It’s not that I’m cheap; I just hate spending an exorbitant amount of money. [My mum calls me cheap, as does my sister… don’t believe them.] With the correlation of the idea of money leading to happiness, or at least an easier way of life that can lead to happiness, it’s a mission of mine to debunk all of that. Especially to debunk the belief that you can’t have nice things, or enjoy the best this beautiful world has to offer without an expansive income.
By no means do I have the expansive income, and I do struggle just like most modern day 30-somethings trying to stay afloat whilst pursuing a quest of professional freedom. So, as I was doing research on my trip to Marrakech and Madrid, I was hit with lots of misleading information. Information that could discourage others from visiting places beyond their backyard [Unless you’re in Alaska, because you can see Russia from your backyard. Palin’s words, not mine.]. Like this one quote from the New York Times showing a round trip flight from New York City to Marrakech was over $800, and I thought, “hell no!”
Let’s start with the flight. I actually didn’t start with my flight. My hotel, or Riad, was booked in October from Gilt Travel. Actually, let’s begin with the Riad, just to keep things in sequential order. The deal from Gilt was $67 a night for Riad Jnane Jdid as such:
Accommodation in a junior suite, including breakfast. This offer also includes Moroccan tea and pastries upon arrival. In addition, when staying three nights or more, you’ll receive a 20% discount on dinner; when staying four nights or more, you’ll receive a 20% spa discount; when staying five nights or more, you’ll receive a dinner for two (excluding drinks) on one evening of your stay and round-trip airport transfers; when staying seven nights or more, you’ll receive a four-hour tour of the medina with a professional guide.
Since my stay was for five nights it included a dinner for two, plus a round-trip airport transfer, 20% off spa discount, and breakfast. I paid $335 for my stay not including tips, “Bien-être” hammam treatment 36€ after the 20% discount, and the mandatory 2.5€ a night tariff adding up to 12€.
Now to the flights. I constantly check The Flight Deal for random deals. Occasionally, there were deals to Marrakech, one actually a month later, but I thought if I waited, something better would come along. One didn’t come along, but my plan changed in December, when I decided to spend a few days in a connecting city. There was one deal for Royal Air Maroc allowing you to spend 72 hours in Madrid or Lisbon, but the final stop was Casablanca. Not Marrakech. Tant pis, n’est-ce pas?
This forced me to then look at things differently. I could purchase a round-trip ticket from a connecting city, then purchase two one-way tickets from my connection to Marrakech. Which is exactly what I did. Through SkyScanner, I bought a round-trip flight via Delta for $318.26 [this does not include the $22.75 for the flight insurance purchased.]. Through Kayak’s app, I set up alerts for one-way flights from MAD to RAK and RAK to MAD. Both deals were found from these alerts on Iberia – $99.43 RAK – MAD and $73.69 MAD – RAK totaling $491.38. [Many of you are thinking going through RyanAir or something similar would have been more cost effective, but remember baggage allowance. I wasn’t traveling with just a backpack and flip flops, nor would I be returning with only that either. Hellloooo, souks! If this is the way you travel, more power to you. But many don’t.]
Something to keep in mind if you plan to do the same travel arrangements as I did, these are separate flights; not connecting. So give yourself extra wiggle time in case your first flight is late, potentially in different terminals or different airports, picking up your luggage and checking-in with it at the next one, etc. There are a lot of factors involved. Let’s use my flight for example:
My flight leaves at 7PM New York time and arrives in Madrid at 8AM, then departs Madrid at 11:50AM from another terminal; leaving only 3 hours to pick-up luggage, catch bus transfer, check-in, and get to gate. OY! Yes, “OY!” but it’s doable… because I did it. A taxi tried to charge me 30€ to transfer from one terminal to another. For a mere second I almost gave in, until he snapped saying he didn’t take credit card. Keep in mind, this is a lie… they do take card, which made me assume he was trying to charge more than the actual fee. Ask the attendant, or the information desk, for the free airport transfer that stops at every terminal.
Thus far with hotel in Marrakech and travel, which includes an additional three days in Madrid, it’s $839.25 ($9 more than the cheapest quoted flight from The New York Times, but I digress.)
Now, because I wanted to visit a couple of people in Barcelona, I looked into the most cost and time effective way to travel there. If booked early enough you can take the speed train, without paying upwards of 200€. As my decision to visit Barcelona was less than a month before my departure, one way cost a little over 100€ while Air Europa had a round-trip flight for $79.77. Sooo, Air Europa obviously won. Add-on the 10.20€ round-trip ticket from the airport to the city center by Aerobus, you’re still under the cost of a one-way train ticket.
