Three Weeks in Andalusia: A Van Budget

You probably need a budget. It can be as simple as a paper and pencil. There are also a variety of apps depending on your needs and spending habits. I started using Trail Wallet on my phone through Latin America to keep track of our expenses and with this trip in Andalusia, it’s starting to feel necessary. Another app that is more for non-travel budgeting is Pennies which might work better for others.

Trail Wallet was created by Simon Fairbairn, one half of a digital nomadic couple from the UK who have been traveling nonstop since 2010. You can organize your spending by month or trip, and when you start tinkering with the options you’ll see you can customize it to your liking. You also have the ability to add categories of spending to a trip. In Latin America, we created an Alqo category for his food, veterinarian visits, and his dental surgery in Lima. We didn’t use tags at all, but now we have a personal category for anything extra that isn’t completely necessary or useful to both of us. Instead of separating those things into two categories, one for me and one for Patricia, we just tag our names to an item. It doesn’t matter how much each of us spends, but that we add it to know where our money goes. Patricia bought a pair of Natural World ecological shoes in Ronda, made locally in La Rioja, Spain using 100% organic raw materials and we just tagged her name next to the item. (I’ve already had mine since December. They’re the best.)

Our categories for van travel are different than our categories for backpacking. For our three weeks in Andalusia and our first van trip, we have:

  • Groceries: any food items to be cooked or prepared, water, etc.
  • Eating Out: cafés, churrerías, restaurants
  • Fuel: diesel, self-explanatory
  • Miscellaneous: things for the van, such as Campingaz refills, parking meters in cities, or other supplies
  • Personal: see above
  • Accommodation: occasional campground and one time just a shower
  • Entertainment: self-explanatory

Trail Wallet allows multiple currencies in the same trip and fetches the current exchange rate. This is really handy if you buy a plane ticket or something online in dollars but are traveling in a different country. It shows your expenses in list view or pie chart, exports your trip data into a CSV file, can set a daily budget to aim for throughout the day.

The feasibility of long-term travel lives and dies by a daily average, especially if there is no income generation. In some Latin American countries, we missed our target by a few extra dollars a day. For Andalusia and our first time traveling this way, we decided on $36.50 between the two of us, for no other reason than it is close to €1,000 for a month. Our daily average was $35.62, or $17.81 per person per day. Not bad. Now that we’re “back home”, we feel we can reduce this even further (Other than our van, we haven’t had a place of our own since May 2017 when we left Mauritania. I’m ready for Germany.) Here’s the breakdown for three weeks in Andalusia:

Category $ per day Total % of total
Groceries 9.79 205.57 27.49
Eating Out 6.04 126.76 16.95
Miscellaneous 4.07 85.48 11.43
Accommodation 3.37 70.80 9.47
Fuel 9.28 194.79 26.05
Personal 1.88 39.47 5.28
Entertainment 1.19 25.00 3.33
Total $35.62 $747.87 100%

Obviously, our biggest expenses were fuel and groceries. Accommodation in Latin America included hostels but here, we were able to find free camping spots everywhere we went; on a hill overlooking Granada, in a meadow for two days near Grazalema, or a quiet spot off the road near olive farms.

There is a definite lack of touristy things in this budget. We prefer hiking and being outdoors these days. And not everyone would spend this much on groceries. Some are perfectly happy buying readymade meals or eating out everyday. I used to be this way. We love to cook and eat healthy and we buy local or bio in herbolarios.

Eating out is still bigger than we’d like. We met friends and family in Caceres and Sevilla and we invited them to eat. Subtracting these three meals, it would be $45.53. The remaining six items were cafés and a Moroccan lunch in Granada.

Slowing down helps immensely. Not everyone has the desire do this, especially for working professionals who have only a few weeks vacation a year, but it works for us. This will be even easier in the future when I can use a mobile hotspot and iPad to work from the van.

Day Eighteen: Direction Change and Alhama de Granada

We might have found an apartment in Cologne, Germany with the help of good friends. If everything works out, we will be there in early March. In the meantime, we decided to shorten our trip down south, head back to Madrid, and get Holly ready for version 2.0. We deliberately kept things simple and I’m glad we did. Now instead of starting from scratch, we’ll be able to add to the furniture, making it more spacious and efficient. We want to build out the back for an outdoor kitchen area, perfect for spring and summer.

A few days ago we also decided to skip Córdoba and head to Granada. Both of us never worry about missing something in Spain because there will be opportunities to visit these places again in the future. It’s a small country with so much to see and do.

Before Granada, we spent the night near Alhama de Granada. A small town with a lot of Moorish history, we were drawn to the aguas termales. We visited the first day and there were different groups of people all enjoying the warm water; a group of young Moroccan guys, a French couple with two dogs in an RV, an older Andalusian man who speaks tons of languages and bathes there everyday.

We camped near a campo filled with olive trees by a river and the next day, we quickly woke up and went back for a morning wash. No one was there, the air was fresh and cool, and we both felt energized for a day in the city of Granada.

