TRAVEL Q&A

Loan-Free Madrid

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007

Q. I'm a college student with limited funds. Can you recommend cheap lodging in Madrid or a stay with a family?

Kevin Partyka, Buffalo

A. On the affordability scale, Madrid falls somewhere between London and Krakow -- not too cheap, not too wallet-busting. "In general, Spain is a bit cheaper," says Chris Yurista, a travel adviser at the Georgetown office of STA Travel (202-337-6464), which caters to students. "But it's not like Eastern Europe, where you can crash for 10 or 12 euros [$13 to $16]."

When searching out less expensive lodging, avoid the tourist hubs, where the demand -- and rates -- are often higher. Just make sure the property is near a metro station, so you can easily access the major sights. For accommodations, Yurista recommends the Hotel Asturias (011-34-91-429-6676, http://www.hotel-asturias.com/), which has rooms from $62 a night; the Metropol Hostel (011-34-93-231-2045, http://www.metropolhostel.com/), where a dorm room starts at $21 and a twin at $30; and the Mad Hostel (011-34-91-506-4840, http://www.madhostel.com/; from $21 for dorm rooms). For other suggestions and hotel links, check the Web site of EsMadrid ( http://www.esmadrid.com/), the city's tourism office, or STA Travel ( http://www.statravel.com/), which lists cheap beds in Europe, among other budget tips.

Most homestays are affiliated with language schools or academic programs. However, if you don't mind conjugating verbs on vacation, Yurista says language-homestay programs cost about $300 for 20 lessons a week and $225 for a room at a local family's house, including breakfast. With Spanish Abroad (888-722-7623, http://www.spanishabroad.com/), accommodations range from a double room in a shared apartment to a single with a host family (both $440 a week).

When touring Madrid, keep costs down by tapping into the city's cultural freebies and discounts. Museums often have a free day, such as the Prado and the Museum Lazaro Galdiano (Sundays), and some institutions (e.g., Basilica de San Isidro, the Bullfighting Museum) are always gratis. For a lively outdoor scene, grab a seat in a public square like Plaza de Santa Ana. During meal times, snack on small plates of tapas (try the Canas y Tapas chain). If you're traveling by public transport, buy a Tourist Travel Pass, which allows daily or multi-day unlimited travel (from $12 at http://www.raileurope.com/).

We'd like to take our kids on a Caribbean cruise in June or July. Is summer a bad time?

Mary Beth Johnson, Frederick

Summer cruising in the Caribbean is hot, so stay close to the water. "The land is very hot," says Lana Liu, a cruise specialist with Able Travel Service in the District. "Snorkeling is fine, because you'll be in the water."

When choosing shore excursions, think cool thoughts: cave tubing or snorkeling rather than horseback riding or mountain biking. Also, you will be traveling to and from your shore activities in oft-crowded vans with sometimes fluky air conditioning. So, look for activities with short commutes.

In any event, you can always stay on the ship and play in the pool. Summer is the busy season for families, so the pool may be crammed with squealing, splashing kids -- perfect playmates for your children.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.


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