My wife and I recently went on a couple’s vacation to Costa Brava Spain. Today we’ll explore what there is to do in this stunning locale and how we managed to go for only $175. While this number is extremely low with hacking, I must admit the cost was shockingly low even without the credit card points.
So before we get started, why Spain? Well if you recall 2 years ago we vacationed in Barcelona. That trip was tacked on to a business trip as a bit of a surprise. We ultimately spent 2 weeks in Barcelona taking in the sites. We had a blast.
One Trip to Barcelona was Enough, But Not Enough of Spain
But honestly, neither myself or my wife are big city vacationers. Barcelona and European cities are nice, but usually after about a week in them we don’t need to return. That is how we felt about Barcelona as well. It was fun but we weren’t exactly longing to return.
Still, something about Spain and Catalonia spoke to us. We decided we really wanted to find out what Spain was like outside a major city. So we added Spain to our mile-long bucket list of locations and forgot about. Fast forward to about 6 months ago.
A Couples Vacation
We were attempting to figure out where we could go on the cheap to get a break for me and my wife. As a couple we have not had a night without at least one kid in over a year. You see our parents are perfectly fine with taking two kids for a date night, but they seem to be overwhelmed with 3. So with the foster girl date nights are largely a thing of the past.
After a year we were both a bit burned out, so we decided to give ourselves a vacation. We have a family friend who is also another foster parent who could take the little girl for the week. Thankfully the little girl is very familiar with this family friend so it all worked out. Our boys then went with grandparents, we were all set.
Narrowing Down the List of Spots
So given we had the week we started looking for locations. We narrowed it down to three European options: Spain, Italy, or Portugal. Then for about a month we monitored prices of flights on google flights. (We have found google flights to be one of the flight price monitoring systems). We chose trip dates that would have us travel Wednesday to Wednesday to be as off-peak time as possible.
Eventually, we found that a flight to Barcelona could be had roundtrip from Newark Airport for only $200 round trip. This compared favorably to the other two options which were priced in the $400 range. A note for those in the Philly area, Newark is usually the cheapest option to Europe. I find Baltimore to be the cheaper option for Central America. It was cheaper to fly to Spain then almost anywhere domestically!
Flights Purchased with Chase Points
Anyway, with a destination chosen we actually bought the tickets with Chase points. Point costs often raise with monetary costs. So buying the cheaper route at the right time cost us less points. I had a few points left over from some excess spend on my Chase Freedom. Recently we’ve taken to not getting an authorized user on a card to keep us under Chase 5×24. The problem is by doing so we usually have the card with the current signup bonus with one or the other of us. The person without the active bonus card tends to use a normal card with the highest category bonuses if we have expenses while separated. Well over the last two years that total has crept up. Now it was high enough to buy us a flight to Barcelona.
Anyway, we booked the last night of our stay in Barcelona at a Marriott near the airport using points I earned from work travel. Our flight departed early so being back in Barcelona was essential. Otherwise, we stayed outside the city.
San Feliu de Guixols, Costa Brava Spain
The rest of our stay we were in the town of San Feliu Costa Brava. Why there? Well, we booked the flight to Barcelona without any idea where we would stay in Spain. Then I got on the phone with some coworkers that live in Spain and simply asked where the best places were to hike and enjoy the beach within about 2 hours of Barcelona. The area just north of Barcelona along the coast is called Costa Brava. They pointed us to the little town in this state known as San Feliu.
The town itself had a bit of a city square for walking. Something important to us for our morning coffee and bakery pastry. It also had a beach, which honestly we did not use much. Not because we didn’t go to the beach, but because we didn’t go to the beach in the town. You see the final thing Costa Brava has, which we didn’t know starting out, is a giant trail that goes 100s of KMs.
Camino De Ronda, Warm Water, and October Swimming in Costa Brava
The trail, known as the Camino De Ronda, went right through the town. All along the trail were beaches, many of which we visited. Despite it being October the water was still quite warm, easily competitive with the Jersey Shore in the summer. After a long hike the water felt great despite the 77-degree weather.
A note on the hike itself. Some of the hike was amazing. Over back-country trails or well-manicured city walls. But some of it was simply along small country roads with regular turn offs for beaches and look outs. It really depends on which bit you do. We did multiple stretches and while we enjoyed it all, we certainly had our favorites. North of San Feliu was particularly nice.