Day Sixteen: Near Grazalema

The feeling of being more exposed to the weather is refreshing. In most Western countries, we heat the spaces we inhabit rather than ourselves. Our three months near Madrid were spent in a cozy house with central heating and a chimney. We’re more outside now. And when we make our bed for the night, we roll out two -10°C sleeping bags to keep us warm. While the weather has been better down south, near Grazalema the early morning was frosty.

Thankfully, it has warmed up. The frost on the ground melted and evaporated with the sun. We took a walk around the meadow, bumping into fenced-off cotos privados de caza (private hunting grounds) farther on.

We keep track of expenses using an app called Trail Wallet. The last two days here we haven’t spent any money because we brought the essentials and don’t need anything else.

Day Fourteen: Into Andalusia

Some stops in Caceres and Sevilla to visit friends and family, a two-day downpour on the beach near Tarifa spent in the van, a few sunny days at a campground taking advantage of running water and a laundry machine, then into the interior.

Some of the small pueblos blancos of Andalusia stood out from the flora of the hills; a mixture of cork, olive, palm, and acorn. Winding up the road into the mountains from Tarifa, our first destination was Ronda. I saw a photo once of its eighteenth-century bridge that connects the two parts of town. I didn’t realize the whole town was built right on an immense ridge of a gorge.

We found a camping spot next to a fountain across the small valley, giving us a perfect view of the old town of Ronda, the cliff, and the bridge. After a late lunch, we settled in for the afternoon.

The next day, we walked into town. On the south side, huge banners hung from the sides of buildings and apartment windows:

No al aislamiento de sur de Ronda!
Ni un minuto separados, siempre juntos!
No to the isolation of the south of Ronda.
Not one minute separated, always together!

We met a Spanish-Scottish couple while our dogs played near the Iglesia del Espíritu Santo. The woman told us the ayuntamiento (town council) wants to block car traffic for three hours a day, for conservation reasons. It would still be possible to walk or bike over it during that time. Dear southern rondeños, you are being a bit melodramatic.

Ronda is known for its corridas, bullfights. I started thinking about Hemingway and sure enough, we passed a shop that had old photos displayed of him and local toreros, probably his drinking buddies. (We loathe bullfighting, like many our age in Madrid but also in autonomous communities like Galicia and Catalonia where bullfighting wasn’t part of the cultures.)

Ronda has beautiful architecture and the town is easily enjoyed on foot. We didn’t do any museums or touristy things. Both days we stopped at churrerías, one French, one Spanish, for hot chocolate, churros, and coffee. We passed los Baños Arabes and walked back in the early afternoon to enjoy the sun, the sound of the birds, and the views of Ronda from our makeshift campsite.

And we continued on, heading anywhere we please, in search of nice parking spots in nature, cheap thrills, and delicious van-cooked meals.

Day One: Oropesa

Today, it started. I’m enamored with the potential to explore anywhere we want to go without needing to find a dog-friendly budget hostel with a kitchen once we arrive. There is a little setup make the bed inside, but it beats setting up a tent and air mattress by a country mile.

We got off to a late start. Itching to start traveling with Holly but not ready to head to Cologne and confront a proper German winter, we decided to head south in search of some sun, Islamic history, and good hiking trails. Our first big destination is Sevilla, the capital of Andalusia. But we’ll take our time, sin prisa.

About ninety minutes west of Villanueva de la Cañada, our home base for the last three months, stands a hilltop town named Oropesa with a castle built by the Moors over some Roman construction. Oropesa is small but reminded me of Trujillo and Toledo, two cities with similar architecture that pop up among the pleasant but somewhat monotonous countryside.

The weather was sunny and warm, unlike the last few days outside Madrid. We stopped to walk around the castle to stretch our legs and those of our dog companion. Not much happens on a Friday afternoon in any town in Spain so we quickly strolled the plaza and hit the road.

We read a Jacobin article aloud about meeting our needs and realizing our highest potential in a ecosocialist society:

We need to find ways to live luxuriously but also lightly, aesthetically rather than ascetically. Instead of an endless cycle of working and shopping, life in a low-carbon socialist future would be oriented around activities that make life beautiful and fulfilling but require less-intensive resource consumption: reading books, teaching, learning, making music, seeing shows, dancing, playing sports, going to the park, hiking, spending time with one another.

After, I thought about a few things:

  1. Latin America was a political, social, and spiritual catalyst. I want to write more about it, but leaving Mauritania was therapeutic in some way, though I hold it dear in my heart. It’s where I met my wife and took my shahāda. But we both needed time away from teaching obligations to think more deeply about the world and our place in it.
  2. I’m grateful to have a partner who is as curious and progressive about life as I am. Being able to encourage and build on each other’s ideas and projects is something special. Daily practices like reducing our plastic use, shopping and eating at local establishments to future plans on how to raise a kid in these times. Alhamdulillāh.

Crossing into Extremadura, we settled for the night near a merendero outside a small village surrounded by lightly-wooded pastures.

Arriving just before dusk, we made a simple salad while we listened to the cowbells and our dog tried to be brave and explore our campground unsupervised. The night sky perfect for stargazing with a hot chocolate.

Tomorrow we plan to visit Monfragüe National Park. The weekend and sunny forecast for tomorrow means we probably won’t be the only ones.