back and be grateful for how far you’ve come

St Patrick’s Day was spent cooped up in a French cafe in Galway working hard. Despite the rain and watching passers-by battle the wet wind, I wanted to join in on the parade, the fun and the costumes. I couldn’t have been happier when I striked off the last thing on my to-do list, dumped my laptop back at the hostel and ventured out into the streets at 7pm.

The streets were sprinkled with soaking wet trash, rain was drizzling at an angle that made sure everyone’s face was constantly sprayed; buntings with the Irish flag flapping furiously in the wind decorated the streets and drunk Irish were everywhere. Watching them chit chat in the drizzle, hold hands, make out or just run from one pub to another with their friends made me very very jealous.

For this first time in a while, I felt very very very lonely.

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Travel tip #9: Don’t forget a little bit of Hygge while on the road

A Danish term defined as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”

– Anna Altman, The New Yorker

I learned about the word when I first travelled to Copenhagen two years ago. Our guide said it embodied the idea of cosiness, that feeling you get when it’s cold outside and you’re sitting indoors by the fire, in a comfy chair with a thick blanket over your lap, a hot chocolate and a great book in hand.

Now as ideal as that sounds, the chances of me booking to stay in a hotel or Airbnb with a fireplace is slim to none because this girl doesn’t have cash like that. Plus, carrying books while travelling the world is a waste of backpack space and too heavy to carry around. Let’s not even talk about those thick wool blankets that you see on Instagram with #hygge.

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Travel tip #8: Buy a local travel pass

Many cities have travel passes catered for tourists who want to see as many things as they can within 2 to 3 days. If that’s you, get those because you’re probably going to get a bang for your buck, plus discounted entry to some sights and attractions.

But if you’re like me and prefer to travel slowly and spend a week or two in a city/town/village, you’re better off getting a local travel pass. In London this is the Oyster card, in Dublin it’s the Leap card. In KL, it makes no difference.

Typically, you’re charged a lower rate per trip and passes are often accepted on all public transport including the tube, rail, buses and trams.

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Travel tip #7: Wash your clothes in the shower

If you travel with me, you’re bound to see a pair of knickers literally hanging around somewhere drying off. Or a pair of socks or a shirt or something.

Travelling light means travelling with less which also means travelling with less underwear. My limited supply of clean undergarments has gotten me into the habit of simply washing them every time I have a shower.

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Travel tip #6: Give back to the community you’re visiting

I’ve just watched a play at by Macha Productions called Entitled that discussed how welfare cuts are affecting and will continue to affect millions throughout the UK and Northern Ireland. The play also featured a guest speaker Lynn Carvill who discussed how reforms like these disproportionately affected women and children.

The play was nothing short of powerful and incredible, giving me a good kick up the arse to do more for the communities I visit. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, so what better time to start than now?

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Travel tip #5: Send postcards, lots of them

I love sending postcards and letters and especially rude birthday cards. With less than RM10, I love that you can make someone feel special in such a simple way. There’s really nothing more special than snail mail from the other side of the planet, despite Facebook messages, Whatsapp, emails and the rest of the lot.

I often find that I struggle with words, figuring out what to say to the people I’m sending them to. It is sort of ironic since I write for work and run a travel blog (I’m using the word “run” rather loosely here, you fake it till you make it and all that jazz.) But I love sending them with big fat I love yous and I miss yous written all over them. I might not be eloquent in my letter writing, but I know that my recipients appreciate them anyway.

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Travel tip #4: Use foldable shopping bags for dirty laundry 

I learned about this in a video by Brittany Taylor and found it really clever. Instead of using a typical laundry bag that takes up a lot of space, or simply chucking it in with you clean clothes (sometimes) (okay who announced I kidding, most of the time) (yes my dirty knickers and socks are next to my fresh shirts, I know, stop judging me), this is such a clever solution. 

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Travel trip #3: Pack a sewing kit

I carry thread, needles and a tonne of safety pins. I keep them in a tiny little compartment in my toiletry kit and it’s my favourite secret weapon.

(I don’t carry a tiny pair of scissors anymore because they were confiscated at the airport and since then, I’ve always been able to find something sharp enough to cut thread.)

Why bother with a sewing kit?

  • I don’t want to contribute to more waste. The thought of filling up already filled up landfills makes me think of children playing in trash and rubbish because there’s no more space on the planet. (Why and how I’ve come to feel this way is a discussion for another day.)

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Travel Tip #2: Book a tour if you’re short on time 

Want to see more of your travel destination in a short amount of time? You should probably book a tour.

Yes, these are probably pre-packaged tours that might not offer you an “authentic” experience but honestly, that’s bs. I think it’s important not to pigeonhole these guys and the services they offer because they work hard to provide us the best experiences possible, and sometimes those experiences just involve a bus, 20 other people and tourist attractions.

(I also want to point out that cheap tours will always involve and lot of other people because that’s how they keep costs per person down. Economics and business. You get what you pay for.)

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