Ruins, Rock Climbing, and Art
Some other noteworthy activities in the area. There was some major rock climbing around the San Feliu area. This is not one of my hobbies but we did enjoy watching others. There were also quite a few castles and ruins. We toured a few including one dating from 2000 years ago. Quite interesting. Finally, there is some art in the area. This area is the region where Salvadore Dahli lived. I am not much for art so I can’t comment on this.
Accommodations in Costa Brava Were Dirt Cheap
Anyway, for our accommodations in San Feliu we stayed in an Airbnb. In October this location is in its off-season. Even On-season seems to be almost entirely Barcelona locals. The town is not accessible by train from Barcelona, only car or bus. As a result during the week there was no one there. On the weekends the locals came up and the town picked up a bit, but we were certainly not in a major city.
Those who would care about nightlife would need to find a different town in Costa Brava. I am told there are some more appropriate towns. But honestly neither my wife or I care for such things. Anyway, because there was no one there the cost of the Airbnb was just $60 a night for a one-bedroom flat directly overlooking the beach. You can’t complain about that price. Although again we didn’t pay for the room in cash.
My wife recently signed up for the Chase United Explorer Card for a 80000 point bonus. We used 36000 of these points to get an Airbnb gift card which paid for our stay.
A Rental Car and a Slight Misstep
We used a further 20000 points from the United card to book a rental car. This however turned out to be a mistake. You see rental car companies in Europe are notorious for finding excuses to charge you for car damage. Typically I don’t sweat it since my credit card provides additional insurance. Unfortunately paying for points means I didn’t have that coverage. So I chose to buy rental car insurance, to the tune of $100, to be covered more than the base amount. So really I only got 100 dollars worth of value out of those points.
A Lost Opportunity, Precipitated by an Earlier Misstep
To those who are now thinking I could have gotten more for my United points. Remember I don’t maximize points, but instead just use them opportunistically. The problem we found after we got the United card was that the United account was still under my wife’s maiden name. Rather than go through the hoops of correctly that to book a flight we decided to just use the points on other things.
Cost of Food and Wine, With a Full Kitchen and Obscenely Low Restaurant Prices, Less Than Home
So what about food on our trip? Well if you recall Spain is really cheap when it comes to food. Eating in our most expensive bottle of wine was 4 Euros. Eating out the wine ranged from 7-12 Euros. We did a mix of both. For the record, the wine was not the cheap stuff either. The food was just as low priced. I can guarantee you our food bill in Spain was less then it is at home. So no additional cost from food, and to be honest some really good Calamari, roasted peppers, and Potato Bravas. I love Spanish tapas:).
Cost to Park a Car at the Airport in Newark
Our final cost for all this, was the cost to park our car in Newark and to drive there. We reserved parking ahead of time for 7 dollars a day or 65 dollars for the week after taxes. It cost us about $15 in tolls and gas to drive there. So, in the end, this entire trip cost us a grand total of $175.
Catalonian Independence Protests Risks Were Not in Costa Brava
One final event happened on our way out of Spain. If you have been watching the news you know they sentenced the politicians tied to the Catalonian independence movement. This happened at the same time we were trying to fly home from Barcelona. We did not encounter any protesters while in Spain. San Feliu was too sparsely populated. Once in Barcelona, we missed the protests a few times by as little as a few hours. The local media portrayed it as fairly peaceful but could impact travel. The international news meanwhile made it sound like mass riots. Ultimately we left without impact so I suspect the local media was more correct.
We Have a History of Traveling During Times of Major Change
It is kind of ironic another even related to the independence movement occurred while we were in Spain. After all, when we were in Barcelona 2 years ago was about the same time these folks were arrested. Ie I bookended both ends of a major event. If I review our travel history we have a bit of a history of doing similar things in various countries over the years. It’s always interesting to talk to the locals during such events and get their perspective. This trip didn’t disappoint. I learned quite a bit about the independence movement from both locals and ex-pats. It was quite interesting. I swear I don’t plan these things!
Even if you were not to travel hack this trip the total cost would be around $1100 for a week for 2 people. I couldn’t travel to the western part of the United States or the Beach downstate for that amount. The wonders of traveling in the offseason. We greatly enjoyed the culture, food, outdoors, and hiking of Costa Brava. I can strongly recommend it.
Note: All the recent pictures on the site except the one on late summer travel are also from our trip to Costa Brava