Yes, taking a taxi is another option, but AeroBus seemed like the smartest and fastest mode of transportation besides the metro. AeroBus has four main stops in the city, drops off and picks up multiple times a day, has a very convenient location, offers a Barcelona WiFI Map that points out all the city wifi spots, great tourist attractions including this labyrinth I didn’t have a chance to see, and offers discounts throughout Barcelona at places like Desigual, scooter rentals, and varying parks. Plus, on board there’s wifi. (Just to be clear, the wifi didn’t work for me, but apparently it does work for other people… sooo yeah.)
Back in Madrid, I stayed at Hotel Nuevo Boston, which wasn’t close to the city center at all. When I visit Madrid again, I will definitely opt for a closer and cheaper place as I paid $219.38 for the three nights via Hotels.com. My biggest concern was since I was going to be trekking it to the airport four times in my 3-day visit, being nearby was the best option. Plus, I got to live like a local and take buses, and see the bus terminal, and use the metro by myself, so it was definitely a learning experience.
There’s a daily tourist pass with the price varying on zones, and amount of days. Turismo Madrid actually comped me a day pass, so I can’t really advise on how much those cost. I do know that my bus from the hotel to the metro was 2€, then I purchased another a single metro pass for another 2€, to pick up the bag they left for me in their office. The following day I was in Barcelona so took the airport shuttle, and AeroBus, and returned that night with the airport shuttle again. Here is a link that may help you with the cost of tourist pass, but sadly, I am useless in this department.
My grand total including travel, transportation and accommodations for Marrakech, Madrid, and Barcelona comes to $1,153.63. At first glance this is a resounding, “thanks, but no thanks,” to some, but keep in mind, all of this wasn’t shelled out at once. The riad was booked in October, the round-trip to Madrid at the end of January/early February, hotel for Madrid mid-March, and everything else upon arrival. Which leads me to my travel tips I created along the way:
- Plan ahead. Had I known that I would like to visit both Madrid and Barcelona earlier; I would have planned it as such. My hotel would have been booked around the same time my riad had been booked. It goes for the flights as well. There’s nothing wrong with waiting, but sometimes having some idea will benefit you more. Along with those mentioned above, Expedia.com and Groupon Getaways are other surprisingly helpful avenues for deals.
- Don’t panic. There are so many resources of finding the best deals that panicking will ruin the entire experience. I love a great find so much so that when I save people money I have to tell them. Like for Christmas my boss needed me to exchange a sweater she bought for her daughter. The original seller didn’t have the size, but the brand’s website did. When purchased from them, I saved her $30 and screamed it when she came home. $30 may not be much to some, but if you do everything online… that $30 can multiply quickly. You may not get a deal for everything but take advantage on what you can.
- Be open. Everything may not go as you’d hoped it would, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes missing a turn on your walk can open you to parts of the area you never would have explored. Or missing last call for room service can have you experience a local delicacy. Or only being able to find a deal to Porto, and not Lisbon. Just be open to things that come your way, and make an adventure out of it.
- Know before you go. It’s so easy to blindly swipe on your credit card, or throw dollars like your at strip club, but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t have an unlimited black card, and you’re not Rihanna in “Pour It Up”. Figure out how much you are willing to spend for food, souvenirs, touristy attractions, etc. That shit adds up mad fast, but if you keep your wallet in check, you’ll be fine. I carried $600 in cash with me, but knew it would be easier in Madrid to take cash out from my card for Euros. To my surprise in Marrakech, after tipping the hotel staff and my numerous purchases, I returned with $290 cash. I wasn’t miserly by any means, but I knew that Marrakech wasn’t my only stop, and budgeted that way.
- Do you practice Mr. Solo Dolo or the Buddy System? I love traveling alone. It allows me to engross myself to the world around me, where as going at it with a buddy keeps me in my comfort zone. Whichever you prefer remember to stay on the same page with yourself, or with your buddy. You never want to be in a situation where your mouth is saying and doing another thing, than your mind and heart are telling you to. Same goes for the buddy, parting ways for some adventures is great, but when together and apart, have a common system to check-in, and code actions or words when out and about for “yes”, “no”, “I don’t feel safe”, and “I’m game if you’re game.”.
*Euro exchange in the total was based off the rate of April 22, 2